Premier League Returns With Chelsea vs Man City

After a two-week gap for the F.A. Cup and League Cup to take center stage, the Premier League returns to action this weekend, with the top two teams facing each other on Saturday.  Before looking at that Chelsea vs Manchester City game, here’s a recap of what happened in the cup tournaments over the last fortnight.

F.A. Cup 4th Round

Chelsea 2 Bradford 4 - Football, bloody hell!
Chelsea 2 Bradford 4 – Football, bloody hell!

Last weekend was possibly the biggest collection of upsets in a single round of the F.A. Cup, none were bigger than the one that occurred at Stamford Bridge.  Early on, it seemed as though League One’s Bradford City were going to take a hiding, as they fell behind 2-0 to Chelsea inside half an hour.  However, the Bantams pulled one back before half time, then scored three more after the break to record an astonishing 4-2 victory over the current leaders of the Premier League.  It was only the second time in either of Jose Mourinho’s spells in charge of the Blues that he has lost at home inside 90 minutes to another club from the English leagues – the other being Sunderland last season.

Manchester City exited the tournament at the exact same time, as they also lost at home to lower division opponents, as Middlesbrough triumphed 2-0 at the Etihad.  The reigning champions had returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates less than 24 hours before the match kicked off (in part due to a delayed flight, but mostly because of ridiculous planning to fit in lucrative friendlies in their owner’s home Emirate, Abu Dhabi).  However, City still played pretty much their best players, so nothing should be taken away from Boro’s achievement.

In comparison to those two results, Manchester United’s 0-0 draw away at League Two’s Cambridge seems like a positive scoreline, especially since they now have a home replay to try to progress to the fifth round of a wide-open competition.  Only United and Arsenal – who overcame a resilient Brighton comeback to win 3-2 –  remain in the F.A. Cup out of the current top 6 in the Premier League, since Southampton were beaten 3-2 at home by Palace; while Leicester scored twice in the final 10 minutes to eliminate Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane.  Bolton held Liverpool to a draw at Anfield; Blackburn knocked out Swansea 3-1; and the match between Sunderland and Fulham at the Stadium of Light ended goalless. Continue reading

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This week in: English Football – London Plays Catchup

The two Manchester clubs have occupied first and second in the Premiership for about as long as the “99-percenters” have resided in Zuccotti Park.  Now Newcastle United, still unbeaten this season, have moved into third place, meaning the five Premier League clubs from London find themselves playing catchup.  Chelsea are in 4th place, ahead of Tottenham in 5th on goal difference, though Spurs have a game in hand; Arsenal reside in 7th; QPR in 12th; and Fulham, the lowest side from the capital, in 15th.  Over the last decade, the quest to be London’s top team has been between Arsenal and Chelsea – Spurs have not finished above either of them in that period – but this season is looking like a three-horse race.

While Chelsea may still harbour ambitions of breaking up the Manchester hegemony in the title race, they are more likely to find themselves in a battle to remain in the Champions League by the end of the season.  Last week’s 5-3 defeat to Arsenal showed the weaknesses in Chelsea’s defence – in particular John Terry’s positioning and lack of pace – which Robin

Arsenal and Chelsea have to also fight Tottenham now to be the Pride of London

Van Persie and Theo Walcott were able to exploit effectively.  In attack, Juan Mata was an astute signing and gives them a player capable of changing the games – but outside of that. the options are lacklustre.  Fernando Torres has finally found some level of scoring form, yet still looks like a shadow of the striker who won Euro 2008 for Spain.  Neither Drogba, nor Anelka, look capable of leading the line in the way they have done in previous seasons, so the best option for Chelsea’s manager, Villas-Boas, appears to be Daniel Sturridge – the youngster has scored four goals in just six league appearances so far this year.  In the midfield, Frank Lampard is enjoying a renaissance this season and Mata is providing the creativity, but the Blues miss Michael Essien – a tough tackler, who adds grit and balance to their team – they hope to have him back by the end of next month.  Chelsea’s top four position to this point of the season, has come via wins over teams who they would expect to beat (West Brom, Norwich, Sunderland, Swansea, Bolton, and Everton), while they were held to a draw by Fulham and lost to Manchester United, Arsenal, and QPR.  Before the turn of the year, they have to play Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester City, and Tottenham – should they lose two or more of those games, any title aspirations will have to be forgotten and the battle for fourth will be their focus.

It is hard for Arsenal fans to accept that their, seemingly perpetual, dominance over local rivals Tottenham may be overturned this season – like people who persist in calling the cute and furry creatures from down under, “Koala Bears,”  because they have always thought that to be true (they’re marsupials, it’s just “Koala”).  While Spurs may have been the lowly neighbour for a long time – it has not always been so.  Tottenham were the first club in the 20th century to win the League and Cup double; the first British team to win a European trophy (the Cup Winners Cup in 1963); and, finished above Arsenal five times in the 1980s – things do change.  Looking at the teams this year, Spurs can argue that they have at least as good a playing squad as their North London rivals.  The first choice goalkeepers are pretty much a wash – with Szczesny playing as well as ever for Arsenal, and American Brad Friedel providing Spurs with a much more reliable pair of hands than Gomes gave them last year.  Neither team’s defence is the strongest part of their squad, though the Gunners will be hoping that a partnership of Mertesacker and Vermaelen will help the ratio of goals they give up – so far this season Arsenal have conceded 21 in 10 games, more than the rest of the league other than Bolton and Blackburn.  Tottenham have been missing Michael Dawson, who is out with an Achilles injury, and Ledley King is hampered by having only one working knee – but other than the two Manchester clubs, teams have been scoring an average of less than one a game against them.  While the full-backs are of a similar standard (Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto for Spurs, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, when fit, for Arsenal), it is in the midfield that Tottenham have the clear advantage.  For their rivals, Theo Walcott plays well once every four games, Arteta was last good in 2009, Frimpong times his challenges about as well as Paul Scholes did, and Rosicky and Arshavin are washed up and now fringe players at best.  With Jack Wilshere out with an injury, Arsenal’s strongest midfielder this season has been Aaron Ramsay, but he had an awful game at White Hart Lane, where he gave the ball away many times.  In contrast, Tottenham are struggling to fit all of their good players in a packed midfield – Scott Parker has added the grit that has been missing for so long and freed up Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart (who has scored in five consecutive league games) to play more attacking roles.  On the wings, Aaron Lennon has been providing better end products to his dashing runs than he has done in previous years, and Gareth Bale continues to destroy right backs with a combination of speed and strength.  With Sandro, Huddlestone, Krancjar and Pienaar more than capable fill-ins, should there be injuries or suspensions, Spurs have strength in-depth in the middle of the park.  Up front, Robin Van Persie is the most in-form player for either of the two clubs, but other than that, Arsenal do not have a reliable striker – Chamakh and Gervinho are both wasteful in their finishing.  Tottenham look much more of a threat with Adebayor leading the attack than they did with Peter Crouch, and Defoe has improved his all around game and remains deadly with half a yard of space anywhere around the penalty box.  Overall, Spurs have looked the more balanced team with a quarter of the season gone – which is reflected in their position three points above Arsenal, having played a game less than their rivals.  For the first time since 1995, there may not be a St. Totteringham’s Day this season – the point of the season that Arsenal celebrate that their rivals can no longer mathematically finish above them in the league.

Outside of London last weekend, both Manchester United and City picked up three more points, away to Everton and home to Wolves respectively.  Norwich came from 3-1 down to draw with Blackburn at Carrow Road; Liverpool beat West Brom at the Hawthorns; Newcastle continued their good form thanks to a hat-trick from Demba Ba, helping them win away at Stoke on Monday night; and Bolton’s wretched season continued as they lost in Wales against Swansea.  Wigan remain bottom of the table, after losing at home to Martin Jol’s Fulham, and Sunderland and Aston Villa shared four goals and the points in a match at the Stadium of Light.

Predictions

Last week 5-5, season 38-31

Newcastle vs Everton – Home win

Arsenal vs West Brom – Home win

Aston Villa vs Norwich – Draw

Blackburn vs Chelsea – Draw

Liverpool vs Swansea – Home win

Manchester United vs Sunderland – Home win

QPR vs Manchester City – Away win

Wolves vs Wigan – Home win

Bolton vs Stoke – Away win

Fulham vs Spurs – Away win

This week in: English Football – Premiership Predictions

Manchester City have their trophy cabinet ready for May

I covered last weekend’s action here – City thrashing United and Terry’s racism stories were too compelling to wait on – so now my weekend’s premiership predictions.

Last week 4-6, Season 33-26

Everton vs Manchester United Away Win – Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United tend to respond well to defeats – when that loss is to their local rivals and by a 6-1 scoreline, their next opponents will be fearing a backlash. The Blues did win their last game away to Fulham, but they have lost Phil Neville and Tim Cahill to injuries.

Chelsea vs Arsenal – Home win – Chelsea have won all four of their home games and Arsenal are yet to win away from the Emirates this season.  The Gunners have defender Thomas Vermaelen back for this game, while Chelsea will be without Drogba and Boswinga, after the pair were sent off against QPR last week.  The home team do have Torres back from suspension and Arsenal are lightweight in the middle of the park since selling Fabregas and Nasri and losing Jack Wilshere to an injury.  All of this means I think Chelsea will have enough to win this game, sending Arsene Wenger’s side to their fifth defeat of the season.

Manchester City vs Wolves – Home win –  These two sides actually met on Wednesday in the Carling Cup at Molineux, City winning the game 5-2, but neither team had their first choice XI on display.  It’s impossible to imagine anything other than a home win here – Manchester City have only dropped two points all year, scoring thirty-three goals in nine games and conceding just seven; whereas Wolves, who won their first two league games of the season, have not won any of their last seven since then.

Norwich vs Blackburn – Draw –  Blackburn are rock bottom of the Premiership and face a tough trip away to Norwich, a team who two seasons ago were in the third tier of English football, but Rovers showed plenty of fight in their loss to Tottenham last week and could pick up a point at Carrow Road.

Sunderland vs Aston Villa – Away win – Villa started the season strongly and were unbeaten until they faced Manchester City two weeks ago and then lost the Midlands derby with West Bromwich Albion last week.  Sunderland picked up just their second win of the season away to Bolton in their last outing, but will be fearing their former striker, Darren Bent, coming back to haunt them this Halloween weekend.

Swansea vs Bolton – Home win – I have not seen either team play yet so far this season, so going purely on perception with this pick. Bolton have been better away from home, winning 2 and losing 2, than at the Reebok Stadium, where they have lost all five of their games this season.  Swansea have been the complete opposite: unbeaten at home and yet to win away so far this season.

Wigan vs Fulham – Home win – Fulham have been an enigma this campaign – they put 6 past QPR two weeks ago, but that is their only win so far, and they lost at home to Everton last time out.  Wigan are second bottom and desperately need the points, having lost their last five league games.  Much as I love Fulham manager Martin Jol from his time at Tottenham, it looks like he needs more time to work on their squad and think they will slump to another defeat again this weekend.

West Brom vs Liverpool – Home win – Former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson will try to lead his West Brom team to another win over his former employers, having done just that last season.  Last week, Albion had an impressive away win against Aston Villa, while Liverpool were wasteful in front of goal – particularly Luis Suarez, who himself missed 11 attempts – as they were held to a draw at home by Norwich.

Tottenham vs QPR – Home win – Spurs, unbeaten against every team that does not hail from Manchester, go into this London derby full of confidence.  QPR are currently in 10th place and last week they beat local rivals Chelsea – though they looked very tentative in that game in the second half, playing against just nine men and with the lead.  This week (I hope) will be a case of the morning after for Rangers and Spurs should continue their push for a top four place.

Stoke vs Newcastle – Draw – Newcastle have not lost yet this season and are in fourth place, Stoke are unbeaten at home.  The Geordies have a large french contingent and they will be put to the test in this most anecdotal of games – the English Press is often keen on saying about foreign imports to the Premier League: “Could they do it on a cold Monday evening in Stoke?”.  City lost their last game away to Arsenal and have had problems scoring goals this season (only 7 in 9 games) – but they have only conceded one in four matches at the Britannia so this one has 0-0 written all over it.

English Football: Changing Times, Terry Still Racist

In the Manchester derby on Sunday, City thrashed United 6-1 – with David Silva pulling the strings in the midfield and grabbing the headlines with two goals and a tongue-in-cheek t-shirt.  Sir Alex Ferguson would have done well to put on some Bob Dylan after the match to heed a warning:

Come gather ’round Fergie
Wherever you roam
And admit that Man City
Around you has grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be fearing Blue Moon
If United to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start winnin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Was this result evidence of a significant shift in power towards the blue half of Manchester, or just a freak result that will be

Because you set off fireworks in your bathroom, Mario...

looked back on at the end of the season as little more than a blip in another title run for United?  It has happened before: during the 2008/2009 season Manchester United lost 4-1 to Liverpool; in 1999/2000 Chelsea beat them 5-0; and the 1996/7 campaign saw them lose 5-0 to Newcastle and 6-3 by Southampton – all of these thrashings came in seasons in which United won the title.  More evidence that the scoreline does not reflect a major change, is that City were playing against 10 men for almost half of the game, as Jonny Evans was sent off in the 47th minute, and scored three of their goals in the final few minutes, when United were forced to chase the game and left themselves exposed in defence.  Also, their six goals were scored with just seven shots on target in the whole game, suggesting they were clinical rather than dominant.  But the table shows that nearly a quarter of the way through the campaign, City are top, 5 points clear of the reigning champions and have won all but one of their nine games thus far, scoring 33 goals in the process.  If United are going to win the league again this year, they will need other teams in the division to start getting positive results against their cross-city rivals.

The North London rivalry is another case where the more successful team from recent years, Arsenal, is trailing their neighbours in the league – as Tottenham are three points above them, with a game in hand.  Spurs have recovered well from their tough start to the season, losing their first two games to the Manchester clubs, and have won five and drawn one of their six games since then, including a win in the North London derby.  As their scheduled opening match against Everton was cancelled due to the riots in August, they have played a game less than the teams above them, yet trail Chelsea in third by just three points.  Emmanuel Adebayor has made a promising start to his time at White Hart Lane and has shown himself to be a good foil for both Jermain Defoe and Rafael Van der Vaart up front.  Tottenham’s upcoming fixtures (QPR, @ Fulham, Villa, Bolton, @West Brom) are all winnable and give them an excellent opportunity to build on this strong start and push for a Champions League place for next season.

David Luiz also has a tattoo that says "Die Bart Die" - it's German

In West London, it had been a while since Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea had met in the league, as QPR had been in the lower divisions since 1996, but the two sides met at Loftus Road last weekend and again the underdog prevailed.  Chelsea had two men sent off in the first half and were a goal down from a penalty conceded by defender, and part-time Sideshow Bob impersonator, David Luiz.  Their attempted comeback in the second half fell short due to some fantastic saves from Rangers’ keeper, Paddy Kenny, coupled with some poor finishing.  All of this action has been overshadowed since the game, as the focus has been on John Terry, who is alleged to have racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

This video appears to show him calling someone (not in the shot) a “f***ing black c***” – although for the record I am not a lip-reading expert, so you can decide for yourself.  However, Terry does have previous cases of such behaviour – in 2006, he was sent off against Tottenham after he allegedly told Ledley King to “shut up you lippy black monkey” – though it was covered up by the media and the reason for the then England Captain being sent off was never disclosed (I was 11 rows away from the incident in the Paxton Road end, the reaction of the players around him spoke volumes – since then I have never supported the England team because of John Terry).  There are other incidents that show his unsavoury personality : the weekend after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, Terry and his Chelsea teammates, Frank Lampard and Jody Morris, were fined two weeks wages after they had been mocking American tourists in a hotel bar near Heathrow Airport.  And, of course, there was the story two years ago of him cheating on his wife, and mother of his children, with (his club and country teammate) Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend.

If the enquiry into this latest incident proves Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand, Chelsea and England should drop him from their sides and show that this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated.  I am sure that football issues, rather than ethical ones, will prevail and, if he is considered good enough, he will continued to be selected.  So join me, an Englishman, and support Spain, Germany, France and every other team that is not England, in the 2012 European Championships.

This week in: American and English Football – NFL heads to Wembley

The NFL Returns to Wembley

There is a perfect crossover in footballs of both types this week, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears will play the fifth regular season NFL game at Wembley Stadium, the home of English “soccer”.  This now annual event is well received by the legion of fans the NFL has attracted across the Atlantic, but there is still disdain on both sides for the other country’s “football” – which results in those who only embrace one of the sports, missing out on the other.  To most Brits, American Football is nothing more than ‘rugby with pads”; alongside those in the US who consider soccer boring, due to a lack of scoring.

I first started following the NFL in the early 90s, picking the Packers as my team with their young quarterback, Brett Favre – in the days before he had a phone that could send picture messages – as an alternative to the dominant Steve Young led 49ers, or the widely loved Dallas Cowboys.  While I enjoyed the sport for the game itself, it was not until I moved to New York that I discovered the culture surrounding it – watching the games in a bar with friends, drinking some beers and eating some hot wings – really adds to the experience.  On the other side, those who think that English football* is dull are missing out on the tribal nature of clubs supporters, on the boisterous atmosphere at the games, the anxiety of potential relegation, the joy of winning a trophy or beating your arch-rivals.  I have attended fixtures in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and dozens of baseball games, but nothing comes close to the experience of going to a football game.  Those who dismiss the other code of football are usually doing it out of ignorance, I love both types and recommend either to any sports fan.  Besides, they are both much better than rugby…

*I’m calling it English football, but of course I could say European, South American, everywhere else on earth – as only the US calls it soccer

To help bring these two sports together, at least for this weekend, here’s a look at how the season has gone in each league – with a comparison of teams who find themselves in similar positions:

Championship Contenders

These are the teams everyone expected to be competing for the top prizes and, thus far, have been proving people right:

Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers (NFL)

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea (Premiership)

Strong Starters

The clubs who have jumped out to a good opening to their seasons, but there is a doubt as to whether this success has any longevity:

San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL)

Newcastle United, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur (Premiership)

Strong Teams, Indifferent Starts

Teams that have been dominant in recent years, but have not looked themselves in the first few weeks of this season, yet they cannot be written off just yet:

Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles (yep, even at 2-4) (NFL)

Arsenal, Liverpool (Premiership)

Middle of the Road Teams

The ones who will be mid-table in the Premiership, or will be on the cusp of a wild card for the playoffs but unlikely to contend for the Superbowl – essentially, they are mediocre:

Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs (NFL)

Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham (Premiership)

Big Teams Down Low

In the NFL, this does not have as much impact as there is no relegation, in the Premiership, falling all the way down can be fatal:

Indianapolis Colts (NFL)

Everton (Premiership)

Luck Needed

For the Premiership clubs, they require some luck to avoid relegation, for the worst in the NFL, getting the number 1 pick in next year’s draft means acquiring ace college QB, Andrew Luck (N.B. Colts & Everton are in these races too)

Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)

Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, Norwich City, QPR, Swansea City, Sunderland, Wolverhampton Wanderers (Premiership)

CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK’S GAMES AND PREDICTIONS

This week in: American and English Football – Preview and Predictions

If you missed Part I of the American and English Football crossover weekend preview, CLICK HERE

Manchester Derby - One For the Lovers

In the Premiership this weekend, one game stands out above all others – Manchester United versus Manchester City – a battle of the top two in the league, who meet on Sunday at Old Trafford.  Having won the FA Cup last season, City at least will not have to see the banner boasting of the length of the trophy drought they had been in, which has been hung at their rival’s stadium for many years.  After last week’s results (when City beat Villa, while United were held to a draw by Liverpool), Roberto Mancini’s team travel across Manchester knowing that a point would be enough to remain in pole position.  There is also a south-west London derby on Sunday, as QPR host third place Chelsea; while in the Midlands, Aston Villa take on West Brom.  Arsenal hope to continue their revival at home to Stoke; Norwich go to Anfield to play Liverpool; Newcastle host Wigan and Fulham and Everton meet at Craven Cottage.  Tottenham, who are unbeaten in their last five, travel to Blackburn – but have a game against Rubin Kazan (who I think Bob Dylan sang about in “Hurricane“) in the Europa League on Thursday to contend with first.

Week 7 of the NFL, as well as having the London game between the Buccaneers and the Bears, includes an NFC North match-up as the Packers play the Vikings in Minnesota; the Titans host the Texans in the AFC South; the Jets meet the Chargers at the Meadowlands; and the Cowboys are home against the St. Louis Rams.  There is a rematch of both Superbowl XLIII (Steelers vs Cardinals) and Superbowl XLIV (Colts vs Saints) – though both sides look very one-sided now – with the teams that triumphed in those two games (Pittsburgh & New Orleans) likely to win again this weekend.  New quarterbacks will be on show for both the Redskins – who will start John Beck having benched Rex Grossman for this week’s game with the Panthers – and the Raiders, who lost Jason Campbell to injury last weekend and have traded two first-round picks for Carson Palmer – his first appearance will be against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Tim Tebow will also be taking over as a starter for the Denver Broncos, and does so back in Florida, where he made his name in college, as his team travels to Miami to take on the Dolphins.

Predictions

NFL

Last Week 8-5, Season 48-42

Home teams in bold

Lions -3.5 over Falcons

Buccaneers +0.5 over Bears (at Wembley Stadium, London)

Seahawks +3.5 over Browns

Broncos +3.5 over Dolphins

Titans -3.5 over Texans

Chargers -1.5 over Jets

Panthers -2.5 over Redskins

Chiefs +3.5 over Raiders

Steelers -3.5 over Cardinals

Cowboys -12.5 over Rams

Packers -8.5 over Vikings

Saints -13.5 over Colts

Ravens -7.5 over Jaguars

Premiership

Last week 6-4, Season 29-20

Wolves vs Swansea – Draw

Aston Villa vs West Brom – Home win

Bolton vs Sunderland – Draw

Newcastle vs Wigan – Home win

Liverpool vs Norwich – Home win

Arsenal vs Stoke – Home win

Fulham vs Everton – Home win

Manchester United vs Manchester City – Draw

Blackburn vs Tottenham – Away win

QPR vs Chelsea – Away win

This Week In: English Football – Liverpool vs Man Utd

Dalglish and Ferguson face off again on Saturday

After a break for international fixtures, including the final group games in the qualifying tournament for Euro 2012, the Premier League returns with a full slate of matches this weekend.  The marquee game of the bunch is the first one that will be played, as Liverpool face their old rivals, Manchester United, in the early kick-off on Saturday.  In the last round of games, there was the North London Derby, but these two North-West clubs might dislike each other even more than Spurs and Arsenal do.  While there is no doubting the fans animosity towards each other in those games, with Manchester United and Liverpool the divide is not just between the clubs, but also the cities they call home.

In the days of the Industrial revolution, the two cities were in direct competition with each other for business.  In 1894, when the Manchester Ship Canal was completed ships were able to bypass Liverpool and dock directly in Manchester, resulting in less revenue for the former’s merchants, which ultimately lead to job losses in the city.  From here a rivalry between the two places was formed, nowadays it is framed in each city’s most successful football clubs.  While Liverpool and Everton derbies mean a lot to families who are divided between red and blue; and Manchester United and City games have taken on a new relevance in the last two seasons, as both teams are in the upper echelons of the league and are competing for titles, it is Saturday’s game at Anfield that supporters of both clubs will most want to win.

When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at United in 1986, Liverpool were the dominant team in English football and, in 1990, they won their 18th league title.  At that time, the Red Devils were sitting on a total of just 7 championships, and had not won any since 1967.  Since the dawn of the Premiership era in the early 90s, Ferguson has revitalised the club and Manchester United have won 12 league titles since 1992/1993.  As Liverpool have not won any in that time, they now trail their rivals in the overall title count by 19 to 18 – though they still can cite their 5 European Cup triumphs, compared with United’s 3.

The personnel involved with the two teams do not like each other either:  when he started his reign at United, Sir Alex had talked about wanting to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch”; Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has many shirts he has swapped with opposing players displayed in his house, but none of them are from a Manchester United player; and recently retired Red Devil, Gary Neville, was famously antagonistic towards Liverpool, running the length of the pitch to celebrate a last minute winning goal in front of the away supporters in a game at Old Trafford in 2006.  The two clubs will not do business together, no player has been transferred between the two teams since 1964.  When Gabriel Heinze requested a move to Anfieldfrom Old Trafford in 2007, he was vilified by the United fans, the transfer was blocked and he ended up being sold to Real Madrid instead.

Manchester United have not won in the league at Anfield since 2007, having lost all of their last three Premiership away games against Liverpool.  This season, Ferguson’s team have only dropped 2 points out of the first 21 available to them, and they will be looking to continue their good form against their old enemy this weekend.  Liverpool have had a reasonable start to the season, and beat Everton in their last league game – a win on Saturday would take them up to 4th, with Newcastle not playing until Sunday.  You can predict the winner of the game in this week’s poll question – found at the bottom of this article.

That game at St. James’ Park sees Newcastle taking on a Tottenham team who also won a derby game last time out, overcoming Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane.  Spurs have won their last four games, having started the season with two defeats to the Manchester clubs, and will be looking to strengthen their own quest for a top four spot this weekend in the North-East.  In other games, Manchester City take on a still unbeaten Aston Villa side at Maine Road City of Manchester Stadium theEtihad Stadium; 15th takes on 16th at the Emirates when Arsenal host Sunderland; two of the newly promoted sides, Norwich and Swansea, play at Carrow Road; and two of the bottom three meet with Bolton making the short trip to Wigan.  Fulham, who won 6-0 in their last outing, travel to Stoke; while QPR, the team on the wrong end of that thrashing by the Cottagers, hope to get back on track as they are at home to Blackburn Rovers.  Bovril will be in short supply in the Midlands this weekend as there is a derby between West Bromwich Albion and Wolves; while Chelsea will look to keep the pressure on the top two of United and City by beating Everton at Stamford Bridge.  After a delay of two weeks, it will be good to be back to a full round of Premier League fixtures again.

Predictions

Last time 6-4; Season 23-16

Liverpool vs Manchester United – Away win

Manchester City vs Aston Villa – Home win

Norwich vs Swansea – Draw

QPR vs Blackburn – Home win

Stoke vs Fulham – Home win

Wigan vs Bolton – Away win

Chelsea vs Everton – Home win

West Brom vs Wolves – Home win

Arsenal vs Sunderland – Home win

Newcastle vs Tottenham – Away win

This week in: English Football – United Stand Alone

United fans offer "encouragement" to Torres

After both Manchester sides had won all four of their opening league games, last weekend Fulham became the first team to take points off either of them, as they came from behind to draw 2-2 with City at Craven Cottage.  Meanwhile, up at Old Trafford, United suffered no such slip up as they dispatched title rivals Chelsea 3-1.  Having been three down at the interval, Fernando Torres gave Chelsea some hope when he scored just his second goal for the club a minute after half time.  All of that good work was undone, however, when Torres later contrived to miss an opportunity that had to be seen to be believed.  The Spaniard did everything right to get into position, timing his run perfectly – he then went around Man United’s keeper de Gea with some great footwork, only to then blast the ball wide from 6 yards with an open goal in front of him.  With only 10 minutes left in the game, that miss effectively killed off any chance of Chelsea getting anything from the game.

Arsenal had suffered a bad start to the season, but scored five in their game against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park – unfortunately for Wenger’s team, two of those goals were into their own net and they slumped to a 4-3 defeat.  The North London club is suffering its worst start to a league season in almost 60 years and this week Arsene Wenger was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the board – usually a sure sign a manager is about to be replaced in English football.  This time, that is unlikely to be the case – Wenger has a good relationship with his employers and has developed enough goodwill during his tenure at the club to ensure he will have the opportunity to turn things around.  The win for Rovers was much-needed relief for their own under fire boss Steve Kean as some of Blackburn’s supporters had been protesting his position as manager prior to kick off.

In the other games last weekend, Tottenham dismantled Kenny Daglish’s Liverpool team 4-0 at White Hart Lane, the last three goals coming when the visitors had been reduced to 9 men following the sendings off of Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel.  All three of the promoted sides won, with QPR and Norwich winning away at Wolves and Bolton respectively, and Swansea taking care of business at home against West Bromwich Albion, scoring their first (and second, and third) Premiership goals in the process.  As predicted here, draw specialists and not yet beaten Aston Villa and Newcastle United shared the points, while Everton beat Wigan, and Sunderland got their first victory of the season in impression fashion, putting four past a previously unbeaten Stoke side.

This week’s fixtures sees Arsenal host Bolton, hoping to get their season back on track prior to next weekend’s North London derby with Tottenham; Spurs travel to Wigan looking for their third straight league win; Manchester City entertain Everton, while Manchester United face a tricky away game in Stoke.  There is an early bottom-of-the-table clash between 20th placed West Brom and winless Fulham; Blackburn hope to build on their win over Arsenal when they take on Newcastle at St. James’ park; and Torres will be watching as other strikers get the chance to put some goals past Swansea at Stamford Bridge.

Predictions

Last week, 4-6; overall 10-9

Man City vs Everton – Home win

Arsenal vs Bolton – Draw

Chelsea vs Swansea – Home win

Liverpool vs Wolves – Home win

Newcastle vs Blackburn – Home win

West Brom vs Fulham – Draw

Wigan vs Tottenham – Away win

Stoke vs Man United – Away win

QPR vs Aston Villa – Draw

Norwich vs Sunderland  – Away win

This week in: English Football – Man Utd vs Chelsea

I can't hear any booing...


This Sunday sees Manchester United take on Chelsea at Old Trafford, a matchup of the two sides who have won the last seven Premier League titles.  United have won all four of their league games thus far – winning 2-1 at West Brom in the opening match and then smashing Tottenham 3-0, Arsenal 8-2 and Bolton 5-0.  Chelsea have picked up 10 points out of 12 available to them, but have been overshadowed by both the Red Devils and Manchester City, who have been dominating the sports pages with their impressive performances.  Fernando Torres, bought by Chelsea for £50m in January, is still misfiring and has only scored once for the Blues.  He is looking a shadow of the player he was when he won Euro 2008 for Spain and was such a clinical finisher in his first two seasons at Liverpool.  It will be interesting to see if manager Andre Villas-Boas sticks with youngster Daniel Sturridge, who started and scored in the win against Sunderland last Saturday, rather than either Torres or Didier Drogba.

Also on Sunday, Tottenham host Liverpool, the away side having suffered their first defeat of the season away at Stoke last weekend.  Spurs picked up their first win of the campaign that same weekend against Wolves, but have also had a Thursday

Touchdown! Wait, wrong football...

Europa League fixture away in Northern Greece to contend with (which they drew 0-0).  While this would normally mean that a team would be fatigued, manager Harry Redknapp opted to leave many of the first choice players at home and played a very young team against PAOK Salonika.  The theory he subscribes to is that the Europa League is not worth trying to win and, thus, he is focusing his attention on getting back into the Champions League for next season – a decision which baffles me on several counts:

1) The Premier League is even stronger this year than last.  Manchesters United and City, and Chelsea are all beyond reach, so Tottenham look to be in a three-horse race for the final Champions League spot with Arsenal, who they last finished above in about 1961, and Liverpool, who strengthened their squad greatly from last season.

2) Even if they qualified for the Champions League, Spurs have little chance of winning it. Shouldn’t triumphing in the Europa League trump just being in the top European competition? When did trophies get devalued to a point that you would rather just be in another tournament than win the one you’re in?

3) If Spurs manage to finish fourth – next summer, after Euro 2012 when current national team boss Fabio Capello’s contact expires, Harry Redknapp will be ordained as the next England manager – so he would not be around for the Champions League campaign anyway.  The man has won one trophy in his whole career (the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008) – he should be doing his all to try to add to that total.

But Redknapp looks to be persisting with this policy in the Europa League – a tournament he referred to before the season as a “nuisance”.  I guess Sebastian was wrong – the seaweed is greener in somebody else’s lake.

Elsewhere this weekend…well there’s not a very good slate of games to be honest.  Arsenal, who won their first league game of the season against Swansea last weekend, will travel to Blackburn – who’s fans are planning a pre-game protest over their inept manager Steve Kean.  Draw specialists Aston Villa will be sharing the spoils with Newcastle; Bolton take on Norwich at the Reebok Stadium; Fulham will be the team beaten heavily by Manchester City this weekend; and Swansea try to score their first Premiership goal ever when they play West Brom in Wales.

Predictions

Last week I predicted 6 correct outcomes versus 3 wrong ones – having failed to notice there was a Monday night game and so totally missed QPR vs Newcastle.

Blackburn vs Arsenal – Away win

Aston Villa vs Newcastle – Draw

Bolton vs Norwich – Home win

Everton vs Wigan – Draw

Swansea vs West Brom – Home win

Wolves vs QPR – Draw

Spurs vs Liverpool – Home win

Fulham vs Man City – Away win

Sunderland vs Stoke – Away win

Manchester United vs Chelsea – Home win

This week in: English Football

This Saturday sees the return to Premier League action, following a break for international fixtures last weekend.  After three games, the Manchester clubs are the only two teams in the whole of the English League system to still have a 100% record, as both City and United have won all three of their games thus far.

Unfortunately, at least for us Spurs fans, that has left Tottenham Hotspur languishing at the bottom of the table having played just two games, but both of those were losses against the Mancunian teams.  Up next for Spurs is a trip to Wolves, who are unbeaten thus far having taken 7 points from their first 3 games.  With Van der Vaart injured and Peter Crouch now

And with you, we smile a tiny amount

sold (despite this plea to Modric less than a month ago), the forward line will take on a new look, with on-loan, former Arsenal man, Emmanuel Adebayor set to partner Jermain Defoe.  Luka Modric (who’s desire to leave this summer I covered here) remains in the squad and manager Harry Redknapp will be hoping that the Croatian’s head is in the right place for this game –  interest from Chelsea having been given as the reason for his no-show against United and his insipid performance against City.

In the other fixtures, Arsenal have a great opportunity to register their first league win of the season as they host Premiership newcomers Swansea City. The Gunners boast new signings Mikel Arteta from Everton and Yossi Benayoun on loan from Chelsea, bolstering their team from the side that lost 8-2 at Old Trafford in their last outing.  Manchester City have a local derby of sorts as they take on Wigan at Maine Road…oops, make that the City of Manchester Stadium…wait, what? The Etihad Stadium? Okay, fair enough, sounds all above board and not like they’re just trying to get around the FIFA Financial Fair Play rulings coming into effect next year.

The Etihad Stadium of Rule-Bending

Another Lancashire derby sees top-of-the-table-by-a-goal Manchester United travel to Bolton, Wanderers having been indifferent at the start of this season and likely to offer their traditional capitulation against the Red Devils.  Chelsea have a long away trip to Sunderland; while Stoke, with their new signings Crouch, Palacios and Cameron Jerome, host Liverpool.  The other Saturday game sees Arteta-less Everton take on an Aston Villa team who look a lot less dangerous now that Ashley Young is plying his trade with Manchester United.

Sunday’s games are not exactly marquee fixtures, with Martin Jol’s Fulham taking on a struggling Blackburn Rovers; and Norwich City playing West Brom, a match that sounds like a Championship game, but is actually a Premier League one.

Predictions

Arsenal vs Swansea – Home Win

Everton vs Aston Villa – Draw

Man City vs Wigan – Home win

Stoke vs Liverpool – Draw

Sunderland vs Chelsea – Away win

Wolves vs Tottenham – Away win

Bolton vs Manchester United – Away win

Norwich vs West Brom – Draw

Fulham vs Blackburn – Home win