Monday, December 31, 2007

Manchester City 0-0 Liverpool

Liverpool fire blanks as Benitez's title push over?

Liverpool failed to take a much needed step towards to the Premier League top two today, drawing one of their two games in hand away to Manchester City. In a game that Liverpool generally edged more than dominated, they just couldn't convert any of several good chances to take all the points.

Torres in particular had an off day, missing one glorious chance set up for him after great interplay between Aurelio and Kewell. In general Torres just wasn't at the races today, scuffing chances and passes throughout. That said man of the match Richard Dunne, and Micah Richards were colossal in defence for City.

Liverpool started the game slowly in a cagey first half, but began to get into it after the half hour mark. Fabio Aurelio led the charge, with two excellent long range strikes that Hart had to tip over. Before that the only effort of note had been a Harry Kewell effort that Hart struggled to gather.

The second half saw Liverpool push more and more for a winner, so much so that City were hanging on desperately by the games end. Torres twice and Benayoun missed great chances to put Liverpool, in what surely would have been a winning lead. Late on there was an amazing piece of defending by Dunne, when he cleared off his line after Hart had only parried Kuyts header.

All in all it was a good point for City but two vital points dropped for Liverpool. Benitez has won the title from the back of the field before but you can't see this Liverpool team doing it to take the Premier League. In reality it was not the points dropped here today that is halting Liverpool's Premier League title challenge, its the two points from nine gained from their rivals that is their undoing. With those gained at home, it's hard to see that being improved on in trips to Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and the Emirates.

For Manchester City, they can be satisfied at a good performance against one of the Premier League top sides. There tremendous progression under Sven-Goran Eriksson continues.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Motherwell captain O'Donnell dies

Shock at Motherwell captain O'Donnell's death

Scottish football is in a state of shock at the news of Motherwell's captain Phil O'Donnell's death. Near the end of Motherwell's game against Dundee and just as his number was held up to be substituted O'Donnell collapsed. Doctors' and physios' rushed to his aid but he was unable to be revived. He was rushed to Wishaw Hospital, leaving all at the stadium in a state of shock.

Our sympathies go out to his family.

Premier League Results

The Premier League Title see-saw begins

It was a day of some surprises in English Premier League results as the see-saw battle for the title swung back Arsenal's way.

Biggest surprise of the day was Manchester United's 2-1 loss away to West Ham, with Christiano Ronaldo missing a penalty.

Another surprise result was Arsenal's 4-1 win at Everton. A great result given Evertons recent form. By all accounts the scoreline didnt reflect the game, but some great finishing by Eduardo da Silva saw off a spirited Everton.

Chelsea heaped more misery on Sam Allardyce's Newcastle, winning 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Newcastle's performance was vastly improved but they couldn't hold out, and Kalou netted a late winner.

In other Premier League results Sunderland had a great 3-1 win at home to Bolton, while Aston Villa continued their good form, winning 2-1 at Wigan. Tottenham and Reading had a go at taking back the mantle for Premier League's best game from Chelsea and Aston Villa, sharing an amazing ten goals in a game Tottenham won 6-4!

At the top of the Premier League table, Arsenal are leading by two points from Manchester United with Chelsea and Liverpool six and eleven points behind respectively, though Liverpool have two games in hand.

At the bottom in the Premier League drop zone, Sunderland are now out of the bottom three, with Wigan and Fulham joining Derby in the dreaded bottom three spots. Wigan in particular look in freefall and with a trip to Liverpool to come, its not looking good.

Barton on his way out at Newcastle?

Newcastle reportedly looking to cancel Bartons contract.

Reports are surfacing that Newcastle are looking to cancel Joey Bartons contract in the wake of his being held and charged with assault. Apparently if he is found guilty of the charges laid (affray & assault) then he will be on his way.

He was always on a no second chance rule at Newcastle given his previous mishaps, and it seems certain he will be booted out after this latest embarassing episode. Newcastle is a great club with proud traditions and his exit now seems certain. Also given his recent criticism of the clubs fans it would appear his position is now untenable.

Manchester City vs Liverpool, Sunday 30/12, 4.00pm

Its a televised test for Rafa as Hicks criticises teams mental strength

As I've said before, in the frenzied world of the Premier League Rafa Benitez in particular always seems to be on the edge of another media round of criticism and speculation, be it be his rotation policy or his seemingly ongoing spat with Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The latest in that saga has seen Hicks give an interview to Sports Illustrated, talking of Benitez 'pouting' to the media and arguably criticising the teams performance against Manchester United accusing them of not believing they could win (I think he's spot on actually). All in all, another bout of a story that just won't go away.

So to the game against Manchester City at the Eastlands stadium. Benitez has some major injury problems, with the one position he is short of cover at giving him the biggest headache. Daniel Agger is still not fit, Sami Hypia is doubtful, while possible stand-in Alvaro Albeloa has the flu, which leaves rookie Jack Hobbs. Elsewhere Jermaine Pennant is still not fit, Peter Crouch is suspended, while Xabi Alonso is fit to continue his comeback into the first team. He showed at Derby flashes of what Liverpool have been missing - he holds them together well and his range of passing is superb.

My hoped for Liverpool team: Reina, Finnan, Carrager, Agger/Hypia, Arbeloa, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Kewell, Torres, Babel.

For Manchester City Elano and ex-red Dietmar Hamann are set to be restored to the line-up after being rested against Blackburn. Michael Johnson is still out injured.

Footy Focus prediction - I just can't call this one!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Premier League Transfer Speculation & Rumours

See the Everton fanzine site has a great tongue in cheek rumour. They reckon Xabi Alonso is moving to Everton for 14 million as he's best mates with Arteta! As they cheerfully admit their reports are speculation, conjecture, whisperings, half-truths and outright nonsense!

The independant is reporting Chelsea are likely to secure the signing of Bolton's Nicholas Anelka for 10 million. I really wish Rafa Benitez would (if allowed) go for him. Selling Crouch and buying him would be good business. Still on Chelsea, they are also reportedly interested in Maicon Douglas of Inter Milan, Daniel Alves of Sevilla and Dynamo Zagreb's Luka Modric. An all round transfer splash of around 80 million! We'll see, I think Roman is a lot more frugal these days.

Yawn.......Yet more rumours floating round of Cesc Fabregas to Real Madrid. His agent has put the fans at ease by saying he's very happy at Arsenal and going nowhere.... yeah right, they'll sleep easy now.

Liverpool's Rafa Benitez is being linked with noone very much really. A few central defenders here and there with Tomas Ujfalusi (Fiorentina), Ezequiel Garay (Racing Santander), and apparently the chance to sign Kakha Kaladze (Milan) has gone.

Neighbours Everton according to speculation are after David Albelda (Valencia) and Manuel Fernandes (Valencia). Also despite his donkey kick on Ryan Giggs the other day they wish to make Steven Pienaar loan a permanent move from from Borussia Dortmund.

It's looking a happy New Year for Manchester United

Hypia out for Liverpool, as Wenger and Grant feel the strain.

Its certainly becoming a happy new year for Sir Alex Ferguson. Not only have Manchester United recovered from their slow start to the Premier League, to storm to the top of the table, but he will have been cheered by the news that their nearest rivals are starting to show the strain as we rapidly enter the business end of the season.

Arsenal not only faltered at Portsmouth, they didn't perform. Arsene Wengers criticism of Portsmouth was out of order. Portsmouth played the same formation and arguably created the better chances. Arsenal simply didn't create enough to win and Harry Redknapps point that they weren't there to let Arsenal open them up was spot on. It doesn't get any easier for Arsenal - next they go to Everton.

Chelsea also slipped up, this time to Aston Villa at home. It was an extraordinary game, with the Chav's down 2-0 in 15 minutes. The game see-sawed throughout with Carvalho, Ashley Cole and Zat Knight all dismissed. Aston Villa were well worth the point. Avram Grant now has to marshall his meagre resources to push on for the title - he is now without Terry, Drogba, Makelele, Florent Malouda, Cudicini and now Lampard (all injured), with Cole, Carvalho and Essien all now suspended. Its' Newcastle at Stamford Bridge next for Chelsea.

Liverpool also have major injury problems. Not only are Daniel Agger and Jermaine Pennant still missing, and Xabi Alonso slowly getting back to fitness, but Sami Hypia has an ankle injury that makes him doubtful for the tough trip to Manchester City. This potentially leaves Liverpool with only one senior centre-half (Jamie Carragher). On the performance at Derby it appears the major thing stopping Liverpool from challenging for the title is Rafa Benitez himself. He put out one of his unbalanced, disjointed selections, and but for the intervention of Steven Gerrard, Liverpool would be dead and buried in the title race. I predict they will be shortly.

All in all I really can't see past Manchester United for the title. Each of their rivals has some fault that you think will lead to dropped points, but Manchester United are now looking and playing like a side that could go a long, long time unbeaten.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Newcastle's Joey Barton arrested again

Newcastles bad-boy does it again

Sam Allardyce will be waking up this morning with a bigger headache than anyone will have on New Years day. Not only is he under ever-increasing pressure after a deserved defeat at Wigan, following a home draw with bottom club Derby, Joey Barton is again in trouble after being arrested on suspicion of assault in his home town of Liverpool.

The Times is reporting Barton and two others were arrested after two men were assaulted in Church Street, Liverpool City Centre.

Barton has a long history of off-field scrapes and I suspect the Newcastle board will want rid of him after this. Given the on-field problems of Allardyces reign and Barton's recent criticism of the club's fans, I don't think they will be in any mood to tolerate Barton after this.

Manchester City 2-2 Blackburn

Blackburn show their mettle and grab a point

Blackburn battled back to gain a point in a game that had a better second half than first. Any team of Mark Hughes's is not going to give up, and so it was as Blackburn battled back to score a late equaliser. They could even have won it as they finished the stronger.

The game exploded into life with three goals in six minutes. Vassell headed home from Petrov's cross, Santa Cruz levelled, and then Blackburn captain Nelsen scored an own goal after Petrov again caused mayhem.

The second half saw Blackburn put in a much stronger performance and they could have won it, finishing stronger at the end. Their attackers of Bentley, Santa Cruz and McCarthy played some great football, linking well throughout.

Overall Mark Hughes was satisfied his team battled back for a point. Blackburn can certainly score goals, but their defence is all over the place at times. Manchester City seem to be slightly fading now in performances and results.

Premier League - Transfer Speculation & Rumours

Well the latest tittle-tattle is as follows:

Micah Richards is set to sign a new 46k a week deal to stay with Manchester City despite delays in signing the deal. See the alledged mobile phone indescretion has done him no harm!

The Mirror reckons Spurs are set to beat Liverpool and Chelsea amongst others to David Villa's signature.

Equally far-fetched is the speculation that Arsene Wenger is prepared to pay 25 million for Mikel Arteta. Apparently Real Madrid are rumoured to be eager to add to the long line of quality midfielders purchased from Everton by tempting Arteta as well. He's quality but obviously not worth that by a long shot!

Still on Real Madrid apparently their second choice to Arteta is a 50 million pound bid for Cesc Fabregas. Actually now this speculation really is believeable, if only because of the genuine quality of the player.

Other rumours have Rafa Benitez adding to the long list of wingers he's bought to fill those pesky wide midfield slots at Liverpool with a 10 million bid for Blackburn's David Bentley being mooted.

Speculation has it that Chelsea, Man City and Spurs are to try and outbid each other for Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Luka Modric, 22 who is valued at 18 million.

Premier League - Manchester United take top spot

Arsenal, Chelsea falter as Manchester United take top spot

Arsenal missed the chance to go back to the top of the Premier League, with a hard fought draw at Portsmouth. To be honest it was a game of few chances and despite Arsenal dominating the second half Portsmouth were worth the point, with the 'Arse creating few chances. Portsmouth stuck doggedly to the tactic of a five man midfield, with Kanu alone up front and deservedly got a point in the fifth nil-nil at Fratton Park this season.

Premier League title holders Manchester United, ominously took top spot with an expected 4-0 win at Sunderland. Rooney, Saha (2) and Ronaldo were the scorers. Tevez, Giggs and Anderson were all rested, but their absence was immaterial as Ronaldo and Rooney in particular began to dominate. The second half seemed to fade out as United were content with strolling to three points and Sunderland appeared satisfied they weren't embarassed too much further.

Chelsea were held to a 4-4 draw by Aston Villa, in what was the Premier League game of the season to date at Stamford Bridge. Villa had knight sent off on 45 minutes but still managed to net twice in the second half, including a 91st minute penalty by Gareth Barry that salvaged them a point. And all this was after Villa gaining a 2-0 lead. Seems the absence of Terry is starting to show at the 'Bridge.

Footy Focus can't see past a two horse race for the title. Arsenal and Manchester United seem set to go toe to toe for the remainder of the season. Liverpool just don't quite have enough quality, while Chelsea are missing Terry and Drogba and are set to lose key players to the African Nations cup.

Premier League: Derby 1-2 Liverpool, Gerrard saves Rafa from himself

Gerrard saves Rafa from himself

Gerrard's determination to hold onto his dream of leading Liverpool to a Premier League title won this game for Liverpool. With the game locked at 1-1 after a dreadful second half display, Liverpool's title hopes were looking dead and buried. Gerrard then picked the ball up in his own half, held off a challenge, beat one and knocked it wide to Benayoun. Benayoun beat a man, squared it for Torres who had his shot saved. Gerrard had continued his run and was there to smash it home and get a priceless win for Liverpool.

The game had started well enough for Liverpool, with Torres scoring a superb individual goal in the 14th minute. He picked the ball up 25 yards out, nutmegged Moore, drifted past Leacock and clipped it home past Price with ease. A truly splendid goal. After that Carragher and Babel had good chances to extend Liverpool's lead by half-time.

In the second half, Liverpool lost their way as Derby gamely fought to get back into the game. Liverpool made a dreadful hash of defending Lewis' free-kick and McEvely drove the ball past Reina. Liverpool then sensing the urgency of their situation began to have a string of shots at the Derby goal. Alonso and Aurelio had good efforts saved, while Gerrard had a superb effort from a great move, cannon off the cross bar.

Then cometh the hour, cometh the man, as so often for Liverpool Steven Gerrard dragged his team to victory.

Paul Jewell must be feeling 'gutted' as they say. He saw his limited Derby team fight with all they had to get back into the game, only to undeservedly lose it at the death. Following on from the performance at Newcastle, Derby fans have a glimmer of hope.

Overall Liverpool's performance started reasonable then fell away. They looked disjointed and lacklustre and weren't helped by Benitez's shuffling of his pack. A midfield of Riise, Gerrard, Alonso and Babel looked unbalanced with Babel particularly looking out of place on the right wing. Also Voronin and later Kuyt are looking simply punchless as forwards. They work hard, look neat in their play but in reality create nothing. Liverpool for the title? Not while Rafa picks unbalanced teams and shows respect to teams like Derby.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Premier League - Latest Transfer Rumours and Speculation

The footy focus team have contacted our contacts, listened to the word on the street and found this malicious gossip masquerading as Premier League transfer rumours and speculation:

Liverpool's American owners maybe about to give us all a major surprise, as the rumours on David Silva moving from Valencia to Liverpool appear to be gathering pace. The usual pattern is emerging of the player saying 'England is a great place' and 'Liverpool is a big club' with increasing 'leaked' reports of the proposed move. If this does come off, it certainly is more likely to be a summer move with quite possibly a different manager, than a January one.

Other transfer speculation sees John Arne Riise on his way to Villa yet again, with Gabriel Heinze finally getting his wish and moving from Real Madrid to Anfield. Seems this speculation is borne from the fact that Heinze has only made six starts at Madrid.

Other reports see Liverpool strengthening their central defence through buying Czech Republic international Tomas Ujfalusi from Fiorentina. Still on Fiorentina, media sources has some interesting speculation that sees them lining up a loan deal for Momo Sissoko, with a view to a 4 million pound deal. I really can't see this one flying, as its' too cheap for him and the Mascherano deal is far from done and dusted.

Porto's Quesresma's agent is alledgedly hawking him around the Premier League with rumours of Chelsea, Aston Villa and Liverpool interested. This has been flying round for ever, and is nothing new.

Elsewhere Djibril Cisse is rumoured to be interesting West Ham, Bolton and Manchester City as his Marseille stay goes from bad to worse under new coach Eric Gerets. He is quoted as saying he needs ten days to think on whether to stay or not. I feel really sorry for Cisse. He seemingly had a great career ahead of him, then a change of manger and two horrendous leg breaks later and he's contemplating a move to Premier League mediocrity in Bolton! Football is indeed a harsh game!

Darren Bent is happy at Tottenham and is no way seeking a move to West Ham in January......allegedly. Unless Ramos has told him to seek a new club he should stay until the end of the season at least. Berbatov may leave and for me he's not as good as he thinks he is. Bent gives Tottenham something different and unless you leave White Hart Lane for one of the Premier League big four its' all downhill careerwise.

Premier League Preview - Big Four Boxing Day Clashes

Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all passed their first test of the busy Premier League Christmas period. Arsenal managed to see off Tottenham, Manchester United defeated Everton thanks to a moment of madness from Steven Pienaar after Everton had battled well, Chelsea got a great result at Blackburn and Liverpool comfortably saw off Portsmouth. Elsewhere the surprise package of the season Manchester City drew at Aston Villa.

For the boxing day games, Premier League leaders Arsenal have on paper the hardest test facing a trip to Portsmouth, who will be all out to get a good result after that collapse at Liverpool. Arsenal will be missing Eboue, Walcott and Van Persie. Footy Focus prediction - score draw.

Liverpool go to Derby knowing they simply have to keep winning to have any chance of being in the title shake-down. It really is a game they should win if they have any pretence of being title challengers. Reports are Rafael Benitez will shuffle his pack with Voronin, Lucas, Babel and Aurelio amongst the likely incomers. Footy focus prediction - comfortable Liverpool win.

Premier League title-holders Manchester United go to Sunderland, for what is also on paper a relatively easy game. Roy Keane's side will give their all and fight to the death but I really can't see past a comfortable Manchester United win. For me they are still the team to beat and are looking very, very mean at the moment. Footy Focus prediction - a slightly bruising but comfortable win for Sir Alex's men.

Chelsea face a potentially tricky home game to Villa, especially given the extent of their injury problems. Drogba and Terry are longer term casualties, with now possibly Cech also out. Chelsea have to take great credit for the results they've been getting despite missing two of their main players, and their absence has to show at some stage. It won't be tomorrow though, with a Footy Focus prediction of a narrow home win.

I note Sir Alex see's the race for the Premier League as a four horse race. I think he's right about three of them but until Liverpool start taking points off their rivals they ain't gonna be in
there at the death.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Liverpool 4-1 Portsmouth

Liverpool romped away with this one in a game that a brief second half rally apart, was all over within the first fifteen minutes.

Liverpool, looking to get their Premier League form back on track, were straight out the traps, intent on killing the game off early doors and that is what they achieved. Benayoun volleyed home after a pinpoint cross from Harry Kewell after Portsmouth had again struggled to cope with Fernando Torres. Worse was to come a few minutes later when Distin got in the way of Sol Campbell's tackle on Torres and the ball cannoned off his shin into the net. Liverpool at this stage were all over Portsmouth with Kewell and Torres particularly dangerous. Portsmouth simply couldn't cope with Kewell's passing and Torres pace and invention. Harry Redknapp was scathing afterwards of his teams defending, however it has to be said Liverpool were playing some superb football and the best in the Europe would struggle with Torres in this form.

In the second half Portsmouth rallied briefly. Substitute Kanu showed a moment of brilliance with a superb pass to Benjani who turned inside the defender to shoot home with his right foot. However ten minutes later a Mascherano pass into the box had James and Distin all over the place and Torres stepped in to drill the ball right-footed into the corner. It really was game over now. Torres than added a fourth volleying home from a great Steven Gerrard flick.

Overall it was a good, verging on a great Liverpool performance. The feeling persists however that they are solidly a top three or four team, but not potential Premier League winners. Their last two home games really tell the tale. Manchester United relatively comfortably holding off the same team that blew away Portsmouth. They simply don't have quite enough to take points off the top teams, which is really the missing link in their Premier League quest.

Rafael Benitez will be feeling a happier man this morning but know the rumblings around Anfield mean he will be under pressure for a while yet. Jurgen Klinsmann seems to be lurking as an ever increasing shadow over Benitez and his comments about knee-jerk sackings appear to show he knows it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Man U vs Everton, Blackburn vs Chelsea

Now these are two games where I really really want the opposition to do us a favour. Shouldn't have to be wanting that, but thats the reality if your a Liverpool fan trying to hold onto the dream of a Premier League title.

Manchester United versus Everton should be a great game. Everton are really flying at the moment and will fancy their chances of having a right good go at Manchester United. They'll want to really rattle Man U and not let the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney settle on the ball. Then again thats what Liverpool tried and look where that got them!

Team news is that Manchester United have Rio Ferdinand, Carlos Tevez and Wes Brown all fit, having shaken off knocks from the great win at Liverpool. Everton meanwhile have Tim Howard, Ayegbeni Yakubu, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and Joseph Yobo all back after being rested for the win at AZ Alkmaar.

Footy Focus Premier League prediction - I think Everton just might get something from this game!

Blackburn verus Chelsea is another potential cracker of a game. Mark Hughe's team are always up for the battle regardless of the opposition. However Blackburn have been leaking goals lately and their back four is disrupted again with Chris Samba banned for this game. Elsewhere in the team Brett Emerton returns after suspension.

The Chavs' meanwhile are sweating (don't know why) on the fitness of Shevchenko. Apparently the Premier League show-pony injured his ankle in midweek. Not sure how given he didn't break sweat in effort for his team.

Footy Focus Premier League prediction - Hate to say it but I think Chelsea will have too much for Blackburn. Despite injuries etc they are still a very strong side and Blackburn are leaking too many goals to be playing Chelsea at this time.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Liverpool vs Portsmouth Saturday 22nd Dec, 3.00pm

They all seem must win games for increasingly embattled Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez. What with two Premier League defeats in a row, one of which was to a major rival, adverse stories about refinancing for the new stadium and the ongoing speculation about his relationship with his American bosses, these are testing times for Benitez.

However if Liverpool have any pretensions about winning the Premier League they simply do have to win these type of games, despite Portsmouth's great form this season. Liverpool have midfielder Xabi Alonso available after he came through his comeback game against Chelsea in midweek. Peter Crouch is now banned for three matches after the red-mist saw him sent off in that game, while Steve Finnan is again absent with a calf problem. Worryingly Daniel Agger is still out with his metatarsal injury. I really do think this will become a real problem for Liverpool if he's not back soon. As good as Sami Hyppia has been, it has to catch up with Liverpool soon. Otherwise the big-guns will be back for Liverpool with the likes of Reina, Gerrard, Mascherano, and Torres all back.

Portsmouth have a few problems with defender Noe Pamarot absent and Sean Davis also out. Hermann Hreidarsson definitely back while Pedro Mendes is also likely to start.

Footy Focus prediction - home win for the Reds!

European Champions League Draw in Full

The draw has just been made and there's some absolutely cracking ties!!!!

Celtic v Barcelona;
Lyon v Manchester United;
Schalke v FC Porto;
Liverpool v Inter Milan;
Roma v Real Madrid;
Arsenal v AC Milan;
Olympiakos v Chelsea;
Fenerbahce v Sevilla.

Arsenal vs AC Milan is one for the purists, while Liverpool vs Inter Milan will be one of the great European nights. Celtic vs Barcelona is another one I can't wait for. There's great nights of football to be watched on the 19th February!!!

Premier League - Weekend Fixtures Preview

Its another interesting old weekend in the Premier League fixtures. As usual there's minimal games at the traditional time of 3.00pm with only 5 out of 10 at this time. Oh well you take Sky's money and thats the way it goes.

I see Premier League leaders Arsenal of the top clubs have arguably the hardest fixtures over the busy Christmas period. They have the game against Tottenham, followed by trips to Portsmouth and Everton (ouch!). They round the period off with an easier home game against West Ham. Manchester United appear to have the easiest run having three games at home with an away trip at West Ham in between. Chelsea don't have a bad run, with this weekends game away to Blackburn looking the hardest they've got. Outsiders Liverpool have a relatively easy run and will surely be looking to make up ground from their fixtures over this period. They've got Portsmouth at home followed by Derby away and Wigan home, with Manchester away in-between looking the hardest game by far.

So to this weekend's fixtures; I think Tottenham might just raise eyebrows and get something at the Emirates, Manchester United should narrowly triumph over Everton, while Blackburn I suspect will be good for a point against Chelsea. Of the chasing pack, I expect Liverpool to prove too much for Portsmouth, and I can see Manchester City struggling to get more than a point from their game at Villa.

Newcastle should continue their confidence building revival with a home win against dead and buried Derby. For the Premier League strugglers the fixtures of Fulham versus Wigan, and Reading versus Sunderland are relegation six-pointers. Can't see Sunderland winning at Reading but think Wigan will get the win against Fulham.

I'd better get my bets on!!

English Premier League - Transfer Rumours and News Latest

We've done a scan of the latest goss, rumours and tittle tattle on the English Premier League and here's the ones that stood out:

Sven-Goran Eriksson Manchester City's manager is to launch a bid for Diego Milito from Real Zaragoza. He's long been linked with various clubs but I am not convinced myself. He's took until age 28 to have a good season in European football and is not scoring as many this season. One season wonder methinks. Other Citeh' related transfer gossip has us hearing that Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson looks set to leave and that Palermo might be after Rolando Bianchi (the Guardian).

Still on our Sky Blue friends, Manchester City are trying to butt in on Chelsea's move for Bolton striker Nicolas Anelka (The Sun). I would love Liverpool to sign him after selling Kuyt - Anelka for a net 4 mill would be great! Meanwhile, the Chelsea Chav's are interested in a transfer for Hamburg's wide midfielder Rafael van der Vaart but face a bidding war with Juventus according to the Telegraph.

The Scum (Sun) transfer news is also saying that Everton will pay £4m for Valencia captain David Albelda who has fell out with Ronald Koeman. Other 'bitter blue' (You'll know what means if you come from Liverpool) transfer related goss has Mikel Arteta insisting he is happy at Everton despite admitting he is flattered by interest from Atletico Madrid. However according to the Mirror he has "an attachment" to Athletico and would like to play for them!

Much transfer speculation has surrounded Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko and the latest rumour is that he is interesting Italian giants Juventus and Inter Milan.Again from the Mirror.

Aston Villa are about to splash £10m on a double raid for Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen and Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte, according to the Daily Star. Gudjohnsen would be a great buy and would work well with Carew, however it seems to me Villa are always mentioned in transfer talk simply because they have bought relatively few new players and have a rich owner.

Last and definitely least is the stunning news that Everton will not allow striker James McFadden to join Celtic. The Telegraph underwhelmed the nation with that one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool - Carling Cup

Chelsea won this Carling Cup quarter-final within five minutes around the hour mark. The latest Chelsea deflected goal to break Liverpool hearts was bounced in off Jamie Carraghers leg, and then Peter Crouch showed how long legs can help you fly through the air with an acrobatic albeit dangerous lunge on Mikel. It probably looked more dangerous than it was but he left the referee with no choice and it was a moment of madness that cost his side the game.
Before that Liverpool could justly claim to have shaded the opening hour. They played the better football and carved out the clearer openings. Lucas, Babel and Voronin were all standing out with their neat passing and inter-play.

In the second half Liverpool continued to look dangerous but Chelsea were getting into the game by the minute. Essien went close, with Itandje saving well, while Lampard sent a twenty-yarder into the crowd.

Four minutes before Lampards lucky deflection, Crouch failed to connect properly when Carvalho inadvertently put him one on one with Cech. Shortly after it was all over for Liverpool. Following the Lampard goal Crouch let the red mist descend and lunged needlessly at Mikel, who theatrically rolled around. He needn't have bothered as Crouch's challenge left the referee with no option and he was promptly off.

After that Liverpool had a mountain to climb and in reality Chelsea comfortably saw the game out to seal their place in the Carling Cup semi-final against Everton. Apart from two half chances for Voronin and El Zhar Liverpool predictably struggled to create anything. In the final minutes the show-ponies of Ballack and Shevchenko combined to seal the tie.

Rafael Benitez is certainly a brave man. He played the far weaker team, however upto the hour mark he could justifiably feel vindicated as his Liverpool team shaded the contest with some neat interplay in the last third. Lucas, Voronin, Carragher and Babel were the pick of the visitors but ultimately the game swung on a bit of fortune for Chelsea and a moment of madness from Crouch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool

Chelsea eventually overcome a Liverpool team that caught the eye with some good football via a fortunate Frank Lampard opener and a few minutes later, the sending off of Peter Crouch for a two footed lunge on Mikel.

Liverpool created the better openings of the first half, played some excellent football and with a bit of luck could easily have been ahead. The second half started in similar vein but Chelsea gradually began to get into the game. Lampards goal was incredibly fortunate, looping up and over Itandje off Jamie Carraghers leg. Two minutes later and it was all over for Liverpool as Crouch's frustration boiled over and he was sent off for a two footed challenge on Mikel. Even after this Liverpool created the odd chance with Voronin and El Zhar screwing shots wide.

Chelsea sealed it in the dying minutes with a second. Full match report later.

Carling Cup Results

You have to say it but they were two great results for Arsenal and Tottenham last night. To go to Manchester City and get the win will be a great boost for Tottenham. While Blackburn is always a nightmare place to get a result so Arsene Wenger will be more than pleased with the 3-2 win.

I watched a bit of the Tottenham game and was impressed with some of the football from Spurs. They were creating some great moves in the last third and were unlucky to have Zokora sent off to say the least. Coming on top of the great Portsmouth result, it seems Ramos maybe beginning to work his magic.

Arsenal by all accounts stood upto the physical challenge of Blackburn and played some stunning football to boot, though did give away a two goal lead before triumphing after extra time. They also lost Denilson to a red card and Barazite with a dislocated shoulder. Wenger really is a genius manager the way he has built this squad up. Full marks to the Arsenal board and fans - they've weathered a couple of ordinary seasons to reap the rewards with a young side playing the best football in the league.

With Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton already through to the semi-finals the Carling cup will have a great line-up for the last four whoever goes through from Chelsea and Liverpool (Though I of course am praying for a Liverpool win!)

Chelsea vs Liverpool Carling Cup, Early Team News

Some interesting news coming out ahead of this Carling Cup quarter-final.

Liverpool fans will be relieved that manager Rafael Benitez is going to field a strong side. The big news is that Steven Gerrard is out with a stomach bug (how convenient!) and Xabi Alonso is set to return after a long spell out with the dreaded metatarsal injury. Daniel Agger is still not fit to return as is Jermaine Pennant. Watch out for Rafa springing a surprise in selection or tactics that will have Liverpool fans groaning in anguish.

Chelsea have much bigger injury problems than Liverpool. Terry and Drogba are definitely out with Carvalho still uncertain to return. On the plus side (if you can call it that) the Premier Leagues biggest showpony Michael Ballack returns for this Carling Cup tie. Not sure if the Chelsea fans will consider this a plus but Avram Grant certainly does according to reports. I really can't understand why they persist with him. Pound for pound he really has been the worst value signing - on a par with Winston Bogarde.

Interestingly enough Rafa Benitez's Liverpool are yet to score at Stamford Bridge during his reign (though they should have in last years 2-0 premier league defeat - Gerrard, Kuyt and Bellamy all missing sitters). If Torres plays Liverpool have a chance, if not it will be a painful night with a low score defeat I think!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chelsea vs Liverpool - Carling Cup

This one is a real poser for Rafa Benitez and one Chelsea can probably afford to lose more than him. Benitez traditionally fields weakened sides in the Carling Cup, however three defeats in a row, two of which are against your biggest rivals at a critical time of year won't impress our friends from across the pond.

Liverpool fans will be hoping Rafa doesn't field one of his strange second string formations. A good balanced team with enough big names in it to win it is whats required. My hoped for team: Reina, Finnan, Arbeloa, Carragher, Riise, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Kewell, Babel, Torres.

As for Chelsea they have some major injury problems at the moment. I really think the loss of John Terry will cause them major problems in the coming months and equally Drogba is a huge loss too. The spine of their team has lost two of its most important players however, having said that they are making steady if unspectacular progress under Avram Grant, and are handily placed to come up on the rails in the Premier League.

My gut feel for the result? A narrow Chelsea win and more testing times for Rafa Benitez and Liverpool.

What is it with metatarsals???

Whats going on with Premier League players and metatarsals. It seems every week another one in pink boots as light as a feather is being carried off. This time its John Terry out for three months. I'm not bemoaning his absence being a Liverpool fan but there's no end to these injuries.

The list is as long as err....your big metatarsal. Liverpool have been missing Alonso and Agger for months and Manchester United have missed Rooney for long spells with the same injury. Other notable victims include Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Ashley Cole, Ledley King, David Nugent and Michael Owen (of course!).

I'm sure it's nothing to do with these garish Julian Clary designed boots is it? I'm sure if they wore black gola or puma they'd be right!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Liverpool scale back stadium plans

Plans scaled back as the global credit crunch claims another victim.
Liverpool have announced that the grand plans that were unveiled soon after George Gillett and Tom Hicks took over are to be scaled back.

Rick Parry, Liverpools chief executive is reported as saying that the new plans will still be a massive improvement on the original design and will still cater for upto 70,000 fans, however they will not be as grand as the futuristic designs the Americans originally requested.

It is thought the global credit crunch and the consequent rapid rise in the cost of debt has forced George Gillett and Tom Hicks into a rethink into how the project is financed.

This will disappoint many Liverpool fans and ordinary fan's limited understanding of global economics, will probably make them even more suspicious of their long term plans. There is already a perception on Merseyside that they are more talk than substance and this will do nothing to dispel that notion.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United, Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea

So the Super Sunday Grand Slam (or whatever Sky called it) is over and its certainly pushed the Premier League title race towards a two horse race for the second half of the season.

Manchester United won at Liverpool in a scrappy game of few chances that they largely controlled. Liverpool huffed and puffed but you always had the feeling United were in control and could sneak a goal out of nothing. Liverpool had a few chances but gave the ball away too cheaply and suffered from a lack of inventiveness. Harry Kewell was off the pace and they are still clearly missing Alonso. Kuyt looked slower than he normally is (if thats possible) while Torres was well shackled by the excellent Vidic and Ferndinand.

Arsenal climbed back to the top of the Premier League beating Chelsea 1-0 at the Emirates. They were a touch fortunate though as Chelsea missed a host of clear chances with Sean Wright-Phillips guilty of the worst, screwing wide when it seemed easier to hit the target. Adebayor thought he'd got a second but it was disallowed for foul before he hit home.

Overall a great weekend for Wenger and Ferguson with Liverpool looking dead and buried in the race for the Premier League. As for Chelsea its a set-back but I wouldnt write them off just yet. They're closer than Liverpool and I just think they have that little but more resilience than the Reds.

Transfer Gossip Latest - English Premiership

Well, well what a surprise. The Sunday papers are full of the strange, outlandish and downright ridiculous. There's some credible stories too! Here's our take on the latest transfer rumours:

According to the Mail Liverpool's owners will tell Rafael Benitez he has no money for the January transfer window.

Anticipating his walk-out the Express is saying Liverpool will make a move for Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill if differences are not resolved.

All in all two ridicuous reports. One a rehash of stories that circulated in Gerard Houllier's day (remember O'Neill ringing Houllier to say he wasn't after his job!) and the other a pure column filler on the back of the recent controversy.


Chelsea boss Avram Grant is lining up a surprise transfer move for Everton striker Yakubu so says the Sunday Express. That would be a surprise. He's good but was overpriced at the eleven mill Everton paid for him. Doesn't score nearly enough goals for his price tag and the best he'll do at Chelsea is be a bench warmer for Drogba.

New England boss Fabio Capello has vowed to "win the World Cup". For the News of the World this isn't that bad. The vow isn't outlandish its the belief he can do it! Also I note an English coach is to be appointed to the backroom staff. Why is it they always pick the crap ones! Stuart Pearce and Sammy Lee have been crap club managers but have been in the England management team and are now getting a mention for a return! Harry Redknapp has a much better record!

Frank Rijkaard will be offered the job as Chelsea manager at the end of the season. another from the News of the World. I can see this coming off. I reckon Avrim Grant is a chair-warmer until the Chav's line-up a glamour name from the management world.

Last transfer rumour from the News of the World is that Barcelona are interested in signing Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar as a back-up keeper for next season. He's getting on a bit old Edwin and I can see Fergie spending big on a long term replacement this summer.

Liverpool striker Peter Crouch says he will revive his robotic goal celebrations if his club wins the Premier league or he scores a "really big goal" in the Champions League according to the esteemed Sunday Times. This is entirely credible, though equally credible is that it won't come off as the rumours are his January destination of Newcastle or Man City won't win either.

Other transfer reports are saying its good-bye to the Premier Leagues biggest show pony Shevchenko, who will gallop off to AC Milan and the San Siro in the January transfer window. Good riddance I say. Him and Ballack are the worst buys since Winston Bogarde and have been an obscene waste of money.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Anfield troubles bubble up again?

More strange troubling rumblings coming out of Anfield, with reports that the global credit crunch has forced Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to rethink their grand designs for the new Anfield stadium.

It has swiftly been denied by Liverpool of course but it will only add to fans suspicions that the Yanks have been all talk and no substance. Claims of spending massively in the transfer market have not been met in the fans eyes, with Liverpool only spending a net 14 million in the summer. Then following that has been the much publicised spat with Rafael Benitez with reports of his position being under threat. And now this!

There's obviously something going on with the stadium. The cost of borrowing has shifted dramatically in the last few months so its' bound to have some effect on the project and the design may indeed have to be scaled back. The Americans can hardly be blamed for that and its not unreasonable as the club has to be a viable business.

The spat with Rafa is the more worrying though. It seems to me Hicks and Gillett have doubts over Rafa being the world class manager capable or delivering the success they want. The Capello link was especially worrying. It appears Rafa has added to their doubts with his public criticism and my gut feel is that his long term position must be in some doubt.

West Ham vs Everton

West Ham take on a bouyant Everton at Upton Park on Saturday in one of the ever decreasing number of Premier League games to start at the traditional 3.00pm. This a mere three days after suffering defeat at Everton's hands in the Carling Cup.

Everton are unbeaten in eleven, through to the next round of both Carling and Uefa cups and sitting very nicely in seventh position of the Premier League, only three points off neighbours Liverpool in fourth. Early Everton team news indicates James McFadden and James Vaughan pushing for a return, while David Moyes has brought back defender Nuno Valente however he has indicated he will name the same side that eased past West Ham in mid-week.

That mid-week defeat apart the Hammers themselves are in reasonable form, only losing one of their last seven league games, with that coming away to Chelsea. Reports are saying Dean Ashton could be West Ham's sole recognised striker as Carlton Cole is doubtful with a hip injury. Also Luis Boa Morte is unlikely to feature but Lee Bowyer is set to make a return after his hernia operation.

For me this has draw written all over it. West Ham will be desperate not to lose to Everton for the second time in a week but I can see them having enough to win it. Its two evenly matched teams with maybe Everton having the slight edge in personnel, confidence and form. My prediction? I reckon it will be a great game and a score draw.

Arsenal vs Chelsea

Its the other half of the Premier League 'Sunday Super Slam' as its been called in some quarters. Are we to believe it was just a quirk of the FA's computer or do the conspiracy theorists have it right and it is a SKY led manipulation? Well having been locked in a dangerously overcrowded terrace waiting for a kick-off delayed 15 minutes for the SKY cameras I know what I think (& this after Hillsborough too!)

Anyway back to the main game. For the 'Arse the early team news is that Cesc Fabregas has trained and could return, while Robin van Persie, Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb all also trained and could feature. For the Chav's, Carvalho and Malouda could start fitness tests permitting. Of the others Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien (suspended) are all out.

This is as ever a hard one to call. Arsenal have started to stutter lately and have really missed Fabregas. Chelsea have missed Drogba but have maintained results. I also think Essien is a real loss. The show-pony that is Ballack is no loss at all. If Arsenal get all their big guns on the pitch ie Fabregas, van Persie etc then I think they will just have too much for Chelsea, especially at the Emirates.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rafa's Miscalculation

The news of Liverpool's alledged tapping up of Fabio Capello made me wonder whether Rafa Benitez has made a major miscalculation in his dealings with the Americans. From thinking he was dealing from a position of strength it appears the opposite.

The Americans while giving him the benefit of the doubt may actually have harboured some doubts to his ability. Not that they don't think he is a good coach, but they appear to doubt whether he is the absolutely world class coach capable of delivering the success their investment requires. Remembering Rafa was brought to Liverpool as a coach who could compete with the top clubs on lesser resources. The Yanks view seems to be that to release top drawer cash they want to be sure they've got a top draw coach. It seems to me Rafa has misjudged the American culture and the way the Americans do business. They are ruthless in business as you have to be and this is all about ensuring their investment makes a return. Rafa has unfortunately added to their doubts by painting himself as a troublemaker.

This news of Capello plus the other noises ruminating out of Anfield (there were reports this week that Rafa's long term future is in doubt) make it all an unsettling time to be a Liverpool fan.

In reality if Rafa is moved out at the end of the season there may well be some protest and noise but if a replacement similar to Capello is announced then the Yanks can ride through it. Also at the end of the day if Liverpool are winning protests at any change of management will not last for long.

All in all Rafa Benitez's position is still very precarious in the long term. I suspect only unprecedented success will save him and by that I mean a Premiership this season!

Liverpool vs Manchester United - Early Team News

Reports are saying Liverpool are set to have midfielder Xabi Alonso back in the squad for this massive Premier League clash, after a two month absence with a metatarsal injury. I doubt he will start but he should certainly make the bench. Alonso is one of those players you don't miss until he's gone. How Liverpool have missed the quality of his passing, especially when their form was stuttering - he's one of the major players for them.

Elsewhere in the squad Steve Finnan is again doubtful because of a calf problem while Daniel Agger is still out due to his (if I'm not mistaken) still not having quite recovered from a metatarsal injury.

I've not picked up much Manchester United team news yet, only that the Premier League favourites have Anderson and Owen Hargreaves as doubtful. Also I note Quieroz has offered his support to Rafa Benitez as his much vaunted meeting with the Americans approaches.

Elsewhere, other news reports are saying Michael Owen is on his way out at Newcastle. How sad that someone of his talent and still relatively young age is beginning the descent down the football ladder.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Latest Transfer News - English Premier League

Some interesting ones out there in the Premier League transfer rumours. A fellow blogger website is reporting Wes Brown is off to Newcastle. He would be a great buy for Newcastle if they could get him. He may not be getting in the team at Man U but he is top quality.

Newcastle are apparently about to offload Shola Ameobi to Norwich while big Sam Allardyce has ruled out bringing in Barcelona's Edmilson due to the fact he's injured and yet to start a game this season!

Another interesting one is Setanta Sports reporting Milan Baros returning to the Premier League via Birmingham in January. He's lost his way a bit has our Milan since his Liverpool days. He was top class at times for Liverpool and had a great European Championship, but since then he really hasnt done it. He was overweight when he first came to Liverpool and it looked to me he's gone that way a bit again. Come on Milan - you should be playing for a bigger club than Birmingham!!

Talking of Liverpool, Momo Sissoko seems to have done his dash with an outburst against Rafa Benitez. Shame really, he was immense for Liverpool in 2005/06 but injuries and the increased competition for places in Liverpools midfield seem to have taken their toll on him.

Elsewhere Real Murcia striker Inigo is being linked with a move to England. Never heard of him or the team but apparently Premier League relegation hopefuls Birmingham, Wigan and Watford are keen.

Nasri the young French star who was about the only player who caught the eye for Marsielle is reportedly attracting the interest of the Premier League big-boys. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and City all mentioned in dispatches. Think this ones a bit of a column space filler rather than anything concrete.

Man City are also eyeing up Diego Milito with a reported fee of 20 mill. Anyone who pays that for a 28 year old who is struggling to get the goals he got last year is nuts and I dont think Sven is!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

UEFA Champions League Results

Right the boring stuff first - already qualified for the Champions League Chelsea and already out Valencia played a scoreless draw in Stamford Bridge. Hope the Chav's lowered the prices for that one! Also already qualified Real Madrid comfortably beat Lazio 3-1. Olympiakos from the same group sealed their place in the last 16 with an oh so comfortable 3-0 win against Werder Bremen.

Elsewhere Porto confirmed themselves as group winner with a 2-0 home defeat of Besiktas. Schalke 04 the surprise package so far continued their great form by progressing to the last 16 courtesy of a 3-1 home win that sent Rosenberg crashing out.

The teams to have qualified so far for the Champions League last 16 are: Liverpool, Porto, Arsenal, Sevilla, Manchester United, Roma, Real Madrid, Schalke 04, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona, Celtic, Olympiakos and Chelsea

Marseille 0-4 Liverpool

What can you say? This was as Rafa said the 'almost perfect' performance. From Reina at the back to Torres upfront Liverpool to a man were superb.

From the off Liverpool clearly wanted this more than Marseille and set about them immediately from the kick-off. Four minutes in and some great inter-play from Torres and Kuyt sent Gerrard bearing down on goal. One dodgy challenge later and Liverpool had the start they dreamed off. It nearly wasn't though, with Gerrard only scoring after Mandana saved the initial penalty.

Torres then was slid in by Kewell and boy did he finish! He ghosted into the area past the Marseille defenders like they weren't there and finished with a wonderful curled shot past Mandana. From then on Marseille weren't in it. Kuyt added a third early in the second half from Kewell's pass, and substitute Ryan Babel added a fourth in stoppage time to seal Liverpool's best away win in the Champions League.

In the second half Liverpool understandably didn't attack as much but comfortably held out Marseille. Eric Gerets brought on Nasri the French young player of the year and ex-Liverpool favourite Djibril Cisse but with no real impact. Cisse sent a header onto the post and wide, but that was about it.

Kuyt was having one of his best Liverpool games, while Benayoun also caught the eye. Gerrard was at his barnstorming best while Marseille just couldn't cope with Torres. Kewell in the first half especially looked outstanding. At the back Carragher and Hypia were their usual rock solid 'selves while Arbeloa was consistent as per usual.

Benitez said after the game he was proud of this Liverpool team and you can understand why after such a performance in such a high pressure game. He's not one to show much emotion during a game but the cameras caught him beaming as walked off the pitch! You can understand why!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Marseille vs Liverpool

A big week for Liverpool just gets bigger after the defeat at Reading. The next two games against Marseille in the European Champions League and against Manchester United in the Premier League are now absolutely massive games, two real finals in a row. Benitez's summit with his American masters at Anfield on Saturday after Liverpool's game against Manchester United will be especially prickly if (god forbid) failure at Reading is followed up with failure in these two key games
Liverpool fans will have been groaning in frustration after the defeat at Reading, with the dreaded 'r' word of rotation rearing its ugly head again. Benitez is certainly his own man with a strange selection leaving him open to criticism after the defeat. Playing Voronin wide right was at best strange and selecting a midfield with no pace, width or unpredictability was asking for trouble. Its easy in hindsight but most Liverpool fans would have been questioning the team the moment they knew the line-up. Surely one of Kewell, Lucas, Benayoun or Babel could have played to give some pace, creativity or flair.
And so to tonights massive Champions League game. Liverpool due to the strange UEFA rules realistically have to win tonight. The only way a draw will be good enough is if Beskitas pull off a surprise and beat Porto. Liverpool will have an unchanged squad from which to pick from against Marseille. Agger though nearly fit, Alonso and Pennant are all still absent. Marseille have Samir Nasri back in the squad while former Liverpool players Djibril Cisse and Boudewijn Zenden are also set to feature.
Reading apart Liverpool have been building up to some great form of late. Benitez seems to have abandoned his alarming idea of resting Fernando Torres, Harry Kewell is edging back to fitness, the rotation has dropped off and suddenly Liverpool are beginning to look the part again. Liverpool fans can only hope Reading was a rotation inspired blip with Benitez having one eye on this Marseille game.
My hoped for Liverpool team: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hypia, Arbeloa, Benayoun, Mascherano, Gerrard, Kewell, Torres, Crouch but I'm not holding my breath!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Newcastle 2-1 Birmingham

Newcastle followed up their creditable performance against Arsenal with a heartening 2-1 against Birmingham City to ease their Premier League woes, and give manager Sam Allardyce some much needed breathing space.

They made it hard for themselves with a gift opener to Cameraon Jerome after only nine minutes. They got back in it after thirty six minutes Martins slotting home a penalty given from Sadlers challenge on him. Newcastles winner came in the last minute, with Senegal defender Beye heading home from Emres corner to flatten Birmingham with a sucker punch.

Newcastle dominated for large parts of the first half and could well have had more than Martins equaliser. After the break Newcastle fell flat, maybe because of their midweek exertions, and maybe because they were up against a determined and organised Birmingham.

It may not have been too pretty but three points following the Arsenal game will do wonders for Newcastle's confidence and give Sam Allardyce much need breathing space as he seeks to put his stamp on the team.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Reading 3-1 Liverpool: Rafa Strikes Again

Liverpool fans (me included!) will be groaning yet again after this completely self inflicted defeat. The dreaded 'r' word of rotation will be cropping up yet again and I'm sure the Liverpool fans collective groan at the team selection could be heard up and down the country as Rafa Benitez couldn't resist reverting back to his tinkerman approach.

Liverpool started the game reasonably well showing the confidence of their recent winning run but didn't really threaten Reading. Reading then got a controversial penalty when Jamie Carragher was adjudged to have fouled Gunnarsson inside the box. It was arguably the first of three or four big decisions the referee got wrong. Shortly after Liverpool equalised through Gerrard after Torres superbly took down Reina's clearance to play him in.

Liverpool were now looking reasonably comfortable and early in the second half looked set to go on and win the game. However they were still not really creating clear chances and lacked penetration and width from midfield. They were made to pay for not converting their pressure to a goal when Doyle got a faint touch to Shorey's free kick to give Reading the lead. Torres was denied what looked a clear penalty and then missed a half chance with a diving header. Shortly after Liverpool were given a mountain to climb when Harper outpaced Riise and took the ball round Reina to put Reading 3-1 ahead. Gerrard hit the bar with a superb strike but Benitez then added to his collection of strange selection decisions by taking off his skipper Gerrard with 20 minutes to go. Kewell and Crouch (twice) both went close but Liverpool ultimately couldn't get back into the game.

All in all you were left with the feeling that if Rafa Benitez had selected a slightly more balanced, stronger team then Liverpool would have won. To start with Crouch up front and a midfield that had no width or pace to put anything on his head was baffling to say the least.

Premiership Transfer Rumours

We've done a scan of the football gossip pages and the latest transfer rumours to do the rounds are:

Various sources are reporting Jose Mourinho is holding 'secret' talks with the Football Association to replace Steve McLaren.

Another transfer rumour concerns poor Michael Owen's injury prone fall from grace continues - he's being linked with Manchester City who are set to make an £8m move for Newcastle's England striker in January. (various)

Chelsea will off-load the biggest show pony in the Premier League by allowing striker Andriy Shevchenko to on loan apparently to follow Beckham to the MLS in the States. How appropriate. That one from the Mirror. Still on Chelsea the Sun is reporting Didier Drogba want his knee op straight away while Chelsea want him to delay it.

The Star has two transfer rumours. One that the newest Premier League manager, Alex McLeish wants to sign Sheffield United's Gary Naysmith in January. The other is that Chelsea reckon they will snatch Bolton's Nicolas Anelka for a cool 15 mill in the transfer window.

Blackburn pair Benni McCarthy and Robbie Savage have held talks with Mark Hughes with both increasingly frustrated picking splinters out their rear end of a Saturday afternoon. (Mail)
Brentford boss Terry Butcher has been given one match to save his job. (Sun)

Down into the Championship transfer rumours are circulating in the Mail that QPR have agreed a £2m deal for Sunderland's Daryl Murphy (though I have seen Roy Keane deny this elsewhere) and also a £150,000 move for Watford's Gavin Mahon. (Mail). Elsewhere Wolves boss Mick McCarthy is ready to launch a £1.5m bid for Derby striker Steve Howard. (Sun)

Up in sunny Scotland the rumours are that Celtic have apparently agreed to sell striker Derek Riordan in January and spark a chase for his services. (The Record) The Scottish Sun is reporting further rumours that Celtic manager Gordon Strachan will be given enough money for four new players in the January transfer window which should put a smile on his face.

Friday, December 7, 2007

EPL Saturdays Games - Reading vs Liverpool

Rafael Benitez is at last starting to say what we Liverpool fans have all hoped for. He is to play Torres for the second games in a row against Reading! In a must win game for the Premier League hopefuls Liverpool's manager appeared to hint today that Fernando Torres will start against Reading despite the Marseilles game being only three days later and the six-pointer against Manchester United being the weekend after.

This season is turning out like the 2005/06 season for Liverpool to some extent. Then they started with a miserable 3 wins out of 8, found the midfield four of Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko and Kewell and promptly launched into title winning form. Rafa now appears to be finding the blend except this time they are in a much healthier position in terms of Premier League points.

Liverpool's Manager really is an enigma at times. He has the best win rate since Bob Paisley at 60% yet you always feel that but for a little less rotation his teams could get that little bit nearer the Premier League the Liverpool fans crave.

My best eleven is: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger (when fit) Arbeloa, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Kewell, Torres, Babel

For Saturday Liverpool are still without Alonso, Pennant, Aurelio and Agger. Reading meanwhile are still without Michael Duberry and Glenn Little.

I'd bank on a Liverpool win for this one. Reading have picked up clean sheet in 12 and have only got one point from the last 12. I'm not saying the will go down but they really are relegation fodder for the likes of Liverpool. My prediction - a comfortable Liverpool win providing Rafa doesn't come up with the selection from hell!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Premier League - Wed 26th Dec - Newcastle 1-1 Arsenal

Newcastle have defied my predictions and eased the pressure on Sam Allardyce with a battling point against Arsenal. Arsenal got a great early goal but Newcastle battled back in the second half to equalise through Stephen Taylor.

The Gunners, who along with Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Premier League, just didn't capitalise on their early goal and overall Newcastle deserved a point after a match in which they showed a real determination and work ethic.

The draw and performance against the leaders will be heartening for Allardyce, after Newcastle's woeful recent run that had seen them take just one point from the previous five Premier League matches.

Arsenal meanwhile remain unbeaten in the Premier League but have missed the chance to extend their lead to 6 points and are now 4 points clear of Manchester United having played the same number of games. Chelsea and Liverpool remain in third and fourth on 31 and 30 points respectively with Liverpool having played a game less.

Newcastle vs Arsenal - Premier League

Its reported Newcastle will be missing defenders Abdoulaye Faye (calf) and Stephen Carr (hamstring) for the game against Premier League leaders Arsenal. Reported target of Liverpool, Manchester United and others centre-back Steven Taylor may be ready to return, but Cacapa and Michael Owen are both still absent.

Midfielder Mathieu Flamini has joined Arsenal's crowded treatment room, which already contains Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby. Striker Robin van Persie is still working his way back to match fitness and may figure on the bench.

I really can't see past Premier League leaders Arsenal in this one. After winning a very difficult match at Villa they will be confident they can come to places like Newcastle and get a result. Big Sam looked absolutely despondent the other day after Newcastle's Blackburn defeat. He just looked like for the first time in his career he couldn't see a way out for them.

For a team managed by Big Sam Newcastle are all over the place at the back and alarmingly disorganised. The very antithesis of what Big Sam is all about. He also may well find himself the first Newcastle manager in recent years to feel the pinch in the transfer market as its unlikely the new chairman will allow Newcastle to spend like they have in the past. Newcastle should concentrate on one thing at the moment and that's a clean sheet and not getting beat. Its the only way they'll build themselves back up.

Premier League leaders Arsenal meanwhile will be full of confidence coming into this game. The win at Villa will have convinced themselves (if they needed to) that they can mix it as well as play that stylish Arsenal football. Any back of the mind nerves of coming to Newcastle will be diminished now. They really are playing some great stuff now too - the Arsenal of recent seasons tried to walk the ball into the net but this season they seem to have found the right balance. Selling Henry has really enabled this Arsenal team come of age and their Premier League rivals are up against a team that will take some catching.

My prediction - more misery for Newcastle and the Gallowgate inflicted by an Arsenal in ruthless mood!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Premiership relegation battle - its tough at the bottom!

That was a priceless win for Sunderland against Derby in the premier leagues battle of the bottom clubs. If anyone can keep Sunderland up surely its Roy Keane. They were very lucky though getting a 93rd minute winner after Derby missed a couple of sitters. It was very a low on confidence display from both Sunderland and Derby which is not surprising given the relegation battle both are in. Its says it all for the Premier Leagues 'haves' and 'have-nots' with Sunderland resorting to Andy Cole up front. Derby meanwhile have all the hall-marks of a side in free-fall and I don't think appointing Paul Jewell will save the Rams from relegation.

Over at the 'Boro things aren't looking much brighter. Word is that Middlesborough haven't any cash to spend after losing 13 mill last financial year. Seems to me they have squandered millions in the last few years with manager after manager paying over the odds for guys after a big pay day at their expense. Middlesborough now appear in dire trouble and are gathering momentum for a freefall to the Championship.

Of the others I think Wigan could well stay up. Alex McLeish is a great manager and they actually do have some quality allied with a fighting spirit at Wigan. The same goes for Tottenham who will surely have too much to be dragged down into an end of season relegation battle. Bolton I suspect will continue to struggle though they also have some real quality in their team.

My tips to go down - Derby, Boro and Sunderland (though I hope not!)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Premiership - the race is hotting up at the top!

Newcastle have more problems ahead of Wednesdays clash with Arsenal. Defensive pair Abdoulaye Faye and Stephen Carr are doubtful in a match neither side can afford to lose. I cant see past an Arsenal win to put Big Sam even more under the cosh. Big Sam really did look a despondent man after the defeat to Blackburn. He almost looked like he couldn't see a way out of their nightmare form.

Wayne Rooney is ready to return against Fulham after recovering from his ankle injury. Rooney will partner Carlos Tevez up front. Also BBC is reporting United could give recalls to Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves, Edwin van der Sar and Wes Brown. My punt is on Man Utd to eventually crack the tough nut of Fulham.

Given Liverpool's and Chelsea's form the top four is shaping up as expected. Only Man City are appearing to be surprise challengers. I keep waiting for them to go on a bad run but all credit to them they're still in there. Christmas could be a turning point with whoever is top at Christmas often taking the title. I still think Liverpool will go a lot closer than people think. They're still unbeaten, have the meanest defence and are coming into form.

Tottenham were a bit unlucky against Birmingham though their defending was sometimes shocking. Keanes foul was no way a straight red and they were beaten by a one-off wonder goal.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Premiership - Liverpool vs Bolton

This is a massive game for both Teams. Rafa Benitez needs to keep winning or the slow start will mean Liverpool will rapidly lose touch with the leaders. Despite the season of relative turmoil so far though Liverpool are undefeated in the league, have the best defence, are a win away from the Champions League group stage and are in the next round of the Carling Cup. All this with some notable injuries too.

Providing Rafa doesn't tinker too much with the line-up they should prove too strong for Bolton. I expect a similar game to the Fulham one - a dogged organised side eventually being over-run by a too strong Liverpool side. Who knows Rafa might even play Torres two games in a row.

Liverpool are still without Alonso, Agger and Pennant so keep the same squad that beat Porto. My guess at the Liverpool team - Reina, Finnan, Arbeloa, Hypia, Carragher, Gerrard, Lucas, Mascherano, Kewell, Torres, Crouch Subs: Babel, Benayoun, Voronin, Kuyt and Itandje

Bolton will have to make three changes with Kevin Nolan and Nicky Hunt banned, and Liverpool loanee Danny Guthrie not able to play. On the plus side Gavin McCann should be ok despite a head injury wound against Aris midweek.

My bet - a 2-0 win to the Reds!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Premiership - this weekends games

Some interesting games this weekend. Sunderland home to Derby is a six-pointer down the bottom while Wigan face a tough home game against Sven's Manchester City. I think Sunderland will be too strong for Derby while Wigan should get a point against City - they less creative without the injured Elano.

Chelsea will surely have too much for West Ham at Stamford Bridge as you would think will Blackburn against Newcastle to pile on the misery for Big Sam. Liverpool should also be too strong for Bolton though don't be surprised if they make Rafa's goatee twitch more than he would like. They were excellent against Manchester United in winning 1-0. Likewise I predict Man Utd to see off an organised but limited Fulham.

Arsenals storming start could well be at least slowed by Aston Villa. I think this will end in a draw.

For the neutrals Portsmouth vs Everton looks a great game. Two well matched teams who are both full of confidence. My gut feel is that Everton will surprise a few people and win this one. Portsmouth haven't had the best of preparation with old 'Arry being carted off by the plod.

Reading vs the Boro - I think Stevie Coppell's team will have too much for Boro. Boro were woeful last week and I really think they are heading for big trouble down the bottom.

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