Jacksonville NASL: Does the Commissioner Want You to Watch Another League if You Don't Agree?

06 October 2013

The supporter groups of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies protest NASL Commissioner. Photo Credit, Chris Arnold.
Some supporters groups are finally fed up with Bill Peterson and his leadership of the NASL. After a flash point Thursday with the Tampa Bay Rowdies supporters group, they put their frustrations into action.

Before I get to the events that led to the actions at Lockhart Stadium during the Florida Derby, let's look at the man who is the commissioner of the North American Soccer League. Bill Peterson is a man who is use to failed ventures. According to the league's bio on Peterson, he has served as COO of the United Football League (A league full of so many problems it actually folded in season), and lasted less than a year as President of the poorly thought out NFL Europe (Despite being long serving GM of the Amsterdam Admirals). Soccer wise, he spent six years as Senior Vice President of AEG Sports and Managing Director of the Home Depot Center. Looking at all the various roles he's had over his years, it reads like a 'I'm not good enough for this, so I'm going to go do that'. He seems a man who can create a vision, but the man who cannot see any vision out.

Upon his arrival to the NASL, he immediately cut critical members inside the NASL front office. While costs need to be curtailed, replacing known soccer guys with people who were with Peterson during the dying days of the UFL is shoddy business at best. The current PR Director was an abject failure in steering the UFL's narrative during the days prior to closing up shop. The current Director of Operations was a man so non existent he didn't register on anyone's radar as a man who could conduct serious business. It doesn't stop there:
* He did not reverse a poorly thought out decision that allowed the New York Cosmos to be Soccer Bowl eligible despite only playing the fall half of the 2013 season. If the season was to end today, they would play Atlanta in the Soccer Bowl.
* In July, he approved expansion into the Oklahoma City market. Rumors have circulated (though it must be stressed unconfirmed) that the group accepted from Oklahoma City was rejected by USL and their tougher admission standards. There has some minor speculation that Peterson receives a hefty bonus for every expansion team the NASL approves. Again that's also unconfirmed.
* After an incident on September 15th in Edmonton that saw the majority of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers' coaching staff ejected, it took three days for Peterson to say anything publicly on the situation. During that time, Peterson did not speak on the subject despite numerous media inquiries on the matter until issuing the suspension.
* On September 20th, it was reported on the Ultras Alive Podcast, following a Fort Lauderdale Strikers fan forum that Bill Peterson admitted to a journalist that he had never read the NASL Rules and Procedures. It's a pretty damning admission that the head of the league has never read up on the procedures of the league he runs.

While fans have felt they could at least engage Peterson, it could be said that all changed after Tampa Bay's trip to New York. The fixture had been rearranged, and some fans were unable to get in on Tampa Bay's group rate to make the trip north. While those who had committed early to the group rate were okay, many others had to pay the balance out of pocket.

During the game there was a fan incident that took place at the end of the game in New York between the Rowdies and Cosmos. Depending on who you ask will determine who and what started the incident. on Monday, Charlie Cole, the leader of Ralph's Mob (the Tampa Bay supporters group), attempted to reach out to Bill Peterson in order see if any actions would be forthcoming in wake of that incident. Those calls went unanswered, and on Thursday sent a tweet to Bill Peterson, who then not only sent the reply to the wrong account (the account in question should have been @speedcake), sent the following as his official league response. The first bit has been proven to be an outright lie, the second bit is simply inexcusable for any leadership of a flailing organization.
The tweet that has since been deleted caused an immediate uproar among the supporters groups in Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale. They all knew something had to be done, but what to do still remained in question. Some brought up the idea of a banner, which seemed to be immediately accepted as an idea. But others wanted to go one further and stage a mass walkout on the game. That brought about some mixed reactions among the three supporters groups.

Almost immediately after realizing how stupid the above mentioned tweet was, Peterson had already tried to go into damage control mode among the varying supporters groups. Those who were against the walkout did not believe what Cole was saying to be an accurate version of events that led to the above mentioned tweet. However, it didn't take long to convince them with actual visual evidence that Peterson's version of events were a lie. Once Cole was able to convince them Peterson was selling them a bill of goods, it didn't take long for all three supporter groups in attendance to agree to a mass walkout. The fact that all three groups agreed to do anything in unison is a feat in and of itself. While most of the banter between the Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay is generally in good fun, they have had plenty of heated moments in recent times.

Despite attempts from Andrew Nestor (CEO & GM of the Tampa Bay Rowdies) and Rishi Sehgal (Director of Business Development and Legal Affairs for the NASL) to stop the walkout from happening, 15 minutes into the Florida Derby, all three supporters groups emptied out. Once they got out of the field of play, some chanted expletives about Bill Peterson to let him know they were not happy with what he said. After 15 minutes, some returned to watch the remainder of the game while others simply left.

While I think a sustained chant of "Peterson Out" would have been a much better course of action than using expletives, I can empathize with those fans. With Jacksonville getting a team in 2015, I have to seriously question if Peterson is the right man running the NASL. If his reaction to very passionate fans that spend their hard earned money is to tell them not to watch, then he doesn't need to be the position of power he is. There needs to be a flat out apology written for the NASL website, he needs to go on every public forum and media that will still have him and offer a heartfelt regret. Anything that smells of bull will be quickly pounced on...just like his lies were Thursday night.

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Premier League Preview: Curious Tests Await the Manchester Sides

04 October 2013

Before I begin, I want to apologize for the lack of posting over the last week. I've been a little bit under the weather. I cannot promise normal service next week either as life has gotten in the way of what I love to do. I will try and get something up this weekend, but I can't promise it. If you want my thoughts on the games I can follow as they happen, check out my Twitter feed throughout the weekend. With that said, onto my thoughts and predictions on this weekend's fixtures.

Kickoff times are EDT. PLET stands for Premier League Extra Time. All games available on NBC Live Extra. Check your provider for availability.

Manchester City v Everton (Saturday 7:45 am, NBCSN): I expect Joe Hart to start this weekend. Another saving grace for the hosts is that Gareth Barry cannot play for Everton this weekend. With the form Barkley and Lukaku are in, I can't pick Manchester City to win. However, I see Everton's unbeaten run continuing with a draw. Prediction: Manchester City 1 Everton 1

Liverpool v Crystal Palace (Saturday 10:00 am, NBCSN): This could be the easiest preview I write. With the Sturridge to Suarez combination already in perfect sync, it's going to be an extremely long afternoon for Ian Holloway's side. I see no way Palace score. Prediction: Liverpool 4 Crystal Palace 0

Hull City v Aston Villa (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): I see Stephen Quinn replacing Robbie Brady for Hull City, while Benteke is still out for Aston Villa. I expect this to be a stalemate of the ugliest sort. I do expect Aston Villa though to get the breakthrough and get another three away points this season. Prediction: Hull City 0 Aston Villa 1

Cardiff City v Newcastle United (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): With Newcastle having faced back to back 3-2 defeats, they must be hoping Cabaye can play from the start. His inclusion made the difference against Everton, and I expect it to be the difference here. David Marshall has had a bit of a blinding two weeks. However, I don't expect that to continue this weekend. Prediction: Cardiff City 1 Newcastle United 2

Fulham v Stoke City (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): If Fulham cannot beat Stoke City at home this weekend, then I will join the ever growing chorus asking for Martin Jol to be sacked. I have a bad feeling for Fulham fans I'll be joining that chorus by noon on Saturday. Fulham have key players injured (Hughes, and Parker come to mind), while Stoke City only have Walters to worry about. I expect this to be another dodgy game. Stoke City are still in transition, but Fulham are in full-fledged free fall. While it won't be easy, I do expect the score line to look a little more comfortable than the 90 minutes will reflect. Prediction: Fulham 0 Stoke City 2

Sunderland v Manchester United (Saturday 12:30 pm, NBCSN): It just continues to get worse for Manchester United. Back to back losses, matched with a poorly played draw midweek, see the visitors needing a desperate three points just to kick start their season. While it may be quaint to say 'at least they are playing the side that are bottom of the table', Sunderland played with a fight last week that hasn't been seen all season. If Kevin Ball wants to be a serious candidate for the job on a permanent basis, it wouldn't hurt to get a result in this game. Unfortunately I just don't see that happening. In a sense, I expect this to be a repeat of last week's fixture. Sunderland will get forward, but Manchester United will get enough goals to win. Prediction: Sunderland 1 Manchester United 2

Norwich City v Chelsea (Sunday 8:30 am, NBCSN): While this game is on the road, I could see this playing out almost identically to how Chelsea's opening fixture against Hull City played out. By the time Norwich City start to play football, this game could easily already be over. Jose Mourinho has finally woken up to what Juan Mata brings to the squad, but he'll wish Samuel Eto'o would play to the non scratching levels Fernando Torres had been lately. Prediction: Norwich City 0 Chelsea 2

Southampton v Swansea City (Sunday 8:30 am, PLET): Southampton have been a dark horse this season, with only bad performance to their name. Swansea City are slowly adapting positively to their new European scheduling. Southampton's fixtures slowly get more competitive from here, so it will be curious to see if they their defense can keep up their greedy goals against record (only conceded two goals so far this season). Unfortunately, I don't see that happening here. This is a Swansea side that can score goals; it will just be a matter of if Southampton can keep up? I expect this to be the most exciting game of the weekend. Prediction: Southampton 2 Swansea City 2

West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal (Sunday 11:00 am, NBCSN): What a perfect opponent for West Bromwich Albion to have a major letdown against. Arsenal is flying high, and with a makeshift front line, this is going to be one long early evening for the hosts. Ozil has taken to the Arsenal way like a glove, and I expect him to have easier than normal distribution. Long story short, I see this over with by halftime. Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1 Arsenal 3

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United (Sunday 11:00 am, PLET): Tottenham may have a few injuries, but with Andy Carroll not in West Ham's lineup, I don't see them scoring against Tottenham's brick wall defense. The only question I have is how many Spurs will score themselves? I see one in each half. Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2 West Ham United 0

These are my thoughts/predictions on this weekend. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.

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Premier League Predictions: Tottenham/Chelsea Highlights Weekend

27 September 2013

Kickoff times are EDT. PLET stands for Premier League Extra Time. All games available on NBC Live Extra. Check your provider for availability.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea (Saturday 7:45 am, NBCSN): By 9:40 on Saturday morning, we will know if either one of these sides are serious title contenders. Spurs defense has been rock solid, their attack has had no problems getting chances on goal, but their conversion ratio is pretty low. Chelsea have been all flair with no substance early on in Jose Mourinho's return and have yet to have a real result to hang their hat on. Let us also not forget this is a match that AVB wants to win in the worst possible way. I can promise you this game will not play out like the 2-4 Chelsea win last season in one of the craziest games I've ever listened to on the radio. Expect Jose to set out exactly like he did against Manchester United and counter whenever they feel it necessary. It will be curious to see if Jose gives Mata a start in this game, and if he uses Torres or Eto'o up top. When it's all said and done, I expect a goal to be scored. However, until Spurs can prove they can get results with regularity against the sides that the pundits consider title contenders, I have to tip Chelsea to steal three points at the lane. Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 0 Chelsea 1

Aston Villa v Manchester City (Saturday 10:00 am, NBCSN): You could almost say that Manchester City is fortunate to be getting Aston Villa when they are. With no Christian Benteke, we will see what Libor Kozak is made of. Since Aguero and Silva having minor injuries for Manchester City, they are going to be saved for Bayern Munich in the Champions League. It's also a benefit for City that Eden Dzeko has a better goal scoring record on the road. Manchester City have flat out been awful away from home early on this season, however they picked the right opponent to get things back on track. I expect City to get an early goal here, and struggle to put this game away. Prediction: Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 1

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): At least David Moyes shut a few people up after beating Liverpool midweek. This won't finish 5-5 like last season's finale did. Could this be a repeat of United/Palace a few weeks ago? It is very possible, just without the red card. Either way, this is going to be an ugly affair at Old Trafford. Prediction: Manchester United 2 West Bromwich Albion 0

Southampton v Crystal Palace (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): Southampton have to be one of the oddest teams I've seen this season. One week they can create with the best clubs, and in other weeks they couldn't a chance if their lives depended on it. Crystal Palace has to quit with this mentality of 'just hanging on'. So far it has failed. If Southampton is persistent enough on Saturday, they should have no problems getting all three points in a blowout. Prediction: Southampton 4 Crystal Palace 1

Hull City v West Ham United (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): After late heroics last week against Newcastle United, this game has that classic 'post big win disappointment' written all over it. I expect West Ham to defend much better than they did last week, and Hull City struggle mightily to convert their chances. This will be 'fun' to watch but for all the wrong reasons. Prediction: Hull City 0 West Ham United 0

Fulham v Cardiff City (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): After this game, we will if Fulham have any hopes of getting away from the relegation fight, or if Cardiff City were just one hit wonders. While I don't expect Martin Jol's job to be in jeopardy yet, if Fulham find a way to lose this game, his feet could very well be getting hot. The problem is, without Maarten Stekelenburg, I don't see how Fulham can win this game. If Cardiff can be a little more direct, they might get their first win since they upset Manchester City. Needless to say, don't expect this game to make many fans out of the beautiful game. Prediction: Fulham 0 Cardiff City 1

Swansea City v Arsenal (Saturday 12:30 pm, NBC): This fixture has been tricky for Arsenal to navigate since Swansea City was promoted into the Premier League. With Walcott out, and fitness tests needed for Ramsey and Flamini it could be an interesting midfield Wenger has to put out. Swansea City, League Cup aside, have looked progressively better since their second half performance against Liverpool. I have a sneaky suspicion this could be the most entertaining game of the weekend. However, that's not really saying much. Expect Ozil to continue his sublime distribution, and for the Michu/Bony partnership to again be lively. Call me crazy, but I see honors even after this one. Prediction: Swansea City 1 Arsenal 1

Stoke City v Norwich City (Sunday 8:30 am, NBCSN): I almost don't want to say anything about this game out of protest. This is going to be 90 dire minutes of football. However, if Norwich City can somehow get the first goal here, Stoke could be in a little trouble. I will be curious to see how Gary Hooper performs. He has to be better what Van Wolfswinkel has done. While I'll be up for it, I'd rather sleep in. Prediction: Stoke City 0 Norwich City 1

Sunderland v Liverpool (Sunday 11:00 am, NBCSN): The Stadium of Light has not stopped the party since news broke Sunday that Paolo di Canio was sacked (talk about dumb logical luck on my part guessing that). Unfortunately, Luis Suarez makes his Premier League debut in this game. While Coutinho's injury has taken a little sting out of Liverpool's attack, I expect Suarez to remind the Premier League why Liverpool want him in the squad. Sunderland will be scrappy, but they just aren't good enough to get a result in a game like this. Prediction: Sunderland 1 Liverpool 3

Everton v Newcastle United (Monday 3:00 pm, NBCSN): Don't be surprised if the two who helped make a difference for Everton last week start this week. I do wonder how Newcastle United will react to their loss against Hull City. Unfortunately for the visitors, Lukaku is out to prove a point, and he'll make sure Everton get all three. Prediction: Everton 2 Newcastle United 1

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Sunday Thoughts: David Moyes Big Game Pattern, Tottenham, Manchester City, Ozil and More

22 September 2013

Here are my thoughts on a telling Sunday of Premier League action.

Three Big Games Is Pattern Enough
You could half forgive Moyes for the setup against Chelsea since Chelsea set up to finish the game 0-0. You can't forgive how lethargic Manchester United played against Liverpool. After watching the Manchester Derby, the set ups now show a pattern that should make any Manchester United fan seriously question their manager.

With Robin Van Persie injured, one would assume that starting Shinji Kagawa would almost be automatic. Instead, Kagawa was an unused substitute in the 18. In the three big games Manchester United have had in the league this season, Kagawa has not seen a second of action. Sir Alex Ferguson saw his worth of both busting up play and his ability to link the midfield to either Rooney or Robin Van Persie. The value that brings to a side was sorely missing today.

Instead David Moyes played two players who looked completely out of his depth. While Fellaini may have had his better games for Everton against Manchester City, he looked like a clueless midfielder who couldn't connect a pass or track back fast enough on City counter attacks. Both Ferguson's and Moyes's fascination with playing Ashley Young has become absurd bordering on insanity. I hate to put this bluntly, but Ashley Young is not a player that is of the caliber a top team should have. Young isolated himself too often, gave away the ball more often than he distributed it and generally looked disinterested on the pitch.

It has to be asked of everyone with the exception of Wayne Rooney; does anyone at Manchester United care anymore? Wayne Rooney was the only player on the pitch that looked like he wanted to win. Even with RVP on the pitch I don't think Manchester United had enough to get goals. I'm convinced the only reason United even got their lone consolation goal was because Manchester City too so long to sub Aguero out late, Wayne Rooney had time to decide what he was going to do with that free kick.

One final scary thought for Manchester United is looking at the bench, there is no impact player that can come off and not be treated as a like for like sub. David Moyes failed to address that this summer, and it has shown in their three major games at the start of this season. Had they played Kagawa in any of those matches, there's a good chance they get more than 1 point from the 9 on offer.

The start of the season did Manchester United no favors. However, David Moyes's approach to treat the start of the season like he did every season at Everton is winning him no additional fans. It's okay to start slowly at a club with limited resources and finish around the Europa League places. It's not okay to start slowly at Manchester United, when trophies are the expectation and not the norm. Since the Premier League has gone to 38 games, no side has won the title after getting 7 points from the first 5 fixtures. While it isn't a league fixture, the League Cup tie against Liverpool on Wednesday just became a must win for Manchester United.

Other Thoughts from Today's Action
* Today could be a defining day for Tottenham Hotspur. In years past, Spurs would have either drawn 0-0, or lose 1-0. The late substitution to bring on Lewis Holtby was a major factor in Tottenham getting a late goal. He helped shut Cardiff down late in the midfield and keep the play in Tottenham's attacking half. The only concern I have for Tottenham right now is that they need too many chances before they score. Spurs can get away with that when they play sides like Cardiff City, but they didn't when they played Arsenal. They might not get away with it either if Jose Mourinho is motivated next weekend.

* Three names stand out to me for Manchester City today. Vincent Kompany's return was simply impressive. He shut down Manchester United through the middle. Samir Nasri had one of his better performances in a Manchester City shirt. Finally, when United was starting to make some minor waves forward, James Milner's substitution immediately shut that down. It should also be said that once Manchester City got a grip of this game, they didn't let it go.

* I feel for David Marshall. For 92 minutes, he was simply flawless. Marshall's one mistake was over committing to the byline cross late, which allowed Paulinho to back heel the ball into an empty net.

* Ozil continues to prove his worth for Arsenal, creating all three Arsenal goals from set pieces today. While that's good for the time being, someone else needs to help him out in the distribution for goals department. Arsenal's reaction on a whole after giving up the equalizer was also worth noting. It is already improved over opening day. Furthermore, it was greatly improved over years past. It was almost a full circle moment to see Ramsey score against Stoke City as well.

* Swansea City didn't have to do much to get two early half goals to see Crystal Palace off. I know it's early in the season, but is Crystal Palace already counting the minutes before they're back in the Championship?

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Saturday Thoughts: 2-3's the Hard Way (Lukaku, Baines and Aluko), Chelsea's Midfield and More

21 September 2013

After a curious Saturday of Premier League action, here are my thoughts.

Lukaku, Barkley and Baines Make Big Difference for Everton
After a first half that saw Everton look clueless against a West Ham side that pressured whenever Everton had possession of the ball, one sub and three players made sure Everton left Upton Park with all three points.

The halftime substitution of Lukaku and McCarthy immediately changed the tune of the match. Lukaku was able to hold the ball up, get West Ham players to commit, and distribute effectively. It also helped to that Ross Barkley was finally able to get space to earn not one, but two very attacking free kicks. Both times, Leighton Baines made West Ham pay with pinpoint accurate free kicks that Jussi Jaaskelainen was a mere spectator to.

Where this match really turned though was the moment Mark Noble was sent off. After being beaten by Barkley in midfield, Noble decided to do all the work himself. Instead of trusting his defense to take care of his mistake, Noble reached in and took Barkley out from behind. Having been booked 14 minutes earlier it was a challenge that was unnecessary. There was cover behind Noble, and he should have known it. Instead of being the man responsible for possibly giving West Ham all three points, he became the root cause of giving Everton all three.

The game winner came from Lukaku's awareness to exploit the hole in the midfield defensive line where Mark Noble was playing. Mirallas did an exceptional job to keep the ball in play and get the cross in. What Lukaku did here was amazing, because not many forwards today would have gone for the ball with the commitment Lukaku did here. Getting clipped after making contact, Lukaku didn't even realize he had scored the game winner (and admitted it to in his post match interview). What was even smarter by the man on loan from Chelsea is the fact he knew where the space would be to exploit.

West Ham screwed themselves in this one. They had plenty of opportunities in the first half to make Everton pay for their wastefulness and didn't take advantage of them. Everton kept their ace in the hole until needed, and Lukaku proved his worth. Roberto Martinez may have had to win ugly, but he's slowly starting to show he knows what to do with this squad. I bet he's also thankful to have kept a hold of Leighton Baines.

Sone Aluko Ruins the Loic Remy Show
Twice, Hull City came back twice from Loic Remy goals, before Sone Aluko's perfect side volley gave Hull City a remarkable 3-2 victory at St. James Park.

Loic Remy didn't have that special of a game, but Remy showed why he was a wanted man on loan. His positional sense put Newcastle United up on two separate occasions. The first came from a mishit by Cisse, and the second came off a blocked Cabaye effort that went right to Remy's feet. Both times McGregor was out of position for what became rather routine goals. Though he scored twice, Remy will be more remembered today for his miss late that would have given Newcastle United an unlikely point.

What I will say about Hull City's performance today was that when the chips were down, they found a way to not only outwork Newcastle and create easy opportunities, but get unmarked opportunities. Brady had plenty of space for Hull City's first equalizer, and easily slid the ball between Krul's legs. Elmohamady's second equalizer came off a perfect free kick run that saw him with two yards of space between any Newcastle defender. As the second half wore on, Huddlestone and Livermore ran the show in midfield, and Alan Pardew had no response off the bench to change that.

The game winner is my candidate for goal of the month. George Boyd made easy work of a soft Newcastle back line and soon found his way to the end line. With all the space in the world, Boyd spotted another unmarked Tiger insider the penalty area, Sone Aluko. With a perfect pass, Boyd teed up Aluko on a side volley. Tim Krul doesn't have time to react as the ball goes past him off the inside of the post and in. It was a special goal to cap off a win that Hull City deserved.

Steve Bruce is right when he says that they finally converted their chances, but Hull City need to be more consistent in doing so. Newcastle should be ashamed of their shambolic defending. However, this day belongs to the Aluko household. Not only did Sone score for Hull City, his sister Eniola also scored for the England women in World Cup qualifying.

Chelsea's Midfield Outlasts Fulham
It was dull, boring, and at time downright ugly to watch at times, but Chelsea finally outlasted a fatigued Fulham in the second half to win 2-0.

Fulham had Chelsea's number in the first half, cutting off Chelsea's attacks at every opportunity. In fact, had Darren Bent not gone right at Petr Cech in the 12th minute, Fulham could have easily been 0-1 to the good. Unfortunately for Fulham, that was a good as it got. Chelsea started to erode Fulham's fitness. While it didn't show on the opener (blame Stockdale for that cluster in front of goal), it did show after the hour. Fulham couldn't keep a hold of the ball, and Chelsea were able to pass through them at will. While it took a set piece to put Chelsea in front 2-0, Fulham simply couldn't keep up with Chelsea's movement.

Jose Mourinho can say all he wants that he is trying to change the philosophy of the team, but I hear those comments and think they are nonsense. I read those comments as code for 'I don't have a clue what my best eleven are on the park, and until I can do so as well as say I told you so after the fact, I'm going to use that line'. Goal aside, Oscar was missing and influential for large periods of the game. The one player who I did think was effective for Chelsea today was Mikel. Not only did he get off the goal snide, his placement on the pitch shut down Fulham attacks that looked like they might go places.

At least Chelsea didn't go walkabout on that Fulham corner in first half stoppage time.

Other Thoughts
* Liverpool were simply too predictable against Southampton today. Steven Gerrard was rather muted and Daniel Surridge just didn't get enough good service to make a difference. Also of concern for Liverpool is the fact they have yet to score a second half Premier League goal this season. It might be a good thing Suarez is coming back this week from suspension. At least with him on the park, he should add an extra layer to Liverpool's attack.

* I tried talking myself into believing Dejan Lovren goal should have been waved off. However, as I looked at the replay, it was actually Daniel Agger who first went the wrong way round Lovren, and then grabbing the goal scorer. It was well done by Lovren to shake off the defending to get enough power on that ball to cross the goal line.

* What Paolo Di Canio did after Sunderland was embarrassed by West Brom could almost be considered normal behavior for him. It was still pathetic bordering on insane. Di Canio better keep his chin up considering his next two opponents are Liverpool and Manchester United. Is it the perfect schedule for an early season sacking?

These were my thoughts on today's action. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.

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Premier League Preview & Predictions Round 5: Weekend Highlighted by Manchester and West London Derbies

20 September 2013

Kickoff times are EDT. PLET stands for Premier League Extra Time. All games available live on NBC Live Extra. Check your provider for availability.

Norwich City v Aston Villa (Saturday 7:45 am, NBCSN): This just feels like a no brainer. Norwich City has an obvious hole in their defense that Christian Benteke should be able to exploit, but eventually his run of goals has to come to an end. Norwich City also has a problem up front. Ricky van Wolfswinkel hasn't settled, and Johan Elmander isn't exactly a bundle of goals. If Gary Hooper can see some time, he might make a difference, but I expect it to be minimal. For the early kickoff on Saturday, it might be wise to stay in bed. While this one will be cagey, I expect it to be honors even. Prediction: Norwich City 1 Aston Villa 1

Liverpool v Southampton (Saturday 10:00 am, NBCSN): This looks like the perfect match for Liverpool to work out a few things. With Coutinho out, Liverpool will need to work out another plan of attack. Southampton has some major goal scoring problems, and Liverpool's defense won't make it any easier on them. With Daniel Sturridge on a fine vein of form, alongside the knowledge that this is the last game Luis Suarez is suspended, this game could easily be decided before halftime. I expect that to be the case. Prediction: Liverpool 2 Southampton 0

West Ham United v Everton (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): I guess the question for West Ham is a simple one; can Jussi Jaaskelainen do it again? Lukaku should make his debut for the side that took Chelsea out last weekend, and should make an immediate impact. I bet he's happy to be away from a side full of dysfunction. At least West Ham United will have to push for a goal at some point because that's the only way they will decide to make an effort at goal. Prediction: West Ham United 1 Everton 2

Newcastle United v Hull City (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): Hull City have a few key pieces missing (Taylor, Koren, Figueroa, McShane), while Newcastle will only miss Gutierrez. As long as Hull have Huddlestone and Livermore in the center of the park, they'll keep it close. However, I see Ben Arfa carrying Newcastle to three points. Prediction: Newcastle United 1 Hull City 0

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland (Saturday 10:00 am, PLET): Is it ever too early in the season to call a game a major six pointer? So far, these two are proving the answer to that is no. Paolo Di Canio has made every wrong move so far for the visitors, and I don't see that changing here. Steve Clark will have Sessegnon available, and with wanting to put one over on the old club fresh on his mind, it's just enough of a difference for me to believe West Brom get all three points in an ugly one. Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1 Sunderland 0

Chelsea v Fulham (Saturday 12:30 pm, NBCSN): Well Jose, you've become the butt of some very true jokes based upon the last three Chelsea performances. Between throwing players under the bus, not playing your absolute best 11, and then outright lying that you were the better side. If I know Jose, he's going to think this Fulham fixture will be a walk in the park, and the players are going to do exactly what they've done the last three games. I'm going to put this as mildly as I can: if Juan Mata starts for Chelsea, they win. If Mata doesn't, which is what I expect, expect Fulham to hang around, and steal a point at Stamford Bridge. And yes, if Chelsea does somehow win without Mata playing, you all have carte blanche to make a mockery out of me. Prediction: Chelsea 1 Fulham 1

Arsenal v Stoke City (Sunday 8:30 am, CNBC): Our first CNBC fixture of the season could be an emotional one for Aaron Ramsey. Arsenal is flying high in the league, and I expect a Ramsey to finish the circle by taking a few Ozil passes and finishing at least two of them. I just don't see how Stoke City keeps this close or interesting. Prediction: Arsenal 3 Stoke City 0

Crystal Palace v Swansea City (Sunday 8:30 am, PLET): Could this be a case of Swansea City having the post European blues? Not with this Crystal Palace side. I get what Ian Holloway is trying to do with these players but they are not talented enough to execute it on a consistent basis. This could end up being the most entertaining game of the weekend, and I'm not entirely sure for what reason. With Bony and Michu starting to click, I see Swansea seeing this out. Prediction: Crystal Palace 1 Swansea City 3

Cardiff City v Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday 11:00 am, PLET): Could lightning strike twice for the Bluebirds? Tottenham have a couple of fitness questions in midfield, Cardiff have none. I'm going to answer no to that question for one simple reason: Soldado is due for a breakout game. Cardiff City doesn't have the steadiest of defenses. The biggest difference between Manchester City then and Tottenham on Sunday will be Spurs back four is solid and will frustrate the hosts. Prediction: Cardiff City 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Manchester City v Manchester United (Sunday 11:00 am, NBCSN): I guess the question is how boring is this going to be? David Moyes has already proven he has no guts to actually make a go in these games, and Manchester City appears to have little bite to break down a side with the talent of Manchester United. If Kagawa starts for United, then Manchester United will have two players on the pitch that will make enough of a difference to win this. If Kagawa doesn't start, expect another nil draw. I do expect Kagawa to start, and the pair of Rooney and Kagawa to make Manchester City's afternoon miserable. Prediction: Manchester City 0 Manchester United 2

These are my thoughts on the weekend to come. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.

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5 Things: Everton Outplay Chelsea, Dikgacoi's Red, Ozil Impresses, Altidore Robbed, Villa Crashing, Newcastle Rising

14 September 2013

The Premier League returned on Saturday and left us with plenty to talk about in its wake.

Everton Played Chelsea at Their Own Game and Caught Them Out Doing so
When I previewed this game, I completely forgot about the fact that over the years, Everton have been the one side that has somehow on a semi-regular basis gotten results against Chelsea. I guess many people, myself included, thought it had passed after the results Rafa Benitez got last season. However, Everton were patient, just organized enough, and caught Chelsea out on the counter to take a deserved victory against Chelsea in Saturday's tea-time kickoff.

There were two under rated players for Everton today. Gareth Barry's play in midfield acted like a glue that helped bind the midfield and back four. Besides getting back to block an Eto'o effort on what appeared to be an open goal after a Tim Howard mistake, he was all over the midfield disrupting Chelsea's play in the middle third of the pitch. The other player was Raul Mirallas. When Jelavic was substituted off before Chelsea went completely off the boil, moving Mirallas up top was the perfect foil to take the bite out of the Chelsea attack. His holding play allowed Everton back into their attacking half, resulting in Chelsea giving up plenty of late free kicks to milk time off the clock.

While Everton's goal may have technically been the run of play, they deserved a reward for being just organized enough in the first half. With Ramires left on an island due to too many Chelsea midfielders pushing forward, he was easily dispossessed. The cross to Jelavic was perfectly headed back across goal where Petr Cech failed to make an attempt to clear the ball. Steven Naismith had the easiest of headers to put Chelsea in front. This is the second time this season Chelsea have been caught out right before the interval, and I'm sure it will be something other teams quickly pick up on.

Chelsea is an absolute mess right now, and Jose Mourinho is doing nothing to make their compounding midfield problems any better. Eto'o had a much better performance than this result shows. His runs put him in advantageous positions but when the midfield gave him no service, it renders him useless. Furthermore, Jose's insistence of playing a back four with two players, Luiz and Ivanovic, out of position is also doing Chelsea a disservice. As much as Jose Mourinho may not want to admit this, Rafa Benitez found David Luiz's natural position as a defensive midfielder. It is embarrassing beyond belief that Chelsea are not playing Cesar Azpilicueta at right back, as Ivanovic and Terry is a much better center back partnership.

While Chelsea's fans can act delusional about how poorly their side has played in the opening month of the season, and not question Jose Mourinho, the manager needs to answer questions about why he cannot find his best eleven, and play them. He was embarrassingly caught out by Everton playing Chelsea's old game, and Jose Mourinho didn't have an answer for it.

Dikgacoi Deserved to be Sent Off
In a first half that was looking like the highlights would be early qualifying for the 2016 Olympic diving (Thought Evra should have been booked alongside Ashley Young), it was one moment of madness right before halftime that shaped Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

With two minutes to go before halftime, and Manchester United finally starting to work the ball into scoring positions, Ashley Young took a pass near the top of the 18. Young then collided with Kagisho Dikgacoi. Two separate challenges, within two seconds of each other, changed the course of the game. However, many are combining the challenges into one.

The first challenge occurred outside the 18 yard box. While it was a strong challenge, it was fair. The second challenged happened just inside the penalty area when Dikgacoi foolishly tackled Young. While Young had just nudged forward, it also appeared that Young was starting to fall to the ground. It was that second challenge that referee saw, and awarded the penalty on. From there, the referee had to adjudge the challenge denied a goal scoring opportunity. After that, the red card being shown was automatic.

While Manchester United looked shaky for large stretches of this game, they got the goals that mattered. It helped United that Crystal Palace only advanced forward once in the first half. It was also a chance that Gayle should have finished. While Ian Holloway may not have liked the red card, I believe it was the right decision to be made.

Mesut Ozil Impressive Debut for Arsenal
When any team spends 42.5 million pounds on one player, that player better come out of the gate on fire. Mesut Ozil did just today in Arsenal's 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light.

He picked up where he left off at Real Madrid. His service early to Giroud produced an early opener, and his service later to Walcott should have produced a second. It wasn't Ozil's fault that Walcott had a disappointing outing today. His short passes also allowed Arsenal to keep possession for extended periods of the opening half.

However, his biggest attribute today was what Ozil did for the rest of Arsenal's attacking midfielders. With Ozil on the pitch, Sunderland did not know which player to really mark. This allowed Ozil to create passes, and have others in plenty of space to create. This paid off twice for Aaron Ramsey today. I'm not convinced with Ozil on the pitch that Ramsey gets those opportunities. The space Ramsey had on the second goal was simply inexcusable for that time of the match.

If today's performance was indicative of what Ozil will do for Arsenal, then it was obviously the right buy. If they can keep him, and get the other injured players back soon, they will make their opening day performance look like an exaggeration in rather short order. It could be argued that Arsenal already has.

Jozy Altidore Disallowed Goal
The other big talking point from the Stadium of Light this afternoon came in the second half, when Martin Atkinson pulled back what appeared to be an obvious equalizer for Jozy Altidore. It is a decision that no one can logically explain why it was called back, and neither can I.

After a poor first half, Sunderland finally came out to play in the second half. Craig Gardner pulled one back from the spot not long after halftime, and had numerous opportunities to take the lead. However, after Ramsey pulled Arsenal back ahead, what looked a 50-50 struggle for a ball between Altidore and Sagna outside the penalty area was blown back for a free kick well before any opportunity for an advantage could be played. However, there is one minor flaw to this passage of play, Atkinson didn't whistle for the free kick until after Altidore had got past Sagna and had put the ball past Szczesny.

It wasn't until after the ball had crossed into the net did anyone realize that the referee had called the play back for a free kick, and a yellow card on Sagna. Had the referee taken the advice of the assistant referee, not only would the goal have counted, but Sagna still would have been booked for obstruction. With Sunderland incensed, the free kick was never a threat. Had the goal counted, I'm not entirely convinced the game would have ended in a two all draw, but the nature of the match does change.

Atkinson should be secretly thanking Ramsey he made it Sunderland 1 Arsenal 3 to at least semi-bail him out of the worst call of the weekend. It still doesn't excuse the call being completely blown.

Newcastle United on the Rise, Aston Villa on the Decline
After steadily declining performance for Aston Villa since their opening day victory at the Emirates, I think it's safe to say the opening day performance for Aston Villa was more an exception than the rule. The same could be said in reverse for Newcastle United after their opening day performance against Manchester City.

There is a significant difference to each side since those first performances. Newcastle United has found a way to maximize the full services of Hatem Ben Arfa. He was in the right place for the opener to finish a pass that was deflected past Cisse, and his set up shot late allowed Yoan Gouffran to clean up the Guzan save. It has looked since the West Ham draw that Ben Arfa has decided to put this Newcastle United side on his back, and his performances have shown it. If he can stay healthy for the whole season, Newcastle's safety won't be in doubt.

Teams have caught onto the fact if they can narrow Aston Villa's play, they can limit what they do on the attack. Villa's lone goal this afternoon came from a set piece, and it was one that would have probably been saved had Tim Krul not abandoned the goal mouth. During open play, Benteke was isolated, and as Villa got narrower and narrower, so did Aston Villa's ability to get forward.

When it's all said and done, Villa have to figure out how to create the width they did during the opening two games. If they can't do that, it might be a much longer season for Aston Villa than expected.

Those are my thoughts on what I witnessed today. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.

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Premier League Predictions Round 4: Will There be Post International Blues?

13 September 2013

Kickoff times are EDT. PLET stands for Premier League Extra Time. All games available live on NBC Live Extra. Check your provider for availability.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace (Saturday 7:45 am NBCSN): I've seen it said that this is the banker of the weekend, but I don't think it will be as automatic as many people believe it will be. It is the perfect game to start integrating Fellaini into the squad. While Crystal Palace might be riding high after defeating Sunderland before the international break, the break killed any momentum they would have had coming into this game. Holloway's tactics are the perfect foil for Manchester United to do exactly what they did against Swansea City on the opening weekend. Four points from three fixture maybe a modest total for David Moyes, but it will be seven from four after this one. Prediction: Manchester United 3 Crystal Palace 1

Sunderland v Arsenal (Saturday 10:00 am NBCSN): The injury bug has already bitten Arsenal, but Ozil should be fit in time to make his Arsenal debut. Sunderland should have Jozy Altidore back baring any late fitness struggles. It is going to be curious to see how Sunderland line up since starting with one forward has not been successful in their opening three fixtures. I'm just not convinced that Sunderland has enough width to break Arsenal down. With service lacking from out wide, I expect Arsenal to carve Sunderland up in a similar vein to how they carved Fulham up. Either way, this is going to be one ugly 10:00 am kickoff for viewers. Prediction: Sunderland 0 Arsenal 2

Stoke City v Manchester City (Saturday 10:00 am PLET): There are plenty of under the surface stories to this one. We have Mark Hughes in his attempts to seek any kind of revenge to his sacking from Manchester City. There are two teams trying to adapt to new managers, and the styles of football that they bring. Manchester City have been unimpressive in their two wins, and looked incredibly dire on the road to a recently promoted Cardiff City. Stoke City are adapting much better to the new manager than Manchester City, and if Aguero is starting, Stoke City could be primed for pulling off an upset. When it's all said and done, I think we get a repeat score line from last season. Prediction: Stoke City 1 Manchester City 1

Tottenham Hotspur v Norwich City (Saturday 10:00 am PLET): Tottenham could easily insert Lamela and Eriksen in alongside Chaldi and make Norwich City's life miserable. This is Norwich's toughest outing of the season to date, and I don't see how the back four can cope. If the Canaries think Gary Hooper is going to make a difference up top, they are in for a shock. Is this the day we finally see Spurs get a goal from open play? I think so. Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 1 Norwich City 0

Aston Villa v Newcastle United (Saturday 10:00 am PLET): By the time the full time whistle blows between 4:50 and 4:55 pm, we should have a good idea if what Aston Villa did on the opening weekend was more fact or fiction. Villa's performances have flat lined while Newcastle is still trying to kick into high gear. Libor Kozak is probably going to be the difference late and probably bails Villa out of a potentially bad situation. Prediction: Aston Villa 1 Newcastle United 1

Fulham v West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 10:00 am PLET): This feels like 'just an ordinary game'. The good news for Fulham is it looks like Stekelenburg could feature in goal for Fulham after recovering from a shoulder injury. Neither side has looked impressive after the first month of the season, but West Brom has looked downright awful, only getting four shots on target through the first three games. You would have to believe Steve Clarke can turn this around, but it will take a lot longer to right the ship and start getting three points instead of zero or one. Won't be pretty football, but expect the spoils to be shared. Prediction: Fulham 1 West Bromwich Albion 1

Hull City v Cardiff City (Saturday 10:00 am PLET): This rematch of the Championship last day of the season could be the surprise goal fest of the weekend. The last four times these sides have met, 13 goals have been produced. Add the fact both keepers are injury doubts, and we could see some 'curious' goals scored. Hull has settled better than Cardiff to life in the top flight, and I fully expect the home side to get all three points this weekend. Prediction: Hull City 3 Cardiff City 2

Everton v Chelsea (Saturday 12:30 pm NBC): The first thought Chelsea has to have here is 'thank goodness Lukaku can't play in this game'. It's probably the difference in who gets all three points. I see this as a game where Roberto Martinez sets up way too attack minded, and Chelsea picks them off on the counter. This is probably going to be the most entertaining fixture of the weekend, and one that is probably going to look more lopsided on the score sheet than the play on the pitch would ever have indicated. Prediction: Everton 0 Chelsea 2

Southampton v West Ham United (Sunday 11:00 am NBCSN): I hate to say it, but sucks to be NBCSN Sunday morning. The NFL pregame show on CBSSN will probably be more interesting than the mess this match will put up. How bad do I see this being? For starters, I don't think West Ham scores here. Secondly, it will take Southampton way too long to finally bundle a goal in their efforts will put us back to sleep. But finally, Chivas USA/Portland at 10:30 on Saturday night will be more enjoyable a watch than this. Nothing like Sky having to meet team quotas for their contracting needs to serve us this nonsense when it is a one match day. Prediction: Southampton 1 West Ham United 0

Swansea City v Liverpool (Monday 3:00 pm NBCSN): This is a classic trap game for Swansea City. With Europe lurking on Thursday, it would be easy to overlook this game. However, overlook this Liverpool side at your own peril. Sturridge should be fit to play, and Liverpool is starting to look more and more like top four contenders than pretenders. If Wilfried Bony and Michu can get something early, this could be interesting. However, I think by the time Swansea start to threaten Simon Mignolet, it will already be game over. Prediction: Swansea City 1 Liverpool 2

These are my thoughts on this weekend's action. What are yours? Leave them in the comments below.

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USA 2 Mexico 0: Familiar Scoreline, Familiar Mexico in 2013 Qualifying

10 September 2013

Columbus Ohio continues to be the ultimate home field advantage for the United States as second half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan provided the United States a 2-0 victory over Mexico. The result leaves the United States with one firm foot over the qualification thresh hold, with the other over it but not firmly on the ground yet.

To say the first half was a sloppy affair would be an understatement. The United States took half an hour to settle down, but Mexico had no bite to their attack. While it appeared early on Mexico may have had a plan 1a, it was a plan not too dissimilar to one fans have seen all throughout this final round of qualification. The most threatening chance Mexico had in the opening stanza actually came from a failed own goal chance from DeMarcus Beasley. From there, early Gimenez and Dos Santos efforts were saved with relative ease by Tim Howard.

After that, Mexico's predictable attack seen throughout most of this final round of qualification returned, rendering anything they did moving forward useless. While the United States still looked out of shape in the midfield, they slowly started to inch their way into the attack. Two first half counters, the first from Dempsey and the other from Donovan, were tamely blocked. However, as the first half came to a close, it was looking more and more like advantage USA then it was advantage Mexico.

The advantage completely swung in the United States favor just four minutes into the second half. Eddie Johnson worked perfectly off the Clarence Goodson screen before having the easiest look on goal. Corona abandoned his post for reasons no one will ever be able to grasp, and Eddie Johnson had an unmarked header right down the middle of the goal. The men on the posts could only look on as it went into the back of the net for a deserved American opener.

After the goal, in a move that I only consider waving the white flag of surrender, Mexico subbed off their player of the match. With Herrera replacing Gimenez in the 54th, Mexico's play got even more predictable. The US defense, looking as settled as it has been in this World Cup cycle, started picking off passes with ease. With the inclusion of Peralta for Arce 20 minutes from time, Mexico's attack became too rushed. With Mexico's desperation getting worse by the minute, the United States picked their spot to secure victory.

After a rushed throw in deep in the USA's attacking half, the United States struck. Diskerud made great use of his time on the pitch with a beautiful pick up and turn for the byline. Diskerud's centering pass got just enough of a deflection from Dempsey to get past Corona and through to Donovan. For the second time tonight, the United States had an empty net to shoot in, and Donovan didn't miss.

When it's all said and done, the final scoreline was about as accurate a reflection of play as possible. Mexico had no creativity in their final third, and all efforts on frame were easily handled by Tim Howard. Once the United States settled half an hour in, it was only a matter of time before they scored, and Corona gave Eddie Johnson the biggest target in the world to hit. Once Mexico took off their only player who tried to get creative on the ball, the game was over. The United States responded from a poor effort in Costa Rica with the most professional performance one could ask for.

Mexico is seriously in trouble. As of this writing, Mexico is 5 points off automatic qualification with two rounds to play. At this rate, Mexico/Panama is shaping up to be a winner take all to play New Zealand. While it would appear Mexico would be favorites over two legs against New Zealand, everyone thought just four years ago New Zealand didn't have a prayer to advance to South Africa. They proved many people wrong in that process.

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Rapid Fire Thoughts on Transfer Deadline Day: Ozil, Everton, Manchester United, Chelsea and More

02 September 2013

With the transfer window closing this evening, there is certainly plenty to digest.

* Arsenal are probably the biggest winner today with the signing of Mesut Ozil. He ticks all the boxes that Arsenal needed in midfield. Not only is he a creator, he isn't afraid to actually shoot the ball from distance. He has a national team partner with Podolski in midfield that he will work very well off of once he returns from injury. Furthermore, it strengthens an already good midfield. While Arsenal didn't pick up a second forward, Ozil can play up top in an emergency if Arsene Wenger is in a bind.

* The big surprise winners out of today were Everton. While it didn't look until real late in the day they were going to do any business, they were able to pick up two reliable players in Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku. They should make immediate impacts on the pitch this season. Roberto Martinez was also able to pick up a forward that is beginning to show signs of his potential in James McCarthy. While Everton overspent for McCarthy, they were able to milk Manchester United into overpaying for Marouane Fellaini.

* Other than Newcastle United not picking anyone up, I can't think of another team who had a worse day than Manchester United. After imposters got in the way of the Ander Herrera deal being made, they grossly overspent for Fellaini. Even more so, they could have had Fellaini just last week for less if they triggered his release clause. Their persistence to pick up Baines in a package deal with Fellaini backfired in the worst possible way. To add to Manchester United's miserable day, their deal to pick up Coentrao failed because of how late they left it. While the paperwork made it to the leagues involved, it did not make it through the system FIFA uses to confirm deals in time. Good luck appealing that after Real Madrid gets second thoughts.

* I seriously want to know what Jose Mourinho is smoking, and the legality of such substance. After deciding that Arsenal were a rival and Liverpool weren't (see Victor Moses's loan deal), Chelsea then decide to allow the best forward for Jose Mourinho's system to move out on another loan. Through the first three matches, Lukaku was showing why I thought he could already be a difference maker for Chelsea this season. All Chelsea did today was make other clubs better at their own expense. They are lucky Mata didn't go to PSG.

* The most under rated signing today came from Cardiff City in their signing of Peter Odemwingie. While he can be a petulant little bugger at times, he can score goals. Between picking up Kevin Theophile-Catherine yesterday and Peter Odemwingie today, Cardiff City have given themselves a much better chance at a second season in the Premier League.

 * West Bromwich Albion may have done just enough picking up Victor Anichebe, Morgan Amalfitano and Stephane Sessegnon to survive this season. While I'm unimpressed by Sessegnon, I think Anichebe and Amalfitano will be assets that keep them up this year.

* Manchester City could have easily had the worst 2 days of the window. Demichelis has never been an average player, and allowing Gareth Barry to leave only makes them weaker.

* While Crystal Palace made many moves today; I am unimpressed by any of them.

What were your thoughts on the transfers made today? Let us know in the comments below.

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5 Thoughts on Sunday: Liverpool Spacing, Ryan Giggs, David Moyes, Same Old Spurs, Arsenal's Core

01 September 2013

With my cable provider (Comcast) doing everything in their power to make my life miserable this weekend, I didn't know what to expect here Sunday. The good news is my cable box worked long enough on Sunday for me to watch both games on NBCSN. Here are my takeaways from Sunday's two big matches.

Liverpool's Spacing
If you read any of my thoughts post Liverpool's opening two fixtures, I was deeply concerned about their spacing. The first two games saw the same pattern develop. With a midfield that was higher up the pitch they were conceding too many second half chances to sides they shouldn't have been giving easy chances to. Today, that space was not on the pitch. Had it been, I'm pretty confident we don't see the 1-0 result Liverpool did get.

Liverpool were smarter in how they closed Manchester United down; with the midfield closing down when the defense was back, and the defense closing down as the midfield tracked back into position. Rodgers was willing to concede the wings, and it was evident early as to why. The crosses into the box were easily defended, resulting in a plan B that played right into Liverpool's hands. When Manchester United would go down the center of the park, Liverpool were already in position to close them down. The frustration was evident in the number of Manchester United bookings late in the first half.

The biggest improvement today for Liverpool though, which I think was the biggest reason Liverpool's spacing improved, was how well Daniel Sturridge held the ball up. His ability to hold the ball has been very hit or miss. Today, Sturridge's ability to hold the ball allowed Liverpool's midfield to play deeper and still get into the attack whenever required. With the way Sturridge has adapted the first three games of the season, it will be very curious to see how Suarez is reintegrated into the side once his suspension is over.

Ryan Giggs at a Crossroads
It is hard for me to say that I feel for any Premier League player, but I really feel for Ryan Giggs right now. He is at crossroads in his professional career, and I'm not sure he really knows how to handle it. From my vantage point, Ryan Giggs needs to make his mind up as to what he wants to be this season. It's obvious to me he can't be a player coach.

I was shocked at how much time Giggs spent in the first half almost coaching the players on the pitch. From an outside perspective, it looked like Giggs spent more time trying to get other players to play their role than playing the role he was supposed to be playing. It showed in his performance on the pitch. Giggs was easily the second weakest player on the pitch behind Ashley Young, and it was an obvious substitution to make when Hernandez came on late.

Ryan Giggs needs to have a serious look at what he wants to accomplish with Manchester United this season, and make a decision. If he wants to play, he needs to let David Moyes that he needs to devote all of his time to his midfield role. If he wants to be a part of the coaching staff, he needs to retire from the pitch. It is almost a damning indictment that Manchester United still needs Giggs craft in the midfield. Then again, when you leave one of your most valuable midfielders out of the squad for this match, people like Giggs still feel they can play a part; and still try to play that part on the pitch.

David Moyes Steep Learning Curve
If David Moyes doesn't know what he was stepping into when he signed on as Manchester United's manager, he does now. After two extremely lackluster performances against rivals old and new, it is apparent to me that Moyes still has not abandoned his management philosophy from his days as Everton manager. It was the same style that did not win him

Manchester United this week in their play against Chelsea and Liverpool was frankly too cautious. The only player in his squad that looked like they wanted to get any hint of three points was Wayne Rooney. However, on Sunday, he was not in the eighteen due to a late week training ground injury. The squad selection today was simply baffling as well. In a game that Sir Alex Ferguson would have played Kagawa in, David Moyes left him out of the 18. The last thing Moyes should have done is admit that Kagawa was fit, and that he simply left him out of the squad. If you don't want Kagawa, I can think of many teams who would want his talents.

If Moyes genuinely believes this was the best Manchester United played this season, he would be wrong. The way they played against Swansea City was much better than the way they played today. You might have been able to get away with saying that at Everton, but you can't at Manchester United.

David Moyes deserves the time Sir Alex Ferguson got to get adjusted to life at Manchester United, and how he manages the club. However, he needs to accelerate his learning club. The expectations that Moyes will have every year do not match how he plays in the bigger matches. He might get a pass this season as he beds himself and the coaching staff in. Going forward, that will be a completely different story.

Same Old Spurs
Today's match at the Emirates was a major litmus test for what Tottenham have done this summer. When it was all said and done, all I could think was this was the same old typical Spurs side we are use to seeing in the bigger matches. This is now compounded by the fact Spurs have yet to score a goal from any open play or set piece this season.

Tottenham's attack was pretty much useless. In these 90 minutes there was only one effort on goal that I thought tested the Arsenal resolve. Their efforts were either hopeless wide of target, or right at Szczesny. With Soldado on an island, even with Spurs moving forward, Arsenal's defenders were able to build confidence that is not normally seen. Mertesacker and Koscielny were able to get comfortable, and in positions to force long distance efforts.

A surprising thing to me, despite all the signings, is that the midfield still lacks creativity. While their attacking play still has some purpose, it is easily broken down. Arsenal dealt with the same style of attacks all match long. When Capoue's injury forced Sandro's inclusion, things didn't change. In fact, it could be argued their attack was even more one dimensional than before.

Until Tottenham can prove the results against top sides last year was no fluke, it will be easy to dismiss them as a serious top four contender. Of the six that I think will fight for Champions League places, I have them sixth. While AVB is still changing the philosophy of the club, these are the matches where you prove your worth. Today was a giant step backwards.

Arsenal's Core Coming Good
Despite all the yelling and screaming from detractors of Arsene Wenger, he's proven one thing through the opening three weeks of the season. That thing is Arsenal is a lot closer to title contention then many will want to admit.

The signings of last season have blended well with the young English core. Giroud looks like the player Arsenal signed from Montpellier and not the scared player last season. His third goal of the season was the difference, and it was his ability to spot the space between the center backs that proved Tottenham's undoing. Cazorla is looking more and more dangerous on set pieces, and Monreal is becoming reliable in helping Arsenal close out matches. If Podolski can show the form he had against Fulham when he returns from injury, Wenger will have a strong core of 15 players to rely on.

It is no secret that Arsenal needs cover. With the rumored bid for Ozil before the deadline tomorrow night, I believe Arsenal would be wise to also invest in at least one defender. If they do, it'll go a long way in proving the opening weekend was an aberration then reality. Arsene Wenger's transfer philosophy maybe a bit odd, but based on today's post match press conference he might be willing to spend relatively big tomorrow. Considering the Premier League is coming back to Arsenal than Arsenal are drifting away from the top, the spending Arsenal do on Monday might determine how serious a title contender they can potentially be.

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An Apology About Coverage Today

31 August 2013

In the interest of being as honest with my readers as possible, I owe you all an apology about my coverage today over on twitter. With major cable issues until after around one this afternoon, I was unable to see of the lunchtime, or traditional kickoffs this morning.

With the little coverage I was able to see this morning and afternoon, I am going to hold off on giving out any of my thoughts until I am able to watch all the games. With this being a three day weekend, I hope be able to have everything put together by Monday early evening.

I'm pretty much at the mercy of my cable provider right now in getting my cable back to full functionality. If I am unable to get anything up, please accept my sincerest apologies in advance. I will do my level headed best to get something up as soon as I possibly can. I'll be posting updates to what I am able to do as I know what I'll be able to do coverage wise.

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Premier League Preview: Liverpool host Manchester United and Arsenal host Tottenham

30 August 2013

Kickoff times are EDT. PLET stands for Premier League Extra Time. All games available live on NBC Live Extra. Check you provider for availability.

Manchester City v Hull City (Saturday 7:45 am on NBCSN): There is good news for Manchester City as Nastasic looks like he will start. There's even better news for Manchester City because they are facing a side that has yet to score from open play this season. With Huddlestone and Livermore in central defense, Hull City will be a difficult side to break down. But Hull proved against the big boys away on opening day they'll finally crack. This won't be pretty, and probably cause to go back to sleep, but I see a home win here. Prediction: Manchester City 2 Hull City 0

Cardiff City v Everton (Saturday 10:00 am on NBCSN): Have Cardiff City fans stopped celebrating yet? Nah didn't think so. This should be a little tastier than usual as the Cardiff City supporters probably have a few choice words for former player and manager of Swansea City, Roberto Martinez. I'm sure the last thing the Everton back four will want to see is a confident Campbell. While Cardiff showed they can hold their shape for long periods of time, they have shown in their first two matches that their shape can be broken down. Everton has had to rely on one man for creating both of their goals this season, and he doesn't play for them. I expect to see another crowd that boosts Cardiff City into another unlikely point early in this season. Prediction: Cardiff City 1 Everton 1

Newcastle United v Fulham (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): Sorry guys, this has the potential to be as exciting as a trip to the dentist without anesthesia. Newcastle United haven't won at home in a while, Cabaye still isn't completely settled, and their home fans are impatient for something positive to happen against a Premier League club. Fulham look like they can play those around them with a little bit of respect. The only prayer this has of being anything worth watching as a contest is if Fulham scores early. I do expect to see one goal here, but not until the second half. Prediction: Newcastle United 1 Fulham 0

West Ham United v Stoke City (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): This will be a good litmus test to see where their potential is. West Ham huffed and puffed against Newcastle while Stoke City took a while before dispatching a pesky Crystal Palace side. Until Carroll returns for West Ham, I'm very leery about picking them. While Mark Hughes is trying to change Stoke's style, this isn't the match to do it in. There's a first time for everything, and I expect to see a nil draw here. Prediction: West Ham United 0 Stoke City 0

Norwich City v Southampton (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): The good news for Rickie Lambert is Michael Turner has been a horror show to start this season. Both sides are still trying to piece work their best eleven together into cohesive units. That's good news for Norwich because that doesn't tend to work out on the road. Prediction: Norwich City 2 Southampton 1

Crystal Palace v Sunderland (Saturday at 12:30 pm on NBC): Why can't this match be a quote off between Ian Holloway and Paolo Di Canio? It would be much more entertaining than the national audience on NBC will be watching on the pitch. I still wonder where Sunderland's forwards will get service for, and that's enough for me to say expect Chamakh to score, Moxey to keep his cool, and Crystal Palace to score the upset. Prediction: Crystal Palace 2 Sunderland 0

Liverpool v Manchester United (Sunday 8:30 am on NBCSN): This is one of those contests that provide expectations by the bucket load, but this is going to end up the dud these big clashes seem to be providing of late. I would say my prediction could change if Kolo Toure plays, but Liverpool has had plenty of holes with him on the park. Manchester United should find at least one chance to get all three points away from Old Trafford. However, this is David Moyes against Liverpool. I'm scared he's going to set up more defensively than against Chelsea, and make substitutions for preservation instead of going for three points. When it's all said and done, I expect Wayne Rooney to find one magic moment to make us forget how bad a game this probably will be on the pitch. Prediction: Liverpool 0 Manchester United 1

West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City (Sunday 8:30 am on PLET): When a returning Nicolas Anelka is your best hope of scoring a goal, you're in trouble. I seriously hope Wilfred Bony and Michu start in the same 11 in this contest. It would make up for their meaningless Europa League defeat on Thursday. Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 0 Swansea City 3

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday 11:00 am on NBCSN): This is the one contest this weekend I'm not entirely sure what to make of. Tottenham have yet to score from open play, but their defensive shape has been stellar. Arsenal looked good last week, but the injury bug has already struck the Emirates. Ramsey, Wilshere should feature for Arsenal, however Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Arteta won't. This game will have plenty of attacking intent, but since Soldado has yet to prove he can score from somewhere other than the 12 yard dot known as the penalty spot, I can't pick Spurs to win. I do expect a few goals in this one at least, and a thoroughly entertaining game heading into the international break. Prediction: Arsenal 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1

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Manchester United 0 Chelsea 0: Was That a Match or Training?

27 August 2013

After all the talk, all the hype of a big four clash just 10 days into the Barclays Premier League season, and anticipation of David Moyes first home match as Manchester United manager, the viewing public saw a nil-nil draw where the highlight of the match wasn't the actual match itself. That honor would go to the minutes applause before kickoff for Brian Greenhoff, Ron Davies and Jack Crompton.

It was a game of quarter chances, half chances at best. Not once in this ninety minutes did was there any moment I thought a goal was going to be scored. Ironically enough, the only player on either side that had any consistent attacking intent was Wayne Rooney, who fired off the two best chances of the game when Petr Cech was caught off his line. Chelsea's midfield spent too much time roving around the ground, making short passes with no real purpose. Ramires was the poorest player on the pitch, constantly giving the ball away in advantageous areas for Manchester United. The lone surprise of the match was John Terry, who showed how valuable a defender he still can be on the big stage.

It could be argued that Chelsea's best chance in the entire ninety minutes was a long distance effort from Gary Cahill in the 59th, right before Torres was subbed on. Once Fernando Torres was brought in on the hour, it was obvious that Chelsea were shutting down and daring Manchester United to score. The long balls played into Torres required headers that had to be sent at a minimum 15 yards before another Chelsea player could get to it. That allowed the Manchester United midfield to continually shut down Chelsea's attack. The one time Torres was able to get forward, he lost the ball under his feet trying to elude three United defenders.

I was disappointed in David Moyes. My worst fears of his substitutions bore fruit. In a game that screamed out for Kagawa in the midfield to continually hustle Ramires, and give Manchester United an even better chance to win, Moyes went the conservative route in bringing on Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young. Neither player did anything to give Manchester United any hope of taking all three points. When Ryan Giggs came on in the 78th, I just wanted full time to blow. It was obvious neither manager cared to win. If David Moyes is going to keep his Everton management mentality at Old Trafford in the big matches, his time as manager as Manchester United is going to be shorter than he would like.

In a game that has recently been filled with controversy, there were only two minor ones Monday night. The first came in the 62, when Martin Atkinson questionably denied Manchester United a penalty on a Frank Lampard hand ball. I have seen that call go both ways, and I'd say that was right on the line of being a correct no call. The other came ten minutes later, when Ashley Cole decided to take a dive in the Old Trafford swimming pool, and not be booked for the obvious simulation that it was. It was an embarrassing miss for the referee, who was consistently inconsistent throughout the match.

Chelsea should be happy with 7 points from 8 days' work. They hid their flaws just long enough to sneak a point back to London. Manchester United fans should be furious that their team refused to take matters into their own hands and take three points that Chelsea was inviting them to take. At full time, I honestly didn't know if I just watched a professional football match. I would almost be willing to say I'm not the only one who had that same thought.

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Manchester United v Chelsea Preview: Will Chelsea Flaws be Exposed?

25 August 2013

The second full round of Premier League fixtures conclude on Monday as Chelsea take a trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United.

For Chelsea, this is the first true test of their title credentials. Many, me included, have picked them for the title. However, there play in the first two games of this season have exposed some flaws that I'm sure Jose Mourinho were hoping wouldn't be exposed until later in the season.

The first is that is is beyond obvious that Chelsea's forward play has only been at a level of respectability when Lukaku is on the park. While Chelsea have no goals in his time on the pitch, the quality of chances they've created is much better. The other thing that Chelsea has to remember is that with their first two matches, their opposition laid off for the first twenty to thirty minutes of the match. They won't have that luxury in this one, so they are going to need someone up top who can both setup the midfield and create for himself.

The next flaw is in the back. Both Hull City and Aston Villa have picked on the center backs, and that's where Chelsea's biggest weakness is.With Tim Cahill in the center, John Terry is essentially playing on his own. If Jose was smart, Cahill is nowhere on the pitch. The center back partnership should be Terry and Ivanovic, with Azpilicueta at right back. Oh, and a word about Terry and Ivanovic: they will not get the bailout calls they got against Aston Villa.

The final flaw that is obvious for Chelsea is they have too many chefs in the midfield and it takes too much time for their intricate passes to bear any fruit. This is time they will not have against Manchester United. They have been bailed out by Hull City and Aston Villa being too scared to give up early goals allowing them to set up their play early. If Juan Mata was healthy, this would be the perfect match for him to play in.

Oh, and Chelsea won't have a home crowd happy Jose Mourinho's back on their side either.

Manchester United on the field looked like a better team than the team that won the title last season. The only two question marks have been about David Moyes and Wayne Rooney. David Moyes always struggled in his time at Everton against their biggest rival Liverpool. Moyes would always set up his side way too defensively, and had a difficult time making the right substitutions to swing the game in his favor. You can easily argue with me that he didn't have the same level of talent at Everton that he does at Manchester United, and I would completely agree. However, I'm of the belief of old patterns dictate new behavior. My biggest concern about Manchester United in this match is that they set up too defensively. If they set up to counter in the same manner they did last week against Swansea City, these concerns will be for naught.

I would be a fool if I didn't talk about Wayne Rooney here. While Chelsea need another forward that can hold up play, they won't be getting Rooney. While Rooney and Moyes may not have the best personal relationship, there's been every indication to me that since Wayne found out he's going nowhere, he's knuckled down in training. His performance against Swansea proved that out. While Jose Mourinho may have been as clever as he could be last week in saying the bid was coming for him on Tuesday, he's only giving off the vibe he's scared about this match. These Manchester United players have seen Jose's winding up tactics before; this thin veiled attempt is not going to work.

So what do I see happening here? I see this as a one sided affair. I expect Chelsea to be second best to the ball all night, and Lukaku to start from the bench. Furthermore, Manchester United will want to make a statement that regardless who the manager is, they are still the team to beat in England. If you are expecting a classic encounter, I'm afraid we got that on Sunday with Cardiff City beating Manchester City. When it is all said and done, I expect Manchester United at the top of the table come 5 pm Monday evening.

FT score line prediction: Manchester United 3 Chelsea 0.

The fan in me is dying having to predict that, so I'll ask you: what do you expect the full time result to be? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sunday Thoughts, Sorry Spurs, it's all about Cardiff City, NBCSN Be Ashamed

As I woke up hoping Sunday's Premier League action would be just slightly better than yesterday's crickets, I sure didn't expect the result we'd see at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Apparently NBC didn't think before the season started that showing Cardiff City v Manchester City live at 11:00 on NBSN was a worthy pick, opting to air the rearranged fixture between the two sides that played in Europa League qualifiers on Thursday. Normally, those games are played at 10:00 am on Sunday, but today's was moved to 11am. For those making the decisions at NBC as to which game to air live, it was a bad choice. NBC should have shown the Bluebirds first game in the top flight since 1962.

Over the years I can remember, the first home game for teams who have been out of the league for a while, and they've been good contests for one reason or another. The one I remember the most, because the side I support was in it, was Chelsea's trip to Wigan in 2005. It was a game Chelsea had no right to win, but somehow they did. The atmosphere that day was strangely one of the most intimidating atmospheres Chelsea had to play in that season in the league. That was Wigan, normally one of the tamest places to play, but this is Cardiff. Cardiff City is one of the more intimidating places historically to play, and the fans brought the atmosphere with them into the top flight.

It can be argued that there was no way either Cardiff City or Manchester City would play in the same manner they did last week. Manchester City effectively had a bye against Newcastle United, while Cardiff City seemed shocked to be in the top flight and spent more time ball watching than the Upton Park crowd. The team sheet really shocked me for Manchester City, with Garcia and Lescott being the center back partnership. This was a boost to Cardiff City, as they spent the whole first half trying to find balls to split the two, with varying degrees of success. The best moment came late in the first half, after a route one ball found its way through to Campbell. However, it was a late intervention by Lescott that prevented a shot on goal.

After Dzeko's goal was cancelled out by Gunnarsson, Manchester City completely went walkabout on set pieces. When Cardiff took the lead, I have no clue what Joe Hart was trying to accomplish; nor do I understand what Zabaleta was attempting to do not leaping to head the ball to safety. Fraizer Campbell had free reign on an open goal to make the game 2-1. If you think the visitors would have learned their lesson after that, Campbell showed that lightning can indeed strike twice. Another corner, failure from Zabaleta at marking Campbell, and a header that Hart had no prayer at getting to made it 3-1 to Cardiff City.

While Cardiff City, by and large, kept their shape very well throughout today's game, there were signs that late they could be broken down with ease. The nerves mixed with good early defending left some legs dead, allowing Negredo to get through and make it 3-2. Cardiff City can also count it fortunate that the late touch in stoppage time fell to Aguero, who is to Manchester City away what Dzeko is at home: a man who struggles to score goals.

Between the fans, a second half that was extremely entertaining for the neutral, it was only smart that NBCSN 'cut' into the game after Tottenham/Swansea finished. The pity is they shouldn't have been cutting to the game, it should have been the game shown from the off.

Other thoughts:
* The sooner Wilfred Bony and Michu are partnering up front for Swansea City, the better they're going to be.
* Spurs are struggling mightily to score from open play. There were only a couple of chances that Vorm was tested on. For all the complaining last season Tottenham rightly had for not getting a kick from the twelve yard dot, they're getting the calls this season. I'm more than convinced the Spurs penalty decision was a make up call for the screw job the man in the middle tried to pull in the first half.


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Saturday Thoughts: Waiting too Late to Play, What a Difference a Week Makes

24 August 2013

The biggest thing that grabbed me today was seeing how two teams in particular waited until they fell behind before starting to try and get into the action. Those teams, Aston Villa and Fulham, deserved the defeats they were involved in today.

It's not a good time to be a Fulham fan. Their defense is already not the best in the world, and having Taarabt on the pitch is like having to play a man down when having to defend. However, some would argue the best defense is to attack, but it wasn't until they were already 1-0 down before they did. Even then, they were too slow to second chance efforts, and Szczesny was able to make the makeshift defense in front of him look better than they were. It wasn't until Darren Bent came on an hour in before they really started to look serious. Unfortunately, they were 3-0 down before Bent was able to start to put the ghosts of Aston Villa behind him.

Fulham's two best players on the pitch today only came into the club in the last eight days. Stekelenburg being out did hurt Fulham, and they have to hope gets healthy soon. Unfortunately, they're still on zero points, and I'm struggling to figure out when they're going to get a first, much less three.

Aston Villa is an early favorite for most frustrating team of the season. In all three matches, they have waited until going behind to start playing in a manner that I'm pretty sure everyone sees is their best. When that midfield pinches in the actual midfield instead of at the top of their defensive third, they actually get Benteke involved.

However again today, they decided to lay off the ball early, and Daniel Sturridge took full advantage of it. Again, once they crowed Liverpool in the midfield, they became the more dangerous side. However, it wasn't until the late inclusion of Helenius before it started to look like Villa could equalize. It was the sub's header that got Benteke in, but it was Kolo Toure that made just enough of an intervention to prevent the Villa forward from opening up to the far post.

When Villa realizes they can hang for 90 minutes, they're going to be good. Unfortunately, the lack of confidence early in matches is only hurting them now...because it's obvious to me they should have no problem hanging with the top teams in this league.

Other thoughts from today's action:
* What a difference this week has made for Arsenal. After losing last week, they've spent this week scoring six goals. The biggest difference for me today was seeing Podolski looking more comfortable in the attack, and looking like the player he was a Koln. He's not just a goal poacher, and he showed that with his second today. Giroud is starting to slowly look the genuine article as well. I don't think they need help going forward, they have enough help there. If Arsenal can find some adequate defensive cover, and maybe a starting center back before the transfer window closes, they are going to be better than many (myself included) thought prior to the season started.

* Everton/West Brom and Newcastle/West Ham were ironic nil draws. The irony being the two sides that many were expecting to lose had the better quality chances in the game. If West Brom had any true attacking bite, they would have stolen three points out of Goodison Park. Neither side at St. James Park had a good chance to win until the final few minutes of the match, and it wasn't until stoppage time before Newcastle should have won it. Newcastle looked better today, but that's tantamount to damning with faint praise.

* Michael Turner continues to be Norwich City's player of the season. People may say the penalty decision was soft, but when take out a player from behind, regardless if it looks like its slow motion; you're going to have the call go against you. To make matters worse, Norwich couldn't break down Hull City in the second half despite being a man up. Having Tom Huddlestone in the middle of the Tiger defense brought the same positives it did the week before against Chelsea. If Hull can find goals from open play, they'll be just fine.

* If Liverpool continue to have this many second half lapses in defense, they are eventually going to be bitten. If they are going to defend, bring most of the midfield back to help. It has seemed to me in these first two games that the midfield is playing too far forward. While that maybe to help speed up service to Sturridge in the counter attack, it's not doing them any favors. Mignolet also looked impressive in stopping what Petr Cech couldn't in midweek.

* The sooner both Southampton and Sunderland learn to defend set pieces, the better. They both made the same mistakes today they made opening weekend. Unlike last week, Southampton paid for their lapse today.

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Weekend Preview: Arsenal Look to Rebound, Villa End Tough Stretch vs Liverpool, Spurs and Swansea Meet After Qualifiers in Europe

23 August 2013

Kickoff times are EDT. PLET stands for Premier League Extra Time.All games available live on NBC Live Extra. Check your provider for availability.

Fulham v Arsenal (Saturday 7:45 am on NBCSN): Neither side impressed on opening weekend. Arsenal go into this one at least with some confidence after their exploits in Turkey this week. Fulham, steady but unimpressive last week in their win; get steadier in the midfield with their inclusion of Scott Parker. Arsenal should have enough talent to see this one out, but we thought the same thing against Aston Villa. The difference between Villa and Fulham, Villa are a much more talented side. The mustaches maybe in full flow, but Fulham fans will see what Shad Kahn's Jacksonville Jaguar fans see plenty of times a season; a home defeat (I should know...I'm subject to them all by living 10 minutes from Everbank). Fulham 0 Arsenal 2

Southampton v Sunderland (Saturday 10:00 am on NBCSN): I hate to be cruel to Sunderland, but I have no choice. Southampton at home should be able to shut down service to Jozy with no problems whatsoever. Sunderland proved they had no plan b at home. If Sunderland can't come up with a plan b at home, I don't expect Paolo Di Canio to be able to come up with one on the road. While Southampton didn't impress against West Brom, Sunderland were worse. The NBCSN audience tuning into see Jozy Altidore will be in for as frustrating an experience as he will have begging for anything that would qualify as respectable service. Southampton 1 Sunderland 0

Everton v West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): West Brom has to be praying that the Scott Sinclair loan pays off. I'm not convinced it does this early. Everton proved they can score goals; I'm just not 100 percent certain they can prevent them. The good news for Everton is that West Brom looked so tepid against Southampton that I'm not convinced they can score them. I fully expect Roberto Martinez's side to get off to a roaring start at home. Everton 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

Hull City v Norwich City (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): The sooner Huddlestone and Livermore are playing 90 minutes, the sooner Hull play to their fullest potential. Norwich City showed the promise last week that lead me to believe they can finish in the top half of the table. As long as Michael Turner doesn't screw up like he did last week, Norwich City should be okay. However, I don't see that being the case. I think we see Huddlestone start, and give Hull their first point of the season. Hull City 1 Norwich City 1

Newcastle United v West Ham United (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): Will the real Newcastle United please show up? I questioned their professionalism after being thrashed by Manchester City, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one. The problem is, we don't know who the real West Ham United is either. They got the lucky lottery of doing very little in beating Cardiff City. The difference between the two is West Ham United have the appearance in midfield of getting forward at will. That is plenty enough of a difference to continue to make Alan Pardew's life miserable. Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 1

Stoke City v Crystal Palace (Saturday 10:00 am on PLET): My nominee for ugly game of the weekend. This will be all action signifying absolutely nothing. Stoke should have just enough to edge this out. Stoke City 1 Crystal Palace 0

Aston Villa v Liverpool (Saturday 12:30 pm on NBC): Aston Villa have looked the genuine article in their first two matches, and they close this difficult week hosting a Liverpool side that still have a question about their keeper. While Simon Migonlet saved a penalty last week, he was shakier during open play than the scoreline would suggest. Benteke has started the season like a house of fire, and if he finishes this week like he played against Arsenal and Chelsea, Villa could have six points. Before a ball kicked off, I thought they'd be lucky to get one. The good news for Villa is, I thought this would be the game they'd get a point in. I'm not wavering from that pick either. Aston Villa 2 Liverpool 2

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City (Sunday 11 am on NBCSN): While both sides enjoyed the relatively same Europa League success on Thursday, I could see this playing out in exactly the same way both teams played in their opener. However, the lone exception there is I expect the Swans to have much less of the ball than they did last week. Swansea's defense looked extremely shaky on the counter attack against Manchester Untied, but Spurs's drop off on the counter isn't as big as one would think. The only question I have about Spurs is if they'll be able to finish those chances. Considering Tottenham made it harder on themselves than it should have been on opening day, I have to say I expect much of the same. The Wilfred Bony/Michu partnership looked dangerous late against United. Tottenham Hotspur 2 Swansea City 1

Cardiff City v Manchester City (Sunday 11:00 am on PLET): Cardiff City maybe at home, but if they do as half as much ball watching as they did against West Ham, this will over in triple quick time. Cardiff City 0 Manchester City 2

I'm saving my preview of Manchester United v Chelsea for Sunday evening.

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Chelsea 2 Aston Villa 1: Referee Hands Chelsea Three Points

22 August 2013

Chelsea's cracks were papered over on Wednesday as Kevin Friend, and his linesman, bailed Chelsea out on three separate occasions. Those three decisions allowed Chelsea to edge out an uncomfortable 2-1 victory over Aston Villa.

It was obvious that Aston Villa had their 8-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge last season fresh on their mind as they started the game way too tentatively. Villa's defenders backed off way too much, and paid the price for it six minutes in. Hazard's effort towards goal was placed in a place where Brad Guzan had no choice but to parry it. That was because Luna was too close to Guzan for him to stretch out to make the save. This resulted in Guzan parrying the ball off Luna's chest, and into the back of the net.

Once Villa went down, they're midfield and defenders got a better grip of the game. However, it wouldn't have appeared to be the case. Aston Villa were woeful on the ball in the first half, lucky to have the ball for more than four touches. What they did do to Chelsea though, was keep the midfield from making bending balls in to Demba Ba. With no appearance of another plan of attack, Chelsea were rendered to short passes in the slim glimmer of hope of finding one cutting pass that was never going to come. In fact, it could easily be argued that Ba's best touch of the game didn't come until the 48th minute, and he failed to even set up to shoot on goal. Aston Villa's defense weren't exactly the most fluidly shaped, but they were able to target the one man Chelsea were intending to find. With Chelsea's midfield unable to get further forward into the attack, it slowly allowed Aston Villa to get into the game.

Chelsea were also guilty of shutting down in first half stoppage time. Jose Mourinho had to be the angriest person at the Bridge as Guzan lulled his players into a false sense of security. This allowed Villa to settle, and spring Agbonlahor down the wing. Ivanovic was a mere spectator as Agbonlahor's cross found Benteke. What Benteke did to finish this chance was pure genius. Benteke first spotted John Terry looking noncommittal in closing him down: he then saw Petr Cech already leaning far post, leaving a yard of space open on the near post. Benteke did all of this when while setting his first touch to settle the ball, and then firing near post to equalize right on the stroke of halftime.

Villa's equalizer gave them a much needed confidence boost coming out for the second half. A higher line was played that immediately frustrated Chelsea's midfield. Combined with better ball retention and passing, and it wasn't long before Villa was the better looking team on the pitch. Two efforts in two minutes from Benteke (just over), and Weimann (just saved by Cech) showed how much more lethal Villa were looking in attack. This sprung Jose into finally subbing Ba off for Lukaku, and even then the game only went from fully in Villa's favor to being an even contest.

We then enter the time period where Kevin Friend and his assistants screwed Aston Villa, and gifted Chelsea this match.

1) 70th minute. This is when Kevin Friend wrongfully kept Ivanovic on the pitch. The elbow Ivanovic landed on Benteke's throat was even more stupider than Steven Taylor's forearm through the back of Aguero's forehead. Looking live, I thought it was red. On replay after seeing the yellow card, I actually felt for Villa. If this was any other game, the defender is sent off. I'll never know how Friend came to the conclusion that wasn't a red card offense.

2) 73rd minute. On a Lampard free kick after a foul on Lukaku, Ivanovic is offside at the point of contact. While that is no excuse for Lowton and Benteke to not even make a play on the ball in, the linesman should have flagged for offside. If I am able to spot the decision from a long camera angle, the linesman has to be able to spot that standing in line with play. Between the Villa line not going up on Ivanovic, and Guzan not being positioned well, it allowed the man who should have been sent off three minutes earlier to pick his spot on the header towards goal.

3) 93rd minute. After Villa pressed for goal, and Chelsea creating chances on the counter, none of the referees spotted an obvious John Terry handball. On a ball played in by Delph, Agbonlahor's header was handled by John Terry in the penalty area. Despite the close proximity between header and when the ball was handled, the referee failed to call the obvious penalty decision. I'm not buying the excuse that the referee didn't call the penalty because of how close the offense took place to when the ball was headed. Had he not handled the ball, an Aston Villa chance on goal would not have been denied.

Aston Villa looks like they are going to be a contender for at least a Europa League spot. Despite a couple of knocks to some defenders, Okore looks like a very steady defender. They have plenty of fire power up front, and their shape will frustrate any team they play. Chelsea have a problem, and that's Jose Mourinho has to start Lukaku if they want any chance of serious title contention. Teams will quickly catch on to pressing Chelsea from the off and not conceding easy yards early in games. Torres and Ba do not look like players who fit this Chelsea system. Lukaku is the only forward who has effectively got Chelsea's midfield into their strongest forward positions. Their early starts have masked alot of their deficiencies, and those paper thin cracks could easily be ripped open this upcoming Monday night if Manchester United play even half as good as they did against Swansea City.

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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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