Could Milan teach Barca a Nou Lesson?

We all know too well that Barcelona can be a force of nature and that for now they are without question the Kings of European football. They have elevated football to a new level and founded upon the strong and composed defensive unit they have put together their more attacking options have become the envy of all clubs in world football.

Pep Guardiola has fashioned a side worthy of enormous praise and adulation not just for the results that his side have achieved but also for the way they that they have played their football en route to becoming the continent’s and in fact the world’s most feared side.

Barcelona Milan

Magical Messi couldn't quite force a way through at the San Siro

As it stands though, Barca have come away from the first leg of their Champions League quarter final in a position of genuine precariousness, as for the third time in this season’s competition they have failed to beat Milan.

Sure they still managed to get a draw out of their away leg, and sure Milan looked a totally different side when travelling to Arsenal in the previous round when compared with the ruthlessness and discipline they showed at home to the Londoners but Barcelona’s inability to find the net at the San Siro could well be a cause for significant concern and could yet cost them dear.

Barcelona’s dominance has been such over the past few years that they have at times seemed untouchable. When you think back to Wembley last year in the final of the Champions League and how they totally overwhelmed Manchester United for 80 of the 90 minutes and matched them for the other 10 you can’t help but heap praise on the side that Pep Guardiola has built and nurtured at the Nou Camp but this season has perhaps exposed a few chinks in their armoury.

The three successive draws against Milan aside, they have struggled to keep pace with Real Madrid in La Liga and at present they look set to lose their crown as Spain’s number one side even if they do overcome the Italians and go on to land another European success. They have been  too sloppy and too often against grossly inferior opposition at times this season and perhaps there is fuel in the argument that complacency has creeped into a side, who have after all, been repeatedly told by almost everybody that they are invincible.

You could hardly level any suggestions of complacency at Barcelona on the night though against Milan, as they continually switched the play from flank to flank and probed in and around the opposition’s penalty area in a persistent attempt to find the elusive away goal which would surely have made them overwhelming favourites to progress.

There was no lack of effort and no lack of ideas but Milan were just about as good as any side have been at negating the threat of the Catalan’s undying thirst for stringing passes together and building pressure.

Time and time again, Milan made the right intervention, the crucial intervention, at the perfect moment. Whether it was an interception, a tackle, a save, or a block, the Rossoneri just seemed to come up with the goods every time and never more so than  when Luca Antoinini demonstrated an exemplary bit of last ditch defending which thwarted one of Barcelona’s unusually low count of genuine clean breakthrough’s in the match.

Not only did they demonstrate phenomenal commitment and composure at the back but it would also be fair to say that Milan could even have won the game.

They too produced  a couple of potentially match-winning chances and had it been for some more convincing efforts when the opportunity knocked then they could feasibly have been heading to the Nou Camp buoyed by a hard-earned victory rather than just the clean-sheet which, in itself, is more than admirable.

Though it may feel to them as if they could have nicked the tie and be going to Spain with the goals-advantage the Rossoneri must surely be satisfied with their efforts on the night.

Throughout the vast majority of the 90 minutes Milan were oh so organised in defence and proved to themselves as much as anyone else that it is possible to shut out their much vaunted opposite numbers. The chances they did manage to create must too be a sign of great encouragement for them as they head to the Nou Camp on a mission to de-throne the kings of Europe and they must believe that a fourth draw in a row against Barcelona is possible and with the shut-out on home turf already achieved they now know that a draw might well be all they need.

I personally still fancy the Catalans to progress but I only think they will manage to do so by a very fine margin and if I were a betting man then I would back Barca to come out as 2-1 winners at the Camp Nou but I do still harbour the belief that Milan are well set up to try and cause a massive shock.

They are blessed with having some very experienced players through the core of their side, which is crucial when taking on a side like Barcelona who play with such intelligence and cunning but they too have younger, stronger and more offensively able players amidst their ranks.

The likes of Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic may at times seem withdrawn or off-colour but their maverick and mercurial nature provides such a threat that they could really harm Barcelona just as they probably could any side in world football.

I can’t see the second leg of this tie doing anything other than exciting and perhaps even shocking a few people out there but whatever the outcome I am looking forward to the fourth instalment of the Barca-Milan battle this season with great anticipation. It is beautifully poised and that is what knock-out football is all about.

 

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The Vicente-Factor provides the spark for Brighton’s Play-Off charge

Last night’s virtuoso performance from Vicente may not have seen him get his own name on the score-sheet but the constant threat he provided in the role of playmaker was something rarely seen at Championship level.

Vicente Rodriguez Brighton

Vicente's return to fitness has lit up the AMEX

His footwork and vision was the cause of much indecision and worry for the Derby County defence on the night and this performance was just the latest Man-Of-The-Match performance from the Spaniard, which helped to extend the impressive run that the Seagulls are currently on.

With just one defeat in their last fourteen league games Brighton have pulled themselves back from a mid-season slump and right into play-off contention. They currently reside in fourth place which, of course, would see them contest the end of season play-offs but with a queue of teams lining up just a point or two behind them and with a game in hand a-piece ‘Good Old Sussex By The Sea’ know that they are just a couple of slip-ups away from mid-table mediocrity again.

This is why Vicente’s timely first run of fitness and regular action for the Albion is proving so crucial. Manager Gus Poyet has been keen to emphasise the impact of ‘Vice’s’ return to fitness and has gone on record several times in the past few weeks to highlight how he and his squad know that they have a “special player” on their hands.

Sadly though for Vicente, Brighton, and in-fact the football community as a whole, his career has been plagued with injury. His previous club Valencia enjoyed several high profile successes in his time at the club but eventually they were left with little option other than to let him go.

Though he had contributed strongly in every stint of his Valencia career where fitness and injury problems were briefly put to one side, in his last couple of years in Spain he was left so short of match fitness that he barely managed a run of games.

Had his fitness held during the most crucial time in his career it is entirely possible that he could have had several more domestic Spanish titles to his name and that he may even have become a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain. As it is though, injury has robbed him of his prime  and all the opportunities that would most likely have accompanied it and now he finds himself as the poster boy for a Championship club.

Vicente Rodriguez

Vicente has a decent amount of international caps, but could have had many more

This isn’t to belittle Brighton as a football club or the fantastic recent progress that they’ve made, but Vicente’s fleeting return to form and fitness on the South Coast has highlighted just how special a talent he once was and just how sad it is that his still very present technical abilities have been constantly undermined by the fragility of his body over the past decade.

Poyet has said this week that he thinks Brighton would be ten to fifteen points better off this campaign if Vicente had been fit for the majority of it to date and these additional points, as it stands, would have seen the Albion challenging for the title.

It is rare to witness such a quality player plying his trade outside of Europe’s top divisions but all Albion fans will be hoping that these current circumstances are soon to change.

If Vicente maintains his fitness for Brighton’s remaining games then Poyet believes they have “a great chance” of making the top six and this sentiment is being echoed from the stands at the Amex.

If only Brighton can keep their prized asset out of the Physio’s room and instead have him out on the pitch on a regular basis for the next two to three months then the South-Coast fairytale may continue to grow. Not only could the delight of promotion back to the Championship last year be coupled with the relief of finally moving into and enjoying their first season at their new home in Falmer, but they could also soon be a Premier League side.

If they do reach the play-offs then it will surely be, in no small part, down to the inspiration provided by the return of ‘Vice’ to their side just as they’ve started to hit the home straight and perhaps their star player could once again get the chance to exercise his on-field powers in one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues if Brighton were to go up.

A couple of years ago the thought of Brighton becoming a Premier League side by 2012 seemed beyond ridiculous, as would the thought of Vicente strutting his stuff in the blue and white of the Albion. Now though, Vicente is lighting up the Championship and the play-offs are within touching distance.

What a difference a couple of seasons can make.

 

6 Nations Review 2012 and Team of the Tournament

So, what has the 6 Nations taught us?

Wales:

Wales Grandslam 6 Nations

Super-Sam Warburton lifts the trophy for Wales

Wales have been fantastic. They may have suffered their fair share of scares along the way, think the Ireland, England and France matches, but ultimately they overcame every obstacle thrust in their way and they have landed another Grandslam.

Consequently, Wales are in a state of rugby-based euphoria once again but questions remain about the timing of their success, have they yet again peaked too early? Their three recent Grandslam wins have never come within a year of the start of the World Cup, in fact, both this weekend’s triumph and that of 2008 have come in the immediate aftermath of Rugby’s showpiece event.

For now Wales have every right to live in the moment and enjoy their hard-earned Grandslam glory but it is yet to be seen whether they can build on this and become one of the stand-out favourites for the World Cup in 2015, which must surely be their aim going forward.

England:

Second placed England have too been fantastic. After a sluggish but typically gritty and successful start

Stuart Lancaster England Rugby

Lancaster has helped restore pride for England

England have grown into the tournament with arguably one of their best performances coming in their only defeat of the tournament, against Wales.

Much has been made of England’s poor showing on and off the field at the World Cup and many thought that interim boss Stuart Lancaster would struggle to re-build and galvanize the troops but how wrong were they?

Lancaster has arguably been the success story of the entire tournament and the manner in which he has gone about his business has been truly admirable. He has demonstrated all that you need to be a success in the world of management in international rugby, from his media savvy to his raw enthusiasm and appreciation of the privileged position in which he has found himself, he has demonstrated extraordinary composure en route to guiding England to a pleasantly surprising campaign.

Three wins out of three on the road (a 6 Nations record) and two very creditable home performances in the narrow defeat by Wales and the romping victory against Ireland has made for a far more rosy outlook for English rugby. This tournament has been a far cry from the World Cup exploits of the touring party and that alone should be enough to ensure that Lancaster is favourite to grab the job on a full-time basis.

Ireland:

Ireland 6 Nations

Tommy Bowe has one of only a few exceptional performers for Ireland

Ireland managed to pretty much replicate their World Cup performance. They once again showed great promise but they lacked the bottle and killer instinct necessary to get themselves into real contention.

The performance against England was entirely regrettable, but arguably more disappointing were the failures to put away Wales and France when they had engineered themselves winning positions. They may feel a little aggrieved at the nature of their defeat against Wales given that there were some questionable decisions from the referee that contributed to Wales’ eventual triumph but really they need to focus more on their inability to close out games.

Wales were the better side in their head-to-head with Ireland, yet Ireland manufactured a match-winning lead going into the very final moments only to let an ounce of indiscipline undo all their hard work which should have earned them an improbable victory. To coin the old report-card classic… Ireland: ‘Could do better…’

France:

Saint-Andre France

Saint-Andre must find a better attack-defence balance for France

France’s first campaign under the tutelage of Phillipe Saint-Andre was rather bizarre. They were, as per usual, pretty unpredictable but the real surprise came in the way that Saint-Andre seemed to set them up in terms of their tactical approach to games.

The joy of French rugby has always been that though they are capable of implosion at any moment that they always look for a way to get on the front foot and take the game to the opposition and more often than not with the ball in hand, trying to produce flowing and exciting rugby.

This campaign saw an entirely different emphasis though. Saint-Andre had clearly tried to impress on his troops that defence was the priority, and for the most part their defence was indeed fairly decent (the first half against England aside).

The problem for the French though was adapting to this new style of play. Their more able attacking forces seemed inhibited and, as a result, their plan to hit teams on the break with counter-attacking rugby fell flat on it’s face at times.

Maybe Saint-Andre should stick to what the French know best. They have always been a bit of an all-or-nothing team and perhaps that is what they must remain. Turning the French into a disciplined and defensive unit is like turning England into a lethal, fast-paced team founded upon their thirst for try-scoring and flowing backs moves. It just doesn’t seem to fit. Lancaster seemed to get that in his first tournament in charge of England but sadly for France this didn’t appear to be the case for their new boss.

Italy:

Fifth-placed Italy deserve enormous credit once again for their efforts in avoiding the wooden-spoon.

Venditti Italy Rugby

Venditti crashes over to avoid the wooden-spoon

Their solitary win against the Scots may not have been attractive but it was ruthless. In Rome they gave Scotland a painful lesson in taking your chances when they come. Venditti may have resembled a baby rhino lacking in any natural running technique when he went over for the decisive score but the fact remains that he was the only person who managed to do so all game.

Italy’s campaign wasn’t though entirely based upon their final day win as they also performed well against England and France. They may have ultimately succumbed to defeat in both games but their willingness to take the game to France and the attitude they showed to come back from an early deficit and go in at half time with the lead against England suggests that the gap between them and the rest is shortening year on year. It is hard to tell just how much the Italians are progressing at times but I think they have shown enough in this year’s tournament to suggest that they are moving forward.

Scotland:

Scotland flattered to deceive. An opening day performance of decent promise against England was ruined

Scotland Rugby

Plenty of promise for Scotland, but ultimately failure

by a lack of composure, their great resistance in the early stages against Wales was eventually ground down and overwhelmed and they again had their moments against France en route to defeat.

It has been a very strange tournament for them really. The past few weeks have seen them receive plaudits for their much-improved style of rugby which will have made Coach Andy Robinson a very proud man but ultimately they have lost all five of their games and their performance against Italy was pretty sub-standard.

The likes of Richie Gray, Dave Denton and Stuart Hogg have shown in this tournament some real rays of light for Scottish rugby but Andy Robinson may pay for his side’s lack of killer instinct. Robinson does seem to me to have the right ideas to take the Scotland side forward but the lack of positive results may well cost him his job.

The Conclusion:

Wales are fantastic and have to now use this success as a foundation towards bigger and better triumphs in the long term.

England do still have a side with the potential to build towards 2015 and should stick with Lancaster after a very encouraging first taste of job.

Ireland need to learn how to win big matches and need to learn what life will be like without the killer instinct of Brian O’Driscoll, which they have sorely missed throughout the tournament.

France are better off being cavalier and arrogant than they are being resilient. Lievremont experienced something of a mutiny within his ranks at the World Cup but somehow they still nearly won it, Saint-Andre targeted unity and discipline and it seems as if this ended up blunting the French threat en route to a disappointing 4th placed finish.

Italy need to keep on plugging away. They are perhaps still a little too reliant on the likes of the brilliant Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni but they are making strides in certain areas and they appeared a little more threatening going forward in this year’s Championship.

Scotland need to either show great confidence in the new Andy Robinson ethos and accept that it might take a while for it to truly reap it’s rewards or alternatively they must move on to a new Coach with a new style immediately, they can’t afford to stick with Robinson in the short term and then get rid of him after losing their next couple of games. Their have been real signs of life in their ranks this tournament and it has been refreshing to see them taking on the opposition but no wins in five suggests there is still an enormous amount of work to be done.

My Team of the Tournament:

Coach – Stuart Lancaster (My apologies to Mr.Gatland who has obviously done a great job as well…)

Front Row – Gethin Jenkins, Dylan Hartley/Rory Best, Dan Cole

Second Row – Alun Wyn Jones, Richie Gray

Back Row – Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau, Tom Croft/Sam Warburton

Half Backs – Mike Phillips, Owen Farrell

Centres – Wesley Fofana, Jonathan Davies

Wings – Alex Cuthbert/George North, Tommy Bowe

Full Back – Leigh Halfpenny

Who will step into the AVB shaped hole at Chelsea?

After a tumultuous few months of charge Andre Vilas-Boas has run out of time and Roman Abramovic has once again wielded his managerial axe. Yet another league defeat has left Chelsea sitting uncomfortably in fifth place and after Arsenal’s near-miraculous ‘smash and grab’ win over Liverpool they are fast losing ground on those competing with them to secure Champions League qualification.

Now that the pressure of poor results has finally told on Andre Vilas-Boas the focus turns to who Roman Abramovic deems worthy of stepping into the breach on a permanent basis. In the wake of AVB’s tricky tenure at the club it seems likely that he will turn his attentions towards more experienced and more high profile candidates in a move to appease the sections of the Chelsea support that hold him firmly responsible for the stuttering period of time that the club has endured since Abramovic opted for Vilas-Boas’ rather wildcard appointment last summer.

Some of the names being touted by the press and the many varied betting companies include Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez, Fabio Capello, Pep Guardiola and then some far less glamorous and high profile candidates such as Brendan Rogers and David Moyes who wouldn’t exactly fit the mould of a classical Abramovic appointment but that isn’t to say they wouldn’t do a fantastic job. Below I have taken a closer look at the favourites to land the job and have analysed key factors such as their availability and their suitability to the role.

Rafael Benitez:

Benitez is arguably the strongest contender of those being most closely linked with the job. He has a great wealth of managerial experience both in England and abroad, he has a Champions League win under his belt (something of great appeal to Mr.Abramovic) and as a result of his experience and successes he would certainly come with the sort of reputation that a certain Russian oligarch tends to take a liking to.

Availability Rating: 9/10 He is currently not managing and has barely done so since parting company with Liverpool in acrimonious fashion back in 2010. Only a very brief stint at Inter Milan has served to fill part of this absence from regular management and you would imagine that an offer from a big club like Chelsea would be very hard to turn down.

Suitability: 9/10 In spite of a a shaky time at Inter, Benitez has been a very impressive and successful club manager and with his CV boasting a Champions League victory he appears to be an ideal fit. Chelsea are undoubtedly in a spot of bother at the moment, but one would imagine that Benitez is media savvy enough to handle the tough times having spent several years in front of the media’s gaze at Liverpool in what was a tricky period off the field for the club.

Mourinho and Benitez both have great track records in English football

Jose Mourinho:

As is always the case when a big English club needs a new manager, Jose Mourinho is being linked with the role. I myself can’t see it happening given his past with the club and with the owner in particular but stranger things have happened and I would stop short of completely ruling out the possibility of the ‘Special One’ making a return to his beloved Chelsea.

Availability Rating: 7/10 It is hard to see Jose leaving Real Madrid when he is on the verge of securing a first La Liga title since joining the club but he has often shown signs of major frustration in his time in the Spanish capital. If he were to leave Madrid it would surely not be until the summer but perhaps the act of breaking Barcelona’s stay of power at the top of the Spanish footballing charts would be the perfect way for him to bow out.

Suitability Rating: 6/10 There is no doubt that the Chelsea fans would love him to return to the club and there is no doubting how brilliant a job he did for the Blues but a move back to the club while Roman Abramovic is still calling the shots might just provide the impassable stumbling block. He left the club on poor terms with the powers that be and one would think his pride and tremendous ego would convince him not to re-trace his managerial footsteps under the current conditions at Chelsea.

Roberto Di Matteo:

The man charged with taking care of the club on an interim basis has a great history with Chelsea after a successful period as a player for the club and he is certainly a popular man amongst the Chelsea faithful. Having said that though it would be hard to see Abramovic backing another very young manager in the wake of AVB’s tough few months at the helm. If things go well during his stint in charge of the team though then who knows if he can force his way into the reckoning?

Having never managed a 'big club' this opportunity might have come a little too early for Di Matteo

Availability Rating: 10/10 Already at the club formerly as a player and as Vilas-Boas’ assistant and now as the caretaker boss, he would surely love the chance to take on the job on a full-time basis.

Suitability Rating: 6/10 His place in the Chelsea fan’s hearts puts him right up there and he is the man in possession in a way but it really does seem farfetched that Abramovic would consider another young and fairly inexperienced option.

Pep Guardiola:

Guardiola fits the bill but is he remotely available and could he really be tempted?

He may be young but boy has he been successful. I guess you could have said that about Andre-Vilas Boas but he hadn’t quite produced the football or the scale of success that Guardiola has since taking charge at Barcelona.

There have been plenty of murmurings about Guardiola’s future at Barca given their recent ‘struggles’ in their pursuit of Real Madrid in La Liga but he is a proud young manager and he might find it too hard to leave the club on a bad note. He has built a dynasty at Barca and perhaps Chelsea could provide the ideal platform for his second managerial project?

Availability Rating: 5/10 There is a chance he may leave Barca at the end of the season whether they bag themselves a major trophy such as the Champions League or not but I would be surprised if he actively decided to leave the club for a team who are currently a world away from the successes that he has enjoyed over the past few years.

Suitability Rating: 9/10 He has a great pedigree for a young manager and his youth and inexperience is hardly comparable to that of AVB seeing as he has already managed a super-power of world football for several seasons and that he has taken them to Champions League glory. He now comes with great form and a reputation for building a successful dynasty at a club with great building blocks in place and this makes him an ideal candidate for the job if there was any way of convincing him to give up sunny Spain for the Royal Borough of Chelsea.

Fabio Capello:

In the wake of his tough time as England manager, the prospect of managing a big English club might not be

Would the 'Iron Sergeant' fancy his chances of proving himself in English football?

entirely tempting for Capello. He was subject to some fairly intense media pressure in his time in charge of the national side and this alone might put him off setting up base in London again.

Having said that, Capello has an absolutely fantastic reputation when it comes to club management and he would come with the right sort of experience and profile for someone of Abramovic’s particular tastes. Could Fabio honestly face such swift return to the English capital?

Availability Rating: 8/10 He is unattached having recently walked out on the national side but Capello might just fancy a little period out of the game before taking on one last big challenge in his managerial career.

Suitability Rating: 7/10 He is a proven top-class club manager and he has won the Champions League with Milan just as previous Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti had done and in truth he would make for a very similar appointment. It is only his strained relationship with the English media and his reputation for being such a stern and defiant man that defies his suitability to the role.

David Moyes:

If Abramovic is looking for a down to earth manager with a great wealth of English managing experience then he should look no further. Moyes has done a terrific job in his many years at Everton and has proven the value of sticking with a manager for a long period of time something which isn’t exactly typical of an Abramovic appointment. Could Roman be ready to change his ways though?

He wouldn’t be a type-cast new manager for Chelsea but could he be the right option? I personally think that Moyes could do a very good job at any English club given his Premier League experience and the stellar job he has done on a very limited budget in his time at Goodison Park.

Moyes would be a surprise given Abramovic's penchant for glamorous appointments

Availability Rating: 7/10 He is fairly happy at Everton in spite of the limited financial support he has received in his time at the club, but he could be tempted by a big challenge like Chelsea and Everton would be fairly powerless to stand in his way given the tremendous service he has given to the club over a long period of time.

Suitability Rating: 7/10 I don’t doubt Moyes’ ability to manage Chelsea on a week-to-week basis in the Premier League but he has little to no experience of Europe’s premiere competition, the Champions League.  This may not effect his performance in the role if he were given the opportunity but such uncertainty may effect Abramovic’s judgement when it comes to deciding upon AVB’s successor. I think Moyes could be brilliant for Chelsea but I just can’t see him tickling Roman’s fancy.

Manchester homes in on the title, but which of the city’s teams will triumph?

As Sir Alex Ferguson is always so keen to point out, when it comes to March and the title race really hots up, Manchester United tend to come good.

So here we are, March has arrived and what better time for the United’s veteran squad members to find their best and contribute the potentially title deciding goals in a tricky, hard-earned and last-gasp away victory?

Manchester City soundly did their side of things last weekend and put the pressure firmly on the shoulders of Manchester United with just about as comfortable a victory as is possible to come across in the Premier League, winning 3-0 at home to Blackburn. As such, United needed to find an away win over this season’s surprise package Norwich, and as it turned out they were pushed to within an inch of their powers in order to come up with the goods.

United’s eventual 2-1 win was a far-cry from the ‘walk in the park’ City had enjoyed the day before, but sadly for City the reward for their for more domineering win was just the same as United’s for their lacklustre performance; a crucial three points.

The Champions have therefore managed to cut the points difference back to just two points and with only a third of the Premier League season remaining are still well on the case of their bitter rivals. These two wins accrued by the Manchester club’s last weekend may have left them both battling hard for the title but third placed Tottenham saw their challenge effectively ended by their humiliating 5-2 defeat against arch-rivals Arsenal.

Will it be Ferguson or Mancini that comes out on top?

So, seeing as Spurs have fallen by the way-side and that we have reached ‘crunch-time’ in Manchester’s dual-pursuit of Premier League glory I have decided to make predictions for the remaining rounds of fixtures and have worked out where my predictions would take the Premier League trophy. Will it be the Etihad for the first time, or, will it go back to it’s second home (Old Trafford) once again?

  • (A) = Away Fixture
  • (H) = Home Fixture

12 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-2 Tottenham (A)

Manchester City 3-0 Bolton (H)

11 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-1 West Brom (H)

Manchester City 2-1 Swansea (A)

10 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-0 Wolves (A)

Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea (H)

9 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-0 Fulham (H)

Manchester City 1-1 Stoke (A)

8 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-0 Blackburn (A)

Manchester City 3-1 Sunderland

7 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 5-0 QPR (H)

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal (A)

6 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-1 Wigan (A)

Manchester City 1-1 West Brom (H)

5 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa (H)

Manchester City 3-1 Norwich (A)

4 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 1-1 Everton (H)

Manchester City 3-0 Wolves (A)

3 Games Remaining:

Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United

2 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-0 Swansea (H)

Manchester City 1-2 Newcastle (A)

Last Day of the Season:

Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland (A)

Manchester City 3-1 QPR (H)

 

Predicted Final Standings:

If things were to go as I’ve predicted then the eventual look of the Premier League table would be as follows…

1. Manchester City (92 Points, Goal Difference of +64)

2. Manchester United (90 Points, Goal Difference of +57)

 

So, if my predictions are there or thereabouts then City will win their first Premier League title and they would do so by the narrow two point margin that they currently boast over their rivals heading into the final third of the season. Regardless of the outcome, it is fair to say that the rest of this season is set to be very interesting indeed!

The winners and losers of Pearce’s week at the helm

In a week where England Under 21’s boss Stuart Pearce was asked to fill the Fabio Capello sized hole as the full international side’s caretaker boss, England have been defeated by one of the stand-out favourite’s to win the European Championships.

It has been a big week for Pearce and several England hopefuls

No surprises to be had then really… England were fairly soundly beaten by a top-class, experienced and much fancied side when their own team are in a period of managerial transition and were also hampered by several key absences.

In truth, this friendly match was less about seeing how a settled England side could compete with top-class opposition but more a chance for some less experienced players to continue their education as international footballers and for the squad to try dealing with adversity.

Due to the nature and circumstances of last night’s game I have decided not to look too in-depth at the performance as a whole but rather pick out a few significant events and performances in Pearce’s week of stepping into the breach. My picks for the winners and losers of ‘Psycho’ ‘s week of charge are as follows…

The Winners:

Stuart Pearce:

He may not have got the result he was hoping for on his first outing as Manager of the full international side but his team did show some spirit and resolve and ultimately won’t be too disappointed with the outcome.

It was win-win really for Pearce as he has stated that he doesn’t think he is ready for the job full-time, but he will have learnt from the experience and it will certainly have helped any long-term ambitions he may harbour of eventually taking the role on a permanent basis.

Scott Parker:

His international stock continues to rise and after last night’s characteristically brave and battling performance he will not only have secured his place in England’s starting line-up for the Euro’s but he has also made himself favourite to lead the team out in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

John Terry:

He may be injured and his public and footballing image may be left tarnished by recent events but last night England’s defence looked bereft of the grit and experience which Terry possesses by the barrel-load. England’s defensive backbone needs a John Terry-esque figure and there seems to be little in the way of alternative options.

Rio Ferdinand:

He may have spent a fair period in the international wilderness now but, like John Terry, it is hard to deny the experience and quality that he possesses and that could yet earn him a call-up to the Euro’s squad if he is fit for duty.

It is yet to be seen whether he would be happy to part of a squad including his long-term central defensive parter John Terry though, given the offence taken by Ferdinand to Terry’s alleged racial abuse of his brother. For me, the England squad will be stronger if they can put aside their differences and regain the necessary fitness and form to earn their call-ups as I think they are probably still our best central defensive partnership.

Micah Richards:

He was overlooked consistently throughout Capello’s reign but he returned to the side last night and looked every bit an international footballer. He does look a little indisciplined in defence at times but his strength and determination in the challenge and when breaking forward provides something different for England at the back. He would definitely make my England squad for the Euro’s.

Daniel Sturridge:

Came off the bench early on for the injured Steven Gerrard and played a part in most of England’s good attacking play. He may have even done enough to jump Danny Wellbeck in the race to start up top for England in the absence of Rooney for the first two games at the Euro’s and Darren Bent’s potential absence for the whole tournament with injury.

Ashley Young:

Four goals in his last five international appearances now for Young and he is beginning to look comfortable at this level. He may have been fairly quiet throughout last night but his goal was sweetly taken and his set-piece was a constant threat. He now seems the most likely of England’s wingers to make the starting line-up come June.

Holland (obviously):

Winners in a literal sense on the night but also in terms of the threat and killer instinct which they seem to possess going into a big summer of international football. Not many teams in world football could come back from throwing away a two-nil lead in the last five minutes of normal time away from home  and against strong opposition to producing a winning goal in additional time. They demonstrated great self-belief in coming back to win the game late on after enduring a few late minutes of defensive indecision themselves and they impressed with their play throughout the ninety-odd minutes at Wembley last night. It was the sort of performance and result which serves to underline their reputation as one of Spain’s strongest challengers this summer.

The Losers:

Manchester United and Chris Smalling:

With Chris Smalling picking up a pretty gruesome head injury, Manchester United’s never-ending defensive injury crisis seems set to continue.

Aside from Patrice Evra and David De Gea, pretty much every member of United’s defensive unit have spent considerable stints on the sidelines this season, Smalling included, and now he is set for another spell out of the game. Incidents like this do warrant sympathy for the players themselves and for their club managers and I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson will be bemoaning his luck with a huge game against Spurs lying in wait at the weekend. Hopefully for his and United’s benefit, the injury picked up by Smalling will not be as bad as it looked and he will make a speedy return to action.

Steven Gerrard:

Most people were expecting a swift return to the England captaincy for ‘Stevie G’ but it wasn’t to be as Scott Parker was picked for the job.

Not only will Gerrard be disappointed by this but he will also be irked by his short stay on the field after being named in England’s starting line-up. His stay of action lasted barely 20 minutes and was hardly what he was hoping for having barely played any international football over the past year due to injury.

It seems likely that Gerrard will be picked if fit and available but the brevity of his contributions last night certainly won’t work in his favour when it comes to squad and first XI selection at the Euro’s.