Football Station


Turn Around Time

The first half of the EPL Season has almost come to a close in what is one of the tightest tables we have seen in years.  Manchester United sit top and deservedly so after going undefeated in all competitions (scratch the Carling Cup defeat to West Ham).  Neighbors City hold the coveted 4th place spot with Tottenham snapping at their heels and riding a high after topping their Champions League group and beating would-be Top 4 contenders Liverpool in a lively game in London.

There has been no shortage of stories coming from England this season, and it’s our job here at Football Station to bring you the best, brightest and horrible.

Owen Coyle and Bolton Wanderers

The Scotsman came from a sinking Burnley ship to manage the Wanderers in what has become the managerial success story of the season so far.  What was once a hard nosed defense-first Northwestern outfit has become a slick passing and clinical side

Cocky, seductive and just plain sultry. Coyle's proved part genius this season in the EPL this season.

under the guidance of Coyle.  The Wanderers sit 6th currently, and one has to wonder: just how long can they keep this up?  Boasting a win over Tottenham, a hard fought draw against United and having a win at Everton snatched from their grasp with a last gasp goal from Jermaine Beckford, Coyle’s boys have maintained that defensive resolve while learning to press as a unit into the attacking half. Keys to their success are: American Stuart Holden and South Korean Lee Chung-Yong and Bolton’s record signing Johan Elmander putting in more than his fair share of goals up top.  Other than their monthly opener at Eastlands and closer at Chelsea, Bolton’s games in December are all winnable and could easily maintain a 6th or 7th spot going into the New Year.

Liverpool’s Stop-Start Season

Just what the hell is going on in the Northwest this year?  The humiliating defeats to Manchester City, Everton and Blackpool highlight a Liverpool season that hasn’t had a heap of good news coming its way.  With the exit door blaring, Roy Hodgson’s

Skeptical Roy

ill-advised outbursts seem to be making him more friends than enemies.  Benitez hits out at Roy, Roy hits back, Benitez hits back again, Roy apologizes.  Roy criticizes Glen Johnson’s form, Glen Johnson responds, Roy apologizes.  Roy says he is disappointed his Daniel Pacheco, now he says he has a bright future at the club.  Is he manic?  He’s like a 5 year old version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a speech impediment.  The January transfer window will either be his saving grace or nail in the coffin, so he had better make it count.  But with names like Keisuke Honda (reportedly a bid has been tabled) and Eden Hazard (more of a rumour) being linked, he just might have a little genius inside that huge coat.  They do have a run of fixtures coming up that most would fancy and don’t face too stiff of competition until the 5th of Februrary when they travel to Stamford Bridge (if you don’t count Everton and Stoke).  If Roy plays his cards right (e.g. playing Pacheco and more youngsters and not playing Poulsen) he could find himself knocking on 4th place’s door.  Oh, also Tom Hicks and George Gillette are taking LFC back to court. Awesome.

Zero to Hero

£30m has never looked so good.  Dimitar Berbatov is firing in goals like it’s his job.  Finally. Because it is his job.  And he used

Andytar Berbacia

to suck at his job.  That said, the Bulgarian ace has been in a rich vein of form with the Red Devils and is currently sitting Top Scorer of the Premier League with 11 goals. And with Blackpool next on the fixture list at Old Trafford, the Andy Garcia body double’s odds of scoring are looking pretty decent.  The Seasiders have allowed 18 away goals this season (2nd in the EPL).

Shape of Things to Come

While it may be fruitless to try and lay down a prediction for the second half of the season, I may as well try.  Chelsea have Tottenham coming up, United have Arsenal, then Chelsea have United, then Arsenal have Chelsea…as you can see, there will be much movement within the top 5 or 6 in coming months.  Nothing will be set in stone until May 22nd rolls around.  However, with the look of things, United and Chelsea are still looking favorites for the title.  Arsenal have a fantastic squad, as do Spurs and City, but shortcomings in each squad will prove decisive in their respective bids for the crown.  Arsenal have proven time and again that they can’t last the full season and often drop results come the tail end of the season.  Manchester City are going through issues within the squad and with the manager (shocking) and that will eventually provide their fall from the Top 4.  Tottenham have a legitimate shot at going for 3rd or even 2nd should results go their way.  They have a solid squad, a good looking schedule and are playing football that wins games.  The only blotch on their otherwise shiny squad is the injury to Rafael Van der Vaart.  The Dutchman has been instrumental this year in providing goals and scoring them himself, and it will be interesting to see how the Londoners cope without the big man.

Prediction – The Top 4 won’t have the same occupants this year as it did last year.  Manchester City should rest in 4th but may even snag 3rd spot from under Arsenal’s noses if they don’t clean up their act in the latter half of the season.  Who says money can’t buy happiness?  It will be a slug fest for top spot and the May 7th game where United host Chelsea could well decide the title.  Tottenham and Liverpool will find themselves in 5th and 6th place, respectively after a fruitful transfer window for the latter pays dividends.

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Out of the Starting Gates

With the first round of games knocked down in the English Premier League, football fans across the globe now have their feet wet in one of the most appetizing leagues in the world.

A handful of games could have been dismissed as early season anxiety, however, some were worth note.  Newly promoted Blackpool took Wigan to the cleaners for 4 goals, and sit second in the table under Chelsea and above Manchester United.  They may want to relish the position, because not many can claim they’ve held it for long.  The reigning champions demolished West Brom by 6 goals to nil, Liverpool (i.e. Pepe Reina) surrendered their lead to Arsenal in the 90th minute after being reduced to 10 men, Tottenham and Manchester City played out a goalless draw in London and Manchester United cruised to a sweet 3-0 over

Impressive was an understatement for the reigning champions against West Brom.

Newcastle.

With the initial nerves fading fast and reality setting in, teams must soon realize that if they don’t snap out of their summer funk soon, they’ll be looking at a long season (we’re looking at you Wigan).  Standout fixtures are mainly Liverpool v. Manchester City and Manchester United at Fulham.  That’s right.  United have lost their last three visits to the Cottage, and you wonder in the Londoners can keep up the streak.

Liverpool will be looking to overcome their last minute draw against Arsenal in a tough tie against Chelsea look-a-likes Manchester City at Eastlands.  Manchester have yet to prove their credentials in the Premier League,granted their first game was against Champions League newboys Tottenham at White Hart Lane.  Liverpool will be without Joe Cole and with Aquilani seemingly on his way, it looks like Gerrard will line up behind Torres, with maybe Mascherano/Lucas paired up with Poulson, who looked rather impressive against Trabzonspor.  City have a slew of players in their ranks and Mancini has his pick.  Balotelli may well start up alongside Tevez, and, if he does, I will seem more like a statement from Mancini rather than a genuine selection.  Yaya Toure is expected to start and he will provide a great matchup for Gerrard and whoever wins that battle, controls the ebb and flow of the game and could very well control the outcome of the match.

Typically, a Manchester United matchup against Fulham would yield a full three points for the former, however, on Fulham’s

Danny Murphy nets from the spot as Fulham beat Manchester United at Craven Cottage.

ground, the Red Devils have lost three consecutive matches.  Will the fact that Roy Hodgson has moved on to Liverpool make a difference for the tie?  Or is Craven Cottage simply kryptonite for United?  Fulham may be without Mark Schwarzer between the sticks but Hughes is hopeful of a return for the Aussie stopper.  Patrice Evra was a doubtful for a little while, but it looks like he’s shaken off the knock and will suit up against Fulham.  Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored for his club since…United played Fulham at Old Trafford last March.  Since then, the boys gone dry.  Other than those little snippits of information, there isn’t a lot to be said about the tie until the teams actually take the field.

Predictions – Being so early in the season, it’s hard to try and call the shots.  However, that’s exactly what I’m going to do…

Saturday

Arsenal 2 – 0 Blackpool

Birmingham 1 – 0 Blackburn

Everton 2 – 1 Wolves

Stoke City 1 – 3 Tottenham

West Brom 0 – 0 Sunderland

West Ham 1 – 0 Bolton

Wigan 0 – 3 Chelsea

Sunday

Fulham 1 – 1 Manchester United

Newcastle 1 – 2 Aston Villa

Monday

Manchester City 1 – 1 Liverpool

A lot of close games, and, obviously, a lot can depend on who the head men select for the starting XI.  Until next week, we’ll see who is the quickest out of the starting gates…



Silly Season 2010

James Milner or Bruce Banner?

Even as the World Cup droned on, players were changing hands, contracts signed and bridges burned all over the world of football.  David Silva made the rare choice to switch clubs during the World Cup while being involved with it, Yossi Benayoun moved south and David Villa made what is probably going to be the biggest move of the summer to Barcelona.

Those are confirmed switches.  However, even before a deal is officially complete, everybody usually knows about it.  So what are the budding rumours?

Arsenal – The Gunners need a goalkeeper and a holding midfielder, that’s why it’s no surprise that two top notch keepers are linked in Schwarzer and Handanovic.  Initially, it was thought that the £4m asking price for the Fulham man was too high, seeing as how he is 37.  Handanovic is only 26 years old and would be a great signing for Arsenal.  It seems unlikely that Cole will sign as Wenger said that they don’t need any players in the wing areas, so it makes it more unlikely that Hazard will sign as he is the same sort of player and probably more expensive.  Fabregas looks set to stay for the season at least, but next year may find Barcelona too much to resist.  The biggest problem for Arsenal is that they are fully staffed in nearly every area of the pitch, but they are all around 21 years old and need time to mature.  There is a lot of promise to be had in Arsenal’s squad, but it may not reach its potential for a few years time.

Ins – Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Samir Handanovič (Udinese), Eden Hazard (Lille), Joe Cole (Free)

Outs – Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Sol Campbell (Celtic, Sunderland, West Ham)

Aston Villa – Other than everything that is being clearly reported by the press, Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill is being

The Former Spurs' captain could be set for just about anywhere.

characteristically tight lipped about his transfer plans.  Once again, he is attempted to hang on to one of his star players despite interest from another club (once again Manchester City).  McGeady gets a lot of mixed reactions from EPL fans and whether he makes or breaks in the Prem will be a mystery until he potentially signs and plays for the first time.  Robbie Keane would be a great signing.  He’s Prem proven and a well rounded forward who has more finesse than John Carew but is more physical than Gabby Agbonlahor.

Ins – Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Robbie Keane (Tottenham),

Outs – James Milner (Man City), Nick Shorey (Liverpool),

Chelsea – With Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco all walking out the door of Stamford Bridge, it’s hard to imagine that Ancelotti won’t look to replace at least one or two of them.  He is a manager known for not liking complete overhauls, so it doesn’t seem like several major summer signings are in order.  Fernando Torres looks like staying this season after Hodgson came out and said they had good talks, but this is “Silly Season” and anything can happen.  If he does leave, it will be for a sizable sum (reportedly £50m).  Kaká has been linked in numerous locations, but it’s hard to imagine that Mourinho would dump the former FIFA World Player of the Year without much of a chance.  Don’t bet on him moving.  Sergio Aguero has been long linked with the Blues, and it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up making the change.  The young Argentine is worth about £30m and could be well worth it, but whether he’ll be a fit for the EPL is still up for debate.  Ashley Cole could well be bound for Real Madrid along with team mate Frank Lampard, as both will be keen to link up with former manager Jose Mourinho.

Ins – Sergio Aguero (At. Madrid), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Kaká (Real Madrid)

Outs – Frank Lampard (Real Madrid), Ashley Cole (Real Madrid)

Everton – Shrewd, yet brilliant would characterize David Moyes’s transfer style.  He rarely breaks bank, but he manages to bring in outstanding talent for half as much as other players are moving for.  Steven Pienaar signed for £2m, as did Mikel Arteta.  Tim Cahill joined the Toffees for only £1.5m!  These players are worth more than triple those figures now, and everybody (myself included) are interested to see who Moyes brings in next.  So far, Moyes has brought in 3 strikers, which says something about what he sees as needing improvement.  Moyes, like I said, is very shrewd and not much transfer whisperings leave Goodison until it’s a done deal.  His biggest task of the summer will be convincing Steven Pienaar to stay around, with Tottenham & co. waiting in the wings.  A big boost for all of Moyes’s transfer dealings is that most of his players owe him quite a bit of loyalty, because, if it weren’t for him, they could still be rotting in Championship sides.

Ins – Joao Silva (Desportivo Das Aves), Jermaine Beckford (Leeds), Magaye Gueye (Strasbourg), Jan Mucha (Legia Warsaw)

Outs – Steven Pienaar (Tottenham), Mikel Arteta (Manchester City), Jack Rodwell (Manchester United)

Announcing his hour long TV special, "The Decision" in the next few days...

Liverpool – Until they kick their campaign off against Arsenal at Anfield, many questions will be asked of Hodgson’s side (and will probably be asked after that, as well).  Obvious transfer rumours include Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano’s futures.  If Hodgson can convince at least two of them to stay, the Anfield faithful can breathe easy again.  Mascherano looks already out the door as he has made no secret that he wishes to join up with Benitez again at Inter Milan and is reportedly dodging Roy Hodgson’s calls and texts.  Liverpool have made an approach for Joe Cole, and though Spurs look the likelier destination, he may not be out of the question for the Reds.  Rafael van der Vaart has been linked as well, but that would concede Steven Gerrard to a more central role in the pitch.  That or…he could be leaving.  For once, it seems, most of the transfer rumours (In’s at least) have yet to surface, as Hodgson gets a better look at his squad.  They have, however, declared their interest in speaking to some of Manchester City’s more disenchanted players.

Ins – Joe Cole (free), Stephen Ireland (Manchester City), Shaun Wright-Philips (Manchester City), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid)

Outs – Steven Gerrard (Real Madrid), Fernando Torres (Chelsea, Barcelona), Javier Mascherano (Inter Milan), Emiliano Insua (Fiorentina)

Manchester City – This could well take up 2000 words, so I’ll do my best to keep it short.  Linked with just about any player who has featured for a national team in a major competition, Manchester City’s strategy mirrors that of Chelsea’s.  Money talks.  If it doesn’t, try more.  Seemingly a band of well paid mercenaries, the Blues at Eastlands don’t seem to find much of an emotional attachment to any of their players.  Boys move seamlessly in and out, but it’s hard to ignore the talent that now forms their Starting XI.  Mancini is known to be an admirer of Fernando Torres, James Milner, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko.  All four of which are serious possibilites, however it is hard to see Torres moving to such a heavy rival to Liverpool.  But Milner and Dzeko look to be really itching to join ranks at Eastlands, where it looks like a matter of time for Balotelli.

Ins – Mario Balotelli (Inter Milan), Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), James Milner (Aston Villa)

Outs – Craig Bellamy (Tottenham), Joe Hart (Arsenal), Carlos Tevez (Real Madrid, Inter Milan)

Manchester United – The finances of The Red Devils are really a mystery.  Does Ferguson have the sales from CristianoRonaldo?  Do they have to sell to buy?  Regardless, like every summer window, United are linked with a host of top players.  Vidic looks set to move to Real Madrid, and then the question becomes: who will replace him?  Despite the fact that Ferguson came out and said they aren’t interested in Joe Cole, the gaffer is known as a master of mind games and may well be working a number in the transfer market.  Wesley Sneijder has been linked, but there looks little possibility that the Inter Milan man will leave.  He’s among the most talented players in the world at the moment and enjoying playing with the European champions and is coming off a trip to the World Cup Final.  Luis Suarez is another name that has popped up on the radar, but the striker would only be brought in should Berbatov be sold.

Ins – Luis Suarez (Ajax), Jack Rodwell (Everton), James Milner (Aston Villa), Steven Pienaar (Everton)

Outs – Nemanja Vidic (Real Madrid), Dimitar Berbatov (Bayern Munich, AC Milan), Patrice Evra (Real Madrid)

Tottenham – Top 4 new boys, Tottenham Hotspur will really be looking to show the Premier League that they are no slouches, and they won’t have to wait long as they open their campaign with Manchester City at White Hart Lane.  Then they enjoy an October by hosting Everton and Aston Villa and traveling to Old Trafford to finish up.  However, Harry Redknapp hasn’t made a lot of noise in the transfer window so far other than rumblings.  He’s set to sign 21 year old Internacional holding midfielder Sandro once their domestic campaign ends, but don’t put it past Redknapp to have more than a few lines in the water.  By the sounds of it, those include Joe Cole, Steven Pienaar, Craig Bellamy, and Luis Fabiano.  Clearly Redknapp sees improvement in the attacking aspect of his squad and looks to be doing his utmost to see talent brought in.  And with their newly attained Top 4 spot, not many of their players seem to be looking for the exit.

Ins – Joe Cole (free), Steven Pienaar (Everton), Craig Bellamy (Manchester City), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla)

Outs – Robbie Keane (Aston Villa, Celtic)

Allegedly one of Hodgson's "disenchanted" stars who could be on his way out of Anfield.

Summary – Joe Cole is one of the biggest English talents on the move this summer, and he looks set for either Tottenham, Liverpool or Arsenal, but his wages seem to be a sticking point for most of them.  Still, Spurs look likely.   Fernando Torres is a big name player who could be on the move, but looking at Hodgson’s comments today, he may be sticking around Merseyside for a season longer.  Somebody who doesn’t look to be is Javier Mascherano.  The Argentine captain seems to be ignoring the new manager’s calls and texts about his future.  If that is the case, then his professional attitude needs a serious adjusting.  James Milner to Manchester City could well be on the cards if Martin O’Neill doesn’t stand in his way…however the North Irishman has a nasty habit of doing just that.  Milner is about a 50/50 at this point to stay.

There is still much more than any regular fan can fathom at this point, and with the World Cup over, we can watch it all unfold.



Beauty & the Beast in Group B

Group B –

Argentina

Nigeria

Korea Republic

Greece

Group B looks, off the cuff, a tame group.  Who would say otherwise?  Argentina should have a fairly easy task with all three teams, but, I suppose, the second spot is up for grabs.  The stingy Greeks will be defensively stout, as they always are.  Korea won’t have the home field advantage they had in 2002, but will still have a few tricks up their sleeve.  And Nigeria will probably be tipped to take the second spot, but funny things happen at the World Cup and this one should be no exception.

Greece – Probably the most boring team to watch it football.  How they won Euro 2004 is remarkable, but their defensiveKyrgiakos will test the resolve of attacking play resolve and their grinding out of wins got them the trophy.  The Greeks will look towards Theofanis Gekas for goals, Liverpool’s Sotirios Kyrgiakos for defensive leadership and Giorgos Karagounis for everything in the middle of the park as the Captain is also the most capped at 32 years old.  It’s hard to doubt Greece’s ability after their historic upset of the Euro 2004 tournament.  Still though, it’s hard to look past the attacking threats of Argentina and Nigeria.  They will probably watch footage from that 2o04 for inspiration and ideas…seriously.

Korea Republic

Like Greece, the Tigers will be looking to draw on experience and their 2002 World Cup run as the driving force behind this campaign.  Their oldest player and most capped at a whopping 129 games is goalkeeper Woon-Jae Lee and their most experienced at an elite level is without question Manchester United midfielder and captain Ji-Sung Park.  Park will float in right behind Dong-Gook Lee in attack with Chung-Yong Lee looking to press forward on the left as well.  They will have to rely heavily on their work rate to get them through as they are quick but not as quick as Nigeria and not as technically gifted as Argentina.  If they progress it will be because of their hard work and a little luck.

Nigeria – Do not underestimate the Super Eagles in Group B, as they have terrific pace and a lot of experience in the squad.

Obafemi Martins will lead the line against Group B

Three members (Joseph Yobo, Yakubu, Victor Anichebe) of it ply their trade at Goodison Park of Everton in England.  Portsmouth (Kanu, John Utaka), Fulham (Dickson Etuhu), Bolton Wanderers (Danny Shittu) and notably Chelsea (John Obi Mikel) boast Nigerian players.  Obafemi Martins is another player I’m expecting to make things happen in South Africa.  Martins once played for Newcastle and now plays for Wolfsburg in Germany.  His pace paired with the pace of Victor Obinna will give the physical Greeks something think twice about as well as the rest of Group B.  The captain, Kanu, stands the most capped, and his creative play will allow Martins to perform well, however his age has looked more noticeable as of late.  In qualifying they conceded only one goal in six matches and had a perfect run.  With John Obi Mikel steadying the ship in the middle of the park, breaking down attacks, and starting moves forward, the Nigerians are well equipped in all areas.

Argentina – How do you solve a problem like Argentina?  Maradona’s rag-tag group of players look unbeatable on paper, but have failed to impress as Maradona has come under intense scrutiny back in Argentina.  Obvious stand outs for the team are Lionel Messi, who has more individual honors than you can count on both hands, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and up and comer Angel Di Maria.  Their attack is probably the best in the world with Higuain, Aguero, Tevez, Messi and Milito all big time names.  Their midfield is commanded by the hard tackling Javier Mascherno and their defense steadied by Martín Demichelis.  The only question mark over La Albiceleste is the team chemistry.  For some reason, they have not been able to click into full gear and many are hoping they find their feet soon.  Maradona is taking the majority of the blame as he rotates more players in and out than anybody ever has.  His style is almost similar to Rafael Benitez’s bizarre rotation policy at Liverpool.  Still though, they’re not the best at the tournament, but they are too good to not advance out of their group and past a few more games.

Prediction –

1. Argentina

2. Nigeria

3. Greece

4. South Korea



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.



All Deals Are Off!
September 3, 2009, 8:54 AM
Filed under: premier league | Tags: , , ,

Chelsea have been banned from registering any new players for the next two transfer windows after FIFA found them guilty of inducing a French teenager to breach his contract with another club.

Gael Kakuta, 18, joined Chelsea from Lens two years ago but the French club lodged a complaint with the sport’s world governing body.

Now FIFA’s dispute resolution chamber (DRC) has ruled that Kakuta breached his contract with Lens and that Chelsea induced him to do so.

FIFA said in a statement: “The French club had lodged a claim with FIFA seeking compensation for breach of contract from the player and requesting also sporting sanctions to be imposed on the player and the English club for breach of contract and inducement to breach of contract respectively.

The Blues squad won't see any additions until January 2011.

The Blues squad won't see any additions until January 2011.

“The DRC found that the player had indeed breached a contract signed with the French club. Equally, the DRC deemed it to be established that the English club induced the player to such breach.

“As a result the player was condemned to pay compensation in the amount of 780,000 euros (£680,995), for which the club, Chelsea, is jointly and severally liable, and sporting sanctions were imposed on both the player and Chelsea in accordance with art. 17 par. 3 and 4 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.

“A restriction of four months on his eligibility to play in official matches is imposed on the player Gael Kakuta while the club Chelsea is banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for the two next entire and consecutive registration periods following the notification of the present decision.

“Furthermore, Chelsea, has to pay RC Lens training compensation in the amount of 130,000 euros (£113,498).”

Chelsea have the right to appeal against the decision and take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

It is almost certain that Chelsea will exercise that right and the club are expected to release a response to the guilty verdict later today.

Kakuta, a skilful left winger, is viewed as Chelsea’s most promising young player. He ended his first season as top scorer in the youth side and was voted the academy’s player of the year.

His second season was brought to an end in February by a double fracture of his ankle.

Chelsea have at least signed a number of their key existing players up on to long-term contracts, with Ashley Cole, John Terry and Didier Drogba all agreeing new deals recently.

Chief executive Peter Kenyon says the new deals were a key part of Chelsea’s summer activity and hinted that England midfielder Joe Cole would be next to sign a contract extension.

“We’ve concentrated very hard this summer in retaining the players we have. Inevitably in a transfer window it is all about who you bring in but we shouldn’t overlook who we have got,” said Kenyon.

“If you look at Drogba, Terry or Cole, they are world-class players that could walk into any other team in Europe and I am delighted that we have retained them.”

Kenyon is confident Joe Cole will be next. He has been out of action since January following knee ligament damage and his current contract expires next June.

“Joe is just back in training and we are all delighted to see that. We want – and he wants – to remain at Chelsea,” Kenyon added.

Chelsea are not the first club to have been punished in such a way.

Roma were also given a ban for two transfer windows following defender Philippe Mexes’ move from Auxerre in 2004.

Roma appealed to the CAS and had the ban cut to one transfer window.

If the same situation was repeated it would mean Chelsea being unable to sign players until next summer.

Analysis:  This is a fairly shocking decision from FIFA.  It looks like Chelsea are one of the first to receive the repercussions of the new ‘get tough on football’ approach that the organization is taking. This could be detrimental to Chelsea’s morale and possibly results on the field.  Fortunately, it’s hard to look at their lineup and say they need improvements in a lot of places.  Still, though, next summer is going to be a hard one for the Chelsea and it could be like Prom for the Blues.  As they sit in the corner and sulk with no date, the rest of the world will be dancing in the transfer window.



Transfer News – September 2nd

DAILY MIRROR

* Daivd James fears for his World Cup place after being left stranded at crisis club Portsmouth.

* Burnley boss Owen Coyle hailed the sgining of striker David Nugent in a last-gasp loan deal from Portsmouth on deadline day.

* Gary Megson is backing Ivan Klasnic to solve Bolton’s chronic goalscoring problems after completing a loan deal for the Croatian striker.

DAILY STAR

* Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka is said to be angry and frustrated after discovering he will not be getting a new contract this season.

David James has been told to focus on Portsmouth and not showing pictures of himself to 8 year olds...no matter how much it boosts his esteem

David James has been told to focus on Portsmouth and not showing pictures of himself to 8 year olds...no matter how much it boosts his esteem

* Arsenal are set to appeal against UEFA’s decision to hand Eduardo a two-match ban for diving.

* Martin O’Neill was forced to sweat it out as he took his Aston Villa summer spending spree past the £40m mark last night.

* Steve Bruce last night blocked a deadline bid by Spurs to sign Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand.

* Fulham snapped up Swedish striker David Elm on a one-year deal for £1m from Kalmar FF.

* Dutch defender Johnny Heitinga became Everton’s top earner last night in a beat-the-clock move to Merseyside.

* Portsmouth lost another of their big stars yesterday with Niko Kranjcar joining Tottenham in a £2.75m move.

* FA Cup sponsors E.ON have pulled the plug on their £35m deal.

* Rafa Benitez has become the first top boss to face the wrath of the FA over their new rules for criticising referees.

* Steve Harper has told Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to pull his finger out if he wants promotion this season.

THE SUN

* David Nugent finally ended his Portsmouth hell by securing a six-month loan move to Burnley bang on deadline.

* Niko Kranjcar insists he has not joined Tottenham as a stand-in for crock Luka Modric.

* Michael Ballack says Chelsea have been boosted by Liverpool’s rocky start to the season.

* Jamie Carragher has told Liverpool’s critics not to write them off – because they are the No 1 comeback kings.

* Emmanuel Adebayor says it will be like a family at war when he lines up against Arsenal in 10 days’ time.

* Manchester United and Real Madrid target Franck Ribery has blasted Bayern Munich boss Luis van Gaal in an amazing deadline-day outburst.

DAILY MAIL

* Aston Villa were given dispensation to complete a £5million deal for Richard Dunne last night as negotiations over his departure from Manchester City rumbled on past the 5pm deadline.

* Newcastle pulled off a coup by signing Manchester United defender Craig Cathcart on a season-long loan.

* Aidy Boothroyd will return to football today as the new manager of Colchester United.

* Stoke were beaten by the clock in an ambitious bid to sign Bayern Munich right back Christian Lell.

* Claudio Ranieri, the former Chelsea manager, is the new coach of Roma after Luciano Spalletti resigned yesterday following defeats in the opening Serie A games.

Ranieri...Claudio Ranieri

Ranieri...Claudio Ranieri

DAILY EXPRESS

* Ashley Cole will complete a new £120,000-a-week, five-year deal with Chelsea when he returns from England World Cup duty.

* Birmingham have signed Sunderland midfielder Teemu Tanio on loan until the end of the season.

* Harry Redknapp’s reputation as the master wheeler-dealer took a major hit on transfer deadline day.

* The Premier League’s Big Four reined in their spending yesterday to leave Everton’s £6million deal for Holland international Johnny Heitinga the biggest transfer in a low-key deadline day.

DAILY RECORD

* Celtic boss Tony Mowbray last night admitted he was delighted to snap up Chinese international Zheng Zhi after chasing him for more than a year.

* Jerome Rothen revealed he slammed the door shut on a glamour Premier League move to sign a deal with Rangers.

* Darren O’Dea signed on at Reading and then insisted he’ll be back up the road in no time to nail down his place as a Celtic stalwart.