Friday 18 January 2013

The Beautiful Game: A Football Blog

by Dave McArdle


Sackings and Transfers

It’s been another fascinating week in football. Southampton have this morning sacked manager Nigel Adkins and replaced him with former Espanyol boss Mauricio Pochettino. The move comes as something of a surprise with Southampton in good form under Adkins with an away win against Aston Villa at the weekend coupled with a fine draw against European champions Chelsea in midweek. Southampton had struggled in the early part of the season but a recent resurgence has seen them climb to 15th place in the table, three places clear of the relegation zone, which makes the dismissal of Adkins all the more surprising. The speed with which Pochettino was appointed suggests that the Southampton board have been planning this move for a while and it will be interesting to see if Pochettino, who represented Argentina at the 2002 World Cup, will be able to improve upon the Saints current league position or whether they will slide down the table once more.

The big transfer story of the week surrounds Loic Remy and his decision to snub Newcastle in favour of an £8 million move to strugglers QPR. Remy - who has 17 caps for France and is a highly-rated player with several Premier League clubs showing interest in recent times - suggests that his familiarity with Harry Redknapp could have been a decisive factor in his decision to plump for QPR: “QPR were very open, they wanted me and it’s great to be here. Firstly, I already knew the coach Harry Redknapp and secondly, I’m very excited by the project QPR have here for the future.”

Also this week, Pep Guardiola made a decision on his future by committing to join Bayern Munich at the end of the season. What will be really interesting to see for many football fans is the style of football that Guardiola will bring to Bayern. Will the tiki-taka football that worked so well in Catalonia be as successful in Bavaria? If Pep can win the Champions League with Bayern, I’m sure he will be considered among the greatest coaches of his generation. However, if things go badly in Munich, it will be very easy for people to say that Pep was only a great manager at Barcelona because he had such a fantastic array of talent in his team. It is an interesting situation and certainly a brave decision from Pep.


Last Sunday, I was in Stanley O’Hara Park in Clara for the Combined Counties Football League Senior Division match between league leaders Mullingar Athletic and Clara Town. Clara Town were looking for a victory that would keep them in contention for the title while Mullingar were searching for the three points that would keep them clear of Willow Park at the top. However, in a game what was expected to be a close affair, Mullingar ran riot and eventually ended up winning 9-0 in a thoroughly impressive display. Darragh Kiernan was the chief tormentor to the Clara defence, scoring two and being involved in the other two goals before being substituted at 4-0 with the game won. As Clara heads dropped, Mullingar displayed a ruthless streak that cements their status as genuine title contenders as they notched nine goals in total with braces from Kiernan, Tony Dunne, Micky Horan and substitute Johnny Gavin along with a headed goal from centre-half Kevin Dunleavy. With just six games to go in the Senior Division, things look like staying interesting right to the end of the season and Mullingar will be hoping that they can go on now and break Willow Park’s dominance of the Senior Division by claiming the title.

This week’s feature game on ‘The Inside Line’ with Will O’Callaghan will see me stationed at Frank O’Connell Park in Birr for the John Farrell Combined Counties Cup third round game between Birr Town and Edenderry Town. With both sides plying their trade in the Premier Division and separated by only one place, an entertaining game is in prospect. Some other interesting Counties Cup ties this Sunday include Dynamo Town vs Gallen Utd, Gracefield Athletic vs Abbeyleix Athletic, Clonbonny vs Melville Utd, Portarlington Town vs Clara Town, Shinrone vs Monksland utd, Rosenallis vs Noreside Celtic, Kilcormac Utd vs St.Peters, CK Utd vs Mountmellick Utd and Arlington vs Killavilla Utd.

Premier League Preview

Liverpool v Norwich - Saturday 3pm – Live on Setanta Ireland
Luis Suarez will once again be the centre of attention as Liverpool welcome Norwich to Anfield on Saturday. The controversial striker has been in the headlines this week after admitting to diving against Stoke. However, Norwich will be more concerned about the Uruguayan’s footballing ability as he has scored two hat-tricks in his last two appearances against the Canaries. Norwich have taken just one point from the last fifteen on offer but they will know that victory would take them to within two points of the hosts. Liverpool will once more be without Martin Kelly, Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan but Daniel Sturridge is pushing for a start having scored twice in his first two appearances under Brendan Rodgers. John Ruddy, Steven Whitaker and Steve Morison will miss out for Norwich while Chris Hughton will be buoyed by the returns to fitness of both Jonny Howson and Grant Holt.

Man City v Fulham – Saturday 3pm
Manchester City will be looking to cut the gap at the top of the table (at least temporarily) to four points when they welcome Fulham to the Etihad. City have won their last three on the bounce in the league while the Cottagers have won just two of their last fourteen. Sergio Aguero is expected to be recalled for City, having returned to training this week, while Roberto Mancini can also welcome Jack Rodwell back from injury and Samir Nasri from suspension. Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and Abdul Razak miss out once more through African Cup of Nations duty while Micah Richards and Maicon remain injured. Martin Jol will be without Karim Frei and Mahamadou Diarra but Steve Sidwell is expected to return after injury while Dimitar Berbatov will start after being rested in midweek.

Newcastle v Reading – Saturday 3pm
Newcastle welcome Reading to St.James’ Park in what looks like a crucial battle for both teams. The Magpies sit just two points – and two places – outside the relegation zone while Reading, despite a magnificent 3-2 victory against West Brom last time out, remain second from bottom. Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa, Dan Gosling and Haris Vukcic remain injured for the hosts while Cheick Tiote misses out through his involvement in the African Cup of Nations. Alan Pardew may be able to call upon Steven Taylor once more however, after the centre-half trained with the club this week while Shola Ameobi returns to the fold having served a one-match suspension last time out. Brian MDermott could hand debuts to new signings Stephen Kelly and Hope Akpan. Jason Roberts and Alex McCarthy remain sidelined for the Royals but Mikele Leigertwood should feature after recovering from a knock.

West Ham v QPR – Saturday 3pm
QPR will travel a short distance across London to play West Ham, with both sides searching for much-needed points. The Hammers have taken just four points from the last eighteen on offer while QPR, despite taking four points from games against Chelsea and Tottenham, remain rooted to the foot of the table. George McCartney, Andy Carroll and Modibo Maiga remain sidelined for the hosts while Sam Allardyce may be able to include Joey O’Brien and James Collins once more. QPR will be able to call upon new £8 million signing Loic Remy for the first time. Junior Hoilett is expected to return, Esteban Granero and Armand Traore are doubtful while Jose Bosingwa, Samba Diakite, Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson will all miss out.

Wigan v Sunderland – Saturday 3pm
Wigan welcome Sunderland to the DW on Saturday with both sides looking to secure some points which would edge them further away from the relegation fight. Both sides have shown an improvement in form of late – with Wigan having gained four points from their last three while Sunderland have won four of their last seven. Wigan’s Ivan Ramis has joined an injury list which already includes Adrian Lopez, Ben Watson, Albert Crusat and Ryo Miyaichi while Arouna Kone misses out through African Cup of Nations duty. Roberto Martinez must decide whether to give places to new signings Roger Espinoza and Man United loanee Angelo Henriquez. Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill is expected to welcome back John O’Shea and Steven Fletcher after both missed out in midweek while new signings Kader Mangane and Alfred N’Diaye could be included. Carlos Cuellar, Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole and Danny Rose are all expected to miss out for the Black Cats.

Swansea v Stoke City – Saturday 3pm
Swansea will be confident of gaining a result on Saturday as they are unbeaten in five in the league. Stoke, on the other hand, have suffered back-to-back league defeats but they will be buoyed by a fine victory in the FA cup in midweek. Neil Taylor is the only major injury concern for Swansea while Michael Laudrup must decide whether to hand a debut to new-signing Roland Lamah. Marc Wilson and Rory Delap are back in training for the Potters while Jermaine Pennant has returned from a loan at Wolves but none of the trio are expected to feature. Andy Wilkinson is the only other doubt for Tony Pulis’ side.

West Brom v Aston Villa – Saturday 5:30 – Live on ESPN
Aston Villa travel to the Hawthorns for Saturday’s evening game in desperate need of a victory after slipping into the relegation zone last weekend. Villa have taken just one point from their last five games while West Brom will be looking to bounce back after they slumped to a disappointing defeat against Reading last time out. Youssouf Mulumbu, Steven Reid and Zoltan Gera will all miss out for the Baggies while Steve Clarke will have to check on the fitness of Jonas Olsson, Claudio Yacob, Shane Long and Marc-Antoine Fortune before deciding whether to include them or not. Chris Herd, Gary Gardner, Marc Albrighton and Karim El Ahmadi will all miss out for Villa while Paul Lambert has doubts over the fitness of Shay Given, Joe Bennett, Richard Dunne and Darren Bent. However, club captain Ron Vlaar is expected to give the visitors a timely boost by returning to the starting line-up.

Chelsea v Arsenal – Sunday 1:30 – Live on Sky Sports 1
Arsenal make the short trip to Chelsea in the first game of the Super Sunday double-header and the Gunners will be looking for a victory to keep them on the coat-tails of those in the top four. Chelsea will be looking to bounce back after throwing away a two-goal lead against Southampton last time out. Yossi Benayoun and Oriol Romeu remain injured for the hosts while Victor Moses and John Obi-Mikel will miss out once more through African Cup of Nations duty. However, Rafa Benitez may well be able to include skipper John Terry from the start. Lukasz Fabianski, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Gervinho will all miss out for the Gunners but Theo Walcott, who has today ended speculation about his future by putting pen to paper on a new long-term contract, is expected to lead the line once more.

Tottenham v Man United – Sunday 4pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
Manchester United travel to London on Sunday looking to make it five wins in a row in the Premier League while Tottenham will be hopeful of causing an upset, after beating the league leaders at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Younes Kaboul, William Gallas and Sandro are all injured for Spurs while Andre Villas-Boas will also be without Emmanuel Adebayor as he represents Togo in the African Cup of Nations. Darren Fletcher will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his bowel. Jonny Evans, Nemanja Vidic and Ashley Young are all doubts for United but all three could be fit enough to feature.

Southampton v Everton – Monday 8pm – Live on sky Sports 1
Mauricio Pochettino will take charge of his first game as Southampton boss as the Saints welcome Everton to St.Mary’s on Monday evening. The Saints go into the game in fine form and are unbeaten in their last five in the Premier League. Everton aren’t doing too badly either with just one defeat in their last six in all competitions. Pochettino will only have to deal with the absence of two key players for his first game in charge as Jose Fonte and Adam Lallana remain sidelined. Toffees boss David Moyes will be without Tony Hibbert and Darron Gibson once more while there is a doubt over the fitness of Kevin Mirallas.

Fantasy Football
The main point to consider for fantasy managers in gameweek 23 is the double fixtures of both Arsenal and West Ham. Last week’s double for Chelsea and Southampton demonstrated the value of transferring in double gameweek players with Cesar Azpilicueta, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Frank Lampard, Nathaniel Clyne, Jason Puncheon and Rickie Lambert all producing double figure points hauls. Without doubt many managers will be looking towards Arsenal players this week with fixtures away to Chelsea and at home to West Ham along with the added bonus that Arsenal’s fixtures remain relatively strong for the weeks ahead with home games to come in weeks 24, 25 and 27. The main contenders for transfers in for the Gunners are Wojciech Szczesny (5.3), Kieran Gibbs (5.7), Santi Cazorla (9.6), Theo Walcott (9.2) and Lukas Podolski (8.3). Theo Walcott looks to be the main man here. If Walcott can maintain his place up front and continue his recent form – he has averaged just under ten points per game over the last five gameweeks - then he is surely a must going into the double. The next man to consider has to be Santi Cazorla. Although Walcott has taken the limelight in recent weeks, Cazorla has scored more points than him over the course of the season and a gameweek 17 haul of 23 points is indicative of what the diminutive Spaniard can produce when on form. In terms of defenders, Kieran Gibbs is probably the pick of the bunch but it is worth noting that the likes of Bacary Sagna (5.1) can be picked up cheaper.

Moving on to West Ham and a double at home to QPR and away to Arsenal looks potentially profitable. While you would not expect a clean sheet away to Arsenal, the Hammers could well keep out QPR at home and over the course of the two games they could score a few goals. So who are the condenders here? In goals, Jussi Jaaskelainen looks a safe bet – he is the fifth highest scoring goalkeeper in the game and at 5.3 million, he could be one to hang onto for the season. In defence, Joey O’Brien’s return from injury is timely given his goal threat. The Irishman sits just outside the top ten defenders in the game – despite the fact that he has only started 14 of the 22 gameweeks so far. If you’re looking for a budget option, then Guy Demel is your man. Coming in at just 4 million, he seems a relatively certain starter and a player you could keep for the season. In midfield, Kevin Nolan (6.5) seems the best option. Despite the fact that he has not scored or produced an assist since gameweek 11, I am backing Nolan to come good in the double and produce some scoring returns. If you don’t fancy Nolan, you could consider Mark Noble (5.0) – he is a budget option and will be stepping up if the Hammers win a penalty. Up front, things are pretty bleak for West Ham – Carlton Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te have only mustered a meagre three goals and three assists between them all season and should be avoided. While new signings Marouane Chamakh and Wellington Paulista may change the Hammers fortunes in front of goal, it is too early to say what sort of impact they will have, if any.

Looking outside of the double gameweek and there are a couple of interesting transfer targets – the main one being Luis Suarez at home to Norwich. Suarez has scored back-to-back hat-tricks in his last two appearances against the Canaries and he looks a good bet for more returns tomorrow. If you’re unable to afford Suarez then Daniel Sturridge (7.3) could be worth consideration here. The second transfer in I would recommend this week is Sergio Aguero – the Argentine is expected to return for City and he could wreak havoc against a Fulham side who have been pretty toothless of late. Again, there is a budget option here with Edin Dzeko providing value at 7.4 million. If you’re looking for something of a punt, Papiss Cisse (home to Reading) or Romelu Lukaku (home to Villa) could fit the bill.

In terms of clean sheets (which have proved insanely hard to predict this season), this week I’m going with Liverpool (home to Norwich), Man City (home to Fulham), Newcastle (home to Reading) and possibly Everton (away to Southampton). Also, for those of you yet to use your Winter Wildcard, beware that you must use it before the end of gameweek 24 (2nd of February at 11:30) – if it is not used by then you will be unable to use it.

Enjoy Super Sunday and the rest of the weekend and I’ll be back next week with more news and views from the world of football.

You can follow Dave McArdle on Twitter: @DaveMidands103


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