Saturday, 18 August 2012

Barclays Premier League: The Title Showdown

A Barclays Premier League season brings huge expectations and hope with it. From mouthwatering top of the table clashes too some equally interesting relegation battles, the BPL is like a soap opera in itself. Like a much awaited seasonal TV series the league has its fair shares of ups and downs. A fair bit of drama follows with teams either over performing or underperforming at critical junctures putting entire predictions into disarray. Despite all this only a couple of clubs begin as favorites to clinch the league championship. As usual we have the two teams from Manchester and European Champions Chelsea followed by dark horses Arsenal as favorites to lift the title, forming the new BIG 4.

Manchester United:
Perennial favorites Manchester United will once again begin this season the more or less the same way, the only difference being that they will be the Challengers to Manchester City’s Champions. After what has been an extremely fruitful transfer window, Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to pick up a couple of quality signings to strengthen a team that missed out on last year’s title by mere seconds. With Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa now added to the United midfield and a deal for meteoric Dutch striker and last year’s BPL Golden Boot Robin Van Persie almost completed, SAF will be hoping that he has done enough to wrest back the title from Mancini’s boys. One of the major points of concern though for Manchester United has to be that of underperforming French full-back Patrice Evra. Once considered as among the best of his generation, Evra has struggled for form and consistency in the past season. A bid to replace him with Everton’s left English left back Leighton Baines has reportedly failed. Also on the roster will be the young blood of Englishman Nick Powell and Chilean Angelo Henriquez. Manchester United though will have to deal with some serious issues in the starting line-up with a mouthwatering group of strikers in Rooney, Persie, Hernandez and Welbeck to choose from. What happens to Berbatov is yet to be seen. In the evergreen Giggs and fantastic trio of Young, Valencia and Nani, United truly have a world class squad. Their main cause of concern is repeated injuries. Players like Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling being injured for long periods of time was the main reason they missed out on the title last year. SAF will have to make sure they last the season if they want to even come close to winning the title.

Manchester City:
An uncharacteristically quiet transfer window has seen Manchester City’s big spending cut down to only one £12 million signing in the form of Everton wonderkid Jack Rodwell. With an embarrassment of riches at their disposal, having quality players for every position, Manchester City will begin their title defense as favorites. Roberto Mancini’s men go into the season with a disadvantage having shot stopper Joe Hart and captain Vincent Kompany both suffering from injury niggles. With an in-form Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez alongside temperamental Mario Balotelli at their disposal, City should have no problem in racking up the goals. An unchanged side will also work to their benefit as the squad has already played together and linking up of players during passes and crosses will come far more naturally and easily. Mancini though will be looking to add to his player rosters. With talismanic midfielder Yaya Toure, known for his accurate long range goals, fit and raring to go, and Frenchman Samir Nasri also coming into form, the midfield looks solid and ready. Wingers David Silva and James Milner have been in fine form and Micah Richards had a good outing at the Olympics. Mancini’s new target this year seems to be to get multiple trophies. Their biggest obstacle though, will be handling large player egos. Dressing room showdowns and infighting will have to be managed by Mancini if he wants to deliver trophies he has promised to his Arab bosses.

Champions of Europe Chelsea will look to lay their hands once again on the title that they have secured thrice under Roman Abramovich. Although a widely criticized defensive display was responsible for that fabled Champions League triumph, Chelsea have decided to break the bank this season to fulfill what has been Roman’s aim of playing “beautiful football”. Almost £65 million have been spent on signing young superstars in Belgium’s Eden Hazard, Germany’s Marko Marin and Brazil’s Oscar to team up with Juan Mata, Ramires and Frank Lampard to provide the attack with some teeth. As Chelsea embark on their first post-Drogba season, all eyes will be centered on £50million signing Fernando Torres. After what had been an extremely torrid first 6 months, Torres has started showing flashes of the brilliance that prompted Abramovich to sign him. Unlike KOP flop Andy Carroll, Torres has actually started to get into his own groove having scored a hat-trick (albeit against relegation threatened QPR) and taking home the golden boot at EURO 2012.The opening goal in the community shield match against League champions City and an assured striking slot will surely add to his confidence. The emergence of young players in Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand will also add confidence to interim-turned-full time manager Roberto Di Matteo who will look to emulate his successful end to the season. Don’t be surprised if Chelsea manages to battle it out for multiple honors this year as the club will also compete for the FIFA Club World Cup and the European Super Cup.

Arsenal, dark horses of the premier league. Arguably the club which flatters to deceive year after year. Once, an invincible club in the premier league, the Arsenal of today somehow manages to scrape into the top 4 year after year. Although they have a quality group of players and a fine manager, they, for some inexplicable reason manage to remain without a major trophy every year. Having lost Cesc Fabregas and now strike spearhead Robin Van Persie, Arsenal would have seemed to struggle to even compete for Europa League spots if not for some very shrewd signings by Arsene Wenger. For a manager whose name sounds like he was made for Arsenal, Wenger has been forced to take into some serious budgetary constraints while building his squad over the years. Usually a fan of French players and the French league, Wenger has gone against his natural nature to pick up Malaga’s Spanish winger Santi Cazorla and Cologne’s German veteran forward Lukas Podolski. In former Montpellier Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud they have a well-developed replacement for outgoing captain van Persie. Arsenal too boasts of an enviable frontline of Cazorla and Walcott in the wings and Podolski and Giroud up front. Their main cause of concern should be the defense and if they can make a quality signing before the window ends they could truly threaten to tilt the leagues balance in their favor. Arsene will though have to look out for long term injuries like those suffered by Wilshere to not put a dent into his plans. They should start small by aiming for the Capital One Cup and FA Cup as priority targets.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Chelsea Vs Manchester City Community Shield 2012 Preview


After what has been a rather agonizing wait for the first professional game of the season, Chelsea look to kick off their campaign with a win against Defending Premier League Champions Manchester City in the 2012 Community Shield.

What is usually a rather inconsequential game in the English football season, has created much hype and interest this time around given that the two richest clubs of English football will square of at Villa Park today. In what will be less of a match and more of a financial muscle-flexing and parading of their respective squads, a new-look Chelsea FC will look to stamp their authority as European Champions on an unusually unchanged Manchester City.

With a bunch of new signings in Belgian superstar Eden Hazard, Brazilian wonder-kid Oscar and slick German winger Marko Marin, Chelsea will look to play some beautiful football. With an unchanged solid defense at the back and the new influx of youthful creativity into the squad Chelsea's Russian owner will look to duel it out with City's Arab owner as to who is the original money spending Kingpin of the premier league.

Chelsea now under former Assistant and Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo have confirmed that they will be fielding an extremely strong squad as they expect to challenge with enough enthusiasm for each of the Seven Trophies they are eligible for.

Chelsea will unfortunately be without new signing Marin who is holding of a minor hamstring injury. he will not be risked. Chelsea are expected to lineup with experienced and in-form shot-stopper Petr Cech in goal. With a usual Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole back four. With Romelu Lukaku having joined former Chelsea player and assistant coach Steve Clarke at West Brom on loan Chelsea are left with only two out and out strikers in Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge. Torres is expected to lead the attack today. The main question that lies is who makes the cut for the 5 midfield slots as Di Matteo is sure to go with his Champions League winning 4-2-3-1 formation. Hazard is expected to start while Oscar will probably start from the bench.

Manchester City are reportedly without their central midfielder Gareth Barry and burly right back Micah Richards. Pablo Zabaleta will probably take his place then. The real toss up is between Lescott and Kolo Toure for the second centre back's slot, with Toure the most likely starter. Samir Nasri will probably get a chance to shine after some neat performances at Euro 2012. As usual Sergio Aguero will lead the attack with Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez will most likely playing a support role in the wings or off the bench.
Big man Yaya Toure will as usual play in the central midfield. David Silva is a lock-in for his left wing role.
Joe Hart is out of the squad with a back injury, which will see Romanian keeper Costel Pantilimon make rare appearance.

Line Up:

Bench: Hilario, Paulo Ferreira, Ryan Bertrand, Gary Cahill, John Obi Mikel, Oscar, Daniel Sturridge

Bench: Gunnar Nielsen, Gael Clichy, Joleon Lescott, Nigel De Jong, Adam Johnson, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko

Expected Result: 2-1 (Chelsea Victory)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The 'Heptuple'?

After what was probably the most dramatic turnaround in Chelsea history, a team that finished sixth in the Barclay's Premier League, a team that was trailing by a goal with two minutes to go in the Champions League final managed to pull off an extraordinary FA Cup and UEFA Champions League double, to cap what was an extraordinarily roller coaster ride.

After having sacked flamboyant, young and charismatic manager Andre Villas Boas after tasting a 1-0 defeat at the hands of over-achieving West Bromwich Albion, the reins of the club were handed to Assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo, a former Chelsea legend, and ironically sacked by West Brom themselves the previous year(and not mention an uncanny similarity to Dragon Ball Z character Krillin).
Roberto Di Matteo (top); Krillin (bottom)

He stuck to the tried and tested big guns, and based on an uncharacteristically dogged and rigid defending managed to pull of one of European Football's greatest coups by beating the mighty Barcelona and an in form Bayern Munich (who themselves had vanquished La Liga Champions Real Madrid) on the way to the final.

The lasting memory of that wonderful night on May 19 is the entire Chelsea team along-with Roman Abramovich celebrating with the trophy. Fans and spectators of the beautiful game thought that this was it. The capping of Chelsea's glorious reign under Abramovich's ownership with a trophy he has desired from the very start.

Yet this is just the beginning. That singular victory has opened up a frontier which could see Chelsea go down as the greatest ever football club in just one season. It could vanquish the amazing six-trophies-in-a-season record set by Barcelona by going one better. This is because the FA Cup double and Champions League title means Chelsea will battle it out for seven trophies this season. A Heptuple.

  1. UEFA Super Cup (vs. Atletico Madrid) (Champions League Winner vs. Europa League Winner)
  2. FA Community Shield (vs. Manchester City) (FA Cup Winner vs. Premier League Winner)
  3. Club World Cup (Champions League Winner against Champions from other continents)
  4. Barclays Premier League
  5. UEFA Champions League (Qualified via Defending Champion Rule)
  6. FA Cup
  7. League Cup
2012-2013 Possible Trophy Cabinet?

Chelsea's Pre Season Review- Goalkeepers


After what has already been an extremely exciting transfer window so far with multiple teams making multiple changes. Chelsea itself have been involved in a couple of big deals already and a few more in the pipeline. Yet, despite all this activity what will be carried on from last season will be the Goalkeepers.

1. Petr Cech

After having a not-so-very impressive first half of the season, the new Year really brought some good old fashioned no-nonsense Petr Cech magic. Strong reflexes, acrobatic saves and a number of shutouts really emphasized the point as to why he is Chelsea's current no.1 goalkeeper.
Cech appeared to have been faltering under Villas Boas' reign and a dubious statement by Chelsea owned Atletico Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois made it sound like Cech would hang up his boots. Yet Cech has persevered and was a critical factor which helped in deliver an unprecedented FA Cup, Champions League Double.

With Courtois returning to Atletico Madrid for another year on loan and young exciting youth keeper Rhys Taylor released there seems to be  non-existent competition for Cech.

Expected Forecast:
Premier league appearances: ~35
Champions League (considering only Group Stage): ~4
FA Cup and League Cup: Later stages only.
Club World Cup: ~1

2.Ross Turnbull

An ever present feature on the Chelsea bench, the only competition he has is with Hilario for that spot on the bench. Last year his only achievement was being promoted to the No.2 spot for a majority of the season. A player who has made only 4 premier league appearances since joining the club in 2009 and a handfull of Cup appearances, there seems to be no future at Chelsea for Turnbull. Yet he has been persisted with. The logical option would be to sell him or send him out on loan, given that he is not exactly Premier league material. Or just to liven things up a bit he could be given a chance against weaker teams like Reading,Southampton, Wigan etc.

Expected Forecast:
Premier League Appearances: 1 or 2
Other Competitions : ~3

3.Henrique Hilario

Not that I'm being rude or anything, but the fact that Hilario seems to keep getting one year extensions continues to bewilder and puzzle me. A decent understudy to Cudicini and Cech when he arrived in 2006. He has made 20 premier league appearances since then and about 20 other Cup appearances. Like his fellow keeper Turnbull Hilario too has not played a single game this year(2012) in any competition for Chelsea and Cech spectacular form doesn't seem to inspire hope for any more games either. Apart from a few pre-season friendlies or a couple of league cup games, I don't see Hilario getting any more games this season too. I'd reckon this is probably his last year in a Chelsea shirt.

Expected Forecast:
Total Games : 0

Upcoming Youngsters

Sam Walker  and Matej Delac

Sam walker the 6ft6in giant shot-stopper is probably the brightest academy prospect at the Bridge. An integral member of the 2009 FA youth Cup winning team, Walker has considerable lower league experience a Barnet, Northampton and Yeovil Town.

Matej Delac, the Croatian Goalie is another exciting youth prospect. Having been signed from Inter Zapresic in 2010 he has made few appearances but his skill level saw him made third choice keeper for the Croatian national side at the 2010 world cup qualifiers against Belarus and England.(He is yet to appear for the national side.)
 A couple of senior team appearances would definitely do their confidence and skills a world of good.

Monday, 4 June 2012

EPL Clubs As DC Comic Superheroes-Part1

Batman and Chelsea F.C.

 Among few of the extremely obvious compatible choices for Superheroes and Football clubs has to be Batman and Chelsea. Various congruences are as observed:
 Billionaires: We have Bruce Wayne, owner of multi-billion dollar company Wayne Enterprises and then we have Mr. Roman Abramovich, multi-billion dollar Russian oil Magnate.
 Trust: One of Batman's most important characteristics is his trust, or rather his lack of it. He never trusts anyone (which always seems to work in his favor). The only person he has faith in to finish the job is himself. Mr. Abramovich here seems to be of the same mold. One trophy-less season and out goes the manager, be it double winning Carlo Ancelotti or youth sensation Andre Villas Boas or even the 'Special One' Jose Mourinho. If you cant deliver you're out.
Superpowers: Another special feature of extraordinary hero is his lack of Superhuman powers. No eye-lasers, super strength, power of flight etc., just your future James Bondesque gadgets and superior fighting skills. Chelsea FC here seem to always have the power to beat anyone on their day but sometimes lack the bite, yet season after season based on pure hard work and true grit and determination they continue to win trophies.

Superman and Manchester United F.C.

Often regarded as the first superhero Superman, the Man of Steel is to the comic universe what Manchester United is to the Barclays Premier League.Guided by his adopted parents Johnathan and Martha Kent of Smallvile to grow up with a purpose, Sir Alex Ferguson of Scotland played that role in bringing out the Superman in Manchester United.
Known for their ability to score late-late goals and turn losing matches into victories most notably the Champions League victory against Bayern Munich in 1999, Man United see this remarkable ability in Superman who never gives up. Coming back from the brink of death against deadly super villains like Doomsday and Darkseid.  
After having dominated the Barclay Premier League for a majority of its 20 years the rise of some new heroes ( read. Manchester City- Green Lantern) and the return to strength of old ones like Chelsea(Batman) has taken some "weight"of this hero's shoulder.

Green Lantern and Manchester City F.C.

Though the colors don't match Green Lantern is Manchester City in spirit and mind.
 A non-superpowerd human for most of his life Green Lantern (be it Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart or Kyle Rayner) is similiar to Manchester City in the fact that they didn't seem to have any "superpowers" themselves.
Having been selected by the Guardians of Oa ,( apparently the Centre of the DC Universe), Green Lantern was provided with a power ring which needs to be charged from a Green Lantern power Source. Back here in our Epl world we had the Shiekh Mansour of UAE ( "Guardians of Oa") providing superpowers in the form of a power ring ( read lots of Money ) which needs to be charged from a "green lantern power source" (100 million worth of new players almost every season).
And like their comic book counterpart Manchester City have in themselves a good positive attitude. They dont give up very easily and are always pushing and pushing with every effort as was evident in the heart-stopping game 38 against QPR. A true up and coming Superhero who has plans to stay on top for quite some time.

Flash and Arsenal F.C.

Along the same lines as discussed above it becomes quite apparent why Arsenal F.C. is similar to the Flash. 

Now I'm not saying the Arsenal players have superhuman speed, what I'm trying to say is that just like the Flash, Arsenal is essentially a young team. Just like the Flash was guided by a former Flash we have the extremely young Arsenal team being mentored by the second longest football manager Arsene Wenger.

Always one of the important characters in the storyline the Flash usually causes an important turn
of events but has nothing to show for it. Arsenal here have constantly affected the progress of the Premier League and the process of who'd become the Champion but sadly in seven years they too have nothing to show for it.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Top EPL Clubs of the Millennium

Every weekend follows a raging Monday morning battle of how our respective favorite teams performed in the previous weeks fixtures leading to some serious arguments. Given that football undergoes dramatic changes every season I have decided to take a look at the performances of the top 6 EPL clubs in various competitions to settle it once and for all as to where the teams stand head to head against each other from the 2000-2001 season to the recently concluded 2011-2012 season.




Now this should be enough. Based on pure numbers it is safe to assume the teams to be in the following ranks

  1. Manchester United
  2. Chelsea
  3. Arsenal
  4. Liverpool
  5. Manchester City