Sunday, 27 February 2011

EPL News Round-up

Plenty of news to hit you with this weekend. 

First off, I want to say good luck to Arsenal in the Carling Cup final today. I think that Arsene Wenger is easily the best manager in the Premier League. He barely spends any money (Arsenal are the only club in the top four that actually makes a profit every year) and has spent several years cultivating a young team that, on its day, plays the best football in the world (cemented by the fact they recently beat Barcelona). He deserves a trophy and I hope he wins it this afternoon.

Right, on with the news.

Newcastle United have signed Cheik Tiote to a new long-term deal. For Toon fans that is great news. Tiote has been one of their best players all season and they are going to need more players like him if they are to kick on in the Premier League next year and reclaim their position as one of the biggest clubs in the country.

Liverpool midfielder Raul Miereles has come out and said that he feels he has more support from Kenny Dalglish than he got from ex-Reds manager, Roy Hodgson. I can't stand when players come out and say derogatory things like that. If he feels that then he should keep it to himself. I can't imagine it is true anyway considering Roy Hodgson bought the guy, paying 11.5 million quid for him. Why would Hodgson do that and then not give Miereles enough support? I like Miereles as a player but I am losing respect for him as a person after he came out and said that.

Wayne Rooney reckons this is the worst season he has ever had. Really? Thanks for updating us Wayne but we already know.

With less than 18 months left in his contract, Samir Nasri is still locked in discussions with Arsenal regarding a possible extension. If Arsene Wenger wants continued success with his young team, he is going to need to keep a hold of players like Nasri. It will be interesting to see if Nasri waits until the end of the season to sign a contract or not. If he does and Arsenal don't win a trophy I have a hunch he might follow Fabregas out the door.

More news just in. West Ham 3-1 Liverpool. Not a good result for the Reds there. I wonder if Miereles didn't get enough support in this game because I don't see him on the scoresheet.

Enjoy the Cup Final.

Update:
Birmingham City 2-1 Arsenal - Yet again Arsenal prove that for all their flair and skill, when it really matters they can't finish the job. All the possession in the world won't win you a Cup if you can't score. Oh yeah, if you try to kick the ball out of your Keeper's hands in the 88th minute it won't help either. Epic finish to the game.

I feel for you Wenger.

Well done Birmingham! Carling Cup Champions 2011

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Race for the Europa League!

First off, I have to apologise to all you EPL fans out there. I have been favouring the NHL a little too much recently but there has been a lot going on. If you are intrigued about the NHL but you don't know where to start, then head over to NHL.com and check it out. Right now is the best time to have a look as we near the business end of the season!

Ok back to football.

For many teams who cannot hope to compete for the Premier League title or a Champion's League spot, the prize at the end of the season is a position that will qualify them for entry into the Europa League.

The battle for a Europa League qualification spot is quite exciting to watch as it tends to concern around 10 teams in the League. Only a maximum of 4 teams can qualify for the Europa league and only one of those teams is guaranteed entry. More rules on the qualification process can be found here: Europe League Qualification.

Basically 5th place is guaranteed a spot in the Europa League. Whoever finishes 6th usually qualifies also with 7th and 8th being circumstantial.

Now, who is currently in the race to play against some of Europe's best teams next year? Well, we have Chelsea, who are favourites to finish 5th with 45 points, then we have Liverpool (39pts), Sunderland (37pts), Bolton Wanderers (36pts), Newcastle United (35pts) and Stoke City (33pts) all within six points of each other. On the outside looking in we have Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Fulham. Arguably even Everton, Birmingham City and Aston Villa still have a long shot at getting in as they are only nine points behind 6th place Liverpool.

The race for qualification is very tight this year but I think Liverpool have to be considered the favourites for 6th and Sunderland favourites for 7th. As a Toon fan that is a very difficult thing to say but after looking at the facts and the rosters it is clear that Liverpool and Sunderland have the most complete teams.

Liverpool are favourites for 6th place.
Newcastle are capable but they have a very small squad and will be too weak to challenge if they suffer anymore injuries. Bolton are very solid and tough to beat but they don't have the quality that Sunderland and Liverpool possess. Stoke are much the same as Bolton insofar as they are a solid side that can win if they stick to their formula, but don't have the quality to change things when their formula isn't working. Because of that I don't see Stoke qualifying either.

There is a possible fourth Europa League spot and if the Premier League does get it this year (see Europe League Qualification) then I would fancy Newcastle to qualify in 8th.
 
Playing in the Europa League gives teams a chance to play against some of the biggest teams in the world and gives them a shot at winning one of the most coveted trophies in football. It also means more money, which can lead to better players and more success...

Who do you think will qualify this year?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Bright Future in Oil City

By taking a quick glance at the NHL standings it becomes obvious that the Edmonton Oilers are not having a great season in regards to winning games and qualifying for the playoffs. However, if you take a look behind the scenes you can see that, in fact, the Oilers are having an excellent season. No-one expected this team to do any better than it did last year in the standings, why should they? They only added a couple of rookies to a team that performed so abysmally last season. This is the start of a rebuilding process for the Oilers and it is a rebuild that is going very well so far.

Take, for example, the fact that the Oilers have time on their side and field a very youthful roster of hockey players. Hall is 19, Paajarvi is 19, Eberle is 20, Omark is 23, Cogliano is 23, Smid is 25, Peckham is 23, Dubnyk is 24 and Gagner is 21. That makes at least nine players who are 25 or under (there are a few more). The Oilers also have several players who are coming into the prime of their careers in Ales Hemsky (27), Ryan Whitney (27), Tom Gilbert (28), Dustin Penner (28) and Ryan Jones (26). Only Horcoff, MacIntyre, Khabibulin, Vandermeer and Strudwick are in their 30s.

Some teams might bemoan the lack of experience but in Edmonton it isn't really an issue considering their situation. They have a bunch of guys who will hopefully be playing together for many years and will gel as a team, fostering chemistry on the ice. They might lose one or two bodies to trades (Hemsky and Penner may be gone by next week) and a couple might leave because they aren't good enough, but the majority of those players should still be around in a season or two.

Hall is having an outstanding season.
It seems that being young has not stopped a few of the Oiler's roster from having excellent rookie seasons. Theo Peckham has looked tough and uncompromising as a shut-down defenseman on the Edmonton blueline and Jordan Eberle has managed to reach 31 points for the season so far. However, what most Oilers fans will be happy about is that Taylor Hall, their number one draft pick, is in second place for points (38) and leads the Oilers, along with Dustin Penner, for goals (20). Sam Gagner, who has more experience than Hall and Eberle (despite only being 21), is also contributing and has 36 points so far.

I am excited to see what this team will be capable of in two or three year's time if their young players progress like they should. This Edmonton team has the potential to be a highly skilled, fast team with plenty of goal-scoring ability. They have all the right ingredients and the right head coach for the job in Tom Renney. However, as is sometimes the case with potential, the Oilers have to be careful not to let it all go to waste or there could be a few more years of obscurity ahead.

It has been a long time since Gretzky and the glorious 80s. Will this franchise reclaim a place as one of the elite teams of the NHL?

Opinions?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Home-Stand Success for Desert Dogs

Bryzgalov, Doan and Jovo celebrate a win
The Phoenix Coyotes' recent home stand has been a massive positive for two reasons. First of all, the Coyotes have gotten back to winning ways, playing the same gritty defensive game that served them so well last season. Secondly, they have started to make the Jobing.com Arena a hard place to go. While their home record is still not great, the last few games have started to push it in the right direction.

The Coyotes have played six of their last seven games at home and have won six in a row since receiving that 6-0 battering from Vancouver on the 2nd of February. That game seems to have given the Coyotes a well needed kick up the backside as they have been excellent since. Phoenix have beaten the likes of the Stars (in Dallas), the Blackhawks and the Capitals during their six game streak and have looked very strong defensively in all of those games.

The home stand has not been without its problems however. It looks like veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski is going to be out for a significant amount of time after fracturing his orbital bone in a head collision at the end of the second period against the Thrashers on Thursday night. The Phoenix blueline will miss Jovo's leadership skills and his presence on the ice for sure, however, this may be a chance for some of the younger defensemen to show what they can do as they will undoubtedly get more ice-time in the wake of the injury.

Next up for the Coyotes is a ten-day, five-game road trip that looks very, very difficult on paper. While there are plenty of games left in the season, these five games could be crucial to the Coyotes' hopes of making the playoffs. These games will also be a good test for this team, allowing the fans and players a chance to see where the Coyotes rank amongst some of the more elite teams of the NHL.

The first game is against the Nashville Predators who are very similar to the Coyotes in the way they play. I am predicting a low scoring game there. Next up will be the Flyers and then the Lightning, the two best teams of the Eastern conference. The last two games, against the Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks respectively will be a chance for the Coyotes to take more points off their Western Conference rivals.

The keys to a successful road trip will be:

  • Ilya Bryzgalov staying hot between the pipes. Bryz has been the biggest reason behind the Coyotes' recent success.
  • Big defensive effort. The Coyotes have simplified their game and gone back to what makes them a successful team. By reducing the scoring chances against, they give themselves a better chance of winning.
  • Jovo's replacement stepping up. With such a big player out, whoever it is that steps into his place must have an excellent five games.
  • Team scoring. With no true goalscorer, the Coyotes rely on all their forwards to pitch in with goals and assists. This needs to continue.

First game of the road-trip is on Saturday. The puck drops at 8:00pm CST.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Canuck Cup Success Unlikely?

I feel a little bit of a hypocrite as I sit down to write this. Only a couple of months ago I wrote an article discussing how complete the Vancouver Canucks seemed to be, and how they were bringing more to the table this year. They were dominating the Western Conference then and they were finding games very easy to win. I considered them possible favourites to lift the cup. I didn't say they would definitely win but I was certainly singing their praises.

How a couple of months can change things...

I should start by saying that, in appearance, not much has changed. Vancouver are still top of the pile in the Western Conference and are still playing reasonably well. It is safe to say they will reach the playoffs too. Why the pessimism then? Well Vancouver don't look as Cup-ready as they did not so long ago. They are a banged up team with plenty of injuries to their blue-line and their offense is starting to show its lack of depth. Behind the Sedins and Kesler, who do they have who you can consider a game-winning (nevermind a cup-winning) player? Maybe Samuelsson? Maybe Burrows? Maybe not.

You need a healthy team to win a Cup and Vancouver do not have that. While they do have depth on their blue-line, they are currently being stretched very thin. Andrew Alberts was the latest casualty to Vancouver's defence after he broke his wrist in the second period of a 3-2 loss to St. Louis. He joins teammates Alexander Edler (back surgery), Dan Hamhuis (concussion), Keith Ballard (sprained knee), and Lee Sweatt (broken foot) on the injured reserve. Only Ballard and Sweatt have not been placed on long-term injury reserve.

Can Luongo be a cup-winning goalie?
Beyond the lack of offensive depth and the crippled blue-line, Vancouver may have another issue. Roberto Luongo is a great goalie and has proven that in the regular season. However, he has yet to prove his pedigree in the playoffs. He has never been past the second round and while some of the blame lays at his team-mates' feet for not protecting him enough and not scoring enough, it also lies at Luongo's feet for not repeating his regular season form when it really matters.

There are plenty of issues facing the Vancouver Canucks right now and, at least in recent years, they have shown themselves to be a team that doesn't face adversity particularly well. We haven't seen a Canadian Stanley Cup-winning team since Montreal back in 1992/93. Maybe this year is a bridge too far as well.



Thoughts?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Premier League Round-Up

Another Saturday in the Premiership has come and gone and there were, as there always are, a few important results to discuss.

Man Utd's 2-1 win over rivals Man City (thanks to a contender for goal of the season from Wayne Rooney) was a huge relief for Sir Alex after last weekend's slip up at Wolves. Man City would have managed to get themselves back in the race for the title if they had won today, instead they are now firmly out of it. Only Arsenal are left to try and catch the Red Devils this season and that might be too difficult a task as this is typically the part of the season where Man Utd get stronger and stronger and Arsenal tend to fade away.

The Gunners, however, did their title bid no harm today by overcoming last week's conquerors of Fergie's men at the Emirates Stadium. Wolves, for all their endeavour, never looked like scoring today and so Arsenal keep the pressure on United at the top of the table courtesy of two Robin Van Persie goals.

Newcastle and Blackburn failed to repeat their goalscoring (and goal-conceding) acts from last week and played out a 0-0 draw. Newcastle had most of the pressure and will probably consider this game two points dropped, although both managers will have been relieved to get a clean sheet.

In a far more entertaining game, West Ham managed a Toon style come-back against West Brom. After going in at half-time 3-0 down and looking like they would rather be at home than on the pitch, West Ham somehow managed to get themselves going in the second half and fought for a hard-earned draw.

Kranjcar "kranks" in another one.
Tottenham march on thanks to yet another wonder goal from Niko Kranjcar and Birmingham battled to a 1-0 victory in a true clash of the giants against Stoke. Despite Miereles getting his fifth goal in six games, Liverpool could only manage a draw as Wigan halted the charge of The Reds. Miereles is getting better and better with every game and looks a class act in that supporting role.

A quick mention should go to Jean Makoun who should be docked wages for idiocy after his inexplicable two-footed tackle today. He is lucky Villa held on for the 1-1 draw after his dismissal. I can't understand players sometimes. If you KNOW that going in two-footed will result in you getting sent off...then why do it? It brings no advantage to a tackle, it could seriously injure the player on the receiving end and you will be sent for an early bath, thereby making the game more difficult for your team so, I say again, why?

Full results:

Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2

Leave your comments below!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Pacific Division: Watch This Space...

A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the Western Conference and how close the race for the playoffs was. Today that is still the case with teams from fourth to 11th only separated by a handful of points. Why do I mention that again? Well, it would appear the same thing is happening, on a much smaller scale, in the Pacific Division. Dallas, San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix and LA are all separated by five points. Five points! That is insane. It is the most closely fought division in the NHL and one where the lowest ranked team (LA) has six more points than the lowest ranked team in any other division.

Just a few games ago it looked like Dallas (65pts) were well on their way to capturing the Division title but they have hit a slump of late and lost their last three. San Jose (62pts) have finally found some form and are closing in on the Stars. Anaheim (62pts) and Phoenix (61pts) continue to have inconsistent seasons but find themselves in the hunt regardless and even LA (60pts) who have looked very poor at certain stages are still in with a shout should they go on a winning streak.

I would consider all five of these teams to be buyers during this trade window so it will be interesting to see who they pick up and who they move on. A quick word regarding what each of these teams might need follows:

Dallas Stars (30-18-5): Keeping a hold of Brad Richards past the trade deadline will be a massive bonus to the Stars who will need their number one centre to continue his goal scoring form if they want playoff success.

San Jose Sharks (28-19-6): Slowly generating some momentum, the San Jose Sharks look to be finally playing the sort of hockey we expect from them. If the Sharks' roster plays like we know they can, then they are Stanley Cup favourites, despite the fact that they suffer from post-season stage fright every year.

Anaheim Ducks (29-21-4): Getting Getzlaf back at some point will feel like the Ducks just acquired a top forward, so his return will give them an offensive boost (not that they have done badly since his injury). Where the Ducks do need to strengthen is in their defence.

Phoenix Coyotes (26-19-9): The Coyotes would make the playoffs with a legit 30+ goals a year man and a quick two-way defenseman. They also need to re-sign Bryzgalov and Yandle to long-term deals.

L.A. Kings (29-22-2): Offensively, other than Anze Kopitar, the Kings are fragile. If they improve in that area, without giving up too much, then they would see their chances of reaching the playoffs increase.

The Stars, Sharks and Kings have played 53 games and the Yotes and Ducks have played 54, so there is no massive advantage to be had from games in hand. The race is so close that we could see all five of the Pacific teams in the playoffs come the end of the season, which would be remarkable. This one is going to go right down to the wire. To borrow a line from the Desert Dogs: “Don't blink or you might miss something.”

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Perfect Advert for Football

Yesterday's eight games in the Premiership were infested with goals. In fact, the 41 goals scored broke the record (previously 36) for the most goals scored in one day in the Premier League. While the managers of those teams that played will be worried about defensive frailties, fans of football were simply enjoying the entertainment on show.


Along with the goals there were some other big stories that came out of yesterday's games. Man Utd's unbeaten run in the EPL came to an end (thankfully) courtesy of the worst team in the Premier League (statistically). Newcastle made history by producing the best comeback in Premiership history. The Toon Army cancelled out Arsenal's four goal lead in the last 20 minutes of the second half with goals that included two penalties and a wonder strike from Cheik Tiote.

Louis Saha continued his scoring streak in style by putting four past Rachubka in the Blackpool net in a game that was as open as the scoreline suggests. Carlos Tevez celebrated his 27th birthday but netting a hat-trick against struggling West Brom, who have now unjustly sacked their manager, Roberto Di Matteo, in response. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. West Brom have only just been promoted so they were expected to struggle a little.

Tottenham needed a wonder strike in the 92nd minute from Niko Kranjcar to secure victory over Bolton and Stoke got lucky against Sunderland with two offside goals to secure a 3-2 victory. Sunderland were by far the better side and any time Stoke win is a loss for football itself. Honestly, look at their team, they are all 6'5 heavyweights. Rory Delap's long throw was a novelty last season but now it just makes Stoke look even more one dimensional than we know they are. Rant over.

What does all of this mean in the context of the League standings then? Manchester United are only four points clear of Arsenal and you have to say they aren't playing very well right now. Arsenal could have closed that gap to only two points if they had managed to hold on to their four goal advantage. Wigan have climbed out of the relegation zone following a vital 4-3 win over Blackburn and Blackpool slip further down the table after losing their fifth game in a row.

Torres will be wearing blue today.
Sundays games:

Of course, the weekend's entertainment is far from over. Today we have Chelsea v Liverpool. All eyes will be on Torres as he makes his first appearance in a blue shirt against his former club. He will be desperate to impress his new fans to justify the 50 million pounds that was spent on him, getting a goal against his former club would be the icing on the cake too. Sparks might fly in this game!



Half Time: Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool
Full Time: Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool (Miereles) 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Coyotes' Roller Coaster Season

The Phoenix Coyotes are having a very up and down season. Just when things seem to be picking up, it all starts to go wrong again. This is especially the case at home where Phoenix have only managed a 10-10-5 record. With another 16 games to go at the Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes have to turn home ice into an advantage if they want to reach the playoffs. After an awful December, Phoenix got themselves playing well again in January after finding that pack-mentality once more and picked up some much needed wins.

Unfortunately, towards end of the month, the roller coaster ride took another dip as Phoenix lost four games in a row at home, although they did end the month with a 5-2 win over the Avalanche before the All-Star Game. The weekend break gave the Coyotes a much needed five day rest after a gruelling schedule. However, if the Yotes fans thought that might help their team, they were wrong. Since their return from the break Phoenix have gone 0-2-0 with losses to San Jose and Vancouver. Both defeats were bitter pills to swallow as Phoenix blew a 3-0 lead against the Sharks to lose 5-3 and were shut-out against Vancouver, at home, as the Canucks stormed to a 6-0 victory.

Dave Tippett is of the belief that the Coyotes are just not skating hard enough.

"...We’ve got some things to sort out. You have to realize how hard it is to win; we don't have enough players playing hard enough to win."

Defensively the team looks very weak. Other than Keith Yandle, no defenseman can claim to have had a great year so far, which is not a good thing as the team enters the business end of the season. There is enough quality in the team and the coaching staff for the Coyotes to turn this slump around but they also need new faces in the franchise.

The Coyotes' next 2 games are at home and the first is against the Minnesota Wild, who are riding a wave of momentum at the moment. They then play the Colorado Avalanche before heading to Dallas for an important Pacific Division clash. Phoenix need to turn the Jobing.com Arena into a fortress and they need to do it in the next game against a team who have enjoyed scoring against the Coyotes this year. The Wild have won two of the three meetings against Phoenix this season so the Coyotes will be looking to even things up in their final game against each other. Puck drops at 6:00pm Saturday February 5th.

The race for the playoffs in the Western Conference is still agonisingly tight so the Coyotes need to start putting some daylight between themselves and the chasing pack.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Transfer Deadline Day: EPL

The January transfer window slammed shut at 11pm last night but not before we had seen some huge transfers. Liverpool were arguably the busiest of all Premier League clubs as they try to re-build their squad. Chelsea were also fairly busy and both the blues and the reds spent a record amount of cash. West Ham managed to strengthen their side, as did Sunderland.

Over 200 million pounds was spent in January, which dwarfed the paltry 29 million that was spent at this point last year. Some of the biggest signings included Bent (£24 Million) from Sunderland to Aston Villa, Dzeko (£27 Million) from Wolfsburg to Manchester City, Torres (£50 Million) from Liverpool to Chelsea, Luiz (£21.5 Million + Nemanja Matic) from Benfica to Chelsea, Carroll (£35 Million) from Newcastle to Liverpool and Suarez (£23.5 Million) from Ajax to Liverpool.


Statistics of note:

Andy Carroll's transfer fee is the most expensive between Premier League clubs in history (for a British player) after he was sold to Liverpool by Newcastle for a princely 35 Million.

Fernando Torres broke the Premier League transfer record after signing for Chelsea for 50 Million

Darren Bent is has cost more money than any other player in Premier League history if you count the costs of all of his transfers. If you think that is an odd one, bear in mind that no striker (other than Rooney and Drogba) has scored more goals in the last 5 seasons than Darren Bent.

Winners:

Liverpool – Potentially gone from bad to good overnight with the additions of Suarez and Carroll. Could be a devastating partnership. If they had managed to secure the services of Charlie Adam then it would have been the icing on the cake.

Chelsea – Managed to bag a fantastic young talent in David Luiz and finally got their man in Torres who we all know is an excellent player. Torres and Drogba up front? Terrifying.

Aston Villa – They have paid a lot for Bent, maybe too much, but they have a bona-fide goal scorer now and that is what they needed more than anything else. They should be OK.

Tottenham Hotspur – 3 Million for Pienaar? What. A. Steal.

West Ham UnitedRobbie Keane and Wayne Bridge bring plenty of talent and experience to a side that desperately needs it.

Losers:

Newcastle United – The 35 Million will help ease the pain but Newcastle have lost their best player and future talisman. With Ameobi as their best back-up striker, things might become very difficult for the Toon. Staying up is more important than ever now so that the 35 million can be put to use in the summer to bolster this team.

Everton - Losing Pienaar for such a small return is going to sting. They didn't pick anyone up to replace him either.

Stoke City – Stoke haven't really lost here, but fans of the Premier League have. John Carew's arrival at Stoke can only mean more of the same boring long ball, physical football that we have come to expect from Tony Pulis' side. Let the yawning commence.

Well that's all folks from an exciting transfer deadline day. It could be the biggest transfer period for a long time as well with those new rules coming in for the 2012-13 season so I hope you enjoyed it.

Did your team win or lose during the window? Let's hear some of your thoughts!

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