EPL

Aguero, Blackburn's sweet defeat and Oldham's great escape - the best Premier League final days

By Sports Desk May 17, 2020

In all probability, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool would have been emerging through a Newcastle United guard of honour on Sunday.

The conclusion of a stunning Premier League campaign was scheduled to see the Reds run out at St James' Park in the final round of fixtures.

However, the continued pause brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic means Liverpool's coronation remains on ice.

In the meantime, remember some incredible instances of dramatic final days from previous top-flight seasons.

 

2012 – AGUEROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

"I swear you'll never see anything like this ever again – so watch it, drink it in!" hollered hoarse Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler. It was hard to argue. As their game against relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers ticked into stoppage time, Manchester City were 2-1 down and throwing it all away. Edin Dzeko nodded in David Silva's corner to equalise but Roberto Mancini's men still needed to match Manchester United's result to claim a first title for 44 years on goal difference.

United's game at Sunderland had finished, with the Reds poised to celebrate on the field at the moment Mario Balotelli lost his footing but found a return pass for Sergio Aguero to blast beyond Paddy Kenny. Cue complete and utter bedlam.

2007 – TEVEZ HAULS HAMMERS TO SAFETY

Carlos Tevez's most notable contribution to that unforgettable final day drama in Manchester was a somewhat theatrical tumble to get Joey Barton sent off. He'd been substituted before the late goals, but over at Old Trafford five years earlier the Argentinian forward was undoubtedly the main attraction.

A long wait for Tevez's first goal in West Ham colours ended with a spectacular free-kick against Tottenham in March. However, defeat in that London derby left them 10 points adrift of safety. An astonishing turnaround followed, with Tevez to the fore as Alan Curbishley's men won seven of their final nine matches, culminating in their star man coolly clipping a dropping high ball past Edwin van der Sar on the half-volley for a 1-0 win over Manchester United. The champions would sign Tevez that close season.

2000- BANTAMS CONDEMN DONS TO THE DROP

Bradford City and Wimbledon were level on points heading into the final day of 1999-2000, with the Dons boasting a superior goal difference and having the theoretically easier assignment against Southampton.

But Paul Jewell's Bantams ripped up the script and defeated Liverpool 1-0, with experienced centre-back David Wetherall planting in a 12th-minute header to send Valley Parade into raptures. Nerves were shredded thereafter, but Bradford held on.

1995 – PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE LIFTED AT ANFIELD

Blackburn Rovers were wobbling heading into the finale of the 1994-95 campaign, having won only two of their past five to leave reigning champions Manchester United – five wins from seven games unbeaten – breathing down their necks. Alan Shearer rifled the visitors into a 20th-minute lead at Anfield, which was gripped by a surreal atmosphere throughout as their favourite son Kenny Dalglish sought to deny bitter rivals United the title.

Things looked good for Rovers at the interval as United, two points behind them, trailed 1-0 at West Ham to a Michael Hughes goal. But John Barnes levelled after the hour and Jamie Redknapp drew gasps from the home faithful with a 90th-minute winner. Luckily for Blackburn, United had run into a masterclass from Hammers goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko either side of Brian McClair's equaliser and they were champions by a point.

1993 – LATICS SNATCH SURVIVAL IN THRILLER

Arguably the most implausible escape from Premier League relegation came in the first season after England's top flight rebranded. Joe Royle's Oldham Athletic were eight points from safety heading into the final week and needed to win each of their remaining three matches while hoping results elsewhere went for them. A 1-0 win at Aston Villa had the added impact of confirming Manchester United as champions, before Liverpool were defeated 3-2 in midweek at Boundary Park.

Oldham's resurgence meant Crystal Palace were hauled into unlikely trouble. The Eagles were unable to rouse themselves, losing 3-0 at Arsenal as Latics served up a high-octane classic at home to Southampton. They overcame the inconvenience of a Matt Le Tissier hat-trick to triumph 4-3, with right-back Gunner Halle scoring one and making two more in an inspired showing. Their goal difference of minus 11 set against minus 13 kept Oldham up at Palace's expense.

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  • Liverpool have to give Van Dijk a team challenging for honours on return - Henderson Liverpool have to give Van Dijk a team challenging for honours on return - Henderson

    Jordan Henderson says it is the responsibility of the whole squad to ensure Virgil van Dijk returns to a Liverpool team challenging once again for major honours. 

    The Reds were dealt a huge blow when it was confirmed their towering centre-back requires surgery on damaged knee ligaments sustained after an ugly challenge from Jordan Pickford in the 2-2 draw against Everton on Saturday. 

    Van Dijk is expected to miss the majority of the rest of the campaign and potentially may not play again this season. 

    Liverpool have won the Champions League, Club World Cup and Premier League over the past two seasons and captain Henderson told his team-mates that culture of competing for big honours must continue in the absence of Van Dijk. 

    "That's down to us as players to make sure that when he is back and he is fit that we're still fighting to be successful and fighting for trophies," Henderson told Liverpool's official website. 

    "You've got to use times like this to be stronger and to be even more together than we already are. And use it as a positive in some way – I know it sounds ridiculous at the moment, but that's what you need to try to do.  

    "We need to try to look forward and try to help us in the next however many months Virgil will be out for. 

    "And also stick by him and be there for him whenever he needs us. But he's a strong character, he's strong mentally and he certainly will be back stronger and hopefully it's not too long."

    The absence of the Dutchman is sure to be keenly felt by the champions, particularly in the immediate term with goalkeeper Alisson still out of action.

    Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have played 70 league games with Alisson and Van Dijk in the starting line-up, winning 56, drawing 10 and losing four, giving them a win rate of 80 per cent. 

    By contrast, in 92 games led by the German without those two involved, Liverpool have won 49 times, drawn 27 and lost 16, their win rate dropping to 53.3 per cent and their points per game slipping to 1.9 from 2.5. 

    Without Alisson and Van Dijk, Liverpool have conceded 110 goals – 1.2 per game – compared to just 51, or 0.7 per game, when they have played. 

    Henderson said in his role as skipper he will be there to help Van Dijk through the difficult times. 

    "It's a tough one. It's a big blow for us. For him personally, obviously. But for us as a team, a massive blow," he added. 

    "I'm just gutted for him. So, it's been a tough couple of days, I spoke to him yesterday. And yeah, it's a difficult moment, but that's when you need to be there for each other. 

    "I'll be there as much as I possibly can for him, I'm sure the lads will do the same and his family certainly will, to help him through the journey he'll go on."

  • Wenger opens up on 'unjustified' and 'brutal' criticism towards end of Arsenal tenure Wenger opens up on 'unjustified' and 'brutal' criticism towards end of Arsenal tenure

    Arsene Wenger has described the criticism he received from sections of the fan base and board towards the end of his Arsenal tenure as "unjustified" and "brutal". 

    The Frenchman spent 22 years as manager of the Gunners, winning three Premier League titles and the FA Cup on seven occasions, while famously overseeing the Invincibles side of 2003-04. 

    However, Arsenal struggled to match the standards of the golden days of Wenger's early tenure after the move to Emirates Stadium in 2006, though there were three FA Cup triumphs in 2014, 2015 and 2017. 

    There was an increasingly vocal "Wenger Out" brigade at Arsenal towards the end of his stay at the club and those moments were tough for Wenger to accept. 

    Speaking to the Guardian, Wenger said: "The hostility of a section of the fans and the board was unjustified. 

    "I felt as if I’d built the training centre and the stadium myself brick by brick...it was very hard, very brutal. 

    "Arsenal was a matter of life and death to me, and without it there were some very lonely, very painful moments."

    Elaborating further on his time at Arsenal being life and death, Wenger said: "It was my approach to the job.

    "When you drive home after a defeat, and you think about the number of people who are destroyed, you have a sense of responsibility, of guilt.

    "I believe there is no other way for a manager than to identify completely with the club, and to behave like he owns it."

    Wenger opened up on the struggles he went through after a defeat, often replaying games in his mind, causing sleepless nights.

    "I was more mentally sick. I made 1,235 games for Arsenal and didn't miss one. I can't remember when I stayed in bed to miss training in 22 years," he said.

    "But, after defeat, you never sleep. You have an internal film that goes through your mind. It's a sense of anger, humiliation, hate. 

    "The next day you have to put that into perspective but every defeat is still a scar on my heart."

  • How does Upamecano compare to Liverpool's defenders amid transfer talk? How does Upamecano compare to Liverpool's defenders amid transfer talk?

    Liverpool may need to make a January move for a centre-back after Virgil van Dijk's serious knee injury. 

    The Premier League champions were dealt a huge blow with Van Dijk set to miss most - if not the remainder - of the season after a tackle from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby draw against Everton. 

    Liverpool have been left with just two senior centre-backs – Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – with Van Dijk's injury, although defensive midfielder Fabinho can also provide cover. 

    Unsurprisingly, there have been transfer rumours in the aftermath, with the Reds linked with RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano and Brighton and Hove Albion centre-back Ben White. 

    Having joined Leipzig from Salzburg for a reported €10million in 2017, Upamecano re-signed earlier this year, but he apparently has a €42m release clause in his contract – although that can only be triggered at season's end. 

    Upamecano is highly rated in Europe and, using Opta data, we assess how his performances compare to Liverpool's defenders.

    Bright future awaits, but would Upamecano improve Liverpool?

    Upamecano, 21, helped RB Leipzig finish third in the Bundesliga and reach the Champions League semi-finals last season.

    The France international's tackling numbers were particularly impressive when compared to Liverpool defenders Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip.

    In the Bundesliga last season, Upamecano had 1.95 tackles per 90 minutes – with Matip (1.66 per 90 in just nine Premier League games) the closest of Liverpool's trio. However, only Van Dijk (52.2) had a worse tackle success rate than Upamecano (58.8), with Gomez and Matip both above 69.

    In the Champions League, Upamecano had 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes , well above Van Dijk (1.08) and Gomez (1.59), and also at a better rate (56) than the Liverpool trio. Matip, often injured in 2019-20, played just 90 minutes in total in Europe's top club competition last season.

    Ready to do battle

    Upamecano contested the most duels (87) of the four in the Champions League, and went at a success rate of 71.26, similar to Van Dijk (70 duels and 74.29 success rate), while he also had a comparable number of headed clearances per 90 minutes (2.04 to Van Dijk's 2.28) and interceptions (1.63 to 1.08). Gomez had 2.64 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Champions League last season.

    Van Dijk's absence will also hurt Liverpool aerially, with the Dutchman an imposing figure in Jurgen Klopp's back four.

    Upamecano, who stands at 186cm, was between Van Dijk and Gomez when it came to aerial duels last season. He won 18 of 27 aerials in the 2019-20 Champions League, a rate worse than Van Dijk (33 of 47) but better than Gomez (24 of 41).

    It was a similar story in the respective leagues, although he contested fewer than Liverpool defenders. An area Upamecano fell short in, at least domestically, was in being dribbled past by an opponent, which happened 20 times in 28 Bundesliga games, a figure ranking him below both Van Dijk (seven times in 38) and Gomez (11 in 28), but ahead of Matip (seven in nine). 

    Boosting Liverpool's build-up play

    A problem set to be exacerbated by Alisson's injury absence, Van Dijk's passing ability in defence is also important to how Liverpool function.

    In this area, Upamecano may offer the Reds the most. In the Champions League last season, his passing accuracy in the opposition half was 83.1 – higher than the Liverpool trio, including Van Dijk (82.7). When it came to passing accuracy ending in the final third, Upamecano again topped the list (74.1), ahead of Gomez (71.6), and that included averaging 11.7 passes into the final third per 90 minutes.

    In domestic action, Upamecano also topped the list in these categories, and his passing accuracy in the opposition half to begin this Bundesliga season is 84.7, while Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip have all dropped off from last season in this area.

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