Archive for September 2015

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Bi-weekly match previews – Jason Pettigrove

Welcome to the first in a series of bi-weekly match previews, looking at the following weekend’s top games in the English Premier League.

Our resident UEFA journalist Jason Pettigrove casts his beady eye over the fixtures that matter so let’s get straight to it…

Tottenham v Man City

It took six weeks for Manuel Pellegrini’s side to have their first wobble, but like London buses when one defeat comes, another quickly follows.

It’s worth noting that both reverses were against teams in Juventus – much changed from last season and in poor form – and West Ham, that Manchester City would’ve been expected to beat quite comfortably.

In the second half against West Ham particularly, the home side couldn’t find a way through a resolute defence and that could be a worrying trend moving forward.

Sergio Aguero will have better days and City as a whole should still have enough against a Tottenham side who have flattered to deceive so far this season.

Harry Kane has yet to hit the heights of last season and is probably wilting under the great weight of expectation placed upon his young shoulders for both club and country.

Mauricio Pochettino will be thankful that he seems to have struck gold with the signing of the exciting Son Heung-Min, who was once again Tottenham’s go-to man in the first half against Crystal Palace.

It’s a pity that more of his players aren’t showing the same application.

Possession hasn’t been a problem but it’s moribund if there’s no end to the means. And the likelihood of Tottenham seeing more of the ball against the table-toppers isn’t high at all.

Backs against the wall for Messrs. Vertonghen and Alderweireld.

Man Utd v Sunderland

Say what you like about “marmite” manager Louis Van Gaal. Water off of a duck’s back.

Call it ego, call it bloody-mindedness, call it whatever you damn well like…

All Van Gaal is interested in is winning. No matter what the cost, personally or professionally, winning is king.

In that respect he shares the same philosophy with Sir Alex Ferguson, but perhaps that’s where the problem lies. He, like Moyes before him, is being compared directly with the wily old Scot. A manager who took years before winning his first trophy.

There is too much immediacy in football now. Van Gaal needs to be allowed at least another year to 18 months to build his empire, then we will truly see what the Dutchman is made of and whether he can cut it in England.

One thing’s for sure, he won’t want to blot his copybook with abject failure. Sunderland beware.

Dick Advocaat’s side can’t buy a win lately and the decision to offer him a contract based on his performances last season is looking more short-sighted by the week.

Lose at Old Trafford, as expected, and that would mean just two points from a possible 21. Relegation form in anyone’s book.

Advocaat blames chairman Ellis Short for not stumping up the funds he was promised during the summer.

Regardless, Sunderland’s lot is already a perilous one and the likes of Jermain Defoe, Stephen Fletcher and John O’Shea need to be playing much, much better than their recent offerings during this campaign.

O’Shea, on his return to Old Trafford, will have to be on his guard against the new kid in town, Anthony Martial. With pace to burn against a centre-back who never had any in the first place, this could get messy.

Leicester City v Arsenal

Who’d have thought it…

Going into match week 7 and Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester are the only unbeaten side in the English top flight. And full value for their lofty position in the table they are too.

Along with another surprise package, Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United, the Foxes are the top scorers in the division.

In every match so far, Ranieri’s men have shown heart, desire and a propensity for hard work. Particularly Jamie Vardy.

Which is more than can be said for Arsenal’s overpaid flops.

Against Chelsea last time out, Arsene Wenger would’ve been mindful that this was the Gunners’ best chance for some time to beat the Blues, but once again they were toothless.

If there’s one criticism of Arsenal it is a serious lack of backbone when the going gets tough.

The Hammers exposed it on the opening day of the season, Dinamo Kiev did likewise in a shocking Champions League reverse.

There’s no suggestion from this author that Wenger should be on his bike. Arguably, he is still the best man for the job.

But Barcelona they are not and the quicker the same is realised the better for all concerned.

Only Aaron Ramsey and to a lesser extent Alexis Sanchez show the steel that’s required to be successful in this league.

That’s not good enough and neither is settling for fourth place yet again.

The King Power Stadium will be full to capacity and Leicester will give every last drop to out-battle their opponents.

Riyad Mahrez has been a revelation and will aim to cause the same problems for Arsenal as he did for Stoke City.

The Potters were 2-0 up and cruising until Mahrez began to work his magic. He was able assisted by a combative and competitive Daniel Drinkwater and Shinji Okazaki.

Both Gabriel Paulista and Santi Cazorla are out, and if Per Mertesacker hasn’t recovered from injury in time, Wenger could have problems.

Newcastle v Chelsea

Chelsea finally looked like they’d turned the corner against Arsenal, after their worst top-flight start in 29 years.

Although all of the post match comment centred around Diego Costa, the truth is the Gunners offered little once again in this fixture.

Losing two men made life easier for the Blues but they’d have doubtless come out on top regardless.

With Newcastle marooned at the bottom along with north-east rivals Sunderland, on paper this looks like another welcome three points for Jose Mourinho’s side.

But the Portuguese will be only too aware that this is a ground where he has failed to win every single time is Chelsea side have played there.

Both he and Steve McClaren can ill afford another defeat. The “wally with the brolly” hasn’t come anywhere close to cementing a legacy yet, citing “long-standing issues” at the club which will take time to resolve.

Whether owner Mike Ashley allows the former England manager that time is a moot point at this stage but in any event, a win here will at least give McClaren a little breathing space.

Unusually for a Mourinho side, they’ve already conceded 12 goals which is the second worst in the division behind basement boys Sunderland.

It hints at the problems in their defence, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic particularly culpable this season.

Can Terry regain his starting spot at the expense of Kurt Zouma or will Mourinho continue to slowly bring the curtain down on an epic career with the west Londonders?

Other games this week: Watford v Palace, West Brom v Everton, Stoke v Bournemouth, Southampton v Swansea, Liverpool v Aston Villa and West Ham v Norwich.

Plenty for you to get your teeth into thanks to the folks at

Champions league 15/16th


Tuesday 15 September
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain v Malmö, Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk
Group B: Wolfsburg v CSKA Moskva, PSV Eindhoven v Manchester United
Group C: Galatasaray v Atlético Madrid, Benfica v Astana
Group D: Manchester City v Juventus, Sevilla v Borussia Mönchengladbach

Wednesday 16 September
Group E: Bayer Leverkusen v BATE Borisov, AS Roma v Barcelona
Group F: Dinamo Zagreb v Arsenal, Olympiacos v Bayern München
Group G: Dynamo Kyiv v FC Porto, Chelsea v Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Group H: Valencia v Zenit, Gent v Olympique Lyonnais

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Just a word regarding Bein Sports (Mena). Three weeks ago Bein sports announced they would show all Premiership games in English each week. They made the announcement on Saturday morning (22nd Sept) and right enough all games were broadcast in English unlike the previous season. The following week they once again changed their minds and had no English soundtrack on channels other than 11 and 12. What a carry on. We have now restarted the Bein 11 service and will also start 12 very soon. We have not decided if it’s worth it to put on any more channels as they are totally unreliable and chop and change their schedule as well as the commentary being in Arabic . More news on that soon.