Posts Tagged ‘birmingham’

Arsenal v Birmingham Thoughts

17/10/2010

For the second year running the weekend of my birthday featured a home match against Birmingham. As I made my way to the Emirates in an ever so slightly tender state, I hoped for a repeat of 2009/10’s result, a 3-1 victory with goals from van Persie, Diaby and Arshavin.

My fear however was that without Fabregas and post international break, Arsenal would struggle to break down a Birmingham side who would play 451 and come for a draw.

The first 30 minutes were very flat – the atmosphere was subdued with Birmingham fans making all of the noise. The ironic cheers when the Arsenal fans roused themselves to sing a chant said it all. Even the so-called singing section wasn’t up to much.

It didn’t help the action on the pitch was a bit lacklustre too. Plenty of possession for the home team but the forward line felt a little one paced while Diaby was his usual dallying self as the most forward of the midfield trio.

It took ‘two’ goals to liven things up; one disallowed for Arsenal and one against the run of play for Birmingham. From where we were sitting it was unclear why Squillaci’s header had been disallowed. Indeed it took me a good 30 seconds to realise, my brain not fully up to speed from the night before.

Twitter would tell me it was for offside but the decision was somewhat tight. Not long after a Birmingham player wasn’t closed down and hit a deep cross to the back post. There, 6’8″ Zigic lost Clichy and planted a bullet header back across goal. Fabianski needed a second to set himself and dive but it’s hard to blame him – it was a great header.

I was concerned at this stage given the lack of cutting edge thus far and the fact Birmingham are pretty solid defensively. The taunts from the away section were cutting. Something along the lines of “how shit must you be if we’re winning away” – indeed.

Thankfully things were soon evened up. Chamakh was played in and fouled by Scott Dann, at least it looked that way from where I was sitting at the opposite end of the stadium.

Replays I’d see later would suggest he was on his way down before contact was made but to be honest it looked worse in slow motion and we were the victims last season when Rooney did the same thing. Anyway, Nasri sent Foster the wrong way to make it 1-1 at HT.

The second half saw an immediate improvement. Chamakh, who was having an excellent game with plenty of intelligent runs and hold up play, was played in by Song and he rounded the keeper to slot home his fifth goal of the season.

Despite the lead there was still lack of chances being created from the improved running. This was mainly due to Diaby’s continual failure to release the ball early.

He didn’t have a bad game per se but you see the difference when someone like Cesc is playing in that position – he knows when to drive and run with the ball and when to play an early through ball instead. Time and time again Diaby would reach the box and not know what to do and the attack would break down.

Frustrating, but he was not entirely blameless – Arshavin had a very quiet game and offered little running off the ball and little creativity on it.

Bendtner came on and looked busy in his cameo – he will be a useful option in the coming weeks and months. Rosicky meanwhile had one or two decent efforts having replaced Arshavin. You just feel he needs a goal for his confidence, though it must be said his shooting is much more on target than at the start of the season.

The game started to fizzle out somewhat though there remained a slight tetchiness throughout with plenty of running arguments and niggly fouls. This culminated in Wilshere receiving a straight red card for a late foul on Zigic.

It was entirely unnecessary as it was by the halfway line near the touchline but let’s be honest it wasn’t that unexpected. He’s been flying into tackles all season long and it was only a matter of time before one was mis-timed and he was punished for it.

Though I didn’t see it, 7amkickoff informs me Wilshere had been on the receiving end from Zigic not long before so this was essentially retaliation. Wilshere still has that slight hot headedness about him and the sending off will no doubt teach him a few things. That aside he was one of the best players on the pitch yet again, constantly probing and keeping things ticking over.

All in all it was a decent victory, one of those where it was important you got three points despite missing a raft of first team players. I would have liked more goals on my birthday but I’ll take a win and the knowledge that Chelsea and Man Utd both dropped points.

 

T.

Weekly Photoshop – Sam Allardyce

28/09/2010

You may have heard Sam Allardyce spouting lots of rubbish recently. Apparently he could win the double at Real Madrid or Inter every season, easy. In his saved game on Football Manager perhaps. Somehow in real life I don’t think lumping it forward to emergency striker Chris Samba is quite going to cut it at the Bernabeu. Naturally he was this week’s Photoshop them in the Guardian.

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Sam Allardyce is always going on about his use of the latest football trends and innovations. One has to assume he would start taking C-Ron's beachwear advice too...

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More here. An easy target really.

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T.

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Season Previews 2010/11 – How They’ll Finish

13/08/2010

Based on all the predictions written, here’s how I see the Premier League finishing up in May.

  1. Man Utd
  2. Arsenal
  3. Chelsea
  4. Man City
  5. Liverpool
  6. Tottenham
  7. Everton
  8. Fulham
  9. Aston Villa
  10. Stoke
  11. Blackburn
  12. Birmingham
  13. Bolton
  14. Sunderland
  15. Wolves
  16. West Ham
  17. Newcastle
  18. Wigan
  19. West Brom
  20. Blackpool

A few more thoughts. I think the top four are quite interchangeable though Man City won’t win it. It depends what other business is done before the end of the transfer window – you get the feeling the Milner deal will get a few things going.

I reckon Liverpool, Everton and Spurs are all capable of sneaking fourth spot. With the former two it depends on how fit their first choice teams stay throughout the season while Spurs could maybe go as high as third but it relies on them coping with two competitions at once. I’m sure they’ll sign one or two more players but are waiting to see if they beat Young Boys in the qualifier.

With Martin O’Neill leaving Aston Villa will drop down the table. It doesn’t matter who they get in to replace him, they won’t come ahead of those top seven teams. I have Fulham a little high on reflection. I should probably swap them with Villa. If they lose Schwarzer and get an injury or two, it remains to be seen whether Hughes can keep them going. With the signing of Kenwyne Jones Stoke might push on an extra place or two. I genuinely wonder if they have any players under 6ft beyond Tuncay and Etherington!

Going down to about 15th/16th you can mix and match. Bolton could shock a few people, while West Ham have one of the more talented spines of teams at that level. Birmingham could really struggle if Foster doesn’t live up to Hart’s performances last season and Zigic doesn’t perform but all in all the teams in this section should be ok.

For me there are just the four clear relegation candidates, though you could perhaps chuck Wolves in there too. Maybe I’ll revisit this once the transfer window shuts, as things should be a bit clearer by then.

T.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Birmingham

10/08/2010

Birmingham

Last Season: 9th

New Signings: Foster, Zigic, Valles

Key Player: Roger Johnson

One To Watch: Eric Valles

Needs A Big Year: Ben Foster

Would Quite Like: Avoiding second season syndrome and a victory over the Villa.

More money please.

Prediction: 12th

Thoughts: If Ben Foster can adequately replace the departing Joe Hart in goal then Birmingham will go a long way to having another successful season. One of the surprise packages last year (I had them down for relegation!), Alex McLeish will be looking to consolidate and make sure his team remain as tough to beat as they were last season.

A lot of their players probably over-performed and bearing in mind there is quite a reliance on people as old as Steve Carr and Kevin Phillips, there is a valid concern that this year won’t quite be as good. A proper left back is needed so Ridgewell no longer has to play there while Zigic will hopefully provide consistency up front or a big target to aim at if nothing else.

Carson Yeung’s promised riches haven’t quite materialised but continued defensive solidity will ensure mid-table will be perfectly acceptable and attainable again this season.

T.

Season Predictions 09/10 – How They Turned Out

31/05/2010

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’m still in two minds about whether to do season reviews for each club – to be honest I’m in World Cup mode now. Perhaps I’ll still get round to it though.

Back in August I played a mug’s game and tried to predict how everyone would finish. Here’s what actually happened:

'Expert' predictions...

Looking at the results showed I got just three clubs spot on: Man City in 5th and basement dwellers Hull and Pompey taking the bottom two places. In my defence I was only one place out with six other clubs but really this table looks like what it is, rubbish punditry.

I think if Gareth Southgate and Garth Crooks had a bastard lovechild it would look something like this predictions table (enjoy those nightmare thoughts kids).

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In terms of the thinking, I had found it really tricky to split the top three when writing pre-season predictions. My loyalties to Arsenal may have played a part in placing them second while I couldn’t bear to predict Chelsea as Champions even though deep down I knew they had retained the most strength over the summer.

A similar scenario led to placing Spurs 7th – I was hardly going to predict them a Champions League spot was I?! I underestimated Liverpool’s decline and overestimated Sunderland’s improvement.

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The biggest mistake was Birmingham, a full nine places out, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had them down to struggle. Fair play to Alex McLeish (who I had as first sacking!), he brilliantly led them to a top half finish.

The bottom half was slightly better predicted clubs wise, if not positions wise. The dearth of quality is such that it’s pot luck as to where the likes of Bolton and Wigan finish. I got three of the bottom four right and on another day would have predicted Burnley to come in 18th not 17th.

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In terms of the cups and other stuff it went like this:

And I thought the league prediction was bad...

Oh dear. Only Bayern Munich correct and I suppose West Brom for promotion. If the Premier League table was the Southgate/Crooks lovechild then this is the resulting mess when said lovechild had a threesome with Alan Shearer and Jamie Redknapp. I literally couldn’t do any worse at being a pundit. Like I said at the beginning, it’s time for the World Cup…

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – End Of Season Review 09/10

14/05/2010

So another year of fantasy football ended last Sunday without too much drama. A solid final week meant I held on to my league lead and won it for the first time in the four seasons we’ve played.

Victory at last.

It was an entertaining season and at one stage looked to be a four-way title race. That said I don’t think I let go of the lead since about week 19 so without gloating too much victory is deserved. I was kind of limping to the finish line for the last few weeks and dropped from a position of 7,264 as late as gameweek 31 down to a final ranking of 24,501 out of 2.3m+. Not my highest ever position but still very good and just outside the top 1%.

Sportboy P came a worthy second while longtime leader Amer came third. Too many transfers and dodgy captain choices cost him and he couldn’t pick it back up. Three time winner the Football Guy had his worst ever season in fifth. I expect him to bounce back next year.

On to some awards.

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Player of the season:

Frank Lampard wins this for the second straight season. I learnt from my lesson last year and made sure he was in my team when in mattered, not least for the run in. Top scoring player by 42 points and his total of 284 is quite incredible. I only realised while writing this that it’s the highest ever score in a fantasy season, edging out Ronaldo’s 283 points in 2007/08.

I think it was Chelsea’s sheer volume of goals that did it, as although he ‘only’ scored 22 (compared to C-Ron’s 31) he weighed in with a season high 17 assists (only 8 for CR). If you factor in that he wasn’t even the highest recipient of bonus points, or that he played neither game vs Wolves, you start to wonder whether a 300 point season is possible.

An honourable mention too for Cesc Fabregas who matched Lampard for points per game and got the second most bonus points this season but due to his various injuries missed eleven games thus ended up with  214.

Frank Lampard fantasy football

Maverick's 2009/10 Top Gun.

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Best value player:

Thomas Sorensen is the clear winner here, gaining 164 points for his measly £4m initial price tag. He even saved three penalties this season. Joe Hart was also a big plus here, with a lower score but higher price rise over the course of the season.

However I think the best bargain to be had this season was Darren Bent. Costing just £7m to start with, he banged in 24 goals for a frankly average Sunderland side. He was quieter in the second half of the season when Sunderland went on a long winless run and Drogba/Rooney/Tevez was the way to go but picked it up again in the final few games.

bent sunderland

Bargain of the season.

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Best sub:

Birmingham defenders were this year’s Fulham, providing regular clean sheets at a bargain basement price. Though they faded somewhat once they hit 40 points, they were a great option.

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Fantasy bike:

There wasn’t one single player I kept bringing in this season, but looking back it seems Drogba, Lampard and Tevez were all transferred in on three occasions. With expensive players all generally performing this season, you could usually mix and match as fitness and suspension dictated and not have to worry about losing money.

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Biggest flop:

Many of last season’s flops bounced back, not least Fabregas, Tevez and Drogba. For his price tag Steven Gerrard has to be up there. A victim of Liverpool’s poor season; he was generally pretty useless until about gameweek 32, before an end of season points binge.

Elsewhere big things were expected of Andrey Arshavin after last year’s four-month cameo but I thought 135 points was poor while Dirk Kuyt has gone back to being a plodder. You could argue Van Persie and Torres were disappointing but everyone knows they’re injury prone. When they played they both had a high points per game average – 5th and 6th overall.

arshavin arsenal

Could have done so much more.

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Best improvement:

The way of looking at this is rise in value over the season. Here Richard Dunne and Didier Drogba are the winners, just edging out James Milner. All three had terrific seasons and the former two rose by £1.8m in price.

I would say Dunne was the most unexpected, and he picked up Martin Laursen’s tendency for being a bonus point machine while captaining Aston Villa at centre back. That said, clever old me came up with this gem of a prediction about Drogba in one of my previews.

"I no longer think the Ivorian has the ability to get 20 goals a season."

Good thing I realised the error of my ways!

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Biggest surprise:

The under performance of Gerrard – previously a lock for 200 points. Gareth Bale post January (116 points) compared to pre January (2 points).

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Best performance:

Last season’s high was 21 points from Arshavin. I think this score got beaten six times this year. In reverse order:

Joint 3rd: Benayoun and Kalou – 24 points

2nd: Defoe – 25 points

1st: Lampard – 28 points versus Aston Villa through four goals, an assist and three bonus. Needless to say that was one of the few weeks he wasn’t in my team, let alone in my team as captain.

Credit to Fabregas for getting 22 twice and Rooney for getting 32 in a double gameweek.

And Arshavin’s high score this season? 11…

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Cesc Fabregas award for cheap bonus points:

Wayne Rooney with 46 (matching Lampard last year). Cesc was second with 41.

rooney man utd

Bonus. Om om om.

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Biggest fall from grace value wise:

Biggest price drop was Diamanti of West Ham and surprisingly Nicolas Anelka. Both went down £1.2m. I assume the latter was a victim of people going with the three highest scoring strikers and just sticking with them. Of the other renowned players Carrick fell by £1m while Arshavin again plays a part here, falling £0.9m.

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Biggest fall from grace performance wise:

Aaron Lennon was fantastic until December, then got injured and only returned for the last few games. Perhaps it’s a little harsh to include him here. Jermain Defoe on the other hand had 14 goals before January and just four afterwards. Antonio Valencia was also pretty poor in 2010 with just four assists and no goals.

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Best impact:

Gareth Bale was immense after the turn of the year, scoring well over 100 points. I didn’t bring him in though due to his price.

From a personal point of view I was pleased with the transfers of Martin Olsson and Adam Johnson. The former was listed as a £3.8m defender yet played in an advanced midfield role, while the latter made a big impact after joining Man City in the January transfer window. Both were nice differentials who scored steady points in the run in.

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Predictions:

I mentioned the Drogba one earlier and how I fancied Anelka over him this season. Other specials included tipping the likes of Ebanks-Blake, Zhirkov, Scotland and Robinho while being negative on players like Bellamy, Lennon and Valencia. In my defence, I had Milner, Bent plus more expensive guys like Fabregas and Rooney to have good seasons.

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Finally lets take a look my team in August:

fantasy premier league week 1

Ebanks-Blake, what was I thinking?!

and the team I ended the season with:

fantasy premier league week 38

The league winning side.

Pretty different as you can see. I think Sorensen was the only player to make it through the season without being transferred out, surviving even the wildcard. I played a three-man defence for much of the season and given how well strikers did it was usually three up front.

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 32 Preview

26/03/2010

At the risk of tempting fate, I think I may have wrapped up my private league last week. A massive 15 matches saw all sorts of opportunities for points and while the weekend fixtures weren’t too good, the midweek soon made up for it. 107 points in the end but more importantly another 18 points on my nearest rival.

I was particularly pleased with Arteta doing so well while Fat Frank Lampard signed off with a nice 18 points before I turf him back out for Fabregas. A 74 point lead with seven weeks left should be enough, considering everyone has the likes of Drogba and Rooney now leaving less differentials. Fingers crossed…

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Gameweek 31 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

mikel arteta everton

Maverick wonders how many points Arteta would have got were he fit in August.

For the second time in three weeks the Spaniard (though he’s now technically eligible to play for England) does the job, scoring a total of 22 points over two games. In a nice mirror image, both games saw a 2-0 Everton win with Arteta scoring and being man of the match.

Didier Drogba was all over Portsmouth and in two games scored three goals and assisted for a total of 20. After him were Carew, Lampard and Malouda with 19, 18 & 17. Credit to Lampard for getting the highest one game score of 16. Loads of other players in double figures for the week including four from Wolves!

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Three Captain Picks:

A little tricky this week with away games for the top three .

1. Torres/Liverpool – Sunderland ended their winless streak and have picked up recently but I don’t see anything but a home win here. Torres has been back amongst the goals since returning from injury and I fancy him to get at least a couple against Sunderland’s shaky back line.

2. Kranjcar/Spurs – Portsmouth got tanked 5-0 by Chelsea in midweek and with Spurs looking to gain as many points as possible before facing the top 3 in April, I suspect another thrashing might be on here. I would say go for Pavlyuchenko but he’s doubtful apparently so it will rest with creative midfielders and maybe Bale too. Bentley is too risky, while Modric is usually the passer to the assister so that leaves the other Croat Kranjcar as the choice.

3. Rooney/Man Utd – The safest bet of the big three teams though Chelsea at home to Villa could have a few goals in it. Rooney has a decent record against Bolton and will look to score, get the job done early and come off, saving himself for Bayern midweek.

fernando torres liverpool

Gets a Captain's tick.

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Three Suggested Transfers In:

Returning players are the theme this week.

1. Arteta/Everton – In case you haven’t got him already, last week should be the trigger to transfer Arteta into your team. He’s been fit for a couple of months now but has only started to make an impact in the last few weeks, with 45 points since week 29. With other player at his price level beginning to fade (see Milner, James and Valencia, Antonio) he should be a high scoring option for the last seven games. Three of those will be against bottom six sides.

2. Dempsey/Fulham – When he first got injured in January there were fears over his World Cup place but he recently made his return and should slot back into being a key attacking player for Fulham. With the Cottagers beginning to feel the effects of doing well in three competitions, some caution is advised but they have enough easier games to make this worthwhile. Only £6.6m again after a high of £7.1m.

3. Bent/Sunderland – More someone returning to goalscoring form rather than from injury. I got rid of him in week 29 and since then he scored 5 goals and six bonus points. I’d probably wait until after the Liverpool game this week but that said, Bent has no issues scoring against top sides. After this week he has a particularly nice run however of TOT, WHM, BUR & HUL.

mikel arteta everton

Might be worth a pick.

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Three To Avoid:

1. Birmingham defenders – However cheap they are, I don’t think it’s worth having three of them (inc. Hart) any more. Just one clean sheet in 11, you can get a similarly priced defender with more short-term upside from a different team. Keep Hart though, he’s solid.

2. Diaby/Arsenal – Cheap but can’t wait around for the three home games a season where he is a fantasy machine. Etherington is a better play right now at the same price.

3. Aston Villa players – Starting to tire due to Martin O’Neill’s preference for a small squad. They have a final double gameweek coming up in week 35 but are no longer a certainty fantasy wise.

scott dann birmingham city

Are you taking the mick?!

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T.

Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 31 Preview

19/03/2010

Week 31. 15 matches. Given it’s so late in the season this will be title deciding I would think. Ten teams play twice including four from the top half so you should really be looking at having a minimum of seven double players I’d say. Unless we get a bunch of 1-1 draws, 100 points should be the minimum target.

Last week was pretty good – 85 points and a slight increase of my league lead. This despite having five players who would have been better captain choices than Fat Frank. He’ll be leaving my team for Fabregas again shortly after this double gameweek ends. I was particularly pleased with Bendtner getting another 11 points while spending eight points on transfers just about paid off too.

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Gameweek 30 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

fernando torres liverpool

Maverick wants to know where Torres got those highlights...

After an injury truncated season, Fernando Torres reminded us of what he can do with 19 points against Portsmouth. Two goals, two assists and three bonus gave him his highest score of the season, moving him into the top seven strikers despite having played just 1471 minutes.

Funnily enough his price has actually gone down this week as people were still reacting to one point against Wigan plus the fact he faces Man Utd this week. Judging by past form against Vidic that no bad thing. Elsewhere Malouda got 16, Milner and Aquilani 12 while it was a striker’s week with Rooney, Drogba, Bendtner, Berbatov and Pavlyuchenko all in double figures.

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Three Captain Picks:

1. Chelsea attackers – First choice for a captain this week should be Chelsea attacking players. While they have two away game which are trickier than they look, I’d still be surprised if they didn’t come away with six points from Blackburn and Portsmouth. Lampard is an option as always, while Malouda is possibly their best player right now. You can’t really look further than Drogba though, and he should feast on those two defences. I wouldn’t bother with Chelsea defenders this week, I think it’ll be one clean sheet at best.

2. Aston Villa players – Villa have two home games against Wolves and Sunderland. Again, I’d be surprised if they got less than six points and they perhaps offer more variety than Chelsea. I’d be quite comfortable with picking Dunne as captain while Agbonlahor is usually involved some way when they score. Really though Milner is the most realistic choice when choosing a Villa captain. You can talk about potential differentials like Young and Downing all you want but at the end of the day it will be Milner getting the points.

3. Everton midfielders – Choices from Everton are narrowed to their midfield for me as Saha is currently injured and I don’t trust the Yak. Pienaar has been consistent and Cahill is always good for a goal but now that Arteta is back he’s the man you want.

Didier Drogba Chelsea

Gets a Captain's tick.

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Three Suggested Transfers In:

1. Johnson/Man City – How brave are you feeling? Johnson has shone for Man City since joining in January and last week got himself nine points coming of the bench to rescue a draw vs Sunderland. Difficult fixtures against Fulham A and Everton H but he is in form and making an impact. The key question is will he play both matches? I think yes, but you never know with Mancini.

2. Olsson/Blackburn – An interesting week for Blackburn as they have two home games but both of those matches are quite tough (Chelsea and Birmingham). Olsson is one of the cheapest players in the game at just £3.8m and is listed as a defender even though he normally plays left of midfield. I could certainly see him getting a clean sheet against Brum and perhaps a cheeky assist too.

3. O’Hara/Portsmouth – They’ve been docked points, are essentially relegated, and face Hull and Chelsea this week. That said they are ok at home and tend to score if nothing else. O’Hara should get something against Hull (unless new manager syndrome kicks in) and will get two points vs Chelsea too. He’s cheap and gets bonus, what more do you want?

adam johnson man city

Might be worth a pick.

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Three To Avoid:

1. Hull players – Not even Iain Dowie can save this lot.

2. N’Zogbia/Wigan – His double gameweek produced just one assist and he’s been taken off before the hour twice in the last three weeks.

3. Anelka/Chelsea – No goals or bonus since the end of January.

jimmy bullard hull

Are you taking the mick?!

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T.

The Six Pointer – The new Fulham, Arsh power & more…

14/12/2009

1. Amazing what effect a good old-fashioned rollicking can have on players. Arsenal were dreadful in the first half against Liverpool yesterday and were lucky to go into the break only 1-0 down. Torres should have buried what was essentially a one on one chance while Gerrard probably paid the price for his recent diving by not being awarded a penalty for a clear foul by Gallas in the box. As it happened Liverpool were gifted the lead after another error by Almunia, who flapped at a routine crossed free kick and palmed into Kuyt’s path to score.

It has been hinted that Wenger told his young charges “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” (something many of us Arsenal fans have thought in recent times) and it had the desired result, in part helped by Liverpool’s terrible second half. First Glen Johnson got his footing all wrong to score an own goal with Carragher slipping and Walcott lurking. Then within ten minutes Andrey Arshavin (who had done little until then) scored a great goal taking one touch to control, one to step past Glen Johnson and one to rifle the ball in the net before Reina even saw it. Another memorable Anfield moment for the little Russian who at that point had five goals from five shots in his two games in Liverpool (he would later ruin it with a shot that didn’t score!).

Andrey Arshavin Arsenal Liverpool Anfield

So tiny yet so much shooting power.

So where does this leave both teams? Arsenal look to be back in the title mix after everyone else around them dropped points and will be just three behind Chelsea if they win their game in hand against Bolton in January. Arshavin up front is working in the sense they have two straight wins but he was much quieter against Liverpool than Stoke. A striker is still needed in January.

Liverpool meanwhile are bereft of ideas, form and confidence. They are still only five points off a Champions League spot but it’s becoming more apparent that something is fundamentally wrong at Anfield.  I’m still unsure why Aquilani isn’t starting league games, especially when the first XI aren’t doing much. Gerrard is playing poorly and petulantly while I feel Torres isn’t at full fitness. I’m not convinced Rafa has lost the dressing room but I do think he has the resigned look of someone who already is just playing out the season. Life under Hicks and Gillett has become ridiculous and to be honest I’ll be surprised to see him at Anfield next year.

rafael-benitez liverpool

Something on your mind Rafa?

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2. No team with Champions League ambitions loses at home to Stoke and Wolves and doesn’t score in either game. As always with Spurs as soon as expectation rises, performances fall; which is ironic given that they play better against the big sides. Robbie Keane being captain is becoming an issue due to his poor play, as was obvious it would a year ago, while Defoe isn’t as consistent a scorer as Darren Bent – he’s only scored in six games compared to Bent’s nine. With no money to spend in January it will be interesting to see how Harry Redknapp does going forward.

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3. Any team which beats Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd certainly should have Champions League ambitions. Aston Villa got their first league win at Old Trafford in some 26 years and it was thoroughly deserved. Having been in a Champions League spot for two-thirds of last season before falling away, they looked better placed to stick it out this season.

richard-dunne-aston villa

Solid as a rock.

In Milner, Downing, Young and Agbonlahor they have a quartet of attacking players who can cause problems against any team; Agbonlahor in particular consistently scoring in big matches. At the back Richard Dunne proves every week that Mark Hughes made an error in selling him. A lot depends on whether the core players stay fit but of the pretenders for 4th, Villa look by the far the most impressive at the moment. They may even be aiming higher…

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4. Are Birmingham this season’s Fulham? The points they’re gaining with the few goals they’re scoring suggests so. Their fifth 1-0 victory this season has got them up to 24 points and eighth place. A far cry from the fools who thought they’d be going down this season.

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5. Somewhere in Milan a certain J. Mourinho must be laughing at Chelsea’s recent defensive problems. Who would have thought that a team with a least eight players over six-foot including a giant 6’6″ keeper would be so vulnerable on set pieces? Cech has been far below the heights (no pun intended) of 2004-06 and in recent weeks has made a number of errors. The problem with him being so far ahead of Hilario and Ross Turnbull is that you just have to hope he works his way through it. You have to think that Chelsea wouldn’t have conceded three if Essien was playing either. It’s too early to say if he’ll be badly missed, I would say the true test will be once Drogba is out too.

Jose Mourinho Chelsea Inter

They conceded how many goals in one match?!

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6. Just five points from seven games for Sunderland. Portsmouth at home was about as good a game as you could have hoped for if you wanted to find some form. Maybe Steve Bruce needs a bit more time (read next season) to truly make them a contender for a Europa League spot.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Men vs Midgets, Self-Deprecation & more…

30/11/2009

That was the weekend that was.

 

1. Chelsea showed Arsenal what it takes to be champions elect yesterday with a lesson in how to blend skill with power. Up until the first goal Arsenal were in control without really doing anything, though Chelsea could have had a penalty for Sagna’s foul on Anelka. Then out of nothing Cole wasn’t closed down and a great cross came over for Drogba to finish clinically. The defending wasn’t the best. Sagna could have made a better attempt to prevent the cross from Cole and one of the centre backs could have cleared it but it was a great ball in.

A couple of minutes later an almost identical goal was scored. Cole again had time and space to put in a great ball from the left but this time it went in off Vermaelen who was expecting Gallas to clear it. Two quick goals before half time, game over. The second half was notable for Arshavin’s disallowed goal, Drogba’s free kick to wrap up the victory and nothing more.

The game showed exactly how far Arsenal have to go if they are to match Chelsea. Ancelotti’s team had height and strength all over the pitch as well as skill, overpowering Arsenal everywhere. Wenger was missing Van Persie, Bendtner and Diaby who all would have played in this game and perhaps made a difference. However you’d imagine that even with them on the pitch Chelsea would find have found a way to win.

For some reason there was a constant stream of hopeful crosses and medium length passes to the forward line of Arshavin, Nasri and Eduardo, who every time were beaten in the air by Terry & co. It changed a little in the second half but there were mainly lots of runs up blind alleys. Eduardo in particular looked well off the pace and badly needs a meaningful goal while Arshavin continued his peripheral form of this season. Walcott was poor when he came on and there are no true wingers at the clubs, instead lots of inside forward types.

didier drogba ashley cole arsenal chelsea

I find it so hard to decide who I dislike more in this picture.

As for Drogba, Arsenal must be sick of him. Two great goals and an all action performance in tandem with Anelka. He now has 10 goals in 11 games vs Arsenal and has been directly the match winner six times.  I think Almunia should have done better with the third goal; his positioning was wrong (why move behind the wall?) and thus the ball was already in the net before he even reached with his dive.

Wenger can say the disallowed goal was pivotal but I disagree. As in the game against Man Utd, having all the possession is pointless if you can’t do anything with it. The reason why Chelsea and Man Utd have been the two top teams for the past few years is that they can soak up pressure and still win. Arsenal have yet to discover that method.

arsenal weak

What you see and what you get.

 

2. Everton lost again and although there’s no shame in being beaten by Liverpool (actually…) you sense that perhaps Moyes has taken them as far as he can. That’s not to say he isn’t right for the job and the Scot has done wonders with the budget and constraints he has but maybe something needs freshening up.

Everton won’t reach the heights of the past few seasons and the constant long-term injuries to key players means a likely finish outside the top eight this year. With the Kirkby stadium plans rejected and no buyers for the club, the future looks a little uncertain at Goodison.

 

3. Is the clock ticking for Mark Hughes? Seven straight draws now. Funny how you can say they’re unbeaten in ten or without a win in seven. Hughes will no doubt slant to the former but I suspect the owners will be looking at the latter. Of the seven games (Villa A, Wigan A, Fulham H, Birmingham A, Burnley H, Liverpool A, Hull H), only Villa and Liverpool are truly tough games if you have real aspirations to be in the top four, and despite everything said otherwise that is the target. Somehow I don’t think Hughes will get a second attempt if he doesn’t achieve it this season in what is such an open year.

 

4. Hats off to Jimmy Bullard for the celebration of the season. In case you haven’t seen it, he gathered his teammates in a circle and mock scolded a la Tango Man last season. Ironically enough it was at the City of Manchester Stadium again. His return has been the main reason behind Hull’s resurgence and they may yet find themselves in a position like last where they weren’t very good but three teams were worse. He has brought a sense of fun back to the KC Stadium and fair play to Phil Brown for being able to see the funny side of Bullard’s celebration.

jimmy bullard goal celebration man city hull

Genius.

 

5. One of those teams will be Wolves unless Mick McCarthy goes. It took a while but it’s now clear that either the players or the manager aren’t cut out for this level. Time for either to prove that’s not true.

 

6. Birmingham have been doing well of late. They have been hard to break down since the start of the season but Alex McLeish has realised that by adding an extra striker and playing 4-4-2 he is far more likely to rack up the points that will lead Birmingham to safety this season.

 

T.


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