Author Archives: Timothy Masters

Champions League previews, 26/11/14

Ludogorets v Liverpool, 19:45
Logically speaking, the team that finished 2nd in the Barclays Premier League last season should probably be able to take maximum points from two games against Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria, but logic is not a friend to Brendan Rodgers so far this season. A few tweaks to the side that tore through Spurs, Arsenal and many more last year have turned it from a well-oiled machine into a clanking invention with little inspiration or urgency, and a spend of over £100m in the summer has not just been wasted on this team, but it almost seems to have made it worse by adding pressure and unfamiliar faces.
The away team are in poor shape in a number of positions, but no more so than up front where Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge are both injured. Behind them the likes of Jordan Henderson, Jose Enrique, Jon Flanagan Mama Sakho and Suso are missing, and Liverpool really need the second string to perform and get three points here, to give them a chance against Basel.

Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund, 19:45
Tonight there is a chance for Dortmund to secure a place in the next round of the Champions League with a game in hand, despite the fact that for many people Jurgen Klopp’s side are the epitome of everything wrong with the Champions League. A million miles away from the giant leach Bayern in the Bundesliga, BVB are just like Arsenal and Liverpool in not being capable of winning their own domestic competition, but still sit proudly atop their group, and could well to have a big impact on the competition, but that’s not important right now. What matters for the home team is getting a win which would see them through with a game to spare, and one they can definitely achieve against a BVB side that might lack motivation.
Jack Wilshere is definitely missing for a while after damaging his ankle again, but Laurent Koscielny is available, good news after the embarrassing failure to add Olivier Giroud to the squad. The Germans have some key injuries too, including Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Ji-Dong Won, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, which will definitely hurt them this evening.

Champions League previews, 25/11/14

Manchester City v Bayern Munich, 19:45
If Manchester City should lose today, they’ll have to give up all their first-born sons and chop off a hand of choice each, it seems, or maybe not. Although the media do love to make a fuss about how City have so-far failed to make an impact in this competition their struggles are fairly understandable if you look at the opposition they’ve faced so far, and how long it takes the average parvenu to go from serf to surfing the financial and competitive waves of European competition. Far better managers, teams and squads have failed in the Champions League of course, and if Bayern do get the draw they need to put the English league champions out it won’t be the end of the world for a club far from reliant on this cash.
Manchester City will be without midfielders Yaya Toure and Fernandinho through suspension, and David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov are all injured for tonight’s game. Bayern have already qualified as group winners so could afford to rotate a bit, and with Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Holger Badstuber and Thiago Alcantara all missing it’s fair to say the German champions do have their own selection issues right now. For those wondering, the equation is simple here. If City fail to beat Bayern and either CSKA Moscow or Roma win their game then the champions are out.

Schalke v Chelsea, 19:45
Unlike City, the side from London know that tonight they can secure a position in the next round of the Champions League with what should be an extremely attainable win in Gelsenkirchen, but there is also a feeling in the air that we haven’t seen the best of Schalke this season and it could be a tough match for Jose Mourinho and his men. The Germans are second behind Chelsea in Group G with five points, but where the Blues haven’t lost in the Premier League or Champions League yet and sit comfortably atop the table Schalke are seventh in the Bundesliga table and thirteen points off top spot there, although they have won three of their last five games and are looking a bit better than at the start of the year.
The home team have an bit of a serious injury issue, with Leon Goretzka, Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan and Fabian Giefer on the list, and the first two will be a bit loss in terms of creativity and vision as they attempt to break down the Chelsea defence. Only Nathan Ake is listed as unavailable for Jose Mourinho’s side, although Diego Costa needs to be managed carefully.

Premier League previews, 23/11/14

23/11/14
Crystal Palace v Liverpool, 13:30
Palace played a frustratingly large part in the Liverpool title challenge last season, or the failure of the same, and with the press needing something to focus on right now that has not been something the likes of Steven Gerrard are being allowed to forget. The away team are only five points ahead of Palace in the table and fifteen from the top which is a great illustration of their situation, and with Liverpool not having won in three matches and Palace winless in five this could be a desperate game and mediocre spectacle to boot. Even a spot in the top four will only be up for grabs for so long and Brendan Rodgers can’t afford to see that gap grow further, but the tension may up the tempo and bring a bit of the Liverpool of old out of this current Reds line-up.
Mile Jedinak and Yannick Bolasie will be assessed by Crystal Palace following long-haul flights and James McArthur faces a fitness test on a calf problem. Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is out until the New Year, but Mario Balotelli should be fit to start up front.

Hull v Spurs, 16:00
Just like Liverpool, this Tottenham side is playing some disappointing football at present that even the hardcore fans are struggling to love, and a trip to Hull has the potential to be a tricky one for a team that has lost three of their last five in the Premier League. Hull have only won once in their last ten outings in the division, a 2-0 victory over Palace, but recent draws with Arsenal and Liverpool at least illustrate what a tricky team they can be to beat, even for sides with considerable resources and good depth.
Hull manager Steve Bruce is expected to make and Michael Dawson, Nikica Jelavic and Curtis Davies could all return after injury, along with star keeper Allan McGregor. Tottenham will be without the suspended Kyle Naughton, and Andros Townsend withdrew from England duty with an ankle injury.

24/11/14
Aston Villa v Southampton, 20:00
Going into this match away against Aston Villa, it is incredible to note that Southampton are not only eleven points clear of Liverpool and Tottenham at the time of writing, but also a point above Manchester City before kick-off. Eight wins from their last nine Premier League matches is the sort of form you’d not expect from a team that lost their manager, captain and star centre-back over the summer, but Ronald Koeman has shown as much ability in the dugout as he did on the pitch in his playing days, and his side could go within four points of leaders Chelsea if they beat a Villa side who’ve lost six and drawn one in their last seven matches.
Villa have a host of issues, including knocks to Ron Vlaar, Philippe Senderos, Fabian Delph and Nathan Baker, as well as Libor Kozak’s broken leg, but Alan Hutton might be fit to start this match with a bit of luck. Southampton should have Dusan Tadic, Morgan Schneiderlin and Steve Davis back today, but Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse and Sam Gallagher are not available.

Premier League previews, 22/11/14

Chelsea v West Brom, 15:00
In baseball, if a pitcher is on track for a perfect game it is considered bad luck to mention it, but here in the developed world we aren’t interested in childish superstitions and Chelsea have gone eleven games in the league without losing this season. Two draws and nine wins have given Chelsea a four-point lead over surprise early contenders Southampton and eight points over probable eventual competitors Manchester City, and with a squad to worry any enemy it’s already looking like another domestic title for Jose Mourinho, and at relatively low cost compared to his time in Madrid.
Chelsea forwards Andre Schurrle and Diego Costa are fit, and Cesc Fabregas has a chance despite a hamstring injury, but Nathan Ake is ruled out. Craig Gardner could return to the West Brom line-up but Jonas Olsson and Sebastien Pocognoli are likely to remain out with injuries.

Everton v West Ham, 15:00
Sat in the top four and four points clear of Liverpool and hosts for today Everton, the small London club we know as West Ham has rarely seen such success in recent times, especially in the Premier League era. After some pretty crap signings Sam Allardyce seems to have hit the jackpot with a couple of forwards over the summer that are definitely producing the goods right now, and with only five leage teams having worse defensive records than Everton it’ll be key for the home team to keep it tight at the back this afternoon.
Everton’s Leighton Baines is doubtful and Gareth Barry appears likely to miss out, while Martinez will also monitor the fitness of James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas. West Ham will assess Diafra Sakho and Stewart Downing, and could have Andy Carroll fit for the first time in a while too.

Leicester v Sunderland, 15:00
Between these two there are four wins in their last twenty Premier League games, and with a record like that you’d expect to be circling the drain or even have one foot in the relegation spots already. True to that, a run of five losses and a draw has seen Leicester drop to eighteenth in the table and Sunderland are only three points above them, making this match pretty vital as they approach the Christmas season and the rush of games we see then.
Liam Moore and Wes Morgan are available for Leicester but Dean Hammond and Matthew Upson remain sidelined by injury. Sunderland forward Steven Fletcher has recovered from the ankle problem, Lee Cattermole returns from suspension, and Sebastian Coates and Ricky Alvarez are in training after long lay-offs.

Man City v Swansea, 15:00
Third and fifth in the table meet today in Manchester with a lot on the line for both managers, although they would have come into the year with very different expectations if truth be told. Swansea might have had some ambitions in the direction of making the Europa League spots while City wanted to defend their title, but a win for Swansea would put them level on points with City and only behind on goal difference in the Premier League table, while City could end up eleven points back on the league leaders.
Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany is fit again and Eliaquim Mangala has overcome a knock, but Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov are both expected to be out until next month with calf injuries. Swansea hope to have Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge back, but Federico Fernandez misses out again.

Newcastle v QPR, 15:00
Four wins from five games have seen Newcastle make a bit of a quick jump up the Barclays Premier League table in recent weeks, and they now sit eighth in the table with and eight-point lead over their guests for the day. QPR are only a point away from rock bottom in the table, and although they are surrounded by other promoted teams the sheer amount spent at the club should have set them apart from frugal Leicester and Burnley, but hasn’t. A loss today might see them bottom of all by the end of the weekend, and with the home team in great form that seems a likely outcomes.
Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini and midfielders Rolando Aarons, Cheick Tiote and Mehdi Abeid will all miss this match, while Steven Taylor is also a major doubt. QPR midfielder Adel Taarabt has been ruled out with a groin injury and statuesque defender Rio Ferdinand serves the final game of a three-match suspension, while Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas will be assessed prior to kick off.

Stoke v Burnley, 15:00
Twentieth in the table travel to ninth, and although it’s not a Tuesday evening and it might not rain this is always going to be a bugger of a game for the away team. Burnley need easy points right now as they are bottom of the table and have only won once so far, but Stoke have only lost three of their last ten league games in the league and the chances of an away win are slim to say the least, although it is not impossible.
Stoke are hopeful Eric Pieters and Phil Bardsley will recover in time to face Burnley but Marc Wilson is not expected to feature this weekend. Burnley duo Steven Reid and Dean Marney are fit again, but Sam Vokes is not fit yet.

Arsenal v Man Utd, 17:30
The match of the day is going to be United at Arsenal, at least for the BBC and Gary Lineker’s little club of boys and there is just one point between them in the table. Sadly for fans of the two clubs, both of whom spent very heavily over the summer, there is at least twelve points between them and Chelsea in the table meaning that even a good win today wouldn’t put them in contention, although it could catapult them into the top four at least.
Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud is available to face Manchester United and Mikel Arteta returns from a hamstring injury but Danny Welbeck is a doubt and Theo Walcott could miss out with a groin injury. Daley Blind has joined Radamel Falcao on the United injury list, while Luke Shaw and Michael Carrick were injured on England duty but could play.

Scotland v England preview, 18/11/14

Scotland v England, 20:00

Although these teams always generate a lot of interest and column inches when they meet, it is relatively rare for the home nations to play each other in modern times, especially if it isn’t 100% required by UEFA or FIFA. A lot of that has to do with the history of violence that accompanies the games between England, Scotland and the Irish in particular, and the cost of policing matches that have a giant dollop of old bad blood as a caveat is considerable too, so it’s no surprise the authorities are careful about when they throw these two into the ring together.

Tonight is that time again, it seems, and right off the bat you notice that some of the anger has been directed toward the Irish from the Scots point of view in the build-up to their European Championship qualifying match that happened at the end of last week, spiking the bile around this match a touch. Of course it’ll still be feistier than a bag full of coked-up ferrets, with both managers aware of the reputational damage a loss could do, but with any luck the fighting will stop long enough for some football to break out, and the action in the stands will be minimal.

Gordon Strachan has unique and interesting motivation techniques it seems, and says he is juggling a desire to beat England satisfying the member of his squad who hope to featuring in the friendly. James Morrison joined Scotland training on Monday but Darren Fletcher did not, which appears to be the only fitness update out of the Scotland camp. For England, Fraser Forster hopes to start with Saido Berahino and Ross Barkley are likely to be picked further forward as Roy Hodgson rotates his squad having seen off Slovenia. There is a chance Phil Jagielka will feature, and also a slight threat to Forster’s inclusion from Ben Foster.

England v Slovenia preview, 15/11/14

England v Slovenia, 17:00

Scotland and first Slovenia are the sides England need to beat in the next few days if their position at the head of Euro 2016 Qualifying Group E is to be maintained, and while neither side are really close to the top echelon of the world game right now they both have the potential to cause problems for Roy Hodgson and co. The Scots will be angry of course, but while Slovenia haven’t produced another Zahovic yet they could be a tricky team to face on a pitch that, like Ray Rice’s wife, is showing significant signs of damage through sustained interaction with American Football players after a questionable decision to associate themselves with the same in the first place. A win could see the English go even further ahead at the top of the table, and with some tricky away matches coming it is important to pick up as many points as possible in front of the home fans.

Leighton Baines has pulled out of the England squad, leaving Kieran Gibbs as the only left-back available following Luke Shaw being cut from the group by Roy Hodgson, despite being fully fit, although the Man Utd man could come back for the Scotland game. Andros Townsend and Michael Carrick withdrew from the squad earlier in the week through injury, and the knock to Baines also represents another problem for his club Everton, who are already without potential England player Jon Stones in defence too.

Scotland v Eire preview, 14/11/14

Scotland v Republic of Ireland, 19:45

While it’s never nice to cast aspersions, there may or may not be an issue in the Scottish camp right now around the scouting judging by the latest ‘brilliant’ soundbite to emerge from between the lips of Gordon Strachan. According to BBCSport, he said of his most recent game as Scotland manager, “The last time, we practiced to play against three centre-backs over in five training sessions and, within five minutes, we realised Georgia were playing with a back four.” This suggests that there may be a degree of preparation missing from the home side’s arsenal that could increase their chances of a win tonight, and we can only hope they are aware of who they are playing, and what formation they might face.

Bet365 have the Republic at 5/2 and the draw 9/4, while Scotland are just favourites at a best price of 7/5 with WilliamHill, and a lot will come down to who can keep their heads, particularly in front of goal. VictorChandler offer 6’s on a 1-1, but a good defensive performance could make the 5/1 with BWin on Steven Fletcher in the score/win a good look too. James McCarthy is both injured and unavailable for Ireland, as are Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan and Southampton striker Kevin Doyle, so the Republic will need to adapt to the potential loss of energy up front, and intelligence in midfield. Scotland are light at right-back, with Alan Hutton and Phil Bardsley unavailable, and have their own James out of contention with McCarthy’s former team mate James McArthur back at his club for treatment now.

Premier League previews, 9/11/14

Sunderland v Everton, 13:30
In their last half-dozen games, Everton and Sunderland have both picked up eight points with a record of won two, drawn two, lost two, and as a result the clubs are both in a slightly surprising position. Many have predicted that Sunderland would struggle to impose themselves this season and end up battling relegation, while Everton were expected to push on and possibly sneak into the top four but after ten games they’re both basically in mid-table, albeit either ends of.
Jack Rodwell is fit and could return for Sunderland but Patrick van Aanholt is injured and Lee Cattermole suspended. Everton pair Gareth Barry and Seamus Coleman will undergo fitness tests on but Antolin Alcaraz dislocated his shoulder last weekend.

Spurs v Stoke, 13:30
After a bright start to the season Tottenham have started to falter a bit in recent weeks, maybe as a result of injuries and Europa League commitments, or possibly for some other reason, but whatever the cause is they need to improve. Two wins in their last eight games is not going to be enough for a spot in any European competition next year if that form continues, and the visit of Stoke will be a firm test in the wake of a Europa League away match on Thursday against Asteras Tripolis.
Tottenham pair Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor could be but Kyle Walker and Nabil Bentaleb are definitely out with respective abdominal and ankle injuries. Stoke pair Phil Bardsley and Peter Crouch are back from suspension, and Marc Muniesa (ankle) is fit.

West Brom v Newcastle, 13:30
Only goal difference separates Newcastle and West Brom in the Premier League table, and their identical records in terms of the w/l/d ratio means that in theory this will be one of the closest games of the year so far, although that’s not taking the home advantage into account. Newcastle are better in front of 50,000 roaring Geordies than on the road, and for that reason the home team will fancy their chances of taking the win, and a three-point advantage in the table to boot.
West Brom will need to replace the suspended Craig Gardner in midfield, and Silvestre Varela and Jonas Olsson have returned to training. Magpies winger Gabriel Obertan faces a lengthy spell out and Cheick Tiote will be sidelined, while Rolando Aarons and striker Papiss Cisse are both injury doubts.

Swansea v Arsenal, 16:00
Of all the games going on this weekend, Swansea versus Arsenal is possibly the most stylish we’ll see, with two fast and cultured teams battling for three points. That would have sounded silly ten years ago, but the rise of the Welsh club has been remarkable and now they are in the top third of the Premier League and battling Arsenal for a coveted Champions League spot, albeit early in the year. Unfortunately for the Swans, they’ve won one of their last six games and aren’t really playing their best football, and Arsenal may fancy an away win in Wales before the coach ride home.
Swansea midfielder Jonjo Shelvey will serve a second suspension of the season, but Jordi Amat and Dwight Tiendalli are back in full training. Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere is available, but Mikel Arteta is ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Premier League previews, 8/11/14

Liverpool v Chelsea, 12:45
Last year Liverpool and Chelsea was pretty much the defining match of the season, at least for the Anfield side and ever since then they’ve endured the blandishments of supporters up and down the land, who want to rub Liverpool faces in the disappointment, with one exception in Man City fans. Now we’re a few months down the road and reality has bitten for Liverpool the finances will tell in Chelsea favour, and the shock provided by a Chelsea win last year will be reversed, with Liverpool underdogs and the London side favourite.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is set to return, along with potentially Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli, but Daniel Sturridge remains sidelined. Chelsea have Cesar Azpilicueta back after completing a ban.

Burnley v Hull, 15:00
Ten games in to the Barclays Premier League season and Burnley are the team in the largest amount of trouble at the time of writing, and looking like potential record-breakers too. Of a possible thirty points Burnley have managed to collect four to this point with not a single win to their name, while conceding nearly four times the number of goals they’ve scored, so the signs are all there, and at some point soon the club with either need a rapid rethink as to their plans for this term, or to start planning for the Championship next year.
Burnley could welcome back Steven Reid, but remain without Sam Vokes and Matthew Taylor. Hull midfielder Gaston Ramirez but Michael Dawson, Alex Bruce, Nikica Jelavic and Robert Snodgrass are all unavailable, as are goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Steve Harper.

Man Utd v Crystal Palace, 15:00
The juxtaposition in budgetary allowance between these two managers could not be more extreme, with one manager being allowed to spend obscene amounts without the help of Champions League revenue or even the prospect of doing well in the league while the other scrapes along, surviving off cast-offs and loans much of the time. Despite the fact United spent in excess of £150m over the summer there is a four-point gap between them and Palace before this game, and after Leicester there is no guarantee that’ll come down by the end of the day.
Manchester United must make do without Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rafael and Chris Smalling, along with injured loan star Radamel Falcao. Palace are missing Mile Jedinak and Wilfried Zaha is ineligible against his parent club.

Southampton v Leicester, 15:00
I know we’re all supposed to be amazed at the way Southampton failed to collapse like a wet piñata after selling a few players over the summer, but in reality they spent quite a lot in rebuilding both the team and the management positions, and should get results to some extent. The speed Ronald Koeman has hit the ground with is impressive of course, and today he has a chance to show again that this is a team with real foundations as a decent, but not amazing Leicester side visit for this 3pm kick-off.
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman has no fresh injury worries, with Sadio Mane fit to start now. Leicester’s leading scoring Leonardo Ulloa is expected to start, and Matthew Upson has returned to training after recovering from a foot problem.

West Ham v Aston Villa, 15:00
In an alternate universe football is funny, rather than all about money, and these two face off once a year to decide who gets to wear the claret and blue in the top division, but sadly we’re this side of the shadow and all that is at stake is three points. Sam Allardyce and his new striker Diafra Sakho picked up the Manager and Player of the Month awards respectively after some excellent work over the previous four weeks paid off with three wins and a draw, one victory over Man City, and Villa are definitely in the kind of form that would allow West Ham to continue that run.
West Ham will assess Winston Reid and could welcome back Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll, but Guy Demel is still out. Aston Villa forward Christian Benteke begins a three-game ban with Philippe Senderos set to return after three games out with a thigh problem.

QPR v Man City, 17:30
It’s been a pretty annoying couple of weeks for Manchester City, and although QPR look like an easy three points for the reigning champions we’ve seen just how many bullets City can put in their own feet recently, and how that might play into Rangers’ hands. Rumours currently surround the future of the City manager, as well as their star player, but they’ve won four of their last five and even in their current weakened state QPR will need a stunning performance and a Champions League-standard ref to win.
Joey Barton and Nedum Onuoha could both return for QPR and Jordon Mutch is also fit again, but Rio Ferdinand is banned. Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany has been ruled out with a calf injury, and joins David Silva and Aleksandar Kolarov who are both out.

Europa League previews, 6/11/14

Asteras Tripolis v Spurs, 18:00
Tonight is going to be a big one in Europa League Qualifying Group C, as before kick-off the teams at the top have identical records and a chance to all-but secure the spots in the next round with dominant wins. For Tottenham, this is the return leg of the ‘tie’ after they beat Asteras 5-1 at White Hart Lane last time out, and a win would leave them four points clear of their hosts with two games left before the knockout phase begins. The one note that may unnerve the Tottenham support is Asteras being Partizan 2-0, but proper delivery should ensure all three points for the North London club.
Aaron Lennon could return for Spurs, but Kyle Naughton or Eric Dier is likely to play at right-back, Kyle Walker still recovering from surgery, and Michel Vorm is set for a rare start in goal due to Hugo Lloris’ suspension.

Everton v Lille, 20:05
The pride of Liverpool may have taken something of a dent in recent European excursions, but the blue half of that famous city is definitely enjoying being a part of the Europa League and playing above expectations at this stage. Wolfsburg and Lille looked like being really difficult opposition when the draw was made, but much to the chagrin of the Bundesliga faithful the former were brushed aside quite easily, and it looks like this evening will tell us not only how well Everton have maintained that momentum, but also where Lille are a few years on from their title winning side.
Everton defender Antolin Alcaraz will miss the visit of Lille with a dislocated shoulder, with Sylvain Distin set to deputise and Tyias Browning, 20, likely to be in the squad