Madden Chronicles: Weeks 11-13

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WEEK 11:

 

Now it just feels like the game is trolling me, and Teddy Bridgewater probably feels I’m trolling him, too.

 

The former Minnesota passer tossed two picks and seeing as Joe Mixon is providing Green Bay Packer levels of stability in the running game Bridgewater decided to take up the mantle of lead running back, too. Bridgewater rushed for 47 yards in addition to his 202 passing yards, 112 of those to A.J. Green – so yay for Green fantasy owners I guess.

 

DeShone Kizer by contrast was efficient the ball throwing for 147 yards and a pair of scores.

 

Oh, and Myles Garrett destroyed the Bengals’ offensive line. It was men against boys out there and the Bengals retreated with their tails between their legs and Garrett in their backfield. The former number one overall pick ended the game with two sacks and two TFLs. Try playing against that on All-Madden difficulty. Ouch.

 

So after opening the season 5-0, Cincinnati now sit at 5-6 and have allowed the rest of the AFC North back into the division.

 

Next up? Just the small matter of the Pittsburgh Steelers at home.

 

WEEK 12:

 

YES!!!!!!!!! A WIN AT LAST!!!!! The Bengals managed just 149 yards of total offense and just a solitary score – Teddy Bridgewater tossing an eight-yard touchdown pass to Gio Bernard in the first quarter as Cincinnati snapped their six game slide to beat their division rival Steelers 7-6.

 

However, with the good must come the bad, Ying and Yang and all that. Soon enough Bridgewater was taken out of the game, as were running back duo of Bernard and Joe Mixon leaving the QB-RB backfield of A.J. McCarron and full-back Ryan Hewitt – no I have no idea how I held on for the win either.

 

It is good to get help though and rookie runner James Conner was only to happy to provide some with a pair of fumbles in Bengals territory.

 

The injuries to Bernard and Bridgewater proved damaging as Bernard is out for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone while Bridgewater is set to miss a month of action with a shoulder tear. Who’s up for an A.J. McCarron led offense? Nobody? Well the 2-10 Bears are up next so there’s hope.

 

WEEK 13:

 

Good karma has come my way in some form. After losing some close contests in the middle of the season I finally did enough charitable deeds to get some loyalty points on my good karma reward card and now we’ve won back to back close games.

 

Joe Mixon finally got rid of the concrete in his cleats as he ran over the Bears for 119 yards as the Bengals scrapped a 10-9 win in Chicago.

 

Meanwhile the Cincinnati offense continues to throw more picks than Jimmy Hendrix and a particularly stressful recording session – so that will be a concern for Kyle Shanahan as he continues to try and cover up the quarterback’s shortcomings in the same way Teresa May is trying desperately to cover up the fact she has no plans for Brexit.

 

Next a date with the Bears’ division rivals the Minnesota Vikings. Cue the Andy Dalton revenge game narrative and Teddy Bridgewater having a joke with old teammates before looking sombre on the side lines like a dog who has just watched their owner back up out of the driveway.

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Madden Chronicles: Weeks 8-10

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HUGE TRADE NEWS TO KICK US OFF!!

 

The Cincinnati Bengals sent quarterback Andy Dalton to the Minnesota Vikings along with a fourth-round pick for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and cornerback Trae Waynes.

 

Rumours were rife that Conway and Dalton’s relationship had begun to deteriorate after a string of underwhelming performances from the man out of TCU.

 

Bridgewater is in a contract year so now the Bengals will begin the process of tying down the former first-round pick. As for Waynes he gives the Bengals much needed depth at corner.

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WEEK 8:

A crushing Joe Mixon fumble, recovered by the Colts, saw the Bengals shut out in the second half of Teddy Bridgewater’s debut in a painful 14-13 loss.

 

Cincinnati’s new signal caller, Teddy Bridgewater, would like to know where the team’s advertised running game had disappeared to as Joe Mixon found about as much wiggle room as a Chinese finger trap.

 

Mixon’s nine carries for 20 yards was brutal for the Bengals and left Bridgewater in the firing line as the Colts’ pass rush teed off on him – you know things are bad when a Colts pass rush gets to you.

 

New cornerback Waynes had an outstanding showing, however. With one defended pass and three tackles. His sticky coverage on Kamar Aiken saw the former Baltimore Raven catch just one pass for 11 yards.

 

Cincinnati now fall to 5-2 and will look to snap their losing streak against a lowly Jaguars squad next week in Jacksonville.

 

WEEK 9:

 

Blake Bortles was carted off with an apparent knee injury midway through the first quarter and Leonard Fournette did not return after being lit up by Vontaze Burfict, but that did not stop the Jaguars as Chad Henne guided the Jaguars to a 17-14 victory and condemned the Bengals to their third straight loss since coming off their week six bye. It’s back to back devastating losses for Cincinnati with Jacksonville besting them in overtime.

 

Teddy Bridgewater did his best Aaron Rodgers impression when he fled the pocket and threw a 90-yard bomb to A.J. Green with just 13 seconds in the game to breathe new life into the Bengals’ charge.

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However, it was not to be as the Jags kicked a game winning field goal in overtime after the Bengals failed to get a score. It’s another crushing loss which reigns the Bengals back to 5-3. Anymore losses and the team’s decision to flip Dalton will start to look less shrewd.

 

WEEK 10:

 

I feel like each week now we wright about a close loss for the Bengals. And for now, those times aren’t changing as defense ruled the day with Tennessee beating the Bengals 14-7 in Nashville.

 

New quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is still finding his feet, ending the game with an unimpressive stat line of 11/24, 106 yards and a pick. At the moment, the Cincinnati offense resembles your dad’s first car: it’s slow, ugly and not the least bit effective. The Cincinnati offense ranks dead last, Kyle Shanahan will feel his seat becoming warmer, as will Conway.

 

Pete Carroll by contrast is making a case for another head coaching job. While the Bengals are on a four game skid his defense as only given up 20 points once during that time.

 

Now at 5-4 Conway’s coaching and man management will be tested to see if he can rescue a capsizing ship, and with Teddy Bridgewater yet to sign a deal the ship is even more unstable.

Madden Chronicles: Weeks 4-6

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WEEK 4:

Cincinnati’s week went from good to great after shutting out the winless Cleveland Browns 21-0 to move to 4-0. On Tuesday linebacker Vontaze Burfict signed a six-year extension worth $49m. Burfict turned down the Bengals’ first offer of $46m before accepting an $8.1m average salary through 2023.

 

Burfict showed why he was worth all that cash by intercepting Cody Kessler twice as the Browns were held to a feeble 121 yards of total offense. Andy Dalton did not exactly light things up with a promising drive in the redzone killed with his third pick of the season. The Cincinnati faithful have their quarterback on a short leash and greeted his pick with boos. A.J. McCarron throwing passes on the side line will not have helped matters.

 

Rookie runner Joe Mixon continues to be a fantasy football darling. The rookie runner racked up 95 yards and two scores on 12 carries. The Browns by contrast lost their workhorse back Isaiah Crowell just three plays into the game with a reported bruised sternum. The third year back was blown up in pass protection by defensive menace Geno Atkins and did not return to the field.

 

A fade to A.J. Green inside the five remains the deadliest weapon in football. Green clocked his fourth touchdown of the season with three of those scores coming through the in-vogue fade route. Meanwhile first-year speedster John Ross continues to make plays. His 41-yard catch was in vain, though with the first quarter Dalton pick.

 

Finally, the Bengals managed to find a partner for a trade with Jeremy Hill after failing to sell him to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for Tyron Smith. The team? None other than the New England Patriots who now have 37 running backs on their roster. Packaged with a 2019 4th rounder the Bengals acquired outsider linebacker Elandon Roberts and a 2019 5th rounder. The move addressed Conway’s desperate linebacking corps outside of Burfict. The only thing they need to worry about now is Jeremy Hill going off for 125 rushing yards and two scores on his way to Super Bowl MVP honours.

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WEEK 5:

If you can’t get Andy Dalton get you passing touchdowns just run bootlegs and have him run the ball in – just as effective.

 

Tyrod Taylor consistently broke the pocket, true to form, and threw a bunch of passes across his body which is about as well advised as accepting a job role at the White House. Inexplicably he went four for four on those passes – not sure if that is a bug Madden will need to work out. He did pay the price for his boldness when Dre Kirkpatrick stepped in front of Andre Holmes for an interception. 

 

Andy Dalton threw for 99 yards, those are numbers that would make Brock Osweiler smirk. Meanwhile Joe Mixon continued to show why I was right to trade Jeremy Hill rushing for 136 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown scamper.

 

The Bengals passing attack was so bad it prompted Madden Heath Evans to tweet: “The Bengals are just a bad offensive unit, and that’s not going to change this year.”

 

Proposing a counterargument to that with 99 yards passing as evidence would be akin to arguing you are on a diet while working your way through the selection boxes you accumulated at Christmas.

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WEEK 7:

Coming off the bye week Conway has reason to smile as veteran defensive lineman Pat Sims signed a one-year $4.51m extension and backup signal caller A.J. McCarron signed a three-year $20.1m extension – that seems hefty for a backup and Conway agreed with that when he realised what he’d done. Maybe hope for a trade.

 

On the field, an AFC North matchup with the Steelers beckoned. Then, once it lured us in, it set about giving us a sound beating like Joe Pesci’s characters in Martin Scorsese movies. Martavis Bryant grabbed a pair of long touchdowns as the Steelers humbled their divisional rivals 24-10.

 

Andy Dalton’s performances raised more eyebrows than The Rock with his inept first half showing where he completed two of four passes for 36 yards, this did little to ease trade talk following an uneasy first half of the season which saw Joe Mixon become the Bengals’ offense. However, the rookie runner finished with negative yardage from scrimmage today as the Steelers defense, led by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

 

There are rumours that the Bengals are willing to listen to trade talks for their QB1 with Conway looking to build an offense around ‘his guy’. But in a boom-or-bust move is it worth trading a solid quarterback and rolling the dice?

 

Side note: Having gone 5-0 I bumped the difficulty up from All-Pro to All-Madden because who wants to finish 12-4? That’s boring – I bet the Patriots hate it every year.

Madden Chronicles: Weeks 1-3

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Hello all, I recently purchased Madden 18 (be happy for me) and decided to chronicle my progress with a mix of serious news and some humour (hopefully). The team I started with was the Bengals – I let my better half pick and she likes cats. Good enough for me, lets get rolling.

 

I’ll be chronicling my progress in three week blocks, and having completed the first three weeks on my Franchise Mode here it is. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed playing and documenting it.

 

Rookie Head Coach Ryan Conway prides himself on team building. The 25-year-old is the youngest ever NFL Head Coach with Bill Belichick already stating that he knows his status as the greatest coach of all time is ‘almost a certainty to go after this kid is done with the game’.

 

The Cincinnati Brass wasted no time in getting the right people around Conway as Kyle Shanahan handed in his resignation to the San Francisco 49ers just one day into his debut Head Coach role to calls plays for Conway’s offense.

 

Pete Carroll came over from Seattle after a power struggle with Russell Wilson saw him ousted as the HC. Now the new defensive coordinator for Cinci Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict will be licking their lips.

 

WEEK  1:

An AFC North clash is always a safe way to whet the appetite for the new NFL season. The Bengals got off to the perfect start on Sunday with a tense 20-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Randy Bullock hit the game winning field goal from 38 yards with just four seconds left.

 

Week one wasted no time getting dramatic, either, with Andy Dalton finding himself on the end of a Terrell Suggs stiff arm as the linebacker took a Dalton interception 52-yards to the house. Not a great way for Dalton to start his season.

 

The Bengals outgained the Ravens 300-108 on offense but only had an 11-yard Brandon LaFell touchdown to show for it through the air.

 

Rookie Joe Mixon rushed for his first career score and Oklahoma star ended his first regular season game with an impressive 78 yards from 12 carries. However, Jeremy Hill was not to be seen as the Bengals actively shop the bruising back.

 

WEEK 2:

DeShaun Watson endured a meltdown on Thursday Night Football with the rookie passer tossing three picks and ending with a quarterback rating of 52.4 as Houston fell 27-14 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

Watson had problems seeing linebackers underneath as he found the hands of first Kevin Minter and then Vontaze Burfict to put his team under the cosh. However, his opposite number Andy Dalton also threw his second pick in as many games and worse than that, his second pick six. This time, Dalton killed a drive at the Texans’ eight-yard line as an errant throw to John Ross saw Marcus Gilchrist take off for a 92-yard score. Head Coach Ryan Conway said he wanted long touchdown passes but he probably meant for the Bengals.

 

J.J. Watt is working his way back from missing all of last season with a back injury but looked as good as ever. His highlight came when he blew up Giovani Bernard in pass protection before flattening Dalton.

 

Watson’s best drive came when Houston needed it most, down ten in the fourth quarter. Then, oh dear. Watson overthrew DeAndre Hopkins and the ball landed in the lap of George Iloka to kill the game.

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WEEK 3:

When drawing up the game plan for welcoming the Bengals “throwing two picks with as many passes” was probably buried deep in the ‘maybe’ pile. Well, that is just what Aaron Rodgers did as the 2014 MVP threw three interceptions – including a pick six – as the Green Bay Packers fell to 0-3 as the Bengals march on to 3-0 with an emphatic 38-13 victory*If this happened in real life I’d have to conclude that I was living in a simulation and life was fake.

 

Second round runner Joe Mixon rubbed salt into the Green Bay wounds, sounding off for 137 yards and a trio of rushing touchdowns – Madden 18 is so realistic that the Packers’ defensive struggles translate.

 

Dalton also completed a trio, but not one he will be proud of as he has now thrown his third interception of the season.

 

The Packers failed to muster any offense until 14-0 down but then sprung into life when Rodgers showed the world what made him the 2014 MVP and a top three quarterback leading the Packers on a three play 98-yard drive ending with a touchdown pass to rookie Jamaal Williams.

 

Cincinnati stretched their lead to 28-7 in the third quarter with AJ Green catching a fade pass over the top of first year cornerback Kevin King – a subplot which got interesting as the two went toe-to-toe all game long.

 

Rodgers’ night got worse as he left the field in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury after being blown up by Geno Atkins. Hundley closed out the game for a stuttering Green Bay offense *Also if this happened I’d like Aaron Rodgers to call me so I can willingly donate my shoulder to him.

 

Still no sign of Jeremy Hill as Head Coach Ryan Conway is pressuring the brass to trade the runner for All-Pro free safety Ha-ha Clinton-Dix – funnily enough the Packers thought I was having a laugh and swiftly declined the trade.

 

Next the Bengals entertain another winless team: the lowly Cleveland Browns. A trap game surely and nothing is a lock with Dalton’s erratic QB play. HB Dive may be a popular play call going forward.

 

 

 

Manchester United v Chelsea: match report

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Jose Mourinho produced a tactical masterclass. His side were smarter, sharper and more ruthless than their opponents in every department and showed fans and critics alike what he can do when the big matches roll round. The game in question here, though, was Chelsea’s 3-1 destruction of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United almost 12 years ago. On that day Mourinho enhanced his reputation further as Chelsea marched towards a record-breaking triumph in the Premier League.

 

12 years is a lifetime in football and this time, Mourinho seems like he is rebuilding his once unquestionable reputation. The Portuguese managed his best Man United game yet as he got the better of rival Antonio Conte in a feisty encounter. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera got the goals in what turned out to be a convincing 2-0 victory at Old Trafford and perhaps gives new life to their top four ambitions as well as the title race.

 

The Special One sprung surprises on Easter Sunday choosing to leave star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench and lining up in a 4-2-2 set-up with Rashford and Jese Lingard up front. Ander Herrera was tasked with marrying himself to Eden Hazard – flashbacks of the F.A. Cup tie where the Spaniard was given his marching orders after a late challenge on the Belgian may have had Man United fans worried. Not so this time as the tenacious midfielder stuck to his task diligently and frustrated the Chelsea talisman in an all-action man of the match performance.

 

Mourinho’s men flew out of the traps at Old Trafford with the pace and understanding between Rashford and Lingard causing problems for the Chelsea back three. The game was not even ten minutes old when Herrera stole possession – questionably as big shouts for handball appeared to be justified – before sliding an excellent ball in behind for Rashford to chance and calmly finish. A goal move unable to materialise, perhaps, if Ibrahimovic was spearheading the attack.

 

Diego Costa, often the subject of many subplots throughout Mourinho’s time at Chelsea, yet has seemed more measured under Conte, showed his unsavoury side yet again. The brutish Spanish striker found himself embroiled in battles with United’s defensive duo Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly. His frustrations earned him a yellow card after a late challenge on Pogba.

 

Chelsea looked unusually unfocused, drawn into Manchester United’s clever mind games and acts of street-smarts. The focus was so much lacking that Gary Cahill was more attentive in hauling Lingard up from the ground during the build up to Herrera doubling United’s advantage.

 

It took Chelsea 45 minutes to muster their first effort on goal albeit a frustrated lash from Costa.

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Whatever Conte’s half time message was to his flat Chelsea side at the forefront of it must have been not to concede another goal early in the second half. However, some three minutes into the second period they found themselves further behind. Chelsea failed to clear their lines once more and Ashley Young, who was given the captain’s armband for the occasion, drove into the Chelsea penalty area before another failed clearance fell to Herrera. The Spaniard, the beneficiary of two slices of good fortune after his alleged handball in the first half for his assist for Rashford’s goal, arrowed his shot through a crowd of players which ricocheted off player’s in blue shirts on its way past Asmir Begovic in the Chelsea goal.

 

Before the hour mark Conte attempted to turn the tide in this giant game of chess. Cesc Fabregas came on to offer much needed creativity in place of Victor Moses, asked to operate out of the other full-back position after a pre-game injury to Marcos Alonso.

 

Mourinho countered with a tactical change of his own, sacrificing pace for control, as he brought on Michael Carrick for Lingard. The switch left Rashford isolated but that did not stop the young England centre forward from hustling and bustling his was up front and making life uncomfortable for the Chelsea defenders.

 

N’golo Kante failed to get his usual grip in midfield, partly due to the excellence of Mauroane Fellaini and Herrera in midfield scurrying around refusing to give the Chelsea key players a moments rest. Matteo Darmian found himself handcuffed to Pedro on the other side of the field refusing to let the former Barcelona wide man find space to operate in.

 

Mourinho’s side could have filled their boots in truth, Rashford smashed an effort into the side netting and Young spurned two excellent chances from the edge of the area to inflict more misery onto Conte’s men. England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands and will have been impressed with what he saw from the Manchester United English trio – especially in a new tactical set-up.

 

Rashford was brought off with just two minutes of time remaining to a standing ovation and allowed Ibrahimovic to get on in a cameo appearance.

 

Conte pleaded with his side to push forward in the closing stages but by that point United had become water tight, refusing to give an inch.

 

The final whistle brought with it a rapturous ovation, it was perhaps the most complete United performance since the days of Ferguson, and certainly the best day so far in Mourinho’s time as Man United manager. The former Chelsea boss could not have asked for much more in a week where his side have a vital away goal in the Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht capped off by a monumental league victory over what many believe to be the champions elect. Mourinho was at his meticulous best – substituting captain Young fully knowing it would take the winger-turned-full-back more time to exit the field due to him passing on the armband.

 

United fans chanted Mourinho’s name in unison clearly buoyed the masterful display. The same fans which were often sickened by Mourinho bringing his Chelsea teams to Old Trafford and furthering his reputation as The Special One now get to experience perhaps what is come down long road ahead.

West Brom V Liverpool: match report

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A particularly stale encounter in the Black Country on Easter Sunday saw Liverpool take another step towards Champions League qualification while West Brom’s stagnation after reaching the 40-point mark continued. Before the fireworks at Old Trafford Jurgen Klopp’s men took their chance to establish themselves even more in the hunt for the top four and heap further pressure on those behind – including Mourinho’s men in Manchester. Roberto Firmino got the solitary goal – and managed to keep his shirt on – in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at The Hawthrones.

 

West Brom by comparison look to be on their holidays – mentally if nothing else. Now past the magical 40-point mark and with their Premier League status promised for at least another campaign the hard work for the Baggies has been done. Perhaps this speaks to a wider problem about the ambition at West Brom, but most of their players looked to have downed tools and lacked motivation – so much so that Pulis was screaming encouragement throughout the whole 90 minutes instructing each player when to close down, take on their full-back and so on.

 

The game started with Liverpool half asleep in the opening two minutes being sloppy from two throw-ins to the annoyance of Klopp on the touchline. West Brom failed to capitalise on their visitor’s slow start however with little creativity from their midfield. A huge area of need this summer if West Brom are to build on their impressive season.

 

The first big chance of the tussle fell to Firmino after a quarter of an hour. Claudio Jacob lost possession to Philippe Coutinho inside the West Brom final third. Coutinho then slid in his fellow Brazilian with a deft ball in. Firmino’s effort was scuffed but had Ben Foster beat, instead trickling past his far post.

 

West Brom endeavoured to get down the flanks with Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli the likely benefactors from deep balls by Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt. Perhaps just the lack of a high-quality playmaker all that was missing to really carved Liverpool open down the sides.

 

On the other side, Liverpool’s high end architects were struggling. Coutinho and Firmino were smothered under the organisation that came with a Tony Pulis side.

 

West Brom’s success from set pieces caused them to spring into life and maraud forward when anything as little as a throw in in Liverpool’s final third presented itself. Phillips’ throw ins were no match for those of Rory Delap and the Stoke side of nearly a decade ago which built theirs, and Pulis’ reputation, as a rugged, no-nonsense outfit.

 

Right on the stroke of half time it was Liverpool taking a page out of their opposition’s book. James Milner’s free-kick was flicked on by Lucas and found Firmino all alone in the six-yard area to nod past Foster. The goal was uncharacteristic from both sides. It is not often that Liverpool make the most of set pieces, and it was even less likely that West Brom surrender back-to-back headers to two Brazilians whom both measure under six feet tall. Firmino’s 12th goal of the season undoing all of the effort West Brom had put in with Pulis’ constant instructions from the side line counting for naught at the interval.

 

The home side conducted a small meeting before the second half got underway with captain Darren Fletcher offering encouragement amongst other things to try and spark some life into West Brom.

 

Hal Robson-Kanu, surprisingly making just his first home start for West Brom since joining in the summer, Offered the Baggies the best route to goal but too many times found himself compromised by the linesman’s chequered flag.

 

Liverpool offered more creativity and incision after the break with Divock Origi and Firmino exploiting the extra half a yard of space left behind by the West Brom midfield as they attempted to restore parity.

 

Milner was offered the chance to seal the game early in the second half after a delightful chipped ball from Firmino found the midfielder turned left-back in acres of space only for the England international to blaze his effort straight over the crossbar. A finish befitting of a full-back. Firmino could only offer up a knee slide in despair and not, as he probably anticipated, in celebration.

 

Liverpool briefly had a second which was quickly chalked off after Firmino had just leaned into an offside position before cushioning a header back into the path of Origi who calmly headed the ball into Ben Foster’s goal. The diminutive Brazilian was starting to find more leaks in the West Brom damn with Jurgen Klopp looking for his side to make it burst. An extra worry for Pulis surely had to be that his usually robust defensive outfit were losing headers to a slight midfield playmaker.

 

After just over an hour the Baggies boss had seen enough and threw on Salomon Rondon and James McClean, although Rondon himself has not been in great goal-scoring form with no goals in 17 club games since his hattrick against Swansea.

 

The home side’s biggest chance fell to Phillips after a powerful run from Rondon had Liverpool’s defence, often questioned but comfortable on the day, scrambling to stop the burly Venezuelan. His pass found Phillips on the inside left of the penalty area and the winger could only take aim and fire his effort into the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

 

A mad scrap ensued in the final moments of the game with the West Bromwich faithful roaring mightily with every set piece earned. The proceedings even saw Foster come up from his goal for an injury time corner – and nearly resulting in disaster. Substitute Alberto Moreno won the ball from the corner and tried his luck from all of 45-yards but completely missed the target, much to the disgust of Daniel Sturridge, when Foster a full 60-yards back from his own net. Amazingly, Foster stayed rooted in the heart of the Liverpool half in a desperate bid to snatch a leveller but to no avail. A smile of relief greeted Klopp upon hearing the ringing of the full-time whistle.

 

Klopp will care little that his side failed to provide their usual swashbuckling best, as at this stage of the season it is all about the three points which propel the Merseysiders into third – nine points ahead of fifth placed Everton and heaping even more pressure on Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.

Five potential replacements for Mesut Ozil

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Mesut Ozil’s future at Arsenal is just as unclear as fellow teammate Alexis Sanchez and manager Arsene Wenger. The German playmaker has been linked with moves to Turkey as well as a return to his homeland and even Manchester United have reportedly expressed and interest, which would bring with it a reunion with former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.

 

Should Ozil leave Arsenal in the summer here are five potential replacements for the classy creator:

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5.

Mario Gotze

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Cost: £30m – £40m

Currently out injured with a metabolism problem, the scorer of the goal which crowned Germany world champions has many hallmarks of Ozil. Gotze is classy with a deft touch and the ability to spot passes which slice open opposition defences. Another hallmark he shares with his fellow German is his consistency – or lack of as it may be. Gotze failed to impress during his spell at Bayern Munich which lead to a reunion with Dortmund.

 

However, the German would offer almost a like for like replacement for Ozil. With the 24-year-old also keen to play in the Premier League he may well be wooed by Arsenal should they express and interest in the playmaker.

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4.

Ivan Rakitic

Club: Barcelona

Cost: £35m – £50m

The Croatian wizard made Barcelona tick in his early days at the Catalan giants but has since been wildly inconsistent and has fallen out of favour with Barca boss Luis Enrique. Rakitic offered a replacement for long-time metronome Xavi in the heart of the Barcelona midfield along with Andreas Iniesta. That alone speaks to how highly the former Sevilla man is rated.

 

Rakitic has been deployed in a deeper role in Spain but could easily push up the field and influence attacking play more. Arsenal is a club with many similarities to the Spanish powerhouses in terms of their style of play which would suit the Croat perfectly. His elusiveness in between the lines and vision often leaves defenders scrambling and attacking players licking their chops at the service he provides.

 

Rakitic may prove costly but with his pedigree at the top level he would almost certainly be worth the large outlay and with Arsenal making noises that they are ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Premier League next season they may be able to tempt the Barcelona midfielder to London.

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3.

Bernardo Silva

Club: Monaco

Cost: £55m – £75m

This guy is going to cost an awful lot. Silva is being courted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs and a bidding war could soon ensue.

 

With Leonardo Jardim’s side in vogue with young, exciting players strutting their stuff in both domestic and continental competition, Silva is just one of a handful of sort after players.

 

A classic number ten Silva has been highly praised by former Portugal great Deco, who believes the former Benfica product can be one of the world’s best. With the ability carve open a defence with his combination of exception dribbling and passing the young superstar is a difference maker for his current employers. If Manchester United, Real Madrid and other have their way he will soon be a difference maker for them, too.

 

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker has scored six goals to date as well as contributing seven assists this campaign as Monaco continue their charge towards the title.

 

Perhaps a wildcard for Arsenal with them no longer mentioned in the bracket of elite clubs when talking about Europe’s brightest youngsters going elsewhere. However, if they are willing to bid an extraordinary amount and pay the youngster extraordinary wages then they may just get their man.

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2.

Riyad Mahrez

Club: Leicester City

Cost: £35m – £48m

The Algerian made noises at the end of last season that he wanted to make the step up from The Foxes. However, then manager Claudio Ranieri convinced the playmaker to stay at least one more season to spur Leicester on their maiden Champions League campaign.

 

While the English champions have surprised many with their run to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition, their form in the league has been dismal – costing Ranieri his job. Mahrez has often looked disinterested during Leicester’s faltering title defence which could be cause for concern for any club interested in the Algerian’s services. However, much like Ozil, his ability should see perspective buyers overlook some of his inconsistencies.

 

At the start of the season Arsenal expressed an interest in the Algerian playmaker, as well as Barcelona, and it seemed to have turned his head. Should Mahrez leave the champions this summer he could well be a replacement for Ozil.

 

Mahrez is already acclimatised to the Premier League way of playing, technically gifted and with an eye for goal – as displayed during Leicester’s title run he may offer a slight upgrade over Ozil, who is often criticised for his lack of goals for Arsenal.

 

The 26-year-old has certainly see his stock drop from where it was this time last year. Leicester may not be able to command the same fee for the playmaker as they perhaps could have 12 months ago but would still get a handsome amount for their star player. Arsenal would probably be willing to pay the £45m it would take to acquire the Algerian.

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1.

Isco

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £25m – £35m

 

The Real Madrid misfit looks set to leave the Spanish capital this summer with a number of potential suitors trailing the former Malaga midfielder. Falling behind Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the pecking order for manager Zinadine Zidane the frustrated Isco is desperate for first team action.

 

Arsenal would offer the diminutive Spaniard a chance to start games with a void left by Ozil as well as experience the Premier League and – perhaps – be part of a rebuilding process at The Emirates should Arsene Wenger leave the Gunners in the summer, or even if he stays.

 

Isco was heavily linked to Manchester City in 2013 before being tempted to Madrid. Clearly the Spanish international is open to plying his trade in England.

 

Isco may have his inconsistencies but that could be put down to him not getting a run of games in the Madrid team. What is clear, is that when he is on his game he beautifully links defence to attack and can open pick the killer pass which results in a goal.

 

His style of play is very comparable of fellow Spaniard David Silva. If he could replicate anywhere near the standards Silva has set in England then he shall be very well received indeed by Arsenal fans.

 

Weight of pass in the modern game is often overlooked but Isco has the class and technique to perfectly pick out runners without them having the break stride before firing into the back of the net.

 

The price tag may start to rise with rumours circulating that even Barcelona are looking to prize Isco away from their bitter rivals. Arsenal are certainly in the mix, however. A tug-of-war for the 24-year-old’s signature is a likely outcome – in the past Arsenal have often fallen away when the bidding wars start. They did manage to outmuscle Liverpool for the signature of Alexis Sanchez however, so perhaps the Arsenal hierarchy are no longer afraid to go toe-to-toe with other clubs to get their man.