Tuesday, 31 May 2011

To Spend Or Not To Spend? EPL's Top Four Teams

Now that the football season is over and we have our full line-up for the 2011/12 Premier League season, I thought it would be a good idea to take a quick look at all the teams who will be fighting for EPL glory come August and see where, if anywhere, they need to improve.

Manchester United are interested in several EPL players such as Gary Cahill and Ashley Young, but I doubt they will make significant moves for them. Man U need a goalkeeper first and foremost now that Van Der Sar has retired. They are perfectly capable in midfield and up front but they could do with some defensive help though as Rio Ferdinand is looking increasingly frail at the back and is fairly injury prone. Perhaps they could tempt Brede Hangeland away from Fulham?

Chelsea desperately need to bring in some youth. If you look at their top players; Lampard, Drogba, Terry and Cech, they are all over 30 now. They need to bring through a new team. I'd love it if they tried to do it from within or through buying English players, but they will probably look for foreign talent instead. They have been rumoured to be interested in Gary Cahill but it isn't likely the Bolton star will head to Stamford Bridge. Brazilian left-back Neymar is also a prime target for the Blues.

Where do you start with Man City? They have all the money in the world and they can buy any player they want. They have spent a lot of money over the last couple of years and I think the best thing for them to do is shed the driftwood at the club and try to keep the best players together to try and get past the inconsistency that plagues them because they rotate their squad so much.

I admire Wenger for trying to build a squad without spending money and concentrating on bringing youth players through the Arsenal system. However, the football world has changed and if Arsenal want to compete for trophies again then they have to spend money. There are several players that could better Arsenal's fortunes next year including, Gary Cahill, Dimitar Berbatov, Ashley Young, Scott Parker. More than anything Arsenal need a great goalkeeper and two great centrebacks so look for the Gunners to be busy over the summer. 

Keep checking back for the next set of teams!

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Premier League New-Boys

With every new Premier League season comes three new teams eager to try and slug it out with the best clubs England has to offer. This year the Premier League welcomes Queens Park Rangers (QPR), who won the Championship title, Norwich City, who got second place and Swansea City, who won the playoffs.

Both QPR and Norwich have been in the Premier League before but this will be a brand new experience for Swansea who have yet to get to the Premiership since its inception in 1992. In fact, Swansea become the first Welsh team into the Premier League after a dramatic victory over Reading. 

How will these teams fare?

Most of the time the promoted teams start off well. They have nothing to lose and they tend to surprise some of the bigger teams with determined performances that run on adrenaline. However, as the season goes on, at least two of the teams often struggle with Blackpool's recent season being a great example of that. 

A lot of it depends on how the teams act in the transfer window over the summer. Rarely does a promoted team perform well in the Premiership without spending some money improving their squads. With that in mind, QPR should be best placed out of all the new teams to retain their newly acquired Premier League status because they are the richest of the three clubs.

Personally, I would like to see Swansea stay up because I like the football they play. They keep the ball on the ground and they like to pass and move. However, they will struggle to stay up if they don't improve all over the pitch and add some Premiership experience in the vital areas at the back and in the centre of midfield.

Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to seeing these new teams take on the EPL ever-presents and hopefully give them a run for their money.

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Monday, 30 May 2011

Vancouver Canucks vs Boston Bruins: The Stanley Cup Final

The Conference Finals are over and we have finally reached the Stanley Cup Final. What a series this promises to be as well with the Boston Bruins taking on the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games and looked very comfortable all over the ice. San Jose, especially Joe Thornton, put in a lot of effort, but they could not compete with Vancouver's determination to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since '94.

The Bruins overcame the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in one of the best series' of the Playoffs so far. Tampa Bay exploded offensively, like we know they can, several times throughout the series and scored plenty of goals. Their special teams were excellent as always and they were more than a match for the Bruins who probably went into the series as favourites. However, I think the fact that the Bruins are a better 5-on-5 team than the Bolts was the big decider in the end. The size advantage started to tell as the series went on too.

It was almost a fairytale story for 41 year-old Bolts' goalie Dwayne Roloson who put in some fantastic performances throughout these playoffs, perhaps none better than in the last game. Unfortunately for Roloson, another wily veteran in Tim Thomas sat between the pipes for Boston and played just as well.

How do the two teams stack up going into the final?

Well, I would say that Boston are the bigger team, but Vancouver have some heavy hitters too in Raffi Torres and Kevin Bieksa. Vancouver probably have the better (and deeper) defence and have more of a scoring threat from their defence too with Ehrhoff and Edler. Going forward you would also give Vancouver the edge now that the Sedin twins have decided to show up. Horton and Krejci have been fantastic for Boston and I would be surprised not to see them step up again. Kaberle, Seidenberg and Chara have also been as solid as ever and Patrice Bergeron has shown his quality in the faceoff circle too.

I think the one area that Boston are ahead on for sure is goaltending but that isn't to say that Luongo isn't an outstanding goalie on his day. Thomas just has added experience and comes off the back of a particularly amazing season.

It should be a great series and I can see it being a very close one. Both teams have been solid at home and I would not be surprised to see both teams win all of their home games, with the Canucks taking home their first ever Stanley Cup in seven.

My Prediction: Canucks 4 – 3 Bruins

Will it be Vancouver's time?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Stay with Your Armchair Pundit over the summer!

Yes the EPL season is over and yes the NHL season will be over very soon.

However, don't despair! Your Armchair Pundit will be with you throughout the summer to keep you fully updated with all the trade and transfer rumours and dealings.

So remember to keep checking back regularly to see how your teams are faring over the summer.

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Sunday, 22 May 2011

The 2010/11 Premier League season is over!

Another season has finished and it's time for a quick round-up of how things finished at the top and bottom of the table. 

As we already knew, Manchester United are Premier League champions once again with Chelsea finishing in second place and Manchester City coming in third. Arsenal, who only a few weeks ago were challenging for the title, fell into fourth place winning only one of their last six Premier League games. Things need to change at the Emirates for Arsenal to recapture the glory of the late 90s and early 00s. Tottenham Hotspur edged out Liverpool to finish fifth and qualify for another year of European football, albeit the Europa League and not the Champion`s League.

The other big story at the end of the season concerns the teams that have been relegated. Falling at the last hurdle this year were Birmingham and Blackpool who join West Ham in preparation for the Championship.

Blackpool had started the season so well and were high flyers in December, looking at possible European qualification. However, as I predicted, those good times did not last long and Blackpool started to plummet down the table. Their gung-ho style of football was never going to work in the long run with the squad they have.

Birmingham fans will be looking back on a bittersweet season that saw them capture the Carling Cup (defeating Arsenal in the process) and get relegated. I think if you ask most Birmingham fans, they would trade the Cup for Premier League status but at least they have something to smile about. I had predicted that Birmingham would struggle to stay up despite their Cup success because the squad was playing like a team who believed it had done its job after winning a major trophy. They simply failed to find the same form in the Premier League as they had in the Carling Cup.

Scott Parker will be on the move
West Ham were relegated a week or so ago and it has been a long time coming for the Hammers. They have been on the verge of relegation since they came back to the Premier League a few years ago. Hammers' captain, Scott Parker, will be highly sought after over the summer so it should be interesting to see who bags him. Arsenal could really do with a player like Parker who can keep running hard for 90 minutes and put in a strong tackle. 
Come back in a couple of weeks to find out who has been promoted to the Premiership along with QPR and Norwich and how the new teams stack up. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The NHL Conference Finals: Predictions

We are getting to the business end of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and the four teams left are Vancouver, San Jose, Boston and Tampa Bay. I guess the only surprising team there is Tampa Bay because they had to go through both Pittsburgh and Washington to get to the Eastern Conference final. However, they have shown, particularly through their special teams, that they are more than a match for any side.

Let's take a look at the match-ups. 

Eastern Conference:

Boston Bruins (3) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (5)

Right now the series stands at 1-1. Tampa exploded offensively in the first period of the first game, scoring three goals in around 85 seconds. That was too much for the Bruins to contend with and they could not get themselves back into the game, losing it 5-2. However, in the second game, it was the Bruins, led by rookie Tyler Seguin, who exploded offensively, putting 6 past the Lightning who pulled Roloson. The game ended 6-5 to Boston after a late rally from the Bolts.

It is hard to see how the rest of the series will pan out but I can't help but think that Boston's size and defensive ability will swing the series in their favour. Yes the Lightning have huge scoring potential but I am not sure if they can score as freely as they did in the first game for four games. I think the team that wins this series will have to thank their goalie in a massive way.

My Prediction: Bruins 4 – 2 Bolts

Western Conference:

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs San Jose Sharks (3)

The two perennial underachieving franchises in the NHL are clashing in the Western Conference final. Out of the two teams I think Vancouver are the more complete side but you can't count out a team that includes Joe Thornton, Danny Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and the red hot Ryan Clowe.

However, it is defensively where Vancouver are considerably better than their Sun Belt counterparts and I think that will win them the series. Ryan Kesler will also play a huge part, and you have to think that the Sedins will, at some point, heat up and play to their potential. This should be a close series but I think the Canucks will triumph in the end.

My Prediction: Canucks 4 – 2 Sharks

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Congrats to Manchester City and Manchester United!

Both sets of Manchester fans will be celebrating hard tonight as The Citizens have won the FA Cup Trophy (their first success in 35 years) and Manchester United have won the Premier League title once again (making them the most successful club in English history).

Well done!

There is one game left in this 2010/11 Premier League season but remember to stick with Your Armchair Pundit throughout the summer to hear all the latest news and views on transfer dealings. It promises to be a big summer as clubs such as Liverpool, Arsenal, Man City and Newcastle all look to spend money improving their squads. 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Reds get their man

It is official, Kenny Dalglish is going to continue on as Liverpool manager for at least the next three seasons. I think this is great news for the club and the fans. Dalglish was at the helm at the time of Liverpool's dominance in the 80s before they relinquished their top dog status to Manchester United. Since then Liverpool have been a shadow of their former selves, hiring average coaches and buying average players. While they have won memorable trophies such as the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup and the Champion's League in the last 20 years, they have not captured the Premier League title once since it's introduction back in 1992/93.

As of today, Liverpool have also lost their place as the most successful English club of all time to their great rivals, Manchester United. With the return of Dalglish, Liverpool's fans and board will hope that the rebuild of their massive club is well and truly underway. It will take time for sure but I guarantee that both the players at the club and the fans who flock to Anfield for every home game believe that they now have the right man in charge to try and bring back League successes.

Along with Dalglish, Steve Clarke also signed a three year contract which is more positive news for Liverpool. Clarke is one of the best coaches in the game right now and was one of the biggest reasons for Chelsea's successes during his time there between 2004 and 2008. Along with Dalglish, Clarke is also credited for turning Liverpool's season around.

Club captain and Liverpool native Steven Gerrard is very pleased with the latest news, “"Before he [Dalglish] came in everyone knew it was a difficult time as results were not going well, but sometimes all you need is a change. The last six months has been a lot more positive.”

Will 'King Kenny' make Liverpool a force once more?
The big question is, can Dalglish take the Merseyside club back to the top of English football? In his last tenure, Dalglish led the club to three league crowns - and fans will be desperate for him to add to that tally. I can see positive things in Liverpool's future but I can't see them winning the title in the next three years, not with Manchester City improving so rapidly and Manchester United still as dominant as ever. Even Chelsea and Arsenal are a little way ahead of The Reds right now.

They do have some fantastic talent at the club with Suarez, Carroll, Miereles, Reina and Gerrard, however Dalglish still has some catching up to do!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Where did Chelsea come from??

Just a few weeks ago we were condemning Chelsea to a battle for a Champion's League spot. The race for the Title was between Arsenal and Manchester United only. However, in true Arsenal style, they choked at the wrong moment and have seen their season implode on itself. When that happened we practically gave the Title to Man Utd. However, Chelsea have come out of nowhere to challenge the Red Devils and tomorrow the two teams will go head to head in a game that will decide who takes top spot in the League with only two games to go.

It was only two months ago that Chelsea were 15 points behind Manchester United and seemingly out of the Title picture. In fact, Chelsea have not been in first place since Nov. 22nd. However a run of great results have allowed Chelsea to creep back up towards United who have faltered several times recently including a massive loss last week to Arsenal. Typical of Arsenal to leave it til it is too late for themselves to actually win an important game.

Anyway, Arsenal's win has made tomorrow's fixture a make or break game for Chelsea. Ancelotti has stated that, “For us (Chelsea), it's like a final.” Ancelotti looked to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge at the end of the season because of how disappointing Chelsea's season has been up to this point. However, if he were to win the EPL then you would think his job would be secure.

Ancelotti: Can he save Chelsea's season?
Ancelotti's opposite number, Fergie, believes Manchester United will win the Title should they beat Chelsea tomorrow afternoon. Fergie is banking on the Red Devils' home form to be the deciding factor between the two sides, "Our home form is a big advantage. That's the reason we're there [on top].”

As well as Chelsea have done to get themselves back into this position I think getting a win at Old Trafford against a United side that always finish the season very strong is just a bridge too far. I think United's midfield are stronger and have a better work ethic and, if they can stay strong at the back I don't see Chelsea getting many chances.

This will be a closely fought game and emotions will run high. Because of that, I wouldn't be surprised to see a red card.

My Prediction: Manchester United 2 – 0 Chelsea.