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Blog by: Souvik
The EPL heads into the final gameweek of 2013, still head and shoulders above any other league in terms of breath taking footballing action and excitement. With its top 8 teams separated by a mere 8 points, it certainly is living up to its billing as arguably the best as and certainly the most competitive league in the world.
The big ones
With the number of teams staggered at the top end of the league, there seems to be always a game every gameweek that gets billed as the “big one”. This time around it’s more than one.
i) Newcastle vs Arsenal
6 points and 5 places on the table is all that separates the resurgent Newcastle from their visitors, Arsenal. The magpies will be looking to exact revenge, having been humiliated by the gunners in a 7-3 drubbing at the Emirates exactly a year to the date. Alan Pardew and his men have managed to turn the table once again after a tumultuous 2012/13 season which saw Newcastle flirting with the possibility of relegation. They are certainly a team on form, having won 8 of their last 10 in the league; having scored 9 in their last couple of games. On the team news front, midfield enforcer the magpies will welcome back Cheick Tiote into the folds, after the Ivorian served up his one game suspension against Stoke for 5 yellow cards.
Arsene Wenger saw his side reclaim pole position on Boxing Day as the Gunners came back from a goal down to secure all three points away to West Ham. The gunners have been revitalised by the returns of Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski in recent weeks but will now have to do without their Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey who had to walk from their game at Upton Park with a thigh injury which will keep away from action for at least the Christmas period. While the Gunners will be without the services of their standout midfielder, they should welcome back the services of both Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny for their trip to the North-East.
ii) Chelsea vs Liverpool
Jose Mourninho, who sees Liverpool as fellow title contenders will be out to further dent Liverpool’s hopes of a first ever title since 1989/90. The Blues, who will be without their Brazilian midfielder Ramires will looking to improve upon their record against Liverpool in the league in recent times having won only 1 of their past 5 Premier League games against the Merseysiders, of which 3 were losses. Mourinho is likely to rotate again in this busy schedule of fixtures which in most probability will see the returns of Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill into the starting line-up.
It took the whole of Manchester City to stop the juggernaut that is Luis Suarez at the moment. Even then, the enigmatic talent was able to produce to clear cut opportunities for his side which due to the faults of a linesman and an erratic Raheem Sterling went astray. With 19 goals from 13 games this season the Uruguayan, is on the verge of a record breaking season, having already broken a few already. In the absence of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, Suarez has become the most vital cog of the Liverpool machinery going forward (if he wasn’t already) and he has delivered this season at every time of asking so far. For Liverpool to get anything out of this game, Suarez will have to be again at his impeccable best. Brendan Rodgers will also be also be without the services of Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates (both knee) who remain side-lined through injuries of their own. Victor Moses meanwhile will be unable to take any part in this game against his parent club.
City on the run
Manchester City will be looking to continue on their run of 7 games unbeaten in the Premier League and look for their 10th home win on the trot. Manuel Pellegrini’s men seemed to have to have hit top gear and with no fresh injury worries, will be looking to add 3 more points to their tally when they play host to 17th placed Crystal Palace who themselves have been on a run of their own.The introduction of Tony Pulis as the Eagles’ manager have got Palace on a roll themselves, having won 3 of their last 5 games after looking like a certain relegation fodder in the early parts of the season.
Pulis has probably the most daunting task in the form of facing the free-scoring Manchester City. City, who will be without the services of Aguero, Jovetic , Demichilis and Richards have already scored an astounding 41 goals more than Palace this season. Whilst the millions spent on the likes of Aguero, Negredo and Yaya Toure have yielded Pellegrini 53 goals, the Palace faithful have seen their side struggle to get on the scoresheet with a mere 12 goals to their name, with Aguero himself scoring more than Palace so far.
United coming back
The motto of never giving up seems to be deeply sewed into the fabric of the red devils. Three wins on the trot and an inspiring win at that against Hull, and life is so much different for the red section of Manchester. United will be looking to put the pedal to the metal and build up on their momentum as they look up to see themselves only 5 points off a Champions League place and eight point off the lead. David Moyes will however have to overhaul his whole right side with Rafael injured and Valencia suspended because of seeing red in their previous game. Phil Jones also remains out.
Their hosts, Norwich meanwhile will look to bounce back from their disappointing home loss to Fulham. That ended the Canaries’ run of three games unbeaten at a time when Chris Hughton would like to put some gap between Norwich and relegation zone. While Hughton will have Johnny Howson back available, centre-back Michael Turner misses out on this one after picking up his fifth booking for the season.
Everton vs Southampton
Everton have taken their performance up a notch this season under Roberto Martinez and their home form has been largely responsible for their stellar position in the table thus far. The Toffees however welcome Southampton to Goodirson Park on the back of their first and rather surprising first loss at home this season to bottom of the table Sunderland. With goalkeeper both Tim Howard and Gareth Barry missing out on this one due to suspensions, the task of stretching their unbeaten streak to 8 at home to Southampton will be that bit difficult. In other team news Darron Gibson, Arouna Koné and Gerard Deulofeu miss out as well due to injuries.
Southampton on the other are coming off a comfortable 3-0 win over the now manager less Cardiff. There is however not much joy to have on the team news front for Mauricio Pochettino as Guly de Prado, Artur Boruc, Victor Wanyama and Daniel Fox are all sidelined through injury, while Morgan Schneiderlin is suspended. Saints don’t have a particularly good record at Goodirson, having won on only 1 of their previous 14 Premier League trips.
Sherwood in search of home sweet home
Tim Sherwood goes into the game looking for his first home win ever since being given charge of the affairs at White Hart Lane. The Englishman will have history in his side as Spurs have only lost 2 of their previous 38 home encounters against Stoke. Tottenham seemed to have found a new edge going forward with now Tim Sherwood at its helm. The long term effects of this more expansive style of football is nowhere in sight but it certainly is more exciting. Tottenham welcome back Paulinho after the Brazilain served his 3 game ban for his reckless tackle on Luis Suarez. Meanwhile Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, Andros Townsend and Sandro all remain out due to injuries. Kyle Walker on the other hand misses out due to a suspension.
The Potters go into White Hart Lane in search of their first away victory in eight attempts. Mark Hughes will have to inject some much needed spirit into the team, after they were handed 5-1 drubbing away to Newcastle where they were reduced to nine men for large portions of the game. The reds mean both Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan missing out on the action at White Hart Lane. Meanwhile Robert Huth and Asmir Begovich also miss out due to injuries of their own.
Cardiff vs Sunderland
This one already has the feel of a relegation six pointer as it pits two team stuck at the wrong end of the table but with vastly different turns in fortune in the recent past. Only 11 days after assuring Malky Mackay of his place as manager of Cardiff, their enigmatic billionaire owner Vincent Tan, pulled the plug on Mackay’s tenure after the Bluebirds lost 3-0 at home to Southampton. Craig Bellamy remains the only one missing out for Cardiff due to an injury.
Sunderland meanwhile are coming off a win at Goodirson Park, thus becoming the first one to do so in the league this season. Gus Poyet’s team has been playing with much fervour but hadn’t produced the results to match their performance so far. The Argentine will now will look at the Boxing Day result to kick start their season. Wes Brown remains suspended for his red card against Norwich. Kieran Westwood and Carlos Cuellar remain on the doctor’s table while John O’Shea, who missed the game at Everton remain a doubt as well.
West Ham vs West Brom
The early kick-off on Saturday sees two teams who seemed to be as floating on like a rudderless ship. Without a win in their last five games for both team, the games gives each of them an ideal opportunity to inject some much needed momentum. Sam Allardyce might be forced to play George McCarney in the centre again as James Collins still remain a doubt. Ravel Morrison remains a doubt as well.
Caretaker manager Keith Downing would have been pleased to see his side get a fighting point away to White Hart Lane on Boxing Day and is likely to call upon the same group of men for this game as well with no fresh injury to worry about. The picture however is far from rosy at the Hawthorns as West Brom remain winless in their last 8 Premier League games.
Hull vs Fulham
The best way to shrug off a disappointing loss is to play in the very near future. Steve Bruce will hope that this busy Christmans schedule will help his team take their minds off what was a heart-breaking loss. Up 2 goals in the opening 15 minutes, the Tigers succumbed Manchester United and Wayne Rooney. Hull who have had a good home record so far will want to build on their home advantage and take all three points from the game. Steve Harper is likely to start in goal after replacing Alan McGregor in goal in the previous game due to a knee injury.
Rene Meulensteen has certainly instilled some steel in the Fulham core as they came back from a goal down to record a vital away win against Norwich on Boxing Day. Dimitar Berbatov might be back in the frame but might not find himself back in the starting line-up after Adel Taarabt impressed mightily in the forward role against the Canaries.
Aston Villa vs Swansea
Paul Lambert and his men will be looking to eke any kind of result from this one after being on the losing side for the previous 4 games. One of their biggest problems has been scoring goals, one thing they have failed in 5 of their last 6 home games. With star striker Christian Benteke well off his usual standards and hampered by injuries as well, the task has been even more difficult. Lambert will welcome the sight of Ahsley Westwood who is available again, but will have to sweat over the fitness of Ron Vlaar and Benteke.
The Europa League seemed to have taken its toll on Swansea. The juggling act has meant no wins for the Swans in their last 4 games in the league. The problem has been compounded by key players missing at this crucial run-in. Michu still remains out and has been joined on the sidelines by Nathan Dyer and Michel Vorm. With Wilfired Bony yet to find his feet in the Premier League, the going has been rough for Laudrup this season. The returns of Chico, Ben Davies, Jonathan De Guzman and Pablo Hernandez however may spell good news for the Welsh side.
Blog by: Rohinee
The first test between South Africa and India came inches short of what would have been a record run-chase thanks to the efforts of Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. South Africa’s decision to play more prudently rather than aggressively may have raised quite a few eyebrows, but their sublime run-chase in the aftermath of Morne Morkel’s crippling injury was nothing short of magnificence.
South Africa would thus look forward to continue this up-swinging momentum at Durban, a ground which hasn’t exactly been kind to them in the past few occasions they have played here. The import of this match grows even deeper in the wake of Jacques Kallis’ announcement from tests after this test series, making it a must-win for the Proteas.
The Durban pitch has been one that has baffled experts and players alike with its transition from a seamer-friendly track to one assisting spinners. Imran Tahir and R. Ashwin will find themselves under the spotlight under these playing conditions with increased expectations; an irony considering that the first test saw these bowlers being mercilessly shredded apart by batsmen at Wanderers.
Aside of these two, both teams will want to utilise their part-time spinning options with a bid to exploit the playing conditions more thoroughly. Of the two teams, despite South Africa’s efforts to draw the first test, the advantage however clearly lies with India.
After the dubious start to their South African tour, their adapting to the conditions has been spot on with names that were required to perform delivering to their potential. For the Indian squad, there has been a perfect blend of experienced stalwarts contributing and guiding the younger generation forward. And there again, while a few players failed to live up to expectations, the disappointments have been greatly limited with even less likelihood of continuance in the second test.
Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma will once again be the favourites as would be Zaheer Khan and MS Dhoni. Giving thorough consideration to the tendency of track to favour spinners, the Indian captain may select all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja over Ajinkya Rahane so as to add more substantiality to the squad.
While the Indian team ponders about resolving this minor selection conundrum, South Africa have slightly bigger problems to grapple with. Graeme Smith will have to reconcile the fact that his team’s crushing defeats in the past five years have come at Durban, in spite of having overall superior team strength.
Dale Steyn’s ineffectuality against the Indians in the first test will be foremost on the South African team’s minds even as they brace themselves about Morne Morkel potentially missing the second test on account of his ankle sprain. Vernon Philander will be instrumental as would be Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy to the South African bowling attack which has borne the brunt of the Indian middle-order. If Morkel does miss the match, it could be the first game-changing moment; even with the Proteas roping in a worthy enough substitute – Kyle Abbott – to replace Morkel.
Both teams’ struggle to develop and maintain partnerships will be a core area that needs to be addressed from both ends. The Indian openers have fallen cheaply as the lower-order has crumbled with-out giving an iota of resistance, piling on the pressure on Pujara and Kohli. For South Africa, barring the flash of audaciousness from Vernon Philander in the first innings and du Plessis and de Villiers in the second, there hasn’t been much reason to cheer about.
Rain being a threat at Kingsmead, the pitch is expected to be a slow turning one with punters predicting a thumping series victory for India. The South Africans’ fighting spirit though remains unquestioned and unchallenged, making a paradox of prediction of the outcome of the match.
Match Prediction: A gruelling four-day test with both sides drawing the series 0-0 and sharing the trophy.
Blog by: Sharadha
Melbourne Cricket Ground has been the traditional venue hosting the Boxing Day test match since 1950. It’s a heritage that MCG and Australian cricket are very proud of. Even more so, when they are riding on the back of an emphatic Ashes victory, like in the present, ongoing series.
For England, coming into the Boxing Day test in the aftermath of Graeme Swann’s abrupt retirement following the team’s loss to Australia at Perth and a controversial tweet that made headlines all over, this match is a test of reckoning. The volte-face in their performances, mere months following their successful defending of the urn has manifested itself into a deeper chaotic mess that continues to fester despite all English efforts to sort it out.
The contrasts in both sides are far more glaring – perhaps conversely so – than they were before the start of the series. Each member of the Australian squad has flourished, some more than the rest, while the English team finds itself reduced to nitpicking for salvages in the debris of its innings so far. The loss of two of its most experienced players has hit the team hard which the Australians will be keen to exploit.
As it is, Australia has hinted at ‘targeting’ Monty Panesar, the man on whom responsibility abounds in the absence of Swann to restore England’s pride. Though most of the English team has under-performed, expectations will nonetheless be placed on the shoulders of the remaining senior members to deliver with a few important changes marking the final squad line-up.
The biggest name dropped from the squad could be that of Matt Prior over Johny Bairstow on account of his nondescript play-making in the three matches previously. Stuart Broad’s injury sustained in the previous match makes him a doubtful starter for the Boxing Day test though the man in question seems to be leaving no stone unturned in order to ensure his fitness before the start of the match. More than any other player, losing Broad would probably hit England harder considering that he’s been the pick of the English bowling attack, over James Anderson and the recently retired Swann, both in terms of economy and in terms of wickets bagged. The last remaining place in the English bowling attack should be then completed by Bresnan.
Australia’s bowling coach Craig McDermott referred to the present Australian cricketing contingent as the best in the world. The statement was made not just in relation to the ongoing Ashes series, but also with an eye on their upcoming tour to South Africa in the month of February. Though that series remains a couple of months away, McDermott’s words hold immense credibility for the way the Australian team had managed to morph itself once again into a driving force.
There are no doubts then going by the way Australians have outshone their opponents, Michael Clarke will want to go with an unchanged side in order to keep the winning intensity and steam going.
Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon will be the bowlers to watch out for. The latter is poised to become the first Australian off-spinner in three decades to grab 100 wickets, a unique feat of its own. David Warner, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke will look forward to taking it from where they left off in the third test especially Watson and Rogers who have been the unlikeliest of the Australian squad strength.
Under the hot Melbourne weather on a track that promises to dry out and harden up as the days pan out, the contest of wills between Australia and England promises to be a heated one, despite the outcome that swung Australia’s way at Perth.
Match Prediction: A tight match win to Australia to go on 4-0 in the series.
Blog by – Souvik
You will have to till Monday to catch the biggest firecracker that the Premier League has to offer this festive weekend. The battle between two of London clubs in the form of the rejuvenated Arsenal and “the special one’s” Chelsea in 1st and 3rd place respectively should certainly be enough to whet your appetite.
League leading Arsenal will be looking to put their 6 goal humiliation at the Etihad behind them, while the Blues will smell blood, fully knowing a win may take them to the top of the standings. Ever since the opening day humiliation against Villa, the Gunners have put the pedal to metal at home, having won 6 of the previous 7 home games, with the draw in their last home game against Everton being the only blip in their record. With only a single point to show for their efforts in the last couple of games, Wenger will be keen to build a gap between them and the rest of the pack.
Jose Mourinho’s second spell at the helm at Stamford Bridge hasn’t been all plain sailing with the Blues faltering every now and then. Their away form especially will be something that the Portuguese would look to improve upon, having failed to come up with the goods recently away to both Newcastle and Stoke. Yet, recent failures of league leaders Arsenal have seen the Blues close the gap to only two points. Chelsea will be looking to continue on their recent run of results at the Emirates though, having lost just two and won four of the last eight.
Jack Wilshere will be serving his first of a two game suspension for his indiscretions at the weekend. Michael Essien remain suspended for Chelsea while Ryan Bertrand remains out.
Some stats to keep an eye on:
- Chelsea have won eight and lost just two of the last 11 meetings with Arsenal in all competitions.
- Chelsea have taken 11 points away from the Emirates Stadium, the joint-best haul of any team in the Premier League since the Gunners moved from Highbury (along with Aston Villa).
- Chelsea have had 11 different managers since Arsene Wenger was appointed and 12 in total with Mourinho’s second spell. Jose Mourinho will be the fifth different manager Arsene Wenger has faced in the last six Chelsea v Arsenal fixtures.
- Arsenal have not gone three Premier League fixtures without a win since January 2013; the third of those games was against Chelsea.
- Chelsea have scored at least twice in each of their last six Premier League games (16 goals in total).
Two ends of the table clashes
Liverpool and Cardiff lying on two ends of the EPL table may even have different priorities going into the game. With Luis Suarez in arguably the form of his life, the Reds will be looking to make more inroads at the top of the table. Going on form alone anything but three points for the Kops will be deemed a disappointment.
Malky Mackay and Cardiff meanwhile will do a good job to keep their focus on the field on the field. The Welsh side has made all the headlines for the wrong reasons coming into the game. The relation between manager Malky Mackay and Chairman Vincent Tan seemed to have reached a rock bottom. Mackay was told in recent days that “not a single would be made available” for the purpose of squad strengthening. Mackay may follow head of recruitment Iain Moody out of the club as the controversial Tan continues to run the rules in the Welsh capital.
Gerrard (hamstring), Daniel Sturridge (ankle) and Jose Enrique (knee) misses out for Liverpool while former Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy will be absent with a hamstring injury.
- These two teams have not met in the league since December 19th 1959 when Cardiff won 4-0 at Anfield.
- Suarez’s total of 17 goals is more than 10 of the 20 Premier League clubs have managed this season.
- 18 of Luis Suarez’s 27 Premier League goals in 2013 have come at Anfield.
- Liverpool have scored 39 goals in 16 games this season; the last time they had as many was in the title-winning 1987-88 season.
Newcastle going away to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace represents another fixture between two teams at two ends of the spectrum as far as the league table goes in the EPL. However the Eagles have been on the upswing of late as Tony Pulis seems to have re-invigorated the side. With two wins in their last three games which included a narrow 2-1 loss to Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge, the Eagles seem to have found a new spring to their step. Palace would go into the game with much confidence after the emergence of on loan, Maroune Chamakh, who all of a sudden looking like a Premier League striker.
Alan Pardew on the other hand will be returning to his former stomping ground having made 128 appearances in the red and blue of Palace. Premier League’s newly crowned manager of the month for the month of November looking to continue on his side’s fine form of late which sees the magpies climb up the table to sixth in the table. The toon will be further boosted by the return of Yohan Cabaye, after the Frenchman served his one match suspension against Southampton.
- Palace have failed to score in their last 5 meetings with Newcastle in all competitions.
- No team have won more points than the Magpies in their last 6 games (13).
- Newcastle have won their last 4 league trips to Selhurst Park to play Palace.
- Despite conceding only two goals more than Newcastle (22), Crystal Palace (24) have 14 points fewer.
- Marouane Chamakh has scored in three successive Premier League games for the first time in his career.
Machester City look to have hit top gear, thrashing fellow title contenders Arsenal for six in their last game. The Citizens however will be without their Argentine forward Sergio Aguero, who has accounted for 13 of City’s 47 goals this campaign.
Even without the Argentine hitman, it will be an uphill task for the Cottagers to keep Pellegrini’s men at bay as they look to build on their 5 game unbeaten run in the Premier League which now sees them only two points off league leaders Arsenal. The only solace that Fulham can take into their game is Manchester City’s away form of late in the league which has seen them bag only 4 points from their last 4 away fixtures. Rene Meulensteen has instilled a fighting spirit amongst the Cottagers though the results have still not been forthcoming.
Fernando Amorebieta makes a welcome return to the fold for Fulham. Brede Hangeland and Hugo Rodallega, though won’t be available for selection.
- Man City have won 6 and lost none of the last 9 matches with Fulham in all competitions.
- City have opened the scoring in 8 of their previous 12 away games.
- Man City have averaged 7.6 shots on target per game at home this season but only 5.3 in away games.
Survival of the fittest (the manager version)
“You’re getting sacked in the morning” has been a common theme for songs from the fans’ end for both Sam Allardyce and David Moyes this season. The pressures however will be quite different going into the game. With West Ham’s marquee signing of the summer, Andy Carroll yet to kick a ball in anger this season, the Hammers see themselves languishing in 17th spot having won only 1 of their last 6 games.
David Moyes will certainly have more of a look-in and try to build an identity of his own even though Manchester United see themselves in a precarious situation at ninth in the table. With Robin van Persie out, all Man United fans will be eagerly awaiting the news on Wayne Rooney’s fitness heading into the game. The Red devils have looked blunt going forward whenever their talismanic Englishman in the side and will again be looking at the availability of their spiritual leader.
- The Hammers have failed to score in 6 of their last 8 Premier League games against Man United.
- Wayne Rooney has scored 7 goals in his last 6 league appearances against West Ham.
- The last time Man Utd had fewer points as this after 16 Premier League games was 2001-02 (24).
Sunderland vs Norwich
Sunderland certainly looks a more potent Premier League side under Gus Poyet, yet they find themselves languishing at the bottom with a mere 9 points to show for their efforts. Chris Hughton on the other hand has struggle get the Canaries off the blocks this season. The pressures on the ex-Spurs defender will be a slight bit more after splashing the cash on a number of signings in the summer.
Gary Hooper recent goal scoring exploits will give the Canaries much hope, while Sunderland will be looking to build on their Capital One Cup victory over Chelsea in mid-week.
West Brom vs Hull
Only a few months after Steve Clark led the Baggies to an eighth place finish in one of the most of the impressive campaigns till date at the Hawthorns, the Englishman finds himself jobless. West Brom pulled the plugs on Clark’s tenure last week after watching the Baggies suffer their fourth loss in as many games in the league. The rudderless Albion head into the game hanging precariously 2 points above the relegation places after failing to register a single win in their last six games in the competition.
Steve Bruce meanwhile will be desperate to improve the Tigers’ away record, having seen his side lose six of their eight away games so far. Hull, though will be going to one of their favourite hunting grounds, in the Hawthorns where they have enjoyed successes of late, having won their last 2 league trips away to West Brom.
Southampton vs Tottenham
Manager less Tottenham travel to St. Mary’s to face Quentin Pochettino’s Southampton who have impressed all and sundry with their footballing style and flair. Southampton facing their third opponent in a row in the top 7, will be looking to get back to winning ways after failing to record a victory in any of the Saints’ last five games. It was about a year ago that the Argentine Pochettino was appointed at the helm of the Saints, replacing Nigel Adkins who had brought the Saints back into the Premier League via two seasons of consecutive of promotions. The decision was certainly not one to go down with much fanfare, but a year on everyone seems to be more than happy down South coast.
Tim Sherwood and co. meanwhile will try to steady the ship at White Hart Lane and resurrect some pride into the Lily Whites. The loss to West Ham in midweek will certainly not be helping his cause. With Danny Rose and Vlad Chiriches set to return, Sherwood would feel a bit more comfortable about the backline after the 5-0 hiding that was handed out by Liverpool. Southampton meanwhile will be missing a handful of their key players with Artur Boruc (hand), Victor Wanyama (leg), Danny Fox (hamstring), Kelvin Davis (37-year-old’s back), Guly do Prado (bloaty head), and Nathaniel Clyne (pelvis) all out for the game.
Swansea vs Everton
Swansea is certainly feeling the effects of the Europa League as Michael Laudrup’s side has been hit with injuries right left and centre this season. With Michu unable to hit the heights of last season and Wilfried Bony still struggling to come to terms with the pace and power of the league, the Swans have struggled to break down defences like last season.
Roberto Martinez has succeeded where Villas-Boas failed. The Spaniard has been able to integrate and gel together a squad that was assembled in the final days or rather hours of the transfer window. Martinez’s sides have always been associated with playing with certain flair. With an added astuteness at the back, the Toffees see them fighting amongst the big boys, sitting pretty in 5th place in the table.
Stoke vs Aston Villa
The game sees two mid table teams with an opportunity to kick-start their season. Both team have stuttered and stumbled, huffed and puffed to get any sort of run going. Whle Paul Lambert’s men have shown flair in their passing game, the lack of class in the final third have let them down time again. However in the last two games, the Villans have been incompetent on either side of the pitch. The inconsistencies from Villa is quite reflected in their last nine games. Two consecutive losses was followed by a spell of five games unbeaten, only to come unstuck against Fulham and Manchester United recently.
The Potters in their first campaign without Pulis come into the game on the back of a Capital One cup defeat at the hands of Manchester United. Stoke, however have been in quite good in the league recently. Unbeaten in their last three games, which includes the scalp of Chelsea at The Britannia, Mark Hughes will be looking to his players to push on from their impressive recent showings and propel themselves into the top half of the table.
Blog by: Shraddha
The big screen at WACA proudly reflected the momentousness of the Australian victory over the Englishmen as it proclaimed, ‘The Urn Returns.’ Considering that this was the same Australian team that looked completely out-of-sorts just a few months ago at England, this turnabout brings many memories of the fabled Australian cricketing teams of the past, alongside placing this squad right with those legends who never failed to bring – retain, in most cases – the Ashes home.
On a track where cracks abounded and where groundsmen had to be called on more than one occasion to cover it up, the Australians showed the Englishmen why they were so confident about playing at WACA, exploiting the conditions without giving anything in return. If Steven Smith scored a century in the first innings, rescuing a seemingly hapless Australian side which tottered at five for 143, Shane Watson and David Warner completed the ‘from-insult-to-injury’ phase for England with their dual tons.
And where the English bowlers were plundered, the Australian bowling attack provided sure-fire sustenance by breaking apart English batsmen’s morale along with dismantling their wickets. Mitchell Johnson was once again the rock against whom the English batsmen crashed to their peril with Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon picking up the rest of the English wickets alongside maintaining absolute stinginess with respect to the run count.
On the other side, it didn’t help matters for England that two of its most experienced bowlers, Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson, were left gasping as Shane Watson and George Bailey took them to task with the latter equalling Brian Lara’s record of most runs scored in an over (28). Rewinding back to the English Ashes, for the Australians, it seemed like due retribution for the damage that Jimmy Anderson had wrought in the test series then and as such was met with firm approval from the vociferous Australian crowd.
Though Alastair Cook, in his post-match speech made special notations about the crowd support that the visitors had received, looking quite upbeat for a captain whose team had just lost the most coveted cricketing trophy, there are several areas that haven’t been dealt with by the English captain.
The partnership between Ian Bell and Ben Stokes that gave England a last chance of drawing the match didn’t shape up when it needed to. The way, in which Bell was dismissed off Siddle, trying to move his bat away from the ball, showed certain casualness which ended up proving to be quite disastrous for England. Despite Cook’s continued emphasis that the team needed its senior players to perform, when it came to dire situations, most of the senior players failed to convert their score-lines.
Kevin Pietersen had a good partnership going with Ian Bell in the second innings but his haste in trying to emulate one of his earlier shots landed the ball to Ryan Harris at long on, off Nathan Lyon. As with Alastair Cook who, in the first innings lost his wicket trying to be heroic when he was caught by Warner at point, again off Lyon.
And with each English miss, the boisterousness and swagger of the Australians only increased which further widened the disparity between the two sides. The ability of the Australians to get into the psyche of their opponents, which was missing a few months ago, has returned even more emphatically even though the comparatively new-gen team is still evolving for most parts.
The Darren Lehmann factor has definitely worked for the Australians as the team’s resilience and togetherness being obvious even to the most sceptic eye. In contrast, the unflappability and silence of the English coach – Andy Flower – hasn’t exactly been well-received. Though Alastair Cook and Andy Flower will want to go back to the proverbial drawing board with a view to salvage what’s left of the series, the resonation of this 3-0 Ashes regaining performance is sure to leave a deeper impact than the 3-0 whitewash of England over Australia.
A reality-check for both sides, the 2013-14 Ashes series has been. For England, which perhaps remained too long shrouded in the covers of complacency, the series has been an eye-opener about its method of approaching important games. While for Australia, it’s been an eye-opener to the fact that the team always had it in them to bounce back despite all on-field adversities.
Blog by: Rohinee
For India, the whole trip to South Africa has so far been like being caught between a rock and a hard place. Not only have they been unable to retaliate against the South African juggernaut on-field, but they have also been equally inept when it has come to sorting out the best team composition to salvage their reputation of being the ODI side.
The test series, consequentially, has gone to take even more significance than it what it implied initially; prior to the start of the Indian tour. Where the Indians were the favourites for the ODIs – albeit marginally – on account of them being the world’s best ODI team, South Africa will look to start the test series with a much more enhanced boost in confidence courtesy of their assured superiority in tests compared to the currently in flux Indian test side along with their 2-0 whitewash over the Indians.
Graeme Smith will mark his return to the side taking over captaincy duties from AB de Villiers allowing South Africa to start with its preferred opening combination of Smith and Alviro Petersen. The evenly distributed squad strength of the South African also takes away quite a bit of heat from the much-debated topic of the hosts having an advantage over the visitors. Dale Steyn is expected to be the pick of the South African bowling attack which is going with a three-pronged pace attack of Steyn, Vernon Philanderer and Morne Morkel. Spinner Imran Tahir rounds up the entirety of the South African bowling contingent on a track that promises extreme bounciness and pace.
Tackling the pace and bounce at Wanderers is however just the tip of the South African iceberg that the Indian team will have to deal with. Though India has managed to retain a top-spot in the test rankings, their performance in this test series will be more keenly monitored by eager eyes considering they haven’t exactly been able to produce convincing results in test series overseas, despite having consistent victories in test series held at home.
Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement seems to have left the Indian team in a state of flux with uncertainty prevailing all though despite the largeness of roles and responsibilities that has been created. Thus, while the Indian team isn’t exactly middling; the ceasing of the anchoring that Tendulkar provided to the team has left the Indians grappling for a surer footing. Most of the current Indian team’s line-up hasn’t played in South Africa which further could hurt the team’s chances considering their lack of preparation.
Alongside the surging expectations placed on Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli is the guy on whom all attention has been riveted to. As the new man in on the no.4 batting position, Kohli has a daunting task of continuing on the chapters of brilliance that Tendulkar left behind, without altering his individuality. It’s a task that no one envies, particularly at this juncture.
Where the Indian batting looks unsettled; the bowling side looks slightly bit reassuring, thanks to the rejuvenated comeback of pacer Zaheer Khan. Though the 15-man Indian squad boasts an entourage of quality spin and pace, given the nature of the track, the Indians would want to go with the best possible pace attack that they have at their disposal. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami along with Ashwin as the spinner would then make up for the bowling attack for the first test.
India’s coach Duncan Fletcher has come under fire in the wake of the crushing losses in the ODIs. Though the Englishman’s credentials aren’t by any means inadequate, this test series is an equally important pivot for Fletcher whose take-over for India followed the successful run of Gary Kirsten which saw Indian cricket being taken to far-reaching heights as never before.
Though Duncan Fletcher shies away from the limelight, there’s no denying that doing well in South Africa for the remainder of India’s sojourn there will be a priority that Fletcher would want his protégés to carry out, without any slacking.
Match Prediction: South Africa defeat India, lead the series 1-0.