English Football – Cup Roundup and Premiership Opening Weekend Fixtures Reversal

The Emirates saved money on a scoreboard by employing Theo Walcott
The Emirates saved money on a scoreboard by employing Theo Walcott

Cup Roundup

If there was anywhere else I could begin in the roundup of the two different cup competitions, other than with the North London derby, then I definitely would.  However, it was the biggest tie and therefore the obvious place to start, so let’s just get it out of the way: Arsenal scored twice and Tottenham never looked like responding as soon as Santi Cazorla had given the home side the lead, especially since Emmanuel Adebayor went back to looking like the disinterested striker who was on the fringes of the club for the last season and a half.  All the headlines went to an incident late in the game when Theo Walcott gestured to the Spurs fans while he was being stretchered off around the pitch, as he was responding to abuse from the traveling supporters, by displaying the 2-0 scoreline with his fingers.  Now, shouting non-racist, non-homophobic things at opposition players is part of the game and Walcott’s response – even as a die-hard Spurs fan – I actually found funny and good-natured (it should not incite the crowd, since it was banter not hateful), but then Tottenham supporters responded by throwing things at the Arsenal player, which is completely unacceptable.  Unfortunately for Gooners and England fans, Walcott was subsequently ruled out for the rest of the season and the World Cup as he suffered a ruptured ACL in his left knee, but the FA have – sensibly – also advised he will not face any punishment for his 2-0 gesture towards the Tottenham crowd.

There were too many other FA Cup ties that took place last weekend to cover them all, so here are the highlights of what happened:

  • Nottingham Forest thrashed an inexperienced West Ham side 5-0 at the City Ground and the pressure on Hammers boss Sam Allardyce increased in midweek when his team put in another lackluster display as they were beaten 6-0 by Manchester City and the Etihad.  That made it game, set and match for City, who have now racked up three tennis set style wins over London opposition as they also defeated Tottenham 6-0 and Arsenal 6-3 at home; but they face a replay in their third-round FA Cup tie, as they were held 1-1 by Championship side Blackburn at Ewood Park last Saturday.
  • David Moyes is facing increased scrutiny of his suitability as manager at Manchester United, as they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Swansea, who won 2-1 at Old Trafford; then lost 2-1 in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final away at Sunderland.
  • League Two’s Rochdale United caused a deserved outset by outplaying Leeds and beating them 2-0, while Sheffield United ousted Aston Villa and Milton Keynes Dons earned a 3-3 draw at last year’s winners Wigan in the other games that saw lower division sides enjoy impressive results.
  • Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Hull all progressed without too much trouble, while Ole Gunnar Solksjær had a victory in his first match in charge of Cardiff, as he watched his new troops beat Newcastle, 2-1 at the Stadium of Light.

Premiership Preview

This week sees all of the fixtures from the opening weekend of the season reversed, so for example, Tottenham travelled to Crystal Palace for their first match of the campaign and this Saturday they will host the Eagles at White Hart Lane.  To preview the action, let’s look at the match reports (either the BBC’s or Guardian’s, since those are the two I read) from those opening games and see how much, or little, the narratives have changed around each club.

Mourinho and Mata both double fist-pump celebrate during Chelsea's opening day victory
Mourinho and Mata both double fist-pump celebrate during Chelsea’s opening day victory

Hull vs Chelsea

Reverse Fixture Result: Chelsea 2 – 0 Hull

Match Report Extracts: The BBC were impressed with Chelsea’s style stating that “The Blues were stirring“, while The Guardian enthused, “Chelsea played some wonderful, slick football and the crowd never tired of serenading the returning hero” (Mourinho).  There were also had some words of comfort for Hull in the Guardian, “For Hull, that (Lampard’s 35 yard free-kick goal) was probably the first reminder of how brutal this league can be. They will not always be confronted by teams with this speed of thought and movement…

What Has Happened Since: Chelsea may not have kept up such stylish performances, but they are only two points off the lead and if they can add a striker who scores a lot of goals – or get one of Fernando Torres, Demba Ba or Samuel Eto’o to find the net more regularly – then they could win the title come May.  Hull have improved on that opening game and currently sit in 10th place, six points above the relegation zone and, in Tom Huddlestone, they have a player who, on his day, can control matches with his range of passing and shooting – alhough he has only scored once in over two years, he can strike the ball well with either foot from outside the area.

Prediction For This Game: Draw – Hull’s home form has been good, they were unlucky to lose to Manchester United, then beat Fulham 6-0 in their last two fixtures at the KC Stadium; while six of the seven games Chelsea have failed to win so far in the Premiership have come away from Stamford Bridge.

Cardiff vs West Ham

Reverse Fixture Result: West Ham 2 – 0 Cardiff

Match Report Extracts: The BBC declared that West Ham were giving Premiership newcomers Cardiff a lesson, “(Joe) Cole and (Kevin) Nolan showed the Welsh side what finishing is all about at this level with two masterful strikes.” while the Guardian reported that, “Sam Allardyce is pleased with the squad he is building” and of the opposition they suggested, “After 51 years out of the top division, perhaps it was to be expected that Cardiff City would take a while to find their feet and, while no one could fault their enthusiasm, this was an inauspicious start to life in the Premier League.”

What Has Happened Since: Sam Allardyce seems less impressed with his squad which lacks depth to cope with injuries or suspensions and he suggested that their 6-0 defeat against City was to be expected as he was having to line up free transfers and youngsters against opponents with multi-million pound price-tags.  If it were not for two victories at White Hart Lane, in the Premiership and Capital One Cup, which cheered West Ham fans, then Allardyce – whose team are second bottom in the table and three points below Cardiff, who are just above the relegation zone – may already have been out of a job.  The Welsh side have replaced their manager, as Malky Mackay – who had guided them to some impressive results, including taking four points from their home matches with the two Manchester clubs – has been replaced with former United striker Solksjær and supporters be hoping that he will steer their team to safety and the soap opera storyline with owner Vincent Tan will go on the back burner, at least for a while.

Prediction For This Game: Cardiff will be relishing taking on a West Ham team who have conceded 11 goals in the last week and look like they need a change in the dugout.  Supporters were suggesting that their team’s boss might like to enjoy sex and travel during Wednesday night’s game (or did they mean something else by singing “F*ck off Sam Allardyce”?) and if a manager loses the traveling fans, they are done: home win.

Everton vs Norwich

Reverse Fixture Result: Norwich 2 – 2 Everton

Match report extracts: The BBC thought that, “Having spent around £25m during the close season, manager Chris Hughton could have a difficult time tempering the rising expectations around Carrow Road.” while also stating “Roberto Martinez may have been taking charge of his first competitive match as Everton boss, but the line-up and performance had all the hallmarks of his predecessor David Moyes“.  The Guardian disagreed with that view saying, “Everton’s starting XI did not contain a debutant although there appeared the early hallmarks of a Martínez side. The Spaniard, animated on the touchline throughout, encouraged his defence to play short passes into midfield and was unconcerned afterwards that his side had not kept a clean sheet.

What Has Happened Since: Hughton has done a good job of tempering any pre-season expectations, as he has found his position as manager being speculated about for the last few months with Norwich having lost half of their 20 matches and hovering just above the relegation zone.  The BBC take that Martinez was merely taking on Moyes’ work has been proven wrong, as Everton have played good football and are a point below the Champions League qualification places, while his predecessor is having a torrid time at Old Trafford.

Prediction For This Game: An easy home win for the Toffees.

Fulham vs Sunderland

Reverse Fixture Result: Sunderland 0 – 1 Fulham

Match Report Extracts: The BBC thought that despite Fulham’s victory “The Black Cats, with five debutants, were the better team throughout” but also stated “Sunderland failure to score will have caused some concern for manager Paolo Di Canio“; and The Guardian also focused on the losing team rather than the Cottagers, “There was much to applaud about Sunderland’s play from the back and comfort in possession, yet with a broadly 4-2-4 system seemingly integral to Paolo Di Canio’s brand new vision, a strong central midfield playmaker and prolific strikers are still required“.

What Has Happened Since: Both clubs have replaced their managers as neither Paolo Di Canio nor Martin Jol could get their new recruits to grind out results to steer themselves away from danger.  Sunderland currently sit bottom of the table, though four points from their last two away games has given Gus Poyet hope they could yet avoid the drop; while Fulham have lost 13 of their 20 Premiership matches – tied for most in the division with Crystal Palace – and are only two points above the relegation zone.

Prediction for this game: A much-needed win for Rene Meulensteen’s Fulham.

Southampton vs West Brom

Reverse Fixture Result: West Brom 0 – 1 Southampton

Match Report Extracts: The Guardian highlighted the young side the Saints had put out for their opening day victory, “Southampton’s manager Mauricio Pochettino has expressed confidence in the club’s youth policy after a trio of 18-year-olds helped his team to a precious away win at The Hawthorns on the opening day of the season“.  Even though West Brom were only beaten by a 90th minute penalty, concern was expressed as The Guardian said “Albion…had difficulty getting going and were second-best for much of the match.”; while the BBC pointed to a more long-term trend, “Although West Brom finished eighth in the Premier League last season, they have now won just one of their last 10 league games.

What Has Happened Since: West Brom have had some good results this season, notably winning at Old Trafford – becoming the first of four away sides to do so there in the Premiership this season – and being the only team not to lose at Stamford Bridge thus far, as they were only denied a victory by a dubious last-minute penalty to Chelsea.  However, the worrying run of bad form in 2013 that the BBC pointed out continued on the whole and ultimately cost Steve Clarke his job.  Southampton progressed on that opening win and were in third place after 11 games, but just five points from their last 9 matches have seen them drop to 9th place and out of the race for European qualification.

Prediction For This Game: A home win as the Saints look to move back up the table.

The season looked to have started promisingly for Soldado and Villas-Boas
The season looked to have started promisingly for Soldado and Villas-Boas

Tottenham vs Crystal Palace

Reverse Fixture Result: Crystal Palace 0 – 1 Tottenham

Match Report Extracts:  The Guardian noted that Spurs’ winning penalty was their first for over a season “André Villas-Boas wanted to shout it from the rooftops but instead he made do with mumbled understatement. “Today, we celebrate our first official penalty.“” and the BBC pointed to one player who was absent, “Spurs were without Real Madrid target Gareth Bale but were rarely troubled.”  Both reports mentioned (Palace’s manager at the time) Ian Holloway’s unhappiness with the penalty award in a post-game interview, with the Guardian saying, “Tottenham hope to find their stride more smoothly in the coming weeks. Holloway, it seems, is already into his.

What Has Happened Since: Spurs still have not really found their stride and that has cost Villas-Boas his job, though they have had three further penalties in the Premiership, which have all been converted by Roberto Soldado and account for 80% of his league goals.  Holloway has also been replaced and under Tony Pulis, Palace have moved off the bottom of the table and look like having a chance of avoiding relegation.  As for Gareth Bale – he has been thriving again this season, unfortunately for Real Madrid

Prediction For This Game: I’m going for a Tottenham win, hopefully with a start and some goals for record signing Erik Lamela, who desperately needs both.

Manchester United vs Swansea

Reverse Fixture Result: Swansea 1 – 4 Manchester United

Match Report Extracts: Both the BBC and Guardian focused on the winning team and the fact that they had made a good start under new manager David Moyes, who faced the daunting task of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson.  The BBC described it as, “business as usual with Robin van Persie the inspiration once more“, while the Guardian report said, “The David Moyes show is up and running but Rio Ferdinand has invoked the siege mentality made famous by Sir Alex Ferguson in a show of defiance at the club’s critics“.  They quoted Ferdinand’s annoyance that people had expected them to leave Swansea with “Zero points” and that most media outlets were making them outsiders to retain their Premiership title.

What Has Happened Since: The basically ignored Swansea have been relatively forgettable this season, in mid table with little chance of being dragged into the relegation mire, but also not showing the same home form they had in their two previous campaigns.  As for United, those expecting the Champions to drop out of the title race this time around have been proven correct, as they languish in seventh place, 11 points behind Arsenal and 7 behind the Champions League qualification spots.  Their four home losses in the league represent their highest number since 2001/2 when they were beaten 6 times at Old Trafford and ended the season in third, their lowest ever finish in the Premiership era.

Prediction For This Game: Swansea won at Old Trafford in the FA Cup last Sunday and I would expect a response from David Moyes’ side and a victory for United.  Anything less than that could see the Glazers – who just made a change of head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the other sports club they own – consider switching managers after years of stability for the Red Devils.

Newcastle vs Manchester City

Reverse Fixture Result: Manchester City 4 – 0 Newcastle

Match Report Extracts: The BBC were impressed by City’s first Premiership match under Manuel Pelligrini, “It was a resounding performance by an irrepressible-looking City” and showed concern for Newcastle’s season, “In contrast, Newcastle suffered a nightmare start to their campaign, and the mood of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will hardly have improved after Arsenal made a £10m bid for midfielder Yohan Cabaye in the build-up to the game – the Frenchman was subsequently left out of the Magpies’ squad“.  The Guardian agreed with the assessment of both teams, describing the City performance thusly, “It was a wonderful display: fluent, slick, pass-them-to-death football,” while adding, “Presumably Manuel Pellegrini knows it will not always be this straightforward and that Manchester City will not come up against teams as hopelessly out of their depth as this every week.

What Has Happened Since: At home in the Premiership, City have won all 10 of their matches, scoring 38 goals and conceding just six in the process, but four away losses have prevented them from running away with the title as they currently sit a point behind leaders Arsenal.  The reports were somewhat unfair on Newcastle who were just the first of City’s victims thus far and they have improved on last season’s campaign, when they only secured their place in the Premiership in the final week.

Prediction For This Game: Manchester City’s form away from the Etihad has improved in the last month or so and I think they will have too much for Newcastle once again – away win.

Stoke City vs Liverpool

Reverse Fixture Result: Liverpool 1 – 0 Stoke

Match Report Extracts:  The BBC reporter was impressed by Phillipe Coutinho’s contribution for Liverpool, “Coutinho was the man pulling the strings…his quickness of feet and deftness of touch took him away from Stoke defenders time and again.”  In reference to the narrow scoreline, The Guardian statedhad Liverpool been sharper with their own finishing the contest would not have stayed close for so long, although Suárez should be able to make a difference in that department when he returns in five matches” and both news outlets heaped praise on goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, whose last-minute penalty save, on his debut for the club, preserved the victory for the Reds.

What Has Happened Since: The Guardian were proven right about Suarez’s return, as the Uruguayan has scored 20 goals in the 15 Premiership matches he has played and kept Liverpool in the hunt for a Champions League spot and they are only four points off the top.  Stoke have had an okay season thus far under Mark Hughes, as they currently sit in 12th place and are five points above the relegation zone, having lost just one of their ten home matches.

Prediction For This Game: A second home loss for Stoke as Suarez continues his incredible scoring rate this season.

Aston Villa vs Arsenal

Reverse Fixture Result: Arsenal 1 – 3 Aston Villa

To be fair, he did spend, spend, spend
To be fair, he did spend, spend, spend

Match Report Extracts: The BBC referenced the discontent among the Arsenal fans, “The full-time whistle was greeted with resounding boos from the home crowd, although the arena was near-empty by that point…and supporters were repeatedly chanting for their club to spend some money.” Arsene Wenger was quoted in The Guardian report as saying, “I do not deny this is a massive disappointment, I believe our season will depend on how we respond to this defeat.

What Has Happened Since: Arsenal responded very well to that defeat, spending £42.5m on Mesut Özil and the German creative midfielder has been a big reason why the Gunners sit top of the league, are still in the FA Cup and Champions League, and look like they may end their trophy drought dating back to 2005.  The victory for Villa may have been the highest point of their campaign as, other than wins away at Southampton and against Manchester City at Villa Park, they have not displayed the progress in Paul Lambert’s second season in charge that home fans had expected.  Three points against Sunderland in their last Premiership match has moved them away from the relegation zone and up to 11th in the table, but their loss to Sheffield United in the FA Cup led to some protests aimed at the manager by the Villa faithful.

Prediction For This Game: Arsenal to get revenge for their opening day defeat as they continue their title challenge, despite the absence of Theo Walcott.

Prediction Record: Last time, 2-8; Season, 103-97

 

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