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.

Leon Osman, Stan Kroenke and Fulham fury

Has Leon Osman slipped under the England radar?
Leon Osman: England’s forgotten man?
Leon Osman has never made an international appearance despite seven solid seasons with Everton. Is he England’s ‘forgotten man’?

On Saturday, a late Leighton Baines penalty cancelled out two Darren Bent strikes as Everton shared the points with Aston Villa in a dramatic draw at Goodison Park.
The man who gave them the lead in the 38th minute, Leon Osman, put in yet another solid display for the club he has been at since 1997. The 29-year-old, though, is yet to appear for an international side, despite being eligible for Turkey and Cyprus (through his father) and England (through his mother).
Osman, at times, can frustrate the Everton faithful, but his quality is certainly not in question – he’s been compared to Paul Gascoigne in the past and Liverpool’s Joe Cole has stated that Osman was the better talent when they were teammates at England youth level.
Osman can be used both on the right and in the middle, and has even been used on the left, cutting inside onto his favoured right-foot (an ‘inside-out’ winger) and generally causing opposition full-backs problems week-in, week-out.
Everton have struggled this season, with the lack of a genuine, top-quality striker their biggest problem, but Osman has been a consistent source of quality for David Moyes’ side, making nineteen appearances in the Premier League, with five assists and three goals to his name.
The main criticism of Osman is that he can go missing in games, but, surely, Osman is exactly the sort of player England are looking for? He’s a ball-playing, skilful midfielder who can play all across the midfield and is able to use both feet (something which the current crop of English talent is generally lacking and something that other nations have instilled into their players with great ease). He may be diminutive but he does flourish when coming up against big, powerful defenders (against Birmingham, a team notoriously difficult to break down, in October, he was the best player on the pitch as Everton won 2-0).
This season, Osman has started on the left side more than on the opposite wing – seven times to five times, and one in the middle. He’s been used as a box-to-box midfielder in the past and is even useful in a defensive sense when in a side-midfield position, something that could come in handy if he were selected for England, as Fabio Capello prefers to play with attacking full-backs.
In the last England squad, Wolves’ Matt Jarvis, West Ham’s Scott Parker and Osman’s teammate Phil Jagielka were all selected. The argument that Capello only picks players from the so-called ‘big’ teams is nonsense, but, sometimes, it does appear that Capello picks players that are getting rave reviews in the media, as well as succumbing to the pressure of fans and club managers.
Osman is very rarely given any credit for his performances. He might not be a world-beater and he may struggle if put up against a top-quality international full-back. But he’s a hard-working, determined, well-disciplined (he’s never been sent off in the League and has only been booked twenty-one times since his first Everton start in May 2004) and his passing and vision are both excellent.
England and Fabio Capello are still trying to get over the debacle that was the 2010 World Cup and it is a mystery to me how a player who has performed so consistently for so many seasons has seemingly escaped the attention of not only Capello, but the English public too.
Osman has been named Everton’s Player of the Month for March – maybe it’s time to finally give Leon Osman some international recognition.

Fans can ‘go to hell’, says Fulham owner
Fulham fans fury over Michael Jackson statue
Fulham fans are furious with their owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed, who has had a statue of Michael Jackson erected outside Craven Cottage.
Fulham fans have reacted angrily after their owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed, decided that a statue of Michael Jackson should be placed outside their stadium – Craven Cottage.
Al-Fayed, who was good friends with Jackson, infuriated Fulham fans further by claiming thatFulham fans will love it. If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift they can go to hell.
“I don’t want them to be fans. If they don’t understand and don’t believe in things I believe in they can go to Chelsea, they can go anywhere else. People will queue to come and visit it from all over the UK and it is something that I and everybody else should be proud of.”
Fulham message boards were later besieged with posters demonstrating their disgust at what Al-Fayed had said, with one member of a Fulham message board labelling the Egyptian “an arrogant bully”. Another member stated: “I find this very disrespectful and insulting.”
Fulham fan Callum Kerrins told the Fulham Chronicle: “I wrote to the club to complain, not that it will do any good. I feel really let down.” Another fan argued “that at least 90 per cent of Fulham fans are against the statue, yet he wants us to go to hell and support someone else.”
Cottagers fans are clearly not happy, not just with the statue, but with the way Al-Fayed has completely disregarded the thoughts of Fulham fans, as ‘Ash’ told the Chronicle: “[Al-Fayed’s] comments were disgraceful today. I’ve paid so much money to see my team play and you’ve disrespected us all. We are entitled to our opinions. A public apology will be nice. Stop favouring the tourists over the diehards.”
Al-Fayed bought Fulham in 1997 and has seen the London club rise from the Third Division right up to the top flight. Under Roy Hodgson’s tenure, the club reached the Europa League final last year. Whilst Al-Fayed has clearly done an awful lot for Fulham, the fans are obviously unhappy with recent developments.
Fulham fans have set up a petition to try and convince Al-Fayed that the fans do not want the statue and that maybe the owner should think about what the fans actually want, rather than what he wants.
Kroenke makes move for Arsenal
American tycoon in advanced talks with Gunners
American businessman Stan Kroenke is in advanced talks over the takeover of Arsenal, which the Supporters’ Trust have welcomed.
American tycoon Stan Kroenke is in advanced talks to take control of Arsenal, according to Sky Sports.
Kroenke is currently the largest shareholder at the club, owning a twenty-nine per cent stake. If he were to purchase a further 0.09% of the Premier League club Kroenke would have to make a bid for the remainder.
“Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov also has more than a 20 per cent stake in the club – but now Kroenke has made a move to secure full control”, says Sky Sports. “Sky sources understand that Kroenke has come to an agreement with fellow shareholders Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith to purchase their shares.”
Both own 16% of Arsenal and, therefore, if Kroenke were to confirm those deals, a takeover bid would be triggered.
Arsenal would become the fifth Premier League club to be owned by an American, along with Manchester United, Aston Villa, Sunderland and Liverpool.
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trusthas cautiously welcomed the news, releasing a statement on Sunday night: “AST thinks it is really important that supporters remain involved in Arsenal’s ownership structure.
“Stan Kroenke has a good relationship with the AST and recently supported our fanshare scheme.
“We are hopeful of having discussions with him to discuss how our members and Arsenal supporters can keep their shares in Arsenal Football Club.”
Kroenke is the owner of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which includes the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League and St. Louis Rams of the NFL.
The reaction to this news seems to be a little mixed; some Arsenal fans are worried, given that there have been clubs in the Premier League who have struggled with foreign owners; many Arsenal fans are happy for a sport-savvy owner to come in and, as long as he doesn’t own 100% of the club and does commit funds to Arsenal, they are happy to support him; while most are just happy for some investment, or at least intention of investment.
In other Premier League news, FC Porto manager Andre Villas Boas is being linked with Liverpool. According to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport (and Gabriele Marcotti), Villas Boas is Liverpool’s top managerial target – apparently, the 33-year-old has a pre-contract agreement with Liverpool. However, The Times’ Tony Barret quickly quashed the rumours.
These articles originally appeared on Sports Haze.

Fulham snap up Chelsea youngster Kakuta

Premier League side Fulham have signed 19-year-old Gael Kakuta on loan from London rivals Chelsea until the end of the season.

The France Under-20 international, who is of Congolese descent, becomes Fulham’s second signing of the January transfer window after Steve Sidwell joined on a permanent move from Aston Villa.
Kakuta will now come under the stewardship of Fulham boss Mark Hughes and, after a frustrating couple of seasons with Chelsea, making only six appearances since 2009, the left winger will be looking to finally make his mark on the English Premier League.
Kakuta’s career in England got off to a controversial start two years ago after the Lens youth product was accused of breaking his contract with Lens in order to join Chelsea.
Chelsea and Kakuta were both given transfer bans which were then controversially overturned with Chelsea arguing that Kakuta did not have a valid contract with the French side.
Kakuta is yet to score in his professional career but, in December 2009, he became Chelsea’s youngest ever player to play for Chelsea in the Champions League, playing seventy-three minutes against Greek side APOEL FC. Didier Drogba is thought to have taken the young forward under his wing as the two players had quite similar upbringings.
Kakuta has scored fifteen goals in forty-five appearances for the various France youth teams, having played at every level from Under-16 up to Under-20.
Speaking about the transfer, Fulham’s official website stated that the club were “delighted” in being able to confirm the loan deal. It has also been confirmed that Kakuta will wear the number 24 for the Cottagers this season. Fulham are currently fifteenth in the table and will be hoping that both Kakuta and Sidwell will help turn their season around.
While the young attacking player is yet to make his full debut for his national side it is thought that, with regular first-team football seemingly available at Craven Cottage, Kakuta may be about to show why he is rated one of the most exciting players currently in European football. 

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze but is now unavailable due to the site closing down.
Picture from AbsolutionMuse

Premier League Preview: Fulham

My Premier League previews continue with Fulham focused on this time. After Roy Hodgson’s departure for Liverpool new manager Mark Hughes will be looking to push on from where Hodgson left off.

Having only just been given the job as manager Hughes hasn’t really put his stamp on the team. Players were added, though, before Hughes’ appointment. Philippe Senderos was plucked from Arsenal after the Swiss defender was released by the club, with Jonathan Greening also signing on a free transfer from West Brom. Senderos has been the butt of jokes from many fans for the last few seasons and the defender will be looking to re-build his career at Craven Cottage. Fulham have managed to keep the majority of their squad together, with Erik Nevland and Chris Smalling the only departures of note. The current stability at the club, in terms of finances and squad establishment, could see Fulham reach Hughes’ target of a top ten finish this season in the Premier League.
            The team are relatively solid at the back with Mark Schwarzer in goal, as well as Brede Hangeland and Senderos, who could build a central-defensive partnership in the new season. John Pantsil, Stephen Kelly and Paul Konchesky are all experienced at Premier League level and should be no cause for concern for Hughes.
            The midfield of the team is also impressive. Zoltan Gera and Damian Duff push forward and attack at will while Dickson Etuhu sits back. The USA international Clint Dempsey can also be given a free role to roam and the midfielder can look forward to chances coming his way if he can get himself in the right positions. It is Danny Murphy, though, who holds it altogether. The former Liverpool midfielder captains the Cottagers with pride and never fails to give 100%. A true craftsman at what he does, Murphy can carve open defences with his passing, whilst also working as a connection between defence and attack. Murphy is essential to Fulham’s success next season.
                On paper, Fulham have some good strikers. Andrew Johnson should be back from the injury that kept him out for the majority of last season and Diomansy Kamara can be called upon for a goal here and there. Neither, though, have been high-scoring strikers in the last few seasons and, with the club being linked with Manchester City forward Craig Bellamy, could find it difficult to get into the starting eleven. One player who is certain to play a big part in Hughes’ side this season, though, is Bobby Zamora. The English striker has received the backing of his new manager this week, with Hughes stating his desire to get Zamora into the England squad. Zamora scored twenty-one goals in forty-four games last season and is another vital player for Fulham.
            A player to look out for next season is defender Matthew Briggs. The 19-year-old has played a major part in the England under-19 and under-20 set-up, playing a total of fifteen games for his country at youth level. The defender has come up through the youth development at Craven Cottage and made history in the 2006/07 season when he came on as a 77th minute substitute to become the youngest player to appear in the Premier League, making his senior debut at the age of sixteen years and sixty-five days. The youngster went on loan to Leyton Orient last season only managing to make one appearance for the club. Briggs, though, will be looking to further his development at the club this season.
            The fact that Fulham have to adjust themselves to a new manager may prove difficult this season. Hughes has stated his goal of a top ten finish, which is more than achievable, but he may need to bring in a few more quality players. Another right-back wouldn’t go a miss as current defender John Pantsil maybe doesn’t warrant a start in a top ten Premier League side. The London club may also want to dip into the market for a striker, or a fast winger if Zamora is to be played up front on his own. Fulham will need goals from midfield if they are to fulfil their potential this season.
Where will they finish?: 9th
Official top ten finish odds: 2/1 (William Hill)
Star man: Danny Murphy/Bobby Zamora
One to watch: Matthew Briggs
Main weakness: Could lack real quality of key players go missing. Bellamy would be a great signing.