About Me

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I'm 21-year old Journalism student based in Leicester and a bit of a football obsessive. You'll probably guess from my blog posts that I'm a Liverpool fan and you'd be correct. I post on here, Tumblr and the Kop and also have a Twitter (@MattKenny_LFC) page. Comments are always welcome so have a read and tell me what you think.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Torres exit means Owen now the lesser of two evils

It’s easy to forget how good a player Michael Owen was for Liverpool now that he has effectively been wiped from the club’s history books. Once a hero to the Kop, Owen wronged the club that produced him on three separate occasions (leaving to Madrid for a minimal fee, returning to play for Newcastle and joining bitter rivals Manchester United); performing acts of treason that hurt that little bit more because he was an English lad that we thought respected the fans.

I never thought I could feel as much hate and disappointment towards a player as I did when Michael signed for United, but after the actions of a certain Spanish striker I might have to reconsider my opinions and maybe even apologise to Owen. For now he is the lesser of two evils.

Owen left Anfield for the Bernabau in 2004, for a measly £8m plus the infamous Antonio Nunez, after 18 months of failed contract talks in which it seemed the striker was committing his future at least once a week. The promises that a new deal would be “signed soon” were false and by the time he decided he wanted to leave the club, Owen had ran down his current contract and left Liverpool in a woeful bargaining position with potential suitors. Whether this was the England forward’s plan all along is for you to decide.

When Real Madrid came calling Michael’s head was turned and he was never going to look back. So without a care in the world Owen jetted off to sunny Spain leaving David Moores and Rick Parry to count the transfer fee they had received; an act that should have taken three times as long considering the player was worth at least £24m.

Losing your star striker always hurts and Owen’s departure wasn’t the perfect start to the Benitez era. But despite the disappointment, there wasn’t that sense of sadness that all Reds felt when Fowler left for Leeds in 2001. The Anfield faithful would miss the finishing expertise of Owen but his personality left a lot to be desired and he never had the same connection with the fans as a Dalglish for instance. Many fans had grown tired of Owen’s injury problems and felt that his international career was always his priority.

After breaking onto the scene at the 1998 World Cup with a magnificent solo goal against Argentina, Owen was always going to be built up as the great new hope. The entire country idolised him and from that moment on it felt like he was “England’s Michael Owen” rather than “Liverpool’s Michael Owen”, something that didn’t sit well at Anfield.

Liverpool fans have always had a special bond with their players, especially star strikers, and many hoped that Owen could become the next in a long line of idols to pull on the red shirt. As well as being great players, icons were expected to symbolise the club and to embody the spirit of the supporters (as Kenny did by attending so many funeral after Hillsborough and Fowler did by supporting the dock workers) but despite his incredible scoring rate it never quite felt like Owen was one of us. The lack of chemistry helped to make the parting bearable and made it easier to hate the player. With Torres, it isn’t so easy.

Fernando Torres became Liverpool’s record signing in 2007 and as soon as fans caught a glimpse of that infectious smile they were in love, there was a new messiah. Upon his arrival Torres said all the right things, he stated his respect for the club, his excitement at the prospect of playing at Anfield and told of his ambitions to become Liverpool legend. The Spaniard spoke with a glint in his eye and fans hung on his every word. Torres seemed very much a Liverpool player and seemed like someone the great Bill Shankly would’ve approved of wearing the red shirt. He was everything Owen was not, it wasn’t all about him, he had better offers but he wanted to play for Liverpool.

He backed up his bold words on the pitch too and by the end of his first season at the club Torres had broken all sorts of record after scoring an unprecedented 31 goals. That great debut season turned out to be the peak of Torres’ Liverpool career and the same injury problems that plagued Owen began to take their toll on the former Atletico man. His goal-to-games ratio remained the best in the league though and after just 12 months on Merseyside he had established himself as the club’s new talisman. The problem for Liverpool was that Torres’ great goals seemed to be spaced apart by month long layoffs and they could not afford to replace him due to the strangehold Tom Hicks and George Gillett had on the club.

The financial meltdown was worsening every year and it had become obvious to fans that progress would never be achieved until the American owners were replaced with some more favourable foreigners. Tabloids began to talk about a possible Torres exit as early as 2009 but the thought of Liverpool’s number nine moving to a club like Chelsea was one that amused fans more than worried them. We knew better than the press, we knew that Torres loved the club and would stay through the badtimes because he wanted to become a legend.

For a while it seemed that the fans could be right as Torres committed his future to the club before the 2010/11 season, despite countryman Rafa Benitez’s sacking and the disasterous 7th place finish that meant no Champions League football. Roy Hodgson had been appointed as his replacement and a new era had begun. The change did little to reinvigorate Torres and seemed to depress him more than anything. He had left his boyhood club in search of silverware and after three seasons he had nothing to show for his efforts.

For the next six months a look of distain was permanently engraved onto the face of Fernando Torres and his form had dipped to the extent that he was unrecognisable on the pitch. There was the odd moment of class and his goal record remained respectable despite his obvious unhappiness but it was his lack of effort and commitment that really upset fans. In his first two seasons Torres would chase everything down and he built up a reputation as a player who could not be kicked out of a game. Fans still remember John Terry trying and failing to rough him up on his debut. Back to 2010 and defenders didn’t even have to try to take Torres out of the game, he was doing it himself.

Come January and the transfer window and speculation was once again rife about Torres’s future. Talk of a move to Chelsea was constant but fans continued to bat away suggestions of unrest despite all that had gone on in the first half of the season. “If he was to leave he would go abroad”, fans would say. Torres loved the club too much to play against it. Most expected the Spaniard would see the new owners and the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as a step in the right direction, a step closer to the progress he wanted to see. It wasn’t to be and soon would come the news that fans thought they’d never hear. Torres wanted to move to Chelsea.

The revelation that Torres had handed in a transfer request crushed fans’ perceptions of a man they thought understood them and the Liverpool way. All previous talk of commitment was confirmed as lies and Torres had become a villain as quickly as he became a hero. Perhaps he did love the club; perhaps his motives for leaving were valid, but the manner in which he left means that his side of the story will never be considered by Liverpool supporters.

I saw one quote in the aftermath of Torres’ exit that summarised the situation better than any article could:

“We hate you so much because we loved you so much.”

Fans got over Owen relatively quickly because he never had that bond with the supporters. The scars left by this transfer will take a lot longer to heal because Torres was one of us. Atleast we thought he was.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool - Match report 6/2/11

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool - Match report 6/2/11


Meireles ‘69

Fernando Torres’s debut ended in defeat as former-club Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Raul Meireles scored the only goal of them game to give the Anfield side a well-earned three points and the bragging rights after Monday’s deadline day drama.

Torres had the best chance of the early exchanges after former teammate Maxi Rodriguez appeared to forget what team the Spaniard was on and played him through on goal but the resulting shot sailed over the bar.

The home side had the majority of the possession in the first half but struggled to break down an organised Liverpool side that were more than willing to sit back in their new 3-4-2-1 formation.

The Reds appeared to be getting the better of the £50m man with Lucas easily dispossessing Torres before Agger became the first LFC player to foul the Spaniard, much to the delight of the travelling supporters.

The ex-Red nearly got his revenge minutes later though. Lucas was dispossessed on the halfway line and Torres was sent through one-on-one with Reina but just as the Chelsea striker’s magic moment appeared to have arrived, Jamie Carragher slid in with a last ditch tackle to deny his former teammate.

Liverpool’s best chance came on the half hour mark when Steven Gerrard squared to Maxi Rodriguez, but the Argentine continued his nightmare half by inexplicably hitting the bar from all of three yards.

Chelsea’s three pronged attack were struggling to make an impact as Liverpool’s packed defence neutralised the threat of Torres, Drogba and Anelka during a relatively comfortable first 45 minutes for the visitors.

The tension appeared to be getting to the Chelsea backline when Ivanovic and Cech clashed after confusion over a Martin Kelly in what was a frustrating first half for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

It was a slow start to the second half with neither team creating many chances. Liverpool came close through a long range shot from Glen Johnson whilst Chelsea were limited to set piece opportunities.

Kenny Dalglish’s team appeared to be growing in confidence as they committed more men forward and a foray forward by Johnson resulted in a dangerous freekick for the vistors but Raul Meireles’ cross was easily caught by Cech.

The Portuguese midfielder was on target on 67 minutes though as Liverpool scored the opening goal. Gerrard crossed from the right and after Cech completely missed the ball Meireles was there to score his 4th goal in 5 games.

As the jubilant Reds fans celebrated, the camera panned to a solemn-looking Torres, who had been subbed for Kalou, who may have been regretting his move as he sat on the bench during what was meant to be his dream debut.

The goal did little to change the complexion of the game however, as Chelsea continued to dominate possession without really threatening Pepe Reina’s goal. Carlo Ancelotti decided to bring on David Luiz for his debut as his team desperately searched for an equalizer.

It was Liverpool who came closest to scoring though when Dirk Kuyt slid through substitute Fabio Aurelio who cleverly cut inside John Terry before seeing his effort comfortably saved by Petr Cech.

Fans would have expected a late rally from the home side but Chelsea continued to huff and puff with little result as they struggled to break down a resilient Liverpool side.

There was a late penalty appeal for the champions when Glen Johnson brought down Branislav Ivanovic in the area but their pleas were ignored as Liverpool held on for a famous win at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool now move up to 6th and Chelsea lie 10 points behind leaders Man United.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Dortmund vs Schalke - Match report 4/2/11

Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Schalke

Schalke earned a goalless draw in the Revierderby after a brilliant performance by Manuel Neuer denied the hosts Dortmund. BVB were dominant throughout the majority of the match, hitting the post twice and seeing several efforts saved by the inspired Neuer.

Dortmund laid siege to the visitor’s goal from the moment the whistle was blown in what was a frenetic start at the Westfalenstadion with Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski and Mario Goetze both failing to beat the German stopper in the opening seven minutes.

Even centre half Mats Hummels came close for the hosts when he saw his spectacular overhead kick saved by Neuer.

Jurglen Klopp’s side continued to apply the pressure as Schalke struggled to get out of their own half in the opening 45 minutes, despite somewhat stabilising in defence after surviving the early onslaught.

The chances continued to fall to BVB though when Kuba intercepted a clearance before Neuer made another crucial stop.

The best chance of the first half fell to star striker Lucas Barrios who collected a clever pass from Goetze but the Paraguay international failed to keep his shot on target under pressure from Christoph Metzelder.

Schalke improved in the second half but that didn’t stop BVB from creating and missing a whole host of chances, with Barrios again the culprit. He saw a 51st minute effort sail comfortably wide before striking the post four minutes later. Sven Bender also had a chance for Die Schwarzgelben but Neuer was again well placed to save his effort.

Die Knappen began to threaten as the second half wore on with Jefferson Farfan firing over the bar before Jurado was denied by a brilliant Weidenfeller save.

Dortmund then had a chance of their own when Robert Lewandowski looked to chip his side into the lead but the outstanding Neuer came rushing out of his goal to make the block. The host’s final chance fell to Mario Goetze but he became the second BVB player to be denied by the woodwork after he took down a lofted pass before rounding Neuer.

The result means Dortmund extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points while Schalke move into 9th ahead of Frankfurt on 26 points.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Bari vs Inter Milan - Match report 3/2/11


Kharja ‘70

Pazzini ‘94

Sneijder ‘96

Inter managed to steal three points from an unlucky Bari side with a 3-0 win at the Stadio San Nicola.

New boy Houssine Kharja opened the scoring in the 63rd minute before fellow January signing Gaimpaolo Pazzini and Wesley Sneijder sealed the win in injury time.

Bari will count themselves unfortunate though after dominating possession and enjoying most of the good play in the first half in particular.

In a first half of few chances it was the home side who came closest after Sergio Almiron saw his long range freekick palmed away by Julio Cesar when it seemed destined for the top corner.

It was Almiron, along with Massimo Donati, who were dominating the midfield with Inter’s Kharja and Motta struggling to get a foothold on the game and Javier Zanetti spending most of the game covering the marauding Maicon.

Maicon was the biggest threat for Inter throughout the first half and it was he who came closest for the Nerazzuri when he saw his toe poke roll inches wide after another mazy run through the Bari backline.

Inter started to come into the game more as the half went on but struggled to break down an organised Bari side as the teams went into halftime with the score 0-0.

Bari continued in the same vain in the second half, enjoying the majority of possession without really testing the Inter back line of Maicon, Materazzi, Ranocchia and Christian Chivu.

The big talking point of the game involved Chivu who appeared to punch Bari defender Marco Rossi. The officials failed to send the Romanian off but he is sure to receive a ban and a warning in the near future.

You could sense the frustration among the home team and the fans and it wasn’t long before Leonardo’s side made them pay for their lack of cutting edge as the introduction of Sneijder changed the game.

Ten minutes after the Dutchman was brought on Inter took the lead when Eto’o drew in two defenders before slipping the ball to Kharja who struck a low left-footed drive past the helpless Gillett.

Giampiero Ventura’s side tried to get back into the game but were denied by an inspired Julio Cesar before Pazzini and Sneijder scored in injury time to secure the win for the Champions.

The result means Bari are 5 points behind Brescia at the bottom of the Serie A table whilst Inter’s recent revival sees them climb into third place.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Kenny's flexible tactics paying off

Many fans (myself included) were baffled when they saw Kenny Dalglish’s line up for the match against Stoke on Wednesday and I must’ve jotted down 5 or 6 possible formations after studying the teamsheet. It reminded me of when Rafa Benitez was manager and the press would joke about his ‘rotating’ and the fact you could never quite guess who he was going to pick.

While this may be frustrating for the media, I find it refreshing and think it can only benefit Liverpool FC if opposition cannot second guess the manager. It makes us a lot harder to prepare for. This is in stark contrast to the style of Roy Hodgson which was as rigid and predictable as seemingly possible. Last night Kenny picked a team featuring six players who are defenders by trade as well as Lucas, Raul Meireles, Gerrard and Kuyt. Anything but predictable then..

At first I suspected we would see a 4-4-1-1 with four tall defenders in Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger making up the back four to combat the aerial strength of Stoke. I then assumed the attack minded Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio would play on the wings as many fans have hoped they would do. It turned out I couldn’t be more wrong and instead of a more conventional formation we saw a 3-4-2-1 that turned into a 5-3-1-1 when defending (which wasn’t very often).

The formation looked something like:

Once I got my head around what the formation was I started to understand why Kenny had selected the players in their respective positions. It was obvious that Kyrgiakos was selected to combat the supposed aerial prowess of Stoke and Kelly and Johnson’s roles as wingbacks were designed to help the Reds hit the Potters on the break. On paper it appeared to be quite shrewd, Stoke typically play with Fuller and Carew/Jones up front and take advantage of set pieces to great effect. What Dalglish didn’t know was that Tony Pulis had chosen to rest Kenwyne Jones and Rory Delap leaving Stoke void on any attacking threat besides the isolated Jermaine Pennant.

Stoke lined up 4-5-1 and decided to put 10 men behind the ball from the very start. With Liverpool also set up to counter attack this meant the game became very congested in the centre of the field with the Reds struggling in the early stages. As the game went on though the merits of the new formation began to show and we saw some great passing moves involving Aurelio, Lucas and Kuyt, who had one of his best games in a long time.

Another player benefitting from the new system was Daniel Agger who was afforded the licence to bring the ball out of defence and make those graceful runs forward that are becoming so typical of the Dane. Agger’s penetrating play proved to be the extra dimension the Reds needed and led to the opening goal as one of his marauding runs led to him being brought down by Salif Diao. Steven Gerrard took the resulting freekick which deflected into the path of Raul Meireles who took the ball under control and lashed in his 3rd goal in 4 games.

Lucas Leiva is another player who is thriving in the Kenny Dalglish regime and his quiet yet effective performance allowed Meireles and Gerrard to roam behind the lone striker Kuyt. Once a player that caused Liverpool fans to flinch when given the ball, Lucas is now one of the most reliable and composed midfielders in the division. Stats showed that his pass success rate was 89% which underlines just how comfortable the Brazilian has become in possession. His new found confidence on the ball can surely be credited to Dalglish whose pass and move principles have also allowed Meireles, Agger and Johnson to thrive as footballers instead of cogs in Hodgson’s rigid machine.

Debutant Luis Suarez had to settle for a place on the bench but he made up for lost time in the second half as he made an impressive 25 minute cameo. What I noticed straight away was the quality of his movement and his constant aware ness of who was around him. One of the biggest problems for Liverpool in recent years has been a lack of movement off the ball in attack, which has meant the Reds have struggled to break opposition down on numerous occasions. Considering the former Ajax man had not even had a chance to train with his new teammates it made his performance that bit more impressive and is a testament to his natural football ability. He capped off his performance with a goal, though his finish was perhaps his worst touch of the match. Suarez burst through the Stoke defence and rounded Begovic before scuffing a finish in via a deflection and the post to give the Reds a 2-0 win.

Overall I think things are looking a lot rosier under Dalglish. The defence has been sorted out and three clean sheets on the bounce show just how big an impact Kenny and Steve Clarke have had. Players are now enjoying their football and appear willing to play in any position or formation for the manager, which is the complete opposite of under Hodgson when players didn’t even want to play in their favoured positions.

With Agger fit and firing, Stevie and Meireles getting towards their best, Lucas improving all their time, Suarez just getting started and Carroll still to return things are looking good for Liverpool. Long may it continue and long live the King.

What defines a successful football career?

Ever since Fernando Torres kicked Liverpool into touch to move to Chelsea there has been talk of ‘furthering careers’, ‘ambition’ and ‘success’. Torres was at one of the biggest clubs in the world on a big contract, he was the star and scored plenty of goals but this wasn’t enough for the Spaniard which has led me to ask the question: what defines a successful career?

First I decided to look up the definition of success so that I could better understand attitudes towards player’s or club’s levels of achievement. The definition reads:

“1. attainment of wealth, position, honours, or the like.

2. a successful performance or achievement”

The general consensus among the media and fans is that Torres moved to Stamford Bridge in order to win honours and achieve his career goals. Liverpool may not have won any trophies during his 3 year spell but they were still successful enough to be considered an elite club and Torres met all of the above criteria for success apart from ‘attainment of honours’.

Wealth: Torres was one of the best paid players in world football during his time at Liverpool.

Position: Torres was undoubtedly Liverpool’s star player and was/still is considered one of the best in the world in his position.

Successful performance: The Spanish striker broke a number of goalscoring records for Liverpool.

In football though, trophies are seen as the real marker of success for a top player. Saving your club from relegation or topping the goalscoring charts is not enough to satify a player’s ambitions, see Charlie Adam and Darren Bent. Both feel that they need to be at a big club if they are to make a success of their career (Bent got his wish, Adam did not).

Loyalty is rare in the modern game and the vast amounts of money available to the teams mean that midtable clubs are always likely to lose their best players. Gone are the likes of Matt Le Tissier, who spent his entire career at Southampton despite numerous offers to play at a higher level.

The success (of lack of success) achieved by Le Tissier is often debated and many pinpoint the forward’s lack of ambition as a reason for his one-club career. But despite never playing in Europe or winning trophies he had a career that many great probably envy. He consistently scored great goals and is far and away Southampton’s best ever player, a tag that will mean he is forever remembered despite the lack of medals he has to show his children. Fans will always talk about how great Le Tissier was and argue about whether he should be admired or criticised for his loyalty. He has a special place in football history that is far more exclusive than that taken up by those with extensive honours on their CV.

Compare his career to someone like Wes Brown or John O’Shea whose medal collections mean that they are unanimously seen as successful. They may have won countless titles and cups but they are truly forgettable players, even from a Man United fan’s perspective. Years after their retirement they will be a distant memory in the minds of even the most avid supporters because they have spent the majority of their careers picking up trophies by sitting the sidelines. Is that success?

Steven Gerrard’s football career has been spent exclusively at Liverpool and as their captain he was won every honour in the game apart from that elusive league title. In 2005 and 2006 he came close to leaving Anfield for Stamford Bridge in a desperate effort to fill that single gap in his personal trophy cabinet before performing a spectacular U-turn. Gerrard changed his mind and decided that a league title at Liverpool would mean more than 10 at Chelsea. Since then he has been lauded for his loyalty but I don’t believe he should be praised for staying true to a club that has given him everything.

Gerrard may never win a league title but he will without a doubt be thought of as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players and one of the finest midfielders of his generation. Torres may celebrate many title successes alongside the likes of John Terry and Didier Drogba but he has surrendered his chance to become a true legend, a player that will be remember fondly by Liverpool fans for decades to come. Now his goals will be greeted with bitterness, with that sense of what could have been, like a modern-day Stan Collymore.

When Gerrard retires at the end of his career and is given the greatest of send offs by the Kop,Torres may look at his medals (if he wins any) and his bank account and think “was it worth it?” I for one don’t think it will be.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Poor punditry as Stoke unfairly stereotyped

As a Liverpool fan I am very privileged to have the majority of my team’s games live on TV and more often than not we are allocated a substantial slot on Match of the Day. This got me thinking, what must it be like supporting a team who are never on TV and who are subjected to 3 minutes of highlights on a Saturday night.

The quality of punditry in this country is very low and the so-called experts more often than not don’t know (and don’t wish to know) anything about players outside the ‘big teams’. It’s no surprise then that this attitude spills over to your casual football fan, who begin to pick up the stereotypes and lazy assumptions that the likes of Shearer, Gray and Hansen spurt out week after week.

The team in question and the subject of this blog are Stoke City football club. Tony Pulis’ side were promoted to the Premier League in 2008 and as with any new top flight team they were patronised by the media. “We don’t know a lot about them but they’ll work hard and make it difficult for the opposition” is the type of sentence you will hear regularly in relation to the likes of Wigan, Bolton and of course Stoke. The media’s attitude towards them is very much ‘we don’t know them and we don’t want to know them’.

It’s often said that staying in the Premier League is one of the toughest tasks in football, so you’d expect that the Potters would receive tremendous amounts of praise after they exceeded expectations by finishing comfortably in 12th in 08/09. Stoke never got that ‘well done’ though and by the end of their first season they had developed a reputation for being a long ball side whose only attacking weapon was the long throw of Rory Delap. Quite how pundits came to this conclusion I do not know, as their only experience of Stoke is through heavily edited 3 minute clips which are impossible to judge a team’s performance from.

Stoke are often labelled ‘anti-football’ which implies that there is a right and a wrong way to play the game. Although Barcelona and Arsenal play a beautiful passing game, I would not say that this idealistic interpretation of football should be adopted by every team. Part of the intrigue of the game is the difference in styles of different sides and clashes between them. Sadly, the Sky era means that there has to be a story behind every game, a favourite, and an underdog. Teams such as Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea have obvious identities and the media do not need to make false stereotypes at their expense.

Unfashionable sides are different story though and it’s far easier for fans, Sky and the BBC to watch 5 minutes of Stoke before labelling them ‘dirty’ and packaging them as the team everybody hates to play due to their ‘physical approach’ than to actually watch their games.

In reality, Stoke are actually a decent team whose squad is packed full of very capable players such as Matthew Ethrington, Sanli Tuncay, Ricardo Fuller, Jermaine Pennant and Glen Whelan. Tony Pulis likes to play to his team’s strengths, namely their towering centre backs and the aerial prowess of Kenwyne Jones but there’s nothing wrong with that and why should he set his team out to play tiki-taka if he does not have the personnel to do so? That doesn’t make them a dirty side though; stats show that Stoke play well within the rules. They do not have a player in the top 10 for fouls or yellow cards (unlike Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and last season there were 5 teams below them in the fair play table. One statistic that may shock fans is that the Potters lie 14th in this season’s fair play standings with Arsenal one place below them (what a surprise that would be to the media!) in 15th.

Teams who believe what the media say about Stoke get a great shock when they realise that the Staffordshire side can actually knock the ball about, are more organised than dirty and are very capable of outplaying a side rather than bullying them. They may use the Delapidator whenever they can but what team wouldn’t take advantage of such a weapon?

Stoke are now in their third season in the top flight and look set for their best finish yet with the team sitting high in 10th. Maybe they will start to get more respect when fans and media realise than the Potters are not one-dimensional and they are here to stay, I wouldn’t count on it though.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Liverpool vs Fulham Match Report - 26/1/11

Liverpool 1-0 Fulham

Pantsil (own goal) ‘52

Liverpool capped a great week with a scrappy 1-0 win over an unlucky Fulham at Anfield.

The only goal of the game came just after the break when a Fernando Torres shot deflected onto the post before John Pantsil fired into his own net amidst a goalmouth scramble.

Mark Hughes’ side dominated the game for the majority of the second half though and Brede Hangeland nearly scored a deserved equaliser late on when his header was cleared off the line.

Moussa Dembele also had a great chance to earn a point for the cottagers but his close range effort was expertly saved by Pepe Reina.

Although the Reds’ performance may not have been impressive, new manager Kenny Dalglish will be encouraged by the fight his players showed to survive a late Fulham rally and hang on to a valuable three points.

The win is the second in a week for manager Kenny Dalglish and his team are now sitting in a European place meaning fans can finally look up rather than down at the relegation places they so often occupied under Roy Hodgson.

Fulham remain near the foot of the table though after struggling to break down the home side in a game in which both sides struggled to convert possession into chances.

It looked as though Liverpool were off to a perfect start as the in-form Raul Meireles slid a perfect pass through to Fernando Torres who controlled well before coolly slotting past keeper David Stockdale, only for the linesman to disallow the goal for offside.

The Fulham stopper was in top form minutes later though, rookie fullback Martin Kelly whipped in a great cross which was flicked towards goal by Meireles and seemingly heading for the bottom corner before Stockdale brilliantly turned it around the post.

He was in action again later in the half, tipping over a swerving effort from Glen Johnson and a 20-yard strike from returning captain Steven Gerrard.

The vistors were begin to frustrate their Merseyside hosts and started to come into the game more and more as the half went on, missing two guilt edge chances in quick succession.

The first fell to Clint Dempsey who capitalised on a mistake by Martin Kelly before seeing his left foot effort parried by Reina and desperately cleared by the Reds defence.

Daglish’s men were panicking again minutes later when former Everton striker Andy Johnson beat Kelly with ease before squaring to Dembele who inexplicably missed from close range when he shot straight at Reina.

It looked as if a goal may never come but seven minutes into the second half there was finally a breakthrough.

A Torres shot was deflected onto the post by Brede Hangeland before Stockdale appeared to palm the ball against Pantsil who fired into his own net.

The goal was a scrappy one but it is the type of luck that has so often being missing for the Reds this season and if the recently sacked Roy Hodgson was watching he would have wondered why that couldn’t have happened during his reign at Anfield.

The visitors piled forward for the remainder of the game, desperately seeking that elusive equaliser and even throwing centre back Hangeland forward as Hughes’ men took a more direct approach.

The move nearly paid off when Hangeland connected with a corner only to see his powerful header cleared off the line by Meireles.

Fulham again went close when Dempsey nodded down a Murphy freekick to Dembele but his close range effort was saved by Reina as Liverpool clung onto their second win in as many games.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

LFC Target Adam continues to prove Rangers wrong

As Rangers prepare to launch a £500,000 bid for Kris Commons to add some creativity to their midfield you can’t help but wonder if they could’ve saved that money and solved the problem with a player who should already be gracing the Ibrox pitch.

In 2009 manager Walter Smith accepted a bid of £500,000, the fee they are set to part with to sign Commons, for winger Charlie Adam from Blackpool, where he had enjoyed a successful loan spell. Fans were happy to see him go, concluding that Adam was lazy, overweight and too flash for a club that was built on hard work, grit and determination.

Fans of the Tangerines were happy to have him though and the Scottish midfielder continued to get to grips with the English game, moving into the centre and proving that his Hollywood passes should’ve been applauded instead of jeered during his time in Glasgow.

It wasn’t long before he was the focal point of the Blackpool side, with his incredible range of passing, deft touch and set piece expertise proving to be too much for the majority of the Championship.

Adam’s influence was beyond measurement and his 16 goals led Holloway’s team into the Playoffs where their talisman reigned supreme once again, scoring the winner in the final at Wembley and confirming Blackpool’s place in the Premier League against all the odds.

The club’s journey to the top flight was an unlikely one but not as unlikely as the ease with which they have taken to the division. Blackpool’s attacking approach, built around Adam, has left them with one of the best away records in the league and two wins over Liverpool have put their star player in the shop window.

Manager Ian Holloway is now dismissing bids eight times larger than the £500,000 he paid for Adam as ‘disgraceful’ which tells you all you need to know about the Scottish midfielder’s success at the Seasiders.

That is quite a transformation for a player who was once seen as a liability and benched for Old Firm and Champions League games so that his extravagant style wouldn’t result in a mistake. It now appears that Rangers were the ones who made the mistake in letting a talent like Charlie Adam out of their grasp.

With his career on the rise you wouldn’t bet against Charlie following in the footsteps of Souness, Dalglish and Liddell and becoming the next Scottish great to grace the Anfield turf in that famous red strip.

Liverpool vs Fulham - Match Preview

Liverpool come off the back of an impressive victory at Wolves hoping to make it two wins in five days as they come up against a resurgent Fulham at Anfield.

Saturday saw both sides continue their recent upturns in form with comfortable wins with Fulham downing Stoke 2-0 at Craven Cottage and the Reds outclassing Wolves 3-0 at Molineux.

That result was the first win for returning manager Kenny Dalglish and he will be hoping that his team can start to build some momentum as the Premier League season starts to reach its climax.

But if Liverpool fans thought this would be a guaranteed three points a few weeks ago then they will have surely changed their tune after Fulham picked up an impressive seven points out of nine to lift them out of the relegation zone.

Mark Hughes faced a difficult task as he took over from Roy Hodgson at Craven Cottage and after winning just two of his first 15 games the Welshman faced the chop. But while his side’s form picked up, his predecessor continued to struggle with the pressure that comes with the Anfield job and was relieved of his duties.

Both sides have got a severe case of the away day blues and have won just twice on the road between them which will make tomorrow’s trip to Merseyside even more difficult for the West London outfit. Having failed to win his first home game since returning Dalglish will be chomping at the bit to get three points and you can be sure that his players will come out all guns blazing to make sure he gets his wish.

Having reverted back to 4-2-3-1 and the pass and move principles that gave Dalglish so much success as a player, Liverpool are starting to hit top form and fans are starting to see the best of the likes of Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles who are suited to a passing game rather than the direct approach of Roy Hodgson.

Meireles in particular showed just how good he can be if played in the right position and Dalglish had nothing but praise for the Portuguese midfielder after his man of the match display against Wolves. He said:

“It takes a wee bit of adjusting getting up to speed with the Barclays Premier League and he’s getting up to that level; he’s a talented footballer.

“Since I came in Raul has been really impressive. He made the first goal and his strike was fantastic. He scored last week and I am sure that has given him confidence to go forward.”

The biggest threat to LFC’s shaky defence will be USA forward-cum-midfielder Clint Dempsey who has filled the void left by the injured Bobby Zamora to become Fulham’s top scorer this season with 8 league goals. Two of those came in Saturday’s win over Stoke and Hughes said of Dempsey’s recent goal-scoring exploits:

“Clint`s been great for me since I came here. He’s had an impact in every game he`s played. It`s been hard on Zoltan Gera because I`ve chosen Clint ahead of him, but because Clint`s done so well for me it`s been unfortunate for him.”

Liverpool will have captain Steven Gerrard back from suspension for the encounter and he is expected to come into the team to give the Reds a real boost. Gerrard’s inclusion will probably be the only change for the Dalglish’s team as he sticks with the rest of the side that demolished Wolves. Visitors Fulham are expected to be unchanged.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Team of the week. 22nd/23rd January

Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan) – Wigan Athletic may have lost 3-0 at the Emirates but the score would have been into double figures had it not been for Al-Habsi. The Oman goalkeeper saved numerous attempts as Arsenal relentlessly attacked throughout the first half.

Martin Kelly (Liverpool) – The rookie defender have been a permanent fixture under new manager Kenny Dalglish and you can see why after this performance. Kelly was up against the tricky Matt Jarvis but managed to keep him quiet all afternoon as Liverpool kept their first clean sheet in 6 games.

Richard Dunne (Aston Villa) - The former Manchester City defender revelled against his ex-club on Saturday as his team climbed out of the relegation zone with a fantastic win. Dunne has struggled for form lately but made last ditch challenge after last ditch challenge to make sure Villa’s lead stayed intact.

Brede Hangeland (Fulham) – Facing Stoke is always a tough task for a defender but Hangeland dealt with the aerial threat of Kenwyne Jones with ease as Fulham made it 7 points out of 9. The Norwegian international was not fazed by the Potters’ direct tactics and was a colossus for Mark Hughes’ side.

Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa) – One of the great successes of Gerard Houllier’s youth movement, Clark has been as good at left back as he was in midfield earlier in the season. The Villa youngster had a tough task being up against Adam Johnson but limited the England international to long range efforts.

Aaron Lennon (Spurs) – It’s been an inconsistent season for the England winger but he hit top form against Newcastle as he scored a brilliant last minute equalizer. Lennon started on the right but soon found himself on the left where he enjoyed great success against the hapless Danny Simpson, cutting inside on numerous occasions and coming close to scoring more than once.

Raul Meireles (Liverpool) – The Portuguese midfielder had a tough start to his Liverpool career under Roy Hodgson and struggled in a right midfield role. But new boss Kenny Dalglish has put him back in the centre, giving Meireles the freedom to get forward and he didn’t disappoint. Meireles set up Fernando Torres for the opener before scoring a spectacular 25-yard volley in a classy display.

Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) – The Arsenal skipper is so often involved in all that is good about his side and he dominated the midfield against a poor Wigan side. Fabregas was on top form as he set up numerous chances for his teammates and he could have had a goal himself if it wasn’t for some great saves by Al-Habsi. His assist for van Persie’s second goal was one of the best passes you’ll see this season.

Kieran Richardson (Sunderland) – It would have been no surprise if Sunderland slipped up against Blackpool after their talisman Darren Bent left for Villa. But Steve Bruce’s side showed that they are no a one-man team as Richardson scored twice in the first half as he revelled in a more attacking role.

Dimitar Berbatov (Man United) – The Bulgarian star hit his third hat trick of the season as Man United maintained their title charge with a 5-0 demolition of Birmingham. Berbatov has hit top goal scoring form this season as he revels in being the main man in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. His three goal haul took his season’s tally to 18.

Robin van Persie (Arsenal) – Berbatov wasn’t the only striker to score a hat trick this weekend as van Persie continued his incredible recent form with three more goals. The Dutch forward slammed in two powerful left foot finishes before missing a penalty. But he wasn’t to be denied and 5 minutes from time he curled in a right footed effort to cap his first treble in the Premier League.

Meireles beginning to show class

Lightweight, off the pace, a liability. These are just a few of the labels Raul Meireles was given by fans under Roy Hodgson as he struggled to adapt to the rough and tumble of the Premier League and an unfamiliar position. But against Wolves on Saturday the Portuguese midfielder showed why Roy Hodgson spent £11m to secure his signature and why he should have been played in the centre from the beginning.

Meireles was often utilised on the right of midfield in a 4-4-2 formation under Hodgson and although he is a talented footballer, he does not have the pace or trickery to beat a man and get to the by-line. His forte is short and long passing, getting into the box and dictating the pace of the game in the middle of the park.

New manager Kenny Dalglish has adopted the 'pass and move' principles that made many Liverpool sides of the past great and has placed Meireles in his preferred role as he looks to give the team a more attacking emphasis.

Liverpool have long been accused of relying on Steven Gerrard to support the attack from midfield and since the goals have dried up for their captain they have struggled to find someone to replace them. The signing of Meireles from Porto was meant to lift the burden off of Gerrard and give Fernando Torres another supply line but up until last week's Merseyside derby it never really materialised.

But one goal can do so much for a player in a game in which confidence is so important and Raul's strike against Everton certainly appears to have given him a boost. Meireles opened his account with a crashing half-volley from 18 yards and after waiting for 17 games to score his first Liverpool goal he got his second the next week at Molineux.

His goal was one of real quality, the type of strike that many players dream of but very few are capable of executing. A long Daniel Agger freekick was headed away by the Wolves defence and fell to Meireles on the edge of the area. The Liverpool number 4 struck it first time and saw his volley nestle in the top corner.

It was not just his goal that earned him the Man of the Match award though, it was his work rate, his vision, his passing ability both short and long and the way he made the game look effortless amongst chaos Wolves attempted to create around him. His performance oozed class and he looked every bit the player Liverpool have been missing since Xabi Alonso left.

If he can maintain this level of form for the rest of the season then Alonso will be a distant memory and Liverpool will be sitting pretty in a European place.

Bent proves his worth on Villa debut

Liverpool fans were crowing yesterday after watching their team string together 31 passes in the lead up to Fernando Torres’s second goal against Wolves. That was in stark contrast to Darren Bent who touched the ball just 29 times on his Villa debut, including just one touch inside the opponent’s penalty area. But like any great goalscorer his one chance ended up in the back of the net.

Bent was under severe pressure to perform after joining Villa from Sunderland during the week in a record £24m deal and did not disappoint after his debut goal defeated Manchester City and lifted the Villains out of the relegation zone.

The goal was not spectacular as Bent finished from a tight angle after Joe Hart saved an Ashley Young curler but Villa did not pay for quality of goal, they paid for quantity and Bent will surely oblige.

Bent has had to deal with criticism over his loyalty, integrity and his footballing ability during an inharmonious week but it will be hard for anyone to question his credentials as a top level striker after he scored his 9th league goal of the season.

Many questioned Gerard Houllier and Randy Lerner’s motives for spending such a large sum on a player who has never been successful at a top club and struggled to break through at international level. But what Bent may lack in finesse and technique he makes up for in instinct and intelligence.

It is clear that Villa believe the man who has scored 83 league goals since the 2005/06 season will put away the chances to keep them up, as he did with Sunderland and Charlton in the past.

Speaking on Bent’s signing Villa manager Houllier said: "We are absolutely delighted to have Darren here and we know he will be a tremendous asset for the months and the years ahead.

"His arrival sends out a clear message about our ambition. We've brought him down here to spearhead our efforts and to help build something strong and lasting at our club."

There have also been questions over Bent’s ambition after he left high-flying Sunderland to move to a Villa languishing in the relegation zone but the England forward insists that the move is a step up in his career.

Speaking on the day of his signing Bent said: "I'm delighted to join Aston Villa. This is a big, big opportunity for me.

"People have asked why I swapped a top six club for one currently in the bottom four. But I believe Villa are in a false position, they have been sixth for the past three seasons."

Bent’s reasoning may yet be justified after his side showed fight and determination to claim their first win in 6 games and if the likes of Albrighton, Downing and Young continue to get balls into Bent then you can be sure that Villa Park’s new hero will score the goals to send them up the Premier League table.

Meireles '36

Torres 50 & 90+1

Kenny Dalglish claimed his first win since returning as Liverpool manager after his team beat a feisty Wolves side at Molineux

Fernando Torres opened the scoring with ease on 36 minutes after tapping in a cross from man of the match Raul Meireles.

Wolves’ chances were limited to set pieces and they came closest through Nenad Milijas’ free kick before Meireles struck an incredible 25-yard volley to double the away side’s lead on 50 minutes.

Fernando Torres claimed his second in stoppage time with another tap-in to seal the win for Liverpool.

Victory came in Dalglish’s fourth game in charge and is sure to lift the Anfield club, who struggled for away form under previous manager Roy Hodgson.

The signs of improvement were clear for all to see with the team’s passing, movement and industry symbolised by the exceptional Raul Meireles.

The win came as revenge after Wolves beat the Reds 1-0 at Anfield in December in a game that signalled the beginning of the end for Hodgson.

Then it was Wolves relentless pressing that stifled Liverpool and Mick McCarthy’s team set out to do the same thing today, at the expense of their own attacking ambitions.

They faced a different prospect here today though and there was no lack of effort or quality from the away side who chased down everything and passed the ball with confidence.

Wolves started with determination but saw no reward for their endeavour as they struggled to fashion any chances from open play, with the best efforts coming from Liverpool.

The first real chance fell to the much maligned Christian Poulsen who burst into the box to connect with a Lucas Leiva pullback but the midfielder saw his sidefooted effort blocked by Christophe Berra.

Forwards runs from midfield by Poulsen, Lucas and in particular Meireles were a new feature of the Reds play and once that signified Kenny Dalglish’s attacking philosophy.

Meireles came to scoring with a 20 yard strike before Maxi Rodriguez came close with shot on the turn that was saved by Wayne Hennessey.

It was Fernando Torres that was causing the Wolves backline the most problems though and his personal duel with Richard Stearman was one of the most interesting elements of the first half.

Liverpool’s number 9 opened the scoring when Poulsen slid through Raul Meireles who beat the offside trap before squaring for Torres to score his 8th league goal of the season. The Spanish forward then chose to pick up the ball and drop it infront of Stearman instead of celebrating.

The gesture showed that the Spaniard’s confidence was back and he was giving the type of performance that fans have been long been praying for.

Wolves came back into the game after adopting a more adventurous approach and Stephen Fletcher came close to taking advantage of what looked to be a shaky Liverpool defence.

Kenny Dalglish had seen his side throw away leads against Everton and Blackpool but there was to be no repeat today as Meireles doubled his team’s tally with a goal of the season contender.

Christophe Berra headed an Agger freekick high into the air and the ball fell straight to Meireles who expertly volleyed into the top corner, his second goal in as many games.

Liverpool appeared to be happy to sit on their lead and this allowed Wolves to come back into the game but with no real success.

The away side’s counter attacking approach led to a chance for substitute Jonjo Shelvey but the youngster fired over after being played through by Meireles.

A third goal did come in the 90th minute as Torres smashed into the roof of the net from close range to finish off a great move that included over 30 passes. The win was only Liverpool’s second away from home this season and saw the team claim their first clean sheet in six games.

Premier League predictions 22nd January

Right, I've been slacking on the predictions front recently so thought I'd give it a go again this weekend. Some cracking games are happening and I'm sure I'll get the scores completely wrong. Here we go then:

Wolves vs Liverpool

Maybe Liverpool fans' biggest gripe with Roy Hodgson was his astonishingly negative approach away from home that resulted in defeats to Everton, Stoke, Newcastle and Blackpool to name just a few. New boss Kenny Daglish will be hoping to change the Red's fortunes on the road and gain his first win since returning to the club. Wolves have already claimed a famous win at Anfield and will fancy their chances due to their fantastic recent record against the Premier League's big boys.

LFC have been much more positive under King Kenny and I expect the team to attack the home side. Wolves thrive on the counter attack though and the Reds will have to be wary at the back if they want to avoid more away day blues. I see this being a tight contest with Liverpool finally getting their first win under Dalglish.

Prediction - 2-0 to Liverpool

Arsenal vs Wigan

The Gooners may be one of the most unpredictable teams in the league at the moment but there is only one way I can see this game going. Home games against the lessers teams are where Arsene Wenger's side thrive and you wouldn't bet against them putting 3 or 4 past the Latics.

Roberto Martinez has been equally frustrated with his side's Jekyl and Hyde tendancies and with his team dogged by injuries to key players, the Wigan manager can't be too confident of a result at the Emirates.

The away side will put bodies behind the ball but with van Persie back and Walcott, Fabregas and Nasri in irresistable form I don't see anything but a comprehensive win for Arsenal.

Prediction - 3-0 to Arsenal.

Blackpool vs Sunderland

There's a danger that both sides could become distracted by the week's goings on with Sunderland still be reeling over the loss of star striker Darren Bent to Villa and Tangerines talisman Charlie Adam close to a move to Liverpool.

Blackpool have been labelled a 'breath of fresh air' this season due to their swashbuckling attacking football and you can be sure that Ian Holloway's team will be going gung-ho again when the Mackems visit. Striker DJ Campbell is in terrific form and will hope to find the net again. Meanwhile the pressure will be on Asamoah Gyan to fill the gap left by Darren Bent with manager Steve Bruce hoping that the Ghana international has what it takes to carry the teams goalscoring burden.

I think this will be a very open game and I expect goals. Blackpool will play with their usual determination but Bruce's team will be looking to show they can cope without Bent.

Prediction - 2-2 draw.

Everton vs West Ham

Could a team have a worse week of preparation than West Ham have just had? First Avram Grant was leaving and Martin O'Neill was taking over, then O'Neill decided he didn't want the job and the owners are forced to keep Grant and give him the least convincing vote of confidence in football history.

Everton will be hoping to take advantage of the chaos in a similar fashion to last week's visit to Anfield, where they came close to winning amid the hurrah over Kenny Dalglish's return. David Moyes' team haven't been at their best this season and have really struggled for goals. But Louis Saha is back and appears to be hitting a bit of form at the right time.

The Hammers will show fight and could be in with a chance if they defend well but I think ultimately Everton will be too strong.

Prediction - 2-1 to Everton.

Fulham vs Stoke

When Mark Hughes became the new manager at Craven Cottage during the summer I saw it as a shrewd appointment having been a big fan of the Welshman for a long time. He did great things at Blackburn and was unfairly removed by Man City but things just haven't happened for him at Fulham and they have quietly dropped into the relegation zone with just 4 wins all season.

Stoke however have shrugged off a poor start and shot up the table into 8th. Tony Pulis' side are one of the toughest teams to beat in the Premier League and always set up to frustrate on the road. But the additions of Pennant and Ethrington have given that extra bit of flair out wide and the Potters are now a real threat on the counter attack.

I think Hughes' woes will continue and Stoke will remain in contention for a European place.

Prediction - 1-0 to Stoke.

Man United vs Birmingham

If you believe everything that the media tell you then you'll know that Man United 'haven't played well all season'. But the fact is that United remain unbeaten this season and are sitting at the top of the Premier League table. Birmingham however remain perilously close to the relegation zone and are really struggling for goals. Alex McLeish will hope the loan signing of David Bentley will mean more chances for the likes of Zigic and Jerome.

This is probably the most predictable game of the weekend. These are the type of games that Sir Alex Ferguson always wins and his United side are always ruthlessly efficient at home. I predict a one-sided game with the home team in control from the very start and Wayne Rooney to score a much-neede goal.

Prediction - 3-0 to Man United.

Newcastle vs Tottenham

I can't really put my finger on where Newcastle stand under Alan Pardew. One week they'll be battering a team at home, the next they won't even put up a fight. The absence of Andy Carroll has obviously been a factor in the Toon Army's inconsistent recent form. Not only is he the team's main goalscorer, he is their out-ball, the man they look to when things are going against them. Leon Best is not in the same class, despite a great hattrick against West Ham recently.

Spurs continue to get stronger and have Modric, van der Vaart and Bale in fantastic form. Redknapp's team are fast becoming a real force and will attack Newcastle from the very start. I expect them to show why many view them as outsiders for the title.

Prediction - 3-1 to Spurs.

Aston Villa vs Man City

It's the battle of the big January signings at Villa Park as £24m Darren Bent takes on £27m Edin Dzeko. Both strikers will be hoping to live up to their price tags and score their first goals for their respective clubs. Villa signed Bent in controversial circumstances during the week and Gerard Houllier believes the former Sunderland man is exactly the player to drag his team away from the relegation zone.

Roberto Mancini's team have bigger ambitions though and will be hoping for another big away with to boost their title credentials. Carlos Tevez has been the main man for City this season and they have won everytime he has scored. With the Argentinian in scincilating form, I can't see past another goal and another win for the Manchester side.

Prediction - 2-1 to City.

Premier League predictions - 30/10/10

Premier League Predictions for the 30th October

Arsenal v West Ham - If Arsenal are the best side on-form in the Premier League then West Ham have to be the worst. They are at the foot of table and it looks like even Scott Parker can't save them. The Gunners look confident and are always dominant at home. I see them winning 4-0 with Walcott again on the scoresheet.

Blackburn v Chelsea - Ewood Park is always a tough trip for anyone and Allardyce will send his team out to be physical and get amongst the visitors. But Chelsea are a colossus of a team and they will not be phased by Rovers' tactics. These are the games that Champions win and I see Ancelotti's side winning 2-0.

Everton v Stoke - Everton had their typical slow start to the season but they seem to be slowly getting back their best. Stoke on the otherhand have been inconsistent. They have the ability to get a win on the road but I don't see it happening today. 3-1 to Everton.

Fulham v Wigan - Fulham haven't really got going under Mark Hughes and they are really struggling for goals without Bobby Zamora. Wigan are a team that you'd never bank on to win on the road, so I'll go with a 0-0 draw for this one.

Man Utd v Tottenham - There's been a lot of talk recently about how Old Trafford is no longer a fortress and that teams go there believing they can get something out of the game. There has also been talk of Spurs' title credentials with Bale and van der Vaart receiving most of the plaudits. I think this game will see the natural order restored with United beating Spurs 3-1.

Wolves v Man City - Wolves have been playing well recently and not getting anything while Man City doing the opposite (largely thanks to Tevez). But without their captain I see the vistors struggling and Wolves will sneak a win that their performances have deserved. 1-0 to the home side.