Club Focus – Liverpool – A New Nadir

Liverpool’s slump: An insipid, flat display at a freezing Fratton Park; a struggle to create any chances that were worthy of the name “big four”; an under-fire manager appearing to have lost the ability to inspire his team; several underperforming, inconsistent players; a crushing sense of inevitability about yet another defeat. These are signs that even the manager’s most ardent followers are losing patience with a man who in their eyes used to be able to walk on the River Mersey, and a whole lot of difficult questions to be…

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Club Focus – Arsenal – Iron Man versus the Hulk

As Arsenal supporters struggled to get to the stadium in time for Saturday’s evening kick off against Hull due to bad weather, Arsenal – almost in recognition of this fact – saved their best football for second half of the match. After a few early scares with Hull trying to secure another famous victory and cement their place as Arsenal’s bogey team, it turned out to be a fairly comfortable victory for the Gunners. With Manchester United having lost to Fulham earlier on Saturday, the north London side now find…

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Club Focus – Leeds United – Whites continue on the right path

Leeds United managed to safely navigate through their encounter with Southampton as they recorded a vital 1-0 win at Elland Road. Besides working hard to bag three precious points from the clash, Leeds had to contend with Jermaine Beckford’s unacceptable behaviour as he was subbed with 15 minutes to go with the match scoreless. When manager Simon Grayson had the club’s top-scorer replaced by Max Gradel, Beckford was visibly upset and did not shake his manager’s hand. Clearly an act of dissent as the player seemed to put the individual…

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Club Focus – Manchester City – Hughes’ shameful sacking opens the floodgates

“A return of two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set. Sheikh Mansour and the board felt that there was no evidence that the situation would fundamentally change.” And with that, Mark Hughes was gone. Manchester City sacked Hughes despite the Welshman lifting the Blues to sixth, well on course for the stated goal of Europa League football at the least this term. While City’s league position does not tell the whole story of their season so far,…

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Club Focus – Newcastle – Mar-loan extension in order?

Newcastle United gave their fans an early Christmas present with a 2-0 victory over fellow north east side Middlesbrough. A goal apiece from Marlon Harewood and Shola Ameobi were enough to ensure the Magpies home record maintained its unbeaten record this season. A crowd of 49,644 set a new record for the highest attendance in the Championship’s history, beating the previous best set by local rival – Sunderland. The record crowd may not have been treated to the most entertaining of games – but three points are key at this…

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Club Focus – Fulham – “We want four”

In a cheeky preview to their Christmas feasts, the Fulham fans at Craven Cottage on Saturday were chanting for more to add to the three goals their team had already put past a sorry Manchester United defence. The most incredible thing about the result? It was not a surprise. Thus showing exactly how far Fulham have come under Roy Hodgson – no longer do fans pray for wins from anywhere, they are instead somewhat disappointed Bobby Zamora et al could not bury a fourth against the reigning champions. In truth,…

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Club Focus – Birmingham – Defensive football drives Blues forward

Sunday’s away fixture to Everton proved two things about Birmingham – firstly, they are learning the much needed art of getting results out of poor performances, and secondly, they should be taken seriously by the Premier League elite. Goodison Park is not an easy ground to play at, as Birmingham found out. Their previously solid defence was penetrated many times by Everton and to only concede one goal was a success in itself. Truthfully, City probably shouldn’t have got anything out of the game but the fact that they did…

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Club Focus – Reading – Back to basics

During a turbulent week for the club, Reading offered a spirited show of resolve against Bristol City on a chilly Saturday in December. After a performance worthy of all three points and suffering a harsh penalty decision against them, the Royals kept their heads up and snatched a late equaliser. What is important now is that the club continues to progress and that the performance was not just a one-off show of defiance. With Brian McDermott holding the reins, the first obvious change was reverting to 4-4-2. Whilst Brendan Rodgers…

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Club Focus – Everton – Donovan to the rescue

Everton missed a glut of chances as they were held to a draw with Birmingham in the snow and hail on Sunday with David Moyes believing it was “points dropped” rather than a point earned. The Scot said that “we let ourselves down in the final third” and the news that Landon Donovan has finally signed a two and a half month loan contract will please all Blues fans, as a player of his skill and cleverness in the final third was the tonic that Moyes was looking for this…

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Club Focus – Portsmouth – Pompey battle against history

It’s only happened once in the Premier League’s 17-year history, but as Portsmouth fans finish devouring their Christmas turkey and begin nursing those Boxing Day hangovers, they will be forced to come to terms with the fact their team is bottom at Christmas – a reality that points towards almost inevitable doom. Nevertheless, the Fratton Park faithful were handed the perfect Christmas present on Saturday as Pompey overcame a beleaguered Liverpool side to potentially lift themselves off the bottom the following day. West Ham’s battling draw against league leaders Chelsea…

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Club Focus – Manchester United – Out of the title race?

The injury problems faced by Manchester United concerning the back four do not seem to be letting up at all as the club heads into the difficult Christmas period, trying desperately to keep in touching distance of Chelsea. When discussing United’s title credentials season after season, one thing which is always cited is the ability to hit form in the second half of the season, often coming from behind to take the title. Whether the Red Devils can do this again this season is seriously in doubt following last weekend’s…

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Club Focus – Aston Villa – Carew makes it four wins in four

John Carew ensured that the Villans left Villa Park with all three points after a resolute Stoke City frustrated Martin O’Neill’s team throughout. The win maintains their Champions League qualification hopes, with a fourth successive victory in the Premier League. Lacking their usual attacking flair, the Villa players were a joy to behold at the opposite end of the pitch, capping their performance off with a fourth successive clean sheet. Towards the end of last season, this fixture marked the start of Villa’s deterioration in form and ultimately their failure…

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Club focus – Stoke City – Potters aim to rain on Mancini’s parade

What do Kevin Keegan, Sam Allardyce, Gary Megson and Paul Hart all have in common? The answer is that all of them have, on being newly appointed manager of a club, faced Stoke City as their first opponents. Boxing Day will see Roberto Mancini join that list. It is a strange quirk of footballing fate that the Potters should be cursed with enduring the wrath of so many players desperate to impress a new manager, and one which has rarely had a happy ending for the Potteries club. However, judging…

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Club Focus – Chelsea – Ancelotti’s men too rigid against former Blue

If Chelsea are going to stumble every time they face a former Blue then Roman Abramovich’s much desired Champions League title may once again prove beyond reach. Ex-Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola helped guide his West Ham outfit to a 1-1 draw at Upton Park, denying Chelsea of a formulaic three points. If the emotional and eagerly anticipated return of fellow fans’ favourite Jose Mourinho is going to have a similar impact on proceedings, then Chelsea’s chance of Champions League glory may elude them as early as the first knockout stage.…

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Andrew Tuft’s Monday column – To buy or not to buy

The festive period does not just mean turkey, mince pies and repeats on television. In the world of Premier League football, the last two weeks of December herald the imminent opening of the January transfer window – and that means big-money transfers, last-gasp deadline-day scrambles and more rumours than presents under the tree. Silly season is already well underway. Manchester City’s sacking of Mark Hughes and appointment of former Inter Milan boss Roberto Mancini immediately sent the rumour mill into overdrive. With City’s untold millions supporting him, Mancini is able…

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Chelsea 1-1 West Ham – An unexpected penalty shoot-out

West Ham grabbed a vital draw to take them above Portsmouth and two points away from safety with a hard earned performance below the cold skies of Upton Park yesterday. The boisterous London derby started almost immediately with a 25 yard pile-driver from the Hammer’s former infamous midfielder Frank Lampard as Chelsea started brightly. Robert Green was more than capable of preventing the quick strike and produced a good save to deny the talismanic figure in blue. Similarly, Branislav Ivanovic came close for the Pensioners as his close ranged header…

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Hughes pays ultimate price at big-spending City

After 18 months in charge and over £200m spent, Mark Hughes has been sacked by Manchester City despite the club sitting sixth in the Premier League table. Rumours had dogged the Welshman ever since City were taken over by the Abu Dhabi United group, but the timing of the Hughes’ departure was still something of a surprise. It was said earlier this year by City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak that the target for the Sky Blues this term was to finish in the top six – and Saturday’s 4-3 victory…

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Manchester City 4-3 Sunderland – Hughes signs off with a win that will live long in the memory

As news emerged yesterday evening that Mark Hughes had been sacked as manager of Manchester City, it was easy to forget that a football match had been played at Eastlands. City led a thrilling encounter three times, as Sunderland repeatedly clawed their way back only to be denied a point by Roque Santa Cruz’s second half winner. Both sides gave a master class of how not to defend, Nyron Nosworthy setting the precedent when he appeared to hesitate whilst waiting for an offside flag, allowing Craig Bellamy time and space…

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All change at City – but who exactly is Roberto Mancini?

Roberto Mancini was announced as the new man to take forward Manchester City’s huge expectations after Mark Hughes was deemed a failure by the club’s board. The former Inter Milan Coach is a newcomer to English management and a relative unknown to Premier League followers, so A Different League’s sister site, Football Italiano, explains Mancini the manager. The best way to describe Mancini would be using three words – talented, charismatic and hotheaded. Unlike the other two Italian managers in England, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, Mancini is an individual…

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Bundesliga player profile – Toni Kroos, Leverkusen

When Germany last won the World Cup back in 1990, Toni Kroos was just six months old. Needless to say, the landmark achievement would certainly not have been well remembered given his tender age but, like most German players, is constantly reminded of his country’s historic moment. There is a growing general consensus, however, that if Germany does ever reclaim the famous trophy, then it is players like the on-loan Leverkusen man who will be a key factor in the country’s success. It’s for that reason that at just 19-years-old,…

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Bundesliga Focus – Dortmund celebrate a century

The upcoming weekend will not only see the Bundesliga’s final round of fixtures before the annual winter shut down, but also a milestone landmark reached for a rejuvenated Borussia Dortmund. On Saturday December 19, Dortmund will officially be 100-years-old and, while most clubs would obviously celebrate, Dortmund can be forgiven for partying a little harder than the rest. Having suffered some tough campaigns in recent seasons, BVB are flying high again thanks to an impressive run of nine games undefeated that has catapulted them into the upper echelons of the…

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Ligue 1 Focus – Blanc and Gourcuff collect top accolades

Bordeaux have continued to dominate French football this week with resounding victories for the club, the manager and one of their star players. The Bordeaux playmaker Yoann Gourcuff collected his award for French Footballer of the Year, while Les Girondins’ coach Laurent Blanc was named top boss. These two prestigious accolades are coupled with Bordeaux’s victory over high-flying rivals Montpellier to take the League leaders six points clear at the top. After missing out in 2008, Gourcuff played an indispensable role in helping Bordeaux break Lyon’s sequence of seven consecutive…

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A Different Week – Parallel universe for O’Neill and McLeish

It seems strange to remember that both Martin O’Neill and Alex McLeish were plying their trade across the border past Hadrian’s Wall just a few short years ago. Their rivalry perpetuated a super-two showdown between Celtic and Rangers, but today both face a different kind of challenge. For O’Neill, his job is not too dissimilar to his time at the white and green playground. Expectation and pressure have been poured on Villa’s managerial hot-seat as both money and support were thrown at the club in the summer of 2007, not…

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Club Focus – Reading – Rodgers, over and out

Reading do not make a habit of sacking managers. Steve Coppell was at the helm for six years before he walked in May, and Alan Pardew was at the club for a sizeable period before he quit for West Ham in 2003. It has been a long time since Reading gave a manager the push. Officially Brendan Rodgers’ sudden departure is being labelled mutual consent, but listening to John Madejski – who broke his silence 24 hours after the news broke – it is clear that this was the board’s…

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Europa League round-up – Matchday 6 – Fulham progress after spirited win in Switzerland

The group stage of the inaugural Europa League came to a close this week, with Fulham putting in a committed performance in Basel to progress to the knock out stages of the competition. Roy Hodgson continued to field a weakened team in the Europa League, but once again this policy did not seem to hamper his side’s chances too much as they overcame Basle 3-2. The Cottagers dominated the first half, creating several good chances and having a goal disallowed – Bobby Zamora judged to have been offside after collecting…

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