Indy 11 @ Columbus Wed Night, Home Sat vs Pittsburgh 7 pm
Indy Eleven enters the US Open Cup contest at Columbus Crew SC Wed night reeling a bit – three straight losses in USL Championship action have left the Boys in Blue winless in their last four league outings – Wednesday offers a “throw caution to the wind” opportunity in addition to the rare chance to make club history. Despite suffering a 2-3 loss over the weekend at home to Monterey Bay F.C., Indy Eleven does come out of the contest with some good vibes after getting its first multi-goal performance of the young USLC season courtesy of offensive headliners Sebastian Guenzatti and Solomon Asante – the latter of whom also provided his first league assist of 2023. Wednesday’s match will mark only Indy Eleven’s third against MLS competition in the U.S. Open Cup, and its first in nearly seven years dating back to a 4-3 penalty kick defeat at Chicago Fire FC following a 1-1 draw on June 16, 2016. I think the game is on Columbus Crew Teamcast. Indy return to league play Saturday, closing out a busy month at “The Mike” by hosting Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff on “Kick Cancer Night” at Carroll Stadium (live on MyINDY-TV 23, ESPN+ and Exitos Radio 94.3 FM). Single-game tickets for all home games at IUPUI Carroll Stadium along with 17-game Season Ticket Memberships, specially-priced group tickets, and an increased portfolio of hospitality options are available for purchase now via indyeleven.com/tickets or by calling 317-685-1100 Full Schedule Promotions
Wrexham of the FX TV Show “We are Wrexham” (on Disney+, Hulu) is the talk of the town after Ryan Reynold’s & Rob McIlleney’s squad won Sun thus winning the National League – 5th and lowest division of Professional Soccer in England. (video of Rob and Ryan) They will move up to the 2nd division which is actually England’s 4th place league behind the Premier League, Championship and 1st Division. Of course the show’s long term goal was to move them back into division football – and maybe someday into the EPL. We’ll see if the Hollywood stars have the staying power and the $ for the long haul – but for now it’s a wonderful show if you haven’t watched lasts season’s show chronicalling the 21-22 season (last yr). Can’t wait to see the next season – following this year’s team. Tons of stories below. Of course Ted Lasso season 3 is also out on Apple TV and worth the subscription for this “best comedy on TV” 2 years running.
Games to Watch
Of course the biggie is Arsenal traveling to Man City Wed at 3 pm on USA Network – with a narrow 5 pt lead and Man City with 2 games in hand. This is honestly a must win or tie game for Arsenal if they want to win the EPL title this year. The 2 time champs Man City are odds on favorites now and a win at home would probably seal Arsenal’s fate. As much as I enjoyed the visit to Man City and have huge more respect for them and manager Pep Guardiola now – (I love Haaland), I am rooting for Arsenal to find a way to spring the upset or at least tie them. Lets keep this 2 team race for first going as long as possible eh. (lots of stories below)
Other games worth watching includes today’s American Daily Double as Fulham and American Captain Tim Ream and Jedi Robinson travel to now 6th place Aston Villa at 2:45 pm on Peacock. USA has Lead’s United States with Aaron McKinney and Brendan Aaronson hosting Leicester City in a relegation battle at 3 pm on USA Network. This is a must win for Leed’s losers of 3 in a row and simply not the same since inspirational leader and dmid extrodinaire Tyler Adams was lost for the season to injury. Also on tap Wed Inter Milan host Juventus in a Italian Cup battle at 3 pm on Paramount plus, along with US Open Cup play and tons of teams playing mostly on Youtube from 7 pm on – including our Indy 11 @ the Columbus Crew at 7 pm. Philly hosting LAFC in Champions League Semi-Final action is a 9 pm game on FS1, following Tues 10 pm affair for the Mexican half of the draw Tigres vs Leon also on FS1.
GAMES ON TV
(American’s names in Parenthesis)
Tues, Apr 25
2:45 pm Peacock Aston Villa vs Fulham (Ream, Jedi)
3 pm USA Leeds United (Mckinney, Aaronson) vs Leicester City
10 pm FS1 Tigres vs Leon CCCL semi
Weds, Apr 26
2:45 pm Peacock West Ham vs Liverpool
3 pm USA Man City vs Arsenal
3 pm Para+ Inter vs Juventus
7 pm You Tube/Bleacher Report US Open Cup Play – USOC
7 pm Teamcast Indy 11 @ Columbus Crew USOC
7:30 pm CBS Golazo Miami FC vs Inter Miami USOC
9 pm FS1 Philly Union vs LAFC CCCL Semi
Thurs, Apr 27
2:45 pm USA Everton vs New Castle United
3:15 pm Peacock Tottenham vs Man United
Sat, Apr 29
7:30 am USA Crystal Palace vs West Ham United
10 am USA Brentford vs Nottingham Forest
10 am Peacoclk Crystal Palace vs Everton
12 noon ESPN+ Roma vs Milan
1:30 pm Fox Nashville vs Atlanta United
3 pm ESPN+ Barcelona vs Real Betis
7 pm My Indy TV Indy 11 vs Pittsburg
7 pm Para+ Racing Louisville vs OL Reign (Rapinoe) NWSL
8:30 pm Apple+ St. Louis City vs Portland Timbers
9:30 pm Apple TV Real Salt Lake vs Seattle Sounders
10 pm CBS Sports Net San Diego Wave (Alex Morgan) vs Orlando Pride (Marta) NWSL
Sun, Apr 30
6:30 am Para+ Inter Milan vs Lazio
9 am USA Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs Man City
9 am Peacock Bournemouth vs West Ham United
11:30 USA Liverpool vs Tottenham
6 pm Para+ KC Current vs NY Gothem (Lynn Williams) NWSL
9 pm FS1 Minn United vs Dallas FC
Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw
Title, relegation and Champions League at stake in huge Premier League midweek Mark Ogden ESPN
Relegation scrap down to five as Leeds host Foxes
Man City vs. Arsenal preview: Players to watch, tactics, predictions and more ESPN
How Premier League clubs can qualify for Europe this season Dale Johnson
Source: Poch in advanced talks for Chelsea job Mark Ogden
Guardiola tells Man City not to let grip on Premier League title go
Erling Haaland vs Martin Odegaard: Norway to grind to a halt in the grip of title-race fever
Mikel Arteta should go with this bold strategy at Manchester City
Pep Guardiola turned to John Stones and Johan Cruyff’s playbook to fix Man City
Arsenal on the ropes as Man City aim for knockout blow in Premier League title race
Arteta says ‘incredible opportunity’ awaits Arsenal at Man City
Tottenham players offer ticket refunds to fans who traveled for 6-1 loss at Newcastle
Tottenham ready for biggest rebuild in their history, with Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Daniel Levy set for exit
BREAKING: Tottenham sack INTERIM boss Cristian Stellini after ‘devastating’ Newcastle loss
Can Bayern Munich rally and save their season? PLUS: Man United, Man City reach FA Cup final Gab Marcotti
Mayor: Napoli title will set off ‘big earthquake of joy’
FA Cup final 2023, Manchester City vs Manchester United: What time is it and what TV channel is it on?
Solly March misses as Brighton lose FA Cup semi-final on penalties to Manchester United
Man Utd beat Brighton on penalties to set up FA Cup final against Man City
Barcelona’s $1.6 Billion Stadium Renovation Clears Financing Hurdle
Ferran Torres earns Barca narrow win over Atletico as Sevilla stun Villarreal
Premier League Summer Series coming to USA in 2023: How to get tickets, watch live, schedule
‘Sky’s the limit’ as Wrexham not worried about spending caps
Sorry, Ryan Reynolds – I was a Wrexham cynic but I was wrong
Report: U.S. Soccer has found new sporting director
Luton Town Horvath Wins over Steffen’s Middlesborough in battle of US Keepers
Angel City falls to rival in first meeting between Alyssa Thompson and Alex Morgan
Arsenal women evacuated after plane bursts into flame on runway
FIFA confirms 4 in 2027 Women’s World Cup hosting race
LAFC looks for Repeat vs Philly in UCL Wed
Power Rankings: NYCFC soar, Red Bulls drop after Matchday 9
Your Tuesday Kickoff: Philadelphia-LAFC CCL semifinal is a gift from the soccer god
Become a Licensed High School Ref
Indy’s First Chance at a “Cupset” Since 2016 Comes Wednesday at Crew SC
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Match Preview – Third Round
Indy Eleven at Columbus Crew SC (MLS)
Wednesday, April 26, 2023 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Lower.com Field – Columbus, Ohio
Local/National TV: n/a
Streaming Video: TBA
In-game updates: @IndyElevenLive Twitter feed
Live stats: ColumbusCrew.com
Indy Eleven: 1W-3L-2D (-4 GD), 5 pts.; T-8th in USL Championship Eastern Conference
Columbus Crew SC: 4W-3L-2D (+8 GD), 15 pts.; 5th in MLS Eastern Conference
The Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup brings most Major League Soccer clubs into the fold of U.S. Soccer’s national club championship – and for Indy Eleven it brings the first chance to take on a team from America’s top flight in seven seasons.While Indy Eleven enters the contest at Columbus Crew SC reeling a bit – three straight losses in USL Championship action have left the Boys in Blue winless in their last four league outings – Wednesday offers a “throw caution to the wind” opportunity in addition to the rare chance to make club history. Indiana’s Team came close to knocking off MLS sides in two previous chances in U.S. Open Cup play, but an added extra time defeat away to Columbus during Indy’s inaugural 2014 campaign and a loss in penalties at Chicago Fire FC two years later left tantalizing “cupset” bids wanting.Despite suffering a 2-3 loss over the weekend at home to Monterey Bay F.C., Indy Eleven does come out of the contest with some good vibes after getting its first multi-goal performance of the young USLC season courtesy of offensive headliners Sebastian Guenzatti and Solomon Asante – the latter of whom also provided his first league assist of 2023. Asante was also a game-changer during the Eleven’s 3-1 triumph over Michigan Stars FC in the USOC’s Second Round back on April 5, when he assisted on all three tallies after entering at halftime to help flip the script on a match that, despite dominating, saw Indy forced to come back in the second stanza before it pulled away in added extra time.
While Wednesday’s game serves as the middle match in a three-game week for Indy, an extra day of rest and the short travel east bodes well for Head Coach Mark Lowry to throw out a fresh-legged squad for the affair. Defenders Adrian Diz Pe and Gustavo Rissi remain questionable with hamstring injuries – which contributed to normal fullback Robby Dambrot getting his first look centrally on Saturday night since joining the squad nearly a year ago – Lowry will definitely be without the services of forward Jonas Fjeldberg, whose reaggravation of a foot injury forced him from Saturday’s contest before halftime. That could mean a reinsertion to the starting XI for winger Douglas Martinez, who as a member of Sacramento Republic FC helped the USLC side to a trio of upsets over MLS sides (Sporting KC, LA Galaxy & San Jose Earthquakes) en route to their shock Final appearance last year against Orlando City SC.
On the opposite side, Crew SC enters the match off a 0-1 road defeat at Charlotte FC. That ended Columbus’ four-match unbeaten streak that began with three wins on the trot, during which they outscored Atlanta United (6-1), Real Salt Lake (4-0), and D.C. United (2-0) by a 12-1 margin. Crew SC has defended their gleaming new(ish) home of Lower.com quite well in 2023, going 3W-0L-1D and outscoring their visitors 13-2 in the process.Columbus’ solid start in MLS play has been driven by an attack whose 18 goals ranks tied for second across the league. Argentine striker Lucas Zelarayan continues to be worth every penny of his Designated Player status in his fourth year with America’s Hardest Working Team, as he paces the squad with four goals and has also added two assists. Former IU Hoosier (if only for one season in 2019) Aidan Morris and Christian Ramirez – a former foe of the Eleven’s as a member of the NASL’s Minnesota United from 2014-16 – follow close behind with three goals each, while Romanian playmaker Alexandru Matan is enjoying a breakout campaign with a team-best four assists in the early going.Darlington Nagbe continues to serve as one of the most dependable holding midfielders in MLS and has been a steady presence on the midfield line alongside Morris and Mohamed Farsi, while in defense Steven Moreira and Milos Degenek have been “put it in pen” members of the Starting XI through nine games. In goal, the battle between 2022 regular Eloy Room and defending MLS Next PRO Goalkeeper of the Year Patrick Schulte may rage on; Schulte has allowed only 1.17 goals in his six starts while Room has been absent in the early season, but with the incumbent back from injury the choice for Head Coach Wilfried Nancy could be a tough one, starting with Wednesday night’s affair.
IND Last Time Out:
Indy Eleven 2 : 3 Monterey Bay F.C.
Saturday, April 22 | IUPUI Michael A. Carroll Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
Recap & Highlights | Stats
Indy Eleven registered its first multi-goal game in league play in 2023, but the offensive effort wasn’t enough as Monterey Bay F.C. scratched across a pair in the second half to down Indy to a 2-3 loss at IUPUI Carroll Stadium. The first goals of the season by Eleven forwards Solomon Asante (23’) and Sebastian Guenzatti (40’) – which were also Indy’s first two goals in first half play this season – helped Indiana’s Team overcome an early deficit and take a 2-1 lead into the halftime break. However, MBFC tallies by Christian Volesky (57’) and Nevello Yoseke (62’) midway through the second stanza gave the visitors the full three points and pushed the Eleven’s winless streak in league play to four games (0-3-1).
CLB Last Time Out:
Charlotte FC 1 : 0 Columbus Crew SC
Saturday, April 22 | Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
In a vein familiar to Indy Eleven faithful as of late, Crew SC dominated possession (67-33) and passes (654-314) by 2-to-1 margins or greater, but those advantages bore no fruit for the visitors in an away defeat last weekend in the Queen City. Charlotte striker Karol Swiderski’s 37th minute first-time rocket from 15 yards made the difference in the otherwise statistically even affair in front of more than 30,000 fans at Bank of America Stadium. Aidan Morris looked to have evened things up with 90 seconds left in regulation time, but a controversial offside ruling after a VAR check nullified the equalizer, downing the Crew to a third defeat in five trips away from Lower.com Field this season (1W-3L-1D).
Series vs. Columbus Crew SC:
All-time/U.S. Open Cup record: 0W-1L-0D (1 GF/2 GA)
Away record: 0W-1L-0D (1 GF/2 GA)
Indy Eleven All-time USOC Record: 4W-6L-1D (13 GF/14 GA)
Away Record: 0W-4L-1D (2 GF/6 GA)
Indy Eleven will renew acquaintances with Crew SC for the first time in official competition since the Eleven’s initial U.S. Open Cup run during its inaugural 2014 season. That year on June 17, the Boys in Blue took their Fourth Round affair at FirstEnergy Stadium in Akron into added extra time after Blake Smith’s 62nd equalizer canceled out Bernard Anor’s 4th minute opener. However, the upset bid ultimately fell short when Jairo Arrieta converted a penalty kick in the 113th minute against a fatiguing Eleven side. Wednesday’s match will mark only Indy Eleven’s third against MLS competition in the U.S. Open Cup, and its first in nearly seven years dating back to a 4-3 penalty kick defeat at Chicago Fire FC following a 1-1 draw on June 16, 2016.
#CLBvIND Familiar Faces
In lieu of any actual cross-roster connections:
- Eleven defender Robby Dambrot is an Akron, Ohio-native and former member of NCAA powerhouse University of Akron from 2013-17, which he helped to the 2015 College Cup Semifinals.
- Indy forward Aodhan Quinn is a fellow alumnus of the Akron Zips, overlapping one season with Dambrot while suiting up for UofA from 2011-13.
- Indy midfielder Jonas Fjeldberg also played collegiately in the Buckeye State for the University of Dayton Flyers from 2017-20, where he earned Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year honors his last two seasons before being drafted by FC Cincinnati in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft.
- While Fjeldberg was sent on loan to RGV Toros FC in the USL Championship prior to earning first team minutes with FC Cincinnati, forward Harrison Robledo indeed saw action in a pair of matches for FCC in 2022 before spending the bulk of last season with their MLS Next PRO side. Robledo joined the Eleven on loan from FCC for the 2023 campaign on February 8.
- On the opposite roster, the afore mentioned Aidan Morris played one standout season for the Indiana Hoosiers, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors during the 2019 season.
- In addition, defender Philip Quinton played his college ball at the University of Notre Dame, scoring a pair of goals in his 58 appearances with the Fighting Irish from 2018-21.
Eleven Player to Watch: FW Solomon Asante
The diminutive Ghanian can make magic happen at a moment’s notice – and as we all know, it takes a little magic to make a “cupset” come true. Asante proved his worth both as finisher and provider last Saturday evening when he darted between defenders to steer home a header off a corner kick for Indy’s first (as the shortest player on the pitch by a country mile, mind you), then followed that up by supplying an inch-perfect ball between defenders to set up Sebastian Guenzatti’s then go-ahead tally towards the end of the first half.
Saturday’s performance showcased the “dual threat” type player Indy hoped it would see after making the marquee signing for the two-time USL Championship MVP last April. He’s already proven he can make a difference in Open Cup play after pulling off the second three-assist performance in club history off the bench in the Second Round against Michigan Stars FC (he also had the first such occasion last season). If Indy Eleven is to take down one of Major League Soccer’s better sides of the season thus far on Wednesday, in all likelihood such a standout performance from Asante will be at the heart of the potential historic night for Indiana’s Team.
Premier League schedule as title, relegation and Champions League spots at stake in huge midweek of games
12:24 PM ET Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
Manchester City‘s potential title-decider against Arsenal on Wednesday rightly takes top billing in a crucial round of Premier League games this midweek, but the clash at the Etihad is not the only fixture that could make-or-break a club’s season in the space of 90 minutes in the days aheadEvery key issue — the title, Champions League qualification and relegation — is reaching a definitive moment and, for some teams involved, it could come this week.
If Arsenal or City emerge victorious at the Etihad, they will become overwhelming favourites to win the title, while Leeds United fans could legitimately argue that the stakes are even higher in the game between their team and Leicester City, who sit 16th and 17th respectively and on the brink of the bottom three. Lose and relegation to the Championship looks likelier than ever.
Some clubs bounce back straightaway — Burnley are heading back to the Premier League after just one year away — but Leeds spent 16 years fighting to return after relegation in 2004, so there are no guarantees of a short stay out of the top flight.
– How Premier League clubs can qualify for Europe
Both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, who meet in London on Thursday, would love to be in the position of their local rivals, Arsenal and City. The reality is that a win for United will all but seal their top-four spot and leave Spurs facing up to a battle for Europa League or Europa Conference League qualification. On the other hand, a Spurs win would blow it all wide open again by reducing the gap to fourth to just three points.Here are the games to watch this week in the Premier League, from potential title-deciders to teams in trouble and relegation scraps.
The Leeds vs. Leicester clash is the standout fixture, with Leicester’s 2-1 win at home to Wolves on Saturday securing three points for the first time in over two months. Leicester had lost nine of their previous 10 league games — a run that cost manager Brendan Rodgers his job and led to former Aston Villa and Norwich boss Dean Smith being appointed earlier this month.
- Bundesliga title race takes new twist, Barcelona hold firm, Wrexham’s Hollywood ending: Weekend Review18hESPN
- Why Tottenham’s nightmare loss vs. Newcastle is of their own making2dJames Olley
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It lifted Leicester out of the bottom three, moving them ahead of third-bottom Everton on goal difference, and another victory at Elland Road would take them above Leeds, who are in woeful form under Javi Gracia.
Leeds have lost five of nine league games under Gracia, including their past three, which include 5-1 and 6-1 home defeats against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. If Leeds are to stay up, Tuesday’s clash with Leicester and Sunday’s trip to Bournemouth are likely to be crucial — because then they face Manchester City and Newcastle United.
Another significant game is Wolves vs. Palace. Both sides have pulled away from relegation trouble in recent weeks, but neither are yet safe. With 37 points, Palace arguably need just one more to be confident of avoiding the drop, while Wolves (34 points) need another win to put a comfortable gap between themselves and the bottom three.And Aston Villa’s home game against Fulham may become a fixture with Champions League implications if Unai Emery’s side claim all three points. With a trip to Old Trafford next up for Villa, two wins in their next two games would suddenly put them straight into the fight for a top-four finish and keep them clear of seventh-place Liverpool, who they face at Anfield on May 20 — a week after a home game against Spurs.
All eyes will be on the Etihad when reigning champions City face an Arsenal side that have led the season virtually uninterrupted since August, but who have now drawn three successive games and handed the momentum to Pep Guardiola’s team.
Premier League Table
|1 – Arsenal||32||+43||75|
|2 – Man City||30||+50||70|
|3 – Newcastle||31||+29||59|
|4 – Man United||29||+9||59|
|5 – Tottenham||32||+7||53|
|6 – Aston Villa||32||+4||51|
|7 – Liverpool||31||+21||50|
|8 – Brighton||29||+17||49|
|9 – Fulham||31||+2||45|
|10 – Brentford||32||+5||44|
City are displaying relentless form, as they often do in the second half of a season, and are unbeaten since losing at Tottenham on Feb. 5. A run of 13 wins and three draws, including eight victories in nine Premier League games, have put City on course for a Champions League-Premier League-FA Cup treble, while the Gunners appear to be fading.
Despite their recent wobble, Arsenal are still five points clear at the top, albeit having played two more games. Yet if Arsenal avoid defeat at the Etihad, the pressure will then intensify on City to win their games in hand.
Right now, it seems that the odds are stacked in City’s favour. They play Arsenal at home, have their games in hand and know how to win the title, having been crowned champions in four of the past five seasons. But if City fail to win on Wednesday, Arsenal’s advantage may prove to be a decisive one. At this stage of a season, with games running out, points already won become a priceless commodity and Arsenal have those.And if Arsenal win to move eight points clear, City’s treble hopes will suddenly look forlorn.Also on Wednesday, Nottingham Forest vs. Brighton & Hove Albion has implications at both ends of the table. Forest, winless in 11 games, have dropped to second bottom and desperately need a win. Facing a Brighton team that will be physically and emotionally drained after losing an FA Cup semifinal penalty shootout against Man United on Sunday could be perfectly timed for Steve Cooper’s team. But Brighton are chasing European qualification for the first time, so they can still make their season a positive one. A win at Forest would put them back on course after the FA Cup exit.Chelsea vs. Brentford offers Frank Lampard the chance to win his first game as caretaker-manager at Stamford Bridge — or maybe even deepen the gloom with another defeat — while West Ham against Liverpool is an opportunity for Jurgen Klopp to keep alive Liverpool’s hopes of European qualification.
Another night of hugely important games led by Tottenham’s home matchup against Man United. After Sunday’s 6-1 humiliation at Newcastle, Spurs are on the brink of implosion. But despite everything that is wrong at the club — the sacking of manager Antonio Conte, the surprise move to a four-man defence (which failed miserably) at Newcastle and uncertainty over Harry Kane‘s future — a win on Thursday would put Spurs back in the top-four race.As it stands, Spurs are six points adrift of fourth-place United having played two more games, so a defeat on Thursday will surely signal the end of Tottenham’s pursuit of a Champions League spot.United have also been inconsistent in recent weeks and their record away from home against teams in the top 10 is woeful, with Erik ten Hag’s side losing on the road to all of the current top seven. Can fifth-place Spurs complete the set? November’s 1-0 win at Fulham, secured by a last-minute Alejandro Garnacho goal, was United’s only win on the road against a top-10 side.
So this game could really give us anything because it involves two sides out of form. And United have a lengthy injury list to overcome too.Everton vs. Newcastle impacts on the relegation battle and pursuit of Champions League qualification, but the stakes are arguably much higher for the Toffees in this one. Newcastle’s win against Spurs has given Eddie Howe’s team a six-point cushion (and boosted their goal difference) in the race for a top-four spot, and a win at Goodison Park would still be important, especially if Spurs beat United to keep pace with the top four.For Everton, though, they start this game in the bottom three and they could be further adrift of safety if results go against them on Tuesday and Wednesday.Everton’s home form since Sean Dyche took charge in January has seen them win three, lose two and draw one. But they haven’t won any from home under Dyche, so survival depends on what they do at Goodison — which makes the Newcastle game so important. With a trip to Leicester next up, Everton’s fate might just rest in the outcome of their next two games.Bottom-of-the-table Southampton look to be heading for relegation, though a win against Bournemouth on Thursday would throw the Saints straight back into the mix to stay up. A Southampton win would deny Bournemouth the chance to pull clear of the bottom three, and keep them in the relegation picture.
That is the opportunity which presents itself for Gary O’Neil’s Bournemouth. If they win the South Coast Derby, they will move to 36 points and within touching distance of Premier League survival.So it’s a midweek programme full of huge fixtures. It really isn’t all about City vs. Arsenal, especially if your team is involved in a game that could decide success or failure.
City v Arsenal discussion: Can Haaland be stopped? Arteta compromise? How’s the mood?
By Jordan Campbell and Sam Lee Apr 25, 2023
The stakes don’t get any higher. With five weeks to go in the title race, second-placed Manchester City host Arsenal — the team they trail by five points with two games in hand — on Wednesday.City are chasing a historic treble and a third straight Premier League championship, Arsenal their first title in 19 years. It’s the master, City manager Pep Guardiola, against the apprentice, his former City assistant and now Arsenal opposite number Mikel Arteta.On the eve of the game, The Athletic’s Arsenal writer Jordan Campbell and Manchester City colleague Sam Lee discuss all the pertinent points that could go a long way to deciding both it and the destination of the title…
Sam Lee: The big question from a Manchester City point of view is: what’s going on with Arsenal? Dropping points for three games in a row — which Arsenal are we going to see tomorrow night? Oh, and how is the mood?
Jordan Campbell: Tense! It’s a strange place for Arsenal to be in emotionally as they’ve led the Premier League for so long, and still lead it, but it feels like they’re now hanging on. The last three weekends have been absurd and that feeds into a lot of the nervousness ahead of this game as they’ve tilted from one extreme to the other in each of the last three games.
Neutrals will be hoping for more of that drama, but Arsenal fans will be praying their team rediscover how to be ‘boring’.
There is a little bit of fear about coming up against Erling Haaland, given he has 15 goals in his last eight starts and has made plenty of top defences at home and abroad look like under-nines sides. That hasn’t been helped by the news injured centre-back William Saliba will definitely miss this match — and potentially the rest of the season.
Arsenal have conceded seven goals in these last three drawn games against Liverpool, West Ham and last-placed Southampton, so facing Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish will be causing plenty of anxiety at their London Colney base.
That said, there remains a belief this team has something special about it, that they have the heart and togetherness needed to be in the trenches together and produce a result very few expect. But I don’t think they can go to Manchester and look to contain City, as in this form I think you are inviting trouble. They have to look to control the game as much as they can.
How are City shaping up?
Lee: In short, very well! Their 10-game winning streak may have come to an end with a draw at Bayern Munich last week but given they were 3-0 up from the first leg of that Champions League quarter-final that does not matter so much, and they are actually unbeaten in 16 matches now.
The run that everybody expected/feared from City earlier in the year is well and truly underway now. The question is how long it will go on for.
The Etihad comes alive for games like this and City have, more or less, a fully fit squad to choose from. Several key players were able to rest for Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United of the Championship, too, so while there are concerns over Nathan Ake, basically everything else looks positive.
How can Arsenal line up without Saliba and stop Haaland?
Campbell: Well, that’s the multi-million-dollar question! Everton, Brentford and Tottenham have all got results against City this season by going with a back five and trying to condense the space Haaland has to run into. It has been a switch mooted by some ahead of this game with Arsenal leaking so many goals in the absence of Saliba, but Arteta is hitched to this system so I don’t see him deviating.
I’m also not sure the Arsenal squad is yet at the point where they can swap systems with the same ease as City do. And what message would that send to his players if he was seen to retreat? It would only reinforce the aura of City, implicitly accepting that Arsenal are inferior and must change when they face them.
Haaland has been in relentless form for Manchester City (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)
Saliba’s replacement, Rob Holding, can be picked on a little too easily, but it’s fair to say he’s not at the same level. More importantly, Holding is not as comfortable defending high up the pitch or progressing the ball when being pressed in possession.
You can’t become obsessed with Haaland to the detriment of your overall game and that’s why I’d be keen to move Ben White into the middle, as he will help Arsenal play out and is quicker to match Haaland’s runs rather than getting involved in a physical fight.
Lee: That’s the interesting thing about City: they are a bit less effective against low blocks compared to last season, because Haaland cannot drop deep and link the play as effectively as somebody like Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva or Ilkay Gundogan playing as a false nine, although clearly they can still get the job done.
But against teams who are more adventurous in how they press and/or play out from the back, City have spaces to exploit and can get Haaland in on goal. That makes them dangerous in the Champions League — and, you’d think, in this game. We’ve already seen at the Emirates (in February’s reverse fixture, which City won 3-1) that Arsenal were the better team for a lot of the game, but City won the ball high up and were clinical.
We also saw then that Haaland is dangerous when the ball is played up to him — which it will be more often if Arsenal decide to mark man-to-man. But his threat is not in winning the headers, but in shielding the ball so neither he nor his marker wins it, then spinning in behind to run after it. That happened inside a minute in January’s FA Cup meeting (a 1-0 City win) when he was up against Holding, and he did it to Gabriel at the Emirates to win a penalty, which was later rescinded for offside. Even so, that is something to look out for.
How do you think Arsenal will try to defend against him?
Campbell: There are a few ways, but I’d prioritise causing as little disruption to the line-up as possible. There have been calls for Thomas Partey to move to right-back and Jorginho to come into the middle but, while the Ghanaian has been careless on the ball at times in recent weeks, he’s still so important to this team and brings an athleticism to the midfield that they are going to need.
If Jorginho came in, would it disrupt Arsenal’s team too much? (Photo: Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)
It’s unfair to throw 18-year-old Reuell Walters in at such a critical point, so my solution would be to bring in Kieran Tierney on the right. Deploying a left-back on the opposite side is always more controversial than a right-back playing left-back, as Cesar Azpilicueta and Joao Cancelo have done to great effect in the Premier League, but, while it is not the perfect solution, there are a few reasons it makes sense for this game.
Tierney played there for Scotland, so he could play in the same back line as Andrew Robertson, and he coped fine. His attacking bursts were limited but in the inverted role he has been playing when deputising for Oleksandr Zinchenko he hasn’t exactly been let off the leash.
Grealish is in terrific form but he loves cutting infield and that would leave Tierney defending on his strong side. Arteta has seen the value in that before by playing Takehiro Tomiyasu at left-back, something which started against Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
The downside is Tierney would be cutting inside a lot when he is on the ball, and picking him would disrupt White’s relationship with Bukayo Saka. But in City’s recent games they have been pressing teams aggressively by showing them inside, so it may open up some new angles for him to play into.
When it comes to the attack I feel for Leandro Trossard, as he’s made such a great impact since joining in January — and he was good again when he came on against Southampton — but I can’t see who you drop for him.
Do City have any worries?
Lee: The big question is around Ake, who went off with a hamstring injury late in the game against Bayern last Wednesday. The initial signs suggested he had avoided a lengthy lay-off and should be able to feature in City’s big games in May and June, but that the Arsenal game may come too soon.
Riyad Mahrez scored a hat-trick at Wembley at the weekend and afterwards Pep Guardiola revealed the winger’s discontent at missing out on selection for some big games recently.
Guardiola likes to pick Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva in the most important matches and did so in their past three Champions League outings, with Bernardo being preferred to Mahrez on the right wing partly for his ability to press. “He can press three players with one movement. Not one player in the world can do it,” Guardiola says.
It would be a safe bet to expect the same sort of team that saw off RB Leipzig 7-0 at the Etihad and played both matches against Bayern, although if Ake does miss out it could force a change at the back that has repercussions across the rest of the team. Bernardo played left-back at the Emirates in February, after all…
Bernardo Silva is likely to play against Arsenal, partly due to his pressing ability (Photo: Lexy Ilsley – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
Guardiola does love to spring a surprise in the big games.
How did they turn their form around?
Lee: Well, there was that famous Guardiola speech (I’m not sure it was a rant or a tirade, but it was in that ballpark) about his squad’s mentality and attitude, but many of these players have been around him long enough now to just shrug their shoulders when he says stuff like that — because behind the scenes it is constant.
The players got together on a few occasions, including in the dressing room at Old Trafford after losing the derby in January and also after the game at Nottingham Forest in February, when City were excellent but somehow only drew 1-1.
I think the timing of the Premier League charges levelled against City had a hand in their resurgence. Those came the morning after a dreadful early-February defeat at Spurs, and by the end of that week Guardiola was installing a siege mentality and the atmosphere at the Etihad was defiant rather than dour.
And above all else, they have simply played a lot of teams recently who have been adventurous and tried to press them high and/or play out from the back, as we have already discussed — which is yet another thing for Arsenal to think about.
‘Bottling it’ might be overly simplistic but something’s not right with Arsenal, surely?
Campbell: It is strange but I keep needing to remind myself Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the league — a great position.
The way the Southampton game ended on Friday night will have felt like a point gained for them in the end, given how deflated they looked for parts of the second half at 3-1 down. It felt like there was an inevitability about a fourth, winning goal for Arsenal in added time and teams don’t change games to the degree they did without having a lot of belief and heart.
Arsenal need to end a bad run of results against City (they’ve lost the last seven meetings overall, 11 straight in the league and haven’t beaten them in the Premier League since 2015 — the year before Guardiola was appointed) but they showed in the first half at Anfield that they can go to difficult away grounds and play their own game.
Lee: But they could have lost that in the end, though!
Campbell: True, they must keep it going for the whole game but my fear for Arsenal is that they have expended so much emotional energy in recent weeks that it may be catching up with them. Think about the number of late goals they have needed since the turn of the year. It is a sign of a team who never give up and of players who take responsibility, but you also need some stress-free games or the pressure can be exhausting.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal preview: Key players, predictions, tactics and more
9:52 AM ET ESPN
Few would have predicted that Arsenal would lead the English Premier League title race this season, yet Mikel Arteta’s side have been one of the most exciting teams to watch as they attempt to wrangle the title away from defending champions Manchester City, who have won it four times in the past five seasons.
Going into Wednesday’s showdown between the two, Arsenal lead in first place with 75 points, while Man City trail on 70 points but with two games in hand. Arsenal are stuttering after three straight consecutive draws, the latest in a dramatic 3-3 comeback against last-place Southampton, leaving the door open for Man City in the title race.
The stakes couldn’t be higher ahead of this match, as the winner will likely go on to be crowned champions at the end of the season. ESPN’s correspondents Rob Dawson and James Olley answer your burning questions and share their predictions, which players to watch and more.
What state are Man City in going into the match?
Dawson: Pep Guardiola’s team have gone through spells where they haven’t looked convincing, but that late-season run of form has finally arrived. City haven’t lost since early February and a 10-game winning streak was ended only by a 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich that was enough to earn a place in the Champions League semifinals. They’re defending well in Guardiola’s hybrid back three/back four system and also scoring goals. Erling Haaland has got 15 in his past eight matches with the FA Cup semifinal against Sheffield United on Saturday ending a run of goals in seven successive games.
Guardiola has said repeatedly that Arsenal are favorites to win the title because of their position at the top of the table, but he’ll be quite happy with how the run-in is going, particularly after Arsenal’s run of three straight draws to drop six points in two weeks.
City have been in this position so many times over the past 10 years that they won’t be fazed by a crucial game against their title rivals in mid-April. They’re playing well, key players are fit and in form, and they’ll go into the game at the Etihad Stadium as favorites, and for good reason.
What state are Arsenal in going into the match?
Olley: Perilous. The contrast in mood compared to a fortnight ago is stark. By drawing their past three matches, Arsenal have stuttered to the extent the dynamic around Wednesday’s game has shifted markedly. It is no longer the free hit the Gunners could tell themselves it was when they had a bigger lead at the top.Never has a five-point advantage felt so fragile. The knowledge that a defeat on Wednesday will leave City in pole position to win the title only heightens the feeling that momentum is slipping away from them at the wrong time. Arsenal scored twice in the final three minutes of normal time to salvage a point against Southampton on Friday, but at the full-time whistle, the vast majority of players collapsed to the floor deflated.Perhaps the mental exertions of a title race are beginning to leave their mark, but at the same time, they knew a point against the Premier League’s bottom team wasn’t really enough. Yet at the same time, they should take heart from the starts made in their past two away games at Liverpool and West Ham, where they breezed into 2-0 leads thanks to more of the exhilarating, devastating football which has given them a shot at the club’s first title since 2004. Manager Mikel Arteta’s challenge will be to harness the positivity of those spells and produce a complete performance at arguably the toughest place to go in Europe.
What will Guardiola and Arteta learn from each other?
Dawson: Guardiola and Arteta know each other well from their time together at City, but Arteta still managed to surprise his former boss in the FA Cup tie in January by playing a man-to-man system all over the pitch. Other teams have tried it in the past, but the inference from Guardiola afterward was that he didn’t expect it from Arteta, and it might put a seed of doubt in his mind ahead of the game on Wednesday. It might mean City having to bypass the midfield more than they would like with goalkeeper Ederson given orders to go long to Haaland if he can’t see a short pass.
- Agony or ecstasy: Why are Arsenal fans so nervous about the title race?26dJames Olley
- Why ex-Man City stars Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko are key to Arsenal’s test of nerve6dJames Olley
- Haaland’s form and a red-hot attack: How Man City bucked the trend (for now) of slumping big clubs5dBill Connelly
Olley: Arteta does not hide the fact he is a Guardiola disciple and there are many similarities between the two sides in terms of how they try to control matches. One of the most obvious traits Arteta has taken is utilising Oleksandr Zinchenko — a former City player — in an unorthodox midfield role when in possession.Zinchenko drifts infield from his left-back position to help overload opponents and dominate possession in central areas. It is something Guardiola did first with Joao Cancelo and a tactic he has reprised of late with John Stones on the opposite flank, coming in off the right to effectively operate as an extra midfielder.Just one fascinating aspect of Wednesday’s game is whether Arteta will alter his approach in any way or have the courage of his convictions to attack City as they have every other team this season. How Zinchenko is used will be a big indication.
Who are the key players?
Dawson: Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne are the obvious ones, because if they play well, City usually win, but John Stones is key to Guardiola’s system. Rested against Sheffield United at the weekend, the expectation is that he will start at right-back with freedom to push into midfield next to Rodri and allow Ilkay Gundogan to get forward. Guardiola will be worried about the pace and movement of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli in wide areas, but he has already trusted Stones against Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala when they played Bayern.
Dawson: Never seen anything like record-equalling Haaland
Rob Dawson watches Erling Haaland equal Mohamed Salah’s record for goals in a 38-game Premier League season, with eight games to spare.
Olley: Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard have provided Arsenal’s creative heartbeat this season. Each will be vital on Wednesday, Saka and Martinelli for their pace and penetration on the counter-attack, Odegaard for his composure on the ball under pressure.
Getting the balance right between attack and defense will be essential to Arsenal’s chances of hurting City. There have been signs of late that this burden of leading the charge is taking a toll on Saka and Martinelli, but the pair still both scored against Southampton and they will need to be at their best to maximise what could be limited opportunities to punish City on the break.
Who will each team miss most?
Dawson: One of the reasons City look so formidable at the moment is that they don’t have injuries. Ederson, Ruben Dias, Rodri, Stones and De Bruyne will all come back into the team after they were rested against Sheffield United while Phil Foden played the final 20 minutes at Wembley after recovering from an appendix operation.
Riyad Mahrez has made a case to start after scoring a hat-trick at the weekend and Guardiola has the luxury of being able to pick from a fully fit squad at a time of the season when lots of other managers have selection problems.
Olley: William Saliba. The Frenchman was forced off with a back injury 21 minutes into Arsenal’s Europa League last 16, second-leg clash with Sporting Lisbon on March 16 (when they were winning). Since then, the Gunners have exited Europe, dropped six points in the Premier League and failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their matches. It is too simplistic to explain Arsenal’s recent wobble solely through Saliba’s absence, but there is little doubt they look more vulnerable defensively without his calming, composed presence.
Saliba’s regular centre-back partner, Gabriel Magalhaes, has appeared particularly destabilised while Rob Holding is an adequate but limited deputy: he was fortunate a clumsy challenge to gift Liverpool a second-half penalty at Anfield was not punished as Mohamed Salah sent the resulting spot-kick wide of goal. Holding also cannot build out from the back with the same skill at Saliba. Arteta is cagey over Saliba’s return date so his involvement is not entirely ruled out, but the recent updates have been downbeat.
What is your match prediction?
Dawson: City have already beaten Arsenal twice this season and it’ll be a surprise if they don’t make it three out of three. Haaland looks unstoppable, which means Arsenal will have to score at least twice to win and City haven’t conceded twice in a game since beating Tottenham 4-2 on Jan. 19. Arsenal’s confidence is fragile and it could be a heavy 4-0 win for City.
Olley: Both teams score, but City win 3-1. This will likely be played at a furious pace as both try to establish control of the ball to manipulate the other out of position. City gave Arsenal a little bit of a schooling in the second half of the reverse fixture, and although the stakes are higher this time, their proven class under pressure can tell.
What is your title prediction?
Dawson: After Arsenal, City still have to play Chelsea at home and Brighton away before the end of the season, but there’s nothing in the run-in that will scare them. The Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid is a complication, but there’s a good chance City can go through the rest of the season unbeaten and emulate Manchester United‘s treble from 1999.
Olley: I went for Manchester City in August and will stick with them now. Their experience has started to tell in recent weeks and it is feasible they could win every game from here. As brilliant as Arsenal have been all season, Newcastle away in early May looks another tough ask, and with key players showing signs of dipping in form at the wrong time, they might just fall short of the title.
Manchester City vs Arsenal: Team news, channel, kick-off time for Premier League title showdown
By The Athletic UK Staff 46m ago 3
Title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal meet on Wednesday in a hugely-anticipated fixture that could determine the destiny of the Premier League crown.
Mikel Arteta’s side head to the Etihad with a five-point advantage at the top of the table but champions City, with two games in hand, are also in control of their own fate.
The Londoners’ cushion has been eroded after three successive draws, while City have hit form at a crucial stage of the season.
Here’s what you need to know about the showdown, which kicks off at 8pm BST (12pm PT, 3pm ET).
Big match omens
Pep Guardiola’s treble-chasing side have won 11 of their past 12 games, putting their inconsistency of earlier in the season firmly behind them.
City have recent form against Arsenal, too: they have won each of their last 11 Premier League meetings against Arsenal by an aggregate score of 29-4.
Guardiola regularly heaps praise on his former assistant Arteta, but the Arsenal boss has struggled to get the better of his mentor.
The pair have met eight times in management, with Guardiola winning seven. Arteta’s only victory came in an FA Cup semi-final three years ago.
So far this season, City have beaten Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup at the Etihad in January and followed that up with a 3-1 Premier League win at the Emirates Stadium a few weeks later.
Mikel Arteta has won only one of his eight games as a manager against Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City vs Arsenal — pre-match reading
- Writers’ debate: Can Haaland be stopped? Arteta to compromise?
- What’s happened to Arsenal’s defence?
- Xavi, Kompany, Arteta — Pep’s disciples top of the league
Team news and match officials
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka is a doubt for the crunch clash.
The Switzerland captain missed Friday’s 3-3 draw with Southampton through illness and has yet to return to training.
Speaking on the eve of the trip to the Etihad Stadium, Arteta said: “He’s been out, hopefully he will be able to train today but he is a doubt.”
As reported by The Athletic, defender William Saliba will definitely miss the game as he has shown “no real improvement” in his recovery from a back issue.
Erling Haaland is looking to add to a 48-goal haul so far this season. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City have a doubt over defender Nathan Ake, who missed the FA Cup semi-final win over Sheffield United but, after Phil Foden’s return at the weekend, they otherwise have a clean bill of health.
Kevin De Bruyne was rested in the 3-0 victory at Wembley, while Erling Haaland was substituted in the second half with the game won.
Michael Oliver has been named as the referee, while Eddie Smart is the VAR.
What have the managers said?
Guardiola: “It’s good to be here. After the first round (of fixtures) Arsenal did, it was was difficult to think we would be here in that moment. So it is a really, really important game. We could get points our opponents cannot, so our focus is on what we have to do.
“If they win, it depends on them. But if we win, definitely the destiny will be in our hands.”
Arteta: “The belief is there. When I look at how they trained, how they reacted, the mood in the dressing room, how they’ve been defending each other in every moment… we really want it and we’re going to show that again tomorrow night. Then you have to deliver in the right moment, the right performance and it has to be perfection because that’s what this last level demands – absolute perfection in every single ball.”
How to follow Manchester City vs Arsenal
Manchester City vs Arsenal is broadcast live on BT Sport in the UK.
In the US, all 380 Premier League games are shown across different channels, with Wednesday’s game live on Peacock.
Wherever you are, you’ll be able to follow the showdown with The Athletic’s live blog.
The title run-in
Arsenal’s remaining fixtures
- April 26: Manchester City (A)
- May 2: Chelsea (H)
- May 7: Newcastle (A)
- May 14: Brighton (H)
- May 20: Nottingham Forest (A)
- May 28: Wolves (H)
Manchester City’s remaining fixtures
- April 26: Arsenal (H)
- April 30: Fulham (A)
- May 3: West Ham (H)
- May 6: Leeds United (H)
- May 14: Everton (A)
- May 21: Chelsea (H)
- May 24: Brighton (A)
- May 28: Brentford (A)
Odegaard and De Bruyne: Masters of the inside-right channel in very different ways
Michael Cox Apr 26, 2023 Athletic
It would be simplistic to say Mikel Arteta has attempted to replicate Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side since taking charge of Arsenal, but it’s not too far off.There’s the emphasis on patient build-up play, the pressing in advanced positions and the use of a 2-3-5 or 3-2-5 in the attacking phase. There’s Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, too.
But for all Guardiola’s tactical acumen and his emphasis on structure, his City side have also depended on individual genius. In particular, the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne, the side’s chief playmaker who can play passes that others can’t even spot.
Guardiola’s system means De Bruyne usually has multiple targets for his passes, often running in behind the opposition. But it takes technical quality to be able to play those assists. Finding an equivalent of De Bruyne, as much as anything, would be one of Arteta’s most difficult tasks at Arsenal.
The Spaniard had two goes at finding his De Bruyne. The first was his former team-mate Mesut Ozil, who was eventually cast aside amid questions about his attitude. But in his early weeks, Arteta tried to find a role for Ozil. Although theoretically fielded as the No 10, in reality, Ozil was positioned almost permanently in the inside-right channel — just like De Bruyne — from where he would attempt to angle balls over the opposition.
(Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Arteta’s faith in Ozil didn’t last long and he was frozen out by the start of his first full season in charge. For the first half of that campaign, in part because Arteta often used a 3-4-3 system, Arsenal badly lacked an equivalent. Willian was positioned too far wide, Nicolas Pepe would instinctively shoot rather than pass, Bukayo Saka was often a left-wing-back and Emile Smith Rowe hadn’t yet broken into the side. In that period, it was difficult to see what Arsenal were trying to do. There was structure but no imagination. Until, once again, Arsenal solved their creative problems by turning to a Real Madrid cast-off.
Odegaard’s first half-season offered promise rather than consistent end product, with a goal or assist once every 289 minutes. That improved to 253 minutes last season and is once every 140 minutes this season. Odegaard isn’t quite at De Bruyne levels in terms of creativity, but in terms of impact on his side overall, Arteta can realistically claim to have found an equivalent in that inside-right channel.
One of the obvious differences, though, is that while De Bruyne is right-footed, Odegaard is left-footed. This changes so much about the passes they play into the box — the positions they’re struck from, the angle and trajectory of the pass, and how easy they are to convert.
Here’s De Bruyne’s map of chances created and assists from the Premier League this season. That inside-right channel, the space De Bruyne is regularly positioned in, is denoted in red. And the notable thing about De Bruyne’s map, aside from how spread out the passes are, is that the Belgian is constantly charging into the penalty box from his favoured channel — or even wider — and putting in crosses rather than through-balls.
This has become De Bruyne’s trademark.
It’s difficult to think of another player in football, particularly one who starts from a primarily central position, who has proven so devastating with those balls. And because De Bruyne is playing the ball into a corridor in behind the defence, often towards the far post, he can afford to properly drive the ball at speed.
Often, that means City have more than one attacker capable of getting on the end of the pass because the ball is travelling through multiple points where it might be diverted into the net. This is an assist away at Wolves, for example. And here’s a quick quiz: which of the players in the middle — Erling Haaland at the front, Jack Grealish in the middle or Bernardo Silva at the back — turned the ball in?
It was the middle of the three, Grealish. De Bruyne might not necessarily have been aiming for him, but simply by getting the angle of his cross right, three different players might have finished the move.
Odegaard generally doesn’t have that luxury by virtue of being left-footed. And Odegaard isn’t simply left-footed, he’s very left-footed. Ninety-three per cent of his Premier League shots — excluding headers — have come with his left foot. Assuming that reflects his level of confidence at creating with his right foot, too, then it’s clear Odegaard has less license to push outside from this inside-right role unless he then checks back inside.
Here are Odegaard’s chances created and assists this season.
From that inside-right position, with his left foot, Odegaard has to slide the ball more delicately through the defence, such as this assist for Gabriel Martinelli against Liverpool.
Even then, his passes will generally curl towards the goalkeeper rather than into the striker, so there’s little room for error.
Therefore, Odegaard’s approach is often more about lofting passes towards the far side. He particularly likes floating balls over to Martinelli or Granit Xhaka, relying on them timing their runs correctly and the ball dropping at the right moment, such as for Xhaka’s header against Leeds.
To use a cricket analogy, Odegaard has to be concerned with line and length, whereas De Bruyne, when pushing out wide, can concentrate primarily on line.
Odegaard is also capable of playing the ball out to Bukayo Saka, who has turned difficult situations into goals with his trickery and finishing ability. But it’s interesting that Odegaard is yet to assist Gabriel Jesus and has only created seven chances for the Brazilian this season. Jesus’ tendency to drop short rather than run in behind and the aforementioned issues with left-footed passes from the inside-right channel means Arsenal’s chief playmaker and centre-forward aren’t regularly combining.
Perhaps significantly, Odegaard twice assisted goals for Eddie Nketiah, a more straightforward striker, during Jesus’ injury layoff. It’s worth contrasting Odegaard’s lack of assists for Jesus with De Bruyne’s eight Premier League assists for Haaland (including set pieces).
Where Odegaard’s left-footedness comes in handy, though, is in terms of goalscoring. The typical thing to consider here is his ability to receive the ball in the channel, cut inside and bend the ball towards the far corner, as he did on Friday night against Southampton.
But it’s also useful in terms of converting cut-backs from the left, which is a major part of Arsenal’s gameplan. Odegaard is particularly adept at suddenly sprinting towards the near post, almost laterally, to receive a pass and finish with his left foot. This generally makes the angle for the pass easier. The best example was possibly a shot eventually turned home by Nketiah, a late winner against Manchester United.
De Bruyne is capable of being a fine goalscorer himself, of course, and is also less reliant on his stronger foot than Odegaard. But having scored 15 league goals last season, he’s reverted to being almost a pure assister this season after the arrival of Haaland, managing only five goals to Odegaard’s 12.
In part, that’s because he is concentrating on that inside-right channel again, having sometimes been unleashed last season in a position that enabled him to shoot more. Of his five goals this season, one was a free kick, another was an opportunistic effort against Arsenal after Takehiro Tomiyasu’s wayward pass, and one was this goal against Bournemouth with the outside of his foot. It was a lovely improvised finish but won’t be a regular source of goals.
The structure of City and Arsenal is similar, but there are key differences according to personnel. De Bruyne and Odegaard symbolise City and Arsenal neatly – they occupy the same position and have roughly the same task, but they go about things in a very different manner.
De Bruyne, with a goal and an assist, was the dominant player in the reverse game. If Arsenal are to win tonight, Odegaard probably needs to outshine his counterpart.
Wrexham’s Hollywood promotion: How Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney helped end 15 years of hurt
Richard Sutcliffe Apr 22, 2023
A grieving period would always be needed after Wrexham’s promotion hopes had been ended in the most gut-wrenching of manners last season. The problem for Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney is it couldn’t be allowed to last too long.So, as the club’s co-owners offered heartfelt words of commiseration to their crestfallen players in the dressing room after Grimsby Town had edged a truly titanic play-offs semi-final on the final Saturday of May, the wheels designed to push Wrexham forward were just hours away from turning once again.Meetings originally scheduled for after the June 5 play-off final were immediately brought forward by a week. This included the all-important discussions between Reynolds, McElhenney and Shaun Harvey, the advisor to the board, over the 2022-23 season’s budgets.
Manager Phil Parkinson and former EFL chief executive Harvey, who was his day-to-day point of contact at the Racecourse Ground, also pulled forward their first get-together of the summer. The emphasis was on looking forward, not back. Reshaping the squad was the sole subject on the agenda.
This ‘business as usual’ mantra extended to an official letter being fired off to FIFA within 24 hours of that 5-4 extra-time defeat to Grimsby, appealing for the global game’s governing body to end a disparity in the transfer market that left Wrexham only able to sign players during two set windows per season despite their 23 National League peers being subject to just one deadline — the fourth Thursday in March.
Further lobbying eventually saw the quirk, caused by Wrexham falling under the auspices of the Football Association of Wales but competing across an international border in the English pyramid, ironed out when FIFA granted a special dispensation in late August for the new campaign.
Promotion, clinched courtesy of Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Boreham Wood, means that fight is now someone else’s. But the value of that appeal, plus all the other feverish off-field activity in early summer as supporters continued to mourn being consigned to a 15th year in the National League, was clear for all to see as Wrexham’s party finally got underway.
With flares going off and fans on the pitch, smoke filled the air. Watching from up on high in the Mold Road Stand were Reynolds and McElhenney, the co-owners who have brought belief back to a one-time industrial powerhouse of a town whose best years seemed firmly in the past.
The Hollywood stars’ beaming smiles spoke a thousand words, just as their forlorn stares had done a year earlier when standing in almost exactly the same spot as Grimsby celebrated reaching the final.
Paul Mullin celebrates his first goal against Boreham Wood (Photo: Getty)
Just where the Wrexham story goes from here remains to be seen. Is League Two any better equipped to halt this red-and-white bandwagon than the National League? We’ll find out when the games begin in August.
But what surely isn’t in doubt is how this really has been a season like no other for the north Wales club. Not just in terms of record-breaking feats on the pitch and Tinseltown glamour off it. But also a title race so relentless that non-League football is unlikely to see its like again.
Along the way, there has been enough drama to fill umpteen series of the Welcome To Wrexham documentary, never mind just the next one scheduled to hit screens in the autumn, with even King Charles III playing an unwitting cameo as Wrexham ended a 15-year absence from the Football League.
Here is that story.
Two decades in football management is a long time. Even if, like Phil Parkinson, there has been the odd stint out of the firing line, such as the 18 months he spent as Alan Pardew’s assistant at Charlton Athletic or a subsequent short spell scouting for Arsenal in 2011.
What those years patrolling touchlines up and down England and Wales have done — the 20th anniversary of his first management appointment at Colchester United passed in February — is hone an approach that, once again, has paid dividends via a fourth career promotion.
Take recruitment. Parkinson has always put a lot of store in getting the right characters, not just playing ability. He insists on meeting any prospective new signing in person, ideally in a relaxed setting. That way, as one of those former chairmen to have employed the 55-year-old puts it, “Phil can see the whites of their eyes.”
When in charge of Bradford City, a club where many a new signing has found playing at their imposing Valley Parade home a struggle down the years, these meetings could be held at the 25,000-capacity stadium. Even the slightest hint of fear in a possible new addition when looking up at those two giant double-decker stands that can be seen for miles around and a transfer could suddenly be in doubt.
Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney celebrate Mullin’s third goal against Boreham Wood (Photo: Getty)
Bringing in the right characters has been key at Wrexham, who live life permanently in the spotlight thanks to their famous-actor owners. Which is why that initial face-to-face meeting remains so important, with Parkinson thinking nothing of driving the 200 miles (320km) from Wrexham just to meet up in a coffee shop if a target is based, say, in London.
Same goes for any additions to the staff, such as when Lee Butler retired as goalkeeping coach last summer and was replaced by Aidan Davison. Only once the manager is satisfied in terms of finding the right man will the club, via Harvey, start to negotiate terms.
Speak to people who know Parkinson well and they will talk about how good he is at reading people. When Bradford were taken over in May 2016, he quickly realised he could not work with new chairman Edin Rahic.
Despite having been at the Yorkshire club a little over five years and having just steered them to the League One play-offs, Parkinson quit three weeks into the new regime. Bradford subsequently unravelled horribly, and supporters of the now League Two side to this day blame Rahic’s autocratic style for that decline.
Parkinson has brought that surety of thought to the Racecourse. He listens intently to those around him, especially long-time assistant Steve Parkin.
He also works closely with the club’s analysis staff, often spending hours poring over footage of an upcoming opponent before imparting the strengths and weaknesses detected to the players via a weekly Friday morning presentation.ml
Every final decision, though, is very much made by the manager.After meeting Harvey early in the week following that Grimsby loss and with his budget having been set by the owners, Parkinson set about the task of strengthening a squad that was already unrecognisable from the one he had inherited a year earlier.
Improving depth was key, as Wrexham struggled to cope with injuries to key players such as Rob Lainton and Aaron Hayden over the run-in. A shortlist was drawn up for each position, which often meant negotiations taking place with two or three targets concurrently despite the intention being only to sign one of them.
Among those on the summer shopping list was Eoghan O’Connell, then at fourth division Rochdale. He opted to join third-tier Charlton Athletic, only to subsequently sign for Parkinson in the New Year after injury had ruled out Hayden and Jordan Tunnicliffe.
With Wrexham primarily targeting those whose careers had been spent almost exclusively in the EFL, a ‘non-League premium’ — basically, a financial sweetener to persuade players to drop down to join them in the fifth tier — was factored into those talks between Harvey and the agents.
Gradually, progress started to be made — much to the satisfaction of Parkinson, who saw an upcoming warm-weather training camp in Spain as key to ensuring there be no lingering hangover from missing out on promotion.
Hence the manager’s delight in getting free transfer deals involving Tunnicliffe (Crawley Town), Mark Howard (Carlisle United) and Elliot Lee (Luton Town) over the line before jetting off in mid-July.
The presence of that experienced trio, having all passed Parkinson’s character test, freshened things up. Their pedigree also underlined to those players already at the club that there would be no let-up in the push for success.
As the squad flew home from Alicante in good spirits, the staff felt an important corner had been turned.
Further additions followed as the summer wore on, Anthony Forde joining from Oxford United, closely followed by a trio of signings from other National League sides as Sam Dalby (Southend United), Rory Watson (Scunthorpe United) and Jacob Mendy (Boreham Wood) came on board.
With a new extended deal until 2025 agreed with Paul Mullin, a reward for netting 32 times in his debut season at the Racecourse, Wrexham approached the season with justified optimism.
August ended with them second in the table, and with Mullin already having scored five goals. Hefty wins followed against Dorking Wanderers, Dagenham & Redbridge and Torquay United, and by the autumn the campaign had settled into a rhythm of Wrexham and Notts County winning most weeks to leave the rest of the league trailing.
As the players headed to Dublin for their Christmas party, the race for the division’s one automatic promotion slot was well and truly on.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about how Welcome To Wrexham turned a fifth-tier football club into a global sporting phenomenon is that nobody had thought of it before.
Credit, therefore, must go to McElhenney, whose casual watching of Netflix documentary series Sunderland Till I Die during breaks from filming a few years earlier helped form the germ of the idea.
What does seem to have taken even the owners aback, however, is how Wrexham, as a club and a community, has gradually drawn them in. McElhenney said as much recently, when accepting the freedom of the borough at a behind-closed-doors ceremony in the city’s Guildhall.
“I don’t know originally if we thought this was going to be a life-long endeavour,” he told councillors on Easter Monday. “I don’t know if I’d thought it through, all the way. But now I’ve realised very quickly that this is something I am in, hopefully, for not only the rest of my life but for generations of my family.”
Reynolds, judging by his animated demeanour during matches, has been on a similar journey of discovery. Not a committed sports fan in his youth like Philadelphia Eagles devotee McElhenney was, the Canadian has been swept along to such an extent that even wife and fellow actor Blake Lively couldn’t resist poking fun at him during January’s 3-3 FA Cup draw against Sheffield United.
“I bought ESPN+ today,” the Gossip Girl star wrote on Instagram above a screenshot of Reynolds sporting a pained expression at the third-round tie. “Just to watch my husband experience crippling anxiety live. Worth it!”
Rob McElhenney watches a Wrexham game with co-owner Ryan Reynolds and his wife Blake Lively (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
The show’s transformative impact on Wrexham can perhaps best be gauged by how visitors continue to flock to the Racecourse in big numbers, even on non-matchdays. With series two in production and set for release later this year, expect that interest to only grow.
Just who the breakout stars will be this time around remains to be seen. But viewers will again be hoping to see plenty of Wayne Jones, the genial landlord of The Turf pub, popular radio commentator Mark Griffiths and inspirational disability liaison officer Kerry Evans.
What there won’t be is a repeat of one minor problem that arose initially when the first series aired in the autumn on Disney+ in the UK.
With all manner of topics being featured, ranging from a few players joking about new signing Mullin’s wages to a debate between the two owners over Parkinson’s future, it quickly became apparent that the show’s Thursday broadcast date was causing an issue due to the players streaming the latest couple of episodes that first night.
This meant the show inevitably was the big talking point in the dressing room the next morning. With an important match coming up each weekend, this wasn’t ideal.
Not a massive headache, but Parkinson became sufficiently concerned to ask the producers to give him an early heads-up as to whether anything potentially problematic was likely to feature in that week’s episodes. This meant he was able to nip any debate in the bud and keep the focus on the football.
A refusal to be distracted by outside noise has been a hallmark of Parkinson’s season. Never more so than in the aftermath of a controversial cup replay defeat at Sheffield United, when Billy Sharp sparked a war of words by accusing some in the Wrexham camp of “eyeing up Spurs”, the Premier League side the tie’s winners would entertain in the next round after the teams had squared up to each other in the tunnel.
Having had his say on the night, Parkinson was adamant his players should move on quickly and not fuel further what he felt was in danger of becoming a media circus. It helped that Wrexham had six fixtures in 17 days after that trip to Bramall Lane — a run that eventually yielded 16 points.
The late February addition of Ryan Barnett from fellow National League club Solihull Moors, one of two signings made outside the transfer windows following FIFA’s special dispensation, also helped focus minds on a league campaign that was entering the final straight.
The upcoming Coronation may be understandably preoccupying the thoughts of King Charles III right now. But, should the monarch find time to study the sports pages or pop online this weekend, he might just spot news of Wrexham’s promotion.
What His Royal Highness probably doesn’t realise, however, is his unwitting role in that success.
When news first reached the Racecourse of the planned visit from the new King and the Queen Consort to mark Wrexham being granted city status, there was a huge sense of pride.
Reynolds (left) and McElhenney (right) met King Charles III and Queen Camilla in December (Photo: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
The only headache was the date: Friday, December 9 — the day before Wrexham were playing at Eastleigh, 220 miles away on the south coast of England. With the royal party due to visit sometime in the morning — they would eventually arrive at 11.30am — this meant the usual practice of the team making the journey by bus early on the Friday and training en route was out of the question.A later departure meant they would probably hit heavy traffic, turning what was a five-hour trip anyway into an even longer bum-numbing ride.The solution was to do what only the wealthy Premier League clubs do: charter a plane for the journey south. After meeting Charles and Camilla under slate-grey north Wales skies, the players and management headed straight to Manchester Airport. Also on board was McElhenney, Reynolds having returned to New York to be with his wife, who was pregnant at the time with the couple’s fourth child.The intention was for the flight to be a one-off, with the return journey from Hampshire to be completed by bus. Footballers being footballers; however, they sensed an opportunity.“This is so much better than sitting on a coach,” McElhenney, co-creator and one of the principal cast members in long-running sitcom It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, was told. “Can we do it for every long-distance away game?”
He saw the logic. He also knew Chesterfield, one of only two teams to beat Wrexham at that point in the season, were due at the Racecourse the following Tuesday. He quickly arranged for the same plane to take the squad back north from Eastleigh.In the end, the Chesterfield match was postponed due to a frozen pitch. But, by then, the players had their own incentive thanks to a cheeky suggestion from their American boss, who fully understands the importance of psychology in sport:“If you keep winning away from home then you can keep flying to long-distance games.”https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/13486147/embed?auto=1
He was as good as his word, that 2-0 win at Eastleigh proving to be the first of several fixtures where the squad has flown instead of travelling by road. The arrangement has worked well, not least during the January week when Maidstone United (498 miles there and back) and Gateshead (390 miles) were beaten away inside four days.By flying to both fixtures — including on the day of the match to Gateshead, in the north east of England — not only was travelling time significantly reduced but the players were also able to spend more time at home in their own beds. It also allowed for better-quality training between the two fixtures.Hiring a plane does not come cheap, of course. It is the same with the cryotherapy chambers the club began using in late January to help improve player recovery times during a hectic period that saw Wrexham play eight times in 25 days.
Both initiatives, however, passed the ‘value test’ set by the owners, in that if a financial outlay can be justified in terms of improving results then the green light will be given.This, plus the mid-season signings of Barnett, O’Connell and Andy Cannon from Hull City of the second-tier Championship for transfer fees as Wrexham looked to steal a march on Notts County, helps explain why annual budgets under Reynolds and McElhenney have proved to be a moveable feast during their two full seasons in charge.
Similar thinking lay behind last summer’s decision to improve the infrastructure at the Racecourse, particularly for the players.
Viewers of Welcome To Wrexham may recall the new owners’ response when given a guided tour of the place on their first visit in October 2021.“Is that the gym?” asked Reynolds in a slightly exasperated tone, as the camera focused on not very much at all in a tatty-looking room that seemed more suited to housing unwanted junk.The last close-season offered the chance to do something about this, via a remodelling of the area under the main stand to create a new gym in an otherwise unused space. The medical room was also shifted to sit adjacent to what is now the home dressing room, and the three rooms are now inter-linked, meaning the players have this season had a dedicated area to warm up before matches.One consequence of switching the dressing rooms around is that the away team now have more space than Wrexham do — an unusual state of affairs in professional football.
But this anomaly will be fixed once the new Kop stand is built in time for the 2024-25 season, with the club shop and offices set to move into the 5,500-capacity structure, freeing up space to extend the players’ changing area.The setup has clearly suited Wrexham, who won 22 of their 23 home matches and dropped just two points at the Racecourse all season. The most important of those victories came on Easter Monday, as Ben Foster made ‘that’ penalty save as Notts County were beaten 3-2 on an afternoon when supporters — and the owners — were put through every emotion imaginable.It proved the defining moment in a truly titanic title race, as the National League leadership passed between the top two for a 14th and final time in the season. Wrexham duly finished the job with a match to spare, Mullin’s spectacular second-half double capping a fightback worthy of champions after Boreham Wood had initially threatened to play the role of party-poopers by taking the lead inside 45 seconds through Lee Ndlovu.As supporters poured onto the pitch at the final whistle, Reynolds and McElhenney embraced up in the stand. Both looked even more shattered and emotionally drained than the players who had just given their all for 90 minutes.Finally, though, Wrexham had their Hollywood ending.
Wrexham’s promotion back to the EFL is ‘just the start’
By Richard SutcliffeApr 23, 2023
After delivering promotion for owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson has warned the EFL: “This is only the start.”
A 3-1 victory over Boreham Wood clinched the Vanarama National League title with a match to spare and condemned Notts County to the play-offs.
Paul Mullin’s second-half double — after Elliot Lee had cancelled out Lee Ndlovu’s first-minute opener for the visitors — sparked a party that will be talked about in north Wales for years to come.
Celebrations continued long into the night and Parkinson vowed to “be in the middle of it in the town centre at some stage”.
The 55-year-old will, though, soon be turning his attention to next season and the challenge of making an impact in League Two.
“We are certainly not going to get carried away with ourselves,” said the Wrexham manager. “But there is so much potential at this club. This (promotion) is a step and I am looking forward to helping the club take the next step.
“The club is moving quickly. We have to recruit well in the summer and make sure the team is competitive again next season.
McElhenney (left) and Reynolds with the Vanarama National League Trophy (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
“But I truly believe this is only the start of the journey for this football club. There are lots of special moments ahead.”
Wrexham’s recruitment since Parkinson arrived two summers ago has seen a focus on signing proven talent from the EFL. Both goalscorers against Boreham Wood arrived with a proven pedigree: Mullin joined shortly after firing Cambridge United into League One and Lee moved from Championship side Luton Town.
Others who spent their careers almost entirely in the League before moving to the Racecourse include Eoghan O’Connell, Ben Tozer, Andy Cannon, Tom O’Connor and Ollie Palmer, the club’s record £300,000 signing.
“We have players who are proven above this level,” added Parkinson. “The challenge has always been getting out of this division. I do believe we have players who will rise to the occasion next season as well.”
Lee, a free transfer signing from Luton last summer, also believes Wrexham can make a big impression on their return to the EFL.
“It was a risk for me to drop down from the Championship/League One,” says the 28-year-old, whose dad Rob played for Newcastle United and England. “But a risk I wanted to take. I knew the ambition.
“I am quite happy now, as I know a lot of people were saying to friends of mine — or tweeting — ‘He’s come here for the wrong reasons’, saying how I’d thrown away things, as I could have played higher up.
“To me, though, this was probably the best decision of my life to come here. I left Luton last year after being on loan at Charlton and I said to my agent and my dad: ‘I want to find a new project and a new home’. I’ve found that here. And found a manager who believes in me.
“You have a great chance of success when a club is well run. We had that at Luton. And we have it even better here, with the owners.”
Asked if Wrexham could adopt the same attack-minded approach next season that has brought 115 goals in 45 games to go with their record-breaking tally of 110 points, Lee replied: “I don’t see why not. There’s not a massive difference between this league and the league above.”
Wrexham’s promotion came 15 years to the day since a 2-0 defeat at Hereford United had confirmed their 87-year stay in the League was over.
It has been a long road back, with only the intervention of the supporters to take control in 2011 preventing the club from going under. A decade later, the arrival of Reynolds and McElhenney proved the catalyst.
One game remains before Wrexham can bid farewell to the National League: Saturday’s trip to Torquay United. But the planning for next season is expected to get under way this week, with recruitment at the top of the agenda.
Among those whose future is likely to be under discussion is Ben Foster, the 40-year-old former England international who came out of retirement in March to sign a short-term deal.
He once played for the Welsh club on loan as a youngster to earn a move to Manchester United and his place in Wrexham’s history is assured after that penalty save against Notts County on Easter Monday.
Foster celebrates the penalty save that proved a key turning point in the title race (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
“I haven’t got a clue,” the goalkeeper said when asked if he intended playing on next season. “I really do not know. It was nice to be a man of leisure, I really enjoyed my retirement. I had a great time.
“But I’ve enjoyed this so, so much. It is a pleasure to come in every day and work with these lads. There’s no big-times here. In football, there’s so many big-times. But not here. None of them. That’s why I will have to think about it (staying on).
“I have to contemplate it because this is a special team to be part of. And I’ve had one of the best feelings I’ve had in football, the penalty save against Notts County.”
Parkinson declined to be drawn on whether Foster’s second stint at the Racecourse could extend to an EFL return in August.
“I want to enjoy the fact we’ve had Ben in these games,” says the Wrexham manager. “I don’t want to discuss anything at this stage. For him to be at Wrexham as a youngster and come back to get promotion after all he has done in the game, I’d imagine this will rank up there with his greatest achievements.”
Foster’s seven appearances in the National League have yielded five wins and a draw. Along with the all-important triumph over Notts County, his saves in the goalless stalemate at Barnet following Callum McFadzean’s red card proved key in getting Wrexham over the line.
When asked about the veteran’s impact, Parkinson says: “I look back at the Sunday when Rob and Ryan were texting me after Rob (Lainton, first-choice goalkeeper) got injured. They were asking for my thoughts on the goalkeeping situation.
“I just said: ‘Look, unless someone really, really good becomes available then I’m very confident in Mark Howard,’ who had been part of the team who had gone top of the league.
“By Sunday evening, I’d touched base with Ben’s agent. You can’t turn down an opportunity to bring in a goalkeeper of that level. Goalkeepers are like strikers, they can come up with moments that define the season. That penalty save by Ben Foster against Notts County will go down in Wrexham history.”
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The Premier League’s most extreme season, a nine-month televised panic attack
Nick Miller Apr 25, 2023 THe Athletic
Has this been the strangest Premier League season ever?Probably not. There are other candidates for that — the empty grounds during COVID-19, Leicester City warping reality by winning the Premier League, and that game in 2012 when a bunch of Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic players chased a chicken around a pitch.Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe this as the most extreme Premier League season ever.It’s been a season devoid of nuance. Little middle ground has been charted. Reactions to most things have been the nuclear option.Take the dismissal by Tottenham Hotspur of interim manager Cristian Stellini following their 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Newcastle United. This was the first time an interim manager has been sacked for poor performances during a Premier League season (as opposed to making way for a permanent successor), which takes some doing, particularly as he was only ‘appointed’ a month ago.
It is also the 14th sacking this season, breaking a record already set this season — the previous mark was 10. You wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to comeThis campaign is also the first in Premier League history to see more than one club sack more than one manager. Spurs have joined Southampton, who dispensed with Ralph Hasenhuttl and Nathan Jones, and Chelsea, who fired Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter.In all, including caretakers and interims, by the time Ryan Mason leads out Tottenham against Manchester United on Thursday, 38 men will have taken charge of Premier League games this season.
If this season was a vehicle, it would be a Humvee with dodgy steering and a brick on the accelerator pedal, careening around and bashing into things. It is completely out of control, and it’s not limited to managerial sackings.Take Arsenal. Though the comparisons to Leicester in 2015-16 are a little uncharitable in terms of how surprising their success has been, the swing has been pretty violent — from finishing fifth and 24 points off the top last season to potentially being a few games away from the Premier League title.
Down the road, there is Tottenham’s season-long existential crisis. To the west, we have Chelsea, who have spent their season signing players at a clip that makes even Roman Abramovich’s biggest splurges look like a careful Sunday afternoon at a flea market. Potter was promised time, but when it wasn’t working six months down the line, Todd Boehly pressed the big red button. Maybe that was the right call, but it was certainly an extreme shift in thinking.
Sacked but not forgotten — two ex-Premier League managers Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte respectfully shaking hands back in August (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)
Liverpool, second-favourites for the title pre-season, have suffered oscillations so violent this season that they have won games 7-0, 6-1 and 9-0 but still might not qualify for European football, never mind the Champions League.
Manchester United’s campaign has been more positive, but they’ve still suffered 4-0, 6-3 and 7-0 losses, while Cristiano Ronaldo essentially handed in his notice via Piers Morgan.
Newcastle are a burgeoning juggernaut, with none of this ‘slow growth the year after being taken over by a petrostate nonsense’: bang, straight into the top four. Aston Villa were only out of the relegation zone on goals scored when they sacked Steven Gerrard in October, and now they’re flirting with the Champions League places.
Nottingham Forest celebrated their first season back in the top flight for a generation by signing 29 senior players, five of whom are yet to play a minute for the club. Leeds… well, Leeds are Leeds, and there’s an outside chance that they could join Spurs in binning their interim manager if Javi Gracia doesn’t turn things around and right quick.
Even at Brighton — serene, stable, well-run Brighton — Robert De Zerbi has managed to get himself three separate touchline bans.
De Zerbi has managed to get himself banned (Photo: Jack Thomas – WWFC/Wolverhampton Wanderers FC via Getty Images)
Results feel more extreme too. There have been the 9-0s and the 7-0s and whatnot but as the season approaches the business end, you expect the big games to be tight, nervy affairs that end in draws or narrow defeats. Cut to Newcastle being 5-0 up over Tottenham by the 21st minute.
Fan behaviour has become more extreme. Earlier this season, the Home Office released figures that suggested incidents of disorder at matches were up by nearly 60 per cent compared to the last pre-COVID-19 season.
The social media abuse and reaction have also felt more extreme, though it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to quantify, and it might just be that the most extreme voices are getting louder rather than more widespread. But if you’ll excuse a bit of minor anecdotal evidence, earlier this season someone sent me a GIF of a shotgun being loaded in response to an article about Bruno Fernandes. That’s never happened before.
Reactions to refereeing decisions, particularly when the VAR gets involved, have felt more extreme, with fans and pundits seemingly more comfortable than ever accusing officials of nefarious motives — and even corruption.
It’s all absolutely exhausting, and it’s difficult to put your finger on the root cause of it all.
It could be because of the World Cup, the mid-season break making it seem like there have been two helter-skelter mini-seasons loosely strung together, with everything crammed in, games piling on top of each other, giving the impression that there’s no time to think about anything.
It might be a general sense that the pandemic has made society a little more feral, something that has been suggested across several industries that rely on large groups of people gathering together, with those involved in spaces like live music and theatre reporting that people are simply behaving in a more extreme fashion.
It might be an inevitable consequence of the pressure inherent in succeeding or even just competing in the Premier League, taking its toll and frazzling everyone. Is this just the way things are now? Is this season a checkpoint on a steadily inclining graph line, rather than an outlier that will correct itself next season?It’s utter chaos out there, and while chaos usually makes for enjoyable viewing, this chaos is too chaotic. It’s too extreme. It’s too stressful. Less a football season, more a nine-month-long televised panic attack.“Everything in moderation… especially moderation” goes the old maxim for how to survive as a rock star. But after the last eight months or so, maybe we all need a bit more moderation.
Xavi, Arteta, Kompany – all Pep Guardiola’s disciples, and all top of the league
Daniel Taylor Apr 25, 2023
It’s a happy scene. Mums and dads, boys and girls, wait on the thin, potholed lane leading to the training ground. Every so often, an expensive car pulls up. A window winds down and the children swarm in to get their autographs and see, close up, which of their heroes is behind the smoked glass.Welcome to the warm afterglow of promotion at a football club where, judging by what happened with the previous manager, it cannot be long before one of the local pubs offers to change its name in honour of Vincent Kompany.
In the Premier League, it is Mikel Arteta who is trying to break Manchester City’s vice-like grip on the championship trophy and do something with Arsenal that would have seemed almost implausible at the start of the season.
In Spain, Xavi has taken Barcelona 11 points clear of Real Madrid, the champions, in his first full season since returning to the club where, as a player, he won 25 trophies in 17 years.
Barcelona have romped towards the title in La Liga under Xavi (Photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
All three have learned their trade, to varying degrees, from Pep Guardiola. All of them preach what can loosely be described as ‘Pep’s philosophy’ at a time when more and more teams, at all sorts of levels, are aligning themselves with Guardiola’s style of play.
Kompany will point out that he, Xavi and Arteta have not just learned exclusively from Guardiola. All three, he says, have had a lifetime of other experiences. And he’s right: it would be pretty insulting to characterise any of them as a Pep clone. Each has his own personality. Nobody wants to be depicted as Guardiola-lite.
Rebuilt, refreshed and rampant – how Vincent Kompany’s Burnley have stormed to promotion
Yet it is difficult to overstate one man’s impact on all three and Kompany, a former Manchester City captain with his statue outside their stadium, accepts that point when it is put to him that it is surely more than just coincidence.
“I’ve been lucky to work with so many good coaches,” he says. “I’ve taken influences from all the coaches I’ve played for, and all the places I’ve been at. Mikel has had a lot of good coaches in his career. Xavi has had a lot of top coaches, and so have I.
“But what I can say is that it’s no surprise if we have learned from somebody like Pep because, among all those coaches, you would put him in a category of his own.”
When the same question is put to Xavi, he answers in a way that might be expected given that he is one of the ex-Barcelona players who will always see Guardiola as the doyen of his profession.
“I considered him the best coach in the world, even when he had not won any titles,” Xavi says of the man who put together the most beautifully assembled Barca side there may ever have been. “For me, he is still number one. All the players who pass through his hands are captivated.
“I don’t want to compare myself to him — he has had an incredible career and I am just starting out. I just hope I can finish with his record — not for me, but for the club. That is what I work for.”
Xavi’s coaching career began at Al Sadd in Qatar, where he told the players to think of the ball as their friend and it quickly became apparent he was not exaggerating when he described himself as “obsessed with possession”.
“He always shows us the possession stats, and it’s never enough,” Santi Cazorla, the former Arsenal midfielder now at Al Sadd, told Cadena Ser radio. “His ideas are very clear — always have been. He wants the ball for us, and the opponents not to touch it.”
Xavi (right) impressed Santi Cazorla during their time together at Al Sadd in Qatar (Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images)
This is the message Xavi has preached to the players at Camp Nou since he replaced Ronald Koeman in November 2021. “The ball is not a bomb — it’s a treasure,” is one line, and you can imagine Guardiola nodding with approval.
Arteta is different, in one sense, because he worked alongside Guardiola as a coach rather than a player. They had three years together at City before Arteta’s switch to Arsenal and, on the other side of Manchester, there is one man in particular who can testify how valuable it is to have that time, close-up, with Guardiola.
Erik ten Hag, the manager of Manchester United, collaborated with him for two years at Bayern Munich.
“I was able to experience his approach up close, and I learned a lot from that,” says Ten Hag, manager of Bayern’s reserve team from 2013 to 2015. “Football in Germany has been different since Pep. The whole league changed because of his way of football. I watched almost every training (session). I learned a lot from his methods, how he transferred his philosophy to the pitch.”
The Guardiola effect – how Pep has changed English football beyond the Premier League
Not just tactics, either. One of Ten Hag’s observations was that Guardiola was so enthusiastic with his instructions that, after five minutes of listening to him, the players trained with remarkable intensity. Guardiola, he concluded, had an uncommon strength of personality.
Ten Hag saw for the first time a manager who was prepared to abandon convention and use David Alaba and Philipp Lahm as inverted full-backs. It is a tactic Arteta applies at Arsenal, predominantly through Oleksandr Zinchenko but also with Ainsley Maitland-Niles in his early days as Arsenal manager. Kompany does the same to enable Burnley to switch, in possession, to a 3-2-5 system, with Connor Roberts taking on the role that is these days occupied by John Stones at City.
At Bayern, Guardiola sometimes used his wide attackers, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, in central roles. Not many managers would have dared even to try it. Guardiola did — and Ten Hag loved his bravery, his willingness to experiment and, in turn, the trust he had from his players.
Erik ten Hag learned a lot from Pep Guardiola during their time at Bayern Munich (Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)
He saw how the manager would completely shut himself off from the outside world when he had a big game coming up. Guardiola would sit in his office, playing the game in his head, and everyone knew not to disturb him. Then, gradually, the ideas and tactics would form.
Maarten Meijer, the Dutch writer, spoke to Ten Hag about it in further detail for his 2022 biography about the man who won three Eredivisie championships with Ajax.
One passage details how Guardiola had marked Bayern’s training pitches with extra lines to create “half-spaces”, vertical strips between the centre of the pitch and the wings. It was to help the players understand their positions and, Pep being Pep, it was about repeating, repeating and repeating his training drills until it became second nature.
“It’s like being behind the wheel,” writes Meijer. “You don’t think about the traffic rules, shifting the gears or pressing the brake on time; it happens automatically. The car becomes an extension of the driver. Everything that once was learned is now instinct. It’s part of permanent memory, the hard drive.”
Ten Hag, in his Bayern years, was so meticulous in his work that people started calling him “Mini Pep”. The nickname did not last beyond Germany and it would be stretching the truth to think the two men had spent their days brainstorming. In reality, the first and second teams at Bayern are largely separate worlds.
Yet Ten Hag adopted the “half-spaces” idea and noted at Euro 2020 that Germany, under Joachim Low, seemed to have done the same.
Ten Hag had been brought up on the Dutch philosophy that possession is sacred. But Guardiola, he noted, had a follow-up rule. If the ball was lost, it had to be recaptured within seconds. “He is uncompromising in that,” Ten Hag says in a chapter named ‘In Germany with Pep’. “His will is really the law. Sometimes that leads to clashes with players, but Guardiola has only grown in authority over the years.”
The lesson of history shows that is true in many ways. One of Guardiola’s first acts at City was to move out Joe Hart, an England international. He also marginalised Yaya Toure and publicly criticised Sergio Aguero for not playing the way he wanted.
At Barcelona, he went even further, announcing his exit plan for Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o on his first day in the job. “These three are not in my mind for the future,” Guardiola said. “In fact, we will be going onwards without them. It’s time for a restart.” Eto’o did help Guardiola win the Champions League that season, but left the following summer.
From left: Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Deco all failed to make it into Pep Guardiola’s long-term plans at Barcelona (Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)
Nobody could ever say Guardiola lacks guts — and, again, there is clear evidence that it has rubbed off on the two managers who are now trying to deprive him of the Premier League and FA Cup.
Arteta made it very clear he was the boss, and that his word was final, when he decided Arsenal ought to sever ties with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Or just consider the way Ten Hag, in his getting-to-know-you phase at Old Trafford, dealt with Cristiano Ronaldo and all the issues surrounding the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
They got their way because, as Guardiola can testify, there is no other option for an elite manager.
“Of course, I regularly talked with him,” Ten Hag says of Guardiola. “But most of all, I watched very carefully. I have written things down. I have adopted certain things and I implement them in my own way.”
Taylor Harwood-Bellis has thought about this topic a few times. The 21-year-old centre-half has been in City’s system since the age of six and made his first-team debut under Guardiola in 2019.
He has since been on loan to Anderlecht, where Kompany had his first taste of management, before rejoining him at Burnley in a season-long arrangement. Harwood-Bellis, in other words, is well-placed to discuss the similarities between the two managers.
“The biggest is their mentality,” says the England Under-21 international. “How hard they work, their determination to be the best and, when they get there, to stay there.
“Pep’s one of the best, if not the best, managers ever. But if you really want to understand it, you have to put in a lot of time off the pitch. You have to ask questions, do your own digging to understand his principles and what exactly he wants.”
Kompany, he says, is that man: always inquisitive, always wanting more. One story is of him losing his temper at half-time in Burnley’s first match since promotion was secured. They were drawing 0-0 with second-placed Sheffield United, who had lost a player to a red card, and Kompany did not like what he had seen. “If you slack off, he’ll notice within minutes,” says Harwood-Bellis. Full-time: Burnley 2-0 Sheffield United.
Burnley’s players are encouraged to keep the ball, pin their opponents back and be patient if the breakthrough does not come early. The emphasis is on attacking, controlling games, moving and wearing down the opposition. They have scored 81 times in the Championship this season; to put that into context, their combined total from the previous two years in the Premier League was 67. Burnley had surpassed that total before the end of February.
“The first thing you need is top-quality players,” says Kompany, whose future appointment as City manager was predicted by Guardiola earlier this season. “Then it’s about the style you give them and, for me, this is what I know. What I’m teaching my players is what I understand.”
Burnley under Vincent Kompany: The Manchester City of the Championship
Kompany studied and took notes from Guardiola and Arteta while he was injured for long spells at City. He would speak to them about why they deployed certain systems and tactics. Plus they all share the traits of being workaholics, almost obsessed with what they do. Kompany regularly puts in 14-hour days and is described by one colleague, in the best possible sense, as “the most intense man you will ever meet”. Which, funnily enough, is exactly how City’s staff talk about Guardiola.
Ask Kompany, though, and he will say his influences come from as far and wide as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. Manuel Pellegrini, the former City manager, gets a mention, as does Roberto Mancini, another of Guardiola’s predecessors, for his “absolute dedication to the details of defending”.
“What you get with Pep is absolute control of the game and dominance; that’s the key component of everything he does,” says Kompany. “If you compare Xavi’s style of play with Pep’s, Mikel with Pep and myself with Pep, I can understand why you would draw links. But you would see some differences because we have all been influenced by different coaches.”
Vincent Kompany cites Pep Guardiola (right) as a key figure in his managerial career – but not his only influence (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
What he is saying, in other words, is that it is just not a case of Guardiola sprinkling his magic over the people around him. Arteta, for example, credits Johan Cruyff for the way he sees football. Kompany, named on Sunday as the Championship’s manager of the season, says the same after being encouraged to study Cruyff, as does his assistant, Craig Bellamy. So does Guardiola and so does Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, who keeps a Cruyff book (and another of Brian Clough) in his office.
Arteta can also draw on five years as a player under Arsene Wenger. Yet it is one of the oddities of Wenger’s career how few of the players associated with his Arsenal teams have become high-end managers. Sir Alex Ferguson, too, if we are talking about a level in England where trophies are won and championships chased.As for Jose Mourinho, one line in Ten Hag’s biography jumps off the page. Ten Hag is using a chess reference to explain why so many coaches want to take on Guardiola’s ideas. “When it comes to tactics,” says the United manager, “we don’t talk about Jose Mourinho, who always plays with black.”uardiola, in turn, will say he has learned just as much from working with Arteta as the other way around. They meet again at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. It is the game that could decide this season’s title race and, if it all goes Arsenal’s way, there is some irony that the man Arteta, Xavi and Kompany all regard as their biggest influence will be the odd one out when it comes to lifting the championship trophies.
Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea wasn’t always a good fit but time is right
Simon JohnsonApr 25, 2023
The timing will not get any better for Mauricio Pochettino to take charge of Chelsea.As each day passes, the possibility of Pochettino becoming Chelsea’s next permanent head coach is becoming more of a case of when, not if. Talks have been progressing very well, so much so that sources close to the situation, speaking anonymously to The Athletic to protect relationships, are growing in confidence that an agreement will be in place sooner rather than later.
As revealed on Saturday, Pochettino has already been discussing some of the players he wants to keep in the squad.
It speaks volumes that there is not a universal outcry among all Chelsea fans about the prospect of Pochettino taking over at Stamford Bridge. As with any club, not everyone will be on board with every decision and there will be those with serious misgivings about this scenario. But there are many people who actually welcome the idea.
The significance of this stance can not be underestimated. There is one thing which has remained consistent among Chelsea supporters over decades: no matter how good the team is, the intensity of the rivalry with Tottenham Hotspur and disliking pretty much everyone associated with the north London club always remains high.
The story behind this sour relationship has already been explained by The Athletic (see below). Even when they are not playing each other, you will regularly hear anti-Tottenham songs sung by the crowd during matches throughout the season, home and away.
Why Chelsea view Tottenham as their biggest rivals
So the likelihood of Pochettino — a man whose coaching career is mostly associated with his time at Tottenham between 2014 and 2019 — taking over at Chelsea is quite a development.
He would not be the first man with strong Spurs affiliations to manage Chelsea. Former Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower, captain of the double-winning team (league and FA Cup) of 1960-61, had 32 games as Chelsea manager between 1978 and 1979. More successfully, Glenn Hoddle, who played 490 times for Tottenham, took over at Chelsea in 1993 and became a popular figure during his three years in the role. There was great disappointment when he left for the England job, which showed how he overcame Chelsea fans’ misgivings about a Spurs legend representing them.
But Hoddle’s relative success at Stamford Bridge did not exactly open the floodgates for Spurs personnel. The movement over the past years has been the other way, with ex-Chelsea coaches Andre Villas-Boas, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte having spells at Spurs. Hoddle also returned there between 2001 and 2003.
Pochettino looks like he will get an opportunity to emulate Hoddle and the stars are much more aligned for him to do that now compared with the two other occasions Chelsea considered him for the position.
When the previous regime decided to sack Frank Lampard in January 2021, Pochettino was sounded out. The Argentinian declined before things could progress too far but only because he had already given his word to Paris Saint-Germain that he would become their head coach.
Supporters could not attend games back then because COVID-19 restrictions were still in place. But a match-going fanbase already upset over the departure of club legend Lampard would have reacted furiously if a former Spurs man had taken his job. Pochettino would have had to match what Thomas Tuchel went on to achieve, which was lifting the Champions League four months later, to win them over. No simple task, even though Tuchel made it look like one.
Chelsea have lost all four matches under interim manager Frank Lampard, including being knocked out of the Champions League (Photo: Glyn Kirk/IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
New co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali went even further after sacking Tuchel last September. They went as far as putting Pochettino on a two-man shortlist and interviewing him. But they had already decided to pick Graham Potter.
This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise… well, kind of. Had the hierarchy chosen Pochettino in September, it would not have gone down well then either. To replace a very popular figure in Tuchel with a former Spurs man? That is asking for trouble.
Surely Pochettino would not have done as badly as Potter, who won just seven of his 22 Premier League games and effectively masterminded Chelsea’s worst campaign for three decades. Yet his remit would still have been difficult due to the many issues he stands to inherit now: the size of the squad; the lack of a regular goalscorer; a club recovering from months of upheaval on and off the pitch with staff changes galore; the annual expectation of challenging for trophies from the fans. As Potter experienced, it would have taken only a few defeats for the critics in the stands to start grumbling.
If Pochettino agrees to come on board, the atmosphere is totally different. Confidence is at an all-time low. He will be seen more positively by virtue of not being Potter. He is not replacing a popular figurehead. Granted, Lampard is in situ as caretaker manager for the rest of the season, but everyone knew from the outset it was just a short-term solution — and a run of four straight defeats has not changed anyone’s mind on that front. As far as full-time managers replacing Tuchel go, he is now the man after the man. There is a bit of distance — and a lot of defeats — between the two of them.
Then, of course, there is Pochettino’s track record of playing good football, developing young players and, dare one mention it, turning Tottenham from a mediocre outfit like Chelsea are presently into one that came close to winning two Premier Leagues (in 2016 and 2017) and reached the Champions League final in 2019. Plus, he went on to end his trophy drought by claiming the Coupe de France in 2021 (and the Ligue 1 title the following season) at PSG, a club that is renowned for being hard to manage and one that certainly prepares him for the intense pressures at Chelsea far more than Spurs did. It was a crucial experience and part of the learning curve.
Co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley have been leading the search for a new coach, with the support of Boehly and Eghbali. They are looking for the best man for the job and Pochettino’s achievements, regardless of where they happened, make him a worthy contender.
Another factor that would help appease Chelsea followers is that Pochettino’s arrival would actually give them more ammunition with which to taunt their rivals. Spurs fans have been singing his name at recent matches in the hope he will return. So if he ends up at Chelsea instead, that will be seen as some kind of victory (even if Tottenham have not even made an attempt to get the 51-year-old back). Then there is the dream of Chelsea winning a trophy under Pochettino, something Spurs could not do. That would really provide an opportunity to rub salt into the wounds.
There will be some reading this who will take a lot more convincing. But Pochettino will surely never be granted a better chance to succeed at Chelsea by those who follow them.
Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen exchange errors in head-to-head battle of USMNT keepers
By Connor FlemingApril 24, 2023
Goalie Wars! American internationals Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen went toe-to-toe on Monday night with Horvath’s Luton Town welcoming Steffen’s Middlesbrough to Kenilworth Road in the EFL Championship, and let’s just say that Matt Turner’s standing as USMNT No.1 feels safe.
The stakes weren’t especially high with Burnley and Sheffield United headed for automatic promotion to the Premier League while Luton and Middlesbrough have clinched their spots in the four-team playoffs, but the encounter was a possible preview of “the richest game in football” (the playoff final at Wembley).
Horvath and Steffen chatting it up in the tunnel. pic.twitter.com/Yg1b5d1ACq
— Travis (@usmnt_historian) April 24, 2023
Horvath (on loan from Nottingham Forest) has earned more praise than Steffen (on loan from Manchester City) for his work in the Championship — performances that earned him a spot on the World Cup roster while Steffen was surprisingly omitted — but Luton conceded in the 40th-minute after Horvath’s sweeper keeper attempt was punished by Cameron Archer.
Horvath’s league-leading 20th clean sheet wasn’t arriving today.
However, Luton responded through Tom Lockyer in the 49th-minute with a header that Steffen could do nothing about, and then Steffen gave away a penalty during his own interpretation of the sweeper keeper role. The contact was minimal with the 28-year-old American trying to get out of the challenge, but Luton’s Carlton Morris earned and converted the spot kick. Carlton Morris ya beauty #LUTMID pic.twitter.com/9hTobhnhk8
— papa saka (@papa_saka) April 24, 2023
Luton’s 2-1 win tightens their grip on third while Middlesborough is looking at a fourth-place finish. The bigger question is who they’ll ultimately play in the playoff semifinals with fifth and sixth-place still up in the air.
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