EPL Week 14 Highlights & Goals

Blackburn vs Stoke City
Aston Villa vs Tottenham
Wigan vs Sunderland
Fulham vs Bolton
West Ham vs Burnley
Manchester City vs Hull City
Portsmouth vs Manchester United
Wolves vs Birmingham City
Everton vs Liverpool
Arsenal vs Chelsea

Blackburn 0-0 Stoke City

Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham

Wigan 1-0 Sunderland

Fulham 1-1 Bolton

West Ham 5-3 Burnley

Manchester City 1-1 Hull City

Portsmouth 1-4 Manchester United

Wolves 0-1 Birmingham City

Everton 0-2 Liverpool

Arsenal 0 3 Chelsea

Everton Vs Liverpool - Preview

It has been a wretched time on the Mersey this season especially since the last few weeks.Both Liverpool and everton have struggled to reach anywhere near the form they had reached last season.With both clubs in turmoil,this can potentially be the mostimportant match of both the clubs this season.

Everton have been on a very poor run of form of late having managed only 1 win out of their last 10 in all competitions.But they would try to make amends after their embarrasing 2-3 loss to Hull City midweek(they were trailing 3-0 at HT).The losses against Man Utd and hull city this week has seen the Toffees languishing in the bottom half of the table with teams of Birmingham & Burnley above them.Injuries have not been kind to them this season with the likes of Arteta,P.Jagielka,Osman and even P.Neville out injured.

On the red half of Merseyside, things haven't been any better.

Liverpool's poor season turned bad to worse after crashing out of Champions league midweek which surely must have a very bad impact on the players morale by now having to settle for europa ligue which surely wasn't in their plans at the start of the season. A draw against Man City last week has left Reds with only one win in their last six PL matches(the win notably against Man Utd) and has seen them stuttering at 7th position - 13 points adrift league leaders Chelsea and 5 points behind Tottenham placed at 4th. With Torres most likely out of the derby and by the looks of it Aquilani not starting yet, Gerrard and co have a tough challenge ahead of them.

Rafa on the match ahead this weeked:

But form or past laurels have and will never influence a Merseyside derby, as its all about the passion and the will to win. The derby could potentially kickstart one's season and be almost catastrophic for the other. This derby could potentially be the most important match of the seaon for both clubs. The stakes are high, the adrenaline is rushing and there is no doubt we are heading for a great derby match on sunday.

Everton beat their neighbours in the FA Cup last season but have not won any of their last five league meetings. Their 3-0 victory at Goodison Park in 2006 is their only league success in nine league fixtures against the Reds.

The teams have met 211 times in all competitions with Liverpool holding the upper hand with 82 wins to Everton's 65. Pressure is on both the managers to grind out a result considering the current state of their squad.

Everton 1 - 1 Liverpool

Babel burst!

Ryan Babel has lift the lid of the ongoing turmoil behind the scenes at Anfield - and his personal frustration at the Anfield club.

"Isn't it unbelievable that in my first year I got chosen as Talent of the Year?

"And a season later I hardly play and without getting a proper chance.

"I don't know if it has anything to do with my little trip to the Olympics - I know the manager wanted me to stay. But I don't believe Benitez is trying to get back at me.

"What I do know is our manager tests people on how they react to certain situations."

"Bentitez is not a man who will give you his trust straightaway.

"Benitez is a manager who in certain situations can do exactly the opposite of what you expect several times.

"Every time me or my agent (Willie Haatrecht) have a chat with him he stresses I can't leave and he believes in me.

"We have to trust he is telling the truth. Saying it is different to showing it. We have agreed to look at my situation during the winter break.

"If there's no improvement then, I have to be honest, I want to play somewhere else.

"But until then I will fight for my position - what else can I do?

"I still want to stay at Liverpool. I just have the feeling, for many people, I still have to prove myself.

"I think that is unjustified and a pity. I have shown I can do it plenty of times. I know I could be further in my career but if nobody helps you, if they don't make it easier for you then it is difficult.

"It is especially tough mentally. Yet curiously it is still expected that you break open a match.

"If you look at the statistics I can do that - I have been more important to Liverpool as a substitute than a regular player.

"Most of the supporters are happy with me because something happens when I come on as a substitute.

"However I want to show them more but I'm not given the chance.

"In 2½ years with Liverpool I have never started three matches in a row.

"I don't play a lot so I can't be happy and I can't cheer out loud.

"Certain emotions are blocked, they are pushed back by all the worries I carry with me. And I have my pride."

"I have tried to talk to the manager but it isn't of any use.

"I couldn't really do anything with the feedback Benitez gave me.

"His philosophy is simple - try your hardest in training and then your chance will come. But sometimes I wonder how long I can sustain it."

"All the forwards, they always live for their own success. It is hard for someone who isn't selfish by nature to act selfish.

"I don't know if my team-mates were shocked by my new character but I do notice once in a while they get confused.

"Normally I would pass the ball - now I take the shot myself more often. I see how they look at me with a face that says 'Hey I am free!'

"But I'm not going to explain it any further because they don't give me any explanation when I ask for the ball."

"We have a lot of different cultures and on the pitch we are a tight group. But outside the pitch everyone goes their own way.

"The Spanish-speaking guys are very close. The youths hang out together. And I get along with Benayoun and Lucas.

"Dirk Kuyt? I don't really hang out with him. Dirk got accepted in the group of the Spanish-speaking players.

"He is very friendly with them and it looks as if he understands their jokes."

"Many players can play lots of bad matches and still keep their credits - I can't.

"I believe when you get a chance you should take it and not let go. Hold on to it - my parents taught me that - and that's why I don't give up.

"The traffic light will turn green some time."

"As a Liverpool player I can't play in my blue Nike boots. They strongly discourage me from doing that.

"Blue is Everton's colour and Liverpool and Everton are rivals in everything.

"As a small boy you dream about a career as a football player. Your willing to give up everything for it.

"Once you reach that goal, only then do you get to know the whole world around it."

Liverpool tonight have a must win fixture against Debrecen tonight in Hungary and their Champions League survival depends partly on the show at Florence between Lyon and Fiorentina with Lyon needing atleast a point for Liverpool to set up a mouth watering clash against Fiorentina on Matchday 6.

Ryan Babel has lift the lid on what could be a jist of bigger problems behind the scenes at the Merseyside club and questions will be asked of Benitez if he fails to provide the result required today against Debrecen

'Hand of Frog'

The last play-off encounter for the 2010 FIFA World Cup could not have been more dramatic than this. After the Les Bleus got the solitary goal in the 1-0 victory in the 1st leg at Croke Park, the Irish needed a convincing win over the home team when they travelled to France for the 2ndleg. It indeed was expected to be a fierce encounter between the two as the last ticket to South Africa was at stake and the game did not let anybody down.

The game ended at 90 mins with the scores level on aggregate and extra time was needed to know our last World Cup finalist. Just as the 1st period of extra time was about to end, French skipper Thierry Henry handled the ball in the penalty box to stop it from going out and set it up for defender William Gallas to head in the goal which would later prove to be the winner.

The Irish players protested, led by keeper Shay Given but the referee had already awarded the goal to the home team. The final whistle at 120 mins meant that France had qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Following this game, voices were raised against FIFA about the standard of referees in such important games. The Football Association of Ireland filed an appeal to FIFA for a rematch after Henry himself confessed to have handled the ball, not once but twice. FIFA should consider that this a World Cup play-off and not a simple league game for a team.

For such important games, first of all, the referees should be spot-on with each decision and if there are any dubious decisions made by the referee in such important games, FIFA and UEFA surely need to take some action. What has happened here is that such a refereeing error has hampered Ireland’s chances at the biggest sporting tournament on the globe.

People will agree with me on this that although France won the 1st leg, the Irish were more impressive on field than the French. Even in the return fixture, Ireland gave out a splendid performance and undoubtedly, it was Ireland who deserved to win over the two legs.

And that did show in the game at the Stade de France. The Irish actually fared better than the French and really deserved a place in the WC. And barring that goal from Gallas, even if the game had gone into penalties, I can say that Shay Given would have performed better than Hugo Lloris, on any given day.

After FIFA turned down the FAI’s request for a rematch stating that "The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.",Henry released a statement saying that a rematch will be the ‘fairest solution’ but he is no official to decide that.

Even though FIFA uphold their decision of France’s qualification, I think Henry should be hailed for his honesty and total professional conduct. With a fast-paced international game in progress, it could not have been anything but instinctive to handle the ball in such a situation. But the courage to go on record and admit one's own mistake is not what we see from many internationals.

Many of the biggies in global football like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arséne Wenger etc. and former international referee Graham Poll suggested that FIFA should use the video referral system in such high-profile games to avoid any future controversies. Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni also emphasised on the importance of the video technology like the ones used in cricket and tennis.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter's silence over the whole incident has been criticized by many in spite of him holding the top job in world football. His comments on the Cristiano Ronaldo related 'slave-trade' issue in football a few months ago and also on diving, video technology and refereeing standards were hailed by personalities all over the world.

But where is he now ? No public comment or press conference. He has already been branded a 'cheat-charter' for backing France. Staying quiet is going to help neither his image nor that of FIFA. He has to come out clarifying his decisions and fast !

But looking at it in another way, I think FIFA and UEFA are right to a certain extent in not sanctioning the rematch. Doing so, the world of football will straight go into utter chaos. Any such incident in the future and every other federation will go about asking for a rematch. That can be the only sensible reason why FIFA could have declined the FAI's request. UEFA president Michel Platini being French himself could be the other, influencing the decision from FIFA.

French manager Raymond Domenech, after being under fire for his side’s lacklustre performance in Euro 2008, can now heave a sigh of relief. But at the end of the day, the Irish were robbed of a World Cup berth and FIFA should well have a look at this once again keeping in mind their much vaunted Fair Play ethos.

EPL Week 13 Highlights & Goals

Liverpool vs Manchester City
Chelsea vs Wolves
Burnley vs Aston Villa
Sunderland vs Arsenal
Hull City vs West Ham United
Manchester United vs Everton
Bolton vs Blackburn Rovers
Tottenham vs Wigan
Stoke City vs Portsmouth

Liverpool 2 2 Manchester City

Chelsea 4 0 Wolves

Burnley 1 1 Aston Villa

Sunderland 1 0 Arsenal

Hull City 3 3 West Ham United

Manchester United 3 0 Everton

Bolton 0 2 Blackburn

Tottenham 9 1 Wigan

Stoke City 1 0 Portsmouth

Paradise Lost?

The 09-10 season started with much fanfare for Manchester City as they won five of their initial six Premier League matches. But now it seems that Hugh’s men have lost their way somewhere in between having been pushed eight points adrift league leaders Chelsea.

Draws in last five matches (Aston Villa, Wigan, Fulham, Birmingham and Burnley) have raised serious questions over City’s ability to break into the coveted Big 4.

So where is City lacking? It’s certainly not talent because they have an immaculate squad. Going by the magnitude of cash they have spent this transfer window it will be only foolish to say that they are deficient in quality. The spending spree has resulted in a squad that has left other manager envying. So where exactly are they going wrong?

Defence, to start with has looked wobbly as ever. Agreed that City do boasts of some of the big names in their defending ranks but they seem to lack co-ordination. Micah Richards for example has deteriorated so much that he hardly deserves the tag of a Premier League player. No wonder he is nowhere near the radar of Fabio Capello.

Wayne Bridge too hasn’t lived upto his £10 million tag since his arrival from Chelsea. His horrible man-marking costed City the second against Burnley. Bridge was supposed to patrol the left back area but was left in no man’s land as ball fell to Chris Eagles whose crisp cross was met by Fletcher who timed his run to perfection.

City’s porous backline has been exposed numerous times by teams whose payroll is no match to theirs. A backline which was once rock solid by presence of a certain Richard Dunne. What say Sparky?

Midfield too looks fairly unsettled. City spent millions on Gareth Barry but visibly Barry looks very much out-of-the-place in Hugh’s midfield than in Capello’s or even for that matter Martin O’Neill’s midfield. The link-up play and creativity looks ever so absent with City relying too much on long balls and counter attacks to build any kind of forward surge.

Add to this the recently cropped up speculations about Robinho. The player whose move to Eastlands caught entire footballing world’s attention is seeking a move away to the Barcelona. This certainly won’t leave a good taste in Mark Hugh’s mouth. If ever this move materializes then all that jibes about attracting world class players to the blue half of Manchester will only fizz off.

All I can say right now is that Hugh clearly has some important decisions to make and that too fast! He has to somehow save his side’s crippling campaign.

For if not getting sacked isn’t that distant a possibility for the former Blackburn boss.

Nehru Cup, what next?

Which team do you support? England, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain or countless other world class team playing the sport we love as never seen before BUT not a single person would come forward saying that 'I support India!'.

It is a great achievement that Bob Houghton's side managed to regain the Nehru Cup in fascinating style as Subrata Paul saved 3 crucial penalties which led us to lift the trophy - a moment of pride - indeed...or is it?

It just sickens to hear of the fact that India stands at a astounding 149th rank in the world! Some people love defending the fact that it has rose greatly from being 156th prior to the Nehru Cup yet it's quite difficult to cloak the undeniable truth that a talented nation of a billion people can't muster 11 people to compete on the international stage.

A country of 1.1 billion people - one of the fastest growing economies in the world hasn't even qualified for the World Cup since 1950! If cricketers can be handpicked from Meerut, Jamshedpur, Ernakulam and the likes of it why can't we find top notch footballers?

It's not a question of ability but it's a question of attitude on the part of the administration and machinery precisely at every state level. The problem lies not only at the surface but at the very grass roots - poor pitch conditions, improper training facilities, lack of adequate and specialized staff to name a few. Medical staff is a rarity in itself in Indian football clubs.

Moreover you can't expect India to play out-of-the world football in a couple of matches and see a jolt in rankings - tell me, when did you last hear India play a friendly?

The biggest problem in comparison with European League football is that it's not only of much higher standards but it's also aspirational - Indian football is neither! All these problems need to be addressed and quickly if we are to progress. A system needs to be instilled in Indian football for a better future.

At a time when we should be watching India playing the World Cup qualifiers, we are basking on the glory of a under-performing nation winning the Nehru Cup. The truth is that football is on the rise in India.

The trend is surely changing in this cricket frenzy nation - you can tell that by the United hoardings in Colaba or the Liverpool Chelsea jerseys outside every Adidas outlets.

On the positive side Bob Houghton managing our side is the best thing that has happened to Indian football since Bhaichung Bhutia. India's win over Syria is surely a progress in the right direction. Step by step progress is necessary and the next imminent step is qualifying for the Asian Cup in Qatar 2011.

After that even the World Cup might seem a distant possibility - Well...these are all long shots for a team like India but as we all know as Aragorn says..."There's always hope!"

Luís Nani - A bad Xerox of CR ?

United's Left Wing
Evra works his socks off, and Nani ( When given a chance ) looses the ball cheaply.
Well this has been the case from the start of the season, or most of the last season. It makes me wonder if "Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha" popularly known as Nani is just a bad xerox of Cristiano Ronaldo?

Personally, I have been finding Nani a bit frustrating in the last few games, I know he has scored amazing Goals - but it's these vital passes and possession which decides the fate of the match.

He just needs to know that every winger from Portugal is not Cristiano,
He tries to dribble past defenders ,
He wants to take all the free kicks,
He whines every time fouled,
In one thing he doesn't resemble Ron is,
Scoring 20+ goals a season.

Its not like Nani is a peace of shit and lacks quality at all. GenuinelyNani is a very good winger. But just if he and stops copying Ronaldo and acting childish , he could be a regular in Man United squad.

The question is how many chances Sir Alex will give him. United have Tosic and Obertan in the tunnel waiting for opportunities, and snap them whenever they get a chance.

So whatever Nani has in his bag, He needs to unpack it Fast otherwise Sir Alex will have no other option than to offload him.

EPL Week 11 Highlights & Goals

Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspurs
Fulham vs Liverpool
Bolton vs Chelsea
Portsmouth vs Wigan Athletic
Everton vs Aston Villa
Sunderland vs West Ham United
Stoke City vs Wolves
Burnley vs Hull City
Manchester United vs Blackburn Rovers

Arsenal 3 0 Tottenham Hotspurs

Fulham 3 1 Liverpool

Bolton 0 4 Chelsea

Portsmouth 4 0 Wigan Athletic

Everton 1 1 Aston Villa

Sunderland 2 2 West Ham United

Stoke City 2 2 Wolves

Burnley 2 0 Hull City

Manchester United 2 0 Blackburn Rovers