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Do Modern Footballers Have Too Much Power Over Clubs?

Do Modern Footballers Have Too Much Power Over Clubs?

With Diego Costa having finalised his move to Atlético Madrid, a transfer which he himself has forced through – are players starting to gain a newfound power capable of dictating when and where they want to play?

In January, the striker expressed his interest to leave the club, but Chelsea wanted to keep him for the season and now after months of speculation over the summer, the striker has secured a return to his former club. Chelsea manager Antonio Conte told Costa in pre-season that he was surplus to requirements and Chelsea’s star striker hasn’t been seen since.

The Spanish international was instrumental during last season’s campaign for Chelsea, scoring 20 goals to help them lift the title and this is part of the reason as to why he has decided to spend most of August in Brazil. Feeling that he was mistreated by Conte, Costa decided to take matters into his own hands, speaking to media and press about how he would only move to Atlético. Bids supposedly came through from the Chinese League and Chelsea wanted him to go but Costa refused, showing that in the world of modern football players seem to have more power than the club when it comes to where they want to end up playing.

We have had many examples of player power creating a huge impact on club decisions. During last season, Leicester City sacked Claudio Ranieri – a decision which shocked the footballing world. This was then made worse when it was claimed that key players such as Jamie Vardy and Kaspar Schmeichel had allegedly spoken to the chairman asking for him to be removed from his post.

There were also the examples of Virgil Van Dijk, Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez this summer, with all three wanting to transfer elsewhere but their clubs (Southampton, Liverpool and Arsenal respectively) all fought back, holding on to their players because they felt like they were too essential to let go. However, these players are now just starting to be in contention to play after various reasons for each of them not playing for their clubs for the first four game weeks.

It also now raises the question as to whether these players will perform at the highest level, with fans all knowing that they want to leave. So, in these situations, player power still seems to be a huge problem.

With today’s coverage of modern football, there always seems to be a problem where a player wants to move after hearing that a better club wants their signature. This causes a domino effect, leaving the club in sticky situations that they cannot control. Football chairmen now have a newfound problem which is getting bigger and bigger each transfer window and this problem doesn’t seem to have a solution.

Even though Costa wanted to leave, the way in which the whole situation has been dealt with is messy. If Chelsea could have kept him happy until they sold him he could have still been a key part to Chelsea’s season, but he is unsettled, so even if they wanted to play him, they wouldn’t have been able to because he wouldn’t turn up to training. This type of player power has been one of the strongest ones yet and shows that Diego Costa has not only evolved the way in which players will try and force a move but also shown how much power football players now have.

Is there still magic in the FA Cup?

 

Image Courtesy of IcyBloke, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of IcyBloke, flickr.com

We’ve all heard of ‘the magic of the FA Cup’ – memorable games such as Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ beating Liverpool 1-0 in the 88 Cup Final or Wrexham dumping Arsenal out in the Third Round with a 2-0 victory back in 1992 come to mind. But is the magic still there?

So far, after this year’s tournament. you’d have to say ‘yes’. We’re heading into the Quarter Final stage with just Manchester United left to play a fifth round tie against Preston North End. If United make it through to the next stage, they will be looking to continue their run, hopefully taking them on to a nineteenth final. But, given the way the Cup has gone this year, that could be a big ‘IF’.

We’ve seen League One’s Bradford City claim a 4-2 victory over Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup and this weekend they were at it again with a stunning two goal victory over Sunderland to take them through to the Quarter Final stage. Championship side Blackburn Rovers will join them after coming back from 1-0 down in the first ten minutes to knock Stoke City out with a 4-1 victory that has left the Stoke fans, like most of us, in complete shock.

 

All eyes will be on the FA Cup Quarter Final draw this evening to see what potential upsets could be in store for the next round. It’s fair to assume that most teams will be wanting to avoid playing Bradford City. Given their recent Cup form away at Stamford Bridge and home against Sunderland, Bradford City don’t seem to fear anyone in the Cup. Blackburn will also be looking to setup a potential upset against one of the bigger sides left in the draw.

That being said, Arsenal have just avoided a massive banana skin by fending off Middlesbrough with a 2-0 victory, and Liverpool have seen a revival in their fortunes, with the return of Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool striker linked up well with Jordan Henderson on Saturday to net the team’s first goal in their 2-1 come-back against Crystal Palace. It’s also worth remembering that the reds have made it to the final the last four times they have made it to this stage in the FA Cup: in 2012, 2006, 2001 and 1996. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s the matter of Manchester United vs Preston North End…

So, can Simon Grayson’s Preston North End spark that bit of FA Cup magic and deliver a giant killing and a huge blow to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United with victory tonight? We’ll just have to wait and see.

An Intriguing Champions League Draw For English Teams

 

The draw for the Champions League first knockout round was made on Monday morning and with it brought mixed fortunes for the English clubs left in the competition: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Image Courtesy of patoborrego, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of patoborrego, flickr.com

PSG vs Chelsea
As a Chelsea fan, I’m relatively happy with the draw. For the second successive year (albeit a round earlier), Chelsea meet French champions PSG. Chelsea’s reward for winning the group means that they travel to Paris for the first leg, with the return leg three weeks later at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have a far stronger squad this season and, without sounding too confident, I can’t see them making the same mistakes as they did last season when they lost the first leg 3-1 in Paris. The first leg will be a tighter affair this time around and I think that a score draw will be enough for Chelsea to then win the tie at Stamford Bridge in front of their own fans. It will be a close game whatever happens but I think Chelsea will have what it takes to secure their place in the quarter-final.

The way Chelsea have performed this season, both in Europe and in the Premier League, has, at times, been breathtaking. Jose Mourinho has once again instilled a swagger of confidence and belief amongst the players and the team look relentless in their pursuit of glory. That being said, a great team can’t be judged on half a season and only time will tell if this Mourinho team can be considered one of the greatest. Despite everything that the Portuguese manager has achieved in the game there is one thing missing from his decorated CV, Champions League glory with Chelsea.

If Chelsea are to go on and win the Champions League this season, they will have to navigate their way past the French Champions PSG and summer signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa could prove the difference. Costa’s battle against former Chelsea defender David Luiz will be intriguing and although PSG have the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in their ranks, both have failed to impress on previous visits to Stamford Bridge.

Image Courtesy of Christian Del Aguila, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Christian Del Aguila, flickr.com

Verdict: I’m predicting a tight game but Chelsea’s Champions League experience will prevail and the tie will be won in the second leg at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea sealing their place in the Quarter Finals.

 

Arsenal v Monaco
Arsenal, for once, will be very happy with their draw for the Champions League knockout stages. They will play against a Monaco side that only scored 4 goals in six games to qualify. For that reason, Arsenal must be confident of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008. Arsene Wenger will return to his former club and, on paper, you could argue that finishing second in the group has given Arsenal an easier draw than London rivals Chelsea, who finished first. In recent weeks Arsene Wenger’s future at the club has been called into question but by avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Wenger will have a chance to silence his critics.

There is a long way to go of course but Arsenal will be confident of reaching the Quarterfinals and then, who knows far they can go? With the first leg at the Emirates stadium, it will be important for Arsenal to start well and they will be looking to take at least a two-goal lead with them to France, to help protect them in the second leg. Arsenal have real quality going forward this season and Alexis Sanchez will relish the opportunity to play against an ageing Monaco defence.

Verdict: If Arsenal can reproduce anything like the performance they did against Galatasaray in Matchday Six against Monaco then there will only be one outcome in this tie. Arsenal will comfortably progress to the next round.

 

Image Courtesy of Wonker, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Wonker, flickr.com

Man City vs Barcelona
It’s a case of deja vu for Manchester City fans, as they prepare for another Champions League meeting with Barcelona. Last time Barcelona won 2-0 at the Etihad, and then 2-1 in the Nou Camp. However, with another years’ experience under their belts, can Manchester City make it through to the Quarter Finals for the first time?

There is something about Man City and the Champions League, which conjures up the feeling that it’s just not meant to be. For 10 years I had the same feeling – Chelsea came so close to winning the Champions League but always seemed to fall at the final hurdle. But then, when they did finally win it, it was in the most dramatic of circumstances.

I’m not saying that Manchester City are going to win the Champions League this season or even beat Barcelona but the manner in which they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to make it this far in the first place must give them hope that, even when the odds are stacked against them, they can beat the best teams in Europe. Whether Manchester City prevail and knockout Messi, Suarez, Neymar and co will depend to a great extent on the fitness of Sergio Aguero. The Argentine striker is currently out with a knee injury and is expected to be fit with time to spare before the two games against Barcelona, but without him, City lack that cutting edge. The likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva, all playing at the top of their games give City hope but I just can’t see them beating Barcelona in the Nou Camp where the second leg will be played.

Verdict: Manchester City will be buoyed by the way they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to qualify for the knockout stages. But Barcelona have a wealth of attacking talent, arguably the best front three in the world and whilst it will be closer than last year’s tie, Barcelona will be Manchester City’s Champions League nemesis once again.

Image Courtesy of Football DirectNews, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Football DirectNews, flickr.com

Chelsea vs PSG- Can Mourinho mastermind Chelsea’s Champions League comeback ahead of PSG clash?

 

Excitement is building ahead of tonight’s Champions League second leg tie between Chelsea and PSG. On paper, it’s a mouth-watering match, as Chelsea look to overturn a two-goal deficit and advance to the semi-finals.

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Not many people place Chelsea as favourites going into the game but there is something about Champions League knockout games at Stamford Bridge which, as a Chelsea fan, gives me hope that we can progress to the semi-finals.

Against Barcelona, in 2005 Chelsea overturned a two-goal deficit. Against Liverpool, in 2008 the tie ebbed and flowed across the two legs and eventually, Chelsea won. And against Napoli in 2012, Chelsea found themselves in the same situation, losing 3-1 after the first leg and still progressed on to win the trophy. What the experience of those games gives Chelsea fans more than anything is the belief that we can go and do the same again tonight.

Just six days ago in the Parc des Princes, individual errors gifted PSG two goals and the third goal deep into injury time made tonight’s task that little bit harder. Despite conceding three goals (more than we had conceded in our previous seven Champions League matches), PSG created very little in the first leg and for long periods of the game, we looked comfortable.

So how are Chelsea going to win the game tonight?
The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge will be electric before kick- off. We need to take belief from the recent victories at home over Arsenal, Tottenham and Galatasaray; results which, should we repeat tonight, would be enough to see us advance to the semi-finals.

 

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Chelsea’s defensive solidarity and togetherness, which was uncharacteristically lacking in the first leg in Paris, will be key if they are to stop PSG scoring tonight. Boosted by the news that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be missing through injury, if Chelsea can keep another clean sheet and nullify the threat posed by Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, then they have half a chance.

In midfield Chelsea will miss the energy and enthusiasm of Ramires who is suspended and the ineligible Nemanja Matic. But in club stalwart Frank Lampard and David Luiz Chelsea have more than enough experience to cause PSG problems. Out wide Mourniho had the luxury of resting Hazard and Oscar at the weekend and Chelsea will look to both players, along with Willian, to make the difference tonight.

It’s upfront though that will go a long way to deciding Chelsea’s fate and much will depend on the fitness of Samuel Eto’o who missed the first leg with a hamstring injury. He has been Chelsea’s most prolific striker this season with all 11 of his goals coming at Stamford Bridge. Is playing him a gamble? Yes. But on a night when risks need to be taken, this could be another master stroke from Mourinho come the end of full time if he plays and scores the winning goal.

On the other hand, if he isn’t fit then Mourniho is likely to hand a start to under fire striker Fernando Torres ahead of Andre Schurle, who started in the first leg, and the relatively inexperienced Demba Ba. Despite not scoring a goal in the league since January, Torres’ record in the Champions league this season has been much better – three goals in three games. (If only his overall record for Chelsea followed a similar pattern, then he might be challenging Cristiano Ronaldo for the European golden boot).

 

Mourinho thrives on being the underdog and, in my view, Chelsea are actually under less pressure going into the game than they would have been had they been leading. PSG might have a two goal advantage but Chelsea have nothing to lose and can play with freedom.

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

People often forget the simple mathematics of football; something echoed by Mourinho in his pre match press conference….“If we score a minimum of two goals we go through; it’s basic mathematics”

Indeed it’s easier to set up a team to win rather than to set up a team not to lose because it’s not natural to play like this. Mourinho tried the latter in the first leg and failed to get a positive result and so tonight I think we will see a different Chelsea; a Chelsea with belief, a Chelsea with no fear.

Mourinho believes, the players believe and most importantly the fans believe.

Verdict: Chelsea 2-0 PSG.

Chelsea vs PSG- Can Mourinho mastermind Chelsea's Champions League comeback ahead of PSG clash?

 

Excitement is building ahead of tonight’s Champions League second leg tie between Chelsea and PSG. On paper it’s a mouth-watering match, as Chelsea look to overturn a two goal deficit and advance to the semi-finals.

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Not many people place Chelsea as favourites going into the game but there is something about Champions League knockout games at Stamford Bridge which, as a Chelsea fan, gives me hope that we can progress to the semi-finals.

Against Barcelona in 2005 Chelsea overturned a two goal deficit. Against Liverpool in 2008 the tie ebbed and flowed across the two legs and eventually Chelsea won. And against Napoli in 2012 Chelsea found themselves in the same situation, losing 3-1 after the first leg and still progressed on to win the trophy. What the experience of those games gives Chelsea fans more than anything is the belief that we can go and do the same again tonight.

Just six days ago in the Parc de Princes, individual errors gifted PSG two goals and the third goal deep into injury time made tonight’s task that little bit harder. Despite conceding three goals (more than we had conceded in our previous seven Champions League matches), PSG created very little in the first leg and for long periods of the game we looked comfortable.

So how are Chelsea going to win the game tonight?
The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge will be electric before kick- off. We need to take belief from the recent victories at home over Arsenal, Tottenham and Galatasaray; results which, should we repeat tonight, would be enough to see us advance to the semi-finals.

 

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Chelsea’s defensive solidarity and togetherness, which was uncharacteristically lacking in the first leg in Paris, will be key if they are to stop PSG scoring tonight. Boosted by the news that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be missing through injury, if Chelsea can keep another clean sheet and nullify the threat posed by Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, then they have half a chance.

In midfield Chelsea will miss the energy and enthusiasm of Ramires who is suspended and the ineligible Nemanja Matic. But in club stalwart Frank Lampard and David Luiz Chelsea have more than enough experience to cause PSG problems. Out wide Mourniho had the luxury of resting Hazard and Oscar at the weekend and Chelsea will look to both players, along with Willian, to make the difference tonight.

It’s upfront though that will go a long way to deciding Chelsea’s fate and much will depend on the fitness of Samuel Eto’o who missed the first leg with a hamstring injury. He has been Chelsea’s most prolific striker this season with all 11 of his goals coming at Stamford Bridge. Is playing him a gamble? Yes. But on a night when risks need to be taken, this could be another master stroke from Mourinho come the end of full time if he plays and scores the winning goal.

On the other hand, if he isn’t fit then Mourniho is likely to hand a start to under fire striker Fernando Torres ahead of Andre Schurle, who started in the first leg, and the relatively inexperienced Demba Ba. Despite not scoring a goal in the league since January, Torres’ record in the Champions league this season has been much better – three goals in three games. (If only his overall record for Chelsea followed a similar pattern, then he might be challenging Cristiano Ronaldo for the European golden boot).

 

Mourinho thrives on being the underdog and, in my view, Chelsea are actually under less pressure going into the game than they would have been had they been leading. PSG might have a two goal advantage but Chelsea have nothing to lose and can play with freedom.

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

People often forget the simple mathematics of football; something echoed by Mourinho in his pre match press conference….“If we score a minimum of two goals we go through; it’s basic mathematics”

Indeed it’s easier to set up a team to win rather than to set up a team not to lose because it’s not natural to play like this. Mourinho tried the latter in the first leg and failed to get a positive result and so tonight I think we will see a different Chelsea; a Chelsea with belief, a Chelsea with no fear.

Mourinho believes, the players believe and most importantly the fans believe.

Verdict: Chelsea 2-0 PSG.

Confessions of a Championship football fan

 

Image Courtesy of Gruppo Manfrotto, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Gruppo Manfrotto, flickr.com

The SkyBet Championship is the strongest second-tier league in world football and in my opinion, it offers entertainment on a par with, if not better than, the Premier League and top-tier leagues across the world.

I realise that the latter is a bold statement. It could be said that my enthusiasm for the Championship stems from the cumulative effect of having to accept, season after season, that my beloved Ipswich Town will be spending yet another season as the longest-serving Championship club. 12 years and counting we’ve been there, dating back to when the league was still named Division 1. But regardless, these have actually been a thoroughly enjoyable 12 years, (albeit slightly frustrating at the same time).

And by ‘entertainment’, I don’t mean to compare the quality of football in the Championship with that of the Premier League; to do so would be to spark unnecessary debate with the Chelsea fan to my right and the two Spurs fans I live with every day. But what I do emphasize is the fact that there are more components to Championship football than many Premier League fans will realise: capricious results, passionate fans and tactical innovation to name just a few.

Saying that, Championship football is unpredictable. It has arguably become a bit of a cliché and has actually been challenged by the consistent results of Nottingham Forest, QPR, Blackpool and Leicester, who many punters currently back as a safe bet on their weekend accumulators. But who can say that they predicted Burnley to be sitting pretty at the top of the table after 12 games?

I’m not saying that the Premier League is too predictable, for the nature of this year’s season has so far blown that theory out of the water. When Championship fans turn up on match day, however, they do so without any preconception as to the final outcome. A couple of back to back wins can see a team climb from 19th to 9th, just as a team leading the pack ten games in can end up in a relegation fight 30 games later.

We could further credit the Championship by saying the reason for the fluctuating results in this season’s Premier League is partly down to the endeavours of two of last season’s promoted sides; Cardiff and Hull. Apologies, Palace fans. The Championship certainly teaches players to work hard and play honest football, which can pay dividends in the long run.

A great example of this are Swansea City, who have become the go-to example of how the game should be played since emerging from the humble roots of the Championship in 2011. They have not looked back since. In contrast, I find it thoroughly enjoyable to see a team like Bolton, who overstayed their welcome in the Premier League until 2012, now struggling to stay afloat in the Championship.

Matchday is every football fan’s highlight of the week. But if I was to give someone their first taste of English football, it would be at a Championship match. While I wouldn’t say no to 90 minutes in a padded leather seat at the Emirates, I would rather spend that time on my feet in the Bobby Robson Stand at Portman Road, where non-stop chanting and obscenities are the norm.

The great thing about a Championship game is that you are surrounded by highly-knowledgeable, passionate fans, who have followed their team up and down the Football League all their lives. They are quick to comment and brilliantly critical. Of course, honest and passionate fans exist in their thousands in the Premier League, but when comparing my Premier League and Championship match day experiences the latter comes out on top. And that’s not just for the price of the pies.

Once the fans of the 22 Championship clubs have accepted the fact that they will not be achieving automatic promotion to the Premier League, usually around Christmas time, the fun part starts; the race for the playoffs. This battle for 3rd-6th place in the table, in my opinion, generates far greater competition and passion than the race for 5th place in the Premier League, which to be honest is a bit of a damp squib in comparison. There is more at stake in the race for the playoffs. The glamour and financial benefits of the Premier League await the lucky team to go up. (And let’s be honest, there is a certain amount of luck involved).

At the start of the season, every team is aiming for automatic promotion to avoid the lottery of the playoffs at all costs. Come May, however, you would be crazy to not want to be involved. Even for a neutral observer, the playoffs are as exciting as an FA Cup final, with an atmosphere to match the final of the Champions League. But, as Crystal Palace have so far shown in the Premier League this season, sometimes the experience of getting there is better than actually being there.

Premier League fans may believe that tactical innovation is a phrase reserved for managers such as Pellegrini, Mourinho and Wenger, but, as a spectator in the Championship, you’d be unlucky to witness three successive games in which the manager didn’t shuffle the formation or style of play. The pace of the Premier League actually lessens the scope for these sorts of changes, yet the sufficient quality of Championship players combined with a slightly reduced game speed and wide range of teams, allows for managers to switch things around almost weekly to cater for the demands of each match, at a much lesser risk than would be the case in the Premier League.

It is also great to see Championship clubs embrace the domestic talent which they have coming through their respective academies. A promising 17-year old English striker from the academy will generate just as much excitement amongst Championship fans as a world-record signing would do in the Premier League, and often these home-grown talents go on to become some of the most successful players in the league. With so much talk about the importance of domestic talent in the media at the moment, we should look at the Championship as a positive example (except for perhaps, Watford).

For all I have said, it remains my dream to see Ipswich return to the top flight, even if for just one season. Come on you Blues!

Premier League enters final sprint

As we head into the start of March, there is everything still to play for in the Barclays Premier League.

calendario-premier-league

Race for the Title

It might seem to many that Manchester United have already got one hand on the Premier League title but for anyone who follows football, we all know that could all change in a matter of games. Manchester City, you will remember, were eight points behind with just six games to go last season and still managed to snatch the title in the most dramatic circumstances, so anything can happen.  12 points might seem like a lot but with Manchester United focused on the Champions League tie with Real Madrid in two weeks’ time, City’s early exit from the competition could work in their favour as they look to close the gap at the top.  Injuries will be key but if United can keep Van Persie and Rooney fit, it’s difficult to see them losing four games from now until the end of the season. For the neutral, though we hope for the drama and excitement of last season, but as Sky Sports pundit Martin Tyler so famously said at the time “I promise you will never see anything like it again”….I’m afraid I tend to agree.

Verdict: United will get their hands on their 20th league trophy.

Champions League Qualification

The battle for 4th is set to go to the wire as we eagerly await the North London derby this weekend. Gareth Bale’s blistering form has catapulted Spurs into 3rd place in the Barclays Premier League ahead of their London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.

The Welsh international scored two wonder goals in Spurs’ stunning 3-2 win over West Ham this week to continue his outstanding form in front of goal. The man who flitted in and out of the Tottenham side for two years, following his arrival from Southampton, in 2007 has now become one of Europe’s premier performers. The Tottenham winger has scored 23 goals in an incredible season, with 9 goals in the last 7 games. He is the only midfielder on the continent to have had more than 100 shots this season and he alone has earned Tottenham 15 points this season.

However, with Bale’s outstanding performances single-handily carrying the team at the moment, the fans are beginning to question the performance of the other players around him. For their sake, they will be hoping the injury jinx doesn’t stand in the way of qualifying for the Champions League and that Bale will remain fit for the rest of the season. Indeed if you take away the goals Bale has scored this season, Tottenham would occupy 9th place in the table. A win for Tottenham will open up a seven-point gap over Arsenal and for me should see them seal one of the two remaining places leaving it down to Arsenal and Chelsea to battle over 4th place.

Talking of Chelsea, Rafael Benitez’s spectacular outburst after Chelsea’s midweek cup win at the Riverside was evidence that he has finally cracked under the pressure of the disgruntled Chelsea fans. As a Chelsea fan myself it’s ridiculous that we don’t get behind him and support the team because, as he quite rightly said in his post-match press conference, he will be gone at the end of the season and we will be left to lick our wounds as we face the prospect of another Thursday night Europa League campaign.  If the minority of fans don’t end their campaign to “Get Rafa Out” unfortunately this will turn nightmare into reality. Whatever happens at Stamford Bridge, come what May… Chelsea will be looking for their 10th manager in as many years.

Verdict: Europa League for Arsenal… I hope!

The Race for Europe

Swansea will fly the Welsh flag in Europe next season for the first time after their Capital One Cup success last weekend at the hands of Bradford. The biggest ever winning margin in the competitions’ 100 year plus history, leaving the two Merseyside clubs and West Brom to battle it out for the remaining places. Everton’s inconsistent form since the turn of the year has seen them disappear from Champions League contenders to be Europa League certainties and Liverpool have been inconsistent all season to say the least. In Suarez and Gerrard, Liverpool have two of best players in the league and they should have more points than they have. The Rodgers Revolution is a fascinating project but hasn’t reached top gear yet.

Verdict: Everton should have enough to hold on to 6th place but might be distracted by a possible FA Cup semi-final at Wembley should they beat Wigan. All eyes on the Merseyside derby at the start of May as Liverpool look to close the three-point gap. West Brom will fall just short but it must be said what a fantastic season for Steve Clarke and the Baggies.

Mid Table Mediocrity

The likes of Stoke, Sunderland, West Ham, Fulham, Norwich and Newcastle you would think are just about safe if they secure a couple more wins and will compete against each other to finish as high up in the table as possible.

Relegation

QPR are in desperate trouble at the bottom of the table; seven points from safety and you have to wonder how they will cope both on and off the pitch should they fail to avoid relegation to the Championship. Huge transfer fees and a frightening wage bill don’t bode well for the West London club.

Harry’s magic hasn’t really worked its wonders yet. Despite a freak 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in January, the team never kicked on. It’s now or never for QPR and this is where Harry Redknapp should come into his own. If anyone can oversee the great escape then he can but if they don’t start winning then I’m afraid they will be plying their trade in England’s second tier next season.

Reading, Aston Villa, Southampton and Wigan are all locked in a battle to survive but with Ricky Lambert scoring goals for Southampton on a regular basis and Wigan seasoned campaigners at avoiding the drop against all odds, I think they will survive leaving Villa – one of only six teams to appear in every Premier League season – and Reading heading through the trap door with QPR.

All in all, a fascinating climax to the end of another fantastic season of Barclays Premier League football.

 

Words by Dan Apostolos

Dear Mr Rodgers…

Hot on the heels of an open letter printed in the Daily Telegraph last week by football writer Henry Winter, urging Arsenal’s owner Stan Kroenke to enforce change at the club, I read another open letter written by the Daily Mail’s Rik Sharma.

Entitled ‘An open letter to Fernando Torres’, Sharma’s missive outlines why, as a lifelong Chelsea supporter, he is urging the misfiring striker to leave the club in the summer and return to Spain. Sharma explores in considerable detail Torres’ time at the club, from the initial excitement of his arrival in the January transfer window of 2011, to the early doubts about whether the £50 million man was worth the fee, through to the growing resentment amongst Chelsea supporters towards his attitude and general demeanour and finally, the nadir of Torres being booed off the pitch on his 100th appearance last month.

Chelsea fan or not, the article is interesting reading, if nothing else for the way it catalogues the sorry decline of a player once feared as the best in his trade (as a Liverpool supporter, I still hold some cherished memories).

But reading Sharma’s impassioned appeal, so soon after Henry Winter’s very public call to arms to ‘Silent Stan’ Kroenke, made me question whether we are seeing the emergence of a new fashion in football journalism. That is, emotively infused appeals from the journalist as ‘football fan’ as opposed to observer and reporter.

Of course, the wider concept of the open letter is nothing new and indeed, self-penned appeals seem to be de rigueur amongst Premiership club owners at the moment, most notably with Liverpool FC’s John W Henry’s and his letter to supporters in September 2012 apologizing for the club’s transfer policy.

It is clear however that the concept of the open letter in the back pages is an increasingly popular journalistic vehicle through which to frame opinions, and generate debate online. Perhaps the emergence of the trend is no surprise considering the rise of the football fan as commentator and opinion-shaper himself, through blogs and football forums.  It will be interesting to see how many other open letters will appear between now and the end of the season, especially as we head into the ‘business end’ of the year with passions often at their highest and gripes at their worst.

My own open letter? Why oh why can’t Liverpool string a few wins together, Brendan Rodgers, just for once!

 

Words by Ciaran McCale

Christmas – a time for fun, family and…..football?!

xmas-football-santa

Christmas is traditionally a time spent at home, with loved ones and family; a couple of days off work to sit back, relax and savour the festive spirit. But for footballers up and down the country the Christmas and New Year period is a whole lot more than this. It is a crucial time.

With nearly half of the season already gone in the top flight, the two Manchester clubs seemingly battling each other for the title, Chelsea with another new manager and “arry’s” QPR still looking for their first premier league win, every team is readying itself for the busy and potentially decisive festive period, which can often make or break a season. It doesn’t matter whether your team is chasing success in all competitions or you’re locked in a basement battle scrapping for every point to secure top-flight survival; every club wants the welcome gift of three valuable points this Christmas.

Most Premier League clubs will take part in four matches in a little over a week this Christmas.  However, cup commitments and European fixtures can lead to an even greater pile-up of matches…..not to mention the 3rd round of the FA Cup on the opening weekend of January.

Fixtures come thick and fast during the festive period and wintry conditions are hugely demanding for footballers, testing their fitness levels to the limit. With so many matches in such a short space of time, it is not uncommon for injuries to mount up and players’ form to suffer as they attempt to struggle through games without sufficient periods of rest.

Of course, tiredness and bad luck strikes every team at some point during a season but at Christmas time it can have far more damaging consequences. That said, the hectic festive fixture list is, of course, something of a top-flight tradition in England and given the quick turnaround of matches the reality of being swept aside by one of the top teams quickly disappears. The old cliché in football “there’s always the next game” springs to mind, offering comfort to the frontrunners in the New Year sack race.

Talk continues over the introduction of a two-week winter break in English football – once a distant whisper now a muted roar – but Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has hinted that FA Cup replays may have to be sacrificed to make it work. English football’s governing bodies used to palm off the idea of a mid-season break but it now seems a very possible reality.

The fundamental question is this – would you sacrifice your Christmas fix of football in favour of a mid-season break?

For the football scrooges out there the answer is fairly obvious but for anyone that plays football or loves watching the game, nothing beats the drama and excitement of the festive fixture list. Attendances are high. There’s a game on Monday; there’s another one on Thursday. It has been cherished by so many of us over the years and has an important place in our national football heritage. For now at least it’s here to stay.