Chelsea begin with a win in the Champions League

17/09/2021 - Europe

By Louis Pantziarka, Chelsea writer

Chelsea put in a professional, if slightly uninspiring, performance to get their Champions League campaign off to a winning start.

The Blues struggled against a packed Zenit defence for much of the game, but once again had Romelu Lukaku to thank for three points. It was a difficult game, but the holders will consider three points a good start to their title defence.

Chelsea huffed and puffed in the first half – they enjoyed a lot of possession, but lacked any fluency or real intent in their play. It was Zenit who mustered the first shot on target and a Lukaku header that sailed over the bar was about as good as it got for the home side.

The second half was instantly better though, with a neat move barely two minutes after the restart resulting in Hakim Ziyech forcing a save from the Zenit keeper. Toni Rudiger kept the momentum up a few minutes later, embarking on a powerful run from inside his own half that ended in a fierce shot struck wide of the post. The German defender beat a couple of Zenit players on his way forward, bringing back memories of Kurt Zouma’s famous run against Ajax in this competition.

That was enough to get the crowd going again and on 69 minutes Cesar Azpilicueta, who’d noticeably pushed forward more in the second half, found himself in some space in the centre-right channel. The Spaniard hooked a ball towards the far post, where Romelu Lukaku rose higher than anyone else to nod home. It was the kind of goal Azpilicueta put on a plate for ex-blue Alvaro Morata time and time again and seemed like it would be enough to kill the game.

Zenit did come back into it though and Chelsea needed an excellent intervention from Rudiger to prevent a dangerous one-on-one. Despite Rudiger’s best work, the away side should have grabbed a late equaliser, but at full stretch Artem Dzyuba stabbed wide from point blank range.

Despite an uneven and at times disjointed display, Thomas Tuchel seemed fairly satisfied with the win - he had this to say to BT Sport after the game:

"We struggled a bit to create chances and shots in the first half. In the second half it was a bit easier to find spaces and shoot. It was a deserved win. Hard earned. It took us a while to make them tired but I liked what I saw."

This result will raise no eyebrows, but Tuchel will be expecting, and hoping, for a more polished performance against Tottenham on Sunday.

Brazil’s stolen symbol: it’s Jair’s shirt now

16/09/2021 - General

By Maurício Alencar, Brazilian football writer

On the 7th September, Brazil celebrated its Independence Day. In São Paulo, to mark the day, thousands of marchers descended on Avenida Paulista. The atmosphere perhaps was not so jovial, however. Anxious and irate marchers had in truth showed themselves in São Paulo to back Bolsonaro’s vision for a supposedly orderly and progressive Brazil where God is above all, and to lambast the Supreme Court’s tyranny for investigating Bolsonaro, and to gather some Trumpian momentum in the fight against the unlikely and unconvincing possibility of electoral fraud one year before elections take place. The radiant yellow colour the flood of marchers had created was a familiar one, a shade of yellow that would normally be attributed to the Seleção’s iconic football kit. But as Bolsonaro spoke to the thousands, the yellow of the Seleção shirt had seemed to defamiliarise itself from football, and had now become the token symbol for Bolsonaro’s far right agenda. 

It’s nothing new, politicians using football for their own good. Some of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup triumph can be accredited to General Medici’s, Brazil’s dictator, interest in politically investing in the national team and using his military to improve the players’ fitness levels. The country’s leading football writer, Juca Kfouri, writes that “I never let the dictatorship steal even what was most intimate to me”. Football and politics could easily be separated. Brazil’s success on the pitch could never be a politician’s success. 

Pelé had potentially consummated the hazardous marriage between Brazil’s dictatorship and its football when he shook hands with Medici. In a review of Pelé’s documentary film on Netflix, Jonathan Liew of The Guardian writes: “Of course, he admits, he had an inkling of what was going on, even as he posed for photographs with General Médici at official functions, beaming and shaking hands in pictures he must have known would be distributed around the world as pro-regime propaganda. But even now there is no real contrition, no twinge of moral anguish, much less genuine remorse at a course of action he insists was the only realistic choice.”

But it indeed was his only realistic choice. Access to education, let alone high-quality education, is limited. The Brazil team’s visit to the presidential palace was less of a polite invitation than it was a stern-faced command. The denial of a handshake with a dictator perhaps would not be the most sensible choice for Pelé’s own career as a footballer in the years after. It’s easy in retrospect to assume Pelé should feel regretful for not forming his own defiant identity off the pitch. Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of the 1970 team, put it in an interview in 1988 that the players were only interested in “our careers, the professional pride of winning a World Cup”. Then, the effervescent colours of Brazilian football in 1970 carried a natural purity and artistic uniqueness that could be protected against invasive socio-historical readings. The handshake was not a handing over of Brazilian football’s collective mould of individual romanticism to the state’s powers.

Dani Alves, the world’s most trophy-successful player living in a new age of player activism where footballers’ political voices have become ever more significant, finds himself in very different circumstances to the position Pelé and his teammates found themselves in the aftermath of their 1970 World Cup triumph. Dani Alves has publicly supported Bolsonaro in using his slogan “Brasil above everything, God above everyone” on Instagram- Pelé was never deliberate in showing his support. Neymar’s dad commented under Alves’s post with a fist-bump emoji. Lucas Moura is another prominent footballer to have declared his strong support for Bolsonaro. Polling suggests that Jair Bolsonaro in fact has a very high disapproval rating across the country, despite the mass demonstrations on the 7 September. It is very much in Dani Alves’s consciousness that his political voice carries a significant level of importance to politics in the country. And as Dani Alves’s apparent words of support for the former military captain are complemented by an image of him wearing the national football team’s shirt, the iconic Brazilian shirt seems to embody not the national pride shared by a whole country, but a nationalistic pride felt by a minority in a country. 

It should come as little surprise that the Brazilian shirt seems to have had its symbol stolen. In part due to a number of factors including the 7-1 defeat, performances at recent World Cups, a growing European-led distaste for the “joga bonito” style,  and the demise of the reputation of Brazilian leagues, Brazilian football’s pedigree now finds itself in a vulnerable state. An untidy culmination of Brazilian football’s recent failures most recently came in Brazil World Cup qualifier against Argentina where health officials rushed onto the pitch mid-play to tell some of Argentina’s Premier League players to go into quarantine, though they had been in the country for three days prior and the whole world had been alerted to the fact that they were in the squad ready to start. In a country where just under 600,000 people have died from COVID-19, this sudden dismissal had nothing to do with health safety. This was a moment in which the incompetence of the country’s various governing bodies and the general bagunça (utter shambles of a mess) of Brazilian politics had violated, trespassed, and over-spilled onto the country’s most valuable safe-space. The purity and innocence of the Seleção has finally been ruptured, eclipsed, and defaced by political calamity. The far-right have capitalised. It’s Jair’s shirt now.

Big chance for fringe players as Nuno travels with a depleted squad to face Rennes

16/09/2021 - Europe

By Archie Burkinshaw, Tottenham Hotspur writer

Spurs start their Europa Conference League campaign against Rennes on Thursday, hoping to bounce back from their dismal 3-0 loss against Crystal Palace over the weekend. As a Spurs fan Im still not heavily invested in this inaugural competition, especially after watching a splattering of unbelievable Champion League ties over the last couple of days, making the memories of our run to the final in 2019 even more distant.

Anyway, at this current moment with Tottenhams squad the way it is I am quite grateful we are not facing Europes elite, the harsh reality of the situation is Rennes, who have only one Ligue 1 game this season, will probably be a tough test. Team news does not make for a promising read this week, with Nuno confirming Son Heung-min, Eric Dier, and Ryan Sessegnon all did not travel to France due to their respective injuries.

Davinson Sánchez, Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso remain unavailable due to quarantining restrictions, making it likely Joe Rodon and Japhet Tanganga will form the centre-back partnership. This thin squad may hand Tanguy Ndombele his first start of the season, the midfield has been crying out for some creativity, especially after Spurs only managed one shot on target against Palace, this competition could be Ndombeles golden ticket back into the starting XI, so he must take his chance when it comes.

I cant see Spurs winning this away game, the performances on Saturday were so poor, their confidence must have been knocked after failing to create so few chances. My prediction for this game is a 2-2 draw, with Footrace offering 140 points for this scoreline. Footrace sees Tottenham as the slight favourites for this tie, offering 15 points for a Spurs win, 21 for a draw and 20 for a Rennes win.


Two home wins on the spin for Sutton

16/09/2021 - League Two

By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer

Things at home are becoming like London busses for Sutton United. After their first EFL win in their second ever EFL home game, they’ve made it two EFL Wins on the Spin, as Ben Goodliffe’s 25th minute goal saw the home side win their second encounter on the spin.

Joe Kizzi slotted into the back four as he made his first ever EFL start, after his successful substitute appearance against Stevenage at the weekend, with culminated in an assist for the fullback.

Sutton started this game on the front foot and Enzio Boldewijn fizzed an early, testing effort at Hartlepool keeper, Ben Killip. Tobi Sho-Silva was next to try his luck, inches away from connecting to a Rob Milsom free kick. About 25 minutes into the first half, the first killer blow came from the hosts who had controlled the game from the off. Ben Goodliffe was up from the back and the ball found its way to him, who gratefully tucked the ball home at the far post to put Sutton ahead.

This seemed to wake Hartlepool up a little bit and Nicky Featherstone started having a bit more of an impact on proceedings. He picked the ball up and whipped a teasing ball in behind the defence, but nobody could touch the ball home for the visitors. Featherstone was at the heart of the visitor’s best chance of the half, his corner found the head of Timi Odusina who’s effort was cleared off the line by a combination of Dean Bouzanis in the Sutton goal and the goal scorer, Goodliffe.

The visitors responded with a double change at half time to try and get them back into the encounter. Olufela Olumola and David Ferguson both entered the fray and were straight into the action, picking the ball up and whipping crosses in from the wings. Sho-Silva had Sutton’s first chance of the half, connecting with a Kizzi cross but his header was straight at Killip.

The second half was passing with Sutton the side on top, controlling possession, Boldewijn pulled a shot a few yards over the bar after a neat passing move from the hosts. David Ajiboye saw an effort saved terrifically by Pools keeper. Dean Bouzanis was called into action yet again as he produced a stunning save in the final five minutes to deny the visitors a late equaliser.

Stoke keep visitors at bay, but tensions flare as points are dropped

16/09/2021 - Championship

By Lewis Williamson, Stoke City writer

Stoke came into this game looking to continue their winning form after a 2-1 win against Huddersfield at the weekend, and the lineup reflected this with Joe Allen being the only fresh face coming in for Sam Clucas in midfield.

On the other hand, Barnsley had faced a 3-0 trouncing at the weekend at the hands of Bournemouth, so they were looking to reverse their fortunes to get their second win of the campaign.

This was not to be the case for either side as the points were shared in a thrilling 1-1 draw at the Britannia, with Stoke opening the game strong with chances against keeper Bradley Collins. Barnsley responded at the other end, only being kept at bay by solid tackles from Harry Souttar and the strong hands of Joe Bursik in the sticks.

The Potters managed to break the deadlock within the first twenty minutes as a ball came into the Barnsley box from Tommy Smith on the right flank, and the ball fell to the feet of Sam Surridge, who smashed it home past Bradley Collins. This was only Surridge’s second in the league so far, failing to find the net since the opening day of the Championship.

The score should have been doubled only moments later as Tommy Smith again found Surridge unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, but the ball was miss kicked sending it back to the Barnsley defence.

Callum Styles proved to be a thorn in Michael O’Neill’s side throughout the game, but no more so than when he prompted a harsh tackle from Joe Allen in midfield to win a free-kick for skipper Cauley Woodrow to slam home past Joe Bursik in the top left corner.

Towards the end of the first half, Surridge was through on goal again when the Barnsley stopper came out of his goal to prevent the early shot, and Surridge went over in the box for a penalty. There looked to be minimal contact, if any, but it was enough for the referee to point to the spot. Up stepped Mario Vrančić hoping to secure his first goal in Stoke colours, but the shot was directly at keeper Bradley Collins and tipped off the cross-bar.

The rest of the game provided non-stop action between Surridge and Collins, with seven shots on target stopped by the keeper to even the points at the end of the day. Finally, on the pitch, there was a sending off for Tommy Smith after a reckless challenge in the 85th minute as the Stoke right-back led into a tackle with his studs up to be shown a straight red card by the referee.

Off the pitch, however, there were three further sending offs for sideline staff as Stoke assistant coach Dean Holden attempted to get the ball back from Barnsley boss Markus Schopp. A scuffle ensued with Holden, Rory Delap, and Barnsley assistant Joe Laumann all being dismissed.

Chelsea begin Champions League defence at the Bridge

14/09/2021 - Europe

By Louis Pantziarka, Chelsea writer

Champions of Europe Chelsea begin the defence of their title at home on Tuesday, as they welcome Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg to Stamford Bridge.

Thomas Tuchel rung the changes for the Premier League clash against Aston Villa on Saturday and won’t have been overly pleased with his side’s performance, even if they did run out 3-0 winners. The Chelsea boss will be expecting a much better showing against Zenit, as the Blues look to protect their European crown.

On the injury front, N’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisic are still out, but Tuchel has confirmed that England defender Ben Chilwell is in contention for the game, after a disappointing Euros and start to the season. He could replace Marcos Alonso at left wing back, who’s enjoyed an unexpected upturn in form since Frank Lampard left.

New signing Saul Niguez was thrust into the starting eleven against Villa, but was subbed off at half time following a torrid first 45 minutes. He’ll be hoping for another opportunity to make his mark at Stamford Bridge in a game where he’s likely to get more time on the ball than you’d expect in the Premier League. Having come from La Liga, this is a game that could suit him.

Thomas Tuchel has been speaking to the BBC and has made a concerted effort to ward off any signs of complacency after a perfect Champions League campaign last year:

“The most important thing is not to look back, but keep the feeling and the hunger. It is addictive, this game is about winning because it changes the atmosphere and feeling and gives you natural confidence."

Chelsea are the clear favourites for this game, which is reflected in an offering of just 3 points for a home win. You’ll get 45 for predicting a draw and if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can bag yourself 90 by backing Zenit.

Preston up Next as Blades look to build upon six-star win

14/09/2021 - Championship

By Owain Wyse, Sheffield United writer

Preston up Next as Blades look to build upon six-star win

After their emphatic win on Saturday, United will be looking for another strong performance under the lights as the Lilywhites travel to S2.

The Blades found their scoring touch and showed quality in all areas as they recorded a thumping victory over Darren Ferguson’s side. Iliman Ndiaye started the romp with his first Blades goal as a cut back from debutant Gibbs-White allowed space for Ndiaye to fire well placed finish into the bottom corner at the Bramall Lane end; a dream start for the youngster dubbed the signing of the summer by many within the club. However, despite the Blades dominance in the first half a mistake from Jack Robinson allowed Posh striker Jack Marriot in behind to score his first of the season.

In the second half United would make their control count. Firstly, John Fleck pounced on a loose ball played it into Sharp and continued his run into the area, Sharp’s return ball found the Scotsman who put the Blades back in front. Just two minutes later, some excellent football saw unlikely scorer Ben Osborn arriving late into the area to slide the ball home and lift the roof.

It wouldn’t be long to wait until the 4th, again Ndiaye and Gibbs White combining with the latter thrashing a finish into the top corner. Ndiaye would be involved in another goal shortly after as he latched onto Sharps cross, a hat-trick of assists for the skipper, and his header nestled into the corner of the goal.

It wasn’t quite the perfect second half for the Blades however. Egan lunged in and brought down Jonson Clarke-Harris who dusted himself down and stepped up to slam the penalty down the middle. The game wasn’t done yet though, in injury time substitute McBurnie found Osborn to score his second. The 6 goals scored in the game equalled the tally the Blades managed in their last 10 competitive games.

After the wonderful performance at the weekend United will be looking to carry their form into tomorrow’s game. There are no fresh injury worries for United and they could be bolstered by the returns of Ben Davies, Sander Berge, and David McGoldrick. Sweden’s number one, new signing Robin Olsen, could also be available however Jokanovic was still unsure about the situation of his new keeper during the pre-match media. New free agent signing Adlene Guedioura is eligible for selection tomorrow after he signed a one-year deal with United after training at Shirecliffe with the squad for a while before the move was confirmed.

As for Preston, Ched Evans is unlikely to be available for selection against his former club, but ex-Owl Conor Wickham is in contention to feature after he signed a short-term deal with the club earlier today.

With United high on confidence from the crushing victory at the weekend the fans are hoping for another high class performance against a strong Preston side that have only conceded one goal in their last four Championship outings. Prediction wise I’m going for a 3-0 win for United.

More home action as Sutton welcome Hartlepool

14/09/2021 - League Two

By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer

Sutton are back in EFL action on Tuesday evening as they welcome high flying Hartlepool United to the VBS Community stadium. This is Sutton’s third home game in a row, with home fixtures now coming like London busses, for the London based side.  The two sides have gone from being National League sides to EFL sides, with Sutton coming out on top in the last time the two sides met, with Isaac Olafoe, Rob Milsom and Louis John scoring in a 3-0 win for the home side.

The visitors come into this one sat 4th in the league after a very encouraging start. 4 wins out of 4 for Pools at home, however Sutton will take confidence in the away form so far for the northern side, with pools losing both their encounters away from home so far this season. Tyler Buery, a Millwall loanee who is the visitor’s top scorer will be unavailable for this fixture, along with Gavin Holohan and David Ferguson unlikely to make the trip south.

One absentee for Sutton is Joe Barden, who was forced off with injury against Stevenage which will likely see Joe Kizzitake his place in Suttons back four.

Regarding Footrace points for this encounter, should the home side be victorious for the second game in a row, 12 points will be yours. Adding ten points to that total will give you 22 if you pick the sides to be level pegging. The visitors will gain you 25 points if you feel Hartlepool will take 3 points back up North with them!

Reality check for Spurs as they get humbled by Crystal Palace

13/09/2021 - Premier League

By Archie Burkinshaw, Tottenham Hotspur writer

Well that's the honeymoon period well and truly over for Spurs as they were convincingly beaten 3-0 by Crystal Palace on Saturday. In defence of Nuno he was dealt an extremely tough hand with Son Heung-min, Steven Bergwijn, Cristian Romero, Giovani Lo Celso, Davinson Sanchez and Ryan Sessegnon all unavailable for this game. He then saw Dier limp off after 12 minutes and just to top it all off Spurs were reduced to ten men after Tanganga received a red card.

Player availability aside there were few redeeming features from this awful Tottenham performance, according to Opta, Tottenhams two shots is their lowest tally in a Premier League game since August 2005 (when they managed one in drawing 0-0 at Blackburn Rovers under Martin Jol), and they didn't register a single one in the first half. This match also marked the first time Kane, who was badly isolated throughout, completed 90 minutes in a Premier League game without having a shot or even a touch of the ball in the opposition penalty area.

The lack of creativity was incredibly worrying, Nuno opted to start a midfield three of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks who all failed to create any concrete chances, whilst Bryan Gil and Tanguay Ndombele (possibly the two most creative players in the squad) sat on the bench for the entirety of the game. In the final 20 minutes Spurs defensively, fell apart, giving away a sloppy penalty and two goals to debutant Odsonne Edouard.

It is going to be interesting to see Nuno's response to this test, unlike his predecessor Nuno did not blame the situation he found himself in, he stayed clear of excuses, simply stating the performance was not good enough. Nuno will have to get his available players ready for a massive week as they first travel to Rennes on Thursday before a huge home tie against unbeaten Chelsea on Sunday.

This will all have to be done with a makeshift defence after Dier left the dressing room on crutches, Tanganaga will be serving a suspension, and Romero and Sanchez will only be returning a day before the fixture against the European champions. According to Nuno, Son and Bergwijn should be available for Chelsea and he will certainly need them if his side are to stand any chance. This is no doubt Nuno's inevitable first big test, last season when Spurs faced adversity and pressure they crumbled, we now get to see if he is the man to change that.

Ronaldo runs the show on his return to the Theatre of Dreams

13/09/2021 - Premier League

By Nathan Shields, Manchester United writer

There was an abundance of expectation and excitement every time Ronaldo was on the ball, and he took aim on 10 minutes, though he could only find the side-netting.

Raphael Varane then headed wide from a Luke Shaw corner on 19 minutes.

Not long after, Fernandes audaciously attempted his own Beckham vs Wimbledon moment with an effort that dropped just over the bar.

United struggled to unpick Newcastle's low block, and it appeared like the game would be goalless going into halftime.

That was until the inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo opened his account on his second debut for the reds.

Freddie Woodman spilt Greenwood's shot, and Ronaldo was there to tap the ball into the back of the net from five yards, causing an eruption from the home support and plenty to rue their decision to wander off for a halftime pint before the whistle blew.

Much of the same from the reds to start the second half as they kept up their domination.

However, despite spending the majority of the game behind the ball rather than on it, Newcastle drew level on 56 minutes after a well-worked counterattack.

Ciaran Clark drove the ball out from the back from his own half before passing to Allan Saint-Maximin, who fed the ball into Javier Manquillo to drive home.

The Geordies' delight didn't last long, though, as homecoming King Ronaldo bagged again!

The unstoppable Shaw carried the ball up the pitch and slid through to the Portuguese in the area, and he was never going to miss one-on-one, thumping his shot through Woodman's legs.

David De Gea wasn't the busiest man on the day but did well to be alert on 67 minutes to make a smart save when Joelinton took aim.

Around 10 minutes later, the largely unneeded De Gea played a stunning pass from a dropkick to find Greenwood, who broke forward.

He laid it back to Pogba, who found Fernandes 25 yards out, who picked out the top left of the goal for United's third goal.

A fourth rounded off a dominant day for Solkjaer's side when Anthony Martial dummied Pogba's pass into Lingard, who turned and deftly curled his shot into the goal.




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