‘Just Don’t Embarrass Us’

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in April 2016, Leicester City ran out comfortable winners at the Stadium of Light against a Sunderland side which seemed certain to go down. Not only did this victory put them to within 3 victories of their first Premier League title, but it was on this day that Qualification for the Champions League was confirmed.

Fast forward 12 months and Leicester City are in the Quarter Finals against an Atletico Madrid side who have reached 2 of the last 3 finals of the competition, following a superb comeback win against Sevilla in the Last 16 meant that they were the last English team remaining in the tournament, once again proving everybody in sport wrong.

Pundits and Presenters alike were doubting the credentials of the League Champions when going onto European football’s biggest stage, saying that we will find it tough and asking simply for us to ‘Not Embarrass the English Game’. A feat that Tottenham and Arsenal adequately filled following Spurs’ ‘Wembley Woe’s’ seeing them finish 3rd in their group, and then falling in the last 32 of the Europa League and Arsenals 10-2 aggregate drubbing to Bayern Munich.

Not only did Leicester not embarrass the English game, they have managed to restore faith and continue the fairy tale that has been Leicester City’s most recent spell in the top flight of the English Leagues. During their first ever season in the Champions League, Leicester have;

  • Won all 4 of their Fixtures at home
  • Kept 4 consecutive clean sheets (Becoming the first side ever to do so in their first 4 Champions League Games)
  • Won their group
  • Became the last remaining English side in the competition.

Being classed as an underdog works in Leicester’s favour, as it allows them to play with little to no pressure and puts all the onus onto their opposition, and the tie away at Atletico Madrid (12th April) will be no different.

This is one of the few games in which Leicester have previous European history with their opponents, following meetings in the 1961/62 & 1997/98 campaigns, both resulting in a Madrid victory, but as the old saying goes, “Third time’s the charm”.

Despite a poor domestic campaign prior to Ranieri’s departure, Leicester have performed time and time again on the European stage, with only 1 slip following a much changed side travelled to Porto with the group title already secured, and with Jamie Vardy back in and amongst the goals, Kasper Schmiechel fast growing into one of the best goalkeepers in the league, Wilfried N’Didi proving why he was chosen as a replacement for the incredible N’Golo Kante and Craig Shakespeare getting us back to playing the way that saw us not only achieve the ‘Great Escape’ but won us the league just 1 year after, anything is possible and if any team are going to defy the odds, you’d put money on it being Leicester.

Now as a Leicester fan, I’m not expectant to win the tournament, I was simply over the moon we didn’t prove the pundits right and have a failure of a campaign. This is what you live for in football, and It has simply been incredible to watch a side that I watched play sides such as Cheltenham, Yeovil and Hereford less than 10 years ago now go toe to toe with some of the best that Europe has to offer.

It has been a few seasons that you never expect to see as a fan, and for now I for one am certainly just enjoying the ride. No matter the result this evening, should we get an away goal I will forever feel confident that we can once again produce the magic on Filbert Way in the 2nd leg.

This club is no Embarrassment.

 

 

Wenger: Time to Go?

It’s a question that not only now divides Arsenal fans, but one that has spread throughout English football.

It goes without saying that the 67-year-old has tasted his fair share of success during his 21 year spell with the North London outfit, but as the 2016/17 season draws to a close, Arsene Wenger seems to be on the verge of his worst league finish in charge. After suffering a humiliating 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League Last 16, and a string of poor performances in the league, the FA Cup once again appears to be the only piece of silverware that Arsenal are competing for.

Arsenal-fans-fighting

Images of Arsenal fans fighting amongst themselves surface following 2-2 draw at Home against Manchester City in April

The fans have become ever more vocal about their decisions this season, with some protesting during their 3-1 away defeat to West Brom by having 2 separate banners fly over the Hawthorns via plane, which prompted calls saying that the fans were making the club a laughing stock.

One plane held the message “No New Contract #WengerOut”, whilst the second stated “In Arsene We Trust #RespectAW”, showing that the Frenchman clearly divides opinion within the fans, and now pundits and fans from outside the club are weighing in with their opinions on the matter.

The Reality is that after 21 years, Arsene Wenger has won just 9 Major competitions, compared to long running rival, former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson who delivered 28 trophies in his 26 years in England. He has lead them through the incredible feat of an unbeaten title winning season in 2003/04 and has also delivered Champions League football each and every season that he has been at the club, which is still a monumental achievement in the English game.

But Arsenal’s move to the Emirates in 2007 was a step in the direction to secure their place as one of the top European football clubs, yet that is still to materialise, with 7 consecutive seasons of Last 16 defeats in the Champions League, none more humiliating than the 10-2 drubbing on aggregate that Wenger’s side suffered this season, proving that they are still looking to improve on their European form, with their best finish in the tournament coming in 2006 where they were defeated by Barcelona in Paris. But is there more to it than just Wenger’s management, are the players pulling their weight in the big games?

I believe that Wenger’s time at Arsenal is up, and that Arsenal should begin to plan a future without the man that has helped shape them into the side they are today, but I also believe that he deserves much more respect than he is being granted by the fans given the years of service he has put into the club.

The main question then looks onto who Wenger’s replacement could be, with the current bookies favourite being Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri. Despite him losing just 20 of his 152 Juventus games in all competitions since 2014, he has only ever managed in Italy, and it may take him time to adapt to the English game, however this has not been the case in Antonio Conte’s opening Premier League campaign, with Chelsea looking set to win their 5th Premier League title.

Follow me on Twitter: @CurtTaylor97

A New Era?

The opening weekend of April saw some of the Worlds Strongest Athletes head to Leeds to compete for the title of Europe’s Strongest Man.

Despite his shock result just 9 months previous, Laurence Shahlaei pulled out due to illness, meaning that a new champion would have to be crowned. With Hafthor Julius Bjornsson winning the competition in 2014 & 2015, he came in as a firm favourite despite being diagnosed with Bells Palsy just days before the competition, causing a temporary paralysis of the face.

Britain’s record breaking Eddie Hall also came in hoping to prove himself as one of the best strongmen competitors in the World in the same arena in which he broke the deadlift record, following his continuous improvement that saw him land a 3rd place finish in Worlds just last summer despite dislocating 2 fingers prior to even competing in the opening event, and with legendary Zydrunas Savickas out again with injury, the title was everybody’s to win.

The event not only allowed us to see who could win the battle of strength, but it also showed just how far the sport of strongman has come over the years. A sold out 11,000 seat arena filled to the brim for a sport that is rarely aired or even spoken about shows that there is a growing interest in possibly one of the most impressive sports around, especially as this is the largest crowd for an event of this type.. If this continual growth continues I can see many more sponsors wanting in, and therefore opening more opportunities for promising talent to have a chance to break through, and hopefully allowing for more accessible viewing, as despite the Worlds Strongest Man contest being held in the summer, it is not shown on TV until Christmas time, meaning that the results are leaked before people have the opportunity to watch the action unfold, lowering the interest in watching.

The events tested each and every aspect of a strongman’s game, with events such as a Bus Pull, flipping a 450kg tire 4 times followed by dragging a giant anchor and chain back down the course, the Axle Press (In which Eddie Hall broke yet another world record, by pressing 216kg over his head, 1kg more than the on looking Zydrunas Zavickas’ previous record) and was finished off in true strongman style with the Atlas Stones.

Despite the efforts of the chasing pack, Thor won a record 3rd title, pipping Hall by just 2 points, and with ‘The Comeback King’ Terry Hollands finishing in an impressive 3rd place ahead of Georgian Konstantine Janashia, who starred in the 2016 Worlds Strongest Man and certainly has a promising future in the sport. Following his early exit due to illness, Laurence Shahlaei’s title defence end after just 3 events, as he finished in 8th place.

This competition has been the perfect warm up for the athletes ahead of Worlds that are set to be held in Botswana for the second successive year, and gives us a good idea of where abouts the European Competitors are in terms of performance, as Thor and Co look to prevent the ever improving Brian Shaw winning a record equalling 5th Worlds Title.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @CurtTaylor97

 

Normality Resumes.

The International break is finally over, and after two very boring England matches, I could not wait until the Premier League campaign rolled back in to town. So, after a weekend off, the Premier League action finally returned and offered as much excitement as usual, with many high profile clashes at both the top and bottom of the league.

The weekend kicked off with the small matter of the Merseyside Derby and it was as feisty as ever, with a surprise inclusion for Matthew Pennington and the typically expected rash tackles and passionate fans, the Premier League returned with a bang. The headlines also included the rash discussions that happened on the touchline with Jurgen Klopp and Ronald Koemans’ back room staff traded words following one of Ross Barkley’s many questionable tackles. In the end, Liverpool came out relatively easy 3-1 winners, despite another Everton youngster in Matthew Pennington slotting home to score his first Everton goal, levelling the score for all of 3 first half minutes and handing the bragging rights to the red side of Liverpool in the 3rd successive game under Klopp.

This result put pressure back on the sides in and around the Top 4 as they leapfrogged Manchester City into 3rd. On the same weekend we witnessed a shock result as Sam Allardyce and star of the Show Wilfried Zaha continued Crystal Palace’s amazing turnaround in form with a 2-1 away win at Chelsea which delivered a 4th consecutive win pulling them further away from the relegation zone, and cutting Chelsea’s seemingly unassailable lead from 10 points to 7 following Tottenham’s 2-0 away win at Burnley.

Leicester’s resurgence continued as they beat a lacklustre Stoke City 2-0 at the King Power, which in turn saw Craig Shakespeare become the first English coach to win his opening 4 Premier League games, and also saw them climb to 13th place in the League, having been lumbered in and around the bottom 3 when Claudio Ranieri was sacked. New man Wilfried N’Didi once again proving why he was brought into the club with an assured performance in the centre of midfield and topped off another top drawer performance, he rifled a 25 yard effort into the top right hand corner of the net. Perhaps Leicester have finally found the ideal replacement for the ‘irreplaceable’ N’Golo Kante, and lets not forget he is only just 20 years of age, signalling that there is much more to come from this lad.

Hull City took a massive step in their quest for survival as they beat free falling West Ham, who slip to 15th just 5 points ahead of Hull, will now be looking over their shoulders and dreading the prospect of a relegation battle after such a swansong season last season at Upton Park, while fellow relegation candidates Sunderland once again tasted defeat, which comes with a dip in club form for main talisman Jermaine Defoe, leaving them without a league goal in over 2 months and looking destined to trade places with local rivals Newcastle in the Championship.

The final two games were 0-0 draws, but one hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Tony Pulis’ West Brom travelled to Old Trafford, with their 8th placed position with the time being. They did what any typical Pulis team are known for doing, placing 11 men behind the ball and making life miserable for their opponents and in turn, the fans. I fully believe a result is better than the way a team plays, but watching West Brom at times is like watching paint dry. Never the less, they efficiently took a point, much to Mourinho’s dismay as he seemed to once again throw the toys out of the pram after not getting a result that he wanted. Not content with showing very little respect to West Brom in the post match interview, he later went on to launch a scathing attack onto Luke Shaw, saying he cannot compare him to any other player and that he is nowhere near the first team.

And finally, a south coast derby between Southampton and Bournemouth played out like a mid table game at the end of the season, rather drab and dull with neither sides having much to play for, despite Bournemouth’s poor form prior to the two games in March. Despite both sides hitting the post, the only real highlight was the missed penalty from Harry Arter who blazed over with 13 minutes to go, bluffing the chance to send the Cherries above their hosts.

With International football over until June, we can now look forward to an uninterrupted footballing calendar in the Premier League, and with many more twists and turns, we can look forward to