NFL Conference Round

I do not really want to talk about this weekend’s NFL games.  It’s become too important suddenly.  The Packers are a game away from a return to the Super Bowl, which would be just their fourth since I have been a fan (I started following them and the sport in the early 1990s) and second since I’ve been living in the United States.  Potential success is so close, yet there is such a big obstacle in the way: I do not want to listen to previews, I do not really want to write about it – I just want time to pass as quickly as possible so that the kick off can happen and I can sit there for three and a half hours, watching from behind my hands.  I really do not want to talk about it, because I think that Green Bay are going to win and I do not want to dare type that out loud.  Not because I believe in jinxes (I do not) or that I could have any affect on the game, but just I really want to be right about this.  Still, let’s look at what happened last weekend, starting with the Packers.

Nearly...
Nearly…

Green Bay 26-21 Dallas Cowboys

The game was basically clinched when Dez Bryant dropped a throw from Tony Romo on the one yard line with four minutes to play…what? Okay so it was probably a catch, despite what the letter of the law said, but a couple of points that were not forthcoming in the furore over the reversed call:

  • With more than 3.5 minutes remaining, Aaron Rodgers would definitely have gotten the Packers into at least field goal range and the way he was playing that second half, would have gotten a touchdown to win it in all likelihood.
  • Because of that first point, it was a ridiculous play call from the Cowboys, who should have run on 4th and 2 not least to limit the amount of time Rodgers would have had to respond. They did not need that big play at that time, regardless of it looked like a catch to anyone not in a zebra suit.
  • Dan Bailey’s missed field goal towards the end of the first half was just as important to the Cowboys loss.  If he makes it, Dallas goes in 17-7 up at the half (they would have kicked off and the Packers would not have had such good field position to start), instead it was 14-10.
  • People did not mention enough about how well Green Bay played because of that call: Rodgers was superb in the second half – ON ONE LEG!; Julius Peppers – who many dismissed as overrated when he signed as a free agent from Chicago – made a great play to force a fumble from DeMarco Murray; and Davante Adams made a superb catch and run for a touchdown, completely bamboozling the Cowboys defensive back.
  • In 2012, the Packers lost in Seattle thanks to a ridiculous catch call that was made by the replacement refs, which was the start of the Seahawks incredible home-field performance.  This time, the Bryant non-catch was correctly ruled incomplete (per the rules of the game) and now Green Bay gets to go into Seattle and end their NFC dominance in front of the 12th man. Boy, I’m pumped up for this game, let’s move on to the other contests from last week.

Continue reading

Premier League Recap and Preview: Defoe Returns to the Lane and City vs Arsenal

Defoe Joins Sunderland

Jermain Defoe, he's a…Spurs hero
Jermain Defoe, he’s a…Spurs hero

Over the period of time I was a season ticket holder at Tottenham (2002/3 – 2006/7) my favorite player for the club was Jermain Defoe*.  From the moment he first joined Spurs in January of 2004, I rated him as the best available goalscorer we had, right up until the point he was sold to Toronto FC a year ago.  This weekend, he will return to White Hart Lane, but will be pulling on the red and white strip of Sunderland, as he signed for the Black Cats during the week.

*Okay he was my joint favorite for the two seasons that Edgar Davids was at the Lane, but the Dutch midfielder was something special and it was amazing  to see him come to Tottenham

Some have questioned the logic of the North East club spending big money on both a fee and Defoe’s wages, but regardless of his age or lack of recent form, I was still hoping the transfer would not go through in time for him to make his debut against Tottenham.  This is beyond just the fact that the diminutive striker has an excellent record of scoring on his first appearance for a club, having done so with West Ham, Bournemouth, Spurs, Portsmouth and Toronto FC.  Defoe is an out-and-out goalscorer and someone who is deadly from anywhere around the edge of the box if he has even half a yard of space.

Any confidence I had in anticipation of this game (which as always, is limited with Spurs) was completely annihilated by the news that Defoe would be playing for Sunderland – he will score and chances are, he will get the winner.  One other guarantee – the entire stadium will applaud him and chant his name on Saturday and many Spurs supporters, like me, will be wishing he had on the white shirt of Tottenham…especially when Roberto Soldado is warming up on the sidelines.

Last Week’s Action

Tomorrow’s encounter is crucial for Spurs and Sunderland, as they both suffered narrow defeats last weekend.  The Black Cats were beaten 1-0 at home by Liverpool, who struck early through Lazar Markovic and held on against 10 men following Liam Bridcutt’s second-half dismissal.  Tottenham lost 2-1 away at Crystal Palace, a result that had many pundits pointing to “Spurs being Spurs”, mocking the way that they can beat Chelsea in one game, then lose to the Eagles in the next.  However, it was not exactly a poor performance and the defeat was in part due to referee Anthony Taylor, who awarded Palace a spot-kick from which they equalized, even though Benjamin Stambouli played the ball; then denied a penalty at the other end when Harry Kane was brought down in the box.  Perhaps Spurs should have been better at taking their chances, but there was a huge slice of ill-fortune to their defeat.

Southampton registered their first win at Old Trafford since 1988 and moved into third place in the table in the process, beating the Red Devils 1-0 through a Dusan Tadic goal.  It was a strange loss for Manchester United, who have an array of attacking talent, combined with a poor defensive unit, but failed to muster a single shot on target during this match.  Chelsea avenged their loss earlier this season to Newcastle by beating them 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, a result that moved them two points clear of Manchester City in the title race, after the reigning champions were held to a draw at Goodison Park by Everton. Continue reading

Premier League Returns

After the break for the F.A Cup action last weekend, Premier League football returns this weekend with the top two teams, Chelsea and Manchester City, currently separated only on alphabetical order.  Here’s a rundown of the fixtures, which are the reverse of the games that were played in the first weekend in December.

Keeper Simon Mignolet will be hoping to improve his form against his old club
Keeper Simon Mignolet will be hoping to improve his form against his old club

Sunderland vs Liverpool

Last time: Liverpool 0-0 Sunderland

Liverpool won their rematch with AFC Wimbledon in the F.A. Cup on Monday night, but they will be eager to pick up three points in the league to remain in any contention for a top four spot, as they are currently seven behind Southampton.  Sunderland’s only victory in their last ten league matches was against Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby, but they are still three points above the relegation zone.  The Black Cats last won a Premier League game at home on October 4th, so they will be very eager to show some form in front of their own supporters.  Prediction: Draw

Burnley vs QPR

Last time: QPR 2-0 Burnley

Queens Park Rangers have lost all nine of their away league matches this season and if they cannot get a result against one of the bottom of the sides, they might go the whole season without picking up any points on the road.  Burnley got two credible draws away at Manchester City and Newcastle in their last two league games and a victory over QPR would lift them out of the bottom three.  Prediction: Burnley win

Chelsea vs Newcastle

Last time: Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea

Newcastle inflicted Chelsea’s first defeat of the season last time they met, but this time they will be without Papiss Cissé and Chieck Tiote, both of whom are on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.  Also, the Magpies still do not have a manager after Alan Pardew’s departure to Crystal Palace.  Chelsea have a perfect record at home in the league and will be eager to get back on track after their 5-3 defeat to Tottenham on New Year’s Day. Prediction: Chelsea win Continue reading

NFL Divisional Round Preview

There are just eight teams left in the race to be crowned Super Bowl champions in Arizona next month.  Before looking at this weekend’s divisional round, here’s what happened in the opening four playoff games:

  • The Cardinals will not become the first team to win the Super Bowl at home, as they managed just 78 yards of offense and were beaten 27-16 by the Panthers.  The victory meant that Carolina joined Seattle – whom they face this Saturday – as the only teams to win a playoff contest after finishing the regular season with a losing record.
  • Flacco led the Ravens to an upset victory in Pittsburgh over the Steelers
    Flacco led the Ravens to an upset victory in Pittsburgh over the Steelers

    Baltimore shocked the Steelers in Pittsburgh, as Joe Flacco once again upped his game in the postseason and led the Ravens to a 30-17 victory.

  • For the fourth consecutive year, the Bengals made the playoffs but lost their opening game, as they were defeated by the Colts, 26-10 in Indianapolis.  Cincinnati were without their best wide receiver, AJ Green, as well as their tight-end, Jermaine Gresham, but Andy Dalton was simply outplayed by Andrew Luck, who threw for 376 yards and a touchdown.
  • Dallas came from 20-7 back to beat the Lions 24-20 and advanced to the Divisional Round.  Much was made of a picked up flag with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter that reversed a pass interference call that would have kept a Detroit drive alive.  However, the lack of discipline of the Lions’ defense was what cost them: in the game-winning touchdown drive for the Cowboys, they committed penalties on third down that kept the chains moving.

Divisional Round Predictions

Last week, 4-0; Playoffs, 4-0

Home teams in bold

Ravens +7 over Patriots

I fully recognize this could be a huge blowout for New England and the Ravens looked far from convincing over the last month of the season.  However, they played a fantastic game against Pittsburgh last week and they have a history of performing well both in the playoffs and specifically against the Patriots.  Also, it is nearly a month since New England played a good game: they were lucky to edge past the Jets in Week 16 when they were still playing for the number one seed; rested starters and lost to Buffalo in Week 17, then had a bye week.  That is a long time to have gone since playing particularly well and it could result in Brady and company being somewhat rusty in the first half of this contest.

Seahawks -11 over Panthers

Not sure how high they would have to make this line for me to take Carolina in Seattle.  Part of me, as a Packers fan, wants the Panthers to cause an upset, but I also want Aaron Rodgers to be able to prove himself against the best, which would mean going through the Seahawks.  Regardless of my preference, the Panthers are only .500 for the season thanks to the win over the Cardinals and their third string quarterback in the Wild Card round – this will be a very one-sided contest.

Packers -5.5 over Cowboys

Yes, Dallas are 8-0 on the road. Yes, Aaron Rodgers might be hoping around on one leg. Yes, I’m terrified of seeing Matt Flynn warming up on the sidelines.  No, I’m not taking the Cowboys under any circumstances.  Go Pack Go!

Broncos -7 over Colts

Peyton Manning against his old team; Andrew Luck versus the man he took over from at quarterback for the Colts.  The truth is, Manning did not look the same in the second half of the season, but he just got to rest for the first time since Denver had their bye in week 4.  I really wanted to find a way to pick Indianapolis in this contest, but I do not think they will be good enough to beat the Broncos on their own turf.

 

 

 

 

NFL Wild Card Weekend

This weekend sees the start of the NFL playoffs, as we have reached the point where there are just eleven games left to play in the 2014 season.  Before getting onto my predictions for each of those games, here’s a quick rundown of the main action from Week 17:

  • Baltimore labored to victory over the Browns, but their eventual success was enough to earn them the 6th seed in the AFC, as the Chargers were beaten by the Chiefs.  The win for the Ravens meant that both Kansas City and Houston were eliminated, despite having victories in their final contests of the season.
  • The last thing Packers wanted to see last Sunday, but Rodgers now has a week of rest
    The last thing Packers wanted to see last Sunday, but Rodgers now has a week of rest

    Seattle clinched the number 1 seed in the NFC, despite struggling in the first half of their game with the Rams.  Green Bay earned the other bye in the conference, as Aaron Rodgers overcame a leg injury to lead the Packers to yet another home victory over the Lions.

  • Carolina won in Atlanta to claim the NFC South with an unimpressive record of 7-8-1.  However, they get to host the flailing Cardinals in the opening round of the playoffs, so a sub-500 team could once again win a postseason game, just like the Seahawks did in 2010.
  • Tampa Bay rallied from a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints to lose 23-20 and guarantee for themselves the first pick in the this year’s draft.  It was a particularly impressive defeat as it required New Orleans to: a) score 9 points inside the final 2 minutes; and b) not tank themselves so as to avoid having to face quarterback – and likely number 1 pick – Marcus Mariota twice a season for the next decade.
  • I ended the regular season with a 7-9 week picking against the spread, to bring my final total to 133-123.

Wild Card Weekend Predictions

Home teams in bold

Panthers -4.5 over Cardinals

Although Carolina ended the season with a losing record, compared with Arizona’s 11-5 mark, the two teams have been on opposite trajectories over the last month.  The Cardinals will be forced to start Ryan Lindley in this playoff game and, despite the strength of their defense, I do not think they will be able to score enough points to beat the Panthers.

Ravens +3.5 over Steelers

In week 9, Pittsburgh beat the Ravens by 20 points and Ben Roethlisberger threw for six touchdown passes.  However, the weather in western Pennsylvania calls for snow and ice on Saturday night, plus the Steelers will be without their star running back, Le’Veon Bell, due to injury.  Also, Joe Flacco has a proven track record on the road in playoff games and I think that Baltimore will pull off an upset.

Colts -6 over Bengals

Not only is AJ Green a doubt for this game with a concussion, but to pick Cincinnati, you would have to believe that Andy Dalton can win in the postseason, on the road no less.  I will take Indianapolis and Andrew Luck over the Bengals, especially since they beat them 27-0 earlier in the season.

Lions +8 over Cowboys

My upset special for the opening weekend: I think that not only will Detroit cover in this game, but they will win outright and progress to face Seattle in the divisional round.  Maybe it is just that, as a Packers fan, I would rather face the Cardinals or Panthers next week than the Cowboys, but I think that the Lions’ defense will cause issues for Dallas.  Add to that the fact that most people were tipping the Cowboys to be one of the worst teams in football before the season began, so everything is gravy from here-on out; Tony Romo’s ability to capitulate, despite his strong showing in December; and the fact that DeMarco Murray has already carried the ball 392 times in 2014, I think Detroit has a great shot this Sunday.  Of course, it will mean that Matt Stafford will have to beat a winning team on the road for the first team in his career (0-16 to this point).

 

Tottenham Beat Chelsea and Premier League Festive Round Up

The run of thirty Premier League games inside a week came to an end on New Year’s Day, with only one team failing to pick up any points during that period.  With attention switching to the F.A. Cup third round this weekend, here’s a run down of how each club performed between Christmas and New Year, in order of how many points they gained and starting at the most obvious of places.

7 Points

Here comes the story of the Harry Kane
Here comes the story of the Harry Kane

Tottenham – To get the formalities out of the way, Spurs were somewhat lucky to pick up all three points on Boxing Day, as they won 2-1 at the King Power Stadium to consign Leicester to another defeat; then two days later, Tottenham held Manchester United goalless at White Hart Lane, despite a barrage of shots from the visitors in the opening forty-five minutes.

Of course the game I really want to talk about was the New Year’s Day contest against Chelsea.  Before this match, Spurs had only beaten the Blues in the Premier League three times, yet in their last eight home fixtures against them, they had also been beaten just once.  Early on, it looked as though the game would follow a familiar script – Tottenham had the better of the opening 15 minutes, but then fell behind to a Diego Costa goal, following a mazy run and shot by Eden Hazard that came back off the post.  However, while I saw a thrashing coming, Spurs instead fought back thanks to a brilliant individual goal by Harry Kane, then took the lead when Christian Eriksen fed Nacer Chadli, whose shot hit the woodwork and came back to Danny Rose, who finished first time.   Just before the interval, Harry Kane was fouled by Gary Cahill in the area to win a penalty that was converted by Andros Townsend, giving Mauricio Pochettino’s men an unexpected 3-1 half-time lead.

Knowing that a comeback was still very much on the cards, I believed that Tottenham needed a fourth goal and that came in the 52nd minute, as Kane linked up well with Chadli, turned Matic beautifully and finished with a well placed (if deflected) shot.   Nevertheless, it would not be a Spurs game without some anxiety and that came when Hazard made it 4-2 just after the hour mark.  Tottenham were not to be denied and Chadli settled the nerves once again with another deflected effort.  Not even a late John Terry goal could dampen the mood of the home crowd, who celebrated seeing their side record a rare victory over one of their biggest rivals and move up to fifth in the table, two points outside of the top four places. Continue reading

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2014

To say that there has been an abundance of good television shows this year is an understatement. I really wanted to make this list a top 20, then thought maybe 15, considered 12 for a moment, before realizing that it would only be right to narrow it down to just ten and give honorable mentions to all the shows that did not make the final cut.  Is that cheating? Maybe. But so what.  Here we go with honorable mentions (and for the record, there are no spoilers for any show):

Honorable Mentions: Comedies

Louis C.K and Sarah Baker combined for seven amazing minutes of television on Louie
Louis C.K and Sarah Baker combined for seven amazing minutes of television on Louie

Louie (FX) - Always great and this year’s episode of “And so did the fat lady” was perhaps my favorite half-hour of television this year.  Just a fantastic job by Louis C.K and guest star, Sarah Baker, a thoughtful, smart and funny 30 minutes that everyone should find and watch.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX) – The only network comedy I can stand to watch right now and it consistently makes me laugh every week.

Last Week Tonight (HBO), The Daily Show (Comedy Central) – John Oliver’s new show on HBO did a wonderful job of mixing the way The Daily Show covers topics in the news, with the way, The Bugle, Oliver’s podcast, finds important stories that are not being covered by the mainstream outlets.  Meanwhile, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show remains the go-to place for coverage of everything that is going on in the political world and beyond.

Silicon Valley (HBO) – Well put together show and enjoyable first season, but it was not must-see like the comedies that did make the list.

Jeffrey Tambour has his best role of an incredible career in Transparent
Jeffrey Tambour has his best role of an incredible career in Transparent

Transparent (Amazon) – The hardest omission from the top ten and one I desperately wanted to find a way to include it in the list.  Jeffrey Tambor is absolutely brilliant in the leading role, but the supporting cast is also fantastic and I watched the entire season within a week.

Honorable Mentions – Dramas

Mad Men (AMC), Homeland (Showtime) – Both of these shows have been among my favorites in previous years, but neither had strong overall seasons in 2014.  The second half of Mad Men and a string of five Homeland episodes were among the best installments of any show this year.  However, I seriously wondered why I was still watching Mad Men during the opening few weeks of the half-season, while I was outright hate-watching Homeland until it suddenly got good again.

Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – It was not the best season of this once-great gangster story, but it was good enough to give a fitting finale to the show.  The penultimate episode was one of the most entertaining hours of television in 2014.

In my mind, McNulty moved to Brooklyn from Bawlmore and vacations in Montauk
In my mind, McNulty moved to Brooklyn from Bawlmore and vacations in Montauk

The Affair (Showtime) – I thought this was a compelling and excellent new show, though to be fair, I will always watch McNulty (Dominic West) in a leading role.  Throw in any actors from The Wire and you can usually guarantee I will be in…except if it is a show about zombies (sorry The Walking Dead fans, you’ll not see that in my top 10…or Game of Thrones – all of my favorite shows take place in a version of the real world).  The split-narrative of The Affair could have turned out to be clunky after the opening episode, but it was handled brilliantly and gave the show a unique story-telling device.  Alongside Dominic West, Ruth Wilson is also great as the other participant in the affair that gives the show its title.

Sherlock (BBC/PBS) – My wife and I did not watch any of the Benedict Cumberbath/Martin Freeman version of Sherlock Holmes until this January, so it was tempting for me to include it.  However, the three episodes that were released in 2014 were not as good as what had come before, so it drops down to honorable mentions.

Justified (FX) – A really fun show every year, but next year’s final run of episodes with a much-anticipated showdown between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder could find it crack the top 10 in 12 months’ time.

The Missing (BBC/Starz) – Another import from the UK, the first hour of The Missing was an incredibly hard show to get through, not because it was bad, but because of the harrowing nature of the subject matter.  James Nesbitt stars as the father of a boy who goes missing in France in 2006 and the duel narratives between present day and the events from eight years earlier are incredibly well intertwined.

Onto the main list. Continue reading

NFL 2014 Week 17 Picks

The Falcons celebrate being not quite as bad as the Saints in 2014
The Falcons celebrate being not quite as bad as the Saints in 2014

It is the final weekend of the regular season in the NFL, which means that after Sunday, there are only 11 more meaningful football games until next September.  With that in mind, here are the main things that are up for grabs heading into the final weekend of the campaign.

  • The NFC South title – the only one of the six playoff berths not decided in the NFC, either Carolina or Atlanta will end up hosting a postseason game, despite the fact that neither can finish with any more than 7 wins.
  • The five NFC teams who have already booked their place in the playoffs are all jockeying for position.  Seattle, Arizona and Green Bay can all still realistically end up with the first seed, with the Seahawks having the inside track to home field advantage throughout January.  The Packers will be at least the 2 seed if they beat the Lions, but if they lose they could drop to the 6 seed and face a visit to the Cowboys – who will almost certainly be the 3 seed – for Wild Card weekend.
  • Five AFC teams have also already claimed a spot in the postseason, with New England guaranteed the 1 seed and Denver able to claim a first week bye if they can beat the Raiders at home.  Should the Broncos slip up, the Bengals can grab the second seed in the Conference by winning in Pittsburgh, but a loss would put the Steelers as the 3 seed and force Cincinnati to play their opening game of the playoffs on the road.
  • The final available Wild Card spot can still be won by any one of four teams: the Chargers, Chiefs, Ravens and Texans.  For Kansas City to make it, they need to beat San Diego then hope Baltimore and Houston both lose their contests.  If the Chargers win they are in, the Ravens need help from the Chiefs and to beat the Browns, while the Texans need to beat the Jaguars, then root for Cleveland and Kansas City.
  • The top spot in the draft will also be decided this weekend, with the Buccaneers facing the tough prospect of needing to lose to the woeful Saints to clinch the worst record in the league.  There could be a lot of coaches finding themselves out of a work come Monday, a day notorious for firings in the NFL.
  • I also have the opportunity to finish with an above .500 record picking against the spread for the fourth season out of four I have been making predictions.  Current record is 126-114, so only a 2-14 week or worse would prevent me from finishing with a winning record.  That being said…

Predictions

Last week, 9-7; Season, 126-114

Home teams in bold

Patriots -3.5 over Bills

Bears +6.5 over Vikings

Ravens -8.5 over Browns

Washington +6.5 over Cowboys

Colts -7.5 over Titans

Chargers +2.5 over Chiefs

Dolphins -5.5 over Jets

Saints -3.5 over Buccaneers

Giants -2.5 over Eagles

Texans -9.5 over Jaguars

Falcons -3.5 over Panthers

Broncos -14.5 over Raiders

Packers -7.5 over Lions

Seahawks -12.5 over Rams

49ers -5.5 over Cardinals

Steelers -2.5 over Bengals

 

Premier League Bumper Festive Edition

Toure scores City's third with what can only be described as a "thunder bastard" strike
Toure scores City’s third with what can only be described as a “thunder bastard” strike

In the seven days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, thirty games will be played in the English Premier League, as clubs face three matches apiece over the course of a week that could shape the title race, the contenders for the top four places, and the relegation battle.  Last weekend in the final round of fixtures before the madness begins, all of the top five teams won, while the bottom four were all beaten.

In the early kick off on Saturday, Crystal Palace could consider themselves somewhat unlucky to have lost 3-0 at the Etihad against Manchester City.  The reigning champions did not break the deadlock until after half-time, then David Silva struck twice in 12 minutes to open up a 2-0 lead for City.  However, James McArthur should have reduced the deficit to a single goal, but he was erroneously ruled offside and his headed goal was chalked off by the officials.  With any hopes of a comeback gone with that decision, YaYa Toure ensured his team victory with an absolutely stunning left foot finish late on.  The three points temporarily pulled City level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table, until the Blues played on Monday night against Stoke, whom they beat 2-0 through goals from John Terry and Cesc Fabregas.

Arsenal were denied a victory at Anfield due to a late, late header from Martin Skrtel, who made it 2-0 in the eighth minute of injury time.  It had been treatment to Skrtel for a gash on his head that caused the long delay in play, but the dropping of two points can be more directly attributed to poor defending from the Gunners, who completely failed to pick up Liverpool’s biggest aerial threat at the set play.  That draw left Arsenal in sixth place, four points behind West Ham, who beat Leicester 2-0 last weekend in East London.  Behind the Gunners only on goal difference sits Tottenham, who were pegged back by Burnley after Harry Kane had nodded home the opener, but a cracking strike from Erik Lamela – his first Premiership goal – gave Mauricio Pochettino’s men three much-needed points.

Elsewhere, Queens Park Rangers continued to improve their home form with a 3-2 victory over fellow strugglers West Brom, a result that lifted them out of the relegation zone despite the fact that they have lost all eight matches they have played away from Loftus Road this season.  In the Tyne-Wear derby, Sunderland beat Newcastle for the fourth consecutive time, striking late through Adam Johnson, who grew up as a fan of the Magpies.  Manchester United were held to a draw away at Aston Villa, with the home side forced to play the final half an hour with only 10 men, after Gabriel Agbonlahor was sent off, a ridiculous decision that was later overturned upon appeal.  Southampton finally got a win, defeating Everton 3-0 at St. Mary’s, while Swansea piled more misery on Hull, winning 1-0 at the KC Stadium to leave Steve Bruce’s men second from bottom in the table. Continue reading

Premier League Festive Season Begins

How de Grinch stole points from Liverpool
How de Grinch stole points from Liverpool

Anybody who advocates a winter break in the Premier League is basically trying to ruin the best time of year to be a fan of English football. Between now and January 6th, there are four rounds of league fixtures, plus the third round of the F.A. Cup.  It is the time of year where maybe you do not win the title – that comes between March and May, which Sir Alex Ferguson so eloquently referred to as “squeaky-bum time” – but you can definitely lose it.  Seasons can be made by hitting a good run of form: teams can propel themselves into a top four race; move away from relegation trouble; or, conversely with a string of poor results, ambitions can be brought down before the Christmas decorations.

Since it is the season, the roundup of last week’s games will be brought to you in the style of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

Every team across England liked playing Tottenham a lot.

But the Swans, who came from South Wales, did not.

Swansea hated playing Spurs, they lost every season,

It didn’t matter how well they played, it seemed to forgo reason.

It could be perhaps that they missed too many chances,

Or spent too much time pinging around passes.

But I think the most likely reason of all,

Is that they did not stop Eriksen shooting the ball.

But whatever the reason, the passes or misses,

They lost two to one, to fulfill Pochettino’s wishes.

 

While over at Old Trafford, Rodgers had a sour frown

As he watched United send his team three nothing down.

And Rodgers knew every Red in the stands up above,

Unlike last year, were showing him no love.

“We made poor mistakes” he said in a post-match chat

“We won’t get anywhere playing like that.”

Rodgers snarled as he looked at the Premier League table

And realized his side was unlikely to be able,

To finish fourth, the thought made him laugh.

For Liverpool were sitting out of the top half.

 

At Stoke, a weak earlier after a loss,

Arsenal fans expressed feelings, without any gloss.

And they did something Wenger liked least of all,

They booed him at the station, for allowing a fall,

Of his team out of reach of the Champions League places,

Which made Gunners supporters show him their angry faces.

But on Saturday he made them stand up and shout,

As Arsenal beat Newcastle, without any doubt.

They sang! And they sang!

And they SANG! SANG! SANG! SANG!

And the more Wenger thought of the Arsenal fans happy-sing

The more he thought “I must stop this whole thing.

For if they are cheering and standing to clap,

How will they eat their fennel and quinoa wrap?

Why we beat them four-one, they should be more quiet,

I don’t want them ending their rich Emirates diet.”

 

At the Bridge, Jose got an awful idea,

Mourinho go a wonderful awful idea.

“I know just what to do” the boss laughed in his throat

“I’ll claim we don’t cheat, that will rock their boat”

And he chuckled and smiled as Cahill took a dive

That should have left Chelsea with only ten on their side.

“All we need is two goals, from Eden and Costa,

Then Bruce will be mad, as his side will have lost…ah!”

 

While over at Leicester, a Blues legend of yore

Popped up to give Man City a crucial score.

Frank Lampard’s strike was the match’s only goal,

Leaving City in second, and the Foxes in a hole.

Then the Eagles and Potters, Hammers and Black Cats

All scored a goal each, for two draws in two matches.

 

Now don’t asked what happened, to old Aston Villa,

Their 1-0 defeat at West Brom was hardly a thriller,

While the Saints also lost by that very same score,

That they were playing lowly Burnley, made it extra sore.

And Queens Park Rangers are no good away,

For which Everton made them pay.

Eight matches away from Loftus Road of which they’ve won none,

A trend that was continued, as the Toffees triumphed three-one.

 

This weekend, the most exciting looking fixtures are both being played on Sunday, as there is the Tyne-Wear derby between Newcastle and Sunderland; followed by Arsenal’s trip to the north-west to face Liverpool, a match that ended 5-1 last season.  On Saturday, the action starts with Manchester City hosting Crystal Palace; then Manchester United travel to Aston Villa, a fixture they have not lost since 1995; Southampton try to return to winning ways as they play Everton at St. Mary’s; QPR will need to continue their impressive home form as they take on West Brom; and Swansea are at Hull.  Also that day, Tottenham and West Ham both have home games against struggling opponents, as they host Burnley and Leicester respectively; while the league leaders Chelsea do not play until Monday, when they are away at Stoke.

Predictions

Last week’s jinx special, 3-7 (so 7 fixtures went they way I had hoped, I’m doing that again!); Season, 67-93

Home teams listed first, all predictions opposite outcome of what I want, draws mean I do not care.

Manchester City vs Crystal Palace – Away win

Aston Villa vs Manchester United – Away win

Hull vs Swansea – Away win

QPR vs West Brom – Draw

Southampton vs Everton – Home win (I would like a draw)

Tottenham vs Burnley – Away win

West Ham vs Leicester – Home win

Newcastle vs Sunderland – Home win

Liverpool vs Arsenal – Away win

Stoke vs Chelsea – Away win