Category Archives: Football

The Race For Europe

After 13 games the Premier League juggernauts are beginning to jostle for position and a place among Europe’s elite next season. With the exception of Manchester City (who ALMOST look invulnerable), pundits would be hard pressed to predict how the top six will look come the end of May.

With the domination of the ‘big four’ in recent years, the race for Europe had looked a little too predictable as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool seemed to monopolise entry into Europe’s top club competition; the Champions League. However with the crumbling of the Liverpool machine under Gillett and Hicks, the rise of Tottenham under the exceptional leadership of Harry Redknapp, and lest we forget the gushing wave of Arab oil on the blue half of Manchester, the established order of the ‘big four’ has well and truly been swept away.

Now there are six clubs realistically vying for power. Although the title would appear to be Man City’s to lose (as they look head and shoulders above the rest of the pack), the remaining three Champions League places appear to be up for grabs.

Manchester United
Under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson the red devils have dominated the Premier League and even knocked Liverpool off their perch by surpassing their record league title haul. Although Sir Alex has managed some exceptional teams in the past that have dominated, he has also had to navigate his way though some tricky periods of transition by breaking up and rebuilding successful sides. Nobody would doubt Fergie’s ability to come through; nonetheless it cannot be denied that United are currently in the middle of a tough transition. United started the season in imperious form by ploughing through their opponents whilst ingratiating the likes of Cleverly and Welbeck into the team.

However cracks have appeared to form, injuries to the likes of Cleverly and the humiliating 6-1 battering at the hands of their blue neighbours Man City have put things into perspective. United sit second in the table with 30 points and are still picking up victories, but they are not playing well. One problem is that their talisman Wayne Rooney is going through a dry patch; he hasn’t scored in the league since the 3-1 victory over Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney has not scored since the 3-1 victory against Chelsea in September (Picture from http://www.moviespad.com/photos/wayne-rooney-manchester-united-947ec.jpg)

Nonetheless United will surely come good and finish comfortably in the top four, however they may have already surrendered too much ground to their noisy neighbours to claim a 20th league title this season.
Prediction: 2nd

Manchester City
The blue moon is rising, and it looks mighty impressive. Since the 2008 Abu Dhabi takeover City have spent heavily on players, around half a billion! The recruitment of world class technicians such as David Silva and Yaya Toure have been complimented by Roberto Mancini’s desire to open up his team and unleash hell upon City’s opponents. In 13 games the sky blues have been majestic, scoring 43 goals and amassing 35 points. The only blemishes on their record have been two draws against Fulham and Liverpool.
Although Liverpool gave them a scare on Sunday, City looked impressive as they withstood a huge amount of pressure during the second half and held on for a hard fought point. Man City not only look exciting going forward but consistent in defence; they have the joint best defence in the league.

In the context of a stuttering United, this league title is City’s to lose, and with the depth of their squad it doesn’t look like they will choke any time soon.
Prediction: 1st

Chelsea
Chelsea have been the only credible challengers to Manchester United’s domination in recent years. Roman Abramovich’s huge investment on players and the guidance of Jose Mourinho helped forge a powerful Chelsea side that became Premier League stalwarts; and went on to win three league titles (one under Carlo Ancelotti).

However Chelsea are now an ageing side and have become stale as a life-force within the league. Players such as Drogba, Terry, and Lampard who were previously the epitome of Chelsea’s driving success now look like they are on the decline.

Abramovich appointed Andre Villas-Boas in an attempt to instil a new lease of life into the team to compliment the January transfer spending on Torres and David Luiz. However a rotten run of form (five losses in nine in all competitions) has shown that there can be no quick fix to Chelsea’s problems. Firstly Villas-Boas, if he is the right man for the job, clearly needs more time to adapt to the style of play in England. Secondly, Chelsea are in need of a costly recruitment drive as they lack quality and imagination on the flanks, while their previously watertight defence is sinking like the titanic. This is not to say that Chelsea are finished, only a fool would write them off. However they are in danger of losing ground to their rivals.

Villas-Boas has struggled at Chelsea since his move from FC Porto in the summer. (Picture from http://i.thisislondon.co.uk/i/pix/gen/2011/11/andre-villas-boas-chelsea-fc-26648.jpg)

Villas-Boas may not be the right man for the job, under him his side look slow and cumbersome in attack, neglecting the flanks, while his inability to effectively pair Torres and Drogba must surely have frustrated Abramovich. Chelsea’s fortunes could quite easily change as they still have some superb players; old and new, such as Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata, and Didier Drogba. They can be a match for anyone on their day, but this season they have been anything but consistent and for that reason I believe they will just miss out on a top four finish.
Prediction: 5th

Tottenham
Spurs have always been easy on the eye, but Harry Redknapp has added real steel to the team. With the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and Rafael Van Der Vart the side possesses creativity, pace and goals. Furthermore, with new signing Scott Parker patrolling the centre of the park Redknapp’s side are capable of battling to hard fought victories.

Since Spurs’ humiliating losses to Man City and Man United they have went on to record nine victories from ten in the league. Spurs have not only been consistent but even battled to victories in games where they have been under the cosh, such as the 3-1 away victory over Fulham. They also have a game in hand on Manchester United, if they win they will leap-frog them into second place. Doing well in this league is all about performing consistently, other than City, Spurs have been the most consistent in the league so far.
Prediction: 3rd

Liverpool
Liverpool fans must be cursing their poor home form and apparent inability to kill off teams when they have the chance. Five home draws have left Liverpooll lying sixth in the table on 23 points. Although they are very much in contention it has been a season of ‘what if’s’ so far for the Kop. Home draws against Manchester United, Sunderland, Norwich, and arguably Man City should have been victories. Had this been the case the reds would be serious title contenders. Nonetheless results are what count. Liverpool have lacked a killer instinct in front of goal, which has led to a squandering of chances, and an inability to convert decent performances into victories.

However there still remains real cause for optimism, they have the joint best defence in the league and are currently on an unbeaten run of 11 games in all competitions. Furthermore their recent away victory over Chelsea in the league, and their outstanding performance against Manchester City that nearly culminated in victory shows promise for the reds.

So far this season Liverpool have not been consistent enough in terms of recording victories, however they are showing signs of gelling together better as a team with each game. This combined with the momentum gained from recent form may well provide Liverpool with the ammunition to mount a serious assault on the final Champions League place.
Prediction: 4th

Arsenal
After the sales of the influential Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas were compounded by a bad start to the season, some Arsenal fans committed blasphemy and questioned Arsene Wenger’s tenancy as the guardian of Arsenal FC. However after an incredible run of five wins from six in the league the gunners have put themselves back in the mix for a top four finish.

Robin Van Persie has been outstanding for Arsenal this season. (Picture from http://www.sportsnewseye.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Arsenal-Club-New-Captain-Robin-van-Persie.jpg)

The principal reason that Arsenal are currently flying so high is that Robin Van Persie has been in the form of his life, plundering 13 goals so far this season. With the Dutchman currently looking like one of the most dangerous strikers on the planet, critics would be brave to rule Arsene Wenger’s men out of a top four finish. However Van Persie has struggled with injuries throughout his career, were he to become injured Arsenal’s run of form might abandon them. Arsenal’s next highest league scorers are Theo Walcot, Gervinho, and Mikel Arteta who have just two league goals each to their names.

Although Wenger’s men still remain capable of producing magnificent performances on their day, the erosion of their squad has left them short of quality should their first XI become injured. If Van Persie becomes injured it seems unlikely that either Chamakh or Park would take up the goal scoring mantel for the gunners.
Prediction: 6th

Newcastle
Alan Pardew has done a remarkable job at Newcastle this season. Somehow, against all the odds they are flying high in fourth place with 26 points. They have replaced the likes of Joey Barton, Andy Carroll, and Kevin Nolan with Demba Ba, and Yohan Cabaye. Furthermore they have a solid defence and have based their success on battling to great performances such as the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Newcastle are the surprise package of the league this season, however they lack the quality to consistently rack up the required number of victories to pip the Premier League juggernauts to a place in the Champions League.
Prediction: 7th/8th

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Liverpool Machine Geared Towards Top Four Finish

Liverpool fans have a genuine cause for optimism. The summer spending spree during the summer has combined with the Dalglish factor to leave Liverpool fans salivating at the prospect of a top four finish. Four points from a possible six from their opening two games of the season including an impressive 2-0 victory over Arsenal in their own backyard adds credence to the belief that Liverpool will be a powerful force this season, particularly when their new signings find their feet.

When the Liverpool spending spree surpassed the £50 million mark some pundits questioned whether Dalglish and the Liverpool owners had frivolously wasted their money. The £16 million pound outlay for the promising talent of Jordan Henderson in particular raised a few eyebrows. After all despite the Sunderland youngsters’ impressive start to the first half of last season his form tailed off quite significantly. Nonetheless Henderson’s talent is undeniable, he may not be worth his transfer fee just yet, but he will surely grow and improve as a player each year to become an impressive England international.

Meanwhile the rest of the summer dealings conducted by Liverpool appear to be shrewd business. The arrivals of Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam for a combined fee of £14 million provide excellent value. Liverpool has added to its squad a genuine playmaker in Adam who possesses a magic wand of a left foot. Meanwhile the muscular figure of Enrique already seems to have stamped his authority on the previously problematic left back position.

Although the £20 million paid for Stewart Downing appears expensive at first glance perhaps a closer look at Downing’s qualities might ease the concerns of some Liverpool fans? At 27 years of age Stewart Downing is an established England international whose pace and guile make him a dangerous winger, particularly when you consider the quality of his deliveries that he will surely provide from out wide for the gigantic Andy Carroll.
From the left: Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Kenny Dalglish,  Alexander Doni and Stewart Downing.

Sourced from: footballatliverpool.com

These signings have only added to the wave of optimism that has swept through Anfield since the return of King Kenny as manager. Kenny Dalglish’s return saw Liverpool’s results dramatically improve last season; under Dalglish Liverpool climbed from the bottom half of the table all the way up to sixth place. By the end of the season the Dalglish factor had began to fuel hope and expectation to the extent that some fans even dreamed of challenging for the title in the following season.

However the strength and depth of the Manchester clubs and expected cash injection into Chelsea make a potential title challenge for Liverpool seem like a step too far this season. Nonethless the new signings during the summer appear to have added strength and depth to a Liverpool squad who already have the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. Thus Liverpool fans believe that they have a genuine chance of re-establishing themselves as a top four club this season.

Liverpool’s improvements on paper during the summer may have reignited the burning fire of expectation amongst fans; however Liverpool’s promising start to the 2011/12 campaign will surely stoke such expectation even further. Four points from a possible six including a 2-0 away victory at the Emirates against Arsenal make for impressive reading. Dalglish will clearly have to work hard with his squad to integrate his new players and create a fluid first team that can realise its potential. This may take at least ten games as demonstrated by the disappointing second half display against Sunderland on the opening day of the season. However the victory on Saturday against Arsenal was recorded with a ruthless efficiency that will get Liverpool fans dreaming again. The squad looks strong, particularly when Dalglish has the luxury of bringing on Raul Meireles and Suarez with twenty minutes to go in a game. Liverpool now seems to have the necessary mix of steel and fire-power to rack up points and victories on a consistent basis.

This Liverpool side is certainly not ready to push for the title, the new signings need time to find their feet and build a greater understanding with the rest of the first team. However one gets the impression that when the cogs of this Liverpool machine have been oiled and it starts to work its way up through the gears Liverpool will have a fantastic chance of beating Arsenal and Spurs to that crucial champion’s league place. It’s by no means a guarantee, but there is certainly enough promise to fill this Liverpool fan with optimism.
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