Final Day of the EPL Season

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Some say in a “New York Minute” everything can change; for the EPL title race everything did change and in a matter of mere moments. Soon after Jamie Mackie’s 66th minute powerfully headed goal, Manchester City looked as if they were not going to be able to unlock the defensive wall of QPR. Fans were crying, leaving, and incessantly calling their mates to find out the score of the Manchester United game. But with the game entering five minutes of stoppage time, City produced a simply implausible finish. First, Edin Dzeko nodded the Blues level before Sergio Agüero collected Mario Balotelli’s return pass and drove home the goal that crowned City champions and denied their local rivals another title. Sir Alex and Co. could only be disappointed as they won 1-0 at Sunderland, but they could only helplessly watch City celebrate their comeback.

On the other side of the coin, QPR’s loss could have dropped them into the relegation mire, but Bolton’s draw at Stoke meant that the Hoops were guaranteed successive seasons in the top flight. For Bolton, it meant that their streak of 11 straight seasons in the Premier League had come to an end and that they’d be plying their trade in the Championship next year along with fellow relegated sides Wolves and Blackburn Rovers.

Wolves signed off their Premier League season with a 3-2 loss at Wigan although they showed true grit and class in their ensuing games after relegation. Blackburn, however, have not showed too much fight since their relegation was rumored and then confirmed. Yakubu scored a consolation goal in the 60th minute but that was indeed all it was as Blackburn returns back to the 2nd tier next year as well.

In the battle for European places, Arsenal and Tottenham both won. Arsenal won automatic qualification to the Champions League next year but Tottenham must wait until May 20th to see if Chelsea loses before they can celebrate their draw to the qualifying round of the Champions League. Newcastle United, although they lost, is guaranteed a spot in next year’s Europa League. This season has been a great achievement for the Magpies as mid-table finish surely would’ve sufficed for them, but a battle to the end for a Champs League spot was a treat for the Jordie faithful.

Elsewhere, Swansea and Norwich capped their impressive debut seasons since their promotion with wins over Liverpool and Aston Villa, respectively. This season has been a breath air if you’ve watched Norwich or Swansea because of their fluid, intricate style of passing football and to see them return for next year is great for the EPL.

All in all, this season has been fantastic for fans (depending on who you support) as there was a changing of the guard in the title race. Newcastle, Swansea and Norwich City all blew expectations out of the water, and Liverpool and Stoke both drastically underperformed. This summer will be dramatic as usual in the transfer market because of the many underachieving teams and newfound wealth of others. For now, we wait for the drama of the Premier League season to start again and try to live up to the great season it has been this year.

Jonathan Zinser

Red’s Resurgence (Liverpool)

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About a year ago, the most successful club in English soccer history restored one of their greatest managers ever back to his old post as Kenny Dalglish was appointed manager after former boss Roy Hodgson failed to impress in Merseyside. Since “King Kenny’s” return, he has galvanized the club into competing in all fixtures and fighting for every 50-50. His most recent success gives evidence of the turnaround, as he led the Reds to success in an epic Carling Cup Final, and gave Liverpool its first trophy in six years.

Many believe this success will rouse the Reds into competing for fourth place and a UEFA Champions League spot. If the the potential shown in the final can be put forth in every league match, then there is no reason why Champions League qualification cannot be a realistic aspiration.

Not only did Liverpool win the Carling Cup, but their newcomers are also coming to life and back to the form that brought them to Anfield. Stewart Downing put forth his best performance for the club in the final, and the Luis Suarez-Andy Carroll partnership showed renewed promise. Though inconsistent, Jordan Henderson has showed flashes of the talent and potential that caught Liverpool’s eye when they bought him over the summer. One of the most impressive newcomers, Charlie Adam also looked comfortable in his midfield tandem with Steven Gerrard during the final and distributed the ball excellently like he did during his time at Blackpool.

With the combination of the old guard and the vanguard, Kenny Dalglish has surely put together a squad that can compete for fourth place and no doubt will, but the real question is whether he can return them to their former glory of league titles and knock off the dynasty that is Manchester United.

Kenny said after the game that, “We should enjoy what we’ve done but know that we’ve got to look forward. Everybody loved it, but when you like something and you’ve enjoyed the taste, it makes you that little bit more anxious to get back there.”

As great of an accomplishment that this is, he is the first to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done and that they must continue on their quest for further glory.

Jonathan Zinser

Craig Bellamy and Liverpool-Cardiff

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Craig Bellamy recently said that, “my time will not be judged by medals”; however, he will get a chance to boost his résumé this Sunday as his Liverpool squad faces off against Championship side Cardiff City in the Carling Cup Final. Although Liverpool comes in as heavy favorites, it would be behoove them to not forget Birmingham’s upset of Arsenal in last year’s final.

This game is the culmination of fixtures between teams of each of the English leagues since the beginning of August. Liverpool had a tough road to get this point, as they had to advance past Chelsea and Manchester City in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. Cardiff City, on the other hand, faced rather weak competition in Championship foes Crystal Palace and Premier League strugglers Blackburn Rovers, respectively.

Liverpool welcomes back Daniel Agger and Craig Bellamy to the team as they return to fitness. They will most likely replaces deputies Jamie Carragher and Jordan Henderson in the starting lineup. The latter most likely being replaced because of his run of poor form. Not only does Liverpool have two returning starters, but also they will be boosted by Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll’s return to form.

Furthermore, Cardiff City has had a decent run of form that has seen them occupy a playoff spot in the Championship. Even though Cardiff lost Craig Bellamy in the summer to their opponents, they went out and replaced him with Scottish international Kenny Miller.

All in all, Liverpool should handle this final rather easily, but Cardiff will still pose a challenge. Cardiff should look to last year’s final as inspiration for a strong performance because of Birmingham’s shocker over Arsenal.

My prediction: Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff 

Jonathan Zinser

Liverpool: A Cup Team?

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Less than 3 days after advancing to the Carling Cup final after defeating Manchester City on aggregate, 3-2, Liverpool will play City’s cross-town rivals Manchester United in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Liverpool played United in a similar fixture last year in the FA Cup and was disappointingly knocked out by the Red Devils.

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Despite being on a proverbial high after this win, Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s manager, is keeping both feet on the ground even with all of the excitement around him. In an effort to quell his players ahead of Saturday’s match, “King” Kenny acknowledged the fact that this is a major achievement in the rebuilding process, but was quick to point out that Liverpool still has much to play for yet, and that his players should be keen in their quest to find success elsewhere as well.

“We’ve got to Wembley. That’s all we’ve achieved so far. We’ve not been there for a while, so I think that in itself is an achievement – but that’s not where our ambitions stop. We want to continue and do as well as we can between now and the end of the season,” Dalglish said.

Liverpool may be experiencing a difficult year, horrifically highlighted by their inept display against Bolton this last weekend when they lost 3-1 to the Trotters, but their runs in the domestic cups should give hope to Reds’ fans that there is indeed progress being made. If they do win on Saturday against their league rivals Man. United, then Liverpool could see themselves in the final of the League Cup and 2 rounds away from the semis in the FA Cup.

Jonathan Zinser