Football Station


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.

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Drama Queens

England and the United States booked their tickets to the knockout round, and the latter did so in the most dramatic of circumstances.

The Tottenham man wheels away after netting the eventual winner.

England took the lead through Jermain Defoe who was playing in his first start at the World Cup for the Three Lions in the 22nd minute after James Milner whipped in a delicious cross that Defoe tucked away nicely.  England held on for the remainder of the game, as did Slovenia, who were content to let the 3 points go as it looked set that they would advance in the runners up spot.  However, the American Dream was realized with some late drama at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

The United States needed a win against Algeria, and it looked as if all their chances would go begging until, in the 92nd minute the talismanic Landon Donovan popped up to tuck in a rebound to seal all three points and a top spot in the next round.

The Yanks looked set to go behind early again after Rafik Djebbour got through 1-on-1 with Tim Howard only to see his superb volley crash off the crossbar.  Rattled, the USA finally found their composure and eased their way into the game after creating some great chances, that, in all fairness, should have been tucked away.

Herculez Gomez tested Rais M’Bohli with a good shot to the near post, and later was put through on goal where could only send his shot into the body of M’Bohli, however he sent a shot/pass to Clint Dempsey who was lurking on the far post.  Dempsey put it in the back of the net, but it was deja vu for the Yanks as it was unjustly called offside.

Dempsey watches his shot rattle the inside of the post and then sky the followup sitter.

The USA backline looked shaky at times, especially early on when Jay Demerit looked suspect, but they all came very much into their own as the game wore on and Demerit put in an outstanding display with captain Carlos Bocanegra have a flyer as well.

Algeria were not without their chances as well, however.  They were looking to play on the counter attack all game, and looked very dangerous nearly every time they came into the final third.  Karim Ziani had one of the chances of the Algerian’s game when, in the 69th minute, he was seemingly in the clear, but from the corner of the box sent his low driven effort wide of the post.

Nadir Belhadj was fairly effective bombing down the left side of the pitch, as his left foot sent in some rasping crosses that the Algerian front line couldn’t make anything of.

Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu looked like the most natural pairing in midfield, and, despite the fact that Edu still gave the ball away here and there, he compensated with his all around solid work in defense and in the build up.  Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley also combined notably on more than a few occasions as they both looked lethal exchanging passes and making clever runs.

Etched onto the players faces is the importance of Donovan's late goal. Seriously...look at Feilhaber's face. You can't find anybody happier on the planet.

Benny Feilhaber replaced Herculez Gomez at half time, and he was an excellent change as he held the ball well, penetrated the back line and played an overall smart game.  Edson Buddle came on for Maurice Edu in the 64th minute and also played a great role as his first touches were crisp and nearly scored with a headed effort five minutes after being introduced.  DeMarcus Beasley was the last substitute to be introduced, but he failed to make any significant impression on the game.  To be fair, he came on in the 81st minute and saw limited time on the ball.

The result means the United States top Group C and England will sit in the runners up spot.  Slovenia were on the brink of sneaking into the knockout round, but Landon Donovan’s goal crushed any hopes they had.  The Algerians played an interesting game, and began looking like they were playing for a draw; a result which would have brought them nothing in terms of reward other than personal satisfaction.



American Revolution Revisted – Group C

Group C –

England

United States

Algeria

Slovenia

In Group C, many pundits will be speculating that it should the final standings for the group will look just as they were drawn.  However, injuries, histories, and inspirational performances could see some shock upsets and turn this group on its head.  It is by no means a sure thing, however, this group could be quietly surprising.

Slovenia – The Slovenians qualification campaign should be considered a success in and of itself, however, as they find

Robert Koren will give the Slovenian faithful hope...if there is any to be had.

themselves underdogs in a more experienced group, they will need to rely on the talents of Robert Koren, Miso Brecko and Milivoje Novakovic to carry them through.  Slovenia turned the tables on what was looking bound to be a lackluster qualifying campaign when they beat Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland to take second place which qualified them for the two leg play off against Russia.  A playoff that they surprisingly won and Slovenia became a topic of discussion for football fans everywhere.  One of the biggest bonuses for the Slovenians is their spirit under Matjaz Kek.  The manager has instilled a fighting spirit in his side second to none and could be essential to their success (if any).

Algeria – Similar to Slovenia, Algeria were never given much of a chance to make it to South Africa, yet, they could still have a word in Group C.  After playing in one of the more passionate games football has seen in some time, Algeria ousted Egypt to make it to the World Cup Finals.  Yazid Mansouri, Nadir Belhadj and Madjid Bougherra will be looking to add experience and skill to the starting line up.  If they have more passionate displays like the one against Egypt in them, then they may have a chance at escaping Group C.  Rafik Saïfi has been their go-to in the past, however his age will probably be a factor as they turn their attention towards Siena hitman Abdelkader Ghezzal to bag a couple goals as well.  However, against the stout defense of England that could be a tall order.  That said, the injury hit defense of the United States could prove prime real estate for a striker looking to sneak in and nick a few goals.

United States – The Yanks won’t feel aggrieved with their draw as second place should be fully within their grasp.  Injuries will

The Haitian-American hitman will relish the chance to show off his skills.

hinder their chances as Charlie Davies didn’t even make the squad, and key defensive figures Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit are all question marks over fitness.  The United States will bank on veterans Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (only 20 years old) and Tim Howard.  All have European experience and plenty of international experience between them.  England will obviously be the biggest challenge for the Yanks, but, possibly to their benefit, they will play England first and get them out of the way.  Their front line is now barren after the omission of Charlie Davies and will rest heavily on the shoulders of Jozy Altidore.  Altidore has notched some impressive goals against the likes of opponents such as Spain and has demonstrated his scoring ability in qualifying.  Scoring veteran Dempsey may be moved up alongside Altidore with Holden playing out right, but the question remains…who will replace Dempsey and Altidore when they get tired?

England – The Three Lions will finally have a chance at making a legitimate run in South Africa.  They are loaded in all areas of the pitch and could see themselves in the semifinals or (hold your breath) the final.  Their biggest problem in South Africa should be the striking department.  That is, who partners Wayne Rooney?  They have plenty of able candidates but which will actually perform at the Cup?  With players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner and Jermain Defoe, it’s hard to imagine them not making a good run out of their squad.  Capello has instilled a winning attitude absent the England camp for years after bad stints in management.  All things considered, they should advance out of their group, but their biggest competition in the group should be the Yanks.  Unfortunately for England, that game comes first and there is a small possibility of an upset as the Lions won’t have much of an idea of how much firepower Bob Bradley’s men are packing.  That said, England will be advancing, one way or another.

Prediction – Just like they were drawn…

1. England

2. United States

3. Algeria

4. Slovenia



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.