Posts Tagged Premier League

Not Every Whistle Blower Can Be a Collina But


Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks made a legitimate analysis on BBC Sport’s post-match analysis of the fiery London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, which the Blues won 2-0 courtesy of a Kurt Zouma header and a deflected Eden Hazard goal early and late in the second half respectively.

Before the goals however, it would not have been much of a surprise if the match had gone on to finish goalless, or to have seen either side steal a win with a fortuitous goal. Arsenal were hardly at their fluid best at Stamford Bridge but nonetheless were holding their own against a Chelsea side that can probably be seen as on a resurgence having secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season, scoring six and conceding none to boot.

In another realm of reality, Zouma scoring his first Premier League goal against a rival could have been the major talking point. Another realm of reality could have chosen to ponder on whether Hazard’s so far form is on the mend having scored, albeit off Arsenal defender Calum Chambers.

Perhaps we could have been going on about how Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger managed a (rather frosty) handshake before kick-off but ‘forgot’ or were too occupied to share another at full time, with Wenger walking right down the tunnel while Mourinho, understandably, shared a warm hug with a man he still trusts completely, John Terry.

As we would have it though, in whatever realm of reality you choose to exist, the major talking point had to do with two Brazilian born players, each on either side who threw up what perhaps has been missing in a lot of so-called derby matches in the English top flight; tempers!

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts after being sent off against Chelsea, while Diego Costa watches on.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista struggling with Chelsea’s Pedro and Branislav Ivanovic while Diego Costa watches on

That happened just before halftime and imagine after such altercation, both players remained on the field for the rest of the encounter, all riled up and just itching for the other to as much as glance along their path for a proper brawl to break out and perhaps for more slaps to be served two or three involved faces.

Arsenal fans and many neutrals can go on all week about how insert your feelings about the striker’s behaviour here disgusting, despicable, unacceptable, unsporting, irritating and appalling Costa’s part in getting Gabriel sent off was but what is a derby if neither side has at least one player being a tick in the skins of his opposition all game?

Didier Drogba held a psychological card on Philippe Senderos and Arsenal for a long time, same hold Costa seems to be having on a lot of opponents in the Premier League having previously been involved in confrontations, but somehow not getting sent off in his ‘two’ seasons so far in the Premier League.

Everton's Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Everton’s Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Which is why I agreed 100% with Spurs fan Crooks, ironically riled about an injustice to an Arsenal player when he said, “We all want to see 11 against 11. It’s a great game” and indeed it was, until referee Mike Dean felt it appropriate to send off one party in the altercation and leave the other on the field with just a yellow card for his troubles. Would not have been the 11 on 11 one wanted, but 10 on 10 was not a bad option at all. Alas.

Dean’s only fault as it turns out, was not showing that red card to Costa as well when he showed it to Gabriel for if he had, we probably would be scrambling for the best resolution footage of a classic tunnel bust-up between both players and possibly their teammates off the field and bench… along with the coaching staff… and both managers, tantalisingly.

However, showing just one red card brought an imbalance to what was – to that point – a contest of two sides looking to bounce back for different reasons. Instead, we were left to consume a largely one-sided second half (inevitably) which saw Santi Cazorla get himself sent off to add a feeling of injustice for Arsenal fans and a need for justification for Chelsea fans.

Good old days, one would have had a good time or held a proper grudge (depending on what side of reality you existed) at Martin Keown for (in)famously rubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in the final minute of that match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003.

I mean… Keown was just getting started but look at Ashley Cole too

… Keown was getting warmed up now even though Ruud was all cool…

… think the angle in the last one did an injustice to this moment…

… but very few moments beat this ‘point driven straight home’ part of this moment of what used to be a proper rivalry.

After the incident (between Costa and Gabriel that is), Keown tweeted he would have loved to play against the Chelsea striker. That tweet reeked of an emotion missing in current Arsenal players and a whole lot at others club who have to be ‘appropriate’ or risk being farcically charged by the trigger happy FA for the comment deemed ever so slightly inappropriate.

The Arsenal manager and others of his kind should not always expect the opponent to play nice and allow the other team be the better team. That is not how the football gods (not Messi and Ronaldo but their mythical ancestors) ordained the procession to go, otherwise they would be a bunch of bored lawmakers who doze off during once-a-quarter sessions.

But all of that is for another feast of sporting battles.

Admittedly not every Mike Dean can be Pierluigi Collina great, not even Collina’s compatriot Nicola Rizzoli who saw PSV Eindhoven’s Héctor Morono get his Ryan Shawcross on and do a Ramsey on poor Luke Shaw during a UEFA Champions League encounter, which Manchester United eventually lost 2-1 with Morono scoring one of those goals for PSV.

Excuse me while I do a Crooks complimenting Dean before slating him, Rizzoli is a top official otherwise he would not have been named Serie A Referee of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 nor would he have been chosen to officiate the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

But in the Champions League group stage match in Eindhoven, Rizzoli covered himself in all the aforementioned adjectives for Diego Costa when he (for the benefit of doubt) forgot to book Morono for his rash challenge on Shaw. Had he done so, and given the player the red card he deserved, would PSV have won?

So, one must disagree with Crooks when he implied that referees should not try to be in the spotlight. In fact, they should have the spotlight right on them as much as the one beaming on Costa’s [insert adjectives] behaviour in order to make the referees realise how much their decisions actually impact on results.

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Random Yarns: Formidable Beast and Judgement Day Menu


While reading through tweeters’ thoughts one boring day during this festive period, a certain handle came up and with nothing doing, I looked up the meaning of this tweeter’s handle/username and lo, the following came about.

Beast 1

According to a legend, there is a sea beast so formidable only God can defeat it. What? Gypsy Danger can’t do anything about this Category 6+ matter? Best to leave the snoozing beast alone, assuming it exists.

Another legend has it that this fearless beast came so close to having the fish that swallowed Job for lunch. Whether it came close to doing so while Job was in the fish or after Job was out of the fish isn’t clear but for this legend to even exist, means it was while Job was in the fish.

While, thankfully for Job and the people he reluctantly delivered God’s message to, the beast didn’t eat Job’s fish, the beast is said to live on a one whale a day diet… and there you were, gloating about your ravenous appetite.

Yet another legend has it that this beast is a guardian of hell, which sort of explains why it’s regarded as a formidable one and can only be vanquished by God. Not that we even would like to find out ”oh, I read about you while I was alive. But I always thought it was Cerberus that… ” *roar* ”Ah!”

Ceberus

Dear God, no.

One more legend has it that God actually created two of this formidable beast, one male and one female. The male was a land beast (think T-Rex or a pissed off Godzilla on her week or a Category 6 Kaiju) while the female was a sea beast (same as previous parenthesis, just replace T-rex with Loch Ness).

But seeing as having two beasts so formidable wasn’t a particularly good idea for mother earth’s peace of mind and for the love of Premier League football, the legend says God vanquished one of them and salted it to keep for the end of days banquet.

Yes! When we get final judgement from God (and by His grace, make Heaven) we have excess barbeque (with Heineken, Baileys or Horlicks I hope) from this beast awaiting us to devour it in the everlasting banquet.

Problem is, the legend says it’s the female that God has in storage all salted and chilling for us to join the Heavenly hosts in the welcome party. The female is the sea beast we’re talking about here and… I don’t eat fish.

So, something else has to be on the menu that glorious day because I certainly hope to be part of God’s banquet party, because the alternative is not worth even considering let alone ending up with.

Dear God, no.

I have faith my God will come through for me though. Gizzard, liver, beef, chicken drumsticks, turkey, roundabout, ẹdọ, peppered pọmọ, snail, either peppered or cooked… asun… anything but fish!

Maybe even pork, if we get there and alas find out it actually is not a taboo to eat it afterall. The look on the archangels’ faces when some new folks in Heaven realise they missed out on pork all their earthly lives. I hear it tastes really nice… anyway, God will come through as He always has for me.

Anything but fish!

Beast 2

The beast is named the Leviathan and the pronunciation of it is rather sweet… not that it’s being suggested you name your child this. I don’t know you.

Would rather you didn’t look the Leviathan up either, there’s a bit about the Satanic Church and how it is the ‘fourth estate’ of that realm I conveniently left out of this post, sort of.

Right then. Have yourself a great day wherever you are.

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Random Yarns from the Week – Moyes, Nadal and More


When Sir Alex Ferguson handed the reign over to a new man, one must recall vividly the advise he gave cheering spectators at Old Trafford that day, ‘to stand behind the new man’. Barely two months into his debut season, the fans have gone from standing behind to being on the new man’s neck.

David Moyes has somehow managed to hand Manchester United their worst league start in two decades and some, spectacularly losing the Manchester derby while at it, although four points from two games in the Champions League isn’t bad.

But as the saying about just disliking whatever good or bad someone you don’t like does, United fans continue to show discontent at the Scot who replaced their favourite Scot at the end of last season.

Going on holiday right after being named successor didn’t help, neither did the exit of Mike Phelan, Rene Meulesteen and co from the backroom. Their replacements are not considered experienced enough, then there’s Ed Woodward when the club’s transfer market futility is brought up.

In all, Moyes seems content to avoid defeat at the moment and hasn’t really let his ‘style’ transcend to the team, or maybe he has. Moyes was content with avoiding defeat while at Everton and it was evident in his comments after the 1-1 Champions League draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

So United fans will grumble some more through the course of this season till that mentality changes. And while they grumble, watching Arsenal be the next best team in blistering form in Europe (after Bayern) amounts to a bit of torture.

The Gunners eased past Napoli largely with a first half display reminiscent of their 3-0 win over AC Milan few seasons ago, leaving them top of the Premier League and their Champions League group… rare but welcome.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger will reportedly be offered a three year contract extension by the club and if his players, especially new record signing Mesut Özil keep to form, there’s little doubt that the Frenchman will extend his reign at the Emirates.

At the Etihad however, the start of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign there has not been fair sailing, with spectacular wins over Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic and city rivals United among others underwhelmed by the loss at Everton along with more recent ones at Aston Villa in the league and the brush aside by European champions Bayern Munich.

Those losses revealed a poor work ethic at the Etihad as the Bayern players never really exerted themselves and tame efforts from Robbery (or you prefer Ribben? Of course not) either side of Thomas Müller’s amusing goal – amusing thanks to Gäel Clichy’s belief that Müller should have been flagged offside – summed up the lax attitude in the City camp and the fall in quality of Joe Hart.

It is becoming more and more apparent that no matter the quality of manager at the helm, if the players remain with their pompous attitude (especially in Europe, personified in Clichy’s moment of gory) then the billions of Sheikh Mansour would have been largely for nothing.

Monsieur Khalifa at Paris on the contrary has put together a very driven set of players, a bunch whose desire to win remains sustained unlike at City where it waned right after winning a first league title in half a century.

At PSG, the league title was won in Khalifa’s second season after Montpellier ‘rudely’ won in his first season there by a point. They then went on to reach the last eight of the Champions League, losing out on away goals to Barcelona.

Now, they’re unbeaten at second place in Ligue 1, a point behind new billionaire clubs’ club member Monaco and have won their two group matches in the Champions League with relative ease.

But all isn’t rosy in Paris, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez are the latest of unsatisfied players after the likes of Kevin Gameiro and Mamadou Sakho who have since left. Neither is all rosy at Dortmund, where manager Jurgen Klopp has been handed a further match ban from the touchline off his face of rage in Dortmund’s opening day loss at Napoli in the Champions League.

His absence didn’t stop the Bundesliga leaders from whipping Olympique Marseille 3-0 with want away striker Robert Lewandowski scoring a brace as he bids his time till he can at least sign for another club (thought to be Bayern, in Gö.. Gotze’s footsteps) when the January window opens.

Gotze has only featured intermittently so far no thanks to an injury from last season, reducing him to Xherdan Shaqiri levels at Bavaria from the high esteem he enjoyed at Ruhr.

Gareth Bale is also dealing with an injury at Real Madrid from his Tottenham days, with the $100m Welshman on the sidelines till the end of October, ample time for Angel di Maria to keep sending him same message from the 4-0 win over FC Copenhagen where he got two goals and a rabona assist.

Being a World Cup year, Di Maria, Romelu Lukaku and other such players will do what’s needed to make the trip to Brazil. In a way, it’s what Özil did (by joining Arsenal). Writing of the World Cup, FIFA expects Brazil to deliver all stadia for next year’s mundial by December this year, around the same time draws for the group stage will be held.

It’s also about the same time, in 2022, that the World Cup could take place (from mid-January precisely) in Qatar, depending on what FIFA decides concerning that today. Whichever period is chosen, the Qataris will nonetheless live with nine years of criticism over scheduling and preparations.

Recently, it came to light that workers from Nepal at the World Cup sites don’t get paid and some, due to harsh working conditions, have died. The Supreme Committee (Qatar’s World Cup LOC) have expressed their shock at these revelations and promised to look into the matter.

Whether working conditions and weather conditions are made to the level that observers should find satisfactory, one just gets the feeling more will be heard, read and said in the eight more years before Qatar 2022, such that we’d have to remind ourselves that Russia will host the 2018 World Cup.

Still in the east of this world, Novak Djokovic kept up his resistance of Rafael Nadal’s surge at the world number one spot by making the last four of the ongoing China Open with victory over Sam Querrey today. Nadal however is in the semis too and inevitably on course for that number one spot, coming from a set down to beat Fabio Fognini earlier today as well.

All Nadal needs to do to become number one is reach the final; he plays Tomas Berdych in his semi-final. Djokovic however must win the Open while hoping Berdych stops his Spanish adversary in the last four. But in the form Nadal has been since returning from injury in February, he’s odds on to win the Open anyway.

Same sort of form Sebastien Vettel has been all season ahead of the Korean Grand Prix this weekend, where victory would see the Red Bull driver open a three race lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with five races left on the calendar.

Elsewhere this weekend, Manchester City will look to bounce back from successive losses when they welcome unbeaten Everton to the Etihad in the Premier League’s early kickoff on Saturday, with neighbours Man. United visiting Sunderland in the day’s evening kickoff while Liverpool host Crystal Palace in one of four 4 o’clock kickoffs on Saturday.

Leaders Dortmund visit Borussia Monchengladbach in one of six matches on Saturday in the Bundesliga, though the match to look out for is second placed Bayern Munich’s trip to third placed Bayer Leverkusen… Bayer being the last team to beat Bayern in the Bundesliga, the only league loss suffered by Bayern last season in fact. Turn up Kießling!

Saturday football is capped with Serie A pacesetters Roma visiting a rejuvenated Inter Milan in fourth place, four points behind the Romans. Then on Sunday in the Serie A, Juve host AC Milan, Lazio host Fiorentina and in France, PSG travel to Marseille in Le Classique.

That’s pretty much it for the week. Happy birthday to my beautiful cousin Bolanle and to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many happy returns to them and others celebrating today.

Have a pleasant weekend ahead.

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During the Week [Delayed]: Okagbare Falters, Football Back on the Front Burner & More


The week started on a low for Nigeria after Blessing Okagbare made a slow start in the 100m final at the IAAF World Championship in Moscow and never recovered from that, finishing in sixth place very well behind Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (rare name make up) who clocked a world leading time of 10.71 seconds.

The Jamaican sprinter would later claim gold in the 200m event and complete a double-double; winning her events consecutively at an Olympic and the following World Championship, same feat British long distance runner Mo Farah achieved when he won the 5000m event in Moscow to add to the wins over 10000m last week and at both events at the London Olympics last year.

Okagbare meanwhile performed much better in the 200m final, settling for third place and a bronze medal to add to the silver she won in the long jump at the start of the Championship; Nigeria’s first medals in the Athletics World Championship since 1999.

In Durban, South Africa, Nigeria’s Super Eagles put in a good perfomance to defeat South Africa 2-0 to claim the Mandela Challenge title courtesy of two second half goals by halftime substitute Uche Nwofor, earning only his second cap on Wednesday night.

Other friendly matches were played worldwide, Barcelona defender Dani Alves heading in a peach of an own goal to hand Switzerland a lone goal win over Brazil, ending an 11 match unbeaten run for the 2014 FIFA World Cup host. Reigning world champions Spain meanwhile laboured to a 2-0 win at Ecuador while England came from behind twice to defeat archrivals Scotland 3-2 at Wembley, with Ricky Lambert heading home England’s winner minutes after coming on for his first cap. Dreamy!

Elsewhere, Uruguay won 4-2 at Japan, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal salvaged a 1-1 draw for Portugal against the Netherlands, Belgium and France played out a goalless draw in Brussels, Germany came from behind to draw 3-3 with Paraguay and sure-to-join-Arsenal-for-long-only-to-sign-for-Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain gave Argentina the lead in a 2-1 win over Italy in Rome, with Higuain’s Napoli teammate Lorenzo Insigne netting Italy’s solitary goal late on.

All that ahead of this weekend when the European league season will fully come alive, with the Premier League and Primera Liga kicking off while the German Budesliga and Ligue 1 enter their second week of matches.

In England, Arsenal’s quest to not go a ninth season without a trophy kicks off today when Aston Villa visit the Emirates in one of seven opening day matches of the 2013/14 Premier League season, which starts off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City now managed by Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes.

A new era starts for defending champions Manchester United in a daunting trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City, with all eyes on David Moyes whose eyes will likely be on Robin van Persie to help in quelling the doubts hovering over him since being handed the task to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement.

Over at Stamford Bridge, great expectation is what hovers over returning manager Jose Mourinho whose Chelsea side welcome newly promoted Hull City (Tigers) on Sunday afternoon, a match preceded by Tottenham Hotspur’s London affair with Crystal Palace, another newly promoted side, at Selhurst Park.

In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid begin another power tussle for the Primera Liga title on Sunday, both sides under new management, with Barça hosting Levante and Real also starting at home against Real Betis.

Also under new management is Bayern Munich that began the season last weekend with a 3-1 win at home to Borussia Monchengladbach. Pep Guardiola’s Bavarian (bully of a) side visit Eintract Frankfurt this weekend, the host team looking to recover from a heavy opening day defeat at the capital.

Hertha Berlin, that crushed Frankfurt 6-1 then, visit Bayern’s local rivals Nurnberg on Sunday, with 2011 and 2012 champions Borussia Dortmund playing right after at home to newly promoted Braunschweig.

In France, Olympique Lyon got a 3-1 win at Sochaux on Friday night to maintain its perfect start atop the standings after two matches. Olymique Marseille and Monaco could join them with wins over Evian and Montpellier respectively, while reigning champions PSG will be out for a first win when Ajaccio visit the Parc Des Princes on Sunday night.

The big match on Sunday night takes place in Italy where back to back Scudetto winners Juventus face Coppa Italia holders Lazio in the SuperCoppa. Lazio would be without its captain Stefano Mauri whose appeal of a six match ban slammed on him for his involvement in matchfixing was delayed.

In Nigeria, Kano Pillars, with a game in hand, regained top spot in the Premier League with a 3-0 win over ABS of Ilorin while Warri Wolves slipped to second spot following a goalless draw at homd to fifth placed Enyimba of Aba.

Bayelsa United rose to third place with a 4-1 win over Akwa United, Kwara United built on their lone goal win at Heartland last weekend with another lone goal win at home to Enugu Rangers, a win that takes them up to fourth spot with two matches in hand.

This weekend, Kwara United travel to Lafia to face relegation threatened Nasarawa United, Enyimba play at home against Kaduna United, leaders Kano Pillars go on a tricky trip to face Sunshine Stars in Akure and Rangers host Gombe United in some of the league matches.

No more dull weekends with all the football available now… at least for the majority. And fortunately for IAAF, the World Championship comes to a conclusion this weekend as would the Cincinnati Masters where Maria Sharapova was beaten by American Sloane Stephens in only the second round.

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Obviously this post should’ve come up Friday night or Saturday morning but some how, was unable to put it up. Now done, for righteousness’ sake.

‘Over the Weekend’ roundup will be up on Monday. Cheers!

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Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 2


Seeing as that game I returned to on football manager was lost eventually, thus adding propane to my already blazing virtual hatred for Javier Hernandez, it’s better to indulge in this writing distraction some more and salvage my season afterwards. Something I fear Arsenal will end up doing yet again this season in the league.

Arsenal could’ve been a true title contender if £55m was spent on Gonzalo Higuain and Marouane Fellaini/some other workhorse of a midfielder such as Luiz Gustavo who’s recent link turned out as nothing having now signed for Wolfsburg. Even Jack Rodwell, if the club had made an effort to sign him early in the window, would have been a very good signing for me.

Alas! Arsène Wenger’s let the economist he is get the better of him so far, to the detriment of his dearly beloved club. News of Mikel Arteta being set to miss four to six weeks with a thigh strain has further dimmed the optimists at the Emirates Stadium, something a Gustavo arrival would’ve prevented.

Wenger’s previously been always on about how the quality players who can fit into the Arsenal way are not on the market or the money to get them isn’t available. A first XI’s worth of those were available this transfer window as was the money (let’s give him and Gazidis the benefit of doubt on the money bit), yet it came down to him expecting Brendan Rodgers to be the fool this year and sell a prized asset to a rival. Such delusion!

Wenger’s continued stance to not adapt entirely to the transfer market dynamics (despite the clear fact that breaking ‘the bank’ for two quality players will not scratch Arsenal’s finances) will have Arsenal not in the running for the league title once more. The Gunners however could finish higher than usual in third, if his (a bit thin) squad, show the grit and form from the closing weeks of last season.

Having virtually same set of players allows for a sustained progression, off that close season run from the night in Bavaria which every player at the club would readily want to remind fans and critics alike. But injuries (as Arteta’s might show), possible suspensions and inevitable burnouts (Cazorla and Giroud will testify) will greatly threaten that.

The best Arsenal can do now is win a Cup, something they embarrassingly refrained most casually from doing last season. That would tear a veil of sustained failure from the club’s loins and set it on track for further successes, especially in the league.

Take a look at Swansea City. Despite switching off in the league for about two months after romping to the Capital One Cup, one can argue that the Swans had a relatively better last season than Arsenal. It was understandable that the Welsh team, with a decent (numerical) but very talented squad, faded in the league after winning a Cup.

Which makes the summer signings there all the more impressive. Wilfried Bony hit 30+ goals last season. You may want to be condescending about it since it was only the Dutch league, then you remember, a lot of very good players such as Luis Suarez came from that league. Make no mistake, Bony and Michu will bring torment upon the rest of the league and I expect that to start right from Matchday One, fittingly against the reigning champions.

Michael Laudrup did very well to keep Ashley Williams at the club, my thought being that Laudrup played the Sinclair card there. He also did well to get Jonathan de Guzman back on loan for a second season just as the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey gives his midfield more depth to ensure they put up a commedable display in their debut in Europe while also faring better than last season in the league.

In fact I feel the Swans can finish in the top 5 this season, making them the biggest threat; not Tottenham Hotspur, not Liverpool and certainly not Everton, to the teams that finished in the top four last season. I’m even envisaging Liverpool having a better season than Spurs would… it’s just a thought, I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s an enticing thought.

Of all the pretenders, Spurs have quite a bit to prove largely no thanks to the Modric-esque saga of Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger should’ve been cashed in, replaced with Gervinho (who’s now at Roma) or a Scott Sinclair with a fraction of the transfer fee received, using the rest to bring in good defenders. Instead, Spurs will start the season with a makeshift defence.

The arrivals of striker Roberto Soldado, winger Nacer Chadli and midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue add needed potency and stability to their respective positions. Succeeding in keeping Bale would go a long way as well, but the defence – if left without reinforcement – will be their undoing this season.

Spurs’ back line is up for easy picking this season, as newly promoted Ligue 1 side Monaco vehemently showed the world just over a fortnight ago. Jan Vertonghen’s absence should’ve been highlighted much more than Bale’s was. Even then, having him fit does little to sort the similarities with a poorly built structure in ghetto Lagos.

The backline at Anfield is in a fairly better state, Simon Mignolet is a good goalkeeper, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Aly Cissoko on loan from Valencia are good full backs and while not world class, the combination of Martin Skrtel, Sebastien Coates, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure at the centre should be decent enough through the course of the season.

Liverpool’s midfield is usually climatic; one day piss poor irrelevant only to be championship (no, not the lower league) material the next day, and Philppe Coutinho – along with a fit Lucas Leiva – will be central to whatever orchestrations are composed from there this season for a forward line that actually can be impressive on their day. Given, Daniel Sturridge can be a pipe of a player at times, he always is a threat in the area.

Suarez may sulk through the opening weeks of the league but fortunately (when the big picture is well observed) for the Reds, he’s going to sit out the opening six matchdays… enough time to quell a good number of the demons toying with his emotions about leaving Anfield or staying.

Unlike Christian Benteke who had a sudden epiphany at Villa Park and signed an extension to his Aston Villa stay, the latest instalment in Suarez’s eventful time at Anfield could end up being a good catalyst that’ll see Rodgers’s side having a real go at Champions League qualification next May. It is Suarez’s desire to play Champions League football, Rodgers is very determined to keep the Uruguayan forward at the club hence, the ambition there would be to finish in the top four this season or have little choice than to let go of their prized asset.

Rodgers (AVB and maybe Moyes too) obviously hasn’t sought Paul Lambert’s advice on such matter, seeing as the Aston Villa manager managed to keep his prized asset. Not to say Villa will fare greatly this season but Benteke’s presence upfront, along with Brad Guzan’s in goal, will help Lambert steer Villa through a decent season.

Lambert’s former club Norwich however look like they’ll fare better this season, with Ruddy back in goal after missing most of last season injured. Then there are the quite impressive signings of strikers Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, arrivals that should ensure the club won’t miss Grant Holt who now plays at Birmingham City.

Newcastle United have reinforced their options upfront, adding Loic Remy on loan from QPR and Yoann Gouffran on a permanent basis from Ligue 1. The Magpies also got right back Mathieu Debuchy from the French league, to add to the dominantly French speaking squad, which the club would hope translates to a good enough season fighting for a Europa League spot at best.

Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux and Moussa Sissoko will be key in midfield for Alan Pardew’s side, who also has the options of Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Dan Gosling to make for quite a decent group of midfield players at St. James’ Park to last a gruelling season.

Pardew will also be pleased to have Remy and Gouffran to call upon now should first choice striker Papiss Cisse fail to show a more lethal touch in front of goal as he largely did last season. All that said, Newcastle have the potential to finish in the top half of the league and even go for a spot in next season’s Europa League.

Newcastle, on paper, should perform better than Everton even. Unlike Pardew who’s been at St. James’ for a bit, Roberto Martinez is new at Goodison, but that’s about it really. Martinez is a talented manager who is attack minded, a philosophy players such as Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Stephen Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas, new signing Arouna Kone and, to an extent, Bryan Oviedo, Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic can live up to.

Martinez couldn’t deliver much while at Wigan Athletic due to a shambolic defence. He however has a resilient set of defenders at Goodison Park so all he can hope for is that the players deliver in the final third for him. It’s that or opposing teams will pick the Toffees apart on the counter and Tim Howard then won’t be able to keep balls from the net.

There’ll be goal line technology to assist Howard and other Premier League goalkeepers and defenders settle controversial moments now, having being installed in all Premier League stadia. Could end up being the difference between a team being relegated or staying up.

My favourites for relegation this season include West Brom; now without Lukaku who’s back at Chelsea and still with a poor back line, Stoke City now managed by Mark Hughes, Hull City despite some decent signings and whose chairman wants to change the club’s name to Hull City Tigers… rugby union behaviour!

There’s also Crystal Palace (and I promise you it’s not because Marouane Chamakh has joined them) and Cardiff City; promising dealings in the transfer market but still doesn’t seem right to me. I’d like to be proven wrong with Cardiff though.

Fulham and West Ham should do well for a midtable finish, as should Southampton ably led by Ricky Lambert. Sunderland, with almost a new set of first team players signed so far, including American forward Jozy Altidore and Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio could leave quite a good impression on the league this season. (Wanted to comment on the quality of his goal tenders but that would overshadow the potential of the rest of the team, so… ).

… so I’ll end it here and look forward to the opening weekend, which kicks off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City in the early kickoff. Arsenal then host Aston Villa, Manchester City welcome Newcastle’s French gang to the Etihad, Chelsea host Hull City (Tigers) and champions United embark on a tricky trip to face Swansea in Saturday’s evening kickoff.

Here’s to another entertaining season. And to all Arsenal fans… just take it easy.

Saturday
Liverpool vs. Stoke City (12:45)
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (15:00)
Norwich City vs. Everton (15:00)
Sunderland vs. Fulham (15:00)
West Ham United vs. Cardiff City (15:00)
West Brom vs. Southampton (15:00)
Swansea City vs. Manchester United (17:30)

Sunday
Crystal Palace vs.Tottenham Hotspur (13:30)
Chelsea vs. Hull City (16:00)

Monday
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (20:00)

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Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 1


Going into a match, having just come out of a gruelling Christmas schedule with a six match unbeaten run to lie third on the league table, two points off the top, my team fall behind midway through the first half against a team two places off the relegation zone.

Rubbish! And perfect time to pause football manager and feel most inclined to put down this preview of the 2013/14 Premier League season, a season which comes with a sense of the new mixed with the usual, high octane drama we’ve become accustomed to season after season.

Last season, Manchester United reclaimed the league title from the noisy neighbours and as a result went past Liverpool as the team with the most league titles, thanks largely to the goals of Robin van Persie; the last genius gamble of long serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson who finally let go of the thinking cap and chewing gum at the Theatre of Dreams.

Moyes 'guarding' RvP

Inevitably, the new man at the helm will be banking on the flying Dutchman in his quest to begin a reign as Fergie’s successor on a high, off what has been a turbulent run up to the season, no thanks to speculation on Whine Rooney’s future at the club as well as failed bids for Barcelona duo Thiago Alcantara (who opted to join his former boss Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich) and Cesc Fabregas who ‘decided to stay put’ as well as for his former boy Leighton Baines.

That leaves David Moyes with pretty much the same squad that came from behind on numerous occasions to win the league. Only difference now from then is, can Moyes’s charisma evoke that similar spirit Fergie was always conjuring from his players on their way to a 20th crown last season?

Having gone fruitless years being a pain in the a.k.a.-donkey of the bigger clubs while at Everton, the expectation is that having a better squad and much better budget at his disposal now would make a ‘better’ manager of him. His ability to make the best out of what he has and potential to be at the helm for long – stability – is what got him the job and what is hoped would ensure sustained success at Old Trafford.

But his failure to land transfer targets however, point to an inferior character incapable of commanding a presence, a respect where it matters. It certainly cannot be at the level of Fergie’s but it right now is quite far from convincing even most fans of the club that Moyes is the ideal man for the job.

As a result, rivals for the league title, swirling around as sharks would at the presence of blood, have made their moves and all that’s left now is for them to go for the kill and take the league title from the Red Devils.

First shark in the tank is Manchester City that finished second last season, having failed to replicate the drive which led the club to a most dramatic title win minutes after Man. United thought the title was theirs in 2012. Hence, the hierarchy at the Etihad relieved Roberto Mancini of his job and replaced him with seasoned Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini.

Negredo, Jovetic and Navas

A number of players have also been added to the squad there, with Fernandinho joining from Shakhtar Donetsk, quickfeet Jesus Navas from Sevilla, followed later from same club by striker Alvaro Negredo, with Montenegrin forward Stefan Jovetic arriving from Fiorentina some time between the two Spaniards.

Fernandinho’s arrival gives the spine of City’s midfield a bit more dynamism to the one already provided by Yaya Toure. Javi Garcia never got going last season and with Jack Rodwell still in the mix of the hustle to be Toure’s starting partner in midfield, it’s looking like it’ll be a long season for Garcia.

Upfront, Pellegrini has an enviously potent forward line consisting of Negredo and Jovetic joining Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko, with support over the season from Fernandinho and Navas joining a midfield already rich with Yaya Toure, Silva, Samir Nasri, James Milner and Javi Garcia… not to forget Rodwell and Scott Sinclair who may leave the club on loan for this season.

However, Man. City’s main failing last season was the defensive lapses that brought about a number of unexpected losses, an issue that should not be a bother this season after all if the goals are regular from the wealthy choice of forwards he’s assembled. Otherwise, Pellegrini’s got a coming headache.

Having captain Vincent Kompany and the rest of the back line fit and in form (Joe Hart’s bipolar form comes to mind here) all season would be crucial to Pellegrini’s main test as new manager, which will not necessarily be how well he performs in the league, as he could lead City to a third place finish and still be regarded a success based on how well he does in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup, especially in the former where the real test is.

Man. City’s embarrassing displays in the last two European seasons pose a threat to their domestic ambition. Doing well in Europe could hamper their league performance and vice versa. Pellegrini’s job will therefore be to strike a right balance in the Premier League and Champions League or end up only delivering what Mancini could to the oil money, unsatisfactory success.

From the blue side of Manchester to London’s, a shark swirling about Moyes, also with a new man at the helm but, unlike the previous two clubs, a man who is returning to familiar terrains.

Chelsea have satisfied the yearn for European success unlike City, and in fact won the Champions League and Europa League in successive years. The Premier League, last won 2009/10, will be the main goal at Stamford Bridge and Jose Mourinho knows all to well how to go about winning it.

Mourinho during his first Chelsea spell flanked by Lampard and Terry

He was the one who won the Blues a first league title in half a century, going right ahead to retain that title the following season. Now armed with more experience from Inter Milan and Real Madrid along with a diabetic wealth of choice in players, without forgetting his undying love of life in the Queen’s most pretigeous league, Mourinho and Chelsea are the genuine favourites to win the league and break the recent hold of Manchester on the title.

Fernando Torres may not have the chance to be the undoing of Chelsea’s title quest, even though I feel he’s been improving in front of goal lately. Not to say he’s close to his old lethal self but… he’s been improving. And if indeed he falls short again, there’s Demba Ba. The Senegalese however has a prone to going on a drought in the second half of the season following a flourishing first half. What then? Hello Romelo Lukaku.

If there is a set of players highly motivated to prove a point this season, the Belgian striker’s name would be at the top of that list. The imposing young striker left good memories from his loan spell last season at West Bromwich-Albion and has looked good in front of goal this preseason for the Blues.

And with a creative force led by Juan Mata that also comprises Eden Hazard and Oscar, along with Victor Moses and new boys Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurlle, the problem for Chelsea won’t be the number of chances created but the number of those taken. Who Mourinho picks as the man with the task to convert those chances will be key to Chelsea’s success this season.

Among the three teams written of in this piece, Chelsea (much to my biased side’s dismay) are favourites for the league title based on the facts that Mourinho knows the league well enough and he is the sort of manager who can get his team to grind out the needed results at crucial stages of the season.

Besides, the Chelsea squad doesn’t seem as one on the brink of tearing apart, unlike City where four internationals are vying for two striking spots, if not one (depending on Pellegrini’s choice of tactics) and the duo of Yaya Toure and David Silva seem untouchable in midfield. As for United, they are title contenders simply because of van Persie. One bad injury… it’s either Rooney or the little pea step up in the Dutchman’s absence or it’s over.

The rest of the league? There’s Arsenal to lead them, followed in no particular order by Swansea City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. I’ll rather write about them in another post, a sequel if you may. But right now, I’ll finish my match on football manager… whose makers by the way have announced and released screenshots of FM14. Exciting times.

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Over the Weekend: Rabid Biting, Dangerous Driving and More


Four of the six nominees for this season’s PFA Player of the Year award were well involved in the Premier League over the weekend, on Sunday to be exact, and duly enhanced their status as the league’s elite footballers.

First out was Tottenham Hotspurs’ wing marshall Gareth Bale, returning from a two-week ankle injury lay-off in a match against Manchester City. And the lay-off told in an anonymous first half from the Welshman as City went into the break a goal up.

Things dramatically turned in Spurs’ favour following the introduction of Jermain Defoe and Tom Huddlestone in the second half, with Clint Dempsey getting on the end of an inside-foot cross in from Bale to level scores.

Defoe then found the net for the first time this year to put Spurs ahead minutes later before, rather surprisingly based on his display before the equaliser, Bale chipped over an onrushing Joe Hart to silence a few critics and seal a 3-1 win for the home side.

The win keeps Spurs right in the mix in the three-team race for the two remaining Champions League spots on the league table while also ensuring a win tonight for Manchester United at home to Aston Villa would seal a 20th league title for the Red Devils that have Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie nominated for the POTY award.

Spurs meanwhile remained in fifth place, the north Londoners having gone level on 61 points with Chelsea that visited Liverpool later on Sunday looking to regain third spot from Arsenal that had gone two points clear of both following a below-par lone goal win at London rivals Fulham on Saturday.

Chelsea’s visit of Anfield saw Rafael Benitez face the club he had won the Champions League with in 2005. And after a boisterous start from the Reds, it was the Blues that took the lead when Oscar headed home a Juan Mata corner kick. That kick was the latter’s 33rd assist in all competitions this season, showing just why he is one of two Chelsea players nominated for the POTY award.

The other, Eden Hazard was also impressive with his neat footwork and technical ability, putting Chelsea back in front in the second half from the penalty spot soon after former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge had equalised minutes into the second half off a ball in from Luis Suarez.

Liverpool’s Uruguayan, nominated for the POTY as well, had an eventful afternoon that saw him set up Sturridge’s goal, handle in the area to concede the penalty dispatched by Hazard minutes later, before bizarrely making Branislav Ivanovic’s arm into a snack and then dramatically heading a 97th minute equaliser for the Reds to deny Chelsea a return to third spot.

The Blues, now a point behind Arsenal, will strongly feel Suarez shouldn’t have been on the field to head home that stoppage time sucker punch after biting Ivanovic, an action that could earn the Liverpool forward a season ending ban from the league’s disciplinary board and almost certainly cost him the good odds of being named POTY too.

Only recently the Uruguayan FA felt the player was been castigated by, most of all, the English FA. Not sure how they’ll react to a repertoire that’s seen biting added to a cocktail of antics which include diving, ball handling… alleged racism.

Suarez has apologised for his “inexcusable behaviour” on Sunday but has been fined by his club and now, charged by the FA and faces a lengthy ban after the FA commented that a three-match ban – the usual punishment for violent conduct – is “clearly insufficient in these circumstances”.

He previously has been banned seven matches for biting (yes, not his first) a PSV Eindhoven player during his Ajax days before getting eight matches for his ‘words’ to Patrice Evra. Skillful player, reckless sportsman, apologetic 26 year old… Luis Suarez.

Not so far at the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich continue being reckless to opponents despite wrapping a 23rd league title two weeks ago, handing a 6-1 thrashing to Hannover 96, with a second string team, in front of the Hannover fans.

Second string implies the Bavarians left Philip Lahm on the bench through the match, substituted Thomas Müller and Franck Ribery at half time for Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri and left Mario Mandzukic, Bastien Schwensteiger and Dante from the match-day squad altogether.

Coupled with scoring 18 goals in its last four matches, a 20-point gap with a +75 goal difference atop the Bundesliga and a run of winning its last eight matches and 19 of its last 20 matches in all competitions, Bayern head into Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg at home to Barcelona in just the form to face Barcelona.

The Catalans may have struggled to a lone goal win at home to Levante in La Liga but Lionel Messi’s side still hold a 13 point gap atop the Spanish top division with a +66 goal difference, but have lost three and drawn four of its last 13 matches in all competitions. Maybe, just maybe, Bayern will prove to be a problem too quantum physics to solve.

It may not be anywhere near that magnitude, but Enugu Rangers find themselves in a bit of a situation after being held to a goalless draw at home by Angolan side Recreativo do Libolo in a CAF Champions League final qualifying round first leg encounter.

Nigeria’s only remaining representative in continental football were joined by Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek in the bit of a situation corner after both sides were held to 1-1 draws while four time winners TP Mazembe must overcome a 3-1 deficit against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates in order to make the group stages.

In tennis, world number one Novak Djokovic won his first Monte Carlo Masters title with a straight sets defeat of Rafael Nadal, the latter’s first defeat at the Principality in nine years… a streak that earned him nine titles and 46 consecutive wins there.

One not about to relinquish his crown is German driver Sebastien Vettel who won the Bahrain Grand Prix for a second year running and open a 10-point lead on top of the drivers’ championship table as he races towards a fourth successive Formula 1 title.

With a seeming undisputable champion, which could make for a boring sport, Formula 1 this season has had its dramatic moments especially when Vettel and Redbull teammate Mark Webber went tyre to tyre two races ago in Malaysia, not to mention Nico Rosberg forcibly doing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton a favour.

Over the weekend, it was the turn of McLaren teammates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez to have a go. With both going turbo for fifth spot during the race, Perez serged into Jenson’s button from the rear and soon after, bumped wheels with the Briton much to Button’s initial displeasure.

Unlike the Vettel-Webber tangle, little animosity came about from the latest episode from Button and Perez. Worse still, Perez finished in sixth place while Button dropped all the way down to 10th. Would be interesting to see Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa get in the tangle next sometime soon.

For now, there’s the Champions League semi-final matches in Germany on Tuesdsy and Wednesday followed by the Europa League semis between Basel and Chelsea, and Fernabahce against Benfica on Thursday, with the week culminating at the Emirates where Arsenal could perform a guard of honour for arch-rivals Manchester United that should wrap up the Premier League title win tonight at home to Aston Villa.

Have a hostile free week and enjoy a chronicle of previous ‘sporting’ bites.

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