Friday, 24 February 2012

Carling Cup Final Preview: Cardiff v Liverpool

The first final of the footballing season is upon us and the first piece of silverware is available to win. The Carling Cup final isn't the biggest competition to win but for the two clubs in this year's final, winning the tournament would be great for different reasons. Premier League side Liverpool have not won any silverware since the FA Cup final of 2005/06 season where they beat West Ham on penalties. A win on Sunday would give the club a much needed boost and something to show for their excellent cup campaign this year. Championship side Cardiff City are battling for an automatic position for promotion to the Premier League and the Carling Cup final offers them a nice distraction from the promotion race. There are a few reasons why Sunday's final will be one to watch. Craig Bellamy will be playing against his boyhood team Cardiff for the first time in his career. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will be up against his cousin Anthony who plays in central defense for the Bluebirds. Finally Kenny Dalglish will be up agaisnt fellow Scot in the dugout meaning that Wales, England and Scotland will be represented at Wembley come four o'clock.

For the first time in six years Liverpool have reached a cup final. The Carling Cup will never be the biggest tournament to win but for the Merseyside club, a win would show and start to prove that they are back on track to become one of England's best teams. Having beaten clubs such as Stoke, Chelsea and Manchester City, Liverpool have not had an easy run to the final. The semi-final win against Manchester City over two legs showed that Liverpool are beginning to play like the top side they have proved in the past. The defence is alot stronger and with star striker Luis Suarez back and scoring goals, the team go into the final as strong favorites. The last time Liverpool won the Carling Cup, they came up against rivals Manchester United in the 2002/03 season where they came out winners 2-1. The last time they played a Championship team in the final was in the 2000/01 season where they beat Birmingham City on penalties.

Cardiff City
Malky Mackay's Cardiff City are once again battling for an automatic place in the Championship in their bid to reach the Premier League. After the success of fellow Welsh team Swansea City last year, the fans of the Bluebirds will want their team to achieve similar success. Cardiff's run in the cup this year has seen them overcome the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City and Huddersfield Town. The two legged semi-final against fellow Championship side Crystal Palace was welcomed by football fans as it guaranteed a Championship club into the final. Cardiff were the team that took the opportunity beating their opponents in a penalty shoot out which saw Palace miss three of their penalties. This will be the third time Cardiff will have played at the new Wembley with past occasions seeing them defeated in an FA Cup final and in the play off final of the Championship two years ago.

One to watch: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has been in the media spotlight continuinely for the last few months for the wrong reasons. Scoring two goals in his last two appearences, Suarez will want to carry on showing the footballing world why he is so highly rated. The Uruguayan has scored three goals in this years competition netting one against Exeter and two against Stoke. The first of two goals against the Staffordshire club will be one of the most memorable goals in this years competition. Suarez took the ball on the left side of the 18 yard box, nutmegged a defender and then unleashed a swerving shot over the keeper and into the far corner of the goal. This goal showed what Suarez is about and on his day he is one of the most dangerous players in the box. If selected, he will be on a big stage playing at Wembley and the opportunity to win the game for Liverpool.

One to watch: Peter Whittingham (Cardiff City)
After a slow start to his career, Peter Whittingham is now the heart of Cardiff City and will need to perform to his best if the Welsh team are to come out victors on Sunday. The former Aston Villa player has 10 goals and 12 assists in all competitons this season for Cardiff. His delivery from set pieces and his quality passing have seen Whittingham become one of the best players on the Championship.Whittingham is well know for his free kick ability, most notably his 35 yard effort he scored against Reading this season. Most recently Whittingham has been nominated in the category for Championship player of the year award. An award that is well deserved and if he wins the midfield battle on Sunday then the Welsh side will be well within a chance of victory.

For both teams and sets of fans this is a massive game. The opportunity to win silverware will be boosts for both clubs. The winners also get entry into next years Europa League and if Liverpool miss out on a Champions League place this year then the opportunity to play in the Europa League will be welcomed. There will be significant battles on the pitch most notably the midfield battle. With Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam most likely to start for Liverpool, Cardiff will have to keep the ball in the early stages of the game otherwise they will come out second best. Kenny Miller normally plays as a loan striker for Cardiff and will struggle without support against a Liverpool defence that has been one of the best in the Premier League this season. Cardiff will go into the game as underdogs and if Liverpool play the way we know they can then the Premier League side will come out winners. If Cardiff get under the skin of Liverpool and not allow any space then the Bluebirds have it in them to beat their opponents.

Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Cardiff City

Thursday, 16 February 2012

FA Cup Fifth Round: Ones to watch

League action takes a break this weekend as we see the fifth round of the FA Cup take centre stage. With some big results in the last round, there are only 16 sides left in the competition to become winners of this historical competition.

#1 Chelsea v Birmingham City
City Striker Marlon King has scored
11 goals for the blues this season
Chelsea have a big week ahead of them especially if they are to have anywhere near a successful season. A home tie against Birmingham who are currently in unstoppable form in the FA Cup is followed by the first leg tie away at Italian side Napoli. Chelsea are currently having an odd patch of results and are nowhere near showing the real quality the side possess. After throwing away a three goal lead at home to Manchester United two weeks ago, Chelsea lost to Everton in an with an awful performance. Pressure is mounting on Chelsea boss Villas-Boas and anything but two cup wins this week will further pressure the Portuguese man. Strikers Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou will still not be available for the lunchtime clash on Saturday so responsibility will continue on striker Fernando Torres to end his four month goal drought. Championship club Birmingham City are in excellent form at the moment and sit on the play off's and are currently 13 games unbeaten in all competitions. The Midlands side will have nothing to lose and after beating rivals Wolves in the last round, Chris Hughton's side will go into this clash with every hope of progressing.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Birmingham City

#2 Crawley Town v Stoke City
Matt Tubbs celebrates his winner for
Crawley against Hull in the last round
League 2 side Crawley are the lowest side left in the competition and they will not want their journey to end as they come up against Premier League side Stoke City. Crawley have beaten Championship sides Bristol City and Hull City in their campaign so far and have been rewarded with a big home tie against a Premier League side. Stoke have not been in the best form of recent and will be taking on the West Sussex side after their Europa League clash at home to Valencia. Tony Pulis will look to rest big stars after their efforts against the Spanish side and give the rest of the squad a chance to play. The Staffordshire club have not won a Premier League game since the 2-1 away game at Blackburn at the beginning of the year and will want to carry on their involvement in the cup. For Crawley it is the biggest home tie they face in the club's history and with the television cameras present, the League 2 side will want to show viewers their capabilities. Star man and striker Matt Tubbs was the key man for their side but after Tubbs had bigger ambitions and moved to Bournemouth, Crawley will rely on striker Tyrone Barnett who has netted an impressive 15 goals in all competitions this season. 
Prediction: Crawley Town 1-2 Stoke City

3# Stevenage v Tottenham Hotspur
Louis Saha scores his first Spurs goal
against Newcastle at the weekend
Alongside the Crawley game against Stoke, this fixture stands out as well. League one side Stevenage have reached the fifth round for the first time in the clubs history and take on high flying Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs are currently third in the league chasing both Manchester clubs in a bid to win the Premier League title. Stevenage sit in the play off's of League one after gaining promotion from League two last season. New manager Gary Smith took the reigns after former manager Graham Westley went to fellow League one side Preston last month. Since taking over the club, Smith saw his side beat Notts County ion the fourth round of the cup and then beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 away from home. The Hertfordshire club beat Newcastle United at home in the third round last season so for the fans there is no reason why the League one side can't achieve a similar result this weekend. Harry Redknapp's Spurs come to Stevenage after thumping Newcastle United 5-0 at home last Saturday evening. Redknapp will more than likely rest his bigger stars with the North London derby in mind a week later. The likes of Bale, Adebayor and Luka Modric will sit on the bench allowing the younger stars of Spurs a run out and  a chance to shine. Striker Louis Saha is more than likely going to play a part. Two goals in the victory at the weekend for the Frenchman will give him a much needed confidence boost after only scoring two goals for former club Everton this season. With the television cameras present at the game on Sunday, Stevenage will want to show the football world just how good they are. 
Prediction: Stevenage 0-3  Tottenham

#4 Liverpool v Brighton
Kuyt scores Liverpool's second in
the 2-1 win over Brighton last year
For the second time this season, Liverpool and Brighton play each other, this time in the FA Cup. The two played against each other in the third round of the Carling Cup at Brighton last September with the Merseyside club winning 2-1 thanks to goals from strikers Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt. With a Carling Cup final to look forward to in a week, Liverpool will want to book themselves at Wembley again for a second time this season in the FA Cup. A 2-1 victory at Anfield three weeks ago against rivals Manchester United in the fourth round, Liverpool will want to continue their form in the competition this season with victory over the Championship club. Kenny Dalglish has put out strong teams in both of their FA cup games this year and the game on Sunday will be no different. Bad boy Luis Suarez may set to start on his third game back from his 8 game ban. Craig Bellamy is the clubs top goalscorer this season and alongside fellow forward Dirk Kuyt, the pair have scored critical goals in cup games this season. Dutch striker Kuyt has come under some criticism this season due to lack of goals but two goals in his last four games for the club have shown he still has his predator instinct. Championship side Brighton started the season with a bang and went unbeaten in their first six league games. Since then form has dipped for the club and for striker Craig Mackail Smith as well. The Scotsman had not scored in his previous twelve games before netting in the 2-1 away win at Leeds last week. They sit ninth in the table at the moment only two points from a play off place and a cup game at Anfield will be a nice break from the league and be sure to be a grand day out for the travelling fans. Having disposed of Newcastle United in the last round of the cup, the Seagulls will go into the game knowing that if they perform to similar standards anything is possible.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Brighton

Other fifth round ties:
Everton v Blackpool (Prediction: 2-1)
Norwich City v Leicester City (Prediction: 3-2)
Millwall v Bolton Wanderers (Prediction: 1-1)
Sunderland v Arsenal (Prediction: 1-1)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Fernando Torres: Finding his way back to form?

It's been over a year now since Spanish striker Fernando Torres made his big £50million move from Liverpool to Chelsea and it's fair to say he has not performed anywhere near what he showed the football world when he was at the Merseyside club. However over the past few games Torres has been playing, there have been signs that the forward may be returning to the world class player he is.

With only three goals in his Chelsea career so far, it's very obvious that things have not gone his way. Since his massive move to the London club, the spotlight was quickly upon him. At Liverpool, Torres was quick to show the football world what a quality player he is. In his first season for Liverpool, Torres scored 29 goals in all competitions setting a new record for the club. In his second season, Torres continued with his goalscoring managing to reach 50 goals for the club. It was clear to see how quick Torres had adapted to the Premier League, making him a handful for defenders.

Since his move to Chelsea, Torres has struggled finding the net. The Spanish number nine has currently gone four months without scoring a goal. With the European Championship's over the horizon, Torres has to start hitting the net, otherwise his hopes of going to the tournament will be slim.

But over recent games, there have been some signs that Torres may start finding some form and start scoring more regularly for Chelsea. With Drogba still playing for the Ivory Coast in The African Cup of Nations Torres is currently the main striker for Chelsea at the moment. He may not have scored in the games Chelsea have been without Drogba but Torres has found himself in positions in games where he has struggled to in games gone by. In the home win over Sunderland last month Torres attempted an unthinkable scissor kick which crashed against the bar and then resulting in Lampard scoring the rebound. Against Norwich, it took a great save from Canaries keeper John Ruddy to deny an effort from Torres, who then went on to miss an easier chance later on in the game.

It was the game last weekend against Man Utd where Torres looked like he maybe getting nearer to finding the net. The chance that stands out was Torres running through on goal where he had three or four opportunities to strike the ball but instead tried too hard to take the defender on and eventually lost the ball. Yes some may say that this is typical Torres fluffing his lines once again, but as a striker if you are getting chances then you must be doing something right, or getting into the right position. Sometimes all a striker needs in these situations is a slice of luck.
Take for instance Peter Crouch. Signed for 7 million pounds at Liverpool after impressive seasons at Southampton. Crouch went four months at Liverpool without scoring a goal. His first goal came at home to Wigan. After turning on the halfway line Crouch took the ball to the edge of the box where his long range effort took an enormous deflection off defender Leighton Baines and ended up looping over goalkeeper Mike Politt. There came Crouch's first goal for Liverpool, and after this game, Crouch became more regular on the score sheet for them. Now Crouch and Torres are completely different players and the price paid for each player is significantly different, but Torres is in the same predicament now for Chelsea.

Goals will come for Torres, it's only a matter of time before he get back and scoring regularly for Chelsea. He has proven with Liverpool  that he is more than capable of performing in the Premier League. Whether it's the formation Chelsea play that doesn't suit Torres's strengths or it's a matter of confidence, Torres goal drought is one that will hopefully end for him and get the critics off his back.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Jordan's on the Rhode to the Olympics

Huddersfield striker Jordan Rhodes has been in incredible form this season scoring 27 league goals in only 24 league games. The Scottish international is only 21 years old and has proven this season what a goal threat he is. With the Olympics closing in, names will be thrown around for the British football team and Rhodes will surely be included in those names.

The former Ipswich man has shown this season he is a predator in the box. Scoring four goals away at Sheffield Wednesday and an incredible five goals against Wycombe, Rhodes certainly knows where the goal is. With back to back hat tricks against Exeter and Preston this season, the Scotsman became the first Huddersfield player to achieve this since the 1920s.

Rhodes has not only been scoring goals for Huddersfield this season, but has been firing them in for the Scotland U21 side as well. Six goals in six appearances for the Scottish U21's has made Rhodes the all time joint top goalscorer for the team.

Rhodes has yet to receive any letter or notification asking whether he is willing to play for the British side at the Olympics, but if he was to be given the chance to play, he would definitely be a good player to have in the side. Manager of the GB football team, Stuart Pearce was in attendance when Huddersfield put 6 past Wycombe when Rhodes scored five goals, giving the view that Pearce may have Rhodes in his Olympic plans.

The majority of the British squad in the Olympics is more than likely going to contain English players alongside the likes of Gareth Bale and perhaps Wales captain Aaron Ramsey. It will be difficult for players from Scotland and Ireland to get their chance as England have a lot of players from their U21 side that will get into the Olympic team with ease. The likes of Jordan Henderson and Danny Welbeck would be definite selections if the two miss out on a trip to the Euros this year.

If Rhodes continues with his goalscoring into the second half of the season, there is no reason why the striker can't make it into the Olympic side. He has shown in his short career, that he is lethal in the box and can score any type of goal. He has proven that he can cope at international level even if it is for the U21s and it wont be long until you see him starting and scoring for the senior team.