Premier League Roundup and Preview – Double Dose of Action This Week

Title Race

Mourinho already knows what position Chelsea will finish in this season
Mourinho already knows what position Chelsea will finish in this season

Last weekend, Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the table to six points as they beat West Brom 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, while their closest rivals, Southampton, were held to a draw on Monday night away at Aston Villa.  Manchester City remained two points further back in third place, as they came from behind to snatch a 2-1 victory against Swansea.  By all measures, these clubs have been the best in the Premier League so far; not only are they occupying the top three places in the table, they also have scored the most amount of goals (Chelsea 30, Southampton/City 24) and conceded the fewest (Southampton 6, Chelsea 11, City (tied with Swansea) 13).  Through 12 games, Chelsea look far and away the best team in England, but Southampton and Manchester City have been a class above everyone else as well.

The Blues are unbeaten in all competitions this season and the only two league games they have failed to win have been against the Manchester clubs, both of which were away fixtures.  To say they are title favorites is an understatement, to suggest they could have the title all but wrapped up by next Wednesday is not an exaggeration.  Their next two matches are away at Sunderland – a ground they actually lost on twice last campaign, but this is much better iteration of Chelsea – and home to Spurs in midweek.  Meanwhile their two closest rivals, Southampton and Manchester City, meet at St. Mary’s on Sunday, then the Saints face a tough trip to the Emirates to take on Arsenal, while the reigning champions travel to the Stadium of Light, a fixture they have lost 1-0 in each of the last four seasons.

Relegation Battle

Two games ago, it looked as though Burnley could be threatening Derby’s unwanted record of fewest points ever amassed in a Premier League season (11).  However, they followed up their first win of the campaign against Hull, by beating Stoke 2-1 at the Britannia Stadium.  The Potters, who won away at Manchester City and Spurs this season, have been struggling at home and the Clarets took advantage by scoring twice in the first 13 minutes, both goals coming from Danny Ings.  Although Jonathan Walters managed to pull one back for Mark Hughes’s team before the break, they were not able to deny Burnley their first away win of the season.  The Clarets now sit just a point away from fourth bottom and survival is no longer a distant prospect, but something for which they can fight. Continue reading

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NFL 2014 Week 13 Picks

Bend it like Beckham
Bend it like Beckham

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow, so let’s not mess around here! A couple of quick points about last week’s games before I make my picks for the weekend, then go and brine the turkey.

  • Oakland won a game. Against the Chiefs who were coming off a victory over the reigning Super Bowl Champions.  But mostly, the Raiders won a game.
  • Cleveland beat Atlanta to move to 7-4, while the Falcons fell to 4-7.  However, the Browns are bottom of the AFC North and Atlanta are top of the NFC South.
  • Eli Manning overthrew a receiver – not for the first time – but Odell Beckham was able to catch the ball anyway, yet the touchdown did not help the Giants who lost to the Cowboys in New Jersey.
  • That might be the most understated sentence you will find about that catch on the whole of the internet.
  • Green Bay and New England continued to look like the strongest contenders in each of their divisions and the two meet at Lambeau Field this Sunday.
  • The Jets vs Bills game in Buffalo had to be moved to Detroit on Monday night, which has resulted in my favorite stat of the year: the Bills have the same number of wins in Detroit (2) so far this season, as they do in Buffalo.
  • That turkey will not prepare itself so onto the picks.

Week 13 Picks

Last week, 8-7; Season, 95-81

Home teams in bold

Bears +7.5 over Lions

Cowboys -2.5 over Eagles

Seahawks +0.5 over 49ers

Bills -1.5 over Browns

Bengals -3.5 over Buccaneers

Texans -6.5 over Titans

Colts -9.5 over Washington

Raiders +7.5 over Rams

Panthers +2.5 over Vikings

Steelers -3.5 over Saints

Jaguars +2.5 over Giants

Ravens -5.5 over Chargers

Falcons +2.5 over Cardinals

Packers -3.5 over Patriots

Broncos -1.5 over Chiefs

Dolphins -5.5 over Jets

 

 

Premier League Returns with Arsenal vs Manchester United

Tottenham will doubtlessly find new ways to frustrate me following the international break
Tottenham will doubtlessly find new ways to frustrate me following the international break

Something happens during the two weeks of an international break.  It is almost like a cleanse for me, as I rarely even follow what is going on with the European Championship qualifiers and never considering watching any of the matches.  However, as the fortnight comes to an end, I realize how much I love football.  I love watching it. I love playing it. I love reading about it, writing about it and listening to podcasts about it. Okay maybe the podcasts take second place on a Thursday when the new episode of Serial comes out – I’m hoping by the end of the season not necessarily for resolution, but that the girl at the beginning learns how to say “Mail Chimp” – but I have listened to virtually every Guardian Football Weekly over the last seven years.  The point is, I love football.  That’s not really a revelation – this site is called Political Footballs after all – but the fact is, every time I watch Tottenham play, an outside observer would say that I actually do not enjoy the experience.  And by outside observer, I mean my wife.  And by do not enjoy, I mean I hate it with every fibre of my being.  But the thing is, much as Spurs have been so pathetic this season and caused me to write this rant just twelve days ago, I have missed watching them since then and I am excited for Sunday’s game against Hull.  Which I am sure we will play badly in and will be beaten when Tom Huddlestone outplays his replacements in the Tottenham midfield and probably scores a cracking goal from the edge of the box.  And I might think to myself “I really don’t enjoy this” again.  But then on Thanksgiving Day, between the turkey, parade, Lions and Cowboys games and pumpkin pie, I’ll find myself watching Spurs take on Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League.

Lovely blokes. And by lovely, I mean abhorrent. And by blokes, I mean….
Lovely blokes. And by lovely, I mean horrible. And by blokes, I mean….

It is a good job that I do have such an affinity for the game, because in recent days it has not just been Tottenham’s struggles that have been putting supporters loyalty to the test.  Wigan Athletic, now in the Championship after an eight year spell in the top flight, decided to appoint Malky Mackay as their new manager, a man who has been revealed to be a misogynistic racist through the publishing of messages he exchanged with his former assistant, Ian Moody, during their time at Cardiff City.  Following on from that, the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, showed that it was not necessarily an accident that Mackay had been promoted, as he also made some racist comments, then doubled down on them when challenged.  The details of both cases have been presented extensively on every football news site out there, but this is all I want to say about it. Fuck Wigan. Fuck them and their racist attitude.  I think everyone can agree with that sentiment, probably many of their own fans as well.  I hope they get relegated.

Back in the Premier League, the results from the last round of fixtures that took place so long ago, it was before humankind had landed a probe on a comet, the title race was effectively wrapped up for Chelsea, as they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield, while Manchester City were lucky to escape with a 2-2 draw at Queens Park Rangers.  I’m actually understating that, since they got away with a miss hit goal kick by Joe Hart that went straight to Charlie Austin and the QPR striker tucked the chance away, but the goal was ruled out because the ball had not left the penalty area.  That is fine to call it back when it is a defender who is taking possession and the ball does not come out of the box, but why should the opponents be penalized if it comes to them?  By the letter of the law, it was the correct decision, but City should still consider themselves very fortunate not to have been beaten in West London. Continue reading

NFL 2014 Week 12 Picks

In a throwback uniform, Aaron Rodgers had a throwback performance to…Week 10
In a throwback uniform, Aaron Rodgers had a throwback performance to…Week 10

With just six weeks of the regular season to go, the final two teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) have their byes this week, before the race for the playoffs heats up from Thanksgiving to the New Year.  A few notes on the Week 11 action before getting to this week’s picks:

  • Green Bay scored more than 50 points for the second consecutive week and were again out of sight by half-time in their victory over the Eagles.  They have to go on the road this weekend, but in Minnesota against a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson, who has been suspended by the NFL for the remainder of the season.
  • Arizona may have lost Carson Palmer, but their defense stepped up and held the Lions to just 6 points as the Cardinals moved to a league-best 9-1.  They have a three game lead in the NFC West ahead of the Seahawks, who were defeated 24-20 in Kansas City, and the 49ers, who picked off Eli Manning five times in their 16-10 win over the Giants.
  • It was not a good weekend for Peyton either, who threw two interceptions in Denver’s 22-7 loss in St. Louis, meaning that for once, Cooper Manning had the best stats line of any of the three brothers last Sunday.
  • The Patriots had a record day from their third string running back, Jonas Grey, who rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns in their 42-20 win over the Colts in Indianapolis.  My guess: by the playoffs that performance will be a distant memory and he will not be getting any significant carries for New England.
  • New Orleans had not lost at home with Sean Payton as coach since 2010 prior to their loss to San Francisco in Week 10. They contrived to lose two consecutive games, falling to a Bengals team who had been soundly beaten at home by Cleveland in their previous contest.
  • That loss for the Saints meant that the Falcons moved to the top of the NFC South by narrowly beating the Panthers 19-17, thanks to a late missed field goal by Carolina.  Atlanta’s record right now is 4-6, but the are on course to hose a playoff game in the Wild Card round.  Except they won’t, because their next four games are against the Browns, Cardinals, Packers and Steelers – combined record: 29-12.
  • San Diego scored a touchdown within the first minute of their contest with the Raiders, then failed to add anything more than a couple of field goals in a dire 13-6 victory over winless Oakland.
  • There is a good chance the game between the Jets and Bills in Buffalo will not be played on Sunday as scheduled, as the city in upstate New York has been buried by huge snowfalls.

Week 12 Picks

Last week, 10-4; Season, 87-74

Home teams in bold

Raiders +7.5 over Chiefs

Browns +3.5 over Falcons

Jets +4.5 over Bills

Bears -5.5 over Buccaneers

Texans -1.5 over Bengals

Lions +6.5 over Patriots

Packers -9.5 over Vikings

Eagles -11.5 over Titans

Colts -13.5 over Jaguars

Rams +5.5 over Chargers

Seahawks -6.5 over Cardinals

Broncos -7.5 over Dolphins

49ers -8.5 over Washington

Cowboys -3.5 over Giants

Ravens +3.5 over Saints

 

NFL 2014 Week 11 Picks

Fast becoming a legend for Green Bay, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler
Fast becoming a legend for Green Bay, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler

Some quick notes on last week’s action before my picks for this weekend’s NFL games:

  • Aaron Rodgers tied the record for touchdown passes in a half as he threw six in the first thirty minutes of the Packers’ thrashing of the Bears, while he also set a new mark for most career TD passes over 70+ yards in NFL history with his 16th.  By contrast, Chicago’s quarterback, Jay Cutler, is now 1-10 in his career against Green Bay and has thrown 22 interceptions in those contests.
  • Tony Romo returned from his back injury – despite having to sit on an eight hour plane journey to London – to lead the Cowboys to victory over the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.  They remain a game back of the Eagles in the NFC East, as Philadelphia had a comfortable win over the Panthers on Monday night, with Mark Sanchez making his first start for them under center.
  • San Francisco kept their season alive with an overtime victory in New Orleans, leaving the Saints with a 4-5 record, but still top of the mediocre NFC South and seemingly heading to host a playoff game.
  • With less than three minutes to go in the first half, the Raiders led the Broncos 10-6 in Oakland.  With a minute to go of the third quarter, Peyton Manning had thrown for five touchdowns in just over 16 minutes of game time and Denver had a 41-10 lead.
  • I officially cannot figure out the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Following a poor start that saw them heavily beaten by the Ravens and Browns, plus being the only team to lose to the Buccaneers (not to mention struggling to a win over Jacksonville; they then put up 124 points in three weeks and had big victories over the Ravens and Colts.  Then last Sunday, they lost to the Jets, who had not won since the opening week of the season.
  • Arizona still have the best record in the NFL as they moved to 8-1 with a victory over the Rams, but they also lost their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, for the season with a torn ACL.  They will now throw the keys to Drew Stanton and they have a tough test this weekend as they host the 7-2 Lions.

Week 11 Picks

Last week, 5-8; Season, 77-70

Home teams in bold

Dolphins -5-5 over Bills

Falcons +1.5 over Panthers

Bears -3.5 over Vikings

Bengals +6.5 over Saints

Texans +3.5 over Browns

Broncos -9.5 over Rams

Chiefs -0.5 over Seahawks

Giants +4.5 over 49ers

Buccaneers +6.5 over Washington

Raiders +10.5 over Chargers (Shock of the week: Oakland’s first victory of the year)

Lions -1.5 over Cardinals

Packers -5.5 over Eagles

Patriots +2.5 over Colts

Steelers -5.5 over Titans (Pittsburgh will win by 30 points or lose by 4. I have no clue which)

 

 

 

 

Deconstructing Tottenham’s Incompetence

It might be early, but I'm ready to start pointing fingers at Pochettino and his Tottenham squad
It might be early, but I’m ready to start pointing fingers at Pochettino and his Tottenham squad

This season has ranked as one of the worst in recent memory for Tottenham, with almost no performances of note and some lucky results keeping them from being outside the bottom three through eleven games. To figure out why we are just so bad, I decided to deconstruct the squad, position by position.

Goalkeeper
Hugo Lloris is actually one of the few members of the team whose performances have been beyond reproach. He is a safe pair of hands, dominates his area well, and call pull off spectacular saves – something that has been crucial to keeping Spurs in matches this year when they have been playing poorly. His replacement, Michel Vorm, has only made three appearances so far, but has shown himself to competent.

Right Back

With Kyle Walker injured, the job of right back has fallen to the other Kyle, Naughton, and when he has been injured or playing badly, the youngster Eric Dier.  Neither has performed particularly well, though Dier looks strong going forward he has been caught out in defense several times with people running behind him, most notably at the start of the second half against Newcastle United.  Not too much blame can be placed on Dier, whose natural position is in the center of defense, but there are very few options outside of him and Naughton until Walker is back to fitness, which is supposed to be in December.

Center Back

Perhaps nowhere typifies Tottenham’s failings in 2014/15 more than the center of defense – with the possible exception of the inept strike force – but it is hard to find anyone who has performed particularly well.  Younes Kaboul not only makes the team every week, but has also been made club captain by Mauricio Pochettino, both of which are inexplicable decisions given the Frenchman’s poor positioning sense, terrible decision-making and frequent rash challenges.  There are moments where Kaboul can give the illusion of being a strong presence in the air, or a marauding central defender going forward.  However, on a weekly basis, he is far more likely to get beaten on a counter-attack, or commit a foul in the area, than he is to be a dominating force.  Alongside him has been a combination of: Federico Fazio, who has managed to get himself sent off in the course of giving away two penalties in just 8 appearances; Vlad Chiriches, who is far too casual in possession; and Jan Vertonghen, the best center back at the club but a player who looks ready to move on from White Hart Lane.

Left Back

I only have one question for Spurs at left-back: how does Danny Rose keep getting into the team?  Defensively he is terrible; he gets into spats with opponents often and could have been sent off last season against Stoke and today versus the same team; and going forward his crossing is often wayward, matched only by his awful shooting.  Rose is renowned for a goal he scored on his debut against Arsenal, but that has become such a joke among Tottenham fans that we await the mention of that strike in the commentary, every time he skies another ball into the crowd.  Is Ben Davies really worse than this?

Defensive Midfield

A whole lot of nothing for Tottenham in the holding midfield role so far this season: Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason have been the preferred pairing in recent weeks, both of whom work hard, but they do not have a strong array of passes at their disposal and are each guilty of giving the ball away too frequently.  There is not much difference between Capoue/Mason or Mousa Dembélé – who looks like a shadow of the player he was when he first joined the club – and Nabil Bentaleb, none of them tend to be the weakest link in any given line-up, but they certainly have not been adding any real positives.  Benjamin Stambouli escapes any criticism merely because I have not yet seen enough of him to get frustrated as yet. Continue reading

Premier League Roundup and Preview – Chelsea vs Liverpool

Chris Smalling sees red and costs his team dearly in the Manchester derby
Chris Smalling sees red and costs his team dearly in the Manchester derby

Last weekend in the Manchester derby, United defender Chris Smalling got himself sent off shortly before the break and seriously dented his team’s chances of getting anything out of the match.  His first offense was particularly stupid: attempting to block Joe Hart as he kicked the ball out from his hands, something that always results in a booking; then he clattered James Milner on the left-wing to ensure that his colleagues would have to attempt to keep out the remaining champions for the last 52 minutes of game time with one less player on the pitch.  To United’s credit, they were never over-run despite their inferior number, but they were also fortunate that Michael Oliver seemed determined not to give a penalty, no matter how many handballs or fouls they committed inside their own area.  City were able to grab all three points – and thus win their fourth consecutive derby match for the first time since the 1970s – thanks to a brilliant finish from the league’s top goalscorer, Sergio Aguero.

Had Manuel Pelligrini’s men not managed to claim the win, their hopes of catching Chelsea in the title race would be all but finished, even at this relatively early stage of the season.  That is because last Saturday the Blues racked up their eighth win in their first ten Premier League fixtures this campaign, overcoming a stubborn QPR team 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.  Chelsea took the lead after half an hour of play, thanks to a beautiful strike by Oscar, but Rangers equalized in the 62nd minute when Charlie Austin brilliantly redirected a shot with a backheel and found the bottom corner.  However, a penalty converted by Eden Hazard maintained a 100% home league record for Jose Mourinho’s men and also ensured they stayed four points ahead of the team in second place, which is currently Southampton.  The Saints overcame Hull 1-0 thanks to a first-time shot by Victor Wanyama from 40 yards, punishing goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic’s poor clearance.  On Twitter, I commented that Mauricio Pochettino’s move to Spurs did indeed turn a team into title contenders, but that team was Southampton – something Saints fans loved and they have every reason to be happy.  After being written off by so many (including myself) before the season, they’ve now won nine of their last ten games and are Chelsea’s closest challengers, while they sit eight points above the clubs that have their former manager (Tottenham) and three of their star players from 2013/14 (Liverpool). Continue reading

NFL 2014 Week 10 Picks

The Patriots are flying after their Week 9 victory over the Broncos
The Patriots are flying after their Week 9 victory over the Broncos

Somehow, the 2014 NFL season has already reached the double-digit mark in terms of weeks, so before the tenth round of games, here’s a check in of how all of the divisions are looking:

NFC North 1. Detroit 6-2; 2. Green Bay 5-3; 3. Minnesota 4-5; 4. Chicago 3-5

This division looks like it will be a straight race between the Lions and Packers, with both sides potentially making the playoffs as whoever comes second will have a good chance of taking a wild card spot.  Green Bay might have the advantage because of their remaining schedule, only the home contests against the Patriots on November 30th, and the potential division deciding matchup with the Lions in Week 17 look like particularly tough games.  There is a good chance they could run the slate and end up 13-3.  Last weekend, only the Vikings were active as the other three were on their bye weeks and Minnesota sneaked past Washington, 29-26.

NFC East 1. Philadelphia 6-2; 2. Dallas 6-3; 3. NY Giants 3-5; 4. Washington 3-6

Of the four NFC East teams, only the Giants have managed to keep their starting quarterback on the field for the opening 9 weeks of the season, unfortunately for them, Eli Manning has not been showing anything like the form he showed in 2007 and 2011.  It does beg the question, should he be considered an elite quarterback?  How come nobody has ever discussed this? Also, I think concussions might be an issue in the NFL…

The Eagles managed to win in Week 9 despite losing Nick Foles early on against the Texans, with former Jets QB Mark Sanchez guiding Philadelphia to a 31-21 victory in Houston.  Washington looked nowhere near as good as they had when they beat Dallas in their defeat to the Vikings, especially on defense where they were lucky that Teddy Bridgewater missed a couple of wide open guys or they would’ve given up even more than 29 points.  Meanwhile the Cowboys, who many were penciling into February’s Super Bowl if not at least the playoffs, lost Tony Romo and two games within the space of six days and may be forced to start Brandon Wheeden again this Sunday against Jacksonville in London.  The one-time veteran-rookie was not good enough to beat the Cardinals last week and if he is Dallas’ quarterback against the Jaguars, victory is far from assured for the Cowboys.

NFC South 1. New Orleans 4-4; 2. Carolina 3-5; 3. Atlanta 2-6; 4. Tampa Bay 1-7

Suddenly, a year on from two teams finishing with 11+ wins, the NFC South has become one of the worst teams in football.  The fact that the Buccaneers and Falcons suck is not really too much of a surprise, the Panthers were expected to regress somewhat after their stellar 2013, but the Saints have been appalling this year up until the last two weeks.  Of course, it had to be the Packers defense that would help kickstart the Saints’ offense, but more significantly for New Orleans, they managed to get their first road win of the season last Thursday night against the Panthers, giving them the edge in the race for the division title.

NFC West 1. Arizona 7-1; 2. Seattle 5-3; 3. San Francisco 4-4; 4. St. Louis 3-5

Widely considered to be the strongest division heading into this season, the NFC West has flattered to deceive in 2014, with only the Cardinals performing particularly well to this point.  Outside of their wins over the Packers and Broncos, the Seahawks have looked a shadow of the team that won the Super Bowl 9 months ago and have struggled to victories over Carolina and Oakland in the last two weeks.  The 49ers do not yet look comfortable in their new home stadium and that is clearly costing them, while the Rams victories over Seattle (at home) and in San Francisco are their only two good performances this year, with their sole other win being a 19-17 edging of the 1-7 Buccaneers.  Bizarrely, the team that’s first choice quarterback in Carson Palmer – and who have had to play two other guys in that position already this season – have been the most reliable in the NFC West, as the Cardinals have ridden a strong defense to be the only team in the NFL that has not lost at least two games.  However, after they host the Rams this Sunday, their easiest game in the final seven weeks looks to be their trip to Atlanta – I think there is a strong chance Arizona will miss out on the playoffs, despite their great position at this point.  Continue reading