Well it happened. The clock struck midnight on the Tinker Man.
A lot of amateur GMs disagreed on twitter with the decision to fire a guy who nine months ago was helping lift the league trophy after one of the most remarkable seasons in sports history.
How in the world did this happen? It’s impossible to point to just one reason for the Foxes’ sudden downfall. The club paid big bucks to spruce up their offense last summer with the likes of Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa, and while Jamie Vardy’s drop off this season was painfully predictable, there is enough complementary talent in Riyad Mahrez, Shinji Okazaki and Demarai Gray that having scored the third least goals in the league at this point is as mystifying as it is embarrassing. That’s largely on the players. A bigger problem though, and one that is more on Ranieri, was the club’s decision not to upgrade their aging backline in the summer transfer window. They didn’t even try. So that plus hoping to catch N’Golo Kante-like lightning in a bottle a second time with Wilfred Ndidi or Papy Mendy (which worked out about as well as you’d expect) has left the Foxes one point above the relegation zone. Sad!
Right or wrong though there are two key takeaways:
1) Modern soccer is a cruel and fickle mistress.
2) Whatever you do, don’t ever ever ever ever EVER exceed expectations. It will always come back to bite you.
I wouldn’t mourn too long for Ranieri though as he likely has a seven-figure “see ya” payment coming his way, which should buy plenty of ramen noodles as he waits for the coaching carousel to come full circle again. After all, everything old is new again…
But enough about a club in 17th place. Let’s move along to what’s coming up this weekend…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Reminder of what happened when last we heard from the EPL a couple weeks ago:
News, notes and observations:
– Nice win for Liverpool. Now if they could just start beating those pesky crap teams…
– Sevilla may have finished Ranieri off, but let the record show that it was Swansea that landed the mortal blow.
– Middlesbrough played a game and nobody scored?! Huh. Weird.
– West Ham’s ability to snatch defeat (or a veritable facsimile thereof) from the jaws of victory knows no bounds.
As for the table, this is where things stand 65.789% of the way through the season:
And the games coming up this weekend:
Plus one extra special matchup for all of the marbles / an extremely make-believe trophy (and yes, I realize that trivializing the league cup means Spurs haven’t won anything since the Stone Age but it is what it is):
PICKS OF THE WEEK
Anybody know off-hand how many goals Southampton have conceded in EFL Cup games so far this season? Yep, zero. One might think this means United will have a lot of trouble putting the biscuit in the basket on Sunday… yep, nope – not necessarily anyway. United have slowly gotten their shit together offensively this season, and have looked pretty solid ever since the scoreless debacle against Hull on February 1. The Saints, on the other hand, recently sold Jose Fonte and lost Virgil van Dijk to injury, and have thus been forced to go with emergency starters in the center of defense. To be fair they have been in some of their best form recently, and Dear Leader Jozay will likely be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan after he picked up an injury in Europa, meaning there is a chance we might see Old Man Rooney… however, Zlatan versus a Yoshida/Stephens CB pairing is how wee Red Devil boners are made. United to win 2-0.
Ooooooooooookaaaaaaaaaay, on to games that actually matter. Slim pickings for “match of the weekend” but I’ll go with Spurs, fresh off their annual continental ass-pooping, needing a win over Stoke in order to hold on to their priceless spot in the top four. One thing to keep in mind coming down the stretch this season is how incredibly vital it is for Tottenham to make the Champions League – more important, in fact, than any other of the Big Six clubs. If United doesn’t make it? People will whine and cry but the club has more money than god and will just dump another billion into buying fancy new players in the summer. If Spurs don’t, however, they could end up losing players like Dele Alli and perhaps even Mauricio Pochettino, which would mean yet another long hard rebuild (which would be coming at a perfectly awful time as they prepare to move into their new stadium in 2018-19 – assuming the club doesn’t implode and get sold off for parts having to play all of next season in Wembley). Perhaps now people will have a better idea why I’ve been saying I don’t mind Spurs crashing out of things like the League Cup and Europa.
Anyway, the major concerns for Spurs heading into the game are (1) Danny Rose’s continued absence means Ben Davies will continue to fill his pants at right back and (2) Stoke will be fully rested and may be getting healthy – Xherdan Shaqiri and Geoff Cameron may be ready to return – at just the right/wrong time, depending on your perspective. Thankfully Tottenham decided not to try very hard against Gent on Spursday so they should have plenty of energy saved up (not to mention shots on goal) saved up and ready to go. Spurs to win 2-1.
Dele’s back! (Assuming he isn’t in jail on felony assault charges)
PILLOW FIGHT! Don’t let Burnley’s gaudy point total and impressive spot in the table (12th) fool you, my suspicion that the wee lads are sheep in wolves clothing was all but confirmed by a shambolic FA Cup “performance” against a glorified pub league team last weekend. I mean, Burnley on the road? What’s the point. Hull, by comparison, have looked surprisingly competent ever since bringing in some shrewd additions – not least of which being new manager Marco Silva – in the January. In fact, against my better judgment….. MORTAL LOCK OF THE WEEKEND: Hull to win 3-1.
• I had (moderately) high hopes for Middlesbrough [+280] this season but my god are they hard to watch. Shy, lonely, unused and might as well be curled up in a ball are perfectly appropriate descriptions for my genitalia but would work just as well for Alvaro Negredo, who often finds himself running around aimlessly as the only Boro player in the final third for long stretches. Crystal Palace [+110] hasn’t been much better, in fact they have somehow been worse for much of the season, but they do have multiple players that willing to at least try and score. For that reason and that reason alone I’m going with Big Sam’s boys in an ugly one. Palace to win 1-0.
• Everton [-260] was uncharacteristically woeful going forward last time out but at home against Sunderland [+625] has slumpbuster written all over it. Everton to win 3-1.
• Pray for the TV exec that is going to have to explain to his/her boss the dip in ratings this weekend thanks to woeful West Ham [+100] and worse Watford [+285] getting the marquee Saturday afternoon on NBC slot. Not only is neither team in good form at the moment, but both have been decimated by injuries. Not a recipe for top-shelf entertainment.
In fact, it sounds just bad enough that it’ll probably end up being an instant classic with goals galore (though I can’t imagine that would suit the Hammers much seeing as they will likely be without Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll). Lucky for you – and NBC – I can single-handedly ensure the game exceeds all expectations but predicting a 1-1 yawnfest.
• EPLeicester [+450] haven’t scored a league goal all year (literally), are hovering just above the relegation zone and are now playing without a coach. Tough to imagine a club being in a worse spot. Unfortunately bad teams have been Liverpool’s [-175] kryptonite this season. Alas, not even kryptonite will be able to save the Foxes against the rested Reds this weekend. Liverpool to win 4-1.
• And finally some quick hitters to increase the chances I end up getting one right: Chelsea over Swansea because the Swans have pulled off three wins in four games and have gotten a little too big for their britches and West Brom over Bournemouth because the Cherries – proud owners of an impressive six-game losing streak – seem to be running on fumes at the moment.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
BREAKING: our recently expanded local league gets under way next week when the newly promoted Minnesota United take on Portland on Friday night. Do yourself a favor and give the league another looksee if you haven’t in a while.
REST OF THE WORLD
Spain: Don’t look now but the best race to the finish among European leagues is likely going to be in La Liga, where Real Madrid’s midweek loss to Valenthia means there are three clubs within three points of one another, and Atleti lurking in the shadows. TWO great games coming up on Sunday, starting with the lurker welcoming Barthelona at 9:15am CT followed by Real Madrid traveling to Villarreal at 1:45pm CT (both on beIN Sports).
Italy: Sunday is shaping up to be a busy day in lawn fairy land as Inter host Roma (1:45pm CT), however, beIN Sports decided to show the La Liga game live instead so you’ll either have to catch it on tape-delay or stream it (on beIN Connect). Not ideal.
Germany: Nice little 5th versus 6th matchup on Saturday morning when Eintracht head to Hertha (11:30am CT on FS2).
So there you have it. Got a bit of a break with only an FA Cup replay on tap in the midweek (plus a La Liga match day if that tickles you sports balls), followed by another full slate next weekend and then Champions League return legs. Get pumped.