Premier League Newspaper Full Time Reports: Weekend 3

31 August 2008

Saturday August 30, 2008
Bolton Wanderers 0 West Bromwich Albion 0: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Everton 0 Portsmouth 3: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Hull City 0 Wigan Athletic 5: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Middlesbrough 2 Stoke City 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
West Ham United 4 Blackburn Rovers 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Arsenal 3 Newcastle United 0: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.

Sunday August 31, 2008
Chelsea 1 Tottenham 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Sunderland 0 Manchester City 3: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Aston Villa 0 Liverpool 0: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.

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Premier League Predictions: Gameweek 3

29 August 2008

Third Half Chat times this weekend:

Saturday from 9:30 and 7:25 pm.

Sunday from 8:15 am.

As I forgot to mention the full match review games on this week's show, here they are. Middlesbrough v Stoke City (The Gods must not like me at the moment with Stoke City) and Sunderland v Manchester City.

Can we not talk about last week's predictions please? Well I guess you want to laugh at me with the same intensity I kicked my own backside. Only five predictions correct (eleven of twenty so far this season), missed the banker entirely (one for two on banker predictions). The only two solaces I had was placing the insurance chip on a game that lost me no points (two for two in that category) and getting one score right on the nose (so far the only one this season). Even doing better than Mark Lawrenson didn't comfort how bad I was last week.

So here's this weekend's installment of predictions banker to insurance. Again all times are Eastern and replay times are subject to change without notice.

Banker Game: Chelsea v Tottenham (Sunday 8:30 am Setanta Sports. Replays: Sunday 7 pm, Monday 6 pm, Tuesday 12:45 pm, Wednesday 2:45 pm). I almost feel for Tottenham right now as they are stuck with a sourpuss in Berbatov, and problems scoring goals. I have a feeling Chelsea are going to run riot over Tottenham. Oh and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a red or two here. Chelsea 3 Tottenham 0.

Bolton Wanderers v West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 10 am. Setanta Sports Saturday 2:15 pm, Sunday 4:15 pm, Monday 8 am, Tuesday 9:15 am, Wednesday 12:45 pm, Thursday 11 am). I see this game going one of two ways depending on if Elmander plays. If he's passed fit and plays, I don't see this being much of a contest. If he doesn't play, it will be a tight little affair. West Brom though have nothing up front and Bolton should pick up the result. Bolton Wanderers 1 West Bromwich Albion 0.

Hull City v Wigan Athletic (Saturday 10 am. No TV). Hull City have to be riding the highest of highs after their first two results while Wigan have been ‘so close but yet so far' in their first two. I don't see much changing here. Well maybe Dean Windass finally getting on the park. Hull City 2 Wigan Athletic 1.

Middlesbrough v Stoke City (Saturday 10 am. Setanta Sports 4 pm, Monday 11 am & 2:45 pm, Thursday 6:15 am and 12:45 pm). I think Middlesbrough will take the lessons learned from last week and apply them here. Stoke City will give them a fight that's for sure, but I see Mido yet again proving the difference with a late winner, possibly in second half injury time. Middlesbrough 2 Stoke City 1.

Arsenal v Newcastle United (Saturday 12:15 Fox Soccer Channel. Replay: Monday 1 pm). This game proves to be an interesting one. Arsenal looked good midweek but have looked absolutely awful in their first two Premier League games. Maybe Wednesday was good for them, but at the same time Newcastle have Michael Owen working back to being fully fit and we saw how dangerous he was last weekend. That said however, Arsenal at home should do the business. Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 0.

Sunderland v Manchester City (Sunday 10 am. Fox Soccer Channel 4:30 pm). I see Manchester City struggling on the road all season. Sunderland is looking a decent side that despite losing their home opener to Liverpool, should get their fair share of results at home. The only question I have for Sunderland is who do they start up front. Even with that said, Sunderland should get the three points. Sunderland 3 Manchester City 1.

West Ham United v Blackburn Rovers
(Saturday 10 am Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Broadband 2. Replay Wednesday 3 am). West Ham were ripped apart last weekend but the comforts of home could do them good. Jason Roberts is starting to emerge as a second option with Roque Santa Cruz, and that should worry most Premier League teams. I expect one of them to nab a late game winner. West Ham United 0 Blackburn Rovers 1.

Everton v Portsmouth (Saturday 10 am. Setanta Sports from 9:45 am. Replays: 5:45 pm, Sunday 2:15 pm, Monday 12:45 pm, Tuesday 2:45 pm, Thursday 10:30 am). Tough game for me to call. If it had to be said, I seriously thought about putting my insurance chip on this game. However Portsmouth are struggling mightily up front and Everton at home should have just enough to take all three points. Everton 1 Portsmouth 0.

Insurance Game of the Week: Aston Villa v Liverpool (Sunday 11 am Fox Soccer Channel. Replay Thursday 3 pm). This game has Liverpool late winner written all over it to me, but I've just got a gut feeling Aston Villa was share the spoils. Either way, expect there to be plenty of tension. Aston Villa 2 Liverpool 2.

These are my thoughts on the weekend, what are yours?

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The Third Half 014 is Live

28 August 2008

This week's show is now up as a podcast. You can listen to the show from here, via the On Demand player, or you can subscribe to the show via iTunes.

Plenty to talk about on this week's show.
* Full discussion of the weekend that was the Barclay's Premier League.

* Rantlines including the following: MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League, Chicago Fire's new president, bye bye to Sheva, and more.

Any comments or feedback are always welcome. You can leave them here, on the CSRN Message Board, or at jstarling@csrnusa.com

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Portsmouth Feels the Wrath of Early Season Schedule

26 August 2008

2 games, 0 points. No goals scored and five goals allowed.

What those numbers don't tell you are the two opponents in question. At Stamford Bridge against Chelsea and then host to Manchester United.

When Portsmouth saw their early season schedule, they had to be a little concerned. Granted this was a side that was tipped for a European place in the table. This was a side that brought in Armand Traore and Peter Crouch, and working on developing the partnership up front...

And then all of a sudden, Sulley Muntari is sold and it can be debated that Portsmouth could be back at square one. No they still have quality on the field, but working on revamping tactics so late in the summer with a major piece of the puzzle gone is challenging enough. However add that with two games against two current giants of Europe in their first two matches added with a trip Saturday to Everton, Harry Redknapp's challenge is only made more difficult.

The big/small partnership of Crouch and Defoe I have a feeling won't work in the Premier League to the same effect it works on the international level. While good in theory, Crouch isn't all that great in the air. In fairness to him however, he does get called for some questionable fouls that I don't think should be called against him. It happened a few times again Monday against Manchester United. Even when given space to chest down, Vidic and Ferdinand where quickly there to close him down and dispossess.

Armand Traore needs some experience at the top flight, hence the reason Arsenal loaned him out to Portsmouth in the first place. His youth got the better of him Monday night as he was caught out at least four times, three of those resulting in decent chances for Manchester United goals. Jerome Thomas did well in the 35 minutes he had on the park, closing down well and getting Portsmouth's first shot on target.

However what Portsmouth need to realize right now is they cannot get discouraged because of this start. Even with Muntari, it was very possible they could be on zero points from a possible six. I think right now this is a time for John Utaka to step up his game and show game in and game out the flashes he showed last season from midfield. They have the players to make a push for a European place, now is the time to come together and rally around it.

Darren Fletcher is keeping Manchester United a float right now. It's almost amazing in how similar his two goals have been this season. However when looking at the replay of this goal, I wonder if the ball didn't end up going in off Sylvain Distin? I guess the dubious goals committee will have their fun with that one. My judgment call says Fletcher deserved the goal as he beat Campbell to the Evra centering pass.

Manchester United are just doing what they need to do. Anderson's inclusion in the starting eleven proved to be valuable as not only did it seem he got better as the game got along, his passes were also inch accurate.

A few other observations.
1) Is it just me or did it seem like Portsmouth couldn't keep possession at all in the second half?
2) Was there any reliable camera angle on the fourteenth minute penalty shout? There was a least a handball that could be debated, but thanks to production, we never saw it again.
3) Wayne Rooney looked lively up front. Granted he didn't score, but he sure had a few decent half chances.

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Premier League Reviews Matchday 2 Batch 2

Fulham v Arsenal: Brede Hangeland's goal twenty-one minutes proved to be the difference as Arsenal's shaky start continued by dropping points to Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Arsenal's forward play is more shocking right now than it was at any stage of last season. For all the crying Emmanuel Adebayor did over the summer over his pay packet, and subsequently getting a bigger one, I expect him to play at a much better level than he has over the first two games. His efforts on goal Saturday were simply shocking. Robin Van Persie's free kick efforts weren't much better either. While the midfield has downgraded slightly with the losses of Hleb and Flamini, they still got effective crosses in.

Fulham played the ultimate team game. Strong and sound at the back, the midfield covered the entire pitch well, and while they only had six shots on the day, they had more shots on goal than Arsenal. However one thing that worried me was the fact they had a couple of counter opportunities that could have been finished off but simply had misfortune...Zamora the result of a bad hop and Dempsey the result of being too selfish.

I assume nothing with Arsenal anymore. One would think if Adebayor could get one the goals would start coming, but with as atrocious as they have looked up front in the first two weeks, that is saying quite a lot. Fulham played a 90 minute game and while they were tiring over the last quarter of an hour, they still found a way to win, when last season they would have gotten nothing at all. It does have to be said that Fulham comprehensively deserved the result they got on the day.

Wigan Athletic v Chelsea
: Deco's fourth minute free kick proved to be the difference as Chelsea hung on to defeat a pesky Wigan Athletic side at the JJB Stadium.

First it must be said that both sides defended extremely well. The fact that Chelsea had to rely on a free kick to get the lone goal should say how well Wigan defended in open play. In fact you could even argue it was a rather weak call against Cattermole in the third minute, but it was a call that could be made...and was.

Despite all the possession Chelsea had, it was Wigan who made Petr Cech do the hard work between the sticks. Michael Pollitt though, has to take the majority of the blame for being too close to the near post on Deco's goal. You simply don't allow that much space on the far post...you will be burned by it.

Wigan though started to look devoid of any tactical attacking ideas about sixty-five minutes in and started relying on individual efforts for shots on goal. Petr Cech though was resolute in goal and did well.

Chelsea have always had problems going to the JJB and getting results. Wigan could use with one more attacking option up front as Zaki can't do it all himself. Heskey was okay, but average isn't going to beat Chelsea.

Manchester City v West Ham United
: Elano's double complimented Daniel Sturridge's opener as Manchester City took advantage of the extra man in the second half to dispel of West Ham United 3-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium.

First off, here's too a quick return for Micah Richards. It's amazing to me that sometimes the most innocent looking incidents end up being the most severe.

Let's take a look at Mark Noble's sending off. The first yellow card was a stupid deliberate handball. Just because you think you've won a free kick doesn't give you the right to use your hands. Play whistle to whistle. As for the second yellow, you lunge in with the studs showing up, the referee has no choice but to show the yellow card...and in this instance you're off.

Depending on the service where you saw the match stats from, West Ham United had no chances on goal. Even down a man, you have to do better to find chances in order to get one on goal. The back line did not show themselves well Sunday, making a mess of things on all three goals. Robert Green did no favors on the Elano goals by being out of position, there was nothing he was going to do to deny Daniel Sturridge.

Manchester City rebounded well after their opening week loss. Daniel Sturridge is looking a star in the making and his goal off Upson's poor clearance was well taken. The combination of Corluka, Ireland, and Elano was extremely effective.

One thing I always have hated was a double substitution leaving none being a man up. You just never know if an injury is going to cause you to end up leveling the numbers without just cause.

Nothing too serious can be taken from this Manchester City result though. They did what you are suppose to do when a man up. However this result should bring back some confidence into the side that looked to be lacking.

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Premier League Reviews Matchday 2 Batch 1

25 August 2008

Blackburn Rovers v Hull City: Richard Garcia's equalizer five minutes from halftime makes sure the game ends honors even at Ewood Park 1-1.

The offsides trap can be a tricky thing and it was the root cause of both goals. Michael Turner keeping Jason Roberts on for the opener and Andre Ooijer keeping Richard Garcia on for the equalizer.

Blackburn controlled possession, but Hull City was resolute at the back. With the exception of Roque Santa Cruz's effort in the seventy-fifth minute, Blackburn didn't get a real clear cut chance on goal. The only thing about Hull City though was they were unable to do anything on their counter attack.

Stuart Atwell has to be commended for a great day as man in the middle. From my vantage point, there was only one call he had a tough decision on and I think he got that one right. It would have been very harsh to have awarded Blackburn a penalty for Michael Turner's accidental handball. However, it was a decision that could have gone either way and I wouldn't have faulted him for it.

Hull City have been entertaining to watch in the first couple of games. Let's all hope it stays that way. Blackburn though, needs to take advantage of the possession they are given.

Liverpool v Middlesbrough
: Steven Gerrard's strike at the end of the fourth minute of injury time provided the difference as Liverpool narrowly defeat Middlesbrough 2-1 at Anfield.

You can look at this game two ways. The first being it was unfortunate for Middlesbrough to lose after taking the lead and having an own goal being the equalizer. The second being Liverpool ground out three points that should have been one. I subscribe to the second point of view because in all honesty, this was an evenly balanced game. The lone exception is Middlesbrough did not create nearly enough chances to put this game away and their best chance went right to Pepe Reina.

Robbie Keane is starting to find Fernando Torres better with his passes and from the looks of things it's just a matter of time before that becomes a lethal partnership. Liverpool are still not at their strongest eleven and once Babel and Mascherano are able to play the full ninety, Liverpool will be just fine. It's a bit premature to write their title chances off after two games. Hell they are one of only two teams with six points from a possible six.

At the end when the ping pong action at the top of the penalty area settled for Steven Gerrard to strike towards goal, it was one of those instinctive things where I knew it was a goal.

Mido is proving to be a great super sub, but is it worrying that Alfonso Alves hasn't lasted ninety minutes in both games? However Mido unnecessarily started time wasting eleven minutes from the ninety. It was almost a bad omen for Boro.

Middlesbrough are showing they will be no pushover this season. Though one thing that is worrisome is two of the three goals allowed have been own goals. That is borderline on reckless and needs to stop pronto.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland
: On his Premier League return, Djibril Cisse heads Sunderland to all three points and a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane.

This Sunderland did just enough on the day, and depending on your perspective that's a good or a bad thing. Good in the sense that it's three points in the bag, bad in a sense that this Tottenham side at present isn't all that good and they struggled to beat them. The one thing that surprised me was Sunderland didn't go for the killer blow after going a goal up. They shouldn't have held back and doing so gave Tottenham the impetus to attack...and that they did.

Tottenham right now have the players to get the ball forward, but no one to score them. With no natural striker coming off the bench, teams have an easy blueprint to beat them...get a quick couple of goals and defend in numbers.

That said about Spurs, they had chances to score, in fact enough chances they could have gotten a point. Two chances stick out in my mind in particular. Bent's miss in the seventeenth minute off a Spurs corner and then the fact Jonathan Woodgate or Gareth Bale couldn't finish up a Craig Gordon miss in the sixty-first.

With Cisse at Sunderland, you could say they have two forwards that can get the job done. Roy Keane has to be complimented for building this squad that isn't going to give up and will every team they play this season a fight. Tottenham need strikers stat and an ending to the Dimitar Berbatov saga. It seem those two going hand in hand are the only way for Tottenham to have any chance this season. Berbatov will more than likely be gone this week (okay it's red top fodder but it makes sense...hell he wasn't even in the 18 on Saturday), but time's ticking away to bringing in forwards that can get the job done.

Newcastle United v Bolton Wanderers
: Michael Owen's header 13 minutes after Shay Given denied Kevin Nolan's penalty was the difference as Newcastle build on their opening weekend performance and defeat Bolton 1-0.

Tense battle for sure, as both sides held their lines relatively well and did a decent job closing down. Quality chances were few and far between and simply put, Newcastle took advantage of theirs, Bolton didn't.

I thought the penalty was the right call. Steven Taylor's arm played the ball not once, but ended up twice. I wonder if Steve Bennett called the first one because the second one looked red card bad to me. Nolan's penalty though was point blank bad and there's no other way to put it.

I'm still trying to figure out what Bolton was doing on Michael Owen's goal. How Geremi was given that much space to cross in was shocking, but even more shocking was how Owen ran unopposed on goal. Jussi Jaaskelainen simply was frozen in his tracks as he could do nothing about it.

Newcastle United have to hope Obafemi Martins groin injury isn't serious. With Michael Owen not yet completely match fit, forwards are at a premium. I thought Jonas Gutierrez played well in the midfield. Shay Given is looking more and more likely by the game to keep that number one spot as his performance was very good.

Hopefully Elmander's injury isn't too serious as without him, I don't see where they get goals from. However their resolute defense and the keeping of Jaaskelainen will make it difficult for any opponent to break down. Two mental lapses did them in today. You can maybe get away with one, you don't get away with two.

These are my thoughts, what are yours?

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Premier League Newspaper Full Time Reports: Weekend 2

24 August 2008

Note the full time results are in this blog. If you don't want to know the scores, please wait until you have finished watching said matches before looking at the reports.

Sunday August 24, 2008.
Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Manchester City 3 West Ham United 0
. BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.

Saturday August 23, 2008
Blackburn Rovers 1 Hull City 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Liverpool 2 Middlesbrough 1
: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Newcastle United 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Stoke City 3 Aston Villa 2
: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Sunderland 2
: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
West Bromwich Albion 1 Everton 2
: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Fulham 1 Arsenal 0
: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.

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Paddy Powers Stoke City to Aston Villa Shock

23 August 2008

Maybe Tony Pulis was right.

Mamady Sidibe's header gives Stoke City a shock 3-2 win at the Britannia Stadium.

If you heard me this week on The Third Half, I pretty much mocked the fact I pulled this game out of the hat to do as one of my two full match reviews. Next time I do that, I need to have the first rule of football tattooed across my first forehead...any side can win on the day.

Stoke City were everything you expected in a team that recently came up. They were scrappy, feisty and just about everything else in between. Above all, they were the most fortunate.

This game can't be talked about unless we take a look at the two key decisions in the first half. Twenty seven minutes in, I was convinced Gabriel Agbonlahor should have been awarded a penalty. From my vantage point, Agbonlahor was simply pushed down. Despite the bodies in Mark Halsey's has to be able to see it and call the penalty.

The other call comes just two minutes later. Rory Delap was the fortunate recipient of a little ping pong action in the penalty area. Martin Laursen stuck his leg out and was wise enough to at least pull it back. Delap though took full advantage and went over the leg, in the process being awarded a penalty. From the subsequent camera angles, I am still looking for the contact Laursen made with Delap and to me, it should be a yellow card for diving. However that wasn't the case and Liam Lawrence gets his first goal in the top flight since his goal for Sunderland against Chelsea in 2006.

You knew Aston Villa was going to up the pressure in the second half and that they did. John Carew a key force in both Villa goals. The Villa equalizer thanks to Carew taking Ashley Young's deft back heel and beating Sorensen one v one. The second thanks to Carew flicking onto Laursen off what was in honesty a poor free kick from Ashley Young.

However two performances for Aston Villa have to be called out to task, those of Martin Laursen and Gareth Barry. Laursen was a part of all three Stoke City goals and despite getting the second equalizer for Villa should have been subbed off immediately after getting it. I know he's a key player at the back, but when you are having that poor of a day, you don't need to be punishing the team based on how one is playing. Gareth Barry on the whole looked disinterested or fatigued from his England call up, I'm still trying to figure out which it is. However his touches were just that bad, a bad pass the catalysis for Stoke City pulling ahead 2-1. It was Barry's missed sitter three minutes after pulling level at one though that told me how off his game he was.

However at the end of the day, it was Rory Delap's long throwing ability that proved the ultimate difference. His long throw to Mamady Sidibe looked to be one that could be easily cleared. But both his markers mistimed their jumps and Sidibe was able to get the back of his neck to it (at least that's what it looked like to me) and change the direction on it just enough to put it far post and in. An unlikely winner to what was on the whole an unlikely game.

When it's all said and done, I think Aston Villa fell victim to taking their opponent too lightly. That is simply an attitude you can never have. Tony Pulis still has a few holes at the back to sort out, but I bet if you asked him before the season how many points he honestly thought would come out of this fixture, Pulis would have said zero and at best one. While I still see them still fighting for survival this season, Stoke City put on a performance that I don't think anyone could have expected save maybe the diehard Stoke City supporters.

A Few Other Observations:
* Did it look to anyone else that Gabriel Agbonlahor was too tentative in his play today? If his groin was bothering him that much, should he have even started?

* I was surprised that Martin O'Neill only used one of his three available subs. It was obvious to me his side needed shaking up, epically at the back.

* Stoke City to me wasted their third sub in bringing on Richard Cresswell for Ricardo Fuller. With the way Villa were playing at the back, I think Fuller still had something to offer.

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Thoughts From a Frantic Second Half Saturday

Well well well, could the first halves be any more boring than we saw this past weekend? I think this was the most boring collective first forty-five minutes in the Premier League since I've started following.

Paddy Power got their press saying they would pay off Stoke City for relegation, now they get laughed at. Yes Stoke City are still relegation fodder when it's all said and done, but what a result for Stoke City. I saw this on the Telegraph's preview and didn't give it much thought. But is Stoke City at Stoke a bogey game for Villa regardless of division? I will have more on this game later this afternoon on this blog.

Speaking of Aston Villa, did Ince see something in Friedel that made Ince sell Friedel at such a bargain price?

Liverpool survived by the skin of their teeth against Boro and you have to feel bad for Boro. They played well for 95 minutes (yes I include the first half stoppage time), and when the added time of the added time started in the second half, they blew it. Gerrard is always good for a rocket from that range and he took advantage of it.

Speaking of Middlesbrough, how bad is it when 2 of the 3 goals you have allowed this season have been own goals? However I expect the dubious goals committee to be taking a look at Liverpool's first goal.

Hull City start with a win and a draw...is next week a loss? All kidding aside, they scrap out another point and only need 36 points according to the Kevin Keegan school of Premier League survival to stay up another year.

Newcastle defended well but looked bad up front. Michael Owen though looked solid coming off the bench. Bolton...back to business as usual?

Tottenham have serious problems, that's all that can be said about their situation. It was painful at times to see them play against Sunderland and if the reports are true about Berbatov officially handing in a transfer request, the next few weeks are going to get extremely interesting at White Hart Lane.

Fulham deserved to beat Arsenal today. Arsenal were just that bad. It got to the point for me I gave up wishing on IKTS and just said screw it go Fulham.

Can you believe that after today, there are only 3 teams that have a chance at having the max points after two games?

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Premier League Predictions: Gameweek 2

22 August 2008

Matchday one is now gone and we look forward to another weekend of action from the Barclays Premier League. As I mentioned last week, I'm going to be tracking my performance in the same manner IKTS does.

Even I will admit I was pretty bad by predictions standards last week. Only six out of ten correct, none on the nose. The only solace was I had three goal differentials correct. I'm one for one on correctly picking the banker and in not losing points on my insurance game.

And now onto this week's slate of games. Again, all times are Eastern and all TV times are subject to change without notice.

Banker Prediction of the Week: Fulham v Arsenal (Saturday 12:30 pm Fox Soccer Channel. Replay Thursday 3 pm). Yes both sides were completely unconvincing last week, but Fulham were just that weak at the back for me against Hull City. This won't be like hosting Bolton, which Fulham has done in their past two home openers. It will a tight affair, but Arsenal have the quality see the game through. Fulham 0 Arsenal 1.

Blackburn Rovers v Hull City (Saturday 10 am, no TV). Hull City come crashing a bit back down to earth with their first road travel in the top flight. Blackburn were shaky against Everton, but I don't know of anyone besides Geovanni who can cause the kind of havoc on Blackburn's back line. I think Hull City will give a good account of themselves this weekend, but it won't be enough. Blackburn Rovers 2 Hull City 1.

Stoke City v Aston Villa (Saturday 10 am. On delay Fox Soccer Channel Saturday 2:30 pm, Thursday 1 pm). Stoke City were just that bad last week. Aston Villa looked shaky in the first half, but came together at least up front in the second. I don't see this being much of a competitive contest though as Aston Villa have the quality to see this game out without any problems. Stoke City 0 Aston Villa 2.

Wigan Athletic v Chelsea (Sunday 8:30 am. Setanta from 8:00 am. Replays 5 pm, Wednesday 6 pm). Chelsea were that good last Sunday, but going to the JJB has always been a bit of a tough ask. Zaki could prove to be a smart move for Wigan as he will keep them in any game this season. Chelsea though have just too much quality to not win here, however it will be tighter than Scolari will like. Wigan Athletic 1 Chelsea 2.

Liverpool v Middlesbrough (Saturday 10 am, Setanta from 9:30 am. Replays: 8:30 pm, Sunday 7 pm, Monday 12:30pm, Thursday 8:15 am). Both teams surprised me on the opening weekend. Liverpool in how poor they looked in getting a lucky 1-0 and Middlesbrough for how resolute they were in beating Spurs. This could very well be a case of history repeating itself as Boro haven't won at Anfield in the Premier League. I don't see this game being won until late. Liverpool 2 Middlesbrough 1.

West Bromwich Albion v Everton (Saturday 10 am, on delay Setanta Sports 6:45 pm. Replay Thursday 6:15 am). I'm almost tempted to call this game a draw. I personally was surprised as how disorganized Everton looked at the back last weekend. West Brom at the Hawthorns is a tough ask for a questionable Everton back line. However I don't know if West Brom have the forwards to get a result in this one. I see this being won late. West Bromwich Albion 0 Everton 1.

Newcastle United v Bolton Wanderers (Saturday 10 am, on Setanta Broadband 2. On delay Setanta Sports Saturday 5 pm, Sunday 12:45 pm, Thursday 12:45 pm). To me this game depends on how Johan Elmander plays. Newcastle did what they needed to do at Old Trafford and come home with some confidence. Despite what Bolton did last week, I don't expect them to get the result. Newcaslte United 2 Bolton Wanderers 0.

Portsmouth v Manchester United (Monday 3 pm Setanta Sports. Replay 7:45 pm). Two sides who have been the most disappointing and both need all three points. Manchester United's form of late at Fratton Park isn't spectacular, but right now I see them as having the lesser of two evils. Portsmouth are trying to figure out how to play without Muntari and with Crouch and Manchester United still can find goals from absolutely nothing. I almost don't see this much as a competitive contest either. Portsmouth 0 Manchester United 2.

Manchester City v West Ham United (Sunday 11 am Fox Soccer Channel. Replay: 11 pm). I can't get a read on this game. Manchester City looked really bad in their two games last week while West Ham United looked okay but not great against Wigan. When I take that into account, the only result I can come up with is draw. Mark Noble isn't saving West Ham two weeks in a row. Manchester City 1 West Ham United 1.

Insurance Game of the Week: Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland (Saturday 10 am Fox Soccer Channel. Replay Monday 1 pm). Is it too early in the season to say this is a must win for Tottenham? Has the Dimitar Berbatov situation affected them this much? You know Chimbonda and Malbranque will want to show up their former club, but have to take advantage of the chances they create. I don't see Berbatov starting, coming on late, and getting the game winner. Tottenham 1 Sunderland 0.

Don't forget you can get to the Third Half Chat at CSRN starting from 9:55 am Saturday morning, 7:25 pm Saturday Night and from 8:25 am on Sunday morning.

Here's to a good weekend of football!

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The Third Half 013 is Live

21 August 2008

This week's show is now up as a podcast. You can listen to the show from here, via the On Demand player, or you can subscribe to the show via iTunes.

Plenty to talk about on this week's show.
* I break down the opening weekend of the Premier League discussing all the games I saw and some brief general thoughts on the others.

* The rantlines returned with the highlights being: the US Squad, Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, Rafa saying Liverpool need to get better, Joey Barton's and Adrian Mutu's bad weeks.

Any comments or feedback are always welcome. You can leave them here, on the CSRN Message Board, or at jstarling@csrnusa.com

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Premier League Reviews Matchday 1 Batch 1

18 August 2008

Just my quick opinions on the other games from this past weekend.

Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion: In what looked like a replay of so many Arsenal games last season, Arsenal controlled the game against West Bromwich Albion, but were unable to put them away, only getting a 1-0 result.

Samri Nasri's play today stood out to me as he looked comfortable on the ball all day long. However it was Arsenal's dire finishing that kept West Brom in this contest. West Brom did themselves no favors as they were way too forgiving until the last twenty-five minutes when they started making a push for an equalizer. However their best chance came five minutes into the second half.

Still though, this game shows Arsenal has the same work to do from last season, finishing their opponents off when they have the chance to. West Brom scarred Almunia a couple of times and while not worthy to share the spoils, could have still stolen the most unlikeliest of points.

Hull City v Fulham
: Paul Konchesky's error nine minutes from time gave Caleb Folan the game winner as Hull City defeats Fulham in their first game in the top flight.

Credit has to be given to Phil Brown for not going defensive and being attack minded in his substitutions. Halmosi, Folan and Fagan all added to the work that Marcio Geovanni did and while they had to defend in a few stretches of the game, did so well with the lone exception of Seol Ki-Hyeon's goal eight minutes in.

Fulham looked really disjointed for most of the game and their finishing looked even worse. Simon Davies had a chance to give Fulham a 2-0 lead and missed a sitter while Zoltan Gera had the perfect opportunity to give Fulham the lead again to start the second half, but timed his shot badly the result being way wide of the near post. The midfield didn't seem to link with anyone for stretches of the game, their passing poor.

Hull City took advantage of the mistakes Fulham had at the back, and when you are at the top flight, things like closing down an on rushing attacker, properly handling back passes and not giving up on a play will go a long way in giving you a chance at staying up.

Everton v Blackburn
: Andre Ooijer's rebound finish gives Blackburn a late 3-2 victory in a sloppy game at Goodison Park.

Everton in the first half had no right to be in this game. Blackburn threw wave upon wave of pressure on the Everton back line and they simply weren't able to cope. Was it because of Jack Rodwell? It doesn't matter. Blackburn were simply that good in the first forty-five and it took a little Paul Robinson stupidity to keep them in the game.

In fact, the only reason Everton were in this game was because of the ineptness of Paul Robinson. Ignoring the near post on a free kick late in the first half, getting caught out too close to the near post after the hour, but it was the mental focus that cost Everton here. You simply cannot allow a goal less than 2 minutes after taking the lead and how Roque Santa Cruz was all alone with Tim Howard I'll never know. The story of this game is finished chances, not those just missed.

Were the Everton subs ready for the tussle of the Premier League, probably not and ended up a hindrance than a help.

Blackburn looked solid in the attack, but surprisingly bad at the back. It goes to show the difference in having a good keeper keeping them organized than one who is really mediocre at best.

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The Wonderful World of Scolari

17 August 2008

Three first half goals were plenty enough to see Chelsea past Portsmouth 4-0 on a day where Portsmouth showed up in body, but not in competition.

Roman Abramovich wanted beautiful football and brought in the man who he thought could bring it, Luis Felipe Scolari. The Chelsea performances of the last two seasons defensive yet steady. The performances had to get more pleasing on the owners eye, and if he wasn’t pleased today, I don’t know if he ever will be.

From the opening kickoff, Chelsea bullied Portsmouth around the park and exerted their dominance. From their opener twelve minutes in, to Deco’s blast one minute from the ninety, Portsmouth looked severely outclassed. It didn’t help that Portsmouth didn’t even bother to try and exert any initiative into any attack until about 2 minutes from halftime.

Chelsea’s passing was crisp, direct and straight to the point. Portsmouth couldn’t seem to stream more than one pass together before being dispossessed. Chelsea after about 20 minutes looked like they were toying with Portsmouth, Portsmouth didn’t have a response. Don’t let the ten shots fool you from Portsmouth, most of them came in two bunches that while testing Cech, were handled with some ease.

The one thing that had to be the most disheartening for Portsmouth was with how much ease early in the second half Chelsea was moving down the center of the park. It was surprising how out of position the defenders were for Portsmouth and how often David James was just a spectator to the sublime. Deco’s ball movement was near perfect. Jose Bosingwa did a good job pushing forward. Portsmouth look disjointed and started pushing for things that just weren’t attainable. It was evident to me how much they missed Sulley Muntari’s service from the midfield.

While it is unrealistic for Chelsea to have 37 more performances like this in the league, this was the perfect start for a new era in Chelsea football. For Portsmouth, well they’ve only got Manchester United to worry about.

A Couple of Other Observations
1) If Distin’s hand ball was penalty worthy, why wasn’t Ricardo Carvalho’s? Carvalho’s was much worse and in fact it was his arm that drove the ball out for a corner kick and looked more a parry save than an accidental hand ball.

2) Can Harry Redknapp revise his role for Peter Crouch? Everyone knows he isn’t that spectacular in the air and he didn’t have any opportunities to chest the ball down.

3) Maybe it was my own eyes, but did it seem to others that Portsmouth pretty much gave up in the final twenty minutes? It seemed that way to me.

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Ramos Revolution Still Has Some Way to Go

Two goals in the span of fifteen minutes saw Middlesbrough kickoff the new campaign with a 2-1 win.

Interesting game from my point of view. There's a reason why Justin Hoyte's moving to Boro. They need a reliable left back. David Wheater on the day was a bit on the poor side leaving Brad Jones out to dry on a couple of occasions and looking very shaky on a couple more. However it was his involvement in the attacking third where he came good for such a bad performance at the back.

Juande Ramos claims the side he has is capable of competing with the top four. If that's so, they need to come together as a team and fast. That includes everyone on the roster, Dimitar Berbatov included. In fact there is an argument that can be made that when Berbatov came on in the sixth-fifth minute, Spurs looked a little better. Though it can also be argued that Berbatov was also playing on the selfish side, playing one too many touches on the ball and being dispossessed in key areas of the park.

A few key things in this game stand out to me.
1) The disallowed goal in the thirty-second minute. It sure didn't look like David Wheater was fouling Michael Dawson. In fact from my vantage point it was the other way around and the goal should have stood out. It was only poetic justice that it was Wheater who got the opener.

2) The passing from Spurs. While it was fine at the back and the midfield, it was their final balls that were sorely lacking. The fact they only got eight shots off while having sixty-five percent of the possession was bad. Middlesbrough did an exceptional job soaking up pressure.

3) Alfonso Alves is looking more and more comfortable by the day in the Premier League. His work up front Saturday caused havoc for the Tottenham defense.

4) David Bentley for the most part was extremely poor. His set pieces looked like they took the summer off as well. The only one that was anywhere near close to decent was the one at the end.

5) Middlesbrough needs to work on their counter attack. They had two clear breakaways they should have finished and did not.

6) The second Middlesbrough goal was questionable in how the sequence began. It looked like Didier Zokora kept the whole ball in.

I think it's safe to say that it's still an unsettled time at Tottenham right now. The mixed reports that Berbatov has handed in a transfer request hasn't helped. The fact that Spurs need more forwards is evident. It's also a side that despite playing well in the preseason, still need time to come together. Luka Modric didn't look like the player we saw at Euro 2008 and Giovanni Dos Santos was incredibly average. The back four for the pressure they were put under did not play well.

You can say with Tottenham that until the issue with Dimitar Berbatov is settled, we will see Tottenham play like this. I tend to agree with that logic. Juande Ramos knows he can't let Berbatov go, but his hand I think has been forced about as far as it can go. If Ramos caves in, all the column inches devoted to Tottenham this summer will definitely be for naught. While the core is there, if there's no one of quality up front (Darren Bent can do it, but he's too inconsistent for my liking), this could be another year where they play for the next.

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Fulltime Reports: Saturday August 16 2008

Here is a compilation of all full time reports from the various UK websites.

Arsenal 1 West Bromwich Albion 0: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Bolton Wanderers 3 Stoke City 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Everton 2 Blackburn Rovers 3: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Hull City 2 Fulham 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Middlesbrough 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
West Ham United 2 Wigan Athletic 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.
Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1: BBC, Soccernet, Sun, Times, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent, Sky Sports, Telegraph.

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Premier League Previews: Gameday 1

16 August 2008

Chat times this weekend at the Third Half:

Saturday 7:30 am and 7:15 pm

Sunday 8:15 am.

I’ll also be using Stickam this weekend as I haven’t heard anything yet about the issues the client I’m using now is having.

If you followed the EPL Talk Predictions League last year (that I started before moving to CSRN), I finished inside the top five (I think it was fourth, but I can’t remember). It was much higher than where my relegation bound fantasy football side finished. This year I thought it would be a good idea to do a blog with my quick thoughts of the weekend’s fixtures, TV Times on games for the entire week (so if you don’t have this fangled invention called a DVR or threw out your old VCR, you can still possibly catch the game either on Setanta Sports or Fox Soccer Channel). I’m also going to do these previews from the game I’m banking on this week all the way to the game I’m putting insurance on.

Please note all times are Eastern and subject to change without notice.
Banker Chip Game of the Week: Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 7:45 am Setanta Sports. Replays Sunday 6:45 pm, Monday 12:45 pm, Thursday 6:15 am & 2:45 pm) West Brom gets a rude return to the Premier League going to the Emirates. West Brom may keep it close in the first half, but Arsenal should be able to pull away easily. I think West Brom gets a goal late. Arsenal 3 West Brom 1.

Manchester United v Newcastle United (Sunday Fox Soccer Channel 11 am & 11 pm, Tuesday 1 pm, Thursday 3 pm). It won’t be 6-0 like last season, but at Old Trafford, Manchester United shouldn’t have many problems dispatching of Newcastle. Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0.

Sunderland v Liverpool (Saturday Fox Soccer Channel 12:15 pm and 11 pm, Wednesday 5 pm). Well Liverpool has to take their Champions League Performance out on someone and it’s unfortunate that Sunderland has to be it. However I do think the game will be closer than most people think. Sunderland 1 Liverpool 2.

Bolton Wanderers v Stoke City (Saturday 10 am. Same day delay Setanta Sports 4 pm, Sunday 1:15 pm, Wednesday 2:45 pm). Should be an interesting test for Stoke City in their bid to stay up. I don’t too many goals in it with an early goal being the difference. Bolton Wanderers 1 Stoke City 0.

Middlesbrough v Tottenham Hotspur (Saturday Setanta Sports 10 am & 5:45 pm, Monday 6:15 am, Tuesday 12:45 pm, Wednesday 6 pm, Thursday 11 am). Interesting tie to me as both sides need to get out to as quick a start as possible. I expect goals to be in this one, but no clear cut winner. In fact, I see this as a draw. Middlesbrough 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2.

Aston Villa v Manchester City (Sunday 10 am. Same day delay Fox Soccer Channel 1 pm). An interesting proposition for me as Manchester City looked lost on Thursday while Villa is looking like they’ve played a few games that mattered already (which they have). If Manchester City looked that bad at home, I hate to see what City looks like on the road. Aston Villa 2 Manchester City 0.

Everton v Blackburn Rovers (Saturday Fox Soccer Channel 10 am, Wednesday 1 pm). I honestly just can’t get a read on this game. Injuries to Everton and Ince’s first game league game in charge for Blackburn have had me tempted to use insurance on this game. But the more I think about it, the more I see draw. Everton 1 Blackburn Rovers 1.

West Ham United v Wigan Athletic (Saturday 10 am. Same day delay Fox Soccer Channel 2:30 pm, Monday 1 pm). To me these are two evenly matched sides, but in my mind West Ham have the better subs. That will make the difference in my mind. West Ham United 1 Wigan Athletic 0.

Chelsea v Portsmouth (Sunday Setanta Sports 8:30 am and 5 pm, Monday 6 pm, Wednesday 12:45 pm). Two sides that are still adjusting to the moves of the summer. It’s going to be tight and it’s going to be close but I see Chelsea taking it in the end. Chelsea 2 Portsmouth 1.

Insurance Game of the Week: Hull City v Fulham (Saturday 10 am. Same day delay Setanta Sports 2:15 pm, Sunday 11:30 am, Monday 4:30 am and 2:45 pm, Thursday 12:45 pm). This game has Derby County v Portsmouth from the open of last season written all over it. Fulham should win it, but I see Hull City pulling out a draw. Hull City 1 Fulham 1.

May we see an exciting weekend! I’ll be doing this throughout the season and keeping track of how well I do. Hopefully it’s just a little better than I did last season.

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The Big Four and the Push for the Title

13 August 2008

Well I first off would like to say what a joy it's been for writing these previews. But alas they must come to an end and tonight I conclude with the final four teams. If you've read up until now, you know I see the big four ending in the top four spots. So how do I see it playing out, let's take a look.

Number 4: Chelsea
Biggest Ins: Deco (can play on the left or in the central midfield, though more comfortable on the left), Jose Bosingwa (someone who is expected to be the season long starter at right back).
Biggest Outs: Claude Makelele (even at his age, could control the midfield and is still an excellent holding midfielder).

Toughest Month
: January. Two road matches against the big four sandwiched between two very winnable home games. The start the month at Old Trafford and end the month at Anfield, but their two home games in between see them play Stoke City and Middlesbrough. Oh and let's also not forget about the FA Cup Third Round.
Easiest Month: February. Host Hull City and Wigan Athletic between a road trip to Aston Villa.

Five Questions I Have With Chelsea

1) Can their forwards stay healthy for an entire season? To add to that, do they have a season long right midfielder on their squad? This side was injured a lot last season and need to stay healthy to have any prayer of pushing for the title. I know some of the issues last season also have to do with the African Cup of Nations, but injuries hurt them as well.
2) How does this side adjust to the tactics of Luis Felipe Scolari and will Scolari be able to adapt to the schedule of a club side after so many years at the international level?
3) Is Chelsea's midfield the narrowest midfield in the Premier League? Can Florent Malouda be successful out wide and can Shaun Wright-Phillips be effective on the other wing?
4) Will Chelsea be able to close out wins and not see them turn into draws? It was borderline on ridiculous to see how games would end for Chelsea last season, they have to hold off opposition late if they want a chance to think about the title.
5) How will Petr Cech's mental makeup be after the shocker from Euro 2008?

My Ultimate Reality
: This is one loaded squad and I personally feel they will be held back by Scolari and his tactics. Everyone who knows me knows I bleed Chelsea through and through. However I have been very outspoken of his hiring since day one. I think his tactics will end up proving too rigid and are well beyond their sell by date. The one thing that has me concerned about this team is the number of games they have played over the course of the last few years. I think that is what is going to undue them this season. I'm expecting a season of frustration, and I surely hope I'm wrong because as a fan I will not like being a part of it.

Number 3: Arsenal

Biggest Ins: Samir Nasri (Can play anywhere in the midfield and be effective in doing so and can also play up front).
Biggest Outs: Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini (key contributors in the midfield).

Toughest Month: May. Probably the toughest close to the season, and that's with hosting Stoke City at the end of it. They start out at Portsmouth before hosting Chelsea. If that isn't enough, they have a trip to Manchester United on the second to last weekend of the season.
Easiest Month: August. Host West Brom before going to Fulham. They end the month hosting Newcastle United.

Five Questions I Have With Arsenal
1) If Eduardo Da Silva returns this season, how effective will he be? I say he ought to stay out until he is 100 percent certain he can go all out and rushing back could cost him some of his quality of life later on.
2) Is the injury bug going to hit them like it seems to have already hit them before the season begins? Fabregas and Senderos have tweaked hamstrings, Kolo Toure has a hip injury, Diabi is working through a thigh problem and Nasri is trying to get over a little knee knock. While Nasri and Toure should be okay for the season opener, it's going to be these little injuries that could cost them over the whole of the season.
3) Will Theo Walcott rise to the expectations Arsene Wenger has put out for him in the press this season?
4) How long will it take for Samir Nasri to adjust to life in the Premier League? Having Arsene Wenger will help him with that.
5) Will this team try to grind out results late in games?

My Ultimate Reality
: Beautiful football aside, their season last year screeched to a halt the moment Eduardo Da Silva was injured. However it became a calling card for them, not being able to get results when it appeared they had it in the bag. This team is really going to have to draw on all the experience of one Arsene Wenger, and on the experience of what could have been last season. While they lost key pieces in the midfield, I think Nasri should be able to fit in just fine. However the little injuries they already have could be what cost them in the end as it seems in my experience of watching any sport when one or two start developing little injuries, others seem to follow. I think this team has a chance at fighting for the title, but will probably be out of it come the beginning of April.

Number 2: Liverpool

Biggest Ins: Robbie Keane (someone who can partner with Fernando Torres) and Andrea Dossena (effective player on the left side either at the back or in the midfield).
Biggest Outs: The only real big loss of note is Peter Crouch, but it wasn't like he was going to crack into the starting eleven with the formation Rafa Benitez was using.

Toughest Month
: December. At Manchester City where they went nil nil last season before hosting Wigan in the only winnable game of the month. They then go to Stamford Bridge before ending the month hosting Portsmouth.
Easiest Month: April. Only one difficult challenge. They start at Fulham before hosting Blackburn. They then host Arsenal before ending the month going to Hull City.

Five Questions I Have With Liverpool

1) Will Fernando Torres have a better second season in the Premier League than the first? If not, is Robbie Keane the guy to pick up the slack?
2) While only losing four games last season, they drew thirteen times. Can they turn draws into wins when things just aren't going their way?
3) Does this team have the least amount of depth amongst the 'big four'?
4) Will we see Rafa the Rotator again this season?
5) What will be this team's first priority this season? If it isn't the Premier League, could Benitez be out of a job come season's end?

My Ultimate Reality
: They may not have gotten their man in Gareth Barry (yet), but I don't know if he was really all that needed. I don't see much of a trade off between Alonso and Barry. While in hunt of Barry, Rafa may have accidentally done something right and that is get rid of some of the surplus requirements at the club. That will prevent him from making whole sale changes it seemed like Benitez would do between games. I don't think it will take too long for Mascherano and Babel to readjust to the club once they get back from Olympic duty. Really in the end, Rafa knows he better put all his energy into winning the Premier League title. If they are out of it early, and also out of the Champions League, I could see Hicks and Gillette cutting ties with Rafa and starting anew. However I see them making a deep run into the Premier League season with a chance at the title but falling just short.

Number 1: Manchester United

Biggest Ins: Sir Alex said he was only going to bring in one guy this summer. It hasn't happened yet, but Berbatov has been mention since it seems the beginning of the rumor mill this summer.
Biggest Outs: Gerald Pique (not much of a loss really as he was surplus requirement at the back).

Toughest Month
: September. At Anfield and Chelsea before ending the month against a little bit of a bogey side in Bolton. While it's at Old Trafford, they seem to give Manchester United a tougher game than most teams do.
Easiest Month: December. Host Sunderland before their toughest trip of the month at Tottenham. They then host Wigan. The 48 hours of madness see them travel to Stoke City before hosting Middlesbrough.

Five Questions I Have With Manchester United

1) What kind of form will Manchester United have without Cristiano Ronaldo? Will they have to rely on him as much as they did last season? And will Ronaldo
2) Will Nani continue the progression he showed through last season? Will Anderson start that same progression this season?
3) I have to give Sir Alex credit for saying he needs to define Wayne Rooney's role this season, what will it ultimately be?
4) Can Manchester United secure the services of Dimitar Berbatov? If that happens, could we just declare the title over?
5) Can Edwin van der Sar have another season like last year?

My Ultimate Reality
: Sir Alex Ferguson knows when to not mess with a good thing and has identified their only major need and is working to secure that need. If they get Berbatov, I don't think the title chase is close. However if they don't get Berbatov, it's going to be interesting to see who scores the goals. We know Ronaldo will score them when he gets back, however it's going to be interesting to see how he's marked this year. Carlos Tevez can score and Rooney can if he's played in position to. The problem is Rooney has played so many positions of late I think he's confused and Sir Alex has to quickly define his role this year. The only thing that could possibly put them behind the eight ball is if injuries pile up, something that really didn't happen until Vidic was hurt towards the end of last season. When it's all said and done, I expect them to have the title secured by the end of April into the first game of May.

Now may the season begin! If you want to see all twenty previews in one location, link here.

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About This Blog

Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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