Premier League Sunday preview: A not-so-super Sunday?

In the TV revenue-generated world that is the English Premier League, Sundays are usually reserved for the self-proclaimed ‘big games’. With international football on the agenda next week, though, and European football in midweek, this week’s fixtures are – at first sight at least – nothing to get all that excited about.

This week’s not-so-super Sunday sees a struggling London team face the most impressive London so far this season, two of the worst teams in the league come head-to-head and two of the lowest scoring teams this season attempt to, in all probability, out-clean sheet each other.
But, of course, this is the highest level of English football. There are always stories set to unfold, always something of interest even to the most neutral of viewers.
Tottenham are one of the most in-form teams in the league. The addition of Scott Parker to the side has been key: with him in the team, Harry Redknapp’s team haven’t lost a game. Redknapp will not be on the touchline this weekend due to a minor heart operation but a former-Spurs boss will be hoping to get one over his old employers.
Martin Jol left Tottenham in 2007 and has made an impressive start at Fulham. The Cottagers’ task will be difficult, though, as Fulham have won just two of their last 22 London derbies, one of which was the 6-0 drubbing of QPR a couple of weeks ago.
The match also sees two of the most in-form players in the league face-off, albeit not directly. Rafael Van der Vaart has scored six goals in five league games while Fulham’s Andy Johnson has struck eight in eight, including a stunning volley against Wisła Kraków in midweek.
The European adventures of the two teams could play an important role in the outcome of this game: while Fulham fielded a strong side, Tottenham effectively played their second string against Rubin Kazan. One would think, though, that even without the added fitness, Tottenham would have enough to overcome a side who have won just two of their last six league games.
In the day’s lunchtime kick-off, table-propping Wigan travel to Wolves looking to end the run of seven league losses. Similarly, Wolves have not won in eight games and have conceded at least two in each of their last seven games.
Wigan are struggling to score goals, with just three players off the mark in the league this season and having only scored one goal away from home in five games combined. Last season’s joint top goalscorer Hugo Rodallega is yet to score this term.
With Gary Caldwell suspended it is expected that Maynor Figueroa will come into central defence with Patrick van Aanholt at left-back. James McCarthy may return to the Latics’ midfield with Mohamed Diame a doubt. For Wolves, Matt Jarvis should return after being dropped against Manchester City.
Bolton are also in dire form and manager Owen Coyle has come under severe pressure in recent weeks. Their squad is depleted somewhat, with no fewer than seven first-eleven contenders out injured. Bolton will be hoping to pick up their first away point of the season and stop the rot that has seen them concede 27 league goals already in 2011/12.
Stoke’s away form, though, is something of a worry as they travel to the Reebok having lost their last three away league games. They’ve conceded nine and scored just one in those games. Their case isn’t helped by the fact that Tony Pulis’ side travelled to Israel in midweek for the Europa League after Monday’s league game against Newcastle and they have generally struggled on weekends after European games: losing all three post-Europa League games so far. They should, though, be strong enough to force their way past a disappointing Bolton side.

Premier League Saturday preview: Will the goal glut continue?

Last weekend was a record-breaking gameweek for the Premier League. 39 goals were scored amongst the ten games, taking the season’s goals-per-game average to 2.98 – the highest since 1967/68. Continue reading

England need width and solid midfielders to beat France

International friendlies have long been lambasted for being pointless and been labelled as some sort of inconvenience in football. While this may be true, England’s game against France is sure to be an interesting encounter.

Everyone is aware of the problems that have faced France since the World Cup in the summer. Since Laurent Blanc took over as manager, France have won three out of their five games, losing to Norway and Belarus. The former Manchester United defender, though, is slowly-but-gradually building a team which is more than capable of beating most teams, with England their next opposition.

Obviously, the man to watch on Wednesday night is going to be Florent Malouda. He will probably cause the most damage to England as Fabio Capello’s side do not have a set right back – Micah Richards hasn’t looked solid all season and Kieran Gibbs isn’t getting first team football at Arsenal. Capello, though, has stated that Gibbs will start this game. The man who is keeping Gibbs out of the Arsenal side is the player who is likely to line up for France at right-back. Bacary Sagna, who scored a brilliant goal at the weekend against Everton, is in line to add to his twenty-five caps for France. The twenty-seven-year-old will have in-form Saint-Etienne midfielder Dimitri Payet in front of him. Payet, who will probably face Stephen Warnock as England’s left-back, has scored eight goals in twelve goals this season; quite an impressive feat for a player who mainly plays as a winger or attacking midfielder.
The wings are where France are at their strongest and, coincidently, the sides of defence are England’s main weak spots. With Ashley Cole pulling out through injury Capello was forced to give Aston Villa left-back Warnock a call-up. Admittedly, the former Liverpool defender has been in fine form this season, but Payet could pose serious problems down the right wing for France.
The centre of England’s defence could well be under siege from all directions, with Karim Benzema (who is finally beginning to asset himself in Spanish football with Real Madrid) will start up front, with Yoann Gourcuff behind him in a role that Steven Gerrard is likely to play for England. Benzema may not be in top form this season (two goals in fifteen appearances is hardly going to set the world alight) but the striker’s pace and finishing ability is going to be a serious threat to Rio Ferdinand, if he starts, who said only a few weeks ago that he wasn’t “100% fit”. Gourcuff has long been touted as the next big star in French football and, after a couple of disappointing seasons in Italy, the attacking midfielder rebuilt his career at Bordeaux and is now plying his trade for French giants Lyon. Gourcuff will probably play the withdrawn striker role, whilst also being the playmaker of the French side.
Partnering Ferdinand is possibly going to be Phil Jagielka, if he shakes off the injury which stopped the Everton man from training today (Tuesday). If not, Gary Cahill must surely be next in line. The Bolton defender has been outstanding this season, and the fact that he wasn’t brought into the squad until John Terry pulled out through injury was slightly farcical.
In the French midfield is likely to be a familiar face. Arsenal’s Samir Nasri could well play the role that he enjoyed at Arsenal when Cesc Fabregas was out injured, and the twenty-three-year-old could line-up with Alou Diarra, who will play a more defensive role, allowing Nasri and Gourcuff to push forward in support of Benzema. England could almost mirror this tactic, although a defensive midfielder may not be needed if they play it right. Jack Wilshere would surely have received his first start for England if he hadn’t pulled out of the squad after a training session, and it would have been his partnership with Jordan Henderson that would have given England a solid, ball-playing midfield, instead of a simple 4-4-2. Gareth Barry has hardly played well for Manchester City this season, and Henderson certainly deserves his chance.
It should be one of Barry’s teammates, however, who plays in the centre of midfield with Henderson. James Milner is more than capable of paying in the middle, while he can also go out wide and if needed. His calmness on the ball and almost continental style will certainly help England, who lack any sort of culture when the old Barry-Lampard-Gerrard combination is used.
A lot has been made of Jay Bothroyd’s inclusion in Capello’s squad. Firstly, England are seriously short of strikers, with Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe Darren Bent all out through injury. Secondly, Bothroyd is on fine form for a top-of-the-table Championship side (fifteen goals in sixteen games cannot be argued with) and, although the Championship may not be seen as the perfect foundation for international footballers, right now Bothroyd is performing better than Carlton Cole, and Peter Crouch for that matter, so he certainly deserves his call-up given the shortage of choices given to Capello.
It isn’t Bothroyd who should lead the line for England, though. Andy Carroll has a goals-to-game ration 1:2, which is pretty good for a striker who is playing in a newly promoted side. If Carroll plays, though, there are two key issues. The first issue is that England cannot start hitting the ball up to Carroll in any sort of hope that this will bring about goals. Yes, it may well work – Carroll (6ft. 3in.) will find himself up against Adil Rami (6ft. 3in.) and either Younes Kaboul (6ft. 3in.) or Mamadou Sakho (6ft. 2in.), both of whom could make their international debuts – but there are better ways to get around France.
If England play two attacking wingers such as Ashley Young on one side and Theo Walcott or Adam Johnson on the other, their chances of breaking France down are much higher than if Ferdinand decides to pump the ball up field at every given opportunity. Whether it’s Walcott, Johnson or Young, the French left-backs, likely to be Eric Abidal and Sagna, could be in for a rough night. Both players are fine defenders but, thirty-one-year-old Abidal especially, could struggle against Walcott. If Blanc has any sense, he’ll pit Walcott’s teammate, Gael Clichy against the speedy winger.
Out of all the positions on the pitch, the goalkeeping spot is the possibly the only place which gives England fans any sort of comfort. Gone are the days where opposition attacks bring profound shattering of nerves and sheer worry of conceding a goal. The defence may not be as solid as a rock – or as solid as a piece of paper for that matter – but, with Joe Hart in goal, England have a goalkeeper who will not be beaten easily. Hart may be missing for this game but Ben Foster is a more than able replacement. France are in a similar sort of position, with Lyon ‘keeper Hugo Lloris the likely candidate to start, although Steve Mandanda could be given a chance to show his worth in a game that should be used to try out new formulas, new tactics, and new players.
How they should line up
England: Foster; Gibbs, Ferdinand, Jagielka, Warnock; Milner, Henderson, Gerrard; Walcott, Young; Carroll.
France: Lloris; Sagna, Kaboul/Sakho, Rami, Abidal; Nasri, Diarra, Gourcuff; Payet, Malouda; Benzema

Korean Grand Prix Preview

Korean International CircuitImage via Wikipedia

With the brand new circuit in Yeongam finally completed, the Korean Grand Prix will go ahead this weekend, with Mark Webber currently leading the Drivers’ World Championship, fourteen points ahead of Fernando Alonso. As the 2010 season draws closer to the end, the Grand Prix in South Korea is set to be an enthralling contest.

The Korean International Circuit includes eighteen turns within a 3.492 mile stretch. The circuit was described as “satisfactory” by FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting, just twelve days before the race is scheduled to begin. Many racers are worried about the final layer of the track surface, which has only recently been put down, which could mean that oil could still be seeping through it this weekend.
The building of another new and expensive racing circuit in a country which is not really interested in it has resulted in surprisingly few strike threats from teams and drivers, who have been united in their backing of the FIA.
The race itself could benefit Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button of McLaren, as the team think that it will thrive in the first sector where Red Bull fears it could regret its relative lack of straightline speed, leaving it to make up ground in the aero-rewarding middle of the track. 
Former Hispania driver Karun Chandhok demonstrated a Red Bull car on the track in September, explaining that the infrastructure was basically in place, although the Indian racer did notice that the barriers were very close to the track, which means any mistakes on the course will be inevitably punished.
A new circuit will mean new uncertainty for the teams, who will not know how their cars will perform until the free practise session. McLaren, especially, will be looking to improve on their fourth and fifth place finishes in Japan, while Vettel will be looking to increase his fourteen-point lead over Button. Alonso and the German Vettel are level on 206 points, which could mean that we could have, by the end of the weekend, going into the final two races of the season, a Red Bull one-two at the top, which has been so familiar this term.
If Hamilton and Button want to have any chance of claiming the Championship title this year, they need a solid race in Yeongam.

Match Preview: Valencia C.F. vs. Manchester United

Manchester United meet Spanish giants Valencia in their next Champions League match this Wednesday in what is surely going to be their toughest opponent in Group C.


Valencia are probably sick of the term “third best”. Founded in 1919, Los Che are the third most supported club in Spain, behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. They are also the third most successful club in terms of La Liga titles and third most successful team in continental titles. The Estadio Mestalla club have been in the shadow of Madrid and Barca for many years, as they battle to win their first league title since 2003/04. They haven’t won the Champions League since 2001; a fact that the club will be looking to change this season.

Valencia have always been a dominating force in football. With six league titles, seven Copa del Rey victories and nine European trophies in all, Unai Emery’s side certainly have pedigree.

The club, though, has endured some tough seasons in the past few years. After finishing tenth in La Liga thanks to Voro, who took over from Ronaldo Koeman in April 2008 after the Dutchman suffered a torrid time with the club, in 2007/08, the team finished sixth and then third in the next two seasons, and currently sit top of La Liga after five games, one point ahead Barcelona.

Valencia’s fine start comes as something of a shock after the club sold their prized asset, David Villa, to the Catalan side in the summer. Another key player, David Silva, also left the club in the summer joining the mega-bucks side of Manchester City. Emery used the 60 million-plus on players such as Mehmet Topal, Roberto Soldado, and Ricardo Costa, all of whom have had strong starts to the new season. Soldado and Topal scored at the weekend in a 2-0 win over Sporting Gijon.

The Valencia side of 2010 may not be well known by English fans as they haven’t succeeded in Europe for six years, when they won the UEFA Cup under Rafael Benitez. Manuel Fernandes, who has played for Everton and Portsmouth before establishing himself in the heart of the Valencia midfield.
David Albelda, Joaquin and Miguel were all left out of the side at the weekend to ensure that they were fit for the encounter of United this week, but it is Juan Manuel Mata who is sure to cause United the most problems. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, who have struggled in all three of their away games this season, have a problem at right-back, with John O’Shea the most frequently used by Fergie in the past few weeks.

Mata’s pace and intelligence could showcase United’s weakness, while his goal scoring ability will be of great advantage against the Red Devils, who have conceded seven goals in their last three Premier League games away from Old Trafford.

United should have Rio Ferdinand back after the English defender missed the weekend game against Bolton. He will partner Nemanja Vidic in defence which means that Roberto Soldado could have a tough game. Valencia, though, will have been boosted by the news that troubled United forward, Wayne Rooney, will miss the trip to Spain because of an ankle injury.

Possible line-ups:
Valencia: Cesar; Miguel, Navarro, Costa, Alba; Joaquin, Albelda, Topal, Mata; Soldado, Zubeldia.
Man United: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Park; Berbatov, Hernandez.

Overall Premier League 2010/11 Season Preview

The Premier League begins this Saturday with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City kicking off the 2010/11 season at White Hart Lane. My previews for each club are now completed; here is my overall preview for the new term.

Martinez: Under pressure
        The teams that were promoted last season could find it very difficult in the top flight this season. Blackpool have barely strengthened their squad and the players that they have signed are not of Premier League quality. West Brom are the yo-yo club of current times; their squad, like Blackpool, lacks real quality and if Roberto Di Matteo is determined to stick with the policy of ‘nice football’ then Albion will go down. Wigan struggled last season and it will be no different this term. Roberto Martinez is my tip to be the next manager to leave his post as chairman Dave Whelan may not have a lot of patience with the Spaniard if Wigan are struggling. Wigan will go down, although it will probably go down to the wire with them, West Brom and Newcastle, and Martinez will be gone by the end of November.

The top four in the Premier League was finally breached last season as Tottenham secured the fourth spot. This season, Manchester United and Chelsea look streaks ahead and the so-called ‘big-four’ has become the ‘big-two’. Arsenal and Liverpool will struggle to make it into the Champions League this season while Manchester City and Tottenham should be looking towards the top, with Manchester City, who spent nearly £100 million in the summer, surely going for the title. City won’t challenge for the title this season, though, as a squad with such big egos and so many players that play in the same position can only be negative. City will get third with Tottenham pipping Arsenal and Liverpool, while Chelsea will win the league. United, though, will not be giving up that easily.
Tevez is sure to bag the goals
this season
Carlos Tevez was superb for Manchester City last season and will, no-doubt, be looking to improve on his twenty-three goals from 2009/10. The Argentinean striker is fully fit for the start of the new season and should score lots of goals with all the creativity that is spewing about in the blue side of Manchester; Tevez is my tip to be the top goal scorer this season. Manchester City, as a team, will not score the most goals though; that will be Chelsea. Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Frank Lampard and co. will be firing on all cylinders this season.
The best signing this summer has been Joe Cole. The midfielder joined Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool after he was released by Chelsea and the England man can look forward to lots of first team action in his favoured attacking midfield position. His link-up play with Steven Gerrard will be a delight to see from an England perspective and, if Cole can get a good run in the side and get some form, the former West Ham midfielder will be firmly in Fabio Capello’s mind.
Wilshere & Vela:
The future of Arsenal
The new “home grown”, 25-man squad rule that has been implemented into the Premier League this season means that fans are sure to see an influx of youth this term. They may not be English (Cesc Fabregas is home grown according to the League’s ruling) but there are some exciting youth players to watch this season. Arsenal are full of youth and many are tipping them to finally end their trophy-drought this season. Youngsters such as Carlos Vela, Jack Wilshere and Keiran Gibbs can all look forward to some first team action, with Gibbs impressing on his first England appearance at senior level and Wilshere also getting his chance under Capello. Mexican striker Vela is quick, agile and a born finisher of the ball; he could be the perfect player for Arsenal this season as they need a goal scorer. Their rivals, Manchester United, are not exactly lacking in youth either. Sir Alex Ferguson’s determination to leave the club in good stead when he retires means that the youth system at the club has become very impressive. Tom Cleverley is certainly one to watch this season as the midfielder has been told by Ferguson that he is staying with the first team this term instead of going out on loan. Another promising youth player on Manchester United’s books is Javier Hernandez. The young forward may not be English but he is certainly exciting with his speed, quality on the ball and his finishing ability all making him a great player. Hernandez went to the World Cup with Mexico and scored two goals. If Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen are all misfiring, which is possible, it could be down to Hernandez to score the goals.
Liverpool also have some good youngsters coming through the ranks and Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly are good examples of this. Spearing is a central midfielder with good passing ability and can hold the midfield together when needed; he could be the perfect partner for Gerrard in the middle as Spearing would allow the England captain to push forward and attack at will. Martin Kelly looks like an excellent prospect; the centre-back may find it difficult to break in to the first team with Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel in front of him in the pecking order, but the English defender could play at left-back, where Liverpool are relatively weak. Kelly played at left-back against Rabotnicki FK in the Europa League recently and looked comfortable and assured in a position that probably wasn’t that well-known to the defender.
Aston Villa’s Nathan Delfouneso has been trying to break into the first team and this season could be the one. The striker has a decent record, scoring six goals in twenty-four appearances. Delfouneso is certainly one to look out for this season, as is Blackburn defender Phil Jones. The centre-back made a couple of appearances at the back end of last season and looked strong and powerful in the air. Jones could find himself thrust into his first full Premier League season as Rovers are not strong in the defensive areas. Although West Brom are sure to go down as they are weak in most positions, they do possess a promising talent. Joe Mattock signed from Leicester last season and played a key part in Albion’s promotion push. The left-back may struggle to adapt to the Premier League but the English defender will certainly show promise in a side that lacks quality.
Fabregas is key
to Arsenal
As well as the young players the Premier League can look forward to lots of quality from it’s well known stars. Francesc Fabregas has finally committed to Arsenal after a season of on-going rumours about the Spaniard moving to Barcelona. Fabregas is going to be key to Arsenal’s push for the Champions League this season as his creativity and sheer class in the middle of the park will be of huge importance. Liverpool’s Cole will be the main man for Hodgson’s side this season, as well as the ever-present Gerrard, as the Reds look to put last season’s debacle behind them. Cole could be the creative, skilful player that they are looking for. Ben Foster’s move to Birmingham is a great signing for Alex McLeish’s side as the goalkeeper looks to try and get back into the England squad. Foster will stop a lot of goals for the Brum this season and is sure to save them points as well. Bobby Zamora, fresh after his impressive debut for England recently, is sure to score goals for Fulham this season as the big striker will be looking to improve on last season’s goal tally of twenty-one. Alan Smith is going to be important to Newcastle this season, much in the same way as Lee Cattermole is for Sunderland. Both players operate in the middle of the pitch, breaking up play and linking the defence and attack. The strength, power and passion will be key to both sides this season. The three players that are going to set the League alight, though, are Tevez, Cole and Foster. Another Premier League season begins on Saturday, and not a moment too soon.

My predicted Premier League table come the end of the season looks like this:

Premier League Preview: Wolverhampton Wanderers

In my final Premier League preview I focus on Wolverhampton Wanderers. After last season’s impressive 15th place finish manager Mick McCarthy will be looking to make the club into a stabilised Premier League side.

An impressive summer for Wolves has come after a notable 2009/10 season. McCarthy has strengthened his squad with players that have Premier League experience and a few that are going to want to prove themselves in the top flight of English football. Steven Fletcher scored eight goals for Burnley last season in the Turf Moor side’s relegation battle and the Scottish striker will be looking to have a more enjoyable time this term after joining for six and a half million pounds. After Hull were relegated last season Stephen Hunt decided that he wanted to stay in the Premier League and joined Wolves for £3 million. The winger’s pace, quality of crossing and assurance on the ball will be a great asset to McCarthy’s side. Hunt’s teammate at Hull, Steven Mouyokolo, has also signed for Wolves in a deal worth £2.5 million. The centre-back struggled to show his quality last season but Wolves will be hoping that the French defender can stand up to the plate this season. Also joining the club are Jelle van Damme, Adlene Guedioura and Geoffrey Mujangi Bia. Van Damme made 110 appearances for Anderlecht and the Belgian defender, who briefly played for Southampton between 2004 and 2006, will be looking to establish himself as a first team player. Algeria midfielder Guerdioura, who is one of many Algerian internationals who are actually French-born, spent the second half of last season on loan at Wolves, where he played fourteen times, scoring one goal. The central midfielder will be hoping to have an extended run in the first team this season. Mujangi Bia also spent the second half of last season on loan with Wolves and has now rejoined the side on loan for this season. The Belgian right-sided midfielder adds more width to the squad, as well as his  strength going forward.
Wolves could struggle at the back this season. Jody Craddock, Ronald Zubar and Mouyokolo are all decent defenders but can be inconsistent; they could struggle to keep most teams at bay this season. Greg Halford and George Elokobi have not proven themselves at the top level and so, again, could struggle, while Christophe Berra is feeble in defence. Van Damme could add some much needed strength to the back-line but this may not be enough; Wolves could do with another defender who is proven in the Premier League.
The side are a little stronger in midfield with Nenad Milijas and Hunt the main men. Milijas impressed last season after his move from Red Star Belgrade in June 2009. The Serbian midfielder has a powerful shot and links up well with the defence and attack. Young English winger Michael Kightly could use this season to propel himself into the England spotlight but will find it difficult to hold down a first team place. As with the defence Wolves could do with some more experienced midfielders as there seems to be very little quality in their squad.
Goals are going to be hard to come by for Wolves this season, although the fact that Kevin Doyle is now fully fit and raring to go is a huge boost for them. The Republic of Ireland international struggled with injury last season but still managed to score nine goals. Doyle and Fletcher could possibly form a partnership, while Sylvain Ebanks-Blake still fails to live up to the hype created by his Manchester United youth team days. Wolves will stay up like last season and will probably finish above the 15th place mark, but the lack of quality in the squad is going to make it another gruelling season for this squad.
Where will they finish?: 14th
Official relegation odds: 2/1 (Bet365)
Star man: Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle
One to watch: Michael Kightly
Main weakness: They have a sever lack of Premier League experience