Friday, 27 January 2012

FA Cup Fourth Round: Ones to watch

We see the fourth round of the FA Cup take place this weekend and after some top quality ties in the last round we are sure to see more the cup throw up more shocks and controversy this weekend. Below are the stnad out fixtures to look out for, for the fourth round.

#1 Liverpool v Manchester Utd
Two giants in English football come head to head in the FA Cup once again. Man Utd came out 1-0 winners when the sides met last season in the third round at Old Trafford. An early penalty from Ryan Giggs ensured progress for the Red Devils in what was Kenny Dalglish's first game back as Liverpool manager. The last time these two met at Anfield in the cup was in 2006  in the fifth round when a Peter Crouch header was enough to take them through and eventually win the competition. Liverpool will take great confidence into the game after a hard fought draw against Manchester City in the week which took them through to the Carling Cup final. Craig Bellamy has been in fantastic form for the club and will want to continue that against an injury stricken United side. Man Utd have had terrible luck this season with injuries as seen against Arsenal when several players picked up knocks. But after beating rivals Manchester City in the last round, they won't fear anyone and will be determined to progress to the fifth round.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-0 Man Utd
#2 QPR v Chelsea
Another all Premier League tie in the fourth round of the cup. These teams meet for the first time since the allegation made against Chelsea captain John Terry for racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. Terry will be sure to receive abuse from the Rangers fans but this won't affect the England captain as he will want to guide his team to glory in this seasons competition. Striker Fernando Torres has gone more than 15 hours of football now without finding the net. With only 3 competitive goals for the club, the Spanish striker will want to start scoring especially with the Euro Championships only months away and his place in the national side at stake. Rangers have started to look like the side we thought they were. Mark Hughes has given the London side a big lift, with two wins in his opening three games, the Welshman will want his side to continue his good start with victory over their London rivals. 
Prediction: QPR 1-2 Chelsea
#3 Leicester City v Swindon Town
Swindon Town are the lowest ranked team left in the competition, and with a third round victory over Premier League side Wigan, they won't want their run to end just yet. They come up against a strong Leicester side who have only lost one game in their last seven in all competitions. Nigel Pearson's side disposed of neighbours Nottingham Forest in the last round and after beating Southampton away from home on Monday, the Foxes will be full of confidence towards this tie. Paolo Di Canio's Swindon side currently sit fourth in League 2 and are unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions. After beating Wigan in the last round, the Robins won't fear their opponents and will go into the game knowing they can progress further.
Prediction: Leicester 2-1 Swindon
#4 Brighton v Newcastle Utd
It's the Seagulls against the Magpies in this fourth round tie and the latter will definitely find their opponents tough to beat. Brighton needed a replay and a penalty shoot out in the last round to beat conference side Wrexham. The Premier League side have had quite a season and progress in this competition will be definitely in the mind of manager Alan Pardew. His side are still without striker Demba Ba but the form of midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa has been pleasing to the eye of the Geordie fans. Brighton have had another good season with Gus Puyet's side currently sitting tenth in the Championship and are on a five game unbeaten run. Striker Craig Mackail Smith last goal came at the end of November so the former Posh man will want to return back to finding the net. A game Newcastle will find tough but with the experience of their team and Premiership quality, the fifth round beckons for them.
Prediction: Brighton 0-2  Newcastle Utd

#5 Sheffield Utd v Birmingham City
Definitely one of the ties to keep a look out for. Sheffield United may be a division below the Blues, but the League 1 side will have a lot of belief they can win the game and progress to the fifth round. City beat rivals Wolves in the last round and are on an eight game unbeaten run, scoring 12 goals in their last four games. Striker Marlon King has been regularly finding the net for the Midlands side and will be looking to continue his goalscoring this weekend.  United have been hot on the heels of League 1 leaders Charlton all season and currently sit in third place. Veteran striker James Beattie has recently signed a new deal with the club and with the his experience and leading of the line will be critical for his side. Scoring has not been a problem for Danny Wilson's team this season with the away defeat to Charlton at the weekend was the first time not scoring since the beginning of October. A tough game for the Championship side especially as their record away from home this season has been poor, something Sheffield United will pick up on. 
Prediction: Sheffield Utd 2-2 Birmingham City

Other fourth round ties:

Arsenal v Aston Villa (Predcition: 2-0)
Bolton v Swansea (Prediction: 1-2)
Derby County v Stoke (Prediction: 1-1)
Watford v Tottenham (Prediction: 0-3)
Hull City v Crawley Town (Prediction: 2-1) 
Sunderland v Middlesbrough (Prediction: 2-1)
Blackpool v Sheffield Wednesday (Prediction: 2-1)
Millwall v Southampton (Prediction: 1-3)
West Brom v Norwich (Prediction: 1-2)
Stevenage v Notts County (Prediction: 1-1)
Everton v Fulham (Prediction: 1-1)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dirk Kuyt: End of an era for the Dutchman?


Take your minds back to Saturday 6th March 2011. A lunchtime kick off at Anfield between bitter rivals Manchester United and Liverpool saw the Merseyside team run out 3-1 winners thanks to a hat trick from striker Dirk Kuyt. This was Kuyt's first hat trick for the club and came at a time when goals were flying in for the Dutchman. Kuyt's good run of form last season saw him score 15 goals for the club, equalling his best total of goals for the club in a season.

Kuyt is now currently in his sixth season of being a Liverpool player and under the reign of Kenny Dalglish, the striker has become a regular on the substitutes bench this season. With the arrival of new strikers Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, as well as the return of Welshman Craig Bellamy, Kuyt has not played as much as he will want to. The Dutchman has not been helped either with the arrival of Jordan Henderson who plays on the right side of midfield a lot, a position Kuyt has made his own over the past few seasons.

Kuyt has only scored one goal this season for the club in the Carling Cup away at Brighton. With the team currently struggling to find the net, Kuyt's lack of goals has not helped. It has been seen in the past that Kuyt's goals have been valuable to the team on many occasions. His run of goals at the end of the 2010/11 season helped Liverpool to a strong finish to the season. He may not be a 20 goal a season striker but fans of Liverpool will tell you his goals have helped significantly.

But currently Kuyt is not finishing chances that a year ago he was putting away with ease. One of the most recent games at home to Stoke, Kuyt was standing 6 yards out from goal. Jose Enrique's cross fell to Kuyt who somehow managed to head horribly wide with the goal at his mercy. Any Liverpool fan would expect him to finish that sort of chance especially considering Kuyt scores a lot of his goals in the six yard box.

It now comes to the time where fans are looking at Kuyt now and thinking his time may have come to leave the club and start afresh elsewhere. With 35 million pound man Andy Carroll more likely to start ahead of him, Kuyt has to fight with Bellamy and Suarez for the other front position. Dalglish may go in for another centre forward in the summer and Kuyt would be the player to make way if this was the case. There have already been rumours during the transfer window of possible suitors for the Dutchman so this may be the last season we see Kuyt in the Premier League.

With the club so close to a cup final and a chance for silverware, Kuyt will be sure to work hard and fight for his place in the team. With goalscoring an issue at the moment for Liverpool, Kuyt needs to take any chance he gets to play and to start scoring otherwise it will be more likely he will be shown the door.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Carling Cup: Semi Final Previews

After the drama of the third round of the FA Cup, attention turns towards the Carling Cup. Which sees the first legs being played on Tuesday and Wednesday. The draw for the semi's threw up an all Championship tie with Crystal Palace facing Cardiff. The other tie put the big teams left in the competition together, Manchester City facing seven time winners Liverpool

#1 Crystal Palace v Cardiff City
This all Championship game gives one of the teams a great opportunity to play in a final and to grace the pitch at Wembley Stadium. Both sides beat Premier League opposition in their quarter finals and will be pleased to have avoided the big boys left in the competition. The first leg takes place at Selhurst Park, the home of Crystal Palace and Dougie Freedman's men will look to gain a solid first leg advantage before the teams meet again in two weeks in Cardiff. But after comfortably disposing of Blackburn Rovers in their quarter final, Cardiff City will make life very difficult for their opposition. Malky Mackay's men currently sit third in the Championship having lost only one in their last thirteen league games, and after defeat in the FA Cup at the weekend, the Bluebirds will want victory over their Championship rivals. Victory for Palace over Manchester United at Old Trafford in their quarter final will have certainly been the highlight in their season so far for Palace but for a team currently sitting in mid table a chance to play at Wembley will surely better that.

#2 Manchester City v Liverpool
After defeat to rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday, Roberto Mancini's side will be looking to bounce back and will want to secure their first silverware of the season. A 3-0 defeat to City just over a week ago in the league will give Liverpool that added determination to want to win at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. Kenny Dalglish's side did not turn up then and with the returning Steven Gerrard in goalscoring form, the Merseyside club will be out for revenge. City look set to be without captain and centre back Vincent Kompany after he was sent off at the weekend. Midfielder Yaya Toure, who has been one of City's star players this season has linked up with the Ivory Coast in preparation for the African Cup of Nations. Both players will be massively missed by City who will look towards playmaker David Silva and the natural goalscoring of Sergio Aguero for the team's inspiration. Liverpool are still without star striker Luis Suarez who continues his ban but fans will be pleased with the goalscoring form of Craig Bellamy who has scored 3 goals in his last 3 games in all competitions. Captain Steven Gerrard is a welcoming site to red's fans and his strength and prowess will certainly give the team a much needed boost

Friday, 6 January 2012

FA Cup Third Round: Ones to watch

This coming weekend sees the third round of the FA Cup take place. There are always mouth watering ties and this years fixtures definitely don't disappoint. Below are the key games that you should look out for this weekend.

#1 Manchester City v Manchester United

The biggest tie of the round. The top two teams in the Premier League at the moment and here another chance to view them battling it out. We all know what happened the last time these two met, City demolishing United at Old Trafford in the league 6-1. A repeat of that memorable day is highly unlikely but expect goals, drama and most probably controversy. With Wednesday's Carling Cup semi final against Liverpool in mind, Roberto Mancini may field a second string team.(if you can call it that) giving the likes of Balotelli and Dzeko a run out. After two successive defeats in the league, United are expected to respond and show why they are current champions of the league. Sir Alex shall field a strong line up and will want to win against their rivals and progress in this historic competition
Prediction: City 2-1 United

#2 MK Dons v QPR
League 1 versus the Premier League, but a game that has upset written all over it. MK Dons currently sit in the play off zone of League 1 in relatively good form and having disposed of Nantwich 6-0 in the last round, the team from Buckinghamshire will want to continue their run in the cup. Striker Charlie McDonald has scored 6 in his last 9 appearances and will be sure to continue his good scoring form. Neil Warnock's QPR are in poor form, with no win in eight, this game couldn't have come at a worse time. Captain Joey Barton will be missing for Rangers through suspension and will be hopeful that misfiring strikers Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell will be able to make an impact. 
Prediction: MK Dons 2-2 QPR

#3 Peterborough Utd v Sunderland
Another potential upset on the cards. Championship club Peterborough United currently sit comfortably in mid table and are five games unbeaten. Darren Ferguson's men are a hard team to push over at home and Sunderland will have to play to their best to overcome The Posh. Talisman George Boyd will catch your eye, slick turns and an eye for goal, the midfielder will be the one to watch. Sunderland have been rejuvenated under the new management under Martin O'Neill. A home win against Manchester City and a thumping 4-1 win away at Wigan has seen the Black Cats go four unbeaten in the league. London Road always promises goals and this game won't disappoint. With the TV cameras there on Sunday, Posh will want to impress and show their quality against a decent Premier League side.
Prediction:  Posh 1-2 Sunderland

#4 Arsenal v Leeds Utd
These two teams met at the same stage last season drawing 1-1 at the Emirates with the Gunners winning the replay 3-1 at Elland Road. Arsenal are currently in excellent form in the league with star man Robin Van Persie continually firing in goals. Club legend and idol Thierry Henry is expected to play a part in this fixture as he starts his two month loan at the club. Leeds a club Henry has an excellent record against. He has scored 11 goals in 11 games against United and will want to continue this record. Leeds United currently sit outside the play offs in the championship and will find Monday's game at the Emirates tough. After lengthy injuries  to key players Patrick Kisnorbo and Robert Snodgrass, Leeds will rely on the impressive goalscoring Ross McCormack who has netted 11 league goals this season. 
Prediction : Arsenal 3-1 Leeds Utd

#5 Everton v Tamworth
This game is what the FA Cup is about, a big Premier League team facing a minnow from a lower division. Although the result is fairly obvious, Tamworth will take a big following to Goodison and the team will sure give it a go and show that they are about. With the return of American Landan Donovan, fans will be pleased to see his return and hope that he can help the team's goalscoring alongside the ever present Louis Saha. Tamworth are currently mid table in the Conference and definitely enjoy their big moment in front of 30,000 fans. The club know as 'The Lambs' are taking more than 5,000 fans giving them a memorable day out and whatever the result it will gain a place in the club's history. 
Prediction: Everton 4-0 Tamworth

#6 Swindon Town v Wigan Athletic
Another tie that offers a possible banana skin for a Premier League side. Wigan Athletic currently sit second bottom in the Premier League and an away trip to high flying Swindon will be tough for the Lactics. After disposing of League 1 giants Huddersfield Town 4-1 in the last round, Paolo Di Canio's team will fear no-one and go into the weekend's game with a lot of confidence. Wigan were knocked out of the cup two years ago to Notts County in the fourth round so the Lancashire club will need to be careful of another cup defeat to lower league opposition. The Premier League side haven't won in five league games so Roberto Martinez will want a solid display from his side.
Swindon Town 1-2 Wigan Athletic

#7 Fleetwood Town v Blackpool
Fleetwood Town have been the surprise team in the competition so far. Beating League 1 opposition in both rounds so far, the conference team will go into their third round tie knowing anything is possible. They currently sit second in the conference and are currently 11 games unbeaten in the league with a 6-0 drubbing of Southport there latest victory. Blackpool are sitting just outside the Championship play off positions and after beating high flyers Middlesbrough 3-0 on Monday, Ian Holloway's side will be full of confidence. Blackpool chairman was quoted this week saying that this tie means little to him but for the Fleetwood Town this will be one of their biggest games in their history
Prediction Fleetwood Town 1-3 Blackpool

#8 Birmingham City v Wolves
A tasty Midland derby will give great viewing for football fans. The last time these two met in this competition was three years ago when Wolves won 2-0 at St Andrews. Captain of Wolves Roger Johnson will get an interesting reaction as he returns to his former club where he led the Blues to Carling Cup success last year against Arsenal. The Championship club recently were eliminated from the Europa League and manager Chris Hughton will want to progress in this historic competition. Wolves are in terrible form and haven't won in six league and cup games. The form though of striker Steven Fletcher will give fans hope he can help the midland club get to the fourth round and help the club gather some momentum and form. This game will come with tasty tackles, cards a plenty and goals, not one to miss.
Prediction: Birmingham 2-2 Wolves

...and the rest           
Tottenham v Cheltenham Town   Prediction: 4-0             
Barnsley v Swansea   Prediction: 1-2
Sheffield Wed v West Ham     Prediction 2-3                   
Brighton v Wrexham  Prediction: 3-1
Fulham v Charlton  Prediction 4-2                                    
Gillingham v Stoke   Prediction: 0-2
Doncaster Rovers v Notts County Prediction: 1-1            
Crawley v Bristol City Prediction: 1-1
Chelsea v Portsmouth   Prediction 3-0                              
Dag & Red v Millwall  Prediction: 1-3
Coventry v Southampton   Prediction: 1-3                        
Derby v Crystal Palace  Prediction: 1-1
Bristol Rovers v Aston Villa  Prediction: 1-2                     
Macclesfield v Bolton  Prediction: 1-2
West Brom v Cardiff   Prediction: 2-1                              
Watford v Bradford City  Prediction: 2-0
Reading v Stevenage   Prediction: 2-0
Liverpool v Oldham   Prediction: 3-0
Sheffield United v Salisbury City  Prediction: 4-0
Nottingham Forest v Leicester City  Prediction: 1-1
Norwich v Burnley  Prediction 2-1
Newcastle v Blackburn  Prediction 1-1
Middlesbrough v Shrewsbury  Prediction: 3-0
Hull City v Ipswich Town  Prediction 2-1

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Results in 2011/12 has shown us there are no longer 'easy games' in the Premier League

So far, the 2011/12 season has definitely been one of the most exciting seasons in the Premier League for a long time. We have seen a variety of odd results, upsets and some fantastic goals but what is becoming visible is there are no easy games for anyone.

We are currently half way through an incredible season that has seen some incredible results that no one would have ever predicted at the start of the campaign. The 8-2 demolition of Arsenal by Manchester United at Old Trafford in August is the stand out result that saw the current league champions make the Gunners look  a complete laughing stock. However this result came back to haunt the Red Devils when their rivals and big spenders Manchester City beat them 6-1 at home. Other results that have stood out so far include Arsenal beating London rivals Chelsea 5-3 at Stamford Bridge and Tottenham Hotspur beating Liverpool 4-0 at White Hart Lane.

It is now clear that a top four in the league no longer exists. Teams like Spurs and Manchester City have significantly improved their squads and now are competing for the top positions in the league. What was a top four 5 years ago has now become a top six, meaning one of the clubs will miss out on a European position at the end of the season. We can't rule out the form and ever growing improvement from Newcastle United either. Their 11 game unbeaten run at the start of the season surprised everyone, with impressive results against Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United and the phenomenal goalscoring of striker Demba Ba has given the club the notice they deserve.

There may have been some odd results between the top teams in the league but we can't ignore how well some of the lesser teams have done against the bigger clubs. The notable games include QPR's home win against Chelsea, Sunderland's late win against Manchester City and quite recently Aston Villa's away win against Chelsea.

No team can play anyone else in the league and expect an easy win whether it be home or away. Every team in the league has their strengths and against some teams, these pay off and they get the result they deserve. For example Wigan Athletic pulled off two draws at home against Chelsea and then Liverpool, results that they deserved due to resilience and sheer determination. We take Swansea, newly promoted but with their slick passing game and a solid goalkeeper, they have picked up some good results this season. Even Blackburn Rovers have beaten Arsenal and Manchester United and have drawn at Liverpool yet got beaten by relegation rivals Bolton the following week.

No one is unbeatable in the league and nothing will change as the season progresses. Teams will become stronger, squads will be strengthened and there will be more surprising results to come, making the Barclays Premier League more exciting than ever.