From the Archive – Southampton 6-3 Manchester United – October 26, 1996

The 1996-97 season kicked off with English football still basking in the hazy afterglow of Euro ‘96. The recommencing of domestic hostilities saw Manchester United, double-winning champions of the previous season, pick up where they had left off in May. A 4-0 Charity Shield thrashing of Newcastle, the team considered their only serious title rivals (who had just broken the world transfer record on England hot-shot Alan Shearer) seemed to point to a trouble free retention of their crown. An opening day hammering of Wimbledon on the opening day –…

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Premier League Lessons – Jay Jay Okocha

Like many African players of his generation, Augustine Azuka Okocha’s first affiliation with the game came kicking around any spherical object on the dusty streets of his homeland. By the start of the 90s, with ‘Jay-Jay’ in his teens, the African player boom had just hit Europe. The lure of fame and fortune enticed many of the continents gifted youngsters to head away from home to follow the dream of a glorious football career. His first break in European football was a rather inauspicious start, as an 18-year-old at German…

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The Championship – Week 24 review / Week 25 preview

Week 24 – Two more games fell foul to the weather but they were not the only casualties of the last Championship fixtures of the decade. With the games at Blackpool and Doncaster called off, Alan Irvine saw time called on his stint as Preston manager. The Lilywhites fell to their fifth defeat in eight games at Sheffield United, for whom Jamie Ward netted a late winner. The former Everton assistant manager had been at Deepdale for over two years and led his side to the play offs last season…

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Aston Villa 0 – 1 Liverpool – Reds retain Champions League hope with last gasp winner

Liverpool closed the gap between themselves and fourth spot last night by beating Aston Villa at a freezing Villa Park. The frosty night was warmed by the prospect of being a crucial match as both sides played for a place in the top four. Villa and Liverpool both looked to keep up with league rivals Tottenham and Manchester City, who both won their matches on Monday night. Martin O’Neill’s side looked to do the double over the Reds, but seemed apprehensive coming off the back of a defeat to Arsenal…

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Ligue 1 Week 19 action – Unstoppable Bordeaux end year on top

The last action of 2009 in Le Championnat saw leaders Bordeaux open up a nine-point gap at the top and notch up their sixth straight win in the process. Laurent Blanc’s side fell behind to an early goal by Paulo Machado in Toulouse but recovered to overturn the early setback. The visitors took only five minutes to respond with the sought-after Marouane Chamakh levelling matters after expertly heading home from a Beno

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Chelsea 2-1 Fulham – Ragged Chelsea stop the rot, just

CHELSEA 2Drogba 73, Smalling (og) 75 FULHAM 1Gera 4 Two goals in three second half minutes rescued a below par Chelsea from the prospect of shedding more festive points. After having their lead at the top of the Premier League slashed to just two points, the Blues lost an early lead to neighbours Fulham, when Zoltan Gera hooked home a loose ball inside the Chelsea six-yard box after only four minutes. Carlo Ancelotti chose to make six changes from the Boxing Day stalemate at Birmingham, yet it was two of…

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Match Preview – Aston Villa vs. Liverpool – Pressure back on

A 3-0 defeat to Arsenal last time out was little but a slight hiccup in Aston Villa’s magnificent season thus far. The Carling Cup semi-finalists currently sit in that much-coveted fourth spot in the league and have a glorious opportunity to climb eight points above Liverpool should they claim victory in this encounter. The reverse fixture earlier this season saw Liverpool outplayed at Anfield against Martin O’Neill’s side. Villa have the second meanest defence in the Premiership, behind only to Chelsea. Rafael Benitez meanwhile will be hoping his Reds can…

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Andrew Tuft’s Monday Column – A winter worryland

By now, most people will be relaxing after the chaos of Christmas, enjoying the peaceful lull before the New Year celebrations get underway. But for the footballers and managers, the days after the festive season are the most hectic of all. As they face two games in just three days – which for fans often means long journeys in frozen conditions and added expense after an already costly December. Christmas football is regarded as one of the great traditions of the British game, up there with Abide With Me before…

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Mischa Wilmers’ Sunday Column – Mancini off to a winning start as City beat Stoke

As the year draws to a close, observers of the premier league are left hoping that the second half of the season is as engaging as the first has been. Following Boxing Day’s eight matches the title race remains wide open and the signs look good for 2010. Chelsea faced Birmingham away from home and Carlo Ancelotti’s team were hoping they would pull seven points clear of challengers Manchester United with a victory. Their hopes were dashed when the game ended a 0-0 draw. Chelsea had several chances to win…

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Match preview – Tottenham vs. West Ham – High stakes in fierce London derby

West Ham come into this derby looking for a first win in three years over their London neighbours as they continue their scramble away from the drop-zone. A 2-0 Boxing Day triumph over bottom-club Portsmouth was just what the doctor ordered for Gianfranco Zola’s men, who climbed out of the bottom three. The bottom half is now separated by just four points. Hosts Spurs occupy the final European place going into the game, but manager Harry Redknapp hasn’t hidden the fact that it’s a top-four finish the club wants. Spurs…

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Birmingham City 0-0 Chelsea – Birmingham defiant as Chelsea hit cold turkey

League leaders Chelsea missed the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points, instead being held to a goalless draw by an obdurate Birmingham City. Carlo Ancelotti’s side bossed the game throughout, but his side fell the fairer side of a linesman’s flag to disallow Chucho Benitez’s 30th minute poach for offside. Up until then, Chelsea monopolised possession, and grew as an attacking threat, with Daniel Sturridge looking lively on his full league debut. The visitors concise passing pressed Brum back deep into their…

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Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa – Super sub Fabregas shines as Arsenal gun down Villa

Arsenal carried on climbing the Premier League table as they swept Aston Villa aside on Sunday with a brace from skipper Cesc Fabregas. Martin O’ Neill’s team travelled to London hoping to add to their growing scalp of the big four collection having already beaten Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. The match started with both sides carving out chances. Eduardo had the bulk of Arsenal chances early on but failed to finish, Richard Dunne also netted but saw his goal disallowed for a foul on Manuel Almunia. The first half…

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The Championship – Week 23 review / Week 24 preview

Week 23 – The winter weather claimed just one casualty this weekend with Barnsley’s trip to Preston postponed. Otherwise, there was a full Boxing Day schedule in the Championship that began with a 2-2 lunchtime draw at Hillsborough between struggling Sheffield Wednesday and leaders Newcastle. The Owls took the lead through Luke Varney before a fine header from Kevin Nolan levelled matters for the visitors. Shola Ameobi put the Magpies ahead, despite looking to be well offside, only for Wednesday to controversially equalise through James O’Connor. West Brom took advantage…

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Match Preview – Arsenal vs. Aston Villa – Villains aim to Gun down fourth top four opponent

Having convincingly come through a tough battle against Hull at the Emirates last weekend, the Gunners will have renewed confidence that they can grind out results when the going gets tough – and Sunday’s visit of Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa will most definitely see the tough get going. Unlike Phil Brown’s Tigers, Villa are a side capable of beating Arsenal at their own game through quick, counter attacking football, as they did last year in the corresponding fixture. Arsenal, third place ahead of Villa on goal difference and with a…

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Match preview – Burnley vs. Bolton – Turf Moor fortress to stand strong

Boxing Day sees Burnley play host to Bolton in what could be a crucial six pointer at Turf Moor. Burnley are returning home after a gruelling defeat against Wolves, but will welcome a return home as their point total accumulated at Turf Moor speaks for itself. Bolton had a weekend off after their match against Wigan was postponed due to the wintry weather, but they will be keen to get out of the relegation zone with a win. It will not be an easy task for Bolton who are against…

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Trouble on Wearside – Black Cats slide towards the wrong end of the table

After Sunderland’s November defeat of Arsenal there was talk of the possibility of European football on Wearside for the first time since 1973, but since then they have only managed one point from five league games. Following an impressive opening to the season, the Mackems’ form has dipped alarmingly and they are now just five points from the relegation zone. Their performances have suddenly become meager and curiously meek when compared to the dynamic Sunderland side that were faring so well at the beginning of the campaign. Cumulative injuries and…

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Match Preview – Birmingham vs. Chelsea – McLeish to continue Christmas cheer

At the start of the Premier League season, Birmingham and Chelsea had compromising targets for the campaign ahead. Chelsea have been looking to regain the Premier League title and Birmingham are desperate to shake off the reputation as a yo-yo team and secure their place amongst the elite 20 teams in England. As we approach the New Year, both sides are firmly on course to achieve their goal, with Chelsea four points clear at the top of the table. To get three points at St Andrews on Boxing Day, they…

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Premier League Lessons – Juninho

In the post-season of 1995, the England football team hosted a four-team Umbro Cup as part of their preparations for the following year’s European Championships. The pre-tournament hype surrounded the prospect of viewing an 18-year-old striking phenomenon, Ronaldo. However, it was another player, the scorer of a sublime free-kick against England and Brazil’s player of the year at the time, who sparkled. Oswaldo Giroldo Jr, or Juninho as he would become known, was a diminutive attacking-midfielder who formed part of a successful Sao Paulo side that had scooped a number…

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Ligue 1 Week 18 action – Bordeaux continue title supremacy

Bordeaux extended their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to eight points this weekend after hammering Lorient 4-1 at the Stade Chaban Delmas. Les Girondins steamrollered their opponents with a dominant display with a brace from ex-Manchester United player David Bellion and second-half strikes from Fernando Cavenaghi and newly crowned French Player of the Year, Yoann Gourcuff. The only disappointment for Coach Laurent Blanc was Lorient’s late consolation, which brought to an end Bordeaux’s impressive defensive record of nearly eight matches without conceding. Les Girondins’ current run of form…

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Bundesliga Week 16 action – Bayer Leverkusen lead the way as season reaches winter shut down

The Bundesliga has reached the half way point with just five points separating the top five teams. Borussia Dortmund have almost come from nowhere to suddenly be considered title contenders and lie in fifth place with a recent excellent run of form with four straight wins and they are now unbeaten in their last 10 league matches after a poor start to the season. They won a tight affair 1-0 over Freiburg at the weekend with Lucas Barrios scoring the game’s only goal after 19 minutes. Borussia’s fierce rivals Schalke…

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England’s Future Stars – Tom Huddlestone

A Different League’s England’s future stars series continues with Tottenham Hotspurs’ midfield powerhouse, Tom Huddlestone. Having been nurtured through a marvellous footballing education, impressing with England under-17s, under-19s and a dominant figure for the under-21 side, Tom Huddlestone has been tipped for an England future for a number of years. A solid, commanding midfield player who can also provide cover at centre-back, the former Derby County trainee is still only 22 and will surely be adorning the England jersey on a regular basis in the not-too-distant future. His vast frame…

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The Championship – Week 22 review / Week 23 preview

Week 22 – The weather put paid to three Championship matches as the December snow played havoc with the Football League fixture list. Despite having a brand new stadium, Cardiff’s home match with Leicester was postponed due to a frozen pitch, with the club issuing a statement saying their under-soil heating has not yet been commissioned. Elsewhere, West Brom missed out on the chance to close the gap to leaders Newcastle for at least 24 hours due to the conditions in Blackpool and Scunthorpe’s home game with Ipswich was also…

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Premier League analysis – Week 17 – Can Mancini fire City into the Champions League?

The major talking about of the weekend came at Eastlands as the axe fell on the unfortunate Welshman Mark Hughes after Manchester City’s 4-3 victory over Sunderland. Sheikh Mansour, the billionaire owner of Manchester City, opted for giving Hughes no more time with City lying sixth in the Premier League. However is 6th respectable for a club which has spent over £200m? Instant success is something which is fast becoming a necessity in football management. Jose Mourinho is one of a few who achieved this with Porto, Chelsea and now…

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Club Focus – Tottenham – Staying home for Christmas

Off the field, Tottenham have had more dramas this week than the Christmas edition of Eastenders. On the pitch, Spurs fans will be hoping the plotlines are kept much lower key, with six points taken against Fulham and West Ham with minimal fuss. The team have a reputation of not faring well over the festive season but they will be thankful that they at least have little travelling to do as the seasonal meetings come thick and fast. The newspapers have had a field day with the reports of the…

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