Friday, May 26, 2017
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Football News & Opinions

Football Winners of 2017 Take Shape

Happy & Sad Masks (via Clipart Library)An interesting weekend of football may have not only provided entertainment aplenty for fans, it might just have given us an indicator of the potential silverware roll of honour in a month’s time...

 

Chelsea have wobbled slightly recently, with their Premier League advantage over Tottenham reduced from ten points to four following surprising defeats against Crystal palace and Manchester United within two weeks.  Having lead at the top for most of the season, Antonio Conte’s men could be forgiven for glancing across their shoulders with a degree of anxiety if not quite panic.

 

Against that backdrop, the FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Spurs was particularly intriguing.  Chelsea were outplayed for large swathes of an absorbing ninety minutes, but clinical finishing at key points saw them through 4-2. 

 

 

The outcome was another cup final for the blues. And for all the blow was more a sharp dig to the ribs as opposed to a knockout punch as far as the league title race is concerned, Spurs just might be thinking that for all their fine form this season – they are without peer as far as entertaining football is concerned - they are destined to fall agonisingly short once again.

 

Then Arsenal and Manchester City played out an equally absorbing match, with Arsène Wenger’s men taking their place in the final after extra-time.  With questions concerning Wenger’s future at the Emirates still circulating feverishly, and a significant proportion of the fans calling for the manager’s departure, the final could prove to be Wenger’s Gunners swansong as well as his chance to secure what would be a seventh FA Cup during his time at the helm.

 

As for Pep Guardiola, it means no silverware to mark his first season in the Premiership, hardly the sort of form that persuaded City’s owners to part with £15m a year to secure his services.  You wonder what impact this will have on Pep’s tenure, particularly were the unthinkable to happen, and he failed to even land a top four place come the season’s end.  You also wonder whether Pep could handle being pipped for fourth by his nemesis, Josè Mourinho.

 

Pep’s former club Barcelona reminded him of what he used to have with a storming 3-2 win in the latest El Clásico. A result which may prove decisive in terms of tipping the balance away from Real Madrid, albeit Zinedine Zidane’s team have a game in hand with the clubs level on points as they enter the home straight. 

 

 

Two inevitable things happened in this game – Lionel Messi played a pivotal role in the outcome (including the winning goal with the last kick of the game, a record 16th in this fixture), and Sergio Ramos enhanced a record of his own when he was the recipient of another red card (22 and counting) for a typically reckless and idiotic tackle.  Unlike their Catalan rivals, Real have the semi-final of the Champions League to look forward to, but this may prove counter-productive as far as the La Liga title race is concerned.

 

As for Scotland, Hibs narrowly failed to reach a second consecutive Scottish Cup final, with opponents Aberdeen scraping through to the season’s showpiece match for the first time in 17 years. The Dons earning a chance to lift the grand old trophy, something that has now eluded them for over a quarter of a century.

 

If they are to do that, they will have to overcome runaway champions Celtic, who took care of Rangers with embarrassing ease in the other semi-final.  The old adage of the form book going out the window whenever the Old Firm meet was not called into question so much as torn up and consigned to the bucket, as the strong favourites overcame their rivals in what was the mother of all canters. 

 

 

Frankly, the 2-0 score line flattered Rangers, who were the victims of one of the most one-sided meetings between the Glasgow giants in recent memory.  Celtic now progress to the final with the chance to win their first treble since Martin O’Neill’s glory days, and few would bet against that now.

 

The game will at least have laid bare to new Ibrox boss, Pedro Caixinha, the extent of the work that lies ahead in his bid to restore Rangers to the upper echelons of the Scottish game.  In the short term, he only needs to wait a week to get the chance to end Celtic’s bid to become Invincibles for this campaign, (41 games down, 5 to go) but you wouldn’t bet against that either.

 

 

So was that the weekend where Chelsea cemented their title-winning credentials, Arsenal served notice of their desire to end Arsène Wenger’s tenure on a high note at Wembley, Pep’s maiden season in English football bombed beyond repair, the pendulum swung in favour of Barcelona reigning supreme in Spain, and Celtic set themselves up for a treble and unbeaten domestic season?  Some of us think so.

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