Friday, 13 August 2010

Barclays Premier League prediction


Chelsea- Despite having lost the peripheral figures of Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Juliano Belletti, Carlo Ancelotti’s squad is hardly weakened from the team that wrapped up the double in May. What might hurt them is the loss of Ricardo Carvalho, so often John Terry’s safety net. Even without the Portuguese defender The Blues have enough going forward to comfortably secure their fourth Premier league crown.

Champions League:

Arsenal- Arsene Wenger can be more than satisfied ahead of the new season after a decent summer's work. A new forward, in Marouane Chamakh, a dominating centre half in Laurent Koscielny and the retention of Cesc Fabregas has been the fruit of the Frenchman’s labor but acquiring a new goalkeeper, perhaps Mark Schwarzer, will be vital to their title challenge.

Manchester United- While Sir Alex Ferguson is yet to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention spend the money from the sale of the former world player of the year, the Scot does appear intent on building for the future. The signings of Javier Hernandez, Bebe and Chris Smalling might help United to future glories but they are unlikely, along with the old guard of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, to lead the club to another league triumph this season.

Manchester City- The most active of all of their Premiership’s elite, and given their spending power there is only so long they can be kept out of the top four; this season should be the start of their breakthrough. Jerome Boateng and Yaya Toure will add defensive steel, while new boys David Silva and Mario Balotelli can be called upon up front, along with Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor.

Europa League:

Liverpool- Roy Hodgson has his work cut out to survive The Reds’ impending takeover, let alone to reclaim one of the four Champions League spots. While his reputation will help retain his job, the problems on the field make it difficult to contend for the title. Fernando Torres’ fitness will be crucial, as will the ability to keep Javier Mascherano happy, as the Argentine looks for the move to Barcelona.

Tottenham Hotsphur- Have been surprisingly quiet during this summer on the transfer front, and that lack of action might be their downfall come May. Loic Remy does appear to be on his way however, and he needs to help improve Spurs’ away form if they’re to challenge with the ‘big four’ again. Perhaps some strengthening to the back four needs to be made with Ledley King’s injury problems still apparent.

(Everton)- As a top four side invariably reaches the FA Cup final the Premiership's seventh placed side is handed a European place and after the resignation of Martin O'Neil, Everton look the most likely after retaining their star names after the World Cup.


Wigan Athletic- Were the third lowest scorers in the division last season and even with the signing of Mauro Boselli it’s unlikely their fortunes will change. The loss of Charles N’Zogbia, whose transfer request is imminent, could be the final nail in the coffin.

West Bromich Albion- Another whose failure to find the net could well be their downfall. Have the likes of Chris Brunt and Graeme Dorrans in midfield, but don't have a forward with the ability to find the net with any great consistency in the Premiership.

Blackpool- Simply don’t have the resources to keep up with even the more modest Premiership sides and a quick return to the Championship is on the cards. Marlon Harewood is the highest profile name to arrive but even he won’t be able to keep The Tangerines afloat.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

npower Championship prediction


Middlesbrough- After the mass signings from north of the border Gordon Strachan appears confident he’s found the right mix for a promotion tilt. Kris Boyd is the biggest of those new names, along with Nicky Bailey, the tricky midfielder from Charlton.

Nottingham Forest- Billy Davies’ men have lost very few of the squad that took them to the play-offs last season and appear set for a similarly high finish this term. Only James Perch has departed to Newcastle while the likes of Rob Earnshaw and Lee Camp have amid speculation over their future.


Reading- Perhaps a surprise inclusion but after their amazing turn around during the second half of last season under Brian McDermott Reading could be ready for a return to the Premiership. Gylfi Sigurosson might be the big game player in the team but keep an eye out for Shane Long, conqueror of Liverpool.

QPR- Have at last got the right man at the helm in Neil Warnock. The no nonsense manager is still looking to bring in Darren Ambrose from Crystal Palace, while the return of Adel Taarabt is still not yet assured. Expect a more resolute Rangers team this season, a factor that should result in a top six finish.

Burnley- Worked on a low budget in preparation for relegation, from the Premiership and they look better equipped than they did two years ago at winning promotion. Brain Laws has recruited former player Lee Grant in goal, while Ross Wallace’s signing is a real feather in the cap for Laws.

Norwich City- Paul Lambert turned Norwich around last season after a poor start under Brian Gunn, and I expect more heroics from the Scot this season as well. It’s crucial the club re-signs Fraser Forster in goal, while the combination of Andrew Surman and Wes Hoolahan in midfield could be devastating.


Watford- Relied mainly on young players and loan signings last season as they finished 16th, but without those same player who Malkay Mackay has failed to re-sign you have to worry for a thin Hornets squad. Long season ahead.

Barnsley- Appear to have released a number of their finer players without bringing in proper replacements and that spells doom for Mark Robins’ side. One of those, Liam Dickinson, has limited championship experience, but will nevertheless be the main goal threat.

Scunthorpe United- Survived by five points last season but without Paul Hayes and Gary Hooper relegation seems a certainty. Chris Dagnell will be left to fight on his own up front, and the step up from League Two should be too great for him.

npower League One prediction


Southampton- So often teams find it hard to raise themselves again after a successful season dominated by a points deduction. I don’t expect it to be plain sailing for Alan Pardew’s men but with the squad they have, on top of the investment that will come in January if all is not right, makes them favorites for promotion.

Huddersfield Town- Lee Clark appears to have added steel to Huddersfield’s leaky defence by signing Joey Gudjohnson in midfielder and defender Gary Naysmith, and along with last season’s similar frightening forward line it could be the perfect combination to fire Huddersfield to promotion.


Charlton Athletic- In my mind Phil Parkinson worked wonderers at Charlton last season and despite losing two both Jonjo Shelvey and Nicky Baily for hefty fee’s I expect much the same this year round. The loss of Deon Button is a blow with Akpo Sodje expected to be relied on for goals.

Sheffield Wednesday- Despite last season’s final day heartbreak I expect Alan Irvine to motivate his squad for a stab at re-promotion to the championship. The loss of Lee Grant is a huge blow, but Clinton Morrison’s signing on a free is a real coup.

Bristol Rovers- Never truly replaced Rickie Lambert last season and faded away during the final 10 games of the season. Now with Will Hoskins on board, and Luke Daniels in goal, a man pivotal to Tranmere Rovers’ survival last season Rovers are equipped to finish in the top six.

Peterborough United- The experience of Gary Johnson could prove pivotal for Posh as they seek re-promotion to the championship. With George Boyd on board and new signing Grant McCann the London Road faithful can rest assure the club is in good hands. Let’s hope owner Darragh MacAnthony lets them get on with it.


Hartlepool United- Survived by the skin of their teeth last season after a succession of loan signings, but after failing to sign up Roy O’Donovan and making little changes this summer you have to fear for Chris Turner and his team.

Carlisle United- Ian Harte’s heroics last season are unlikely to be repeated as the full-back struck 18 times for the mid-table side. Richard Keogh and Scott Dobie’s departures aren’t ideal with replacements few and far between.

Dagenham and Redbridge- Even though John Still has brought in some impressive names, not least Damien Scannell from Southend you have to fear Dagenham’s jaunt in League One will be a one-season affair. Still’s policy of also drafting in non-league players is bold, but unlikely to pay off a division above.

Rochdale- Not that it will dampen their supporters’ spirit, but the club’s first promotion since 1974 might end with just a single season in League One. Keith Hill has seen a succession of key players depart, not least Chris Dagnall, and with Craig Dawson’s future also uncertain it’s likely to be a long season at Spotland.

npower League Two prediction


Rotherham United- The fine line between a top seven finish and a season in mid-table might be down to whether Ronnie Moore can retain forward Adam Le Fondre for another year. If he can, The Millers are more than equipped to go one better after last season’s playoff heartbreak.

Shrewsbury Town- Graeme Turner did so much with so little at Hereford and has already started to acquire shrewd new players. Lionel Ainsworth has joined after a previous spell under Turner at Easter Road while Ian Sharps’ signing could be the difference.

Wycombe Wanderers- Might have appeared a bizarre move at the time, but Gary Waddock’s move to Wycombe appears to be making sense. They put up a hell of a fight last season and expect more attacking verve this time around. The experienced Nikki Bull and forward Scott Rendell are some of the new faces.


Gillingham- The Gills have made one of the signings of the summer in their new manager Andy Hessenthaler, who was working miracles down at Dover Athletic. Marque signing Adebayo Akinfenwa will grab the headlines one way or another and the acquisition of Lance Cronin could be inspired.

Oxford United- Play the right sort of football to be successful in this league, and have a forward with the correct attributes to score over 20 goals this season in James Constable. The addition of Mitchell Cole will add to a busy midfield.

Bradford City- Finished the season with something of a flourish, and with the right man in place, Peter Taylor The Batams’ League Two misery might finally be over.

Crewe Alexandra- Whether he’ll be the manager or not, Dario Gradi has a squad with the capabilities to entertain a few in League Two. Over 140 goals were scored in games involving The Railwaymen last season, but Clayton Donaldson’s presence up front could help them to a more consistent season.


Stevenage- Having lost Mitchell Cole, the acquisition of new players has been limited at Broadhall Way. Hard to see where the goals will come from amongst the forwards of Yemi Odubade, Tim Sills and Charlie Griffen and a quick return to the conference could be on the cards.

Aldershot Town- The Shots have endured plenty of change during these past 12 months, but this summers activity might spell the end to their football league status. A number of the clubs’ star players have departed and with Marvin Morgan’s future still uncertain, you have to fear for Kevin Dillon’s side.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Race for fourth could set precedent

While this evening’s battle for fourth place in the Premiership and that final elusive Champions League spot intrinsically surrounds Manchester City and Tottenham Hotsphur, in truth the result could well affect the remainder of the division just as much.

Blackburn Rovers and more recently Chelsea have seen daft amounts of money thrown at them in a quest to topple the best domestically and abroad and the success has since been littered.

Both sides did break Manchester United and Arsenal’s stranglehold on the Premier League title, but Rovers’ relegation four years after their title win proved that Sir Jack Walker’s back pocket, however deep, was no match for established success.

The men from the Kings Road lured successive league titles to Stamford Bridge after an investment on a scale that our country had never seen before, to the extent that no club was safe from Chelsea’s financial power.

The third bout of purchasing power in the Premier League has come from Manchester City, who after the rash signing of Robinho seem to have struck upon a formula of buying established league players, tried and trusted.

It speaks volumes about the stick-ability of United and Arsenal that they have been all but unmoved with all this money flying around and that despite an investment of over £100 million during last summer that City’s title ambitions haven fallen flat on their face. The question is, how long will they be kept at bay?

Tonight’s result might go along way to solving this mystery. If the Eastlands club are victorious, Sheikh Mansour has vowed to again bank role his second City manager, with Roberto Mancini this time the beneficiary.

The effects of that sort of money management, where price is no object, will create a far greater chasm between the top four and the rest of the division. With Champions league football on offer who can City not attract?

If they lose, then an air of realism will be shed on the issue, that no club can go from mid-table to Europe’s elite with just the flutter of a checkbook. And thank goodness that so far that hasn’t become a reality.

The worry would be is that if City are successful it would just open the floodgates to the extent the shape of the league we once knew will be nothing more than a distant memory.

There victory in finishing fourth would prove to any investor that they could take a mid-table Premiership side, for which City were, to the Champions League inside a year. Scary thought.

The gap is such that a nine-figure sum has seen a rise to possibly 4th in the league. How much could we see spent this summer to help topple either Chelsea or Manchester United? £300 million? Who knows.

Spurs are an entirely different story however. Yes, manager upon manager has been given license to spend money, and plenty of it, but the investment has purely been to keep pace with the rest of the league, not to try and surpass it in one fell swoop.

They’ve honestly built there way up the league slowly but surely. In addition it’s refreshing to see a team near top of the league headed up by a number of English players. Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Defoe have been at one time or another integral to Spurs’ progress.

You also have to admire Harry Redknapp as well; at least in the way he’s taken his side from dire straights last season, to Champions League potential this, with a mere quarter of the money available to their opponents.

So whom are you supporting? A team decked with stars and style that are going for hit or miss success? Or a side who’s steady progress is the sort of model that any England league side should pride itself on. All I’ll say is this; football rewards the decent and often not the foolhardy. Mr Redknapp will be hoping for as much this evening.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Lampard's Professionalism Going Unnoticed

In sport consistency is key to any success, and in Frank Lampard, Chelsea have a player whose reliability is as undeniable as it is astonishing.

Lampard reached 20 club goals for the 5th season in a row, after scoring four goals, two of which were penalties, against Aston Villa on Saturday.

The regularity of his performances, his temperament on the field and his refusal to disgrace himself in the public eye means he is the modern day professional in amongst the playboys of the Premier League.

Above all else his performances for both Chelsea, and England have always been exemplary, only Wayne Rooney can boast to having similar success for both club and county.

Gone are the days that saw England fans use Lamaprd as the scapegoat for their inability to qualify for the European Championships in 2008. Yes, Steve McLaren was slated off the pitch but Lampard was the main focus of abuse on it.

Those same England fans have now been eulogizing over Lampard’s performances for the national side, all of which have been while playing largely out of position in a more reserved role alongside Gareth Barry.

Continual comparisons to his father (left) contributed to Lampard's exit from Upton Park

While at West Ham United Lampard failed to escape from his father’s shadow, being branded ‘Fat Frank’, and a move to Stamford Bridge, for a hefty £11 million, helped loosen those shackles. That move signaled an improvement in his career, regular England call-ups and stunning long range strikes followed as did league titles under Jose Mourinho.

Along with a superb goal tally, for which he now lies 3rd in the all-time list of Chelsea goal-scorers, he holds the record for consecutive appearances in the Premier League for an outfield player, at 164.

This is a tribute to his dedication and conditioning as a footballer and it’s no coincidence that he doesn’t get long term injuries, while England’s current skipper Rio Ferdinand, has played just four league games all year and played a bit part in the countries successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

The pressure upon Lampard on the pitch is heightened by the fact he’s the Blues’ regular penalty taker, and his success is astounding with just a single failure in four years.

His quality from the spot was clear to see as he scored three times from 12 yards against West Ham United earlier this season, after having to retake the penalty twice.

In addition he struck from the spot in extra-time of a Champions League semi-final against Liverpool in 2008 just a week after the death of his mother. His two handed point to the sky, a salute to his late mother, now accompanies every goal from Lampard, and Chelsea fans certainly aren’t getting bored of seeing the gesture.

Lampard's tribute to his mother accompanies every goal he scores

As if that wasn’t enough, his profile off the pitch is nothing short of exemplary, a few misdemeanors during his younger years only went to teach Lampard how to behave as a professional footballer, and the death of his mother matured the player further.

That mellowness was clear to see, when last year, during a radio talk show, he called in after being labeled as weak and scum by presenter James O’Brien following accusations that he wasn’t looking after his children appropriately after his split from Elen Rives.

He dealt with the issue in a dignified manner, and given that the radio show coincided with the anniversary of his mother’s death, his coolness was applaudable.

His split from Rives in 2009 was much publicized in the tabloids, but did it affect his performances? Not one bit, as he scored a 90th minute winner for Chelsea against Wigan Athletic that very same month, Terry take note.

Yes, like any other footballer he earns one of the higher wage packets in the division, £150,000 a week to be exact, but given that he’s rarely unfit it’s hardly money gone to waste and in truth he’s probably a victim of the money dominated era of the game we’re now experiencing, rather than being a cash grabber.

It begs the question, with all these attributes, why the 31-year old wasn’t chosen as England’s replacement skipper, after team-mate John Terry was stripped of the captaincy.

Maybe the close relationship between the two always put Lampard out of the running, but if Fabio Capello was that bothered about relationships in the camp, and given Terry’s popularity, he wouldn’t have made the change at all.

I personally find it difficult to find a flaw in Lampard; he doesn’t goad supporters or lambast referees while he doesn’t crave media attention or fruitless sponsorship deals like many others. It’s just a shame that Mr Capello doesn’t seem acknowledge him in the same vein.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Could this be the most exciting Formula 1 season ever?

It may have been 159 days ago that Jenson Button secured the Formula 1 Drivers Championship, but in truth its feels like just yesterday that the 30-year old produced one his finest performances behind the wheel as he powered his way to the title in the Brazilian sun.

But after a summer of activity, including team changes, new rules, new teams and the return of an old face we’re again ready for what’s gearing up to be one of the most exhilarating seasons in recent memory.

The biggest of those stories revolves around the return of Michael Schumacher, who after a four year absence from the sport has given in to the calls for his return as he links up with the Mercedes team, and Ross Brawn in particular.

That duo masterminded Ferrari’s dominance of the sport at the beginning of the current century, and both will be keen to continue their great relationship in this toughest of seasons.

One of the unique aspects of this F1 season is the amount of former World Champions around, and the last two champions, both of who are British are teaming up for McLaren in a mouthwatering duel.

Lewis Hamilton had a subdued year in an off the pace McLaren car, while his new teammate Button stormed to his first world title after winning six of the season’s opening seven races.

The way Hamilton took the sport by storm in his first two seasons, missing out on the title in Brazil in 2008, and then on the exact same stage the following year piping homeboy Filipe Massa to the title in a race in which he finished fifth, the same position that confirmed Button as champion last season.

Both are sure to be vying for the title, Hamilton probably has the upper hand given his long history with McLaren, but Button won’t want to give up his title with a whimper, watching two Brits fight for the title for a British team will be thrilling.

As ever we have new teams, three at that, with Lotus F1, Hispania Racing and Virgin Racing coming into freshen up the sport, but there are fears about the ability for any of the teams to be competitive on the track, or to even survive until the end of the season, have already surfaced.

Yes, the FIA have permitted these teams to start the season, and given the financial restraints the governing body now impose on the sport, a thorough inspection into each teams finances should have been carried out so that a mid-season collapse doesn’t ensue.

As ever the FIA have chopped and changed with the rules, two of which stick out like a sore thumb.

Firstly there will be no re-fueling during the race, meaning pit stops will be shorter, but at the same time it means there is no margin for error during the stops like there may have been before.

Given that, qualifying will now be a true reflection on how fast each car is during a weekend, making it far more accurate, but is part of the excitement in waiting till race day to discover the fastest man on the grid and of the weekend?

The second, and the most radical, is the change of the points system, with the top 10 finishers now eligible for a point, with the podium finishers likely to pick up 25, 18 and 15 points respectively.

The clear downside is the history of the sport in terms of point scoring is now irrelevant, and now with a higher and widespread scoring system there’s nowhere to hide for any team.

Will the system mean more drivers can challenge for the title? That’s left to be seen, but with so many scoring spots will drivers be less willing to go for a podium finish when they know a top 10 finish will see them score anyway?

It’s one of the number of questions to be answered for the new season, and another is how some of the new drivers will fit in at their new teams, and the focus in that respect is liable to be on the fourth world champion competing in this season, Fernando Alonso.

Ferrari have rid themselves of their world champion Kimi Raikkonen, and Alonso will join Massa in an exciting line up for the Italian based team and the Spaniard is many people’s favorite for this years title.

Elsewhere Niko Roseberg is to be mentored at Mercedes by Schumacher after his move from Williams and replacing him will be Rubens Barrichello, while Heikki Kovalainen joins Jarno Trulli at new team Lotus Racing.

There are so many sub-plots to this year’s championship it’s impossible to know where to look next, and the season is still yet to kick off.

Personally, the plot I see coming to the fore in the championship race is that between Hamilton and Alonso, a pair who have their history while at McLaren, but in opposite teams, with fine cars at their disposal, a real title battle can unfold between the two.

Last season showed Formula 1 still possess some unpredictability, but with last year’s rules now very familiar to most teams, shocks might be few and far between, but excitement? Now that’s a given.