Wed, Dec 12, 11:57pm by Kevin Pitstock
As expected, the biggest bit of EPL news this week comes from Manchester, England. Fresh off their exciting 3-2 victory over Manchester City, Manchester United announced they are travelling to Sydney on 20 July for a match against the A-League All Stars. This marks the first time since 1999 that Manchester United has visited Australia in their pre-season. Tickets for the match go on sale today and the match will be played at the Sydney ANZ stadium.
Speaking of the Manchester Clubs, for those of you who missed the Manchester Derby, I assure you that it lived up to the hype. If you are a fan of goals, the match delivered five of them – each being more exciting than the previous goal. If you are a fan of blood, you got that as well. Upon celebrating the match winner (scored off a free kick by Robin Van Persie), United defender Rio Ferdinand was struck by a 2p coin just above the eye by a fan. The coin was thrown from the stands in protest of his celebration and his eye was immediately bloodied. He received treatment and was able to return to the pitch just in time to fend off a last minute effort by City to find another equalizer. Prior to the restart, City goalkeeper Joe Hart restrained another City fan who stormed the pitch to have a go at Ferdinand.
Despite the antics of the enraged City supporters, the match was very exciting from a footballer’s perspective. City were relentless in their attack to open the match and they looked like the side more likely to score. However, Wayne Rooney found the back of the net twice in the first half on United counter-attacks, which gave Manchester United the 2-nil halftime lead.
City came back fighting in the second half and even more so after head case Mario Balotelli was pulled from the match by a fuming Roberto Mancini. The City boss was irate with “Super Mario” for his cheeky failed attempt at a back heel pass to himself instead of feeding the ball to an on-running Sergio Kun Aguero. Carlos Tevez came on for Balotelli in the 50th minute and had an immediate impact. YaYa Toure found the back of the net within ten minutes of Tevez’s arrival to make it 2-1. Pablo Zabaleta half-volleyed a failed clear from 18 yards out for the equalizer in the 86th minute. His match tying goal looked as if it had all but assured City at least one point.
In the 92nd minute, United were on yet another counter-attack when United left back Rafael was brought down by Carlos Tevez just outside of the box. Robin Van Persie set up for the free kick from the left of goal. City midfielder Samir Nasri broke the wall and stuck his foot out, which redirected the ball away from Joe Hart. Had Nasri remained disciplined in the wall, Hart surely would have made the save. Instead, the ball found its way into the back of the net, just grazing the post. United celebrated the goal amidst pandemonium and they held off a last ditch effort by City to claim the full three points and go six points clear of the second place Citizens.
Whilst Game Week 17 will have a difficult time outdoing the EPL’s week sixteen, there are plenty of good games on the schedule for the weekend. Chelsea are “off” from league play, as they are competing in Asia in the FIFA Club World Cup competition, where Fernando Torres continues to impress. He netted two in league play last week in Chelsea’s 3-1 handling of Sunderland, as well as two goals in their 6-1 symbolic victory over FC Nordsjaelland in the Champion’s League. Southampton also get the week off after their 1-0 victory over Reading.
Newcastle have managed one win in the last six matches, whilst City experienced defeat in the league for the first time this season. Demba Ba has “met” expectations set by Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, but very few players beyond Ba has achieved much of anything for them.
City will look to take their frustrations out on the home side. I fully expect City to come out firing in response to their United defeat, as opposed to rolling over in self-pity. Look for plenty of goals (most, if not all coming from City) and a very convincing performance by City despite only scoring nine times in seven road matches.
Despite being without striker Luis Suarez, who accounts for over 50% of Liverpool’s goals scored in the league this season, Liverpool staged a comeback and beat West Ham United on their own grounds. West Ham are extremely tough at home and the Liverpool victory was no small feat.
Villa managed a nil-nil bore draw at home to Stoke and they have earned points in each of their last four matches. Despite grabbing points in each of their last four, Villa are 17th on the table, just above the Relegation Zone. Villa will need to maintain discipline in the back and they will need productivity from Christian Benteke if they are to leave Anfield with as much as a point.
In eight road matches, Sunderland have managed a mere eight goals while conceding eleven compared to United’s home efforts of 19 goals scored whilst conceding 9 cross seven home matches. Both clubs enter this fixture on a “high” of sorts with United’s 3-2 win “down the road” against City. Sunderland earned a convincing 3-0 win against a far from convincing Reading side a few days after they fell 3-1 to Chelsea.
With Nemanja Vidic and Shinji Kagawa rumoured to be available for this run-in, expect discipline and focus from United. Stephen Fletcher is a threat for Sunderland and Connor Wickham was impressive in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea – however, the likely result is United dominates their guests on the pitch and in the score line.
After spending weeks upon weeks giving Norwich little if any respect, I think giving them their fair bit of props is long overdue. Norwich have not lost since their 4-1 “wake up call” at Chelsea back on 6 October. Since that defeat, they have moved out of the relegation zone and into twelfth place on the table on 22 points.
Generally speaking matches at Carrow Road are not too exciting if you judge a match by the number of goals scored. In seven matches, there have been a total of fifteen goals scored at Carrow Road. This total is the second fewest in the league (behind only Stoke City, which has seen 9 goals scored in seven matches played at the Britannia this season).
Whilst Norwich has moved on up, Wigan has found themselves on top of the relegation zone on fifteen points. Wigan have managed four goals when playing away from home and they are unlikely to find the net against Norwich this weekend.
Since Harry Redknapp has taken over at Loftus Road, QPR have not lost. Whilst they are undefeated under Redknapp’s control, they still have not managed a win. Each of the last three QPR matches have ended in a draw, which sadly is an improvement for Queens Park. Fulham’s recent matches have not been much more successful, as they have mustered one win in their last six outings. Despite four ties, Fulham has won one of their last six “away matches”.
The home side is slightly favoured in this fixture, but I am not convinced that QPR can defeat Fulham despite their recent improvements. Dimitar Berbatov has been a creative bright spot for Fulham, as he is on five goals and three assists since arriving via transfer from Old Trafford. He has gone five matches without a goal and based on his efforts – he is long overdue to score. A punt on Berbatov finding the back of the net and a bet on Fulham whilst protecting from yet another QPR draw are both reasonable bets.
I was quite shocked to see Stoke as an underdog at home. Stoke have conceded an unbelievably low two goals at the Britannia in seven matches this season. Everton have scored thirteen goals in eight road trips. Everton’s pace for away goals is on par with the average number of goals scored per match by home teams, whilst Stoke are averaging one goal per game on their home grounds.
Swansea fell victim to Norwich last week by virtue of a 4-3 home loss. They were the better team in the second half. However, Norwich was the better side on the scorecard across 90 minutes. Michu leads the league on twelve goals.
Tottenham were without Gareth Bale in their 2-1 loss to Everton. Bale is struggling with a hamstring injury and his participation will be a match day decision.
Both West Brom and West Ham come into this fixture off disappointing results. West Brom have lost three straight and most recently dropped a 2-0 decision to Arsenal. West Ham found the match “taken” from them by a tremendous second half effort by Liverpool.
Of the two sides, West Ham have been playing better football. West Brom are finding life to be somewhat difficult if Shane Long fails to get on the score sheet whilst West Ham are finding it difficult to score away from home. They have managed five road goals in seven matches. West Bromwich Albion is favoured in this match at evens to win.
To follow up Arsenal’s 2-nil win against West Brom, Arsenal logged a sarcastically brilliant performance against League Two side Bradford in the League Cup. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is often criticized for spending very little in signing and retaining players. Whilst he is ridiculed for such policies, even Mr. Wenger himself has to wonder how his first team side managed to lose to a team that cost 7500 pounds total. To be clear, Arsenal fielded their normal starting eleven in this match. Thus, clearly they were trying for a win. Yet, they were outclassed in a match that really had no business going to penalties. In fact, the match went Bradford’s way when Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen heard the sound of the goal post, which ended the day for the Gunners and saw League 2 side Bradford City through to the next round.
Arsenal take their shameful performance to Madejski Stadium in hopes of turning it around against 19th place Reading in what “should” be an easy win for the Gunners. The markets have priced in a convincing victory for the Gunners. The best bet on the board is Arsenal giving a goal to the home side.
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