World Cup 2014: Top 10 Ones to Watch

brazilwinThis is my personal selection of the ten players you should most keep an eye on at the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil. The action gets under-way tomorrow. How many of these guys will show their true potential on the big stage?

Alexis Sanchez (Chile and Barcelona)

Chile are an outside bet to surprise a few people, as they often do at World Cups. Being in their own conditions will certainly help. England found out at Wembley just how good they can be, as they played the Three Lions off the park. Sanchez is  absolutely key to their chances. He is a player who can play all across the front line from right to left. He has pace, tricks and 22 goals in 67 appearances for his country. That tells you how valuable he is. We are all fortunate to have this very exiting player to watch.

Lionel Messi (Argentina and Barcelona)

The diminutive attacker has struggled for many years to perform at international level, away from the comfort blanket of Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta. Argentina don’t provide him with quite the same support that he is afforded at Barca. While his two team-mates have won everything you can win with Spain without him, and been key parts of that success, Messi has underperformed massively in international tournaments. However, he did produce during qualifying and led Argentina to a first place finish. He is obviously an outstanding player, but he will need to do it for his country on the big stage. Until he does that, he will always be in the shadow of Diego Maradona.

Mario Gotze (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Germany – as they are at most World Cups – will be favoured to make the latter stages of the tournament. If that is to happen, the 22 year old number 10 will be a big part of it with Germany’s lack of elite centre forwards. They only have Miroslav Klose. He obviously has incredible pedigree – with 69 international goals and great previous tournament performances – but he is 36 years old. That may lead to Gotze playing as a false 9 as the Spanish called it. That is due to the rich array of attacking midfield options at the disposal of coach Joachim Leow, such as: Ozil, Kroos, Schurrle, Muller and Draxler. His bobbing and weaving, dribbling ability and low centre of gravity make him immensely dangerous and a potential star of the show.

ronaldoportugalCristiano Ronaldo (Portugal and Real Madrid)

Portugal stuttered into this year’s tournament, needing a two legged play-off against Sweden to get to Brazil. Nonetheless, never fear. Ronaldo scored four goals over the two games, including a stunning hat trick in Sweden during the second leg. If he can carry his country to the late stages of the tournament, he is a possible Player of the Tournament contender. Ronaldo is an astonishing athletic specimen with incredible aerial ability, a powerful strike from either foot and searing pace. He has had some injury concerns heading in, but if fit, he should shine as the best player in the world by far.

Eden Hazard (Belgium and Chelsea)

Belgium are a team well worthy of their position as an outside bet from the European nations. If they adapt to the conditions sufficiently enough, they have an outstanding pool of talent in every position from back to front. However, they will need their talisman, their wing wizard at his best. If they are to push the very best teams and make some waves in Brazil, Hazard will need to be on top form.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy and Juventus)

The great Italian is to retire international football after the 2014 tournament, so sit back and watch a true great for the last time in the old Italian blue. Despite being 35 years old, he still runs the show for both Italy and Juventus. The Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli builds the whole team around him. He plays in front of the back line and starts attacks from his deep lying position like a quarter-back in the NFL. His passing range is incredible, incisive and deadly accurate. England will need to stop him if they are to have any success against the Italians.

James Rodriguez (Colombia and AS Monaco)

Colombia are a very interesting team, particularly in this tournament as it’s in South America. During qualifying, they finished second behind Argentina. Already at the young age of 22, Rodriguez is a star player. He thrives in coach Jose Peckerman’s fluent style of play, has great dribbling ability, immense technical ability and is comfortable wide and drifting inside. Rodriguez also isn’t afraid to put in a shift for his team.

suarezLuis Suarez (Uruguay and Liverpool)

He has injury concerns over his knee going in but it would be stupid to discount Suarez. Uruguay are one of my favourites to win the World Cup. They possess lots of quality but they will need their talisman, who scored 11 in 16 during qualifying, if they are to achieve their potential. Suarez has a unique ability to beat a man in a tight area and also works expectationally hard for the cause. He can make something out of absolutely nothing and is a clear contender for Player of the Tournament.

Neymar (Brazil and Barcelona)

Brazil must be able to shoulder the expectations of millions this summer as they go in search of a sixth triumph. They won the 2013 Confederations Cup in convincing fashion, with Neymar named Player of the Tournament. The youngster operates in a free role from the left hand side, in coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s system. He displays an abundance of pace, quick feet and a keen eye for goal. Unlike most players of his generation, he has good passing ability too. He is certainly one to watch and should entertain us all at the very least.

Arjen Robben (Netherlands and Bayern Munich)

The Dutch flew through qualifying with 9 wins and a draw from 10 games. Coach Louis Van Gaal has changed the style of play from incumbent Bert Van Marwijk’s unattractive defensive football to a fluent, quick,  possession dominated style. His philosophy sees a lot of young talents such as Bruno Martins Indi, Daley Blind, Jordy Clasie and others being allowed to express their ability. However, Robben – along with Robin Van Persie – will need to produce if the Dutch are to go deep in the competition. The wide-man has searing pace and direct running, and that will be key. His decision making has improved as he has age. He is now a deadly finisher and has a much improved work ethic.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the 2014 World Cup!

Glenn

EPL: Top 10 Man United Players of the Premier League Era

utdtrebleHere is my list of the ten best Manchester United players of the Premier League era. This is just my personal opinion, and they feature in no particular order. Did I miss someone? Leave a comment and let me know. I hope you enjoy reading.

Denis Irwin (1990-2002)

Hard working, loyal, understated, and above all very gifted. His trophy haul at United is phenomenal. The man won seven Premier League titles in a nine year period between 1992-2001, while rarely being out of Sir Alex’s side. Irwin was an outstanding defender and that’s why Fergie used to call him 8 out of 10, due to his consistent performances, hardly making a mistake over a decade plus. The Irishman was also an excellent free-kick and penalty specialist, and would regularly weigh in with valuable goals. In my opinion, he was one of Fergie’s very best buys, without any doubt.

David Beckham (1992-2003)

Becks was quite possibly United’s most famous player, but underneath all that stood a player of genuine quality. He won six Premier League titles between 1995-2003, his delivery from the right hand side put terror into the hearts of defenders and goalkeepers for over a decade. He was regularly contributing double figures in goals, his undeniable quality with free-kicks and corners also made him immensely valuable.

On top of that, he was a terrific passer who had excellent range, while always working incredibly hard. He formed a great partnership with Gary Neville down the right hand side for club and country. Unfortunately, David left the club under a cloud of controversy after Fergie got tired of his off-field antics. This famously culminated in a row involving a flying boot, which didn’t help matters much. However, that shouldn’t detract the quality and the achievements of an outstanding player and a true professional, though it sadly often does.

Rio Ferdinand (2002-2014)

What a player! Rio won six Premier League titles between 2002-2013. At the time, he was the most expensive defender on the planet when he was purchased for £30 million. United got their money’s worth and more, out of a simply wonderful player. The reliable centre back formed one of the all-time great United defensive partnerships with Nemanja Vidic. The two were at their absolute peak between 2006-2009, when United won three straight league crowns.

Their goals conceded record over those three 38-game seasons reads as follows: 06/07 – 27, 07/08 – 22, 08/09 – 24. That is a demonstration of incredible consistency. Rio is a Rolls Royce of a defender. He’s exceptional on the ball and good enough to bring it out from the back and start attacks. Unlike David Luiz – who PSG just paid a small fortune for – he could also handle the defensive side of his game with class. What where they thinking?

Rio was an outstanding defender, a superb reader of the game and did not even look like he was running most of the time. He just floated over the ground. A truly world class player who proved to be worth every penny and more.

nevillemirrorGary Neville (1992-2011)

The best English right back of his generation. The now popular Sky Sports pundit won eight Premier League titles between 1995-2009, and captained the club after Roy Keane’s departure in 2005 until he retired. He was the undisputed first choice right back for club and country for more than ten years. That tells you everything you need to know about his consistent performance. As I mentioned earlier, he formed an outstanding partnership with David Beckham on the right for United and England.

Gary was a great reader of the game and a very intelligent player. Perhaps his most impressive quality was his loyalty. In a world where players change clubs like they change socks, he was United through and through – a true leader in the dressing room and a fans favourite. His dislike for Liverpool was never hidden during his career, as his celebration after Rio’s late winner against the hated rivals at Old Trafford will attest. He was a player that opposing fans loved to hate, but you would want him down in the trenches with you when the going got tough. United still haven’t adequately replaced him since his retirement.

Peter Schmeichel (1991-1999)

This man was arguably the greatest Goalkeeper to ever play in England. The Dane won five Premier League titles between 1992-1999. The big man was an intimidating presence in one-on-one situations and a dominating presence from crosses. He always had control of his area. He was a leader, a talker, an organiser of defenders. He had great distribution with his hands or feet. This truly world class player was voted as the best keeper on the planet on multiple occasions, and was worth his weight in gold. The only comparable keeper in today’s game would be Bayern Munich and Germany’s stopper Manuel Neuer, who is very similar.

The great Dane proved very difficult to replace after his departure in 1999, as it took a full six years and countless keepers including Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll before a sound replacement was found in Edwin Van Der Sar. That tells the story of how great he was.

Roy Keane (1993-2005)

I’ll tell you how good Keano was! It’s 2014 and United are still yet to replace him. He left the club in 2005, having won seven Premier League titles between 1993-2003. Roy was the perfect box-to-box midfield player, famed for his aggressive and highly competitive nature. He captained United from 1997 until he left the club in 2005, and it was in this role which he shone brightest. I have never seen a player have more influence and drive over a group as Roy did.

He was an extension of Sir Alex on the field, and led by example. The Irishman inspired everyone around him, chased every loose ball down, and if someone was out of position, Keane filled in for them! He drove the team on. His passing was simple but very effective, and he came up with crucial goals on multiple occasions. His incredible will to win was probably his most important trait. There were more talented players at the club at that time, but few who gave more and were more important. He was a pivotal cog in the United machine, and was also always fun for the media. The fiery midfielder was never short of a comment. In my opinion, he was United’s greatest ever captain.

ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo (2003-2009)

The Portuguese joined the club as a raw 18 year old from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 for £12.24 million and left as the most expensive player in the world at the time, when Real Madrid shelled out £80 million for him. Ronaldo won three Premier League titles between 2006-2009 and was the most integral part of those winning teams. His incredible season in 2007/08 – in which he scored 42 goals in 49 appearances – led to United winning the Premier League and Champions League double.

Ronaldo finished as top scorer in both completions with 31 goals in 34 appearances in the League and 8 goals in 11 appearances in the Champions League, and even won the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Player of the Year. He won both for the second consecutive year and won the Ballon d’or too! It’s impossible to dispute the fact that Cristiano is and was an incredible player. He has pace, power, two capable feet, he’s great in the air, and he can play in practically any attacking position.

He has since gone on to prove how great he is at Real Madrid. His name is still regularly sung by the United faithful and rightfully so.

Eric Cantona (1992-1997)

The flamboyant Frenchman won four Premier League titles between 1992-1997. He is a big reason for the way the club is today. In those times, he was an absolute key man in ending 26 years of hurt in the league. He won four League titles in five years, and the only year he didn’t win the title was when he was suspended for the second half of the 94/95 season for attacking a supporter who taunted him after he was sent off.

United went on to lose the Title to big spending Blackburn Rovers. People certainly remember the notorious attack on the Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park on January 25 1995, for which the Frenchman was given an eight-month worldwide football ban and also lost his international career with France. However, people should remember the charisma, the impact and the incredible talent he possessed. His unpredictable nature and sheer magnetism seemed capable of carrying the team whenever it was needed. Eric helped develop and inspire the famed class of 1992 to eventually succeed him in leading United into a glorious time.

King Eric was a massively important part of the clubs history.

scholesPaul Scholes (1994-2013)

Paul Scholes was ultimately brilliant, and the most talented midfielder England has ever produced, without any shadow of a doubt. He won eleven Premier League titles between 1995-2013 and was universally praised by such people as Xavi Hernandez, Josep Guardiola, Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, Marcello Lippi and Thierry Henry – that’s not a bad list of admirers.

He had a wonderful first touch and a way of receiving possession. His incredible technical skills, vision, passing range and an ability to find space. Scholes could control the tempo of a game better than anyone and scored some of the best goals you will ever see among his 107 Premier League strikes. Perhaps his most likeable trait was his quite unassuming personality – he was a true professional. He never wanted the spotlight, despite being widely regarded as a true United great. The Ginger Magician really was one of a kind.

Ryan Giggs (1990-2014)

The flying Welshman won thirteen Premier League titles between 1992-2013. As a pacy wide man during the first half of his extraordinary career, some young fans might forget he was Gareth Bale long before he came onto the scene. He possessed searing pace and a great end product, evidenced by his 109 Premier League goals and also his Premier League record number of assists.

Later down the line, he adapted his game to lengthen his career and became a clever deep play-maker where his vision and passing ability shone and allowed him to play beyond his 40th birthday. That is an extraordinary achievement. Speaking of which, he holds the record for the most appearances in Premier League history, and is the only player to play in every season of the Premier League since it began. Ryan played in the old first division before the league began and scored in every Premier League campaign, apart from this last one.

He has just retired to become Louis Van Gaal’s assistant and a possible future United boss. Ryan Giggs displayed incredible longevity and with so much experience is a true icon.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

EPL: Top 10 Most Improved Players in 2013/14 Season

lukeshawSouthampton’s Luke Shaw – Getty Images

Here is my selection of the ten most improved players in the Premier League 2013/14 season. They are in no particular order. Leave a comment and let me know who you think should have been on the list.

Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

Massive improvement from a player that at times was shaky during Brendan Rodgers’ first campaign at Anfield. This was an improvement you would expect from such an exciting young talent as Sterling, but I don’t think anyone expected what he has shown this past season. He has produced incredible pace and dribbling ability, as well as being brave as a lion. At times, he has been unplayable and has certainly made a wide berth at Liverpool his own for the foreseeable future. The youngster was deservedly selected for the World Cup in Brazil and should shine as an impact sub at the very least, possibly even as a starter.

Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)

This young midfielder has begun to show why his early promise got so many people excited during those early days at Leeds United. He has been one of the few bright spots for a Villa side that struggled for long portions of the season. His ability when playing box-to-box is impressive. One minute, he is on the edge of his own box making a tackle or block, and the next he is on the edge of the opposition box getting a shot on goal or arriving on the end of a cross. His tenacity and energy means he is a firm favorite with the fans and a key player for Villa, as they look to improve next season. In my opinion, he was unlucky not to get picked for the World Cup.

Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

This boy has shown this season that he is versatile, strong, quick and has great technique. He kept arguably the best left back in the history of the Premier League out of the side for much of the season, despite being a natural right back. He has now established himself as one of the first names on the team sheet for Jose Mourinho, and Ashley Cole has actually left the club. He thoroughly deserved his call up for the Spanish national team for the World Cup.

Adam Lallana (Southampton)

Adam is one of my favourite players to watch in the whole league. He has really been flourishing under Mauricio Pochettino’s fluent way of playing, whether it’s on the left, right or in a classic free-roaming number ten role, Lallana makes an impact on almost every game. His has great balance and an ability to go either way, along with vision and a goal tally that continues to improve. There is talk of a move to Liverpool, and that tells the whole story for a player who came all the way up from League One with the club. Excellent call by Roy Hodgson to take him to Brazil, and he should start.

Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)

The Frenchman had a tough task last season replacing Robin Van Persie, who went on to win the title with Manchester United and played a starring role in doing so. He somewhat flattered to deceive. However, in his second season, he has certainly improved and carried the Gunners frontline by himself, particularly when Aaron Ramsey was lost for much of the second half of the season. Giroud was integral in helping end a nine year barren run with victory in the FA Cup final and once again qualification for the champions league.

giroudArsenal’s Olivier Giroud – Getty Images

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

I’m still not sure if he is worth his price tag but he has become a very valuable player for Brendan Rodgers. As highlighted earlier with Fabian Delph, his best quality is his box-to-box energy. He also has the ability to harass and pursue possession of the ball from the opposition. To add to this, he has scored some important goals along the way this season, and can also play numerous midfield roles, allowing a manager like Rodgers to be flexible and change tactics during games. He should start for England in Brazil.

Luke Shaw (Southampton) It feels strange to say that this guy is eighteen, as he certainly doesn’t look like a teenager barely out of school. He is an imposing figure at 6’1 with powerful electric pace. He loves to get forward and play in the opposition’s half, but is also good in the tackle and defends the back post very well, which is very important for a full back. He’s also blessed with great technique. This kid has emerged as the true definition of the modern full back.

Like his team-mate Lallana, the youngster is also subject to speculation, with talk of a big money summer move to Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal. That tells you all you need to know about his progress. He could eventually move into a more attacking forward role, as comparisons to fellow Saints Academy graduate Gareth Bale refuse to go away. He got a much deserved call up for the World Cup squad, and I feel he should start over the highly overrated Leighton Baines.

Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

It’s been a magnificent season for the Welshman, who has improved drastically upon his previous campaigns. He added goals to his already good technical qualities, and his box-to-box range should continue to get better and better under the guidence of Arsene Wenger, providing injures don’t stunt his growth. Unfortunately he suffered a long lay off this season which cost the gunners immensely and may have cost the midfielder a shot at the PFA Player of the year award, which he was running away with earlier in the season.

Seamus Coleman (Everton)

What a great season it has been for the Republic Of Ireland international. He has really blossomed under the guidance of first year Everton coach Roberto Martinez. He’s been given more freedom in the Spaniard’s attacking system to showcase his best qualities, which come in the attacking third. He has scored a lot of goals for a full back and they were real goals, unlike team mate Leighton Baines’ goals which pretty much all came from the penalty spot. His searing pace and direct running are always a threat to the opposition. It’s hard not to take into account, the best full back at Everton.

Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) What can you say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? After not making the grade at Chelsea or Manchester City, the young forward appears to have found his home under a manager who believes in him 100 percent and fans who love him undoubtedly. He is helped by the presence of such a wonderful player as Luis Suarez and the attacking system used by Brendan Rodgers, but you can’t argue with the facts. Alone, he is an incredibly dangerous player – be it through the middle or wide – and has a wonderful left foot. He scored some real peaches this season and has that touch of arrogance that all top players need. It will be fascinating to see if Daniel could be the man all by himself, if Suarez is continuously courted by the likes of Real Madrid. Sturridge really MUST start at the World Cup.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

Ryan Giggs Leads United revival with 4-0 Debut Win over Norwich

Rooney Tom Jenkins

Wayne Rooney celebrates one of his two goals – Source: The Guardian

Manchester United 4-0 Norwich City
Saturday 26th April 2014

United lifted the doom and gloom around the club by giving interim manager Ryan Giggs a perfect start with a comprehensive beating of relegation threatened Norwich City at Old Trafford. A double from Wayne Rooney (the first from the spot just before the break, and the second just after) killed the game and another double from substitute Juan Mata (continuing his good recent form in front of goal) ensured the club legend got the victory which the Theatre Of Dreams demanded.

The new boss got a rapturous welcome from the fans who are used to seeing him out on the pitch as a player. They seemed to love seeing him in a suit and tie, as he took his seat in the famous raised dugout alongside fellow class of 92 graduates Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville. United did not have everything their own way as a determined City side fighting for their lives worked hard to keep them out early on. However, once the deadlock was broken, it could have been five, six, seven, any number you want.

As he promised in his press conference on Friday, Giggs’ United played with far more pace, tempo, passion and – above all – width that actually mattered, not just get the ball wide and toss the ball in as United did early in the season under David Moyes, during a disappointing 2-2 home draw with basement team Fulham, where they set a Premier League record for crosses during a game. This was real width, used to stretch the opposition and get the full backs pushed on the overlap. The third and fourth goals coming from crosses from Phil Jones and Patrice Evra.

Danny Welbeck had United’s best effort before they took the lead. His powerful shot was well saved by Norwich keeper John Ruddy at his near post, after a cross from the left came all the way through to him. United eventually broke down the Canaries’ resistance in the 40th minute as Welbeck was dragged down by Steven Whittaker who – for some reason only known to referee Lee Probert – did not receive a straight red card for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity. He did not get a card of any description, amazing! Wayne Rooney dispatched the penalty with little fuss, sending Ruddy the wrong way with a confident side foot finish to open the flood gates.

Rooney extended the lead just after the break in the 48th minute with a beautiful curled effort, in off Ruddy’s far left hand post from twenty yards. He had been given the freedom of Old Trafford to cut across Norwich’s defence from the left hand side. Welbeck was denied again with Ruddy making a stunning save to keep out his powerful volley from the edge of the box, and then outgoing skipper Nemanja Vidic headed just over from a Rooney corner after a good flick on by the majestic Michael Carrick. Carrick did not give a ball away all evening.

Then it was time for sub Juan Mata to put the game well out of Norwich’s reach, as he tucked home very well from a wonderful Jones cross in the 62nd minute. United’s Domination was further enhanced as Mata nodded in an Antonio Valencia effort in the 72nd minute, after a good move lead to Evra standing up an excellent cross to the far post. United could have had several other goals. Rooney could easily have had a hat-trick as two curled efforts were well kept out by Ruddy. He also saw an audacious chip land on the roof of the net, inches away from a great goal.

Substitute Javier Hernandez missed a wonderful chance late on, when he found himself one-on-one with the Goalkeeper, but he dragged his shot wide, having been released by an excellently timed pass from Mata. Norwich had a few decent efforts from distance, a free-kick and a shot from long range were well saved by David De Gea, and another effort from well outside the area deflected onto the crossbar, but Norwich will be disappointed with their effort in a game which they needed to get something out of.

Norwich need points in their fight for survival but a crowd of 75,208 went home happy with smiles on their faces, just as Ryan Giggs had promised.

Man Of The Match: Michael Carrick gets it for me. It’s amazing what a change of manager and philosophy can do for a player who has looked lost all season. He returned to last season’s form in this game, the form that lead to him being nominated for PFA Player of the Year. He sat between Rio and Vidic all evening, and because more people were moving forward and making runs, with the fullbacks bombing on, he was left with space to conduct the game and hardly wasted a ball. The whole game revolved around him, and he set everything in motion.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

A Wonderful Christian Eriksen Performance Leads Spurs to Victory Over Fulham

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Younes Kaboul celebrates rare goal – Source: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Fulham
Saturday 19th April 2014

A wonderful performance from Christian Eriksen helped Spurs to three points and kept the Cottagers in danger. Tottenham kept their faint hopes of a top four finish alive with a performance that included a bit of everything from Eriksen. The Danish playmaker produced two excellent assists, but also gave away a needless penalty. Fortunately for him, Fulham missed that penalty late in the game.

The home fans where subdued for a large portion of the first half at White Hart Lane, which gave the game a testimonial-type feel. For Spurs, this was understandable with only an outside chance of Champions League qualification to play for. That certainly wasn’t the case for Fulham and their supporters. The Londoners need every single point they can get their hands on, and after excellent back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Norwich City, Felix Magath will be very disappointed not to continue building on that momentum.

Fulham started the game the brighter of the two sides, getting around the park and closing Spurs down,  and generally working very hard. Spurs seemed just happy to settle into the game slowly after last week’s debacle when they found themselves 2-0 down to West Brom in no time. The in-form Hugo Rodallega had the first chance, getting to the ball before Younes Kaboul, before hitting his shot well wide from twenty yards. Spurs’ first chance fell to Aaron Lennon who volleyed well over and then had another shot palmed onto the post by Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale.

Tottenham eventually got the break-through after the half hour mark, when Eriksen delivered a wonderful cross that was tucked away comfortably by the Brazilian Paulinho. This came after a dubious decision by referee Lee Probert to award a free-kick for a foul on Lennon. However, Spurs couldn’t celebrate for too long as Fulham hit back within two minutes. Steve Sidwell took advantage of some dreadful defending from centre backs Zeki Fryers and Younes Kaboul to poke beyond Hugo Lloris, leaving the Frenchman with little chance to save.

Fulham were now very much back in the game, but they will be very upset by their second half display, considering what’s on the line for them. They needed to push on but Spurs cantered to victory. First they regained the lead barely into the second period after some poor marking led to youngster Harry Kane glancing a header into the corner of the net, from a Lennon cross. He is continuing to re-pay manager Tim Sherwood’s faith in him, after scoring for the third consecutive league game.

Fulham did have a chance to equalise but Rodallega’s header was excellently parried over by Lloris. That was Fulham’s last chance really as Spurs increased their lead. Eriksen was once again at the heart of it as he produced another great dead ball and Kaboul bundled the ball into the goal at the back post, with Stockdale helpless. The game appeared safe but there was a chance for some late drama when Eriksen handled Rodallega’s touch. Referee Lee Probert had no doubt about the decision, pointing to the spot straight away. Sidwell took the kick but Lloris made a marvellous stop. If that had gone in, who knows what could have happened, but it wasn’t to be.

Fulham are still very much in the thick of the relegation battle, two points behind Norwich. However, the Canaries’ run-in will give Magath’s side some hope for beating the drop. This was a good win for Spurs as Tim Sherwood continues to stake his claim for the job long-term. That probably won’t happen but I think he should get a chance elsewhere.

Man Of The Match: Christian Eriksen continued his incredible recent form with two lovely assists. If he had produced this form for the whole season, Spurs might have had a better chance at the top-four and the Dane might have got a nomination for PFA Player of the Year. Look out for him big time next season!

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

Fulham conquer Norwich in vital relegation six-pointer

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Hugo Rodallega celebrates another vital goal – Source: EMPICS Sport

Fulham 1-0 Norwich City
Saturday 12th April 2014

Fulham won a huge three points in the scrap for survival to make it two wins in a row for Felix Magath’s men. That win lifts the Londoners to within two points of the Canaries who have a horrible run-in and look likely to struggle to add many points to their current tally. However, the great escape is well and truly on now for Fulham. They followed up last week’s big win at Villa Park with another, but it was Norwich who had the best of the first-half chances.

The game was very frantic in the early stages. Pajtim Kasami tried his luck but Norwich goalie John Ruddy was able to see the ball drift wide. Nathan Redmond then got free down the right but his effort was parred behind by David Stockdale, who excelled throughout. Martin Olsson was released by Bradley Johnson’s through-ball but Brede Hangeland cleared. Johnny Howson’s volley deflected off Jonny Heitinga. Steve Sidwell then over-hit his cross when well placed, as the frantic nature of the game showed no signs of abating.

Ruddy was then stretched to his limit but Hugo Rodallega angled his shot just wide after Kasami had flicked on well. Rodallega would have had a very good chance to score but failed to anticipate Sidwell’s touch, only eight yards out, with Norwich’s defence breached in the 19th minute. Bradley Johnson then made a timely intervention to send Kasami’s shot spiralling over Ruddy’s crossbar. The Norwich Goalkeeper spilled Keiron Richardson’s corner but was pleased to see the ball squirm across his six yard box.

Norwich then had two good chances to take the lead but found an inspired David Stockdale in their way. First with a quite brilliant one-handed reaction save from no more than six yards in the 28th minute from Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, and then his reactions were needed again from the resulting corner as he saved well from Dutchman Leroy Fer’s header, before Howson poked wide. Norwich then won a free kick when Heitinga hauled down Fer, who was cautioned by ref Mike Dean for attempting to take the set piece quickly and roll the ball into the open goal. Robert Snodgrass eventually took the free kick and drilled it against the crossbar.

Fulham then took the lead – very much against the run of play – five minutes before the break. They won a free-kick when Richardson was brought down by Stephen Whitaker, who was subsequently booked. Rodallega swept home after a wonderful delivery from Lewis Holtby and a flick on by Sidwell. Fer tried to get Norwich back in the game with an instant riposte but Sidwell threw himself in front of his strike. Fulham then nearly made it 2-0 from Richardson’s corner but Rodallega’s header at the far post was shovelled off the line by Martin Olsson for another corner.

Snodgrass was only denied by a desperate lunge from Hangeland six yards out after more good play by Johnson and Olsson. Then Askhan Dejagah’s whipped cross saw Rodallega head over. Shortly after, Johnson slipped over deep in Fulham’s half. It could have proved costly, as Sidwell led the break with support steaming up the pitch. Michael Turner just got back to divert the ball back to Ruddy, before substitute Gary Hooper swivelled onto fellow sub Wes Hoolahan’s threaded pass, but Fernando Amorebieta’s touch diverted the ball over.

Rodallega then denied Turner a certain leveller as he cleared the centre back’s header off the line. Fulham were now almost exclusively playing on the counter, as they looked to protect their one goal lead. Ruddy did well by using his lower body to keep out Sidwell on one of these occasions. Norwich strived to turn their territorial dominance into a goal but huffed and puffed and couldn’t blow Fulham’s house down. Things could have been worse for Norwich as Dejagah smashed over in stoppage time with just Ruddy to beat. Can Fulham survive? They have a manager that has the experience to do it and with Norwich’s run-in and a manager that has one game under his belt as the head man, they have to believe they have a great chance now, being just two points behind Norwich.

Man Of The Match: Hugo Rodallega worked tremendously hard all game and got the all important goal. He could have had a couple more, but that’s two huge goals in the last two weeks he has got, and six huge points for his club. He is another person who has seen it all before with Wigan, when they survived on the final day of the season at Stoke.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

Juan Mata proves his worth in a comprehensive United win over Newcastle

juanmataJuan Mata is really finding his form – Source: AP

Newcastle United 0-4 Manchester United
Saturday 5th April 2014

Juan Mata steals the show as David Moyes rested several players ahead of the Champions League second leg showdown with defending champions Bayern Munich. Mata was key to a 4-0 victory at Newcastle which moved United into the top six and into the European places. The Spainard netted twice and produced a sensational backheel for Adnan Januzaj’s goal as he is beginning to produce the form everyone knows he is capable of, playing in his favoured number 10 role in the absence of Wayne Rooney. He now looks like a player who cost £37.1 million.

David Moyes made eight changes to the team that performed so well against Munich in midweek, ahead of Wednesday night’s second leg, but that mattered not as United deserved to win as easily as the scoreline would suggest. After a bright start from The Toon, the victory was not without controversy. Referee Kevin Friend came under fire for giving a soft free-kick which led to Mata giving United the lead. The Magpies could have no complaints after that however, as Mata made it two shortly after the break.

Two wonderful team goals finished off by Javier Hernandez and substitute Adnan Januzaj sealed a routine win. The loss was the Geordies’ fourth in their last five league games, with only one goal scored. From the moment Mata gave United the lead, there was little chance of Newcastle completing a first double over United in the league since 1931. There was a bit of a testimonial feel to the game with Moyes’ eyes on Munich on Wednesday and Alan Pardew revealing before kick-off that his players where maybe struggling to get motivated with little to play for.

Newcastle started the brighter of the two sides with right back Davide Santon delivering several dangerous crosses into the box. It was from one of those crosses that Dan Gosling headed just wide in the second minute and Papiss Cisse forced a good save from Anders Lindegaard, who replaced the rested David De Gea in goal. However, the home side could not make the most of other promising moments and let the visitors off the hook. They were made to pay as controversy arose when Gosling was not impressed to be ruled against for a challenge on Darren Fletcher on the edge of the penalty area. Despite the protests, Mata curled a wonderful left footed effort up over the wall and down under the crossbar into the top corner with Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot crasping at thin air. It was an incredible piece of artistry.

The game should have been made potentially safe in the waning moments of the firstperiod. The excellent Shinji Kagawa released Hernandez and the Mexican can count himself unlucky to see his curled effort come back of the post. Any chance of a Newcastle comeback was ended within five minutes of the restart. Fabricio Coloccini attempted to chest the ball to the full back but the ball was intercepted by Kagawa who slid Hernandez in. The Little Pea squared for Mata and the diminutive Spainard cleverly dummied the defender and goalkeeper with his left foot and calmly tapped home with his right. This was a wonderful display of composure.

Hernandez could have made it 3-0 shortly after with a quick shot which went over, but the little Mexican got a well deserved goal for a hard working display when he turned the ball in at the near post after excellent approach work by Januzaj and Kagawa. Lindegaard still had a couple of saves to make from Cisse, first turning away his curling effort and then producing an incredible save to deny the Newcastle front-man from just six yards. United ended the contest with a fourth goal in stoppage time. Januzaj played a one-two with Mata and the playmaker’s wonderful backheel released the young starlet, who finished with a comfortable side foot. David Moyes will be happy with a fourth consecutive away win in the league and the ideal warm up for Wednesday night

Man Of The Match: Excellent performances from Hernandez, Kagawa and Januzaj but the vote goes to Juan Mata, for his sparkling display. Two wonderful goals and an incredible assist for Januzaj’s goal were the highlights, but he was involved in everything good about United, playing in his best position as a number 10. He looked well worth every penny of that £37.1 million when he played in this role.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

Wayne Rooney wondergoal helps Man United defeat West Ham

rooneygoal

Wayne Rooney wondergoal – Source: Sportimage

West Ham United 0-2 Manchester United
Saturday 22 March 2014

Manchester United returned to league action after beating Olympiacos to get into the Champions League Quarter Finals. England international Wayne Rooney kept up the feel good factor with two goals to see off West Ham. His second moved him to 212 goals for United, putting him into third place on the club’s all-time top scorers list. He surpassed Jack Rowley who scored 211 times for the club from 1937 to 1955. Now only Denis Law – with 237 from 1962 to 1973 – and Sir Bobby Charlton -with 249 from 1956 to 1973 – are ahead of the 28 year old now.

It was Rooney’s stunning first goal that will live on forever in memory. The England man produced a goal similar to David Beckham’s wonder-goal at Wimbledon in 1996. Rooney’s goal arguably required more technique because it was hit on the volley rather than with the ball under control on the ground. Rather fittingly, the club legend himself was there to witness the goal in person. Rooney’s performance was certainly a timely boost as United had just lost Van Persie for up to six weeks with a sprained knee. That will put him out of both legs of the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich.

His absence was one of six changes from the victory over Olympiacos. Another one of those changes was the introduction of the very impressive Marouane Fellaini. The big man came very close to putting United in front after barely three minutes. His powerful header was cleared off the line by Andy Carroll. David Moyes’ side continued to have the upper hand as Shinji Kagawa collected a poor clearance from James Tomkins and then freed Juan Mata. However, Adrian did well to keep out his fellow Spaniard.

Unfortunately for him, he was helpless as United took a deserved lead when Rooney probably secured his success in this year’s Goal of the Season contest. He won a duel with Tomkins on the half-way line and turned quickly to spot Adrian off his line and hit a wonderful swerving one-bounce half-volley and into the goal from at least 50 yards. A speechless David Beckham watched on from a luxury box and smiled wryly at a goal similar to his own famous goal, which is still talked about 18 years on.

After the shock of conceding such an incredible goal, West Ham went in search of the equalizer. Mohamed Diame saw a shot blocked by Alexander Buttner. Andy Carroll glanced a Kevin Nolan free kick just wide and then powerfully headed straight at David De Gea moments later. Diame lost his feet just as he was about to shoot, as the home side continued to press. However, United were still very much a threat on the counter. When they attacked, they did so quickly with much more penetration than has witnessed for much of this campaign.

Rooney, Kagawa and the outstanding Mata combined very well. The latter two combined for United’s next chance, as Mata released Kagawa, who’s left foot shot was saved by Adrian. Mata was next to test the West Ham shot-stopper as he stung his palms with a fierce drive after getting free of Diame’s challenge. The visitors did not have long to wait for goal number two. West Ham’s Kevin Nolan went down easily in the box claiming a penalty which was waved away by referee Lee Mason. United immediately broke away with Rooney releasing Ashley Young. The wide man sent in a low cross which Mark Noble could only play straight into the path of the on-rushing Rooney, who adjusted well to easily tuck home in the 33rd minute.

Rooney could have had a first half hat-trick but failed with three more efforts. West Ham huffed and puffed after the break but United’s somewhat makeshift back four – which included central midfielder Michael Carrick at centre half – held firm. Rooney and Mata were taken off, no dobut with Tuesday’s Manchester derby in mind. Rooney’s replacement Javier Hernandez could have scored twice. First kagawa failed to pick him out at the far post after another flowing move, and then the Mexican failed to make a clean contact when put clear with Adrian racing from his goal. The excellent Fellaini – who did an outstanding job of marshaling Andy Carroll all game – should have had a late penalty awarded when he put himself in the clear with some great play. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was taken out from behind. Referee Mason disagreed but it mattered not, as David Moyes’ side secured a third successive away win in the league, and deservedly so.

Man Of The Match: Marouane Fellaini’s put in an excellent all-round performance. The giant Belgian screened well in front of Carrick And Jones, effectively marked Carroll from all set-pieces – dropped back into open play to take Carroll out, and displayed neat and tidy in possession. His play allowed Mata and Kagawa in particular to flourish. He could easily have had a couple of goals. He had a header cleared of the line early on in the game and right at the end was brought down just before getting a shot away. He just needs a run of games now to show his worth, after an injury plaged season.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

Mourinho, Ramires and Willian shown red in Chelsea defeat to Villa

chelseating

Reaction to Ramires red card – Getty Images

Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea
Saturday 15 March 2014

Chelsea’s title charge was damaged when they fell to defeat against Aston Villa. To make matters worse, their manager Jose Mourinho was sent off, along with two of his players. Willian was the first to go for two yellows and Ramires went for an ugly challenge on Karim El Ahmadi that could have broken his leg. It was one of the worst tackles of the season without question and it angered the Villa bench. That led to Mourinho being dismissed by referee Chris Foy who has now sent off six Chelsea players – and now one manager – in his last eight games with the Londoners. Willian might argue his second yellow was harsh but Ramires simply had to go.

Regardless of how they did it, Villa got a huge win thanks to a cheeky goal from the man of the match Fabian Delph. The Special One suggested that Manchester City – who picked up a fine win with ten men away at Hull City earlier in the day – are poised to claim top spot should they win their games in hand. Mourinho himself failed to win at Villa Park which is somewhat of a bogey ground for him. He’s picked up three losses and three draws at the stadium, which for such a great coach is unbelivable.

Chelsea – as well as with the red cards – felt hard done by as Nemanja Matic’s effort was disallowed for handball. Chelsea had the early superiority in the game but it was Villa who nearly made an early mark as Christian Benteke headed over, after a quick break from Gabriel Agbonlahor. Chelsea responded by nearly creating a chance for Torres but Eden Hazard’s cross went over the Spainard’s head. Willian was next to threaten when his great feet opened up the space for a shot from distance, but that hit the side netting with Guzan streching.

Paul Lambert’s positive approach which is designed to counter fast was working well as Karim El Ahmadi blazed over and Christian Benteke went close to meeting Andreas Weimann’s pass. Chelsea dominated possession but Villa’s quick breaks forced Chelsea back, so they could only threaten sporadically. On one such occasion,  Oscar’s pass sent Torres away, only for the forward to run wide and delay, allowing the outstanding Delph to cut out his cross.

Villa’s confidence appeared to be growing and they were not phased by Chelsea’s firepower, working hard and closing down, allowing no space for the blues to create easy openings. Torres was given another chance to shoot only to be met by a wall of claret and blue shirts. Benteke went very close at the other end. Villa broke and the ball fell to the big Belgian whose scissor kicked vollied the ball past Cahill and Cech, only for it to go just wide.

Chelsea believed they had got the opening goal when Matic scrambled the ball into the net from a corner but it was correctly ruled out. Chelsea might disagree with the decision but it certainly seemed to be a clear handball by the Serbian midfielder. His Portugesse manager was frustrated again soon after that incident, when Ramires was hacked down by Joe Bennett. Mourinho Wanted a red card but didn’t get one. Oscar could only put the resulting free kick into Brad Guzan’s hands.

Later in the game, Villa were being forced back and their defending became desperate with both Vlaar and Joe Bennett just hoofing the ball away only for it to come straight back each time. Chelsea were now on top but the Villa defence continued to stand firm. The away side’s frustration grew further when another Torres shot was charged down. Villa broke away with Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor combining but as the goal appeared to arrive, Benteke steered his shot narrowly wide.

Mourinho made a couple of changes. He took off Oscar and the woeful Torres. However, it was a decision made by referee Chris Foy that would make the ultimate difference. Willian was shown a second yellow card for a nudge on Delph as he ran at the Chelsea goal. Mourinho looked shocked and Chelsea now faced a tough test. Despite being town to ten men, they nearly had a great chance to pass that test when Andre Schurrle was brought down by Ron Vlaar right on the edge of the Villa box. Unfortunately for them, he was clearly outside. The situation did not need John Terry running fifty yards to protest.

Chelsea were then shocked to the core as Delph broke away, passing to Marc Albrighton who crossed for Delph, to deftly flick the ball past Cech for the winning goal in injury time. Cech deflected another effort from the outstanding Delph onto the bar before Ramires was given a straight red card for a truly terrible stamp. That was the cue for chaos on the touchline, as the Villa bench appeared to be very unhappy about the tackle, and protested as such. Mourinho was sent to the stands for coming onto the pitch.

It was a big loss for Chelsea. Maybe Jose is right, maybe it is Manchester City’s title to lose. His side certially did not look like Champions in this game.

Man Of The Match: Fabian Delph produced an outstanding display, full of energy, tackling, good positioning and leadership, as well as a great goal. He should be considered a late contender for the World Cup squad.7

Thanks for reading,

Glenn

Chelsea progress in the balance after draw against Galatasaray

Fernando TorresPhotograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea
Wednesday 26 February 2014

Chelsea took the lead early in Turkey but the tie remains very much open after a second half goal levelled the match. Jose Mourinho’s pre-match talk about Chelsea not having a forward proved to be apt. They certainly lack a striker of the quality they need to win at the highest elite level. Chelsea will be favourites to prevail over Roberto Mancini’s men in the second leg, but this fatal flaw could cost them if they progress any further in the competition.

The blues started the game great with the Turkish team allowing far too much room in the wide areas. This was exploited for the opening goal, first by Schurrle, then by the excellent Azipilicueta. The Spaniard squared the ball to his countryman Torres who had the simple task of giving Chelsea the lead. Azipilicueta continues to show everyone why Ashley Cole is not getting a sniff at left back.

Chelsea could have been in front early in the match when the Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera cleared poorly straight to Willian. Unfortunately for Jose’s men, the Brazilian could not chip the Uruguayan, who cleared very well with his head from outside his area. Chelsea’s style seemed perfect for the opposition to sit back and counter into the open space left behind. However, the lack of a great front-man continued to hurt the Londoners as Chelsea dominated the first half but could not kill off the Turkish Champions.

When Torres missed a golden chance to make it 2-0 – after good work by Eden Hazard – minutes into the second half, they were punished for being wasteful. Chelsea had a few warnings before they actually conceded. Yilmaz had a goal disallowed in the first period because a second ball came onto the pitch before the striker put the ball into the net. Drogba headed down a corner for Inan but his teammate could only hit the post.

Finally, the blues paid the price for a sleepy second half performance when Sneijder’s corner – which both Cech and Terry failed to deal with – gave Chedjou the easy take of putting the ball into the open goal. It could have been worse for Chelsea as the home fans turned the noise up even more. Cech was up to the task, tipping over Telles’ fierce shot. The game petered out somewhat with Chelsea apparently happy to go back to The Bridge with an away goal and the tie level. However, if you look ahead to the talent that the likes of Real, Barca and Munich possess in the final third, it’s sobering to see that Chelsea are just not in the same league, and Jose knows it only too well.

Man of the Match Cesar Azipilicueta continues to show why he has made the left back berth his own this season. He is a great defender who is also more than willing to get forward. The goal was a fine example of this outstanding contributions.

Thanks for reading,

Glenn