Football Station


Champions League Preview

March 9th, 2010

ARSENAL v. PORTO

The Gunners will need a victory and a victory only in order to ensure their progression out of the last 16.  In the first leg of the tie, Arsenal gifted Porto a victory and will surely be coming out of the gates hard and fast from the opening whistle.  However, without their talismanic leader in Fabregas and their defensive stalwart in Gallas, Arsenal just may be prone to mistakes.

From Russia with love.

After losing Aaron Ramsey to the leg break, we may get a chance at seeing Rosicky and Eboue could be in line for a start.  Hulk will be the focus of Arsenal’s attention as the Brazilian has a knack of creating chances and causing chaos.  But can he take advantage of the injury-ravaged Arsenal squad?

Arsenal 3 – 1 Porto

FIORENTINA v. BAYERN MUNICH

“This is truly the game of our lives,” said Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo.  After being unjustly beaten in Bayern Munich by a goal that should have disallowed for offside, Fiorentina will be itching to beat the Germans.  This second leg should prove to be quite a passionate game as Montolivo also was quoted as saying, “We will bring out all the anger that we have carried since the first leg at the Allianz Arena.”  Unfortunately for the Fiorentina, they will be without Adrian Mutu and Massimo Gobbi.  However, Jovetic, Gilardino and the addition of Vargas should be up to the task of dismantling Bayern’s defense, which will be without Demichelis.  Expect fireworks.

Fiorentina 3 – 2 Bayern Munich



Weekend Preview – Sunday – Gameweek 29

March 6th, 2010

EVERTON v. HULL CITY – Sunday, March 7th

After a shaky start to the season, the Toffees have turned things around and are steadily moving up the table.  Recently, they’ve toppled Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City and there aren’t many sides that would want to tackle this side at home, especially Hull City.  It’s hard to look past the fact that the Tigers are offensively challenged on the road, not to mention, winless.  The arrival of Donovan has proven to be a worthwhile investment while reports are circulating that he is pushing to make his move to Goodison Park permanent.  Regardless, the Toffees are looking strong at the moment, while Hull is looking very much like a dying animal.  They could be on their way out unless they find some form.  There’s only one way this game will end.

Everton 2 – 0 Hull City

LIVERPOOL v. WIGAN – Monday, March 8th

Wigan’s leaky defensive record on the road may be their downfall in this fixture against a Liverpool team who isslowly finding form and getting their stars back from injury.  Wigan are winless in their last nine matches and are going to need to park the bus in front of goal to be able to get any points from the Reds.  However, with Liverpool’s shaky form recently, that might just be enough to throw them off.  Expect Benitez to field his strongest team possible as any slip ups from here on out will be curtains on their Champions League aspirations.  And with Gerrard, Torres and possibly Johnson back, the Reds should be coming out firing on all cylinders.

Liverpool 3 – 1 Wigan

PORTSMOUTH v. BIRMINGHAM – Tuesday, March 9th

This is a crucial fixture for Pompey and Avram Grant’s men must find a way to get a win if they want to even think about EPL survival.  Hopefully for the cash-strapped side, they won’t have one eye on Wembley as retaining their top flight status should be top of their to-do list.  Unfortunately for them, Birmingham are having a very decent season and sit 8th with more away wins than Portsmouth have home wins.  Pompey have actually won three of their last four, one of which was against Birmingham in the FA Cup.  This fixture will be an exact replay of their game today (March 6th).  Pompey look to have the upper hand, but I think we’ll see a different game on Tuesday and Pompey will be even hungrier to emulate their recent victory over the Blues.

Portsmouth 1 – 3 Birmingham

SUNDERLAND v. BOLTON

Sunderland are winless in their last 14 matches.  Yes, 14.  They haven’t taken 3 points since November 21st against Arsenal.  That pretty much sums up their plight and the reason that they are now being dragged into the relegation dogfight.  Even with their seemingly sound squad, Sunderland are hopeless at the moment.  Steve Bruce had better churn out a result somehow or he could be tipped to be the next manager ousted.  Bolton have a hard time scoring on the road, and (other than today) haven’t scored in their travels in their last six matches.  Not many goals are scored at the Stadium of Light, and this match probably won’t be any different.

Sunderland 2 – 0 Bolton



Weekend Preview – Saturday – Gameweek 29

March 6th, 2010

ARSENAL v. BURNLEY

This is the first game back for the Gunners after the horrific leg break of Aaron Ramsey, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the boys are on a mission to win this game for him.  That’s not too tall of an order.  Burnley absolutely bleed goals away from home, and it won’t help matters that Arsenal score the third most goals at home in the league (after Chelsea and United).  However, there is a glimmer of hope for the Clarets as the Gunners are a little short handed in missing the likes of Campbell and Gallas.  Add that to the fact that Burnley have already beat Manchester United as well as Everton earlier this season and you may have a potential upset.  But those two wins came at Turf Moor under Owen Coyle, and quite frankly, it is a virtual certainty that Arsenal stroll.

Arsenal 3 – 0 Burnley

WEST HAM v BOLTON

One of the best parts about the beginning of the end is watching the relegation dogfight; seeing players give life and

Carlton Cole

limb…especially against other relegation threatened teams.  This is such a case.  Places 13th – 18 are separated by only 4  points, and you can bet that every manager in those spots is telling his team they have every opportunity to stay alive.  West Ham sit atop of the mini relegation table, however that doesn’t mean much as Bolton are only one point back.  Expect a scrap (surprise, surprise…Bolton are playing) however, West Ham’s leaky defense could be exposed by Bolton’s hard nosed, physical attacking play.

West Ham 1 – 2 Bolton

MANCHESTER UNITED v WOLVES

Despite the fact that Wolves did recently dispose of Tottenham at home, it’s going to take a lot to convince me they can make anything of this game.  Especially after following that up with a loss to Bolton.  United could be without their mercurial talisman in Rooney, and now with Owen out, Berbatov with possibly Ji Sung Park for company.  Either way, it’ll be very tough for Wolves to make anything out of this game, especially given their inability to score goals away from home.  Expect them to park the bus in front of goal, looking to break on the counter.

Wolves 0 – 2 Manchester United



The Battle for 4th

Even at Christmas, we knew that the last Champions League spot would be up for grabs.  With Liverpool, Man City, Aston Villa and Tottenham all vying for the coveted position, there is serious potential for a dramatic climax to the end of the season.  It’s tough to get all the information you want and need about these four teams, their fixtures, tendencies and key players.  So, naturally, we’ve decided to compile what we think is a comprehensive analysis of the fourth place spot and all the parties involved.  Starting from our current (As of March 4th) fourth place team, we have Tottenham.

TOTTENHAM – 49 Points

The Spurs have been one of the seasons high fliers and now have a realistic chance at grabbing the fourth place spot as well as the FA Cup.  Despite some setbacks in injuries to players like Modric and currently Lennon, they have just as much bite as ever.

Remaining Fixtures:  Blackburn (h), Stoke City (a), Portsmouth (h), Sunderland (a), Arsenal (h), Chelsea (h), Man United (a), Bolton (h), Burnley (a)

Obviously the tough patch will be the Arsenal, Chelsea, United games on back-to-back weekends.  They play their two most hated rivals on home turf and then finish up with a monumental game at United.  They have the potential to knick full points from Arsenal and maybe scrape a draw of Chelsea, but if they fail to win either of the those games, don’t count on them taking points at United.  At home, they are a stingy group at the back, and are tied with Fulham for second fewest goals conceded at home (9, Birmingham and Man United only 8).  However, with Arsenal having scored the most away goals in the EPL (28) and Chelsea in a close third (24), it will be interesting to see how Redknapp handles them defensively.

Key Men:  Jermain Defoe, Luka Modric, Michael Dawson

With Defoe continually getting on the scoresheet, the Spurs will always be an offensive threat.  Combine Defoe’s speed with Crouch’s aerial ability and Pavlyuchenko’s knack for knicking goals and you have a potent mix. Luka Modric faced a lengthy spell out with a broken bone in his leg, but is back at his best in the heart of the Spur’s midfield.  The Croat is a genuine playmaker and will be essential to Tottenham breaking down defensively sound teams like Manchester United and Chelsea.  Despite not getting consistent starts in the beginning of the season, Michael Dawson has been omnipresent in the latter half of the season and is one of the main reasons Spurs hold such a strong defensive record.

MANCHESTER CITY – 49 Points

Who ever said money can’t buy happiness?  Who ever said money can’t win you a Premier League Title?  Abramavich?  Probably not.  Money bags City have been at the forefront of a boatload of media attention and for good reason.  They are the face stomping, trash talking, manager sacking bad boys of the EPL at the moment, and there’s no wonder there is speculation as to whether Mr. Jose Mourinho may be tempted to ply his trade at Eastlands.

Remaining Fixtures:  Sunderland (a), Fulham (a), Everton (h), Wigan (h), Burnley (a), Birmingham (h), Manchester United (h), Arsenal (a)

Easily enough to predict, the end of the season could be a nail biter for the Blue’s faithful.  Though, Everton and Birmingham shouldn’t be a walk in the park either.  Granted, City remain the ONLY team in the EPL who are unbeaten at home and that speaks volumes about their defensive line.  What has hurt City the most this year has been all the draws they’ve accumulated. If you look back, they dropped points to mediocre teams when they were in the driver’s seat.  Looking towards those last two fixtures, City only lost to United by seconds at Old Trafford and could certainly provide a game for the Red Devils at Eastlands.  They’ve met again in Carling Cup action in which the United dumped them out in the second leg.  As for Arsenal, City has already ousted them once at home and once in the Carling Cup.  Granted, Wenger followed the typical play-your-reserves type scheme whereas Hughes went for the jugular and grabbed a 3 – 0 win.  However, I’ll expect a goalfest at the Emirates as City have allowed almost as many goals they’ve scored on their travels and Arsenal boast the second highest number of goals conceded at home (Also Man City – 14, after Everton, 17).  Oh yeah, they also have a game in hand.

Key Men:  Carlos Tevez

City actually does a considerable job spreading the wealth in terms of goal scoring, but Carlos Tevez leads the line with 15 goals, with Adebayor coming in second with 9.  The little Argentine has been in a battle of words with several of his former teammates across the way at Old Trafford, and from a neutral supporter’s perspective, you can only smirk.  Should Ferguson have kept him around?  Put it this way, would you rather see Berbatov or Tevez on your teamsheet?  I know where I’d put my vote.  Tevez is like a bulldog.  A small, Argentinian, smiley, bulldog.  If he and Adebayor weren’t so efficient in front of goal, City would be miles down the table as they have a fairly high number of goals allowed at home.  Should, for some reason, Tevez or Adebayor be stricken with sickness or injury, Blues fans had better start praying to somebody.  It’s no wonder Mancini wanted Tevez back from Argentina so badly…

LIVERPOOL – 48 Points

“What’s happened?” could be the headline of Liverpool’s season so far.  That applies to the season in general, the game against Portsmouth and Manchester City as well as their illustrious history.  Really though, what happened?  The Reds were tipped to be right up there in the title fight and now face an embarrassing season outside the Champions League.  But now, with their big guns returning to the show, we may still have yet to see the Reds fight.

Remaining Fixtures: Wigan (a), Portsmouth (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (h), Birmingham (a), Fulham (h), West Ham (h), Burnley (a), Chelsea (h), Hull (a)

The script hasn’t yet been written by Benitez’s men, but a lot of people have surely started a rough draft.  Their remaining games aren’t anything to smile about as they face an airtight Birmingham defense (at least at home), Manchester United at Old Trafford and then the London Blues at Anfield.  Remember that last year at about this same time, Liverpool ousted United at Old Trafford to keep the title fight still alive.  Reds fans across the country will be hoping for a similar result.  And, in possibly their season defining fixture, host the mighty Blues.  The only thing they could have going for them going into this game is that Chelsea may already have one hand around the title, but still be gunning in the Champions League.  That could cause Ancelotti to field a weakened side which could allow Liverpool to take points.  Liverpool are known for pulling out magic comebacks, but Benitez has hopefully saved his biggest trick yet to get into the last Champions League Spot.

Key Men:  Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt

Anybody who knows anything can tell you that Gerrard and Torres are the backbone of this Liverpool team.  When they are fit, Liverpool’s chances of success increase exponentially, and now that they are, the Reds have a realistic chance at getting 4th.  Now the question is: can they stay fit?  Dirk Kuyt has been a hero for the Kop in Torres’s absence, ensuring wins at Tottenham, Everton and Bolton at home.  The Dutchman has a knack for popping up at the right time to grab points and could be instrumental in the dogfights they are going to face in coming weeks.  That plus Gerrard’s ability to be a game changer and Torres’s goal scoring record (13 despite being injured for a few moths)  just might be enough to see them through.

ASTON VILLA – 45 Points

The Clarets have been contenders for a top four spot from the start of the season, beating Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester United but dropping silly points to bad teams.  This season has been a fairly open one, and the difference between here and there has been slim.  Villa does have two games in hand which will come to immense in coming weeks as they look to break into the top four.

Remaining Fixtures: Stoke (a), Wigan (a), Wolves (h), Sunderland (h), Chelsea (a), Bolton (a), Everton (h), Portsmouth (a), Birmingham (h), Manchester City (a), Blackburn (h)

Unfortunately for Villa, they have to face Chelsea and City away from home.  The good news is that both defenses are prone to giving up goals at home, which could make for edgy, high-scoring affairs.  However, Chelsea’s home scoring has been free flowing and their goals for sits at 41 while their goals allowed is 12.  Aston Villa is quick, can break on the counter and has multiple angles that they can attack from which makes them dangerous in virtually any situation.  The big worry for the other contenders is Villa’s games played.  The Clarets still have two games in hand which, if they play it right, could essentially get them into fourth spot.  And by playing it right, I mean being stingy and hard nosed when it comes to playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.  Their result there will shape the end of their season, and, having already beat them once, Aston Villa are hungry for another “W”.  But it is hard to look past the fact that, recently, whenever faced with tough opposition they’ve drawn.  That list includes Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, not to mention teams like West Ham.  Aston Villa must avoid silly draws like these if they want Champions League football next season.

Key Men: Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner, Richard Dunne

In Agbonlahor, Aston Villa has a young, talented striker of the ball who tears defenses up with his pace.  His goal count as of now is 11, but that’s likely to change with games at home against Portsmouth and Blackburn.  His pace and agility iscomplimented well by his strike partner John Carew.  The big Norwegian provides him with space that he creates through physicality and using his aerial ability to play Agbonlahor through.  James Milner is the lynchpin of the Aston Villa midfield, particularly the attacking aspect.  Petrov is key as well, but not in the way that Milner dissects defenses with his through balls to his forwards.  It certainly looks like City may have been somewhat rash in letting Richard Dunne go.  He is proving to be one of the most valuable defenders of the season as his defending style is physical and smart, not to mention he scores the occasional goal.

Verdict:  Whatever the outcome of this season, we are in for a treat.  Many of the crucial games for these four teams come along towards the end of the season.  Let’s not be cliché and say that the winner of the fourth spot will be the one who takes full points from the small teams.  With the way things have been going this season, it is a virtual certainty that there will be some “shock” upsets over more than one of these teams.  Now the question is, which one?

Villa must break their recent hesitancy with quality teams.  Tottenham won’t be able to pull the results they need to in order to pull it out.  Liverpool have two very tough fixtures in Manchester United away and Chelsea at Anfield, if they keep everybody healthy, they can do it.  Manchester City look likely to pull it out given their upcoming fixtures and the game in hand.