Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Quick-fire premier league predictions (Tuesday 28th January 2014)

Manchester United vs Cardiff City

Despite the "doom and gloom" surrounding Old Trafford this season, the record-breaking signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea this week seems to have brought a sense of renewed hope to the reigning champions. Although it is questionable how Mata will fit into the team when Rooney returns, there is no doubt this Spaniard has immense talent and will surely bring some creativity which united have lacked for so long. However, this creativity could possibly be put to waste until the likes of Van Persie return as it is easy to question the clinical ability of Welbeck. 
After gaining a morale-boosting FA cup win at Bolton on the weekend as well as promising signings such as Fabio Da Silva, Kenwyne Jones and Wilfried Zaha, Cardiff will surely be smelling a possible upset at Old Trafford after seeing the likes of Newcastle, Everton and Spurs all claiming victory at United. However, rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, there is certainly a desperate need for points and I do feel the likes of Noone could pose some questions for the shaky United defense. An emotional return for Solskjaer after gaining so much success at Old Trafford and will surely a receive a very warm reception before the game.  

Quick-fire prediction: 2-1

Norwich City vs Newcastle United

Lacking any consistency all season, the canaries will be looking for their first back-to-back wins against Newcastle tonight after snatching 3 points away from Hull in their last premier league outing. Norwich have been desperately lacking in goals this season. Despite this, Wolfswinkel has looked more and more impressive as he gets more games under his belt and it will be a great opportunity for him tonight to finally add some goals to his Norwich tally. The transfer window this month has turned out to be an unwanted distraction for the canaries with many of their midfielders such as Hoolahan, Snodgrass, Pilkington and the talented Nathan Redmond all being linked with moves to other clubs. However the club has remained defiant not to sell its best players and Hughton will be in desperate need of a crucial 3 points which could steer Norwich temporarily away from trouble. 
A very impressive and ruthless display at West Ham United will certainly have given Newcastle fans every reason for optimism this season. This optimism though may have been dampened when waking up to the news this morning that a £20m bid from PSG has been accepted for Cabaye. Such an influential and talented player will be sorely missed by Newcastle and it is hard to see how they will replace him with only 3 days left in the transfer window. It's not all doom and gloom as it has also been revealed that Newcastle are in talks with Borussia Monchengladbach's De Jong. With all this attention on transfer's, you have to question how much the club is focused on the game tonight and could be an excellent chance for Norwich to seize on.

Quick-fire prediction: 1-1

Southampton vs Arsenal

A cloud of uncertainty and controversy has been swirling around St. Mary's recently. The departure of Nicola Cortese who has been at the heart of the club's success over the past few years was a massive blow for Southampton to take and the loyalty of Pochettino towards the former chairman has left his future in doubt also. On top of this, the club were forced to suspend Osvaldo for fighting with another player, which will give the impression to many that all is not well at Southampton. With the leaders Arsenal visiting this evening, it doesn't get any easier for the saints and there is the obvious concern of their season crumbling away.
Many expected the fantastic start to crumble away slowly after Christmas, but Arsenal still remain defiant at the top of the league. Man City and Chelsea have looked very strong in recent weeks and pressure will certainly be on the gunners tonight to continue to set the pace in the premier league. 

Quick-fire prediction: 1-2

Swansea City vs Fulham

After such an impressive season last season, most people would be surprised to see Laudrup's team only 3 points off the relegation zone. Their possession stats are incredibly good in each game, but this is often been most leading this season as they often hold the ball in ineffective areas and have lacked any creativity and composure in the final third. However, with their style of football and their excellent manager, I could see Swansea clinch a few consecutive wins to take them away from trouble and feel at the Liberty Stadium they will be too hot for Fulham to cope with tonight. 
Their were promising signs in their last away trip to Arsenal in the premier league as they defended well for the first hour against the league leaders. The FA cup fixture against Sheffield United on the weekend once again brought disappointment for Fulham fans and another replay will be most unwelcome when they are right in the thick of the relegation fight. I could see Fulham struggling to cope with Swansea tonight. 

Quick-fire prediction: 3-0

Crystal Palace vs Hull City

The positive impact Tony Pulis has had since coming into Palace has been astounding so far. A fantastic win at home to his former club stoke was the "gritty" win which Palace liked the fight for near the beginning of the season. The performances feel more solid and with so many clubs in the relegation scrap, I could see Crystal Palace having a really good chance of survival. The lack of fire-power up front is the only concern for Pulis and he will certainly need that front line shooting on all cylinders tonight against Hull.
A last-gasp and heart-crushing defeat away to Norwich was a difficult pill to swallow for Hull City in their last premier league outing. Steve Bruce will be well aware of the importance to pick up points against teams around them, and facing another team only 3 points below them, tonight is another cup-final match for Hull City. Hull have invested heavily in this transfer window for their premier league survival in Long and Jelavic and tonight could be the perfect opportunity for these two strikers to gain their debut goals for their new club.

Quick-fire prediction: 1-1

Liverpool vs Everton

After a very disappointing first half against Aston Villa, many will be asking the question whether their champions league crusade is starting to wobble. However their fighting resolve to bring the game back to 2-2 has to be applauded and shows positive signs of a resilience in this Liverpool team. The game against Villa will be seen by many Liverpool fans as dropped points and against their local rivals who are flying at present, noting but 3 points will be accepted by the Liverpool faithful. I see lots of goals in this game and I can certainly see Suarez fired up and on-form for this game.
Everton have been the surprise team of the season for sure this season. Everton fans will have been gutted to only get a point away to West Brom, but their dreams of champions league are very much alive and with a liverpool defense which is looking more and more shaky as the weeks go by, I think there will be opportunities for Everton to give their fans something to cheer about against their local rivals.

Quick-fire predictions: 3-2 

Monday, 13 January 2014

Manchester United steady the ship against the Swans

Starting 2014 with 3 straight home defeats, it certainly hasn't been a happy new year for David Moyes and Manchester United so far this season. The FA cup win for Swansea last weeke
nd was their first at Old Trafford for 83 years. Could they repeat this result in the premier league?

Born in the early 90s, I have grown up seeing Manchester United win trophy after trophy both in Europe and in domestic competitions and I have always been naive to think that this would continue forever. However these are very different times for the red devils. The 1-4 win against today's opponents in the opening day of the season made it look like the transition from Fergie to Moyes was going to be seamless, although this has been far from the case. The problems for Manchester United have been there for all to see. Only 4 wins from 10 premier league games and only 6 goals from the midfield this season just hasn't been good enough by the English champions.

I certainly don't feel Moyes helped himself by bringing Fellaini into the club. At the time I felt it was a panic buy. It was difficult to see where he would fit into the team and has been a difficult transition for him and David Moyes. United are not simply a couple of players off being a great team again, but need a complete overhaul of the current team. The team doesn't have the "x-factor" it used to have and the pictures before the game of the Swansea players sharing jokes and seeming relaxed in the tunnel reflected for me the lack of fear teams used to have standing opposite the likes of Ronaldo, Keane, Beckham, Scholes etc. before the game. Apart from Rooney and RVP, you would struggle to think of many players that could break into the City starting 11 for example. When Rooney and RVP have started together since August 2012, they have lost just once. When neither play, they have lost 10 games. RVP has scored half of United's goals this season showing how much they have missed a player of his caliber. However, despite the gloom over Old Trafford, there have been glimmers of light from the impressive Januzaj and also Welbeck who is on a goal scoring run of 5 goals in 5 games. However, when asked in the pre-match interview of what team he has gone with, Moyes responding with "I've gone with what I got" suggests he lacks option and highlights the desperate need to recruit new players in the summer. Despite only half the season gone, it's hard to deny that Manchester United have little chance of retaining the premier league title being 12 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and that the club needs to start NOW looking towards the rebuilding process in the summer.  

Despite the never-ending list of problems at Manchester United, their opponents Swansea were certainly not short of problems themselves: only 4 points off the bottom of the Premier League and having an increasingly large injury list. Although the Swans have had a glimmering light of their own in the form of Wilfried Bony. A very strong striker who can score all types of goals and is a danger Manchester United need to track and be well-aware of after his last minute winning goal at Old Trafford last weekend.

Two changes were made by David Moyes with Carrick returning to the midfield in place of Cleverly and Chris Smalling being pushed into the middle of the defense alongside Vidic. The amount of injuries picked the Swansea team for itself with Tremmel continuing in goal for the injured Vorm and Canas replacing De Guzman. Davies, Williams and Rangel however all returned back in defense for Swansea. Manchester United haven't lost at home for 3 consecutive games for over 50 years, so there was no doubt pressure was on United to gain a result and after the tough press over the past week towards the players, everyone expected a response.

The game started as an open affair with half chances for both teams in the early moments. Swansea showed excellent promise in only the fourth minute when Shelvey picked out a good run from Rangel, but a poor first touch allowed the ball to run away and what could have been a great chance on goal had gone. Soon after, Shelvey found himself in a promising position outside the box, but could only shoot straight at De Gea. Swansea were certainly in no mood to make life easy for United. Only a couple of minutes later United had chances of their own. Vidic could only snap at a shot which fell nicely 6 yards out over the bar and Januzaj who was very unlucky to hit the bar off a superb free kick.

Swansea are probably the worst team to play under pressure as their ability to dominate possession can easily frustrate opposition supporters. With Swansea happy to retain the ball in ineffective areas as well as United giving the ball away cheaply, you could feel the anxiety and frustration growing around Old Trafford as Swansea continued to dominate possession in the first half. However, possession doesn't necessarily translate into results. Swansea have had more possession than any other team this season, but their precarious position in the table will suggest this doesn't always guarantee results. The only player who seemed to have a creative spark for Swansea was Pozuelo who was very i
mpressive for Swansea in the first half. Always looked comfortable on the ball, willing to run at the United players and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. A real impressive talent and a player football fans should watch out for in the remainder of the season.

It seemed that the first half was starting to go the same way other games have gone at Old Trafford this season with the game drifting by with very few chances and with other teams winning the game late on against United, there needed to be more of an urgency by United to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Carrick on the half hour mark took a quick free kick to provide Evra with an excellent opportunity on the left to pick out someone with a low cross, but could only find the hands of the Swansea goalkeeper. But finally some urgency shown by United and only 5 minutes later came United's best chance of the half. Good work by Valencia picked out the overlapping Rafael, squaring the ball to Welbeck who could only drag his shot wide of the post from 12 yards out. Should have been 1-0 and as an England fan I couldn't help think that when it comes to the world cup, our England strikers can't be missing opportunities like those.

An uninspiring first half came to an end and with only 34% possession it seemed Manchester United were no closer to breaking the rut at home. Januzaj frittered in and out of the game showing some good moments and Welbeck of course had a golden opportunity. Swansea played well having good possession, but were almost guilty of doing too many passes in the final third. Moyes had plenty to ponder at half time. Flecther and Carrick were almost instinctively sitting too deep, probably due to the recent poor performance; one of them needed to push forward in the second half to create a more positive United. This need to be more positive could also be applied to Swansea who could perhaps be braver in the second half and push more players into the box.

Most of Swansea's goals have been scored after half time this season so a definite need for United to up the anti second half and they couldn't have started better. Only one minute in and Januzaj provides a fantastic cross for Kagawa on the back post, who heads across goal and Tremmel could only parry the ball to Valencia who had an easy tap-in. 1-0 and you could feel the relief pour out at Old Trafford.

The goal suddenly gave Manchester United a surge of confidence and looked more relaxed after seeming edgy and over-careful in the first half. United had more rhythm and momentum to their play. The suttle change of pushing Januzaj out wide and moving Kagawa into the number 10 role which he was more accustomed to when at Dortmund proved to be a genius move and credit has to be given to Moyes. Januzaj continued to threaten out wide on 51 minutes when he threaded a lovely pass to Evra, where the low cross agonisingly fell behind both Welbeck and Kagawa. United were suddenly seeing more of the ball than they saw throughout the whole first half and Evra in particular looked very dangerous with his overlapping runs on the left.

Just short of the hour mark the revitalised United claimed their second goal and the two star players of the second half were both involved. A great whipped ball by Januzaj was headed out by the Swans only for Evra to react first on the edge of the box where his tame shot was very cleverly flicked in by Welbeck. That's 6 goals in 6 premier league games and the scoring run continues for Danny Welbeck.

Soon after Smalling was guilty of missing a sitter at the back post. Swansea cleared their lines off a corner, only for a pass back in left Kagawa in acres of space on the edge of the box and found Smalling on the back post, who somehow found a way to volley over the bar from a couple of yards out. Shocking miss and United would be guilty of doing the same after 76 mins when a counter attack by United from a Swansea corner allowed Kagawa through on goal, but his attempt was eventually cleared off the line after trying to be too delicate with his finish.

Swansea still looked comfortable on the ball and if they could put more bodies into the box, then they could perhaps make United regret missing those brilliant chances by Smalling and Kagawa and could make it a nervy affair. However it wasn't to be and the full time whistle was blown with a sigh of relief rather than a cheer around Old Trafford. Bony was particularly disappointing for me tonight for Swansea. He never really hit the ground running and looked a frustrated figure, which happens to many strikers when they are isolated for so long up front. Januzaj however was deservedly given man of the match and was the architect for most of the good things Manchester United did in this game. An outstanding talent and a certain superstar of the future.

With a tight first half, the rise in tempo by United in the second half swung the game their way and based on the second half performance, they deserved the victory. Swansea's next challenge isn't any easier hosting spurs in their next premier league game, but with the bottom being so tight, a couple of consecutive wins which I believe Swansea can get with their squad will steer them away from trouble.

Moyes will know there is still a long way to go to get United back to where they were under Sir Alex...but it's certainly a start. Could this result mean on wards
and upwards for Manchester United? Only time will tell and will make some interesting viewing in the coming weeks of the premier league.