April 25, 2022 4 min read
It’s another European week, with the first leg of the semi-finals of the three main continental tournaments. Incredibly, though unsurprisingly, British clubs are represented in all three of them: Manchester City meet the great 13-time winners Real Madrid and Liverpool play Villarreal in the Champions League; Rangers play RB Leipzig and West Ham United meet Frankfurt in the Europa League; Leicester City meet Roma, managed by José Mourinho, in the Conference League.
The Premier League rolls towards its climax with another busy week of fixtures, although last week’s round concludes tonight (Monday) at Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace take on Leeds United. Palace play Southampton at the weekend, while Leeds have a tougher tie at home to Manchester City, who beat Watford 5-1 in a game where Gabriel Jesus scored more goals in one hour of football (four) than he had in the entire Premier League season up to that point (three). This week, Watford play Burnley in a nine-pointer which could determine both sides’ place in the top division. Fun fact: after his recent sacking, Sean Dyche has now been fired as manager of both clubs.
There’s a great game on Sunday at the London Stadium as high-flying West Ham host Arsenal. In a reversal of recent football history, this season it is the Irons who have impressed in Europe, knocking out Sevilla and Lyon in the knock-out rounds, although Frankfurt are formidable. Having reached the last four in the 2019 Europa League, where Chelsea needed penalties to overcome them, Frankfurt have used that experience to knock out Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
Yet this is a West Ham team with England anchorman Declan Rice performing superbly every week. They claimed an important home win against Liverpool in November, where Kurt Zouma scored the winner on a super Sunday that was their fourth league win in a row. It took a late goal by Fernandinho for Manchester City to beat them, and West Ham will have a chance to derail City’s title chances on May 15.
Squad rotation has been the order of the season, with Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio both starting on the bench against Chelsea last weekend. They are also motivated by the retirement this summer of midfielder Mark Noble: Mr West Ham has played over 500 times in 18 seasons, all but two of those in the Premier League, for his local club. Raise a glass of vodka or gin for Nobes with a club-branded drink brought to you by Bohemian Brands.
Arsenal were runners-up in the 2019 Europa League, losing 4-1 to Chelsea in Baku. Amazingly, only two players who started that final are available to play against West Ham on Sunday. Striker Alexandre Lacazette not called upon last weekend blockbuster against Manchester United. He watched from the bench as midfielder Granit Xhaka scored his first goal of the season with a traditional long-range, in a game where he was cautioned for the 50th time as a Gunner. The other starter in Baku still at the club in 2022, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, is out on loan at Roma and was a spectator last Saturday as his team lost 3-1 at Inter Milan. The Championship season proper comes to a close on May 7. In advance of that, the play-off places need to be determined and there are some tasty ties on Matchday 45. At Loftus Road, QPR host Sheffield United under the West London lights. On Saturday, Blackburn welcome Bournemouth as they try to win three points to take them towards promotion via three play-off games. Rovers last played in the top division in 2012, something Nottingham Forest did over two decades ago. Their game in hand against Bournemouth will follow a game at home to Swansea City.
The FA Youth Cup Final will be contested on May 11, having been moved to prevent Forest fans missing the game against Manchester United. It was due to take place on the evening of April 30 but, since the first-team game was not moved from that Saturday, the kids will have a huge audience that night. Eric ten Hag, the new man in the hotseat, will not even be able to watch the livestream of the game as Ajax are due to be in action that night. League One does come to an end this weekend as the promotion, play-off and relegation positions are decided. Sunderland and Oxford United both have drinks from Bohemian Brands available: Oxford host Doncaster, who have already been relegated to League Two after a difficult season; Sunderland play their game in hand on Tuesday night against Rotherham United, who have been near the summit of the table for most of the season, and then travel to Morecambe on the last day. You will be asked to Charge Your Glasses on Wednesday in a piece celebrating the Black Cats, whose recent history is a blip as a celebrated club who had success in the early days of association football.
Up in Scotland, the post-split fixtures continue with Hearts playing Ross County and Dundee United hosting Motherwell; Aberdeen are at Pittodrie for their game against bottom-of-the-table Dundee, while Hibernian travel to Livingston. The ‘big yin’, to quote Glaswegian Billy Connolly, is at Celtic Park this Sunday. Bearing in mind that Rangers have to play two legs of a Europa League semi-final either side of the Glasgow derby, Celtic have all kinds of advantages going into the game. If they win, they would go nine ahead of Rangers with three to play in their quest to wrestle back the Scottish Premier League. A few weeks ago, Celtic fan Keith and Rangers fan Ross appeared in the first Bohemian Vodkast, which you can listen to here. The fifth in the series is published on Friday.