Match Report: Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Yesterday Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill warned his side about Liverpool’s recent resurgence, because after Liverpool’s victory against Wolves on Saturday, and Villa’s defeat to Arsenal on Sunday meant that just five points separated the two sides going into tonight’s clash.

Aston Villa’s heavy defeat to Arsenal on Sunday was certainly a harsh dose of reality, not to mention a big blow to their Champions League hopes; it also ensured that they would not complete a grand slam of victories over the so-called Big Four.

Tonight, the visitors arrived at Villa Park boasting an excellent record where they are unbeaten since 1998. In fact, since that year, Villa have not won at home to Liverpool, Arsenal or Manchester United in the league, and now that run looks set to continue as Liverpool triumphed in dramatic circumstances.

There were adverse weather conditions to endure at Villa Park with heavy snow falling throughout. It was the home side who wasted no time in getting forward; winning a corner within 70 seconds of kick-off, however it was one of many wasted opportunity in the 90 minutes.

James Milner managed to continue Villa’s bright start by winning a free-kick about 10yards from the Liverpool goal-line after being pushed by Insua, the former Leeds United player drifted the free kick in but it lacked the clinical finishing needed to unlock the Liverpool defence.

The home side managed to keep Liverpool on the back foot for nearly 10 minutes before they actually managed to get out of their own half. As they slowly began to grow in confidence and push forward Steven Gerrard tested Brad Friedel in the 16 minute, but his shot from distance was tipped over from the American.

Ultimately the best chance in the first half came from the home side in the 30th minute. Villa won a corner out on the left hand side which was delivered in superbly by James Milner landing right on the boot of Stuart Downing who was unmarked at the far post. The former Middlesbrough winger struck the ball back across goal and had already began to swing away in celebration not before Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina to stick arm out and manages to block the ball away, but both teams ended the half how they started: level pegging.

The second-half started very slowly, especially with the Liverpool goalkeeper Reina holding up play all because he wanted a change of boots and being a goalkeeper it meant play was halted for everyone, the home fans were not happy, and rightly so.

Neither side managed to create clear chances throughout the second half but Liverpool were certainly the better side and looked the more likely to score. However, Villa did have claims for a penalty on a couple of occasions, but none came to fruition and were all waved away by referee Lee Probert.

Just when we thought it was all over, Liverpool managed to hit the back of the Aston Villa net in the 93rd minute, and after another unsurprisingly quite game the goal came from none other than that enigmatic Fernando Torres. The goal came from nothing, while the finish was cool and composed by the Spaniard, a cruel end to the game for Martin O’Neill’s side as they have every right to feel aggrieved.

This win now moves Liverpool back within six points of the top four, while two straight defeats for Villa asks questions about their quest for the Champions League spot, however, for their performance in this match they definitely deserved a point.


2000-09. A decade in football. (QUIZ)

Just a little something I managed to put together over the holidays as a little bit of fun. Please leave your answers in the comments at below. No cheating, by using Google. Try your best, and if you don't know an answer take a stab at it or leave it blank. I shall put up the answers in a couple of days.

Who scored the fastest goal in FA Cup Final history?

Who were the losing semi-finalists at Euro 2008?

Which three players were sent off in stoppage time at the end of the Carling Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal?

Which club were stripped of the Italian Serie A title because of a match fixing scandal?

Who scored Liverpool’s equaliser as they came back from 3-0 down to AC Milan in the Champions League Final?

Who scored his 100th goal for Manchester United in a 4-3 win over Everton in February?

Who became the youngest England international when he made his debut against Australia at Upton Park aged just 17 years and 111 days in February?

At the World Cup, who was called to Saipan as a replacement for Roy Keane following his dramatic departure?

Which club did Sven Goran Eriksson leave to become manager of England?

Who scored the last international goal at the old Wembley Stadium?


Match Report: Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The first of today’s two Premier League encounters took place at the Emirates stadium as third placed Arsenal took on fourth placed Aston Villa. A win for either side would move them within just four points of table toppers Chelsea. Villa went into this game on the back of four straight wins, and fifth would equal their best ever run of five successive wins.

It is certainly debatable whether either side can actually make a credible title challenge, but both sides are in still in contention. Arsenal were billed as the team to drop out of the Premier Leagues so-called Big Four, but now that looks to be Liverpool, on the other hand Manchester City with all the money were touted as the ones to take Arsenals place. Now it looks increasingly likely that Arsenal will remain in the Big Four, and Aston Villa will take Liverpool’s place.

Undoubtedly it was Arsenal who made the brighter start for the first five minutes creating chances but with no end product. They won the first corner of the game, but Heskey headed Eduardo's delivery behind for another, the second was rolled out to Denilson who blasted his shot over the bar.

Breathless stuff followed for the next 20 or so minutes, and it Aston Villa who were the ones that looked to be dangerous on every attack that they get, while Arsenal’s defence began to have question marks written all over it and looked struggle each time Villa attacked.

In the 31st minute Arsenal were given a free-kick right on the edge of the Aston Villa area on after Denilson was brought down, the but it was a wasted opportunity as he blasted the ball into the wall and the subsequent rebound is booted over the bar from Sagna.

A comedy of errors right before half time from the Aston Villa defence but it comes to nothing for Arsenal who can’t capitalise on their mistakes. However, neither side managed to break the deadlock as referee Phil Dowd blew the whistle for half-time.

The second-half started as you were, with neither manager deciding to make any changes. Just like in the first half Arsenal started with their high tempo attacking football. There were chances a plenty for the Gunners as they mounted attack after attack and chance after chance. Eduardo, Gallas and Denilson all came close.

It was indeed the home side who finally broke the deadlock in the 64th minute after a superbly taken free-kick by substitute Cesc Fabregas who curled it into the top corner, Villa keeper Brad Friedel had no chance of stopping it. What a way to make your return from injury from the Spaniard.

All of Aston Villa’s chances dried up after this as Arsenal continued to dominate the game pushing men forward on every attack. It was no surprise when they managed to find the back of the Aston Villa net once again in the 80th minute. Armand Traore managed to pick out Theo Walcott on the wing who then raced down the right before playing a square ball into the path of Fabregas who knocked it into the back of the net, and injuring himself in the process.

The Spain midfielder who started on the bench was replaced by Aaron Ramsey and left the field holding his hamstring, hopefully nothing too serious. Fantastic cameo by the club captain, but Arsenal were not finished there as the meanest defence in the Premier League was broken once again in 90th minute, as Abou Diaby stroked in a fine side-footed effort into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the area.

Having not conceded in four games Villa concede three, and for the first time since their opening day defeat to Wigan they have not scored.

On the day the best team won, but Arsenal did not really get going until Fabregas came on and resulted in some great attacking football from the Gunners. Villa will need to regroup now for Tuesday where Liverpool awaits them.

Arsenal move within four points of Chelsea with a game in hand, they can enjoy second place, but not for long, if Manchester United beat Hull then they will go back to third.


Have Newcastle and Middlesbrough found their level?

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Last weekend Newcastle defeated Middlesbrough 2-0 at St. James’s Park, they claimed a new Championship record with a crowd of 49,644. The Geordies are showing that they have no intentions of sticking around in the Championship longer than they need to.

Currently they are taking the league by storm and look set to take two more records while they are at it: the record for points taken in one season and the fewest goals conceded. In 22 games Steve Harper has kept 13 clean sheets, and has only conceded 4 goals at St. James’s Park.

Relegation is tough for any club, especially a club like Newcastle who a few years ago were playing in the Champions League and challenging the leagues so-called Big Four which the even managed to break up in successive seasons (2001/02 & 2002/03).

Having said that I think relegation is what the doctor ordered for Newcastle, ever since Mike Ashley took over the club has been going backwards, while it may be a harsh dose of reality, getting relegated could be the best thing that’s happened to the club.

Chris Houghton deserves full credit for the reversal of fortunes, he is the man who has single-handedly turned the clubs form around.

If Newcastle can get promoted back to the Premier League and it most likely will given their current standing in the Championship then things will have to change at the club.

Obviously they can no longer attract big names to the club, because they simply haven’t got the money. But, stability is something every club needs and while the Premier League may not be plain sailing for the Geordies at first I think they can weather the storm with their mixture of youth and experience.

In my season predictions I did not tip Newcastle to win the Championship because this was back in August when they were still without a manager and the ownership crisis was still ongoing.

A team of contrasting fortune is Middlesbrough, who are continuing to falter under Gordon Strachan, when the Scot took over at the end of October they were only 1 point behind the Geordies, and fourth in the table.

Now two months later Newcastle boasts an impressive 20 point league over Boro who lie 14th in the Championship after only one victory in eight games.

Also in my season predictions I had Middlesbrough down to win the Championship and bounce right back up, but at the moment the only look likely to be mid-table mediocrity.It certainly begs the question why was Gareth Southgate sacked?

Since writing the start of this piece this morning, today's fixtures meant that things have changed in the league once again. Newcastle were held to a 2-2 draw against managerless Sheffield Wednesday, while Middlesbrough recorded a comprehensive victory over Scunthorpe, running out 3-0 winners.

Those results mean that Newcastle are now 10 unbeaten and continue to top the Championship, eight points ahead of second placed West Brom. Boro move up to tenth after only their second win under Strachan.

This level of football is what suits Middlesbrough, while Newcastle are definitely are true Premier League side. After a minor blip of relegation last season The Geordies look set to be on the way back up.

However, we are only at the half-way point of the season, and as we know the Championship is a very competitive league, there will most likely be more twists and turns to come.


Seasons Greetings from Touchline Views

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir"

I shall keep this post short and sweet, because it is just really a few thank yous to certain people.

Way back in July I was asked to become part of the TFT Blog Network, and I must say I was delighted to be given the opportunity.

Five months or so, and 94 blog posts later I am very greatful to be now fully part of the team.

I would like to thank Chris and Gary for allowing me to become part of the Blog Network, it has been a pleasure to work with these to guys, and being able to write posts for a larger audience.

Also a big thanks goes to you the readers for your continued support and comments, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2010.

I will sign off with a joke that I find particularly funny.

What is the different between Tiger Woods and Santa Claus? Santa stops at three ho's! BOOM, BOOM!

Have a good Christmas!


Stoke City: A team for the neutrals

Stoke City and the words easy on the eye might not necessarily go together so well after the recent stories in the press about James Beattie fighting none other than a naked Tony Pulis. But I am here to talk about why they are a team for the all the neutral supporters in football.

The Potters certainly are the cream of the crop of last year’s promoted sides having exceeded all expectation and finished 12th in the Premier League last season, ahead of sides such as: Bolton, Blackburn, Portsmouth and Sunderland, teams who have been in the Premier League for the last few years.

Now having watched Stoke a lot recently I certainly think that they are the team for all the neutrals in football and I even find myself willing them to win when I watch
them play.

Prior to their promotion in 2008, the Potters had not played in the top flight since the 1984-85 seasons, but now that they have arrived, I think that they are going to be in the Premier League for the long run.

They have proven to be no pushovers, especially going by their home form, at the fortress that is the Britannia Stadium having only lost there six times since being promoted: once to Everton and West Ham, and twice to Chelsea and Manchester United.

A capacity crowd of 28,000 regularly turn out to cheer on Tony Pulis and co; while Stoke’s home figures for last season were also consistently high with attendance figures in the league as a whole.

A lovely quote that sums up the ground, taken from Wikipedia is: “The Britannia is a raw and exciting footballing experience, unwelcoming temperatures and hostile home fans, with the action all played out in a noisy, bearpit atmosphere that is a real throwback. And yes, it is absolutely fantastic.”

Taking that into account it is no surprise that Stoke fans are considered to be the loudest fans in the Premier League with noise levels at an average of 101.8 decibels

A quality that is very prevalent in the Stoke squad is that it has a very strong English spine which runs right through the club, from the backroom staff to the players on the field.

There are 14 English natives in the first team and 18 in as part of the background team, and they could possibly be one of the only clubs left with true English spirit running through its veins.

So, what lies in store for Stoke City?

Well, they are currently 11th in the table on 21 points, which is an improvement on this time last year by one point. I can see Stoke becoming seasoned regulars in the Premier League, like Bolton and Portsmouth who could be on their way out this season after a period of eight and six years respectively.

One matter is for sure, Stoke will not be going back down to the Championship this season, a bold prediction to make, but I said in my season preview they would avoid second season syndrome and stay up, and I am sticking by that.

Also, they have got lady luck on their side because as a manager Tony Pulis maintains the proud record of never being relegated as a manager, despite having managed struggling clubs like Bournemouth, Bristol City, Gillingham and Plymouth Argyle in his time.

While the football the Potters play will never be swashbuckling and attractive, they have the ability to grind out the results when they are needed, that’s what makes them a team for the neutral to watch.

They were considered to be underdogs last season but they soon removed that tag, especially when they beat Arsenal and Aston Villa, drew with Liverpool and Tottenham.

By far Stoke are the team I always enjoy to watch, and if I am not watching I make sure check their results. They are certainly my second team that’s for sure.

And for all the neutrals out there, check out Stoke City, they could just be the team for you.


Can Villa crack the Big Four?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I do feel very nervous writing a piece on Aston Villa, considering that Mr. Twofootedtackle is a Villa fan, but I shall give it a shot anyway. Don’t worry it is all good.

Having missed out on the Champions League last season Aston Villa seem to be doing everything right this season to ensure they don’t miss out again. Already this season they have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, three of the so called Big Four and can look forward to taking on Arsenal next Sunday where they could potentially pull off another scalp.

Villa would be playing in this season Champions League on for injuries to key players around this time last term, and in particular to defender Martin Laursen, who subsequently retired due to his injury. As a result, Villa began to drop points, while Arsenal gained ground and secured the final Champions League spot.

Fast-forward a year, and manager Martin O’Neill has managed to tighten up the leaks at the back having brought in a range of players. The back four consists of Brad Friedel in goal, Luke Young and Stephen Warnock on the wings, while Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar man central defence.

Between them they have all the attributes of a classic defence: strong, organised, powerful and solid. If you look at how many goals they have conceded this season you will see the tally stands at just 14, the fewest goals conceded in the league. The team closest to them is Chelsea who have left in 15 goals.

The Villans have kept also kept seven clean sheets this season, with only Chelsea keeping more than them, at nine.

As well as facing Arsenal on Sunday, The Villans have a home fixture to contend with against Liverpool next Tuesday.

Confidence however, is high in the Villa camp according to striker John Carew: "We’re really looking forward to these games and we go into them full of confidence.

In previous weeks, even Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has backed Villa to break into the Big Four: "Martin won't like me saying this but for me if I was a betting man my money would be on Villa to break into the top four,"

“As for the title race, they are not that out of the equation but whether they are title contenders I am not too sure but they will be my bet to break into the top four.”

Only three sides have gate-crashed the Premier League’s Big Four in the last nine seasons and they are: Everton (2004-05), Newcastle (2001-02/2002-03) and Leeds (2000-01). So Villa have it all to do in their quest for fourth place, but I believe they can do it.

Not only do I think they can crack the Big Four, they also have a fantastic chance of winning the Carling Cup, a trophy very close to Martin O’Neill’s heart having won it twice in 1997 and 2000 with Leicester City, and finishing runner up in 1999. Only Blackburn stand in their way of reaching their first domestic final in nine years.

Having notched up four straight wins in the Premier League and no goals conceded in those four games, Villa currently lie fourth level on points with Arsenal who are in third, with a game in hand.

They also boast a very impressive scoring record. Since losing 2-0 to Wigan on the opening day of the season, Villa have found the back of the net in every game. Their home form is also impeccable – because they have not lost at Villa Park since the opening day.

Therefore, to sum up, I shall answer the question in the title of the piece. Can Villa crack the Big Four? Yes they ruddy well can!

(Kudos to @optajoe for the stats.)


Messi and Barcelona are still the Real deal

Monday, 21 December 2009

On Saturday evening Barcelona were crowned FIFA Club World Champions after beating Argentine club Estudiantes in the final 2-1 after extra time, and in doing so they have become the first club ever to win the sextuple.

It caps off an amazing year for coach Pep Guardiola who after just 18 months in the job has won every trophy possible. In his first season as manager, Barcelona won the treble of La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League becoming the first club in Spain to win the domestic treble, which in itself is a truly remarkable feat.

But it did not stop there, this season Guardiola and Barcelona have won the Supercopa de España against Bilbao, the UEFA Super Cup against Shakhtar Donetsk, and now the FIFA Club World Cup against Estudiantes capping off the perfect six, winning six trophies in six competitions.

Speaking after the game, Guardiola, who was in tears said: "For me this was a great year. We have achieved something that no one has achieved before."

"I'm lucky that I have such quality players in my squad. The success that we've had has been down to them and I'd like to thank them for that.”

"To win six successive titles is unthinkable. So many things contributed to it; having few injuries, a squad made up of players who play because they like to.”

“Everyone should be happy and congratulations to the club and everybody associated with Barça. We've had the best year in the history of the club."

The FIFA Club World Cup was the only major trophy that Barcelona had not won in its 100-year history, but now they can add the elusive trophy to their list.
However, they didn’t do it in the easiest of ways, especially after going behind in the 37th when Mauro Boselli scored for Estudiantes.

It was a lead the Copa Libertadores champions kept right up until the death, as Barcelona dealt the Argentines a major blow in the final minutes of the game when substitute Pedro Rodriguez headed in the equaliser, thus taking the game to extra-time.

But the Spanish Champions secured to victory in the 110th minutes. Lionel Messi was the scorer, as he chested in Dani Alves' cross. Messi, who already won the 2009 Ballon d'Or, earlier this month, could add the FIFA World Player of the Year to his tally later today, completing a momentous year for himself personally.

As far as I am concerned Barcelona still are the Real deal in Spain, and for all the money Madrid have spent they are still no match for Barcelona. Guardiola has put together a very strong side who actually work as a cohesive unit, unlike Madrid, who are still in their honeymoon period.

Many eyebrows were raised when Guardiola swapped striker Samuel Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the close season but the Spaniard has shown great vision in doing so, because the Swede has fitted right in with the attack at the Catalan club.

The club has gone from strength to strength, and despite a minor setback against Rubin Kazan in the group stages, I would not be surprised if Barcelona makes the Champions League Final at the Bernabeau in May, while also winning La Liga again this season.

History is always there to be re-written, and that is exactly what Barcelona are doing. Their period of dominance is not over yet, all I am going to say is long may it continue.


A Sheikh up at City as Mancini replaces Hughes.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

It had been coming for a while now, but yesterday was the day Mark Hughes was sacked as manager of Manchester City after just 18 months in charge, only to be immediately replaced by former Inter Milan manager Roberto Mancini.

Before kick-off in yesterday’s game against Sunderland rumours had already begun circulating that Hughes had been sacked and an announcement was imminent after the final whistle. So it was no surprise when the news broke late yesterday evening that he had indeed been sacked.

In his last game in charge he managed to preside over a rare win as City beat The Black Cats 4-3 at the City of Manchester Stadium, as his successor Mancini watched on from the stands.

Mancini's appointment looks to be a bit of a gamble, because despite winning a trio of Serie A titles at San Siro and Italian Cup triumphs with Inter, Fiorentina and Lazio, the 45-year-old has no previous experience of managing in England, and has been out of work since, leaving Inter in late May 2008.

Despite his lack of pedigree he does sign a three-year contract at Eastlands, and will be joined by Brian Kidd who will assist him.

In a statement on the clubs official website Khaldoon Al Mubarak, City's chairman says: “Roberto is a hugely experienced manager with a proven track record of winning trophies and championships.”

He also goes on to say “His experience and track record speak for themselves. What is absolutely clear is that Roberto believes in Manchester City's potential to achieve at the highest level and importantly in his own ability to make this happen."

Now, Hughes did enjoyed relative success during his time with City, but not as of late having only won twice in the last 11 games, after a fantastic start to the season which saw them win four league games in a row.

Nevertheless, it is still a sad to see that in the modern game a manager can be sacked having only lost two premier league games. It does show that time, and indeed, time in football waits for no man, if you are not getting the results you are out on your ear.

What really baffles me is that City are still very much in contention with the big boys, because they are currently sixth in the Premier League, four points below Tottenham who have played a game more than them, and are two points clear of Liverpool in 7th who have also played an extra game.

Too many lackluster draws and shambolic defending are to blame for the Welshman’s demise, his defense apart from Shay Given has been woeful. Kolo Toure and co’s form has been going backwards faster than Liverpool’s title charge, with the injuries of late beginning to build up.

Despite spending copious amounts of money Hughes had built his side from the attack backwards, focusing more on attacking players rather than defensive players, because we all know that all good sides are built on an air tight defense.

A statement from the Manchester City website shows that Hughes and his team had a particular target set, and because he had not reached it meant he had to go: “Prior to the current season beginning, with significant investment in players and infrastructure in place, the consensus between the Board and coaching staff was that appropriate agreed targets should be set for the 2009/2010 season”.

A lot of people will be sad to see the former Welsh manager leave the club, but if Manchester City is to grab a Champions League spot their form needs to change, and that obviously means a change of personnel.

The Italian will have to look to strengthen the squad, while putting his own stamp on it also; his first buy will need to be a central defender, because Richard Dunne was a big loss.

I think Mancini is a good appointment, but he certainly would not have been my first choice for the job because he lacks experience. Someone like Guus Hiddink would have been a much better choice, a man who already has experience of managing in England at Chelsea last season, and who was a success story there.

However, it remains to be seen will Mancini fit the bill, but with the transfer window opening in a couple of weeks it could be a smart move from the City board.

Only time will tell if the club have made the right decision as the revolution continues on the blue side of Manchester.


Champions League Draw: Old foes reunited.

Yesterday the draw was made for the knock-out stage of this year’s Champions League, and guess what? It threw up some fantastic mouth-watering ties, which is what we needed after a poor and predictable group stage, despite the odd shock here and there.

Reunions were the topic of the day as Jose Mourinho was reunited with his beloved Chelsea; David Beckham is heading back to Old Trafford with AC Milan.

First up, Mourinho will return to Stamford Bridge with his Serie A champions for the first time since he left Chelsea in September 2007. With both sides in contention to win their domestic league they will both want to go further in this competition, but with Chelsea going so close but yet so far in 2008 heartbreak could be on the cards once again. All eyes will be on this tie, because it will certainly be an exciting
two legged tie.

The second reunion is of old rivals Manchester United and AC Milan, who have met four times in the past – and on each occasion the Rossoneri, came out on top when the tie has been based over two legs. The last time the two sides met United's dreams of reaching the final were shattered in the semi finals when they were hammered 3-0 in what remains their last away defeat in the competition.

The reunion will be particularly special for one David Beckham who will face the club he started his career with. Beckham, will start a spell at AC Milan on loan from Los Angeles Galaxy next month, and has been granted his wish of playing his former club.

United have beaten five of their last seven Italian opponents in the Champions League knockout stages but, significantly, the two occasions they lost were both to AC Milan: 2-0 on aggregate in the round of 16 in 2005 and 5-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals in 2007

To round up a day of reunions, as Karim Benzema returns to France to face Lyon after his summer move to Real Madrid. That could be another tie worth watching, Lyon are a strong side and shouldn’t be underestimated. I have always said that Madrid are not the Real deal, so I don’t think they can win the competition even if the final being held in their stadium in May.

Of the English sides, Arsenal got the easiest draw of all and will face Portuguese champions Porto who are well acquainted with English times at this stage. If Arsenal can get over their current injury crisis then they should be final over the two legs.

Elsewhere holders Barcelona have also got a relatively easy draw after being paired with Stuttgart a side currently is trouble. It should be a cake walk for the Spanish champions. You also have French champions Bordeaux going to Greece to face Greek champions Olympiakos, Laurent Blanc’s side are a team to watch. Bayern Munich play Fiorentina and finally, CSKA Moscow play Sevilla.

In a change to previous competitions, the matches will be staggered over four weeks in February and March adding to the suspense for the competition.

A very interesting draw, but I think we will have the usual suspects in the final eight. If I was to be bold and predict the eight times they would be: Barcelona, Bordeaux, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Sevilla, Lyon, Arsenal and AC Milan. If those were all to come through then we would be on for a fantastic finale.

Stuttgart v Barcelona
Olympiakos v Bordeaux
Inter Milan v Chelsea
Bayern Munich v Fiorentina
CSKA Moscow v Sevilla
Lyon v Real Madrid
Porto v Arsenal
AC Milan v Manchester United

FEB 16: AC Milan v Manchester United; Lyon v Real Madrid.
FEB 17: Bayern Munich v Fiorentina; Porto v Arsenal.
FEB 23: Olympiakos v Bordeaux; Stuttgart v Barcelona.
FEB 24: Inter Milan v Chelsea; CSKA Moscow v Sevilla.

MAR 9: Fiorentina v Bayern Munich; Arsenal v Porto.
MAR 10: Manchester United v AC Milan; Real Madrid v Lyon.
MAR 16: Chelsea v Inter Milan; Sevilla v CSKA Moscow.
MAR 17: Bordeaux v Olympiakos ; Barcelona v Stuttgart.


Taking the Mick or expecting the inevitable?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

On Saturday Wolves notched up their second straight win beating Tottenham 1-0 at White Hart Lane, yet come Tuesday night the fans turn on him for sending out a second string side against current league champions Manchester United.

I have to say it baffles me because Wolves have certainly not got the quality in their side to beat Manchester United, who even in their current injury crisis can still call upon players capable of getting a result.

McCarthy was totally right to rest his players making changes to all his outfield players who won at the weekend. Certainly people may look at this as McCarthy holding up a white flag and waving it in the air, but I think he was being totally realistic because they have got a very important game against Burnley coming up on Sunday.

It was a comprehensive victory for Manchester United who ran out 3-0 winners thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Antonio Valencia.

The result means that the Red Devils now go level on points with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, which is why McCarthy will be frowned upon by his fellow managers, because they gave United and easy three points to catch up with Chelsea, who have a game in hand.

If you want to go and do a Louis Walsh and point to the rule book it clearly states that "In every League match each participating club shall field a full strength team".

Does that really matter though? In what world were Wolves going to beat the current league champions, Jedward land maybe?

Although it must be said Wolves' game against Burnley is not due to take place until Sunday, which gives the squad four days rest before playing again, unlike Manchester United who play on Saturday.

In facing the Clarets on Sunday it will now be billed as a must win game for Wolves for McCarthy's mid-week gamble to have paid off. As he said himself last night "My decisions will be judged by whether or not we stay in the Premier League"

McCarthy was most certainly NOT taking the Mick, rather expecting the inevitable, however it does raise the question: should smaller teams give in and rest their players against the big boys? The answer is no. Why? Just look at Burnley beating Manchester United and that is your answer.


Extracting the Unirea

Friday, 11 December 2009

Don't we all just love Jens Lehmann? Yes we do. Famous for his bad temper, pushing opposition players and getting owned by ballboys.

Now he's been caught taking a quick relief break during Stuttgart's 3-1 win over Russian side Unirea Urziceni. Luckily for Lehmann the referee did not see the incident, therefore he could not be booked for leave the field.

Lehmann who is set to retire at the end of the season is certainly refusing to go out without bang. He has now certainly brought a whole no meaning to leaky defence.

Lehmann refused to comment on his decision to leave the pitch during the game against Unirea Urziceni, saying only: "I was more nervous than I have been for a long time."

You can see the German in all his glory below:


Liverpool: From Premier League pretenders to Europa League contenders?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

After last Sunday’s 2-0 win over rivals Everton, Liverpool looked to be back on track, but they follow it up this weekend by drawing 0-0 with Blackburn. The Kop are now seventh in the league, 12 points behind table toppers Chelsea, and are only on course to challenge for 4th place this season, and not the title which the fans crave.

Rafa Benitez and his side are now out of the Champions League, and after Christmas they shall be entering the newest competition on the block, the Europa League, where they will be playing on Thursday nights.

This could be fatal for the Premier League form because it means only a two day rest before playing again on Saturday. Graham Souness said last weekend in his newspaper column ‘I’ve always said that Thursday night is the night you take your wife out for dinner, not a night to be playing a match in Europe’

Now, as a Manchester United fan I can assure you I am not revelling in Liverpool’s misfortune, but they certainly are doing things the hard way this term and are providing bloggers and journalists alike easy columns to write. I thoroughly believed at the start of August Liverpool had a chance to win the Premier League this season, and I even tipped them to do so, but now it looks like they will be lucky to finish in the Top Four.

Liverpool are 7/1 favourites to win the competition, and I think they should prioritise winning it because it looks like it will be their only shot at silverware this season. However, the squad that Liverpool currently has does not have the depth to compete in this and the Premier League.

With Fernando Torres injured Liverpool are toothless, they have no credible striker to step into his shoes. Alberto Aqualani looks to be a white elephant, because we have seen nothing out of him since his £21million move from Roma.

The Europa League could be the perfect opportunity for Liverpool to try out new formations and new players, because at the moment they have not got enough talent coming through the academy. I think their main priority for now should be finishing as high as they can in the Premier League, because they must qualify for the Champions League next season. Failure to do so will leave them even further in the red.

Benitez is the man to lead Liverpool through their current turmoil. I don’t think he will be sacked, I actually believe he will be at the club for the long run, unless he has a massive falling out with the players and the hierarchy at the club.

As for the Europa League, I would advise throwing ten quid on The Kop to win the competition, because they certainly have got a chance, and well the bookies are generally not far wrong. But, don’t blame me if they don’t win it.


Laws of the Game - Not just for referees to know.

A couple of weeks ago David James wrote a column in the Observer called Arrested development over football’s laws is absolutely criminal’ and I have to say it was certainly the most thought provoking piece I have written by a footballer.

James raises a very important issue about the beautiful game in saying ‘If a referee doesn’t know the rules of the game, what chance does a player have?’ Now, I think that referees and players alike should all know the rules of the game inside and out, because these days there seem to be too many injustices happening.

You’ve just got to look back at beachballgate, where Darren Bent scored through a deflected shot off an outside agent. But, at the time of the incident did anyone know Law 5? – In the event of interference by an outside agent, play should be stopped and restarted with a drop ball. No, of course they didn’t, even though this is football at its highest level, the Premier League, but they should have known this.

Since reading this column I have become very interested in the Laws of the Game and have begun reading You Are The Ref series in the Observer. It has got me thinking about the rules of the game and how much players and referees know. Of course in order to conduct their job properly all referees should know every single detail of the game, but I also think that players should too.

Football is now a very high tempo game, so every decision is important. We need justice in the game, not injustice. Therefore if the players and the referees each know the rules we won’t have incidents that make or break games.

When kids sign up as trainees for clubs they should all be put through a school of football, learning all the rules of the game, right down to the brass tacks. Education is a very important part of life, and if they are taught the rules of the game properly at such an early age we won’t have incidents that are scarring out game.

Like James states ‘referees should be regularly tested and the next generation of footballers should be given better instruction’

It is without doubt that referees’ have a tough job to do, but if they can work together with the players then there won’t be so many problems in football, everyone will be on a level playing field, and nobody will have the upper hand.

If anyone is looking to brush up on their knowledge of the game I would recommend reading the You Are The Ref series, as well as downloading FIFA’s Official Laws of the Game.

I think if everyone knows the finer details of the game it will become more efficient, everyone will be on par. As James also said, I would recommend everyone is tested regularly also, so that the game runs at the highest standard. There is no room for error any more, simple mistakes should not be made. The rules are there, and everyone should know them.


Touchline Views

This is a football blog by Ian Walsh, covering all aspects of the game - from the Premier League and La Liga to the slightly mental football stories we all love.

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