Author Archives: Timothy Masters

England v Lithuania preview, 27/3/15

England v Lithuania, 19:45

Like Russell Brand on Newsnight, there is always a sense about England matches where our boys are faced up against so-called ‘weaklings’ that the eleven men in white are just a moment away from embarrassing themselves, and nothing can be done to avoid that. A home game with Lithuania seems on the face of things to be almost a free three points but remember, we used to take heroin and shout on MTV, so it’s going to be an interesting first half-hour as the fans sit and wait to see what they’ve paid money to watch.

For all that we like to be snarky about this, there is nothing to criticise so far from a results point of view and have four wins from four games in Euro 2016 Qualifying Group E. Slovenia, Switzerland and Lithuania themselves are all on six points, six behind England who are top of the group right now, so a home win would seek to split up that happy little party as well as increasing the gap to the rest from an English point of view, so as you can imagine the home side are a strong 1/8 favourite and only 11/10 to win by 3 or more goals.

England manager Roy Hodgson could give Harry Kane his debut alongside England captain Wayne Rooney as he contemplates playing with two up front, and the England boss has already had to deal with a number of withdrawals. Danny Rose, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana have all dropped out, as well as the more recently injured Fraser Forster, but some judicious juggling and late replacements have left the squad fully fit now, and ready to go.

Premier League previews, 22/3/15

Liverpool v Man Utd, 13:30

The bragging rights and trophies on the line may be much reduced to the glory days for these two teams, which of course came some time apart, but this is still the biggest non-local derby in the land and will continue to be so regardless of spending or titles elsewhere due mainly to the vast number of fans they both have. The form guide and home favour are both weighing in favour of Liverpool, but United have been able to buy players well out of the Anfield club’s reach of late despite not being in the Champions League and have the star power to make this an away win.

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva is back in training but may not be ready, and Mario Balotelli has recovered from illness. Manchester United midfielder Angel Di Maria is available but Jonny Evans is still suspended for deliberately spitting at an opponent, and Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo could return to the bench after injury.

Hull v Chelsea, 16:00

After the lord mayor has got his horse out and waved at the proletariat it’ll be time for the other entertainment this Sunday afternoon, and for those in beautiful Hull there is an unfortunate trainload of potentially racist London types on their way. Whether Hull are Tigers or United in their efforts, they’ve only lost one of their last six matches in the league and will feel decent about their chances against a Chelsea side that is not exactly setting the world on fire, having dropped six points in their league five Premier League matches.

Hull striker Nikica Jelavic has been ruled out for at least six weeks and Tom Huddlestone is suspended, while Mo Diame and James Chester have no chance of playing. John Obi Mikel is Chelsea’s only absentee this weekend.

QPR v Everton, 16:00

This isn’t a true relegation clash as Everton aren’t truly in a relegation battle yet, but there is still a sense that they could end up around the bottom three if things don’t turn around and that’s really not good enough for a team that spent £28m on one striker over the summer. As it is, they are probably only chest-deep in the do-do right now with a six point gap over the bottom three and with the European exit added into the equation there is an argument that it’s just about time for the Everton turnaround to begin in earnest. Certainly Rangers are in trouble, sitting nineteenth in the table, so expect this to be a contest at the very least.

QPR captain Joey Barton could return and Darnell Furlong is also a doubt with a calf problem. Everton have no new injury problems after the midweek Europa League exit, but Gareth Barry is once again banned as he continues his appalling career disciplinary record.

Premier League previews, 21/3/15

Man City v West Brom, 12:45

On paper this has been a pretty nice run of games for Manchester City, in the league at least, but the loss to Barcelona last night came on the back of defeats to Burnley and Liverpool, and the former of those is simply not acceptable for a club the size and strength of the reigning champions. A home game against a determined West Brom is yet another chance for embarrassment as far as Manuel Pellegrini is concerned, and his opposite number Tony Pulis has a fantastic way of making big teams feel angry, embarrassed and eventually defeated.

Manchester City are likely to make changes after their Champions League defeat, with Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Edin Dzeko, Frank Lampard and Wilfried Bony amongt those hoping for a recall. West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster is expected to be out for a month, Chris Brunt and Claudio Yacob are suspended but Victor Anichebe could return from a groin injury.

Aston Villa v Swansea, 15:00

When you lose seven games on the spin there are two explanations, and given that Aston Villa are not the victims of a recent spate of serious injuries there can be no real excuse for what went on under Paul Lambert. Tim Sherwood has already begun to expose how weak the side was under their bad Scotch egg with a couple of wins in his last two games, and as result the team has already climbed out of the bottom three and looks way more likely to survive another season in the Barclays Premier League at the very least.

Aston Villa defenders Ron Vlaar, Aly Cissoko, Philippe Senderos, Nathan Baker and Kieran Richardson all remain sidelined. Swansea central defender Federico Fernandez returns, probably at the expense of Jordi Amat.

Newcastle v Arsenal, 15:00

When there are only five points between you and safety in the Premier League the temptation is probably going to be to switch off and maybe have a think about which beach you want to spend your summer on, and for that fans of Newcastle United that isn’t good news. Treated to directionless dross under Pardew toward the end, the club has stayed in this state of nothingness at least until the end of the year, and Arsenal will view the match as one they should really win if they want to keep the pressure on City above them and challenge for second.

Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini begins a three-game ban, with Daryl Janmaat is expected to fill in as a makeshift centre-back. Arsenal are expected to welcome back Tomas Rosicky and have no new injury concerns.

Southampton v Burnley, 15:00

We’re in that special time of the year now where league position becomes slightly more and less meaningful at the same time and any team might spring a surprise, as Chelsea and City have both found recently, to their chagrin. Burnley managed a draw against the Portuguese narcissist before going one better and beating Manchester City, and now they travel to another team from the top half with the express intention of taking at least another point despite all the evidence suggesting it might not be possible to do.

Southampton winger Eljero Elia has recovered from an ankle problem but Jay Rodriguez and Emmanuel Mayuka remain sidelined. Burnley defender Stephen Ward is expected to play, but Matt Taylor isn’t ready yet.

Stoke v Palace, 15:00

Everyone knows that if you want to be safe in the Premier League there is a group of survival specialists that can get almost any team out of trouble, but if you’d added Alan Pardew’s name in alongside Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce a year ago most people would have laughed you out of the conversation. Now though, his work at Crystal Palace has elevated the former Newcastle boss to another plane, and with five wins in his last nine games and a squad full of players who look more at home in the Championship it’s probably only fair that he receives a degree of credit for how his team is getting on. Today they face an in-form Stoke side that sadly lost their last match to former boss Tony Pulis, and if ever there was a test of the new Palace backbone this is surely it.

Stoke will be without Jon Walters and have a long list of doubts including Erik Pieters, Phillip Wollscheid and Victor Moses, as well as Bojan, Peter Odemwingie and Marc Muniesta who are definitely out. Crystal Palace have fitness concerns over Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon, Mile Jedinak remains suspended, and Marouane Chamakh, Fraizer Campbell and Chung-Yong Lee are still sidelined.

Tottenham v Leicester, 15:00

It’s starting to look a lot like Leicester are doomed to be relegated at the end of this season, fortunately just around the same time as we’re tiring of them as a team and also beginning to really dislike the overbearing, bully-boy tactics of overgrown manchild Nigel Pearson. If the board had moved to replace him with someone capable and competent by now they might not be neck-deep in the cacky, as they currently are, but prior to this match with Spurs the Foxes have won precisely none of their last seven matches, and look a pretty broken team.

Tottenham’s only confirmed absentee is striker Roberto Soldado after Ryan Mason recovered from a dead leg. Leicester have no new injury concerns for Saturday’s game.

West Ham v Sunderland, 17:30

The last match of the day is also Dick Advocaat’s first as manager of Sunderland Athletic Football Club, and the immediate impression on his appointment seems to be that this is a man with his work cut out for him. His record in British football overall is a touch underwhelming, but it’s obvious the board at the club have faith in their appointment and have incentivised survival heavily too, so if there is going to be a turnaround we could well see it begin today at Upton Park. West Ham are probably a better team than Sunderland, but motivation is an issue for them right now, partly due to the fact their manager might be off in the summer.

West Ham defender Winston Reid is a major doubt, while James Tomkins and Enner Valencia remain sidelined. Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole completes a two-game ban, and John O’Shea and Sebastian Larsson hope to be fit despite missing several days of training.

Dynamo v Everton preview, 19/3/15

Dynamo Kyiv v Everton, 18:00 (agg. 1-2)

It’s not been an easy fee months for this Everton squad, that much is undeniable, but if they want to talk about stress and difficult living conditions the people of Ukraine have them trumped, sadly. Tonight is a chance for two sets of fans to dream of better days and a final in Warsaw, and with the winner of the Europa League receiving a place in the Champions League for the first time ever this year is even bigger than normal for all the teams competing in what is often described as the second tier of European football.

In terms of league form, Dynamo have won their last five games on the bounce without conceding a single goal over that time, and although they have a narrow deficit to make up it’s unlikely Everton will overawe a side with a fair amount of international experience in their ranks. Aleksander Dragovic has a lot of scouts excited, but Miguel Veloso, Oleg Huysev and perhaps most crucially Andriy Yarmalenko are talented and accomplished players in their own right, and will want to show the watching world that the previously dominant Everton are no match for the mighty Dynamo.

There is a chance Kevin Miralles could recover in time for this match, and Everton would love his industry back in the team, but they’ll have to make do without Tony Hibbert, Bryan Oviedo, Aiden McGeady and Steven Pienaar for this match in what probably isn’t going to feel like a welcoming Ukraine, if truth be told. Jeremain Lens and Yehven Makarenko are reported injured for Dynamo, with Moroccan attacker Younes Belhanda suspended.

Barcelona v Man City preview, 18/3/15

Barcelona v Man City, 19:45 (agg. 2-1)

The first leg between these two sides wasn’t quite all about Luis Suarez, but the former Liverpool man was clearly pretty keen to make an impression on his first return to these shores since his lucrative move abroad in the summer, and did so with aplomb. Tonight, with an advantage in the bag and City travelling to Catalonia for the match it might be a bit harder for Suarez and his fellow millionaires to motivate themselves against Manchester’s richest, although as the old saying goes this is a big game, and if you can’t get up for a big match you’ve no business being a footballer son. Something like that, anyway, although there is always a chance the Spanish side don’t see City as being a particularly big team or challenge, which may end up playing into English hands.

Selection is vital of course, but form has deserted the English champions in the league as well with a loss to Burnley last time out and this looks nigh-on impossible from an analytical point of view. City have a fully-fit squad for this game, meaning there are no excuses after the whistle has blown aside from the obvious, which is ‘Barca are quite good too you know’. Barcelona have Sergi Busquets and Thomas Vermaelen out injured, but Marc Montoya returned on the weekend and Jordi Alba got a mandatory rest through suspension, and should be fresh tonight.

Monaco v Arsenal preview, 17/3/15

Monaco v Arsenal, 19:45 (agg. 2-1)

Anger, frustration, elation and elitism are all regular facets of supporting Arsenal Football Club, at least judging by Twitter, and the first leg of the tie versus Monaco encompassed all of those at various points. The attitude prior to the game was that Arsene Wenger was set for an enjoyable evening lording it over his old team in the Champions League before looking ahead to their opposition in the next knock-out stage, but sadly for the Gunners that’s not how things went down. Instead, they were profligate in the extreme at home, and now have to travel to the unique stadium in the principality to try and overturn what looks a difficult deficit, although they can feel happier at least with the fact Olivier Giroud seems to have remembered where the goal is since that fateful night versus Monaco in London.

Monaco are undoubtedly a talented team, and possibly even more coherent and motivated now than when the money originally came into the club and the likes of Falcao and James Rodriguez were on the books, so they will expect to treat their quiet, wealthy fans to qualification at the expense of one of Europe’s elite. Gabriel Paulista and Tomas Rosicky could be fit for Arsenal today, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy and of course Abou Diaby are still out of contention. There are injury doubts for Monaco over a number of key players, including Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, Jeremy Toulalon and the remarkable Geoffrey Kondogbia.

Premier League previews, 15-16/3/15

Chelsea v Southampton, 13:30

Neither of these squads is probably all that happy right now, with Chelsea certainly smarting after the defeat to Paris Saint-Germain and Southampton being overtaken by a couple of teams featuring large parts of what was going on at St Marys last year, and that is good news for the neutral with the pair set to meet in the earliest Sunday kick-off. Jose Mourinho would probably have preferred even a few hours more to get life back into some legs after 120 minutes on Wednesday against the side from the French capital, but his side will be prepared and looking to at least maintain the five point gap to Man City in second.

Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic has recovered from an ankle injury, leaving John Obi Mikel as the only unfit member of the Chelsea squad. Southampton defender Toby Alderweireld could feature, but Jay Rodriguez and Emmanuel Mayuka are still absent because of injury.

Everton v Newcastle, 16:00

With ten games to go in the Barclays Premier League 2014/15, and a few months on from Everton signing one of the most exciting young forwards in the world for £28m, the club are twelve points from the theoretical safety mark of forty points. The toll taken by their Europa League campaign cannot be ignored, and there is virtually no chance either of these sides will be travelling abroad next year, so this really is a game between a pair of teams just looking to finish safely, with Newcastle coasting along aimlessly in eleventh and currently holding thirty-five points.

Everton’s John Stones is a fitness doubt and Leighton Baines and Leon Osman will need late fitness tests, while Gareth Barry, Aiden McGeady, Steven Pienaar, Tony Hibbert and Bryan Oviedo are all definitely out. Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse begins a seven-game suspension, and Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote, Massadio Haidara, Siem de Jong and Paul Dummett are all injured.

Man Utd v Spurs, 16:00

Three points and two places separate these two prior to kick-off, and with Liverpool not playing until Monday night Tottenham know they can at least go into fifth with an away win against Manchester United. Under Sir Alex, that would be basically unthinkable, but the current Spurs squad is incredibly fit and possessed of determination and goals as well, thanks to the unique charms of Harry Kane mainly. United will be looking for a win themselves, and with the two teams having identical records over their last seven matches their might be a bit of a cracker.

Manchester United will be without Angel Di Maria and Jonny Evans, with both suspended, while Robin van Persie remains injured and Marcos Rojo is doubtful. Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino has a fully-fit squad.

Swansea v Liverpool, 20:00

A season that started with such promise is threatening to peter out for Swansea, who’ve only tasted victory three times in their last ten outings, albeit twice against teams about them in the league. That mentality of performing well against sides like Southampton and United could serve them well today against Liverpool, but Garry Monk needs to see more consistency from his players if he wants to be in the conversation about Europa League places. Liverpool are pretty much fully-focussed on the top four at this point and want to continue their run of good form, but there is a lengthy injury list for Brendan Rodgers to contend with as he returns to his old stomping ground.

Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen could all be fit in time to take some part in proceedings this evening, but Jordan Ibe, Jose Enrique, Lucas Leiva, Brad Jones and Jon Flanagan all remain unavailable for Liverpool. Bafetimbi Gomis should be cleared to play for Swansea after fainting on the pitch in the game with Spurs, leaving Kyle Bartley as their only absentee.

Premier League previews, 14/3/15

Crystal Palace v QPR, 12:45

Looking at the Palace form book over the last ten games doesn’t immediate make for impressive reading, with a few wins smattered amongst an equal number of draws and losses, but when you look at how the Eagles started the year things look a little better for the current regime. Long bedfellows with the likes of QPR, Palace are eleventh, and while Rangers need a victory to stay in touch with any hope of survival Palace have a chance to go more than ten points clear of the bottom three with nine matches left to play.

Crystal Palace are without Mile Jedinak and Jordon Mutch because of suspension and injury respectively, and Marouane Chamakh and Yaya Sanogo are will be assessed. QPR midfielder Joey Barton completes a three-game suspension, while Darnell Furlong has a chance of playing.

Arsenal v West Ham, 15:00

What started with such promise looks like it might end in a damp squib or fade to black for West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, who has overseen just one win in his last ten Premier League games and probably can’t count on improving that stat today against Arsenal. The Gunners have won seven of their eight matches and four in a row coming in to this game, making them one of the form teams in the league and giving the fans hope they can close the gap to Man City in second.

Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out but Mathieu Flamini is back in contention for this game. West Ham could be without striker Enner Valencia and Alex Song, while James Tomkins, Winston Reid and Carl Jenkinson are definitely out.

Leicester v Hull, 15:00

They may have a game in hand, but Leicester are currently seven points adrift of Aston Villa in seventeenth and not looking like turning any number of games into an actual points return. Two wins, over Villa and Hull, seem like a lifetime away with the Foxes having lost five of their last six and Hull are one of the teams above them, desperately trying to end the resistance and consign someone else to relegation. Seven points from their last four games have seen the Tigers make some progress, and they must view this as another chance for a positive outcome.

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel returns to the squad for the first time since December, but Anthony Knockaert is unavailable and Dean Hammond has a calf problem. Hull trio Mo Diame, Liam Rosenior and James Chester are getting closer to fitness but not ready yet.

Sunderland v Aston Villa, 15:00

This game is like a battle for the last parachute in a descending plane with these two sixteenth and seventeenth respectively in the league, and in terms of direction of travel it’s fair to say both Villa and the Black Cats have their noses pointed firmly at the floor right now. Tim Sherwood will be hoping the win over West Brom will give his side a bit of impetus, but losing had become such a consistent habit for them under Paul Lambert and the former Tottenham manager is clearly not finding it easy to break that mindset despite having a lot of talent and experience in the squad.

Sunderland are without midfielder Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson, who remains suspended by the club because of a police investigation. Aston Villa forward Christian Benteke is fit, but Ron Vlaar and Kieran Richardson are doubts, while Alan Hutton and Jack Grealish are suspended.

West Brom v Stoke, 15:00

The Premier League is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint, and with ten games to go Stoke are looking pretty damn strong in their quest for the highest possible finish. Although the Potters aren’t currently in the conversation about Europa League places with a seven point gap to Southampton above them they are in great form and have three wins under their belt in their last three games, so a West Brom side in patchy form but some breathing space between themselves and the bottom three should be easy pickings this afternoon.

West Brom will assess strikers Saido Berahino, Brown Ideye and Victor Anichebe, but know that Callum McManaman is set to miss out. Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross is fit and could replace Philipp Wollscheid, while a gashed calf is likely to rule out Stephen Ireland.

Burnley v Man City, 17:30

Nearly-top versus nearly-bottom isn’t exactly the catchiest of tag lines for the last Premier League match of the day, but in reality this game between second and nineteenth in the league should not be a contest on any level. City are away from home, but that only puts the pressure on Burnley more to try and come out and play, making it easier for the visitors to use their quality and power on the break and pick up what should be a simple and drama-free three points.

Burnley midfielder Matt Taylor is not ready to and Fredrik Ulvestad is viewed as a long-term signing and will not be involved. Manchester City could recall Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta, as well as Samir Nasri and Fernandinho, but Manuel Pellegrini has a fully-fit squad to choose from.

Everton v Dynamo preview, 12/3/15

Everton v Dynamo Kyiv, 20:05

The round of sixteen in the Europa League is somewhat similar to the SkyBet Championship, in that while there may be more illustrious competitions with more predictable winners this is the high end of the competitive football in terms of tooth-and-nail battles with a number of possible outcomes. With the added prize of a place in the Champions League on the table for whoever does with this competition (which robs the Europa League of a defending champions and further strengthens the perception it is a ‘b-league’, but there you go) this is going to be another fantastic year in a much underrated tournament with some quality teams.

The quality was too high for the likes of Spurs, Celtic and Liverpool, but the blue half of Merseyside is still singing in funny accents as Everton continued to show the kind of form that so eludes them in domestic competition. Sweeping aside very creditable Swiss opposition as if the Toffees are a Champions League team slumming it is all well and good, but there may come a time when the pressure or potential for relegation gets too great and Everton are forced to field a weakened side.

A prime example of the sort of decision the team will have to make is the return of Leighton Baines from a hip injury, and the choice between playing him tonight or waiting for the weekend, and a Premier League match. Unfortunately for Martinez he won’t have Steven Pienaar, Bryan Oviedo, Tony Hibbert or Aiden McGeady available for selection, but a couple of those might be ready in time for Sunday, or next week at the latest. As for tonight, a strong team should be enough to make the away leg simpler, but with Newcastle due at 3pm on Sunday it will be a difficult choice for the manager to make.

Chelsea v PSG preview, 11/3/15

Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain, 19:45

Leg one of this tie between two very rich teams indeed was a good game, but not the kind of FIFA 15 malarkey the kids were maybe expecting from a pair of sides worth more than the GDP of most developing countries. Amazingly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t single-handedly win PSG the match despite the giant wads of money he lives in, which I’m sure surprised many people who’d never seen him play before and now the French side have to try and get a victory in London in order to make it through to the next round of a competition they talk a lot about winning.

Although they’ve dropped points in their recent outings Chelsea have actually extended their lead in the league and will feel pretty good about being five points clear of City with a game in hand. PSG, on the other hand, are behind Lyon in the French table and only three points clear of a Marseille side with a tiny fraction of the PSG budget, and the fact stories are swirling about their manager possibly being sacked as a result comes as no surprise.

Chelsea hope to have Nemanja Matic back from the injury he picked up celebrating the League Cup victory despite not having played in that game, but Jon Obi Mikel won’t play any part. Paris Saint-Germain have not got Serge Aurier or Yohan Cabaye fit, but they are basically squad players, where Lucas Moura is a much bigger loss to a team not blessed with attacking pace.