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Premier LEague

Morocco vs Malawi: Match Preview

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After the shock exit of Nigeria and the elimination of Gabon, the Round of 16 continues – the battle for the continental trophy is getting keener by the day.

This time 1976 AFCON winners, Morocco come up against Malawi. Morocco will be seeking to win their 2nd Africa Cup of Nations title in 18 attempts , their first in 46 years. Malawi, on the other hand, have managed to make their 3rd AFCON appearance( the other two being 1984 and 2010).

After missing the last 5 AFCON tournaments, the Flames of Malawi are back with a bang. They have qualified to the knock-out stage of the AFCON for the 1st time in their footballing history. A huge task lies ahead of them, beating the Atlas Lions of Morocco who are seeking for a 46 year trophy drought.

Morocco, currently ranked 28th in the world and 2nd in Africa faces a Malawian team ranked 35th in Africa and 128th in the world. This a case of David vs Goliath. With the results the tournament has churned out so far, any “David vs Goliath affair” tends to produce surprising outcomes.

Equatorial Guinea beating Algeria, Sierra Leone holding Ivory Coast and Algeria to a draw, Gambia beating Tunisia and Comoros beating Ghana are typical examples.

These results are a portent to Morocco not to be complacent and lose focus like the Super Eagles did against Tunisia as it may cost them their place.

Morocco are the team to beat at the African Cup of Nations so far, especially with the strong defensive performances having kept clean sheets in two of their three games. The Atlas Lions of Morocco beat Ghana 1-0 in their opening game and defeated Comoros 2-0 in the next game before drawing 2-2 with Gabon.

After returning to Africa’s continental showpiece for the 1st time since 2010, Malawi stole a point from Senegal and staged a comeback against Zimbabwe and eventually defeated Guinea to qualify to the next stage. The Flames came through the group stages as one of the highest-ranked third-placed teams at the AFCONS and are enduring a miserable return in front of goal having failed to score goals in two of their three outings and may bow out of the tournament this week.

For Malawi, a case for respite is the fact that at the last AFCON in 2019, Morocco was eliminated by Benin, a lower-ranked side. Since finishing as runners-up in 2004, the Atlas Lions of Morocco have made it to the quarter-finals only once(in 2017).

That should jolt the Flames into shocking the Atlas Lions. Morocco’s 2-2 draw with Gabon is also an indication that victory is not far fetched.

The Flames are currently on a 2 game unbeaten run while 6 of Morocco’s last 8 AFCON victories have ended in 1-0.

WHERE AND WHEN

Venue: Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, Yaounde
Date: 25th January 2022
Time: 19:00 HRS BST

TEAM NEWS

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Ilias Chair, the attacking midfielder came off injured early in Morocco’s game against Gabon. The QPR player is the player who is doubtful for the Atlas Lions ahead of Tuesday’s game.

For Malawi, Captain Limbikani Mzava came off injured against Zimbabwe and is expected to miss Tuesday’s clash. The central defender is the only injury concern for manager Mario Marinica.

Lawrence Chaziya will be expected to be in his stead.

PRE-MATCH ANALYSIS

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Malawi have tried the 3-4-1-2 formation on 2 occasions against Guinea and Zimbabwe. However, in the final group game, they also implemented the 4-4-2 formation against Senegal. It is fair to say the formation worked to perfection and will be maintained a very potent Moroccan attack.

The 4-4-2 formation will provide the Malawians with a solid basic structure with defensive depth and attacking numbers, with clearly marked roles. In defence, the Malawians will have eight men defending the goal which will, in turn, make it numerically impossible for the Moroccans to threaten the goal.

Without the ball, the four defenders and four midfielders will cover the entire width of the field. The Moroccans will really need to be creative and resort to long through balls to wreak havoc on the Flames.

For Morocco, they have experimented with the 4-1-4-1 formation and it seems to be what Head Coach Vahid Halilhodžić will be employing against the Flames. Sofyan Amrabat will be the holding midfielder for the Moroccans who will have about 5 players in attack.

For the Atlas Lions to triumph over the Flames, they will need Selim Amallah, Imran Louza, Sofiane Boufal and Ayoub El Kaabi to be firing from all angles. Amalgam, Boufal and Ayoub El Kaabi have already got their names on the scoresheet for the team already and will be seeking to add more to their tallies.

The 4-1-4-1 is supposed to cushion the team into creating a lot of chances, holding on possession and controlling the game.

PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYER FEATURE

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Romain Saïss

The Wolverhampton Wanderers Centre back has featured in all 3 games so far, keeping 2 clean sheets against Ghana and Comoros. He has been defensively solid for the Atlas Lions and will be expected to bring his experience to bear.

Adam Masina

Watford‘s Masina has also been solid for the Moroccan team featuring actively in all 3 matches and will be in the thick of affairs for the team.

PREDICTED LINE-UPS

MOROCCO: Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, Adam Masina; Sofyan Amrabat; Tarik Tissoudali, Selim Amallah, Imran Louza, Sofiane Boufal; Ayoub El Kaabi

MALAWI: Ernest Kakhobwe; Denis Chembezi, Lawrence Chaziya, Gomezgani Chirwa; Francisco Madinga, John Christopher Banda, Chimwenwe Idana, Stanley Sanudi; Gabadinho Mhango; Richard Mbulu, Khuda Muyaba

MATCH PREDICTION

Morocco 2-0 Malawi












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Premier LEague

Huddersfield Town vs Nottingham Forest: Match Preview

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Huddersfield Town and Nottingham Forest square off at Wembley Stadium on Sunday with a place in the Premier League up for grabs for the winner.

Helped by a strong second half to the season, the two clubs finished in third and fourth place respectively in the Championship standings and will feel that they deserve the opportunity to join Fulham and AFC Bournemouth in the English top flight.

Last season, Huddersfield and Forest finished in 20th and 17th respectively. This campaign, they have considerably transformed those fortunes. There was even a time when Nottingham Forest occupied the bottom spot in the division before Steve Cooper arrived at the helm. Such is the unpredictability of the division that the two clubs will square off once more for the coveted last place in the Premier League, and their spots in the showpiece are justified after outstanding years in the second tier.

Between December 4 and March 11, Huddersfield put together a 17-match unbeaten streak in the league, and just two defeats have come from 28 matches at this level.

Meanwhile, since Steve Cooper’s first game in charge on September 25, Forest have accumulated 76 points from 38 games, the best return in the Championship regular campaign over that period. Makes you wonder what might have been had the Midlands club appointed the former Swansea boss heading into the 2021/22 campaign.

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Forest conceded five goals fewer than any other team during that period, also the two clubs lost fewer games than Fulham and Bournemouth over the same stint.

Nevertheless, the playoffs were not straightforward clashes for both clubs who were tested to their limits. Huddersfield Town were pushed all the way by Luton Town, the Terriers requiring a late Jordan Rhodes in the second leg at the John Smith’s Stadium to prevail 2-1 on aggregate.

The drama was saved for Nottingham Forest’s reverse fixture with Sheffield United, Cooper’s team seemingly home and dry when leading 3-1 on aggregate at half-time at the City Ground before the Blades took the game to extra time, even almost winning the tie in the final seconds of the added 30 minutes.

All of the momentum was with the visitors until the heroics of Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba, who saved three penalties to earn his team a spot at Wembley.

The fact that Nottingham Forest toiled under the weight of expectancy during the normal time will only encourage Huddersfield boss Carlos Corberan, and his team who were one of just a few teams to win a league fixture at the City Ground during 2020-21.

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All things considered, that will certainly count for little.

The money and prestige on offer mean that both teams will be under intense pressure on Sunday, even if it is Forest who will be looking to end a 23-year absence from the big time.

Huddersfield supporters will be taking the positives from their last two playoff finals ending in victory, most notably five years ago when they defeated Reading on penalties to earn a first-ever appearance in the Premier League.

WHERE AND WHEN?

Venue: Wembley Stadium.
Date: Sunday, 29th May 2022.
Time: 16:30PM (BST).

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Assistant referee: Marc Perry, Tim Wood.
Fourth official: Craig Pawson.
VAR: Paul Tierney.
Assistant VAR: Ian Hussin.

LEAGUE FORM (LAST SIX):

Huddersfield: WWWWDW

Nottingham Forest: WWLDWL

TEAM NEWS

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Having proven his fitness with two substitute appearances during the playoffs, Keinan Davis could return in attack for Forest.

Steve Cooper will certainly need the Aston Villa man’s energy, intensity, bullish strength and hold-up play in attack in order to take control of proceedings better than they managed last time out against Sheffield United in the second-leg of their Play-Off semi-final tie.

That would see Sam Surridge drop down to the substitutes’ bench in what is likely to be the only alternation made by Cooper.

Huddersfield are hoping that Danny Ward can take his place down the centre of the front three after coming off injured during the second leg versus Luton.

Rhodes is on standby should the club’s top goalscorer miss out, while Sorba Thomas will almost certainly come back into the team after shaking off a knee issue in time for the semi-finals.

Duane Holmes will likely miss out as Corberan may almost certainly show preference to a back three in order to match the formation of their opponents.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

LEVI COLWILL

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The teenager has been a first-team regular in Huddersfield Town’s promotion push ahead of their Championship Play-Off final, featuring in 29 of their 48 games.

There will almost certainly be scouts from a host of Premier League teams in attendance at Wembley, with Crystal Palace, Southampton, Everton, Arsenal and Brighton among the others who reportedly want the talented centre back.

The 19-year-old has been a monstrous and colossal presence at the back for Corberan’s side, helping them to 11 of their impressive 20 clean sheets this campaign.

Throughout, he’s averaged a scintillating 1.3 interceptions per game, 1.8 tackles, 4.1 clearances and also winning 65% of his total duels and 64% of his aerial duels highlighting his tremendous all-action defensive style at the heart of the Huddersfield backline.

Where his immediate future lies is unclear, with a host of Premier League clubs scouring for his services this summer. His parent club Chelsea do want him back for preseason in July, with a view to providing him with first-team opportunities next season, but even that looks unlikely seeing as Thomas Tuchel will certainly be strengthening an ageing backline.

Another loan move may be on the agenda for him, as his development and maturity is showing no signs of letting up. A stupendous defensive talent.

BRENNAN JOHNSON

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Wales manager Robert Page certainly thinks Johnson could play for a top-six Premier League team now and those clubs who wanted him in January have seemingly missed out.

The Forest forward heads into Sunday’s final on the back of a tremendous breakthrough season for club and country. “Brennan is the future of Welsh football and I think he’s top-six (Premier League) now,” Page said.

Arguably the most gifted footballer in the second tier, the 21-year-old holds a superb record heading into the Wembley showpiece, registering 18 goals and 10 assists in 48 outings for Steve Cooper’s men.

Any chance Forest have of entering the Premier League for the first time in 23 years will again rest on his young and broad shoulders.

Exceptional work ethic, athleticism, dynamism, courage and technical ability on the flanks that even most wingers in the English top-flight would kill for.

Johnson is indeed a Premier League-quality player, and he’ll be hoping he is gracing such a prestigious competition with his beloved boyhood club.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Huddersfield predicted XI vs Nottingham Forest: Nicholls (GK); Lees, Hogg, Colwill; Pipa, Russell, O’Brien, Toffolo; Sinani, Ward, Thomas.

Nottingham Forest predicted XI vs Huddersfield: Samba (GK); Worrall, Cook, McKenna; Spence, Yates, Garner, Colback; Zinckernagel; Davis, Johnson.

SCORE PREDICTION

Huddersfield Town vs Nottingham Forest: 1-2












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Why Eddie Nketiah staying makes sense for Arsenal

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Eddie Nketiah staying at Arsenal is all but confirmed with David Ornstein reporting that the 22-year-old is now set to change his mind and sign a new deal with the club

Let’s take a look at why it made so much sense for both parties in the end.

BUMPY ROAD

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Nketiah came into the season off a really positive pre-season. But even with that in mind, he was still our 3rd striker in the pecking order. As the season went on, the opportunities were limited…

With both Aubameyang and Lacazette on the roster and wings spaces filled by genuine wingers, all of his appearances came in the cups. He started all of Arsenal’s cup games up until the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. He scored 5 in 5 games in the Carabao and 0 in 1 in the FA Cup.

Noted, most of these games, except one, came against non Premier League opposition and that makes it hard to stand out.

When Aubameyang left for Barca in January, Lacazette picked up form and Eddie found it hard to nail down a starting spot despite the rise in minutes. His off the bench appearances weren’t enough for him to showcase just how much he’s grown as a player.

“People have so many expectations of you, but bro I’m coming on for 9 minutes. We’re winning 1-0, the aim is to hold on to the lead. When I’ve had substantial time like 15-20 (Palace, Wolves, Brighton), I’m able to do something and show myself.” [Eddie Nketiah on @Podcast_TBG]

SPACE TO GROW

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Lacazette’s form dipped and the results warranted a change. Nketiah’s minutes gradually increased until he became a nailed-on starter for the last 8 games in the Premier League.

With 5 goals in 8 games, he’s shown he CAN be trusted. But goals don’t tell the full story of his breakthrough this season.

We’ve seen a player who’s matured. He wasn’t getting pushed over, he used his body well in duels, he didn’t have a problem with intricate plays outside of the box and he pressed well. And the stats back it up.

eddie-nketiah-stats

image credit: @oh_that_crab / instagram

The sample size is small with ten ’90s played but you can see how much of a well-rounded player he transformed into. He used to have noticeable balance and on-ball issues alongside the game being played at too fast of a pace for him sometimes. Ironically, his balance and speed of movement look like his strengths now. He ironed out a lot of his flaws and he keeps working on improving his skillset as a centre forward.

MUTUAL BENEFIT

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He previously stated that he wants to get games on the regular but there aren’t many Premier League clubs who in my opinion can offer that. Competition for places in this league is brutal, let alone for a 22-year-old striker. He would probably have to leave the league and drop down the level of the club he’d be playing for by a level or two.

Europa League, cups and acting as a deputy to the first striker seems like enough room for game time and continued improvement under Arteta.

With rumours over a new wage spike continuing to swirl, one has to question exactly why is that seen as that big of an issue? Arsenal will not find a similar level of a player who wants to be a “backup” for nothing less than £20m-£30m. In fact, Arsenal saved money by re-signing him.

Not only is his career on an upward trajectory, but his skillset is also very valuable and he’s already shown he’ll keep the starters on their toes and that’s EXACTLY how you raise the level of competition in the squad.

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Arsenal’s next talented Hale End product: Brooke Norton-Cuffy – Scout Report












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Does Richarlison emerge as stand-out option for Tottenham?

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An exciting period of rejuvenation under Antonio Conte saw Tottenham Hotspur secure a coveted Champions League spot in the recently concluded 2021/22 Premier League campaign. Now, with reports suggesting the Italian’s temptation to remain at the club despite having previously hinted at his ambition to move elsewhere ahead of the new campaign, Spurs are expected to spend lavishly in the transfer market as they look to bolster their squad in a bid to close the gap between them and the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City next season.

With certain positions expected to be addressed given the lack of quality personnel, Spurs will be keen on bagging their targets with minimal competition this summer, given the likelihood of numerous Premier League clubs needing to address key areas this summer. Moreover, with promising potential from across Europe and England’s lower tiers likely to take a big step to the Premier League, Spurs will be looking to identify, strengthen and prepare their squad for a potential title challenge following the upcoming campaign.

While the likes of Filip Kostic, Alessandro Bastoni, and Ivan Perisic have been sounded out as key targets for Spurs this summer, recent reports from the Daily Mail Online suggest the North-London club have added Everton striker Richarlison to their potential list of attackers this summer. Having played a pivotal role in Everton’s fight to avoid relegation, the Brazilian is expected to seek an ambitious given the club’s financial precarities, despite being contracted to the club until 2024.

An Appetite To Succeed

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With Spurs lacking an out-an-out backup to Harry Kane, the Brazilian’s versatility and tenacity make him a perfect addition to pair up alongside the Englishman or serve as an added force to bolster the attacking third under Conte. A blistering six goal in nine league fixtures ensured Richarlison played a significant part in Everton’s penultimate phase of the season, eventually culminating in the Merseyside club retaining their place in the Premier League for the forthcoming campaign.

Besides single-handedly guiding the team out of relegation, Richarlison remained pivotal to the team’s prospects throughout a testing Premier League campaign. The Brazilian emerged as Everton’s only player to hit double-digit figures in goal contributions (15) alongside having made the joint-fifth highest number of league appearances (30) in the recently concluded league season. Moreover, with Spurs in need of a Premier League proven option to compliment Harry Kane, the Brazilian serves as a refreshing candidate to fulfil the role.

A Transfer Soup

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With numerous clubs reportedly interested in securing the 25-year-old striker’s services, Spurs will be wary of engaging in a tussle for the Brazilian. Although Everton are yet to sound out potential suitors for the striker, given their need to raise funds through sales, Richarlison is likely to be listed on the transfer market sometime over the summer window.

Paris-Saint Germain are Real Madrid are reported to be the two other clubs interested in the player, however, with several promising strikers emerging across Europe, it remains unlikely the two European giants prioritize his signing over other areas this summer. Manchester United are the only other club expected to move for him provided they fail to land their priority striker, however, given their need to solidify other areas, it remains unlikely the Brazilian finds himself at Old Trafford next season.

While many expect Richarlison to remain at Everton given his long-term contract with the club, a tempting offer for his services could push the Toffees into considering a sale of their most valuable asset from last season. While the offering of a lucrative deal at Everton remains on the cards, given the club’s need to prioritize adequate funds for Frank Lampard, the potentiality of securing a decent transfer fee could see the Toffees cash in on numerous players this summer. Valued between £45mn to £55mn, the Brazilian could emerge amongst one of six players reportedly expected to arrive at Tottenham this summer, with Conte expected to target silverware with the North-London club heading into the 2022/23 Premier League campaign.

MUST READ: Fraser Forster closing in on Spurs’ move as he undergoes medical at Hotspur Way



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