Friday, 13 September 2013

Premier League weekend preview

A run down of the weekend's Premier League fixtures.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

United are currently on a learning curve under David Moyes and he needs time to set up his own legacy at the club. Unfortunately for him United fans have never been use to change and demand success week after week, and who can blame them when Sir Alex Ferguson brought them success for the best part of 26 years.
However it is crucial for the successful future of the club that the Old Trafford faithful give Moyes and his team some time.

Having watched United against Chelsea and the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool I worry for them simply because of the lack of chances they have created in both games. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have been poor and offered very little at Anfield, so it will be interesting to see whether Moyes plays Wilfried Zaha against his old club. The promising youngster may offer the spark and attacking threat from midfield that they have lacked so far.

Wayne Rooney is also fit again and available to Moyes and now his future is secured you would assume he is raring to start. The main cause for concern for the manager is how to use him. Ferguson moved him around a lot in the previous few seasons and it is key for Moyes to find a settled position for the England striker if he wants to get the best out of him. For me, that is playing just behind Robin van Persie as they are currently lacking someone to link the midfield and the prolific Dutch striker.

As for Crystal Palace I have been pleased with what they have offered to the Premier League this season and believe they will do well under Ian Holloway. There will be a lot of changes to their squad for their trip to Old Trafford purely because of all the signings they made on and before deadline day.

Manager Holloway knew he had to replace Zaha and the injureed Glen Murray and he has done just that in the form of Jimmy Kebe from Reading to play out wide and Cameron Jerome as a powerful out-and-out striker.

As for on the day, United shouldn't have too many problems overcoming the new boys, although Holloway will have a plan for the champions. However United have enough know how and quality to easily overcome the challenge.

Prediction: 4-0

Aston Villa v Newcastle

Villa manager Paul Lambert has a good footballing brain and it has shown throughout his reign at Villa Park so far. In the first few months he received a lot of criticism for not using his experienced players in Shay Given and Darren Bent - and going with youth, but the risk is now reaping reward.

Youth seems to be the way to go for Villa who have established themselves as a safe mid-table team over the years but now you feel it is time to move on. A top 10 finish is what they should be looking for this year and they are proving they are a very competitive side now - as Chelsea have already found out this year.

Libor Kozak from Lazio should cause many a defender big problems this season which will be helped by his height of 6ft 4 in! His £7m price tag could take some shaking off for the first few weeks but it looks like he could be a 15-20 goals a season man which is just what Villa need.

As for Newcastle, where do you start? The biggest positive to come out of St James Park for a long time was that they kept hold of influential midfielder Yohan Cabaya and he's reportedly been giving 100% in training in an attempt to get back to full fitness. He needs to knuckle down and get the respect of Newcastle fans now, especially as it seems Arsenal won't be trying to resign him in January.

Alan Pardew's main aim has to be to get the focus of Newcastle FC back on the football pitch. Since Joe Kinnear's appointment as director of football all the talk has been about goings-on off the pitch - this is not good for any football club. In terms of signings Loic Remy is their only significant signing and if they keep him fit he should guarantee goals.

As for the outcome, it is going to be a tough season for Newcastle and I expect Villa to emphasise this on Saturday.

Prediction: 2-0

Fulham v West Brom

The home side got a good win at Sunderland on the opening day but have struggled to find form since then. The biggest problem for Martin Jol is that he doesn't yet know his beat team, and like a lot of clubs just after the transfer window, they are still finding their way. In their advantage they are a very strong side when playing at the Cottage and they have an abundance of attacking players who can cause teams trouble and score goals.

As for West Brom they have had a poor start, but they recognised that and have added fire power in Stephane Sessegnon from Sunderland and Victor Anichebe from Everton, so Steve Clarke will be hoping they have solved their problems going forward.

Both teams would have liked a better start for the season, so a share of the spoils seems most likely.

Prediction: 1-1

Hull v Cardiff

A fixture that would have won you a lot of money if you bet on it being a Premier League game in January. Both teams know how difficult the Premier League can be, although for Cardiff it is their first outing. To counter this both have strengthened over the summer and will at the very least be competitive.

Hull put in a very competitive performance against Manchester City and with a bit more composure in front of goal they could have won the game. As it was they lost 2-0 and it's those kind of games that they will struggle to overcome.

Cardiff have spend some decent money and have a very good manager at the helm in Malky Mackay. He keeps his feet firmly on the floor and doesn't make too much fuss over winning or losing, he takes it one game at a time and this could be key to their survival.

They are both similar sides and they know they are in for a long slog and their home form will be vital.

As for this weekend the game has a draw all over it.

Prediction: 0-0

Stoke v Manchester City

If it wasn't for a missed penalty against Liverpool then Stoke would have had 7 points from the first 3 games. As it is they have still made a very strong start in the post-Tony Pulis era and Mark Hughes seems to be chaging their style without spending too much money and this could please a lot of Stoke fans.

Manchester City were very disappointing against Hull and the dynamic of the team was all wrong but they got through it and that is the key to winning the championship.

One thing is for sure, Manchester City are in for a physical test at Stoke and it could be a very close game.

Prediction: 1-1

Sunderland v Arsenal

I've picked Sunderland to go down this season and nothing over the first few weeks of the season has changed my mind. The biggest problem is that Paolo Di Canio has gone through so many players and he doesn't know his best eleven at the moment.

Criticising his players in public after the defeat at Crystal Palace would have done nothing for team spirit and is not good practice, but this is something he will learn at the top level. In the dressing room he is fine to do what he likes, but in the public he has to show that he is behind his team.

Di Canio added even more players on deadline day in Fabio Borini from Liverpool, but he has got an awful lot to do to prove that he is cut out for the Premier League. He cost Brendan Rodgers a lot of money at Liverpool and so far he hasn't quite cut it in the Premier League.

Arsenal fans will be expectant this season after a club record transfer fee spent for Mesut Ozil. He is a similar player to Dennis Bergkamp in terms of stature - the signing is that big for Arsenal.

I would expect Ozil to play just off the striker and he is not a luxury No.10, he will work his socks off for the cause. He will create chances and score goals and his work hard attitude will please Arsene Wenger.

There will be an expectant set of travelling Arsenal fans and they should overcome Sunderland with ease.

Prediction: 3-0

Tottenham v Norwich

Gareth Bale has left Tottenham. Finally. They can now go on with their season and aim to create a successful team after Bale.

So far the London club have made a quiet season so far and that is no doubt due to the number of new faces that have arrived at White Hart Lane and they are still finding their feet. They have only conceded one goal in three games, which gives them a solid base to build on.

Norwich are developing into a Premier League team but you wouldn't back them to go win at a top-six side away from home just yet. They have signed a lot of players over the summer and look much stronger, but so have everyone else. They should aim for a top 12 finish although it is crucial to keep hold of manager Chris Houghton who has been linked with the Repiblic of Ireland job.

Prediction: 2-1

Everton v Chelsea

Everton done well to keep hold of Leighton Baines and they can now build to the future. Many criticised Moyes when he signed for Fellaini for £15m but they have sold him for almost double. Some might say that James McCarthy was quite expensive at £15m but he is young, fits the team's style and Roberto Martinez knows him well from his time with the Latics. On the whole Everton fans will be very happy with their transfer business. Add in Gareth Barry in the midfield and Romely Lukaku up front they should prove a force over the season.

Chelsea have made a solid start under Jose Mourinho without any fireworks. Their players have been all over the world in the past 10 days and it is a really tricky fixture at Everton.

One thing for sure is that you get a real examination at Goodison Park and Chelsea will do very well to win it. I'm surprised they let Lukaku go and they will have to see where Willian fits into the jigsaw. I'm not su sure they needed him.

Prediction: 1-1

Southampton v West Ham

Both sides have taken four points so far and they will both be comfortably safe this season.

A year ago Southampton would have approached this game hoping for a draw but now they will be expectant of a win, this is what a year of investment on and off the field makes.

I would like to tip West Ham for a good season but I'm worried about where the goals are going to come from. They were linked to re-signing Carlton Cole just a few months after releasing him which would have been ridiculous, and they've ended up signing Mladen Petric on a deal until the end of the season. They are still a striker or two short.

Andy Carroll is injured yet again and it's no real surprise, he doesn't seem to have a proper footballer's physique. He is very top heavy in terms of body frame and that's why I think he suffers.

Prediction: 1-0

Swansea v Liverpool

Swansea had a crucial away win at West Brom to relive a little big of the early season pressure on them. Their new signings are settling in and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is up against his old club with a point to prove.

Liverpool were very good against Manchester United, played good attacking football and were very difficult to break down. Boos Brendan Rodgers goes back to his old club and the two sides will line up in a familiar fashion. They will both pass the ball through the midfield and cut in from the flanks and I think it will be tight.

Daniel Sturridge will probably be fit after missing the games for England but he is right to worry about playing for his club first. A place in the national side will come, but only if he keeps playing and playing well for Liverpool.

Prediction: 1-1

Friday, 22 February 2013

Manchester City v Chelsea – The Sky Blues or the Blues?

The game of the weekend in the Premier League is without doubt the battle of 2nd v 3rd at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Both Manchester City and Chelsea will go into the game knowing that the result could have a massive impact on the direction of their season over the final running, and with just 12 games to go a win is vital for both sides.  

The big question is: will the Manchester side secure their second place position and maybe make one final attempt to catch Manchester United, or will Chelsea increase their chances of breaking back into the top two?

In terms of stats it is a foregone conclusion. But everybody knows that football games are not won based on stats. Chelsea have won ten out of their last twelve away games compared to City who have lost their last three.

Manchester City have won only once in the last four meetings against Chelsea and have the lowest average points (0.87) for each game played against Chelsea in their last four matches.

The key players to watch on Sunday will be Frank Lampard for Chelsea and Edin Dzeko for Manchester City.

The Blue’s midfielder, still vying for a new contract, has scored elven goals in thirteen appearances for Chelsea this season scoring in the last four consecutive Premier League games. He has done this twice before in 2005 and 2010.

As for Dzeko, he has scored six goals in seven appearances. City have not gone four games without a win in the Premier League since November 2009 when Roberto Mancini took over the managerial hot-seat from Mark Hughes after a run of seven draws.

Interestingly, in their last 10 Premier League games both sides have won 6, drawn 2 and lost 2, there is nothing between them.

But there is one thing for certain, if Manchester United win against Queens Park Rangers this weekend and their city rivals fail to win, the Premier League title race will be well and truly over. 

  • Chelsea have won 10 of their 15 Premier League visits to Manchester City but have lost their last three trips.
  • Manchester City have won five of their last eight games in all competitions against Chelsea, including August's Charity Shield.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Premier League: Technology is there - use it.

Tennis uses it, cricket uses it, rugby uses it, but why does football continue to ignore it?

 The video evidence is clear; Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie looks over his shoulder sees Yohan Cabaye and clearly swings an arm out in an arc which is not a natural movement when running.
The Dutchman’s arm is raised and makes contact with his opponent. There is no debate here, unlike when a player is jumping for the ball. His arm, simply, should not be where it is. You cannot blame Howard Webb for missing the incident, it happened away from the ball and at pace.

The incident was caught on the TV cameras and it has been replayed in slow motion and zoomed in, but of course Webb cannot utilise this technology during play. But the FA can. They can sit down on Monday and watch this footage and if it has not been dealt with by the match referee they can hand out the necessary misconduct charge and punishment.

But there is a clear flaw in this process. The FA asks the referee that was in charge of the game to look at the incident and say whether he missed a red-card offence. In this case, Webb, one of England’s best referees who had a red card overturned the week before, has said there was not one.

The flaw is that it should not be up to him. There should be a disciplinary panel at the FA who decides on matters such as this without needing to involve the referee. He has done his job when he completed the game.

You can understand the doubt that was in Webb’s mind. His last red-card was overturned and it would be easier to say that he was not 100% sure and therefore it would go no further. You can imagine the backlash from managers if their players start getting misconduct charges against them 2 days after the game!

An independent panel needs to be set-up. This should include a former player, manager and referee who have all had experience in the game and can review all incidents like these in a consistent and impartial manner.

On the field there is a degree of inconsistency in that one referee’s opinion can vary from another’s. If each incident is looked at by the same panel these inconsistencies will no longer be there.

The other incident over the weekend that should then be looked at by the panel and that is the alleged stamp by Stoke defender Robert Huth on Liverpool striker Luiz Suarez.

The referee Lee Mason appears to believe from the video evidence that the incident does not suggest a clear red-card offence. I would however ask him that if it was a Stoke player on the floor would Huth have been able to avoid him? I think so.

One of the worst things for a referee to do is admit that he missed something. Asking them to look at it a second time will make them feel that they have missed something, yet the one thing they are trying to do is see everything.

The biggest benefit of a panel is that they would not have the same fears of being compromised as some referees do if asked to review. If the players know it was not the referee’s choice then the incident will not follow them every time they come across the players involved and their club.

The panel would be completely impartial, the consistency would be there and they could also offer a solution to the current issue of diving which has been in the headlines almost every week this season.
Detecting diving, especially at the speed the modern game is played is almost impossible. But slowed down video replays clearly highlight this cheating. Once this has been seen then an appropriate punishment can be given and we might see players stop trying to deceive the referees.

 But until the day comes when the FA change their current system, referees will consistently continue to make the headlines for incidents that they only get to see once.


On a brighter note, what a fantastic decision by Darren Cann in the Newcastle v Manchester United match. Cann was directly in line with the goal line and correctly judge that the whole of the ball was not over the whole of the line and proved why he is England’s best assistant referee.