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EPL

Blog by: Souvik

Newcastle United v Arsenal - Premier League

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 – Souvik

Arsenal v Chelsea - Premier League Preview

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

Part 1

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.

Key stats:

  • 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.

Part 2

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.

Key Stats:

  • 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.

Part 3

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.

Key Stats:

  • 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.

Key Stats:

  • 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).

Elsewhere

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: Souvik

A year after the English sides caught the ire of the Champions League; it was the bowing out of two of the biggest names from the Italian Serie A that made the headlines this time around. Juventus and Napoli formed the two biggest casualties of this year’s competition in the group stages. While Napoli could count themselves unlucky with the results coming out as they did, Juve’s performances in the group left a lot to be desired and was probably the lowest point in Antonio Conte’s tenure at the head of the Old Lady so far.

The Groups of Upset 

GS-Juve

 

Snow and misery poured down at the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi as Group B claimed the first big casualty of the competition when Juventus were left floored. The defending Serie A champions, coming into the competition as one of its favourites were a poor shadow of themselves; managing to win only one of the 6 games in the group stage. Hail, snow and Wesley Sneider were enough to drill the final nail in the coffin for the bianconeri. However, even before the Dutch midfielder rippled the back of the net amongst ghastly conditions, Juventus had already made its bed. Conte summed it up perfectly in his post-game comment, “The regret is that we let everything go down to the last game”. You can’t say that you were put in a bad position after conjuring up only six points after first five games. Real Madrid on the other hand cruised through the same group with utter ease.

FBL-EUR-C1-NAPOLI-ARSENAL

 

Group F, the group of death in this year’s competition probably brought the biggest drama to the screens. Whilst Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund seeped through the cracks, Napoli was left distraught as the Italians were knocked out despite amassing 12 points in the group stage. Coming into the final game game, Napoli needed to beat Arsenal by 3 clear goals. Whilst an injury torn Dortmund side battled through to a 2-1 victory over a 10 man Marseille side to put their name in the draw for the second round, two second-half strikes from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon was just too little too late for the azzurri. Thus, Napoli became the first team to finish third with 12 points in a Champions League group and the first to be eliminated with such a tally since 1997.

The group also brought us the first ever French team to be eliminated from the group stages of the competition without having registered a single point in the form of Olympique Marseille who looked a class below their fellow groupies throughout the competition.

So close, yet so far

SL Benfica v Paris Saint-Germain FC - UEFA Champions League

 

The margin between a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and a place in the much maligned Europa League is thin. While a few rejoiced at clinching their place amongst the last 16 of Europe’s elite, some “giants” in their own respect drifted down to the second tire of European competition. Amongst the big names as per say that failed to make the second stage were the pair of Portuguese giants Benfica and Porto.

Benfica fluffed their lines for the second consecutive season, going out from the group stages for the second consecutive season whilst being tied on points. After Neil Lennon’s Celtic the previous year, it was the turn of a Kostas Mitroglu inspired Olympiakos this time around to upset the applecart for the Pourtuguese powerhouse. Group C proved to be too strong for Benfica as a last gameday win over PSG at the Stadium of Light wasn’t enough to see the Eagles through. It was their loss at the hands of the Greeks on Gameday 5 came back to bite them big time. Progress to the second round might now mean that Olympiakos will try and hold on to their prized possessions in the form of Manolas and Mitroglou who have constantly linked with big clubs from the big leagues. PSG meanwhile romped through the group, looking a class apart from the rest.

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League

 

Porto meanwhile crashed out of the group stages after impressing last season. The Dragões were eliminated had their home form to blame for their fortunes in the competition. The losses of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez were clearly felt in their performances as they failed to record a single win at home in the group stages. That never bodes well for any club, let alone those with aspirations of going through to the second of Europe’s premiere club competition. However a weak group kept their hopes alive till the last game.  Porto however had the unenviable task of eking out a result away to the Spanish powerhouse Atletico Madrid. In the end it proved to be a too big a task as Atletico made short work of the Portuguese, romping home to a 2-0 victory which put out the light for good for the Lisbon outfit. Coming second in the group were Zenit St. Petersburg, who themselves were given a 4-1 hiding by last placed Austria Wien.

UEFA Champions League - AC Milan v Ajax

 

Another team that would go out of the competition heartbroken was Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutch constantly punched above their weight in Group H and set the cat amongst the pigeon with a victory over eventual group champions Barcelona in the fifth gameday. Going into their last game against Milan needing a win straight up front, Ajax however fell short of the target. A goalless draw was all that the Dutch could manage to take home from the San Siro. This leaves their future forays in Europe confined to the Europa League. Barcelona on the other hand, comfortably passed through the group in spite of losing to Ajax. The Catalans’ depth of talent made their route into the final 16 quite comfortable in spite of Lionel Messi missing a large chunk of the games.  Celtic meanwhile couldn’t pull off any tricks this time arpound as they bowed out of the competition tamely after managing to register a solitary victory over Ajax.

Chelsea might have found their European kryptonite in the form of FC Basel, but there was nothing much else to bother the Blues in these early stages of the competition. Like all Jose Mourinho’s teams, Chelsea remained astute at the back throughout the group stages, conceding a Champion League low 3 goals in the competition. Schalke on the hand got the better of Basel to qualify to the last 16 of the competition, defeating the 10 men Swiss team on the last day of the competition to keep their dreams of furthering Champions League adventures alive. Steaua Bucharest rounded out the group as the minnows of the lot.

The others

Group A failed to live to its billing as Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen cruised through the group without having to break their stride.  United in Europe has been a different animal altogether when compared to their endeavours in the domestic league. Shakhtar as always  gave some brilliant displays of attacking football and still had a faint chance coming into the last game at Old Trafford. But there was no mercy to be had a t Old Trafford midweek as the Red Devils themselves looked to bring some momentum into their campaign this season after a couple of  hapless displays had seen them drop two games in a row at home in the Premier League. Real Sociedad however was the big disappointment of the lot as they failed to meet the lofty heights that they had set in the previous LaLiga campaign and folded tamely on their return to the competition after a decade.

There were no thrills or spills to be had in Group D as favourites Bayern Munich and a rampaging Manchester City made mincemeat of their competition. Neither Viktoria Plzeň, nor CSKA Moscow could build up any kind of strong challenge to the big powerhouses as their gap in class was well reflected in terms of the points in the table.

Blog by: Souvik

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

THE BIG GAME

The biggest game of the weekend takes us to North London where Tottenham; still reeling from their six goal drubbing at the hands of Manchester City play host to their cross town rivals Manchester United on Sunday. With both teams riddled with inconsistent performances, this has become a match which sees both sides sitting outside top four. This game this provides perfect incentives to both managers kick-start their campaign with a positive result. With the way this season has so far unfolded for either of the team, all three results remain a distinct possibility.

Spurs will be desperate to bounce back and reclaim their “big boy” status after coming unstuck in two consecutive games. The pressure on Spurs boss Andres Villas-Boas seems to be growing with disappointing result, but he is certainly not flinching in front of the media. The biggest problem for Spurs so far has been in front of goals. The North-Londoners have only managed to bag 9 goals in 12 league games so far with Roberto Soldado looking a pale version of his former self. The last time Spurs failed to score in 3 consecutive Premier League games was back in January 2009.

Manchester United on the other hand is coming off their biggest win in European football in nearly 50 years. The Red Devils offensive game seems to coming to tune at the right moment and that should spell more trouble for a Spurs side that is coming of six goal drubbing. With both Nani and Valencia putting in terrific performances in midweek and Kagawa finally finding his niche, the team selection shouldn’t be much of a problem for David Moyes with Robin Van Persie likely to start on the bench after missing the game in midweek.

City on the rampage

Manchester City has been ruthless in front of goal in recent games, hitting 22 goals in their last 5 which includes a surprising loss at bottom dwelling Sunderland where they drew a blank. The Citizens welcome Swansea to The Etihad, where they have scored 41 goals this season in 10 games. Sergio Aguero has so far been in sublime form (16 goals in all competition so far) and now with Navas and Negredo coming to the fore, the goals have been flowing for Pellegrini’s men.

Swansea’s resources on the hand are being stretched to fullest with their involvement in the Europa League this season. The Welsh were dealt a further blow when both Wilfried Bony and Angel Rangel picked up knocks midweek in their loss to Valencia. The swans will have to grind it out and put in a real shift if they want to get anything out of this contest.

Arsenal looks to stretch lead

The season has been going straight north so far for the North Londoners ever since the ugly defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in the first week of the campaign. The arrival of Mesut Ozil seems to have rejuvenated the side and they sit pretty at the top now with a 4 point gap.

The Gunners travel to Cardiff where the bluebirds lie in the wait. Cardiff City will be buoyed by their 2-2 draw against Manchester United last weekend and certainly be looking to play spoilsport once again. The two teams will be meeting in a league fixture for the first time in fifty one years and the last time that Cardiff managed to overhaul the Gunners was in 1961. Toppling the Gunners will again be no mean task for the Welsh side with Arsenal possessing arguably the most lethal midfield in the country.

A top of the table clash

None would have billed this weekends’ Chelsea vs. Southampton game to be a top of the table clash at the beginning of the season. As it stands, Stamford Bridge will play host to a game between the third and fifth placed sides in the league. In 12 games so far Mauricio Pochettino’s side have than staked their claim at the top of the table with the Saints garnering a reputation for being  one of the toughest sides to beat this season.

It has not been all plain sailing for Mourinho on his return to Stanford Bridge. Flamboyant performance against West Ham has been followed by despondent ones; like at Basel in mid-week. For the second time in the past few weeks Mourinho has suggested that his selection of the playing 11 has been main cause of mishaps rather than blaming it on the players. The “special one” certainly has to quickly figure his 11 out soon if they are to challenge for the title this season in all seriousness. With Samuel Eto’o out for the foreseeable future with a groin injury, Chelsea will be stretched for options upfront with Torres coming back from an injury himself.

Southampton on the other hand has been consistently doling out results with a miserly defence forming the base for their endeavours. With the victory over Liverpool at Anfield as the only big scalp for the Saints so far, this might be a perfect opportunity for Southampton to set the records straight and set a few cats amongst the pigeons at the top of the table.

Elsewhere
Liverpool travel to Hull where anything but a win would be a disappointing result for the Kop. With Daniel Sturridge expected to come back into the line-up, one would expect the SAS to strike again at the KC Stadium. Hull on the other hand possesses a mean defensive record at home. Steve Bruce’s men have conceded only twice at home in the EPL all season. The Tigers would certainly be looking to make home advantage count against to see off the dangerous Liverpool.

Newcastle meet West Brom at St. James’ Park on Saturday looking for a fourth straight win in the league for the first time since April 2012. Loic Remy has been on fire for Newcastle so far this season having already scored 8 of Newcastle’s 17 goals this campaign. West Brom on the other hand, comes into the game on the back of 3 game unbeaten streak of which two games ending in 2-2 draw.

Six games without a win have resulted in the pressure mounting on Sam Allardyce to deliver at West Ham. “Big Sam” as he is known lost Andy Carroll in the summer just after the English forward had put pen to paper on a permanent move to Upton Park. Allardyce has found mightily hard to find a suitable replacement and was been forced to re-signing Carlton Cole in a desperate measure after releasing him at the end of the last campaign. The Hammers welcome fellow strugglers Fulham in another all-London affair. Like Allardyce, Martin Jol’s team is looking for some form inspiration to drive the Cottagers away from the bottom of the table. Losing 6 of their last 8 league games has seen Berbatov and co. plunge to the bottom of the table and are currently occupying the last of the relegation places.

Norwich’s clash against Crystal Palace sees two teams who have collectively won only 2 of their last 12 games in all competition. While Crystal Palace looked rejuvenated in Tony Pulis’ first game at Selhurst Park, Chris Hughton would be looking to find the form that took his team 10 games unbeaten last season around this time of the year.

Bottom of the league Sunderland travel 13th placed Aston Villa trying to stay in touch with the others above them. The Black Cats have struggled mightily on the road losing all 5 of its last 5 away games. Villa on the other hand has had a season filled with inconsistency. Paul Lambert’s men have lacked the ability to eke out the results although their fast flowing football have so far deserved.

Everton and Roberto Martinez should be more than pleased with the early returns at Goodison Park. The Spaniard has continued to build on the good work of David Moyes as the squad looks even stronger. Martinez’s good work in the transfer business has seen Everton bolster their ranks with arrivals of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelo Lukaku; all of whom have played vital roles towards Everton’s strong start to the campaign. Three draws on the trot however, has seen the Tofees fall to seventh in the table, though only a single point off Champions League places. Mark Hughes and his Stoke team pay a visit to the Merseyside for this week’s fixture. Long associated with the long ball tactics under Tony Pulis, the team is still soul searching in terms of footballing philosophy under Hughes. They however still remain dull as ever in terms of entertainment value and look cosy in 14th spot.

By: Souvik

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Chelsea has found its European kryptonite

The Blues managed to plod through to the second round of this year’s Champions League but not because of their performance. The Londoners scrapes through courtesy of a tame goalless draw between Steaua Bucharest and Schalke, although they themselves slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Swiss giants Basel. Chelsea may have finally found their “kryptonite” in European competition. Few teams have been as big a reason for misery for the Blues as much as Basel in the recent past. This year’s Champions League has seen the Blues rampaging through the group stage taking Schalke for a ride in a 3-0 win over the Germans and followed it up with a 3-0 battering of Bucharest only to come unstuck time and again against Basel.

Chelsea were at their authoritative best last weekend away to West Ham romping home to 3-0 victory. Up against Basel, the story however was totally different. The midfield which had looked impermeable against the hammers was undone at will. Only Jon Obi Mikel was able to make some imprints into the game but had too much to on his hands to make a difference. This game is one that the Chelsea fans would rather lock up in the cupboard and forget about it. Basel’s keeper Yann Sommer was a virtual spectator throughout the game as the Londoners failed make a single attempt on goal. To compound Chelsea’s misery further, Samuel Eto’o had to be taken out on a stretcher for what seemed to be a problem with the Cameroonian’s groin. With Torres also recovering from a recent injury of his own, Mourinho’s options upfront seems to have been further stretched.

Isco making Ozil a distant memory at Real Madrid

When Real Madrid decided to purchase Gareth Bale at the expense of Mesut Ozil, it was like someone selling his house to buy a fancy car. The German, who in his few years had become the lynchpin of Real Madrid’s game going forward, departed amidst discontent and disbelief from the Real Madrid fans. It was on Isco’s young shoulder that Real Madrid had entrusted the job of becoming the “play-maker”. The quick-footed Spaniard, who had showed some real potential last season with his performances for Malaga and Spanish U-21, has taken to job like a duck to water.

Isco’s performances this season has taken even the staunchest Ozil admirer to take a step back and applaud the young Spaniard’s coming of age. He has seamlessly fitted into the scheme of things for Carlos Ancelotti. Five goals and two assists in the league itself coupled with a further two goals in the Champions League is a testament to the early season return that Isco has been providing. Showing maturity beyond his years, Isco is making Ozil a fading memory at the Bernabeu. Isco’s imprint in this week’s Champions league game against Galatasaray was there to be seen. With Isco at the fore, even with 10, Los Merengues were the superior team. On the 3 minute mark, he played in Bale in with a sublime ball, only for the Welshman to strike it wide. He was again in the thick of things in Madrid’s attacking game, playing an instrumental role in starting the move which saw Madrid extend their lead 3-1 through a penalty. Then on the stroke of 80 minutes, Isco rounded off his brilliant performance with a goal of his own to see Madrid home in comfortable fashion. 

Bold decisions can bear fruit for Moyes

There wasn’t any better team display from any of the other 31 teams involved in Gameday 5 of the Champions League than Manchester United’s 5-0 demolition away to Bayer Leverkusen. The red devils played with a swagger that we have generally have come to associate with them in the years past.

Coming into the game, Leverkusen were eight games unbeaten at home and sitting in second spot in the Bundesliga table. Given Bayer’s recent form they would have fancied their chances against a team yet to build an identity under a new boss. What proceeded in the following ninety minutes had Leverkusen Sporting Director Rudi Voller at a loss for words.

Moyes, who played both Rooney and Kagawa in their much preferred roles as the Centre Forward and the just behind the main forward respectively was rewarded with 5 goals in a 5 star performance from the United side. The game was one of Moyes’ biggest yet in his short tenure as the Manchester United manager. This match might create selection headaches but that’s one headache that every manager would prefer to others. Kagawa seemed like the man that the Red Devils had paid all the moolah for. Ryan Giggs, two days shy of his 40th birthday turned round the clock and seemed to play with the vigour of a teenager. For once even the backline seemed to have found their niche.

A must win game away to one of best German sides would have been a test for the best of managers let alone the new Scot at Old Trafford. Moyes not only passed the test but made a mockery of it. With many more tests to come for Moyes yet, there will be many more occasions where he needs to take some unflinching decisions that may even include rotating between RVP and Rooney to get the best out of Kagawa.

This might be Manchester City’s year finally in Europe

Firstly les make things clear: This being Manchester City’s year should mean in no ways that they are favourites for the title. They can however do some serious damage to Bayern Munich and other big hopeful’s chances towards lifting the trophy come June 2014. In doing so the Citizens’ are also well on their way to shrug off their tag of “perennial chokers” in Europe.

City had already made it through to the second round of the Champions League coming into this week’s game at the third time of asking. However, their performances of late will warrant ornate looks from the other big boys in the competition. Carrying on from their fine display at the weekend which saw Pellegrini’s men thump six past Tottenham, City cruised home to a 4-0 demolition of a hapless Plzen. The blue half of Manchester seem to be certainly going up the gears as recent results have seen City hit 4,5,6 and even 7 goals past their opponents.

Salah and Mitroglou’s futures lie elsewhere 

This is the nature of the game of football. It’s sad but it’s the harsh truth. As soon as a player begins to shine and garner some reputation playing for a club with not much to offer in terms of financials, silverware or a reputed league; the big boys swoop in to take the prized possessions away. Basel’s Egyptian forward Mohamad Saleh and Olympiakos’ Kostas Mitroglou have been the real revelations in this year’s group stages of the Champions League.

Mitrolglu, who came into the game against PSG having scored 20 goals in 16 games for club and country, was a constant thorn in the PSG defence though failing to find the back of the net. With all the big clubs mooted to be interested in the giant Greek, Olympiacos will have a decision soon on their hands on “when” rather than “whether” to cash on their hitman.

While Mitroglou has been busy taming the Mediterranean, further north a 21 year old Egyptian has been taking his reputation to new heights. Mohamed Salah performances of later has seen his already alluring profile reach new peaks in the dizzy altitudes of Switzerland. The southpaw, who has been a cause of real sorrow for all Chelsea fans, was at the thick of things again this week. Saleh scored the decisive goal yet again to ensure Basel’s double over Mourinho’s Chelsea in the group stages. With 9 goals and 7 assists in 27 games this season, the fleet footed forward has had scouts across the continent going gaga over his talent which combines raw pace with some nifty footwork and an eye for goal.

It won’t at all be surprising if we see the Egyptian or the Greek in new colours as early as this coming January.

Blog by: Ani

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League

Now this is interesting. West Bromwich Albion achieved an extraordinary result on Sautrday, beating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford. In a week when David Moyes had proved a point to his detractors by defeating Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, along came the minnows from the Midlands to add further furrows to the Scotsman’s brow.

West Brom, on their way to this victory, showed the benefits of taking an enterprising approach at the home of the champions. They were not only diligent in defence, with Jonas Olsson, Boaz Myhill and Liam Ridgewell particularly impressive, but were also beautifully balanced in attack, both of their goals coming as the result of outstanding pieces of play.

The first was a solo run by Morgan Amalfitano, the French forward on loan from Marseille, who cut in from the right near the halfway line, surged between the centre-backs and dummied David De Gea to the ground before scooping the ball over his prone form. The second came from the boot of Saido Berahino, whose low drive after a swift succession of sharp, neatly angled passes gave the away side their first win at Old Trafford since 1978.

Manchester United’s goal, an equaliser early in the second half, came from the right boot of Wayne Rooney, whose free-kick from 30 yards or so evaded everyone before curling into the far right-hand corner. Many have noted that Manchester United have not scored from open play in the Premier League since the start of the season, against Swansea, yet the problem is not so much the manner in which the goals are scored but the quantity of them.

Funnily enough, even though he was on the pitch for all 90 minutes of this loss and his contribution was fitful at times, Nani made a compelling case for his regular inclusion. With him on the pitch, Manchester United’s play looked unusually purposeful. He was supported here on the right flank by Phil Jones, who, although hardworking as ever in the full-back role, does not supply the vital dynamism of Rafael or his twin brother, Fabio.

Nani’s match was perhaps summarised by two decisions he made in the 14th and 15th minutes of this game. The first was the Portugal winger at his most frustrating: breaking from the halfway line, he could and should have laid a first-time ball into the path of onrushing Javier Hernandez. Instead, he hesitated, drove wide, then cut inside on his left, releasing a shot that was easily deflected away. A minute later, though, Nani was sublime: He attempted and nearly executed a pass of far greater difficulty, a cross from wide on the right that dipped and swerved beyond two markers and just over the outstretched toe of Hernandez. This would have opened the scoring, and might have laid the foundation for a close and crucial victory.

Alas for United, it was not to be. Elsewhere, there were other interesting narratives. Anderson, as ever, offered those tantalising vignettes of the player he should have been for many years, now and then initiating smart passages of play, and hitting the crossbar with a header. Shinji Kagawa, who started here, was sadly ineffective, finding it difficult to impose himself from his inside-left position. He played several neat passes, drifting across the pitch, but did not have the verve of his performance against Liverpool in midweek.

It was somewhat dismaying yet unsurprising to see Kagawa withdrawn at halftime for Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian playmaker was typically brave in possession, surging into the West Bromwich area on several occasions with the ball at his feet and demonstrating a bravery beyond that of most of his fellow wingers at the club. The sense persists that Moyes is still looking for his best starting 11, and, if so, then Januzaj is building an increasingly strong argument for inclusion with each passing cameo.

Marouane Fellaini and Robin van Persie entered the fray, the former netting a late equaliser that rightly was denied for offside, and the latter failing to rescue his team on this occasion. Much is made of the fact that Manchester United ran away with the league last year, but not so much is made of the fact that many of those victories came from losing positions, the bulk of which were escaped with the aid of the brilliant Dutchman. When he is not fully fit, the champions suddenly look much more prosaic.

This, of course, is not to detract from the excellent work of West Bromwich Albion, who just pipped Aston Villa – who defeated Manchester City 3-2 at home – for the Premier League’s result of the day. From the looks of things so far this season, it is going to be an unusually open title race, with Manchester United’s next few fixtures offering much less cause for comfort than was the case before Saturday’s match.

Blog by: Sanchit

Atletico Madrid: All set to challenge for the La Liga

Atletico Madrid: All set to challenge for the La Liga

With six wins in as many games, one would like to hope that the horses prancing to challenge for this season’s La Liga have a red and white outfit on board.

Los Rojiblancos – as it is famously called for its red and white stripes jersey, Atletico Madrid seems to be a side capable of breaking the monotony that has been set in the Spanish league, where although 20 teams manage to get on the league table, only two teams are seen challenging for the ultimate glory.

La Liga is termed as one of the most ‘boring’ leagues in the world (and rightly so, unless you are a Barcelona or a Real Madrid supporter) as every year the ball rolls in the same old courts – FC Barcelona and Real Madrid FC, two European giants who hardly find any competition in their own Spanish league.

“Where money does the talking” – I can imagine a La Liga follower coming up with this proverb. The teams of the financial might of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, (in the same order) enjoy the luxury of spending big when they require infusing fresh blood in their squads with the best player available in the market, albeit availability is not the right word when we are talking about the money these clubs can spend to lure someone they want.

The recent epitome of these riches is the record breaking transfer fee paid by Real Madrid to bag in Gareth Bale from Tottenham, who was unavailable as per Andres Villas Boas, Spurs’s manager, until one fine morning when he heard of an offer worth some GBP 85.3 million to let go off the Welsh winger.

Surely, President Florentino Perez did not have to say more, as for him, ‘money did all the talking’.

There is a huge gap in the wealth of these two biggies and the rest of the teams in the league who are suffering from a financial crunch.

Prior to the 2012-13 Copa del Rey final, Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager, pointed out the difference between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is ‘not the substance, style, history, tradition, ideology or design but the 400 million Euros in budget’.

A three-horse race

Since the advent of the Spanish season 2004-05, the La Liga trophies have added glitter either to the trophy cabinet at Nou Camp or Santiago Bernabeu, leaving other 18 clubs entering the fray, every year, holding onto their horses to lift that elusive La-Liga trophy.

Last season, Atletico Madrid emerged as a ray of hope for the Liga followers who could see a third contender for the La Liga trophy in the Madrid club. They augured quite well till match day 26 as they held on to that second position over and above the city rivals, Real Madrid.

The third horse in the Spanish league showed signs of its arrival last season itself but losing crucial points in the later stage of the league cost them their position, finally ending up at the third spot.

Pundits would still not call them the third horse in the La Liga because they lost all their La Liga face offs against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and finished 24 points off the ultimate champions, Barcelona.

What made Atletico a bright prospect for the 2013-14 season, was when Gabi lifted the Copa del Rey trophy last season after his side trounced Real Madrid in the finals at Santiago Bernabeu.

However, life is not beautiful all the time and Atletico fans felt a grave setback when they had to lose their star striker Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco after the stellar 2012-13 season. Simeone had built his entire side around the Columbian, who ended up scoring 52 goals in 68 appearances in his 2-year stint in the Madrid side.

Once Falcao left, a void was felt in the Madrid side even when it had players of the caliber of Arda Turan, Thibaut Courtios (on loan from Chelsea), Joao Miranda and Gabi, and the ray of hope that was illuminated last season seemed fading off.

David Villa: Filling in Falcao's void

David Villa: Filling in Falcao’s void

To fill the void, Simeone landed a Spanish striker this time for an absolute bargain – someone who was the joint top scorer in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and who has plied his trade in arguably the best team in the world. Atletico Madrid shelled out just 2.1 million Euros for David Villa – Spain’s all time top goal scorer.

Villa sought this as an opportunity to play at his favorite centre forward position and get regular playing time on the field. which he was denied at Barcelona.

Atletico Madrid have earned all the 21 points on offer so far by showing the same high-spirited nature of football with Diego Costa and David Villa taking the charge of the attack in the absence of Falcao. Diego Costa has already scored 8 goals in his 7 La Liga outings, sitting on the top scorers’ list along with Leo Messi.

Courtios has always performed well. The best Liga goal keeper in 2012-13 has carried the tag of one of the best young shot stoppers in the world with ease till now, having 3 clean sheets already in 10 games in all competitions.

The midfield looks pretty sorted in the likes of Mario Suarez and captain Gabi. The Turkish winger, Arda Turan, has continued his brilliant form from last season. Strong defence and fast play has always characterized the style of play adopted by the Argentine manager. However, the problem will arise when the crucial players will be sidelined with injuries as the bench strength lacks the required fire-power.

All said and done, Atletico Madrid is certainly going to become ‘frogs in the bucket’ for Real and Barca as both the teams do not look as invincible as they did a few years back.

Barca’s inability in adding the much needed defender to its team line-up this season again, is going to expose its abysmal defense which was ripped apart by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid last season. The fast attacking style of play of Los Rojiblancos is also capable of exposing their defense once again.

Real Madrid, under the new manager, has entered a few new players in the squad which at the first instance seemed to be a fatal team line up with one of the most ferocious pairing up front of Ronaldo and Bale but the Galacticos have failed to clicked so far, losing out to Atletico last night at Santiago Bernabeu, their first La Liga loss to the city rivals since 1999.

Atletico, now, have beaten Real Madrid after 13 years in a La Liga encounter and gave Barcelona a run for their money in the Spanish Super Cup. The stage is set for Atletico Madrid to show the world that La-Liga is no longer a two horse race. The men in red and white need to keep this momentum going, ensuring that they do not lose crucial points in the later stages of the league.