This week in: English Football – Premiership, Transfers and European Draws

Premiership Roundup and Weekend Preview

Last week in the Premiership, Chelsea secured two home wins over Reading and Newcastle to finish August at the top of the table,

Torres celebrates scoring Chelsea’s second goal against Newcastle

with 3 wins out of 3.  Their 4-2 win over Reading came after they have been 2-1 down at half-time, before goals from Gary Cahill (a cracking shot from distance), Torres (who was offside) and Ivanovic (into an empty net on a counter-attack, as the opposing keeper, Federici, had gone up for a corner in the final minute) secured the three points for Roberto DiMatteo’s men.  Chelsea’s victory over Alan Pardew’s Newcastle was much more routine – a penalty from Eden Hazard and a fantastic finish from Torres ensured a perfect start for the Blues and sent them into today’s European Super Cup full of confidence.

There are two other teams in the top flight with 100% records thus far, and neither of them hail from Manchester.  Swansea produced a dominant performance against newly-promoted West Ham, beating Sam Allardyce’s side 3-0 in South Wales.  Michael Laudrup, who replaced Liverpool-bound Brendan Rodgers in the summer, has seen his side win their opening two games with a record of scored 8, conceded 0.  Everton followed up their opening weekend victory over Manchester United by beating Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park; the home supporters will be concerned at the lack of improvement thus far under new boss, Paul Lambert, and their side sit bottom of the (very early) Premier League table.

Another new manager has made a less than impressive start – Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham have picked up just a solitary point from their opening two games.  Last Saturday, they dominated the first half against West Brom at White Hart Lane, but after the break they were outplayed when the visitors introduced Romelu Lukaku to their attack. Spurs did manage to take the lead against the run of play, when a long distance shot from Benoit Assou-Ekotto was deflected past Ben Foster in the Albion goal, but James Morrisson scored an equaliser in injury time to give Steve Clarke’s men a share of the points.  One other note on that match, Jan Vertonghen had made an impressive debut for Tottenham – including a fantastic block to prevent Lukaku from scoring when he was through on goal – but for the West Brom goal he was too busy having a wrestling contest (that could have given away a penalty) with Jonas Olsson to concentrate on defending.  The other team from North London are still unbeaten this season, but have also yet to record a goal – drawing 0-0 for the second weekend in a row, this time at the Brittannia Stadium against Stoke.  Arsenal are clearly missing Van Persie, but new signings Giroud and Podolski are likely to come good soon, especially with the creative Cazorla making so many opportunities for them. Continue reading

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This Week In: English Football – United Lose to Everton

Fellaini’s header condemns United to an opening day defeat

As noted in the season preview, far too much is read into results from the first weekend of the Premiership campaign and this is particularly the case when one of the big clubs fails to win their opening match.  Therefore, Manchester United’s defeat on Monday night against Everton will have many writing Ferguson’s men out of the title race with a mere 37 games left to play; Arsenal’s failure to break down Sunderland at the Emirates is a sign that their fans will have to endure another season of frustration; and Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat to West Brom already has some of their supporters questioning the departure of the much-loved Kenny Dalglish as manager.

All of these storylines may be quashed this weekend, but there was one match this weekend that had a remarkably familiar feel to it.  On the final day of last season, Manchester City played QPR at the Etihad; took the lead, only to fall behind 2-1; before recovering to win the game 3-2.  Last Sunday, against Southampton – another team in their first campaign back in the top-flight – Mancini’s side repeated the trick, though they did not leave their comeback until injury-time on this occasion.  The Saints did put on a strong showing, but their frailty in defense needs to be addressed before the end of the transfer window if they are to have any realistic chance of avoiding relegation straight back to the Championship.

Before the weekend’s action, Manchester United had completed the purchase of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal – giving Ferguson a plethora of options in attack and leaving Wenger the dilemma of how to replace his main striker from the last few years.  As it turned out, neither team was able to find the net in their first fixture: United were frustrated by Everton, who fully deserved their 1-0 victory; while Arsenal could not find a way to score against Sunderland.  There was plenty to encourage the Emirates faithful, in particular the creative play of new signing, Santi Cazorla, who impressed on his debut.  However, Arsenal did not dominate possession (52:48) in their usual manner, managed a mere four shots on target and, perhaps of most concern, Wenger was visibly irate with Olivier Giroud for missing a great chance late in the game, after Cazorla had played him through.  If the Frenchman is showing little patience for one of his players in the first match of the season – and on the striker’s first appearance for the club – then water bottles in the North London region should watch out as the campaign heats up.   Continue reading

Premier League 2012/2013 Preview

Aguero wins the title for City in the dying moments of the 2011/12 Premiership season

It is just over three months since the Premier League season ended with an incredible crescendo when Manchester City scored two goals in stoppage time to win both their game against Queens Park Rangers and, more importantly, the title at the expense of their most bitter rivals. While Euro 2012 filled three weeks of the summer, the excitement for ardent supporters of clubs that comes from the first Saturday of the new season is unmatched by international tournaments. Everybody starts again with no points on the board; fans believe that their team will win the title/qualify for the Champions League/be a surprise package/avoid relegation. Optimism abounds, pessimism is put on hold – at least for 90 minutes until the vidiprinter reports that opening day scoreline no supporter wants to see: Newcastle United 7 (Seven) – Tottenham Hotspur 0. Far too much analysis will be done on the first round of fixtures – since people have been starved of the Premiership for a quarter of a year – and managers will find themselves at risk of the sack by the end of August should they fail to put many points on the board. However, it is a long season and my preview looks at the marathon that is the whole campaign, followed by my predictions for the sprint of the opening weekend of games.

The Favourites

No surprise here, Manchester City and Manchester United are the teams to beat again this season, the two rivals finished level on 89 points at the top last year – 19 points clear of 3rd placed Arsenal – with Roberto Mancini’s men securing their first title since 1968 on goal difference alone. City have not been very active in the transfer market this summer – the only signing they have made has been Jack Rodwell from Everton – and they want to offload some of the fringe players from their bloated squad before they bring in any more new acquisitions. Becoming Champions ahead of United may be the tonic that the Blue half of Manchester needed to push on and achieve more success both domestically and in Europe – they were knocked out of their first Champions League campaign in the group stages in 2011/12 – but if they are to defend their title they will need to improve their away record. At the City of Manchester Stadium they won 18 and drew 1 of their league fixtures, but on the road they lost five games, with their form dipping drastically at the turn of the year.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been eager to increase his attacking options in this transfer window and has brought in Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund, while the signing of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal appears imminent. These two will go alongside Danny Wellbeck, Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney in a strike-force that looks likely to be both prolific and entertaining. Ferguson will want no repeat of last year’s failings, even if they matched the points total of their cross-city rivals, he will be out for revenge this season. If Vidic can avoid injury this term, then United should be stronger at the back – his absence was particularly notable in the 4-4 home draw against Everton, when the Red Devils conceded two late goals to throw away crucial points that ultimately cost them the title.

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Paul Ryan is the GOP VP Candidate – Who will it help?

Big Bucks Hunter – Paul Ryan

The soon-to-be nominated Republican candidate for President, Mitt Romney, today announced his selection of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate for November’s election.  A seven-term Congressman from Wisconsin, Ryan has become a celebrity figure in GOP politics, mainly due to the alternative budget plans he has proposed in the last three years.  Now the question is what impact the choice of Paul Ryan as Vice-President will have on the race for the White House.

Romney’s VP selection will energize the Republican base, who have not been overly excited about their nominee thus far.  However, the same group of electorates that Ryan appeals to and will motivate to get out and vote, were already going to turn up on November 6th to attempt to remove President Obama from the White House.  Moderates, on the other hand, are highly unlikely to be persuaded to cast their vote for Romney because of the presence of Ryan on the bottom half of the ticket.

Paul Ryan’s presence on the ticket will provide a boost to the campaign and doubtlessly will increase his fundraising potential – both of which could provide Governor Romney with momentum and give him a boost in the polls that he desperately needs.  Nevertheless, a similar hike was achieved by Senator McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin in 2008, but it only lasted a month and the election was ultimately won on the issues.  Now Ryan is no Palin, he is able to argue his viewpoints effectively and back them up with his own brand of reasoning – plus, at school, he was a member of the International Geographic Society, so he should be able to display some knowledge of the wider world beyond being a neighbour of Russia.  He may not be kryponite to Romney’s election bid, but up until now Mitt has been running without any specific policy plans or taking any viewpoints other than being opposed to President Obama.  From now on, Paul Ryan’s budget and beliefs will become the de facto policy of the campaign and thus they will receive greater scrutiny from both the media and voters alike. This should prove to be the downfall of Romney’s Presidential run. Continue reading