Thu, Nov 8, 3:05am by Kevin Pitstock
The more things become historically “normal”, the more things seem out of place. This could be said about the state of certain teams within the English Premier League. Three of the four “expected” sides are now on top of the table, with United 1 point clear of second place Chelsea and two points clear of Manchester City. Whilst this seems somewhat normal and expected, certain managers are in the “hot seat” if we are to believe the papers.
Naturally, we expect talks of a manager being sacked if his side occupies the bottom of the table. Hence, it comes as no surprise that Harry Rednapp is one of many linked with replacing Nigel Adkins at cellar dwelling Southampton. It is not out of the ordinary to hear whispers of QPR boss Mark Hughes being within days of being sacked, despite the reassurances offered to the press by team owner Tony Fernandes.
What may prove as shocking, however, is that there are legitimate calls for the jobs of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and third place City boss Roberto Mancini. For Mancini, rumours of his sacking are nothing new. Whether he is in the news for his inability to handle Carlos Tevez or enabling Mario Balotelli, or his side’s propensity to concede “silly” goals – Mancini’s departure often provides filler on a slow news day. Despite being the only undefeated side in England’s Top Flight, it is the Citizens performance in Europe that is offering fuel to the fire of his latest “reason” to be sacked. In order to advance in the Champion’s League, Manchester City need exactly three specific miracles. City, who plays in the “Group of Death”, must defeat both Real Madrid (miracle 1) at the Etihad, and they must travel to Germany and beat Borussia Dortmund on the road. Moreover, City need help from Ajax, who must earn at least a draw in their final two group matches. If the stars do not align properly, City will be relegated to playing in the Europa League yet again. Now that the Citizens have won the Premier League (last year), successful European play is now the absolute measuring stick for success – whether reasonable or not.
If you think the inmates are often running the asylum known as Manchester City, you should take a real close look at the infrastructure of Arsenal. Whether it is Theo Walcott’s ransom that he plays in the number 9 slot (or else), Andre Santos acting more like a giddy school girl than a proper left back (asking for Van Persie’s jersey at halftime whilst having what amounted to a horrible defensive game for the Brazilian), or the fact that the only happy Gunners fans are those who own shares in the club – you have to admit that this club is a shell (at best) of what they once were. Arsene Wenger makes little (if any) effort to retain his star players. The club consistently refuses to write cheques in retention efforts and young star after young star are permitted to walk. Arsenal will be lucky to qualify for anything related to Europe, especially when looking at their horrible outing against Norwich and their unwillingness to step up against Manchester United. Whilst the more difficult hump in their Premier League season is now behind them, it does not mean the league will become any easier for them. Should Arsenal fail to finish in the top 4 and should they fail to make a “big” signing in January, the Arsenal supporters could make it impossible for Arsene Wenger to manage for another season, and I could not blame the fans in the least.
With two high profile managers rumoured to be on the “outs” with two rich, historic clubs – it would be silly to fail to mention the biggest unemployed manager currently without a job. Former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola is currently amidst his self-imposed one-year sabbatical and has been rumoured to be quite anxious to get back to work. Given Arsenal’s history of not paying for big name players, it would be mostly unreasonable to think he could find himself managing at the Emirates anytime soon. However, Guardiola has a few European championships on his CV. Given his European successes combined with his dominance in Spain, Pep may well find himself leading the complex equation known as Manchester City. At IASBet, Pep is at 5.00 odds to land in Manchester to take over as manager of the Citizens in his next job. Of the English clubs he has been linked with (Chelsea, City, Arsenal, and even Manchester United) – City is the most logical destination for a man of his stature. Sir Alex is not expected to retire until the end of the 2013-14 campaign and Roberto DeMatteo is performing just fine on all fronts. Arsenal will surely not shell out the funds that his salary would command. Additionally, City have all the components Pep would need to make the club successful in Europe. Thus, a Pep to City move seems extremely logical and at 5.00 odds, this bet is a smart one.
From the papers to the football pitch – we have a full weekend ahead of us in the English Premier League. Here are the matches we have to look forward to this weekend:
Having captured seven of a possible twelve points at home, Arsenal host Fulham. Fulham are unbeaten in their last four outings. Fulham look to show more discipline on defence in this run-in, as they have allowed eight more goals on the road than they have when playing at home.
Arsenal have been most unproductive in their last few matches. Their struggling attack has netted two goals in the last three matches. Arsenal will be without midfielder Jack Wilshire (ban for earning a soft red card against Manchester United). Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could make his return from a hip strain, although groaning Arsenal supporters may have to settle for underperforming Andrey Arshavin featuring in the starting eleven. Fulham travels with a healthy squad that should feature Dimitar Berbatov, Damien Duff, and Steve Sidwell.
Sunderland’s attack has lacked inspiration on the road, as they have managed only three goals in five away matches this season. Everton’s defence is not exactly what could be considered “generous” by any means, as they have conceded an average of 1.2 home goals per match.
Both sides have earned numerous draws this season, as Sunderland have ended on level terms in four of their five away matches and Everton have earned draws in their last four straight league matches. Regardless of which team wins or loses, Sunderland have scoring issues when playing away. Their defence remains strong no matter where they play, but their struggles finding the net lead me to believe that the best bet on the board for this match is the “under”.
Norwich are unbeaten in their last three outings and they travel to the Madejski Stadium to face a winless Reading side. Reading have been able to score at their home grounds; however scoring has not been their trouble. Their suspect defence has conceded eighteen goals, which is six more than they have scored. Reading’s defence must step up if they plan to claim their first league win against a suddenly hot Norwich side.
Whilst Norwich has been difficult to beat as of late, they still have not managed a road win this season. In fairness to them, however, their travel schedule has not been the easiest. Their road losses include defeats to tough Fulham, Chelsea, and Newcastle sides, whilst they have earned draws against Tottenham and Villa whilst away from home. Their “travel issues” are largely in part due to their inability to score on the road. Norwich has averages a league low .6 goals scored per away match whilst allowing 2.4 goals per away match. Norwich will have to score if they are to win this match.
The match at St. Mary’s features a struggling Southampton side against a Swansea side that has begun to “re-find” their form. Swansea have not scored in three away matches after dropping five bombs on QPR in their first away match of the season. Southampton concede an average of two goals per home match and they have lost four of their last five matches.
Swansea were quite impressive in their 1-1 draw against Chelsea and I think the momentum from their Chelsea performance will carry over to St. Mary’s. Swansea’s movement away from the ball is a sight to see and will surely result in a relentless Swansea attack.
Stingy at the Britannia, Stoke City are a sure bet to win at home against QPR. Whilst QPR has looked better in recent weeks, they will struggle to score even a single goal against a Stoke side who has allowed a mere one goal in four home matches this season.
Despite residing in fifth place, West Bromwich Albion have managed only two out of a twelve possible points on the road this campaign. Wigan are winners of their last two matches by virtue of wins against West Ham and Tottenham.
Wigan do have a tendency to concede at home and their form has been quite erratic over the course of the last few seasons. West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie looked impressive in his Monday outing, as he scored both of West Brom’s two goals against Southampton. Shane Long has opened the scoring three times for WBA this season. Only Sunderland’s Stephen Fletcher has opened the books more (4 times).
The Red Devils of Manchester United travel to Birmingham to face Aston Villa in the late match of the day. United boast the most productive attack in the league behind Robin Van Persie’s league leading eight goals. RVP and Wayne Rooney are both expected to start, providing there are no fitness concerns coming back from their Champions League match in Portugal. Darren Bent has re-injured his ankle and he is expected to miss this match for the Villains.
Despite not booking a loss in the Premier League and residing in third place – Manchester City are struggling with morale. They are underperforming in Europe and they have conceded soft goals in the league. Clearly, management and the fans believe they are “entitled” to win and thus should do so every time they take to the pitch.
Sitting in sixth place, Tottenham have “got it together” under manager Andres Villas-Boas despite their shock home loss to Wigan.
Tottenham have scored at least once in each of their road games this season. City have kept clean sheets in their last two home outings (versus Sunderland and Swansea). I think City has more urgency going into this fixture and it will show on the pitch. I look for big games from the City strikers (Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko, Balotelli) regardless of which combination Mancini puts out there.
Andy Carrol and West Ham United take to the road to face Newcastle. Carrol’s former club has had disciplinary problems throughout the first part of the season, as they have received red cards in their last two consecutive matches. Thus, midfielder Cheick Tiote and Fabricio Coloccini both miss the match with suspensions related to their red cards. Demba Ba should pass fitness tests to feature up top for Newcastle. West Ham average less than one goal per away match.
Luis Suarez finally let his playing do the talking and looked absolutely brilliant throughout the entire match against Newcastle. He did no crying, diving, nor talking for that matter. His brilliant goal, where he took the long ball on his chest to beat two defenders and Tim Krul with a brilliant outside finesse move before scoring the equalizer is surely an early candidate for goal of the year. If Suarez is playing anywhere near as focused as he was in the Newcastle match, there is no stopping him.
Chelsea enter this fixture on the back of a Swansea draw. They look to draw the line in the sand and return to proper league form after failing to win in their last two league matches. Juan Mata, who missed the Swansea match, should return to the line-up and Victor Moses is likely to see some action, as he is fighting his way into a regular spot in the starting eleven. They look to capture a full three points against Liverpool, who are unbeaten in their last five Premier League matches.
Chelsea have more at stake in this match than Liverpool do. With the benefit of the home fans, this will be a high scoring affair but Chelsea and their depth will be too much for the Suarez-centric Liverpool attack to overcome.
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