Premier League 2012/2013: Team by Team Preview

Arsenal

Key Player: For me, Alex Song was second only to Robin Van Persie in terms of Arsenal’s best players last season and I think that they must do absolutely everything in their power to keep him at the club amidst rumours that Barcelona are on the verge of a securing a move for the dynamic midfield player. I think that losing Song would represent a greater loss to Arsenal than losing Van Persie as the Dutchman’s departure was always expected and therefore planned for whereas Song’s departure would leave Arsenal requiring some quick-fire work in the latter stages of the transfer window.

Alex Song Barcelona

Signings: Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud

What they still need: If Arsenal are planning on offloading either Marouane Chamakh or Nicklas Bendtner then I think they need to invest in another striker but Arsene Wenger seems to think otherwise. They will also need to line up a very decent replacement for Alex Song if he is to be lured to the Nou Camp.

Prediction: 5th

Aston Villa

Key Player: Villa had a pretty dire season last year in almost every way but they certainly had their reasons. I can remember very few Premier League sides ever having endured such a terrible season of injury woe than Villa last year and the major loss of the bunch was Darren Bent who missed the most crucial part of the season as they were sucked into the relegation dogfight. With Bent back on the field they will stand a far greater chance of avoiding relegation worries this season as he remains their only major goal threat.

Bent Villa

Signings: Karim El Ahmadi, Brett Holman, Ron Vlaar, Matthew Lowton

What they still need: Villa could do with someone to help Bent out on the goal scoring front as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s contributions have never been consistent enough. Last season Villa also looked desperately short of creative sparks in their midfield and they would benefit from adding a creative player out wide. Someone like Matt Jarvis of Wolves or Gabriel Obertan of Newcastle would prove a decent addition to their squad and they are prbably both available at the right price.

Prediction: 13th

Chelsea

Key Player: Fernando Torres has struggled for form and fitness over the past few seasons but towards the end of last season there seemed to be a bit of an upturn in form for the once prolific Spaniard and this form followed him unto Spain’s successful Euro 2012 campaign where he won the Golden Boot. In the wake of Chelsea hero Didier Drogba’s departure Torres will need to step up to the plate and take on the bulk of their goal scoring burden and I think we will see something more like his old self in this campaign.

Torres Chelsea

Signings: Oscar, Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard

What they still need: Chelsea need a right back to compete with Branislav Ivanovic and perhaps they could also do with another holding midfield player as Michael Essien seemed to struggle to reach his former heights last season. Don’t rule out a move for a striker either as they aren’t exactly over-stocked in that department.

Prediction: 3rd

Everton

Key Player: Everton are always brilliantly drilled and organised by their fantastic manager David Moyes but the only area in which they have truly struggled during his time at the club is in the goal-scoring department. Never before have they had a striker with such an eye for goal as Nikica Jelavic and if his first half season at the club is anything to go by then they may well have finally found themselves a 20 goal a season man.

Jelavic Everton

Signings: Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith

What they still need: They were surprisingly active in the January transfer market and have already brought Steven Pienaar back to the club this summer so expect little more movement from Everton. Having said that though, I think a rumoured move for Michael Owen would represent the sort of low-risk move which might take David Moyes’ fancy and he could prove a decent addition if he can keep fit.

Prediction: 8th

Fulham

Key Player: Fulham’s star man is Clint Dempsey. He is far and away their best player and his ability to score a huge haul of goals from midfield has been the difference between them being a mid-table club rather than a side battling to avoid relegation in recent times and it is of paramount importance that they hold on to him if they are to have any chance of progressing. It does however sound like he is at the top of Liverpool’s wanted list and one would have to think that the move will probably go through.

Dempsey Fulham

Signings: Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega, Sascha Reither, George Williams

What they still need: If Dempsey decides to move to Liverpool then Fulham will need to either invest in a striker who can take on the task of replacing the void left by Dempsey’s departure in their goals tally or alternatively a midfielder in the Dempsey mould who can score and create goals on a regular basis.

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

Key Player: He may well be the most, or at very least one of the most, maligned players in the league but Luis Suarez is undoubtedly Liverpool’s best offensive player and they will rely heavily upon him to try and re-assert themselves as a real Premier League force this season. In terms of his contribution in purely football terms Suarez has enjoyed a very decent first season and a half in English football but he needs to score a greater bulk of goals than he has done so far if he is to be truly regarded as one of the most highly revered strikers in world football.

Suarez Liverpool

Signings: Joe Allen, Fabio Borini

What they still need: If Daniel Agger moves to City then Liverpool will definitely have to replace him with someone like Steven Caulker and they could also do with adding more bite to their midfield. It sounds as if they are keen to secure a deal to sign Clint Dempsey and I don’t think there are many sides in the league who wouldn’t benefit from adding him to their squad. Christian Tello and Nuri Sahin are both very firmly on their radar also…

Prediction: 6th

Manchester City

Key Player: Yaya Toure had a sublime season last year and was  arguably the key component of their first ever Premier League winning side. He has adapted his game so easily since joining the club and he has transformed himself into one of the most dynamic roaming midfielders in world football. If City are to make it back-to-back titles then they will need Toure to keep fit and to reach the same levels as last season.

Toure Man City

Signings: Jack Rodwell

What they still need: Do City really need anyone? They could perhaps do with some more competition in central defence as replacement centre half Stefan Savic didn’t look up to the task last season and Daniel Agger would be a great signing if they could pull it off.

Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

Key Player: He may not seem the obvious choice but I think Michael Carrick could and should have a huge part to play in United’s season. At his best he is one of the Premier League’s finest distributors of the ball and he possesses the ability to relieve his defence of an enormous amount of pressure with his very efficient positioning and shielding of the back four. When he is high on confidence he is a totally different player than when he is in and out of the starting lineup and I think it is of little coincidence that United are at their best when Carrick is thriving in the heart of their midfield.

Carrick Man Utd

Signings: Robin Van Persie, Nick Powell, Shinji Kagawa

What they still need: Signing Van Persie has given their chances of gaining revenge on City a huge boost. They could however still do with some more defensive cover and perhaps a holding midfielder.

Prediction: 2nd

Newcastle

Key Player: Since joining Newcastle Cheik Tiote has become one of the most sought after midfield players in English football as his destructive and combative talents have proved completely vital to Newcastle’s successful return to top-flight football. It seems as though Newcastle have done a fantastic job of keeping him happy at the club as I’m sure there would be a whole host of suitors for one of the Premier League’s best holding midfield players if he was ever to declare anything other than his enormous affection for the club.

Tiote Newcastle

Signings: Curtis Good, Romain Amalfitano, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigrimana

What they still need: Newcastle still need some defensive cover having looked threadbare at the back throughout the second half of last season, other than that though their squad is looking pretty well set for a challenge at securing European qualification for the second season running.

Prediction: 7th

Norwich

Key Player: Last season Grant Holt not only realised his dream of playing Premier League football but he also became perhaps the surprise success story of the entire Premier League season as he banged in the goals which kept Norwich clear of danger. If Norwich are to avoid danger again then Holt will surely again have to reach a similarly decent goals tally.

Holt Norwich

Signings: Michael Turner, Robert Snodgrass, Jacob Butterfield, Javier Garrido, Steven Whittaker

What they still need: Norwich need to bring someone in who can share the goal scoring burden with Grant Holt and they would benefit from investing in a quality centre half.

Prediction: 20th

QPR

Key Player: One of the more interesting transfer deals of the summer has seen Park Ji-Sung leave Manchester United for Queens Park Rangers. Not satisfied anymore with life on the periphery of the United side Park decided to ‘up sticks’ and he signed for Rangers in what could prove to be a great bit of business for the West-Londoners. He became well renowned for his tremendous attitude and work ethic at United but when he was at his best he was more than just a dedicated squad member. He has terrific off the ball movement and if he can just make more of his uncanny ability to pop up in great areas then I’m sure he’ll prove to be a big hit at Loftus Road.

Signings: Park Ji-Sung, Fabio, Ryan Nelsen, Samba Diakite, Andy Johnson, Rob Green, Junior Hoilett

What they still need: QPR need to make improvements in defence having looked very leaky at the back last season and they would be wise to add further defensive recruits as they have the potential to become a top-ten side if only they can find a bit more stability throughout their squad.

Prediction: 10th

Reading

Key Player: Any new Premier League sides desperately need a striker who can reach at least double figures on the goals front and in signing Pavel Pogrebnyak Reading way well have found themselves one. Pogrebnyak’s arrival at the club appears to be a real coup as a couple of more established Premier League and European Clubs were after his services and if he can re-create his start whilst on loan at Fulham last season then he will prove to be a crucial part of Reading’s bid for survival.

Pogrebnyak Reading

Signings: Chris Gunter, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Adrian Mariappa, Nicky Shorey, Gareth McCleary

What they still need: Reading have done pretty well in the transfer market so far having beaten more established sides to the signatures of Pogrebnyak and Guthrie but they could still do with adding some Premier League experience to their squad right across the board. Many are tipping them for the drop but I think they could have a pretty good season.

Prediction:15th

Southampton

Key Player: Rickie Lambert has proven himself to be a lethal marksman at football league and championship level but it remains to be seen whether he can emulate the likes of Grant Holt and make a success of himself in the Premier League. Southampton haven’t invested much in new signings so far this summer so if they are to re-establish themselves as a top-flight side then they will be reliant once again on Lambert finding the back of the net on a regular basis.

Lambert Southampton

Signings: Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis, Nathaniel Clyne, Paolo Gazzaniga

What they still need: Southampton must add greater numbers and a greater amount of experience to their squad as they look a little lightweight in every department at the minute. The signings they have made so far have actually been pretty good but they definitely need to invest more if they are to have any hope of staying up.

Prediction:18th

Stoke

Key Player: Tony Pulis put a lot of faith in Peter Crouch last summer when he splashed over £10m on the ageing England international but his faith was repaid as Crouch led the line admirably for the Potters. Hopes will be high again for Crouch to deliver and if he scores ten to fifteen goals then Stoke should be in decent shape to avoid being lured into a relegation battle.

Crouch Stoke City

Signings: Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron, Jamie Ness

What they still need: Stoke have done a great job establishing themselves as a Premier League club and now they need to ensure that this remains the case. If they are to steer clear of any flirtations with trouble then I think they need to sign a creative central midfield player as they are short of genuine playmakers.

Prediction: 14th

Sunderland

Key Player: Last season Stephane Sessegnon was far and away Sunderland’s best player. The diminutive midfielder is an elusive off the ball runner and he has the ability to unlock doors in any opposition’s defences so he will always be a major threat. If they can keep him sweet and team him up with a new front man then he could well continue to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s finest playmakers.

Sessegnon Sunderland

Signings: Louis Saha, Carlos Cuellar

What they still need: They may have added Saha to their ranks but they still desperately need another striker and it sounds as if they are trying their utmost to land Steven Fletcher from Wolves. They could also do with more cover across all positions at the back.

Prediction: 9th

Swansea

Key Player: In the wake of Joe Allen’s departure from the club, Swansea are left without arguably their best player from last season but up until now at least they have managed to hold on to Scott Sinclair who has also been fantastic for them over the past couple of seasons. In his attacking midfield role Michael Laudrup will need Sinclair, his star man, to contribute heavily both in terms of goals scored and assists made otherwise the Swans could struggle to remain a Premier League club come the end of the season.

Sinclair Swansea City

Signings: Michu, Jose Manuel Flores, Jonathan De Guzman, Itay Shechter

What they still need: Swansea could do with replacing the playmaking talents of the departed Joe Allen and it wouldn’t hurt them to try and sign a new striker to compete for a place with Danny Graham as well. If Scott Sinclair is tempted away in the coming weeks by Manchester City then it would also be of paramount importance that they find a suitable replacement.

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham

Key Player: New signing Jan Vertonghen has impressed greatly in his time at former club Ajax and Spurs will need to him to settle very quickly in London if they are seriously challenge for the top few places in the league. Now that their defensive rock Ledley King has finally had to call it a day for his injury-plagued career there is a huge void left in Tottenham’s defence which creaked at times last year and Vertonghen will be required to fill it.

Vertonghen Spurs

Signings: Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson

What they still need: A replacement for Luka Modric is a must and they could do with a couple of strikers also. They will still be hoping they can make a deal for Emmannuel Adebayor work and they may also try to land either one of Loic Remy or Leandro Damaio who have both been on their radar for quite a while. Andy Carroll could also be an option…

Prediction: 4th

West Brom

Key Player: Ben Foster has proven himself to be a very decent Premier League goalkeeper at a few different clubs now and though he is a keeper with an error-prone streak in him he is also a keeper capable of match-winning performances. Sometimes there seems to be absolutely no way past Foster and West Brom will need him to have several of these days in the forthcoming season if they are to avoid a post-Roy Hodgson era hangover under new manager Steve Clarke.

Foster West Brom

Signings: Markus Rosenberg, Ben Foster, Yassine El Ghanassy, Claudio Yacob

What they still need: West Brom’s squad could do with the addition of a striker who could bag them 15-20 goals a season and a midfielder capable of providing the service necessary to make this possible. Matt Jarvis might be a good option as he is a proven creator and scorer of Premier League goals from wide positions.

Prediction: 19th

West Ham

Key Player: James Tomkins has already had a taste of Premier League action having featured regularly in West Ham’s relegation season but this time he will be hoping to prove that he has developed his game sufficiently to help West Ham avoid the drop this time around. He has been the recipient of a lot of praise since West Ham found themselves back in the Championship and he will be desperate to continue his strong rate of development at the highest level this season.

Tomkins West Ham

Signings: Modibo Maiga, James Collins, Alou Diarra, Mohamed Diame, Stephen Henderson, Jussi Jaaskelainen, George McCartney

What they still need: The Hammers have recruited very well so far this summer but if they have aspirations of doing more than just staying up then they could do with one or two more faces. Their midfield now looks packed with strength and combative players but they still look slightly lightweight in terms of creative forces.

Prediction: 11th

Wigan

Key Player: New signing Arouna Kone notched an impressive 17 goals in 34 appearances for former club Levante last season and if Wigan are to steer clear of their now annual relegation battle then he will need to be similarly potent for his new club. Wigan have always struggled to find a consistent goal scorer in their years as a Premier League club but in Kone they may finally have found one. We’ll have to wait and see…

Kone Wigan

Signings: Arouna Kone, Fraser Fyvie, Ivan Ramis

What they still need: They could do with strengthening their defence and adding toughness to their midfield, they ideally would like to add players who already have Premier League experience. Another must for Wigan is either holding onto Victor Moses or alternatively spending the money made from any deal involving Moses wisely on a player or a couple of players who are capable of replacing his considerable talents.

Prediction: 16th

Newcastle’s revolving door casts a cloud over their recent successes

The Toon Army have been put through more than most football fans

Living on the periphery of Newcastle teaches you a thing or two about how the locals look upon their duty to support their football club. Often their fervent support is referred to as a religion, but in truth it is more like an occupation. It is a job that they love, a job that they are immensely passionate about, but ultimately a job that causes them an immense amount of stress and torment.

This stress has become an infamous part of their relationship with the club in recent times, but after years of managerial departures and arrivals, boardroom unrest, relegation, and promotion it seems that the club has finally found some peace. However, while the Newcastle fans are on the crest of a wave, there still remains an unmistakeable sense of caution.

The reason for such tentativeness at present is presumably down to the perpetual rumours surrounding the futures of their star players and their manager who’s stock has risen enormously since he came to the club. In the wake of a summer that saw them lose three of their best players (Luis Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton) for a combined fee of around £10 million, Newcastle’s fans are justifiably concerned about the buy in and sell on culture that appears to be developing at the club.

Carroll has struggled for form since his astronomically expensive transfer

Couple these high profile losses with the departure of local lad Andy Carroll, who at the time was considered one of the hottest young properties in English football and things do appear a little anti-progressional. To sell on four of your finest assets in just over half a year, with three of them going relatively ‘on the cheap’, doesn’t exactly reek of ambition.

However, Newcastle have re-generated from within as well as investing wisely in order to move up a level from last season. Some of the players who were already on the books prior to the departure of their former protagonists, such as Cheikh Tiote, Tim Krul and current skipper Fabricio Coloccini, have all excelled in the club’s magnificent season to date. In addition to this, Demba Ba (a free summer signing) and Yohan Cabaye (another astute buy) have been of paramount importance to the Toon’s brilliant spell.

The combination of internal progression and the successful integration of newly acquired talent has guided Newcastle as far as the quarter finals of the Carling Cup, the forthcoming 4th Round of the FA Cup, and most importantly 7th place in the Premier League. Though there is a long way to go yet, it does seem that this season will go down as a huge success for a club that are theoretically still in recovery mode following their shock relegation to the Championship just three years ago.

With the wounds of this footballing atrocity for the City of Newcastle still so raw, it is easy to comprehend their tempered excitement at the moment. They have dealt magnificently with the loss of several star players and have managed to fill the voids thus far without breaking the bank. How long though can this method of recycling keep pushing the club forward?

Just imagine if Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul all decided that they wanted to move to stronger footballing and financial institutions. What would this do to the club?

Sure, they would get a decent chunk of money for such a group of talented players, but up to this point Mike Ashley hasn’t exactly delivered on his promises to re-invest all the money brought in from previous outgoings.

If this trend of buying cheap, selling big and not re-investing the profit continues then surely there is only so far the club will go in near future. At present the team are performing out of their skins and their scouting network are producing an impressive success rate, but you would forgive the Toon Army if they were harbouring some residual doubt and apprehension about the pattern emerging at the club.

The revolving door seems to still be in motion at St.James’ with rumours of high profile departures, but if they do want to hold on to their star players then I suggest they try and keep them sweet. May I suggest a new contract for Demba Ba that doesn’t have a paltry release clause and that includes a strawberry syrup reward-per-goal (see the now infamous Ba interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves).

Pardew’s Lesson In Anger Management

Who would have bet on Newcastle battling out in the top four come late October? Not many people I can assure you, but alas it is the predicament they find themselves in at the moment and as a result of their rather surprise return to prominence Tyneside is buzzing with enthusiasm.

It is probably far too early to suggest that they can maintain such a strong challenge all season, but hopes are high that the Toon can force themselves into contention for a Europa league place with their early charge. To bring the glory days of European football back to St.James’ park must be the ultimate aim of their much maligned owner Mike Ashley and the man he placed in charge of the club almost a year ago.

Under Ashley’s ownership Alan Pardew endured a rather hostile beginning to his reign as Manager. Having been named the man to replace the very popular Chris Hughton he was immediately met with uncertainty and an air of disillusionment from the fans.

Hughton before him had successfully guided the side back to the Premier League and had safely seen them to a mid-season position of mid-table solidity. Sitting comfortably in the middle of the league table may not exactly be awe-inspiring, but the security that comes with it was exactly what the football club and it’s fans had been craving. Sadly for Hughton, Mike Ashley was one of the only people associated with the club that weren’t contented by this and saw fit to relieve him of his duties.

This unsurprisingly called Ashley’s loyalty and decision making into question. He was once again lambasted by the press and the club’s fans for his actions. Rather unfairly his new man at the helm, Alan Pardew, then had to assume the unenviable position of being one of the faces of what was at the time seen as negative change.

Not only had Pardew been asked to take on the role of living up to Hughton’s great record at the club, but he was soon fighting fires on the media frontline amidst the Andy Carroll transfer saga on January ‘Deadline Day’. If he was unsure before he took the role just how passionate the club’s fans were, then he was left in little doubt after this tough early period. The fans were angry and disillusioned with events that were unfolding before their eyes and Pardew was one of a few major channels for their understandable angst.

In spite of the sale of their talismanic striker, Newcastle continued to impress in the second half of the season and ultimately Pardew had maintained their mid-table position right up to the season’s finish. Having managed to pick up some admirers along the way, the first few months of his reign had gone just about as well as could be hoped.

However, Pardew’s role as a figure head for the club led to further personal strife as the powers that be decided to part company with three other key members of his first XI. Skipper Kevin Nolan, the perpetually controversial Joey Barton and classy left back Jose Enrique were all allowed to leave either on free transfers or for relatively small fees, which again calling into question the ambition of the club.

Fans were once again left fraught with nerves going into this season having sold big and seemingly failed to bring in proven quality. As it turns out though, such caution and worry was rather unnecessary. Pardew has thus far led the club with admirable dignity and at present has them in the mix fighting for genuine success. How he has managed to lead this current squad to where they currently reside is unclear really, but he is worthy of high praise for his achievements to date.

Amidst the worries about a lack of depth and real star quality, the likes of the previously rather unknown Yohan Cabaye have stood tall since joining the club in a low-profile summer deal. Cabaye has looked every bit a top class Premier League performer since his move, demonstrating great fight and tenacity coupled with a decent passing range. Fellow summer signing Demba Ba has also played his way to the forefront of Newcastle’s early assault on the top of the table with a surprisingly decent goal tally.

While the low-key signings have exceeded the expectations of many, so too have the players who were already on the books. In midifeld Cheik Tiote has continued to build upon an encouraging first season in the Premier League and has been supported by the efforts of ‘local lad done good’ Steven Taylor and new Skipper Fabricio Coloccini at the back. With their less celebrated players too coming out of the shadows it is little surprise that optimism appears to be creeping back into the stands at St.James’.

On Thursday evening BBC Newcastle’s radio show ‘Total Sport’ featured an hour long phone-in with Alan Pardew and his time in the studio provided interesting insight into his rather surprising success so far. Pardew insisted that his strength as a manager is “getting the best out of players” citing the likes of Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand as past successes under his tutelage.

Another moment of intrigue in the phone-in came when the presenters asked Pardew “how [he had] convince[d] Ashley to give [him] the job”. Pardew answered “I convinced him that I could bring success”. Exactly what success is to Ashley is a little unclear given his decision to release Chris Hughton when the overwhelming majority of the footballing world struggled to see why, but this answer from Pardew tells you a lot about the man.

He is humble and was willing to offer sympathy to Hughton who he said had done a “top job” for Newcastle, but he is also immensely optimistic and confident in his ability as a manager. Many have expressed an opinion that Pardew has had some hard luck in management, but he himself seems far more interested on his future endeavours and how he can continue to take the club forward.

I must admit that I was expecting Newcastle to struggle this season, as were many I might add. Pardew though has always impressed me. I agree with the many people who think he has at times been dealt a rough hand, particularly given his role in returning West Ham to the league and then to a showpiece game against Liverpool in the FA Cup final, which by the way, they were very unlucky to lose.

Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle have managed to offload the likes of Barton and Nolan at the right time and if Tiote and Cabaye can continue to inspire the side all the way to European contention come May then Pardew will have worked a minor miracle. If this is to happen then they will need to continue to make hay in the ‘easier’ games and strengthen their attacking and defensive options in January, but if they do this there is no reason why they and their Manager can’t continue to surprise a few people.

City’s aspirations must be in tune with the past successes of United

This weekend plays host to one of the most awaited Manchester derby matches ever to have graced the Premier League. With City well and truly on the rise in domestic football, hopes will be as high as ever this Sunday amongst their fans regarding their chances of turning over their more illustrious neighbours.

So far this season City have been the focus of much positive and negative attention. Whilst their on-field stylings have been praised for their increased panache and adventure in league football, their European exploits on and off the field have brought yet more unwanted attention to the football club.

When considering the ‘shocking’ moments on and off the field in recent Premier League history it must be said that Manchester City have been at the centre of events all too often. Think Joey Barton and his multiple headline grabbing off-field acts such as violently attacking team-mate Ousmane Dabo. Think Emannuel Adebayor’s day of shame against old club Arsenal where he celebrated a goal with a full length of the field sprint to taunt the Arsenal fans, as well as viciously stamping on Robin Van Persie’s face. Think Carlos Tevez’s childish refusal to come on from the bench against Bayern. Think Mario Balotelli in general. Think of Gary Cooke’s departure from the club amidst stories of entirely inappropriate emails sent mistakenly to the subject of his insensitivity. It has been a tough time for the club and the men in suits constantly being thrust in front of the press to talk about the ‘regretful’ circumstances have certainly been earning their presumably rather decent salaries.

The club should be on the crest of a wave. They are now the holders of a major trophy, they are playing Champions League football and sit atop the table, but for now as long as the perpetual episodes of nonsense continue the club can’t help but be affected.

It must be conceded that United too have had their fair share of controversy in recent times. Ryan Giggs’ all too public failed cover-up of his alleged affairs and Wayne Rooney’s seeming gluttony for headline acts of stupidity act as evidence of this. However, these moments of questionable behaviour have rarely undermined the club or manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the same way that some of City’s moments of ill-discipline have. Rooney verged on doing so with his criticism of the club’s transfer policy last year amidst fears that he wanted to leave the club, but that aside, at United there seems to be a greater sense of cohesion and respect than at City. This is the sort of respect and attitude that develops as a result of year’s of success and dominance which of course City are yet to have enjoyed.

With the way City are performing at present it seems very likely that they could add to their trophy cabinet again this season, and indeed for the next few seasons. With this will come the by-product of respect and authority which they currently lack. For this reason I think that regardless of this Sunday’s result, that Manchester United will win the league again this season. This isn’t to say City couldn’t again have some domestic success in the Cup competitions, as this is where I believe their best chances of success still reside. They are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and this Sunday’s game is, as a result, draped with intrigue and excitement.

In recent weeks City have pushed themselves into a position where they have a points advantage over their neighbours in the early stages of the title race. While United have looked more fragile in their last couple of Premier League and European outings, City have arguably had the edge over them with big results against the likes of Everton, Blackburn, Aston Villa and most recently Villareal. Tuesday night’s win over the Spaniards looked rather eerily like the sort of win which United have become famed for. To play well below your best but still come up with the goods in a big European tie, even if it does take the very last kick of the game to do so, is an art form in the world of football. All the best side’s are capable of doing this at least five or six times a season and it is what marks them clearly above and beyond the rest of their competitors.

In spite of their slightly more favourable recent results I am backing City to lose 2-1 this weekend. It will take time before City can go into such matches as favourites and it is a title they will have to work awfully hard to earn. They are on the up, of that there is no doubt, but in this match and this Premier League season I think United will just about come out on top of them. Give City a couple of years and a couple more trophy successes and they could be ready to topple United. In the meantime they must focus on maturing as a club and as individual’s rather than letting their fame and fortune get the better of them. United are far from perfect on and off the field, but City are even further away and for that reason the the City of Manchester could again be painted red this Sunday.

The Tales of ‘Bad-Boy’ Barton: Indispensable or just a Complete ‘Twit’?

Never one to blend into the background, Joey Barton has again found himself subject to major media scrutiny over the past fortnight over comments made through social networking site Twitter.

Barton has consistently maintained a role in British football’s media circus since coming on to the scene early in the 2000’s, and generally speaking it has been because of his off-field antics.

Under the glare of the media as always

His career has at times descended into chaos as a result of his behaviour but until this latest saga there had been major signs of a revival and a reformation of character.

The personal changes being undertaken by Barton seemed to be reaping the rewards both on and off the pitch and last season he was outstanding. He was the heartbeat of the Newcastle side that were promoted back to the Premier League and continued this form upon their return to prominence. While team mates Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll may have taken the majority of the headlines in the North-East for their goal-scoring exploits, Barton went rather uncharacteristically under the radar en route to being rated their most consistent performer over the campaign.

Barton was subject to huge praise for his form last season

It is this improvement in character and on field performance which makes the current situation all the more bizarre. Of course football club’s in modern society are about more than just performances on match-day but this time around has Barton really done that much wrong?

Personally, I don’t think he has. Sure he has voiced his concerns in recent times but if you don’t want that to occur then why on earth would you have a player like Barton on your books in the first place? It seems odd to me that the Newcastle hierarchy would be so perturbed by Barton’s recent statements on Twitter and a potential character clash with manager Alan Pardew when in the past they have shown faith in him and supported him in the face of criminal charges. Couple this mystery with the fact that he is now a far more mature and clever footballer and you start to see why Barton’s agent Willie McKay is describing Newcastle’s desire to offload his client as “suicidal”.

Waving Goodbye?

One must feel that such an opinion is evidence that McKay shares the concerns of his client in disagreeing with the club’s recent decisions to sell on two of their very best players. They aren’t alone in this view either, with Barton’s Newcastle team mate Jose Enrique having also faced scrutiny for airing his frustrations regarding a seeming lack of ambition.

It seems that ‘Bad Boy’ Barton is for the first time in his controversial career on the receiving end of a barrage of sympathy, when he is far more accustomed to dealing with a lack of support. He has repaid the faith shown in him by the board at Newcastle with a high level of performance and has developed a real affinity with the club’s fans and the City of Newcastle. However, it is apparent that the Newcastle board are prepared to lose such a great asset in order to demonstrate authority and a show of solidarity.

As well as being outspoken on the board, Barton has also expressed his love for the football club

Though the Newcastle board have acted strangely on several occasions before, this moral crusade might just take the biscuit. Ask any Newcastle fan who their best four players have been over the past two seasons and the response will be Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and the man in question Joey Barton. The first two of these have already left the club and the latter two appear to be on the verge of doing so.

Some might argue that it is hard to hold on to such players when you’re not at the peak of European football but it really is hard to have any sympathy for the Newcastle board. The reasons being cited for them losing their top performers seem to be focused on a perceived lack of ambition and lack of desire to hold on to the cream of their crop, Barton and Enrique are just the latest subjects of such frailties.

If Newcastle do part company with the likes of Barton and Enrique then they are set to endure a very tough season. As yet signings haver been few and far between and their has been little evidence of the board fulfilling the promises made to spend the entirety of Andy Carroll’s £35,000,000 transfer fee on new signings.

Mike Ashley and his supporting staff are not exactly backing up their reported desire to impress the club’s fans by selling their prized assets, or in the case of Barton simply letting him go for free before the end of his contract. It is therefore easy to see why their top players are beginning to feel the need to go public with their worries, and who could blame them for seeking pastures new?