By Nilavro Ghosh
The champions and the runners up have been decided but the battle for Europe and the fight for survival are all set to be played out on the last day of what has been a dramatic season
While Norwich City’s relegation has been confirmed, three teams will battle it out to claim the last available place in next year’s Premier League. While Bournemouth, on 31 points, seem likely to go down to the Championship, Aston Villa and Watford will have a keen eye on each other’s game as they are still level on points.
On paper, Villa seems to have gotten a favorable draw as they travel to the London Stadium to take on high flying West Ham United. Watford, however, will have a huge task on their hands when they travel to The Emirates to take on Arsenal. The Hornets will take some confidence from Villa’s victory over the Gunners in the latter’s most recent game.
Bournemouth still have an outside chance of playing next year’s Premier League if both Villa and Watford lose. They would still have to win an away game against Ancelotti’s Everton by any margin. The goal difference between all three sides combined is one. Bournemouth and Watford have -27 while Villa has -26.
The Cherries will give it their all at Goodison Park and if luck is on their side, Eddie Howe may well have another season in the country’s top league.
Shifting the focus to the top half of the table, Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester City are all set for an incredible climax to the season. The three sides are fighting for one of the remaining two Champions League places.
United are on third, level on points Chelsea but far ahead on goal difference. The Red Devils travel to the dreaded King Power stadium to face fifth place Leicester City who are a point behind them. A win or a draw would seal top four for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men while the Foxes have to win to play Champions League (CL) football next season. Both the sides are going through a slump in form at the moment but United are slight favorites to clinch the CL place.
Chelsea host sixth place Wolverhampton Wanderers to Stamford Bridge. While the Blues only need a point to qualify, a loss and a draw in the United-Leicester game would see them in the Europa League next season. Wolves’ attack is one of the most lethal in the league and given Chelsea’s defensive misfortunes, manager Frank Lampard will have his job cut out for him.
The American talisman Christian Pulisic has been in good form for the Blues and he will be key if Chelsea were to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Lampard’s men, however, are favorites to qualify.
By Nilavro Ghosh
30 long years in the making, Liverpool finally sit at the top of England’s first division, winning their first ever Premier League trophy after a season of unmatched brilliance
When Jordan Henderson was young lad going through everyday training sessions at Sunderland AFC, he probably might not have seen himself 12 years later as the first Liverpool skipper holding up the Premier League trophy. Red ribbons were attached to the prize for the first time since Manchester United’s 20th title win and the red part of Merseyside went into a frenzy.
Liverpool played their last home game of the season against Chelsea last night as an empty Anfield stood witness to its club reaching the pinnacle of English football. Their manager, Jurgen Klopp, will have his name written into one of the highest podiums of the Reds’ folklore.
The home team received their customary guard of honour from Chelsea and gave their fans a classic Liverpool performance after hammering Chelsea 5-3. Chelsea’s Champions League qualification bid might have been dealt a blow but the night was all about the Reds.
Anfield might have been empty but supporters flocked outside its gates and let their presence be known. The sky lit up with fireworks as those inside the stadium knew that thousands were going to celebrate with them long into the night.
Klopp’s patience and the board’s confidence in the manager paid its dues as the German delivered the Champions League and the Premier League respectively in consecutive seasons.
The focus will now be on strengthening the squad for the next season but that issue is for another day. Right now what matters is that Liverpool are officially the best team in England.
By Nilavro Ghosh
- The race for the top four heats up as Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United drop points
- Tottenham triumph over Arsenal in the north London derby
Matchweek 35 saw a string of shock results especially involving the clubs fighting for a spot in the remaining two Champions League places.
Manchester United were held by Southampton at Old Trafford after Michael Obafemi equalized from a corner in the 96th minute to give the saints a much deserved point. The match ended 2-2 and saw both United’s left-backs, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams go off with injuries.
Leicester City were thrashed 4-1 by 18th place Bournemouth at the Vitality stadium thanks to goals from Junior Stanislas, Dominic Solanke, and an own goal by Johnny Evans. The foxes saw defender Caglar Soyuncu sent off in the 67th minute as well.
Chelsea were battered 3-0 by Sheffield United at Bramall Lane thanks to a brace from David McGoldrick, and Oli McBurnie. The blues sit perilously at third, only a point clear of both Leicester and United with their final two games of the season against champions Liverpool and high flying Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Tottemham Hotspurs shocked Arsenal in the first north London derby held at the former’s new home ground with a hard-fought 2-1 win. Alexander Lacazette’s bullet was cancelled out after a horrific mistake by Sead Kolisinac presented Heung Min Son with a simple finish in the first half. The gunners threatened Hugo Lloris’ goal with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hitting the crossbar but it was not meant to be. Spurs’ defender Toby Alderweireld scored the winner in the 81st minute from a corner.
Tottenham currently are at 8th place with 52 points and Arsenal at 9th with 50.
In the battle for survival, West ham United beat Norwich City 4-0, confirming the canaries’ next season to be in the EFL Championship. David Moyes’ side are three points from the drop zone and looks set for another season in the Premier League.
Aston Villa picked up a massive three points in their bid for survival after they beat Crystal Palace 2-0. The match was marred, however, after Palace winger Wilfred Zaha was subject to racism online before the game. The culprit is a boy of twelve.
Liverpool’s 100 per cent record at Anfield this season in the league was brought to an end by Burnley who held to champions to a 1-1 draw thanks to a outstanding equalizer from Jay Rodriguez.
Watford beat Newcastle 2-1 thanks to a brace from Troy Deeney that took them three points clear of the drop zone. Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City won their games comfortably against Everton and Brighton and Hove Albion respectively. City won 5-0 while Wolves won 3-0.
By Aniket Panja
- Lando Norris blazes through the track on the last two laps to finish fifth
- Ferrari’s race was over after five laps
Lewis Hamilton crossed the line comfortably, well ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas, to win his 85th Grand Prix. After last week’s blunder right at the end, a tough qualifying session under a heavy downpour proved that Hamilton was ready for race day.
And as soon as the lights went out, Hamilton raced ahead to take the lead and to be honest, never looked troubled. There were very few untoward incidents and while the safety car was deployed in the first lap itself owing to a collision between the Ferrari’s Hamilton never lost his focus.
Another good news for Mercedes was that they seemed to have solved the reliability issues and both drivers did not face any problem delivering their best performances. If it was all about race management for Hamilton, then patience was the keyword for Bottas.
Starting behind Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, Bottas drove his car to perfection. The pit stops were well-coordinated and his strategy was spot on. He got past Sainz early on and had to bide his time chipping away at Verstappen in the Red Bull. Verstappen for his part did well to stay ahead right until the end till his rear tires could not hold on any longer.
Bottas finished second and Verstappen finished a well-deserved third having to run a tough race, sandwiched between the two Mercedes. It was clear early on that Red Bull did not have the pace to challenge the Silver Arrows and it was only a question of when not if, both the Mercedes cars would pull away.
Lower down the field however several interesting battles played out between the Racing Point and McLaren and it went right down to the wire ending in a photo finish. Lando Norris scythed his way through the track in the last two laps and got past Lance Stroll to hunt down his teammate Sergio Perez.
Meanwhile, as soon as Norris overtook Stroll, Ricciardo seized his chance and pounced. Sergio Perez who was losing pace drastically due to a damaged front wing failed to deny Norris the gap and last week’s podium finisher grabbed the opportunity with both hands. And mounting Perez’s problems, Stroll and Ricciardo were right on top of him and as they neared the chequered flag all three cars were right beside each other.
Perez did manage to stay ahead finishing sixth while his teammate Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault finished seventh and eighth respectively. The talk of the tracks, however, was the crash heading into turn one between the two Ferrari’s. As four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel headed into turn one, Charles Leclerc who started on eleventh tried a silly manoeuvre that ultimately left Vettel sandwiched between two cars.
He lost his rear wing and had to retire while Leclerc followed suit just four laps later. What is worse for Ferrari is that they had brought in some upgrades to better their race pace but the Scuderia needed their drivers to complete all 71 laps to better understand if there was any improvement. Now, they have no chance of knowing.
Not only are they miles behind Mercedes, but Ferrari are finding it difficult to match Red Bull, Renault, McLaren and Racing Point. If things continue in much the same vein, then Ferrari will have to battle it out in the midfield with no way to go up and a dangerous drop down below.
We move to the Hungarian Grand Prix next and it is to be seen whether anyone can challenge Mercedes which seems highly unlikely. Valtteri Bottas leads the standings for now but there is no doubt that Hamilton is the prime contender to win his seventh world championship.
In all probability, it is going to be a race between the two Mercedes drivers to see who comes out on top. As for the rest, unless there are some major improvements, they can only see the silver arrows speeding away.
By Aneesh Dey
- CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) has overturned the two-year ban from European football.
- Initial €30m fine reduced to €10m (£8.96m)
After UEFA”s club financial control body (CFCB) handed the suspension to City in February, for serious breaches in club licensing and financial fair play regulations (FFP) in February, City appealed to the CAS, which is an independent legal body. After three days of hearing evidence, CAS has overturned the ban, which would allow Pep Guardiola’s men to play the Champions League.
The CAS found that the “most of the alleged breaches reported were either not established or time-barred”. In their statement, they said, “As the charges with respect to any dishonest concealment of equity funding were clearly more significant violations than obstructing the CFCB’s investigations, it was not appropriate to impose a ban on participating in UEFA’s club competitions for MCFC’s failure to co-operate with the CFCB’s investigations alone.”
The six-times domestic league champions welcomed the decision and issued a statement on the ban being lift
By Aneesh Dey
ATK and Mohun Bagan had decided to enter into a merger in January 2020, thus helping the Kolkata Giants gain entry into the Hero Indian Super League (ISL).
After the first board meeting of the club on Friday, the following were decided. The new name of the club will ATK Mohun Bagan FC. The original green and maroon colours of the historic club will be retained along with the iconic ‘Pal Tola Nouka’ as the logo.
Mr. Sourav Ganguly co-owner ATK Mohun Bagan Private Limited said “I salute the coming together of ATK and Mohun Bagan. Together the brand name ATK Mohun Bagan will create history.”
By Aniket Panja
- Norris secures first ever podium berth as Bottas takes the chequered flag.
- Leclerc finishes 2nd in an exciting race but Ferrari have a lot of work to do to catch up with the silver arrows
As the lights went out and Valtteri Bottas cannoned into the lead, it seemed like a routine race would be on the cards. There were no untoward incidents heading into turn 1 and after a few laps the most eye raising thing was Ferrari’s pace or the lack of it.
The Prancing Horse had not done enough to be competitive in the first race of a curtailed season in Austria owing to the coronavirus and they were the fifth fastest team on the blocks. Max Verstappen on the other hand was going well and looked like the only one capable of challenging Hamilton and Bottas later on.
When Max Verstappen was forced to retire a few laps after the start, it was evident things were not all right. Verstappen pulled up with an engine issue but somehow managed to make it back to the pits. Daniel Ricciardo driving for Renault was not so lucky and his car stopped just as he was pulling up close to Sebastian Vettel who was having a torrid time.
Meanwhile cars started malfunctioning, with the engine letting them down, braking issues and unsafe releases. With the safety car deployed numerous times throughout the race Mercedes’s lead was cut back several times but given their superior speed Hamiltion and Bottas never looked in trouble.
Meanwhile Leclerc was fighting against McLaren, including his teammate for next year Carlos Sainz, as well the Racing Point, just managing to stay ahead of the latter. As Hamilton was chasing Bottas down, a team message from Mercedes made everything clear. Both cars were suffering from reliability issues and were given strict instructions to stay off the kerbs.
It was not a problem for both the drivers as they had a sizeable lead and enough pace to outlast the others. That was until another safety car incident. Soon, Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and the McLarens were right on top of the Mercedes. Bottas managed to pull away but Hamiltion was not so lucky.
As Albon comfortably passed him on the outside and looked to pull through there was contact and once again just as in Brazil, the Red Bull Racing driver spun of the track. It was heartbreaking to say the least because it was fairly certain that Albon would have got the first podium finish of his career barring the crash.
But his misfortune opened the doors for Leclerc and Lando Norris. Hamiltion was slapped with a five second time penalty meaning LeClerc went up to second place. With nine drivers failing to finish the race the remaining eleven all had a chance to better their original expectations. However it was not to be for Sebastian Vettel as another baffling move to overtake saw him spin off the tracks and drop back. He eventually finished eleventh only one ahead of new kid Latifi in the Williams.
With second place all but secured for Ferrari, all eyes were whether Hamiltion could hold on to third. Lando Norris had other plans as he had the drive of his life and on the final lap, he registered the fastest lap time to pip Hamilton by seven-tenths of a second. Some would say justice served but that is hardly consolation for Alex Albon.
It was another great opportunity missed but Norris lapped up his moment in the spotlight and secured his first ever podium finish. Just like last year, Bottas won the first race but Mercedes will have to quickly solve their reliability issues when the lights go out in Austria in two days’ time.
After a long time, luck turned in Ferrari’s favour but for how long? Mattia Binotto’s team will have to work really hard to match the speed of their rivals which now includes McLaren and Racing point as well. It is to be seen how quickly Ferrari can match the race pace because with only eight races confirmed so far every point counts. Everyone in the Italian team’s garage will know that they cannot count on the safety car to bail them out every time and nor on Sebastian Vettel for that matter.
For some reason, the German has been struggling for some time now and his much younger teammate has displayed more grit and common sense to emerge the number one driver as shocking as that may seem. As for Lando Norris, it was a fantastic moment, one which he will never forget. It is not often that someone other than Hamilton is the leading British driver in a Grand Prix.
While there is little doubt that Hamilton will come back stronger, Max Verstappen and Red Bull will have a point to prove. The two teams have emerged as the main rivals this season with Ferrari dropping back and the shorter season could make things interesting.
Add to it the other teams that are more than enough to challenge Ferrari, this could well be the most unpredictable Formula One season in recent times- something the sport has been lacking of.
Perhaps the Styrian Grand Prix come Sunday will provide more. All in all the lights are out and the battle lines have been draw. Time will tell who will come out on top. Will Hamilton equal Schumacher’s record seven world championships? Will this be Bottas’ year? Can Verstappen do it for Red Bull and how far can Ferrari go? We can’t wait for answers.
By Nilavro Ghosh
After months out of action, Paul Pogba finally returned to the pitch and the much hyped pairing with Bruno Fernandes seems to have delivered
An important factor in Manchester United’s unparalleled success during the Ferguson era was having a midfield general season after season. Be it Scholes, Keane or Carrick, the Red Devils had leaders in the middle of the park that could dictate the game no matter the opposition. For the first time, almost a decade after the Scotsman’s retirement, United seem to have not one, but two midfield maestros that possess that skill set and mentality.
The Devils faced Tottenham Hotspurs in their first game back in the Premier League and played out a dismal first 45 minutes. Spurs settled in quite well after the first few minutes with Mourinho’s tactics on full display. Costly errors from both defender Harry Maguire and goalkeeper David De Gea resulted in Steven Bergwijn netting the first goal of the game. Spurs sat back soon afterwards, allowing United to have the possession. Mourinho knew that his opponents were not very good at breaking down defensive teams and his players executed the plan to perfection.
The second half however was a different ball game. Manchester United pressed up the field much like their city neighbours and Spurs were visibly on the back foot. However, breaking them down was still proving to be a challenge.
Enter Paul Pogba. The Frenchman had been out of action since boxing day with an injury, and on his much anticipated return, he did not disappoint, neither did the much hyped partnership of him and Bruno Fernandes in the United midfield. The two linked up as smoothly as a knife glides on butter, stringing slick passes together and finally providing those crucial balls to Greenwood, Rashford and Martial.
United’s forwards looked rusty with their finishing, barring the magnificent save Hugo Lloris made off a Martial shot. That is when Pogba decided to take matters into his own hands. In the final quarter of the game, he danced pasted four Spurs players into the box from the right wing, and won a penalty off Eric Dier’s challenge from behind. His midfield partner Bruno Fernandes made no mistake from the spot to level the scores.
The Red Devils upped the ante after the goal not only in attack, but also in defence. The back line seemed fairly composed in dealing with the Tottenham attacks, played important passes up the field. All three of United’s strikers had very good chances to claim the points, the latest coming to the feet of Mason Greenwood in stoppage time which had Lloris on the edge.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has a lot to look forward to with this team for the remainder of the season as they aim for Champions League football, and with certain reinforcements in the summer transfer window, the Norwegian’s devils might just be a serious title contender next season.
By Aneesh Dey
Spanish giants Barcelona, issued an official statement, where they expressed their satisfaction with the courts ruling regarding the signing bonus in the final renewal of Neymar’s contract.
Social court 15 in Barcelona announced that Neymar’s claim of 43.6 million euros has been dismissed.
The statement says, ” The ruling has fully dismissed the player’s claim for payment of 43.6 million euros, and has accepted a large part of the defence presented by FC Barcelona, as a result of which the player must return 6.7 million euros to the club.”
By Nilavro Ghosh
A nightmare in the Manchester rain for David Luiz as Pep’s blues make short work of Arteta’s Gunners, once again exposing their defensive mediocrity
“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.” A quote made famous by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. If his words are anything to go by, it is safe to say that Arsenal will not be winning any titles unless there is a complete revamp of their back line. Forget trophies, the London club might not even qualify for the Europa League considering their performance against champions Manchester City.
After over three months without football, the two English heavyweights clashed at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday. On paper, City indeed looked clear winners but Arsenal fans were hopeful going into the game considering they had won three consecutive matches before the lockdown. With no injuries or suspensions, the Gunners stood as formidable opponents to Guardiola’s team.
Arteta’s side started the game positively, playing on par with the champions but two serious injuries in the first half to midfielder Granit Xhaka and defender Pablo Mari heavily dented their momentum and allowed City to get into their rhythm and there was no turning back.
A player who played an all important role in City’s win was Arsenal’s David Luiz. The Brazilian had come on the replace Pablo Mari in the heart of the defence and could only remain on the pitch for 22 minutes. To him however, that must have felt like the longest 22 minutes of his life.
The former Chelsea man misjudged what should have been a simple clearance on the stroke of half time allowing the deadly Raheem Sterling to slot one past Bernd Leno, who was arguably the Gunners’ best player of the pitch. The Brazilian went on to concede a penalty and red card within minutes of the second half’s commencement, allowing City’s Kevin De Bruyne to double their advantage from the spot. Substitute Phil Foden made it three in stoppage time after an Aguero shot hit the post and fell kindly for him.
Arsenal currently sit ninth on the league table, four points behind sixth placed Sheffield United who drew against Aston Villa. It might not seem like a lot but given the Gunners’ form and defensive mediocrity, those four points seem like 14. Arteta would have to pull out off an incredible feat to ensure European football next season.
The absence of European football would discourage quality defenders from joining Arsenal and their defence is in dire need of repair. The likes of Luiz, Mustafi, Holding and Sokratis are quite simply not good enough for the long and gruesome competition of the Premier League or any of the intercontinental tournaments. A lot of the responsibility lies with owner Stan Kroenke to inject much needed cash for new signings, but the board must also refrain from panic buys like Nicolas Pepe and focus on strengthening the defence.
The two sets of players took a knee before the game, showing their respect and support for the Black Lives Matters movement and the martyred George Floyd. The shirt of every single player from the first set of games will say ‘Black Lives Matter’ instead of their names as well.
Arsenal are away to Brighton next on Saturday while Manchester City will be back at the Etihad against Burnley on Monday.