English clubs struggle & FA Cup changes

18th April 2024

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And so this was a week that witnessed the best side in Europe Manchester City exit the Champions League and on the same night Arsenal followed suit. It is rare to see back to back winners of the competition. Indeed only Real Madrid have achieved this in the current Champions League format and it was the very same club that have come back to haunt Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Guardiola of course has had to deal with the Spanish thorn for all of his career as a player then manager of Barcelona. City have now met Madrid for the past three seasons running, knocked out in two of those but emphatically destroying Madrid last season en route to finally winning the competition.

After a terrific first leg which ended 3-3 in Spain we were served a rather dull second leg. It was a game that lasted 120 minutes but felt like 1,200 minutes. City attacked, Madrid defended, and yes of course there were moments of quality on the field but City looked predictable and Madrid for the most part did their job. The one story emerging from City being knocked out at home on penalties comes by the way of Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne. Two of the very best players in the world in their positions apparently asked to come off. Haaland before extra time and De Bruyne during it. Of course City has an FA Cup semi-final to contend with and the small matter of creating history by winning 4 top flight league titles in a row. But a quarter final match of a Champions League game against Real Madrid it seems odd that both major world star players would ask to be substituted unless they were carrying some minor injuries that were about to be inflamed. This has to come to light given that the game went to penalties and City lost. Given that one of the best attacking sides in world football had to ask Ederson, their goalkeeper, to take a penalty- yes he scored and it was actually a superb strike, but still…. One would have thought that Haaland and De Bruyne would have dispatched their penalties, it's what world class players do so well in the very heat of the moment instead of Bernardo Silva's weird pass back to the goalkeeper when it really mattered. Granted City tried to win the game but was it playing out for all to see that this was going to penalties? Guardiola has been criticised in the past for 'overthinking' Champions League games and it looks like he's gone and done the same again. 

As for Arsenal they narrowly lost 1-0 at Bayern Munich to go out 3-2 on aggregate. Manager Mikel Arteta was at least honest as he said there is much still to do to be at that level, but Arsenal fans and a sizeable chunk of the media thought that Arsenal were at that level now- they are not and one has to wonder if this loss will have implications for their league title race also?

Going back to City and as for Haaland, despite him being the joint goalscorer with 20 goals with Chelsea's Cole Palmer he has come under criticism of late. Haaland scores goals but other attributes are missing from his game. One has to wonder why he isn't dropping deeper to collect the ball? Of course the answer could simply be that Guardiola won't allow him to do so. But also with the way City play short passes into the middle, if Haaland were to drop deep then he would be completely out of position for the way the club have been drilled to play. In short we are not seeing the best of Haaland and while for now he is clearly going nowhere his future and perhaps when he is really in his prime may lie elsewhere. One worry despite Haaland being arguably the best centre forward in world football, is that he is not performing to a level in the very biggest games. Still if City win the league title and he starts to score again he can be forgiven and let's not forget he missed 2 months of the season. It would seem odd though if the Norwegian does not finish as top goalscorer this season. Let's look at the stats and current market:

Top goalscorers with 6 games left to play:

Cole Palmer    20

Erling Haaland  20

Ollie Watkins   19

Mohamed Salah  17

Alexander Isak   17


Premier League Top Goalscorer: Erling Haaland 1.66, Cole Palmer 4.00, Ollie Watkins 7.00, Mohamed Salah 15.00, Alexander Isak 16.00

We all know Haaland's strengths and it wouldn't be a surprise if he was to end the season as top goalscorer for the 2nd time in a row. With Cole Palmer he is on a high but Chelsea possess a few capable goalscorers who may take some off of him. The value seems to be on Ollie Watkins who is only 1 goal shy and a great price of 7.00 as Villa look to finish the season strong and finish in a Champions League place. Finally Salah and Isak's prices seem about right, but all it takes is one of them to score a hat trick to completely blow the market wide open. Much like the title run in the goalscorers competition is really heating up and could well go to the wire.


The FA has announced a few changes to next season- are they good or bad though? The first one is the total scrapping of FA Cup replays- Premier League sides are going to be happy about this, lower league sides no, this was a fantastic opportunity for these clubs to make amazing unheard of short term revenue. However of course only a couple of teams per season benefitted from this and as a response the FA says it will pump more money into the lower league divisions. Let's reserve judgement until we find out how much money that will be. The winter break is scrapped, but as we can tell anyone of you the break was a fabrication. Games were still played; it just meant that your team got two weeks off while others had to play- and even then during the 'break' your team had to play in the cup. The break won't be missed, as it was never there. In response the FA has claimed that there will be a longer summer break between seasons. We are guessing that a longer break may be extended by a week at most, so not that long, let's see how that plays out. Of course with pre-season tours summer breaks don't really exist for players, but the FA will say that is out of their hands.


Finally what feels like a controversial one, the curtain call of the season, the FA Cup final will now be played during the season. Does this not take away yet another glimmer of magic from the cup? It has been losing it for years- go and look on YouTube on any cup final pick a decade, if you want full bright colours look at the 1980s- feel what the spectacle really meant for a generation growing up on cup final Saturdays with the campaign done and dusted. For any kid whose life was football 24/7 your stomach was having butterflies like a Saturday afternoon theme park, the cup was that special. The FA want to reduce it to have the final played on the 37th game weekend of the league- when everyone's focus may be on a league title/ relegation battle going to the wire? It's like having your wedding on Christmas Day- just leave it alone, separate the good days for more good times.

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