Club Focus – Liverpool – A happy anniversary

February 25th 2009, and Yossi Benayoun’s late header had Liverpool supporters leaping around the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in celebration of one of the club’s greatest ever European away wins. February 25th 2010, and those same fans are in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, about to watch the Reds take on a team who have borrowed a ground for the night seeing as their 7,000 capacity Tineretului Stadium is too small. Unirea Urziceni are no Real Madrid, this was no grand, Champions League-style occasion, but it’s what Liverpool have been downgraded…

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Premier League Preview – February 27/28, 2010

The climax to the Premier League season looms and once again there are a number of fixtures this weekend that are sure to be crucial in terms of the final league standings. Manchester United and Aston Villa have the welcome distraction of the Carling Cup final on Sunday, providing league leaders Chelsea with a golden opportunity to extend their advantage over the Red Devils. Three points are far from assured this Saturday however with the challenge of Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City on the horizon. Unfortunately, the build up to this…

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Club Focus – Reading – A stewards’ inquiry?

There can not be too many Reading fans alive who have witnessed the club in an FA Cup Quarter Final but after a dramatic win over West Brom, a whole new generation of Royals fans will have that opportunity. Victories in cup games do not bring with them the vital points needed for league survival but no one can dispute that Reading’s recent Championship revival has coincided with the phenomenal cup run. Having already seen off two Premier League sides, including the Anfield giant-killing of Liverpool, the Baggies were the…

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Club Focus – Manchester City – Champions League or bust

Manchester City’s FA Cup elimination at the hands of Stoke city leaves the Blues with just one thing to play for this season, fourth place. While every football fan wants to see their team lift a trophy, just what is more important – winning the FA Cup or reaching the Champions League?Of course, it is not one or the other. There was no reason City could not have won on Wednesday night, moved into the tournament’s latter stages and been successful in May while still grabbing fourth spot. But they…

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Club Focus – Chelsea – Jose piles Mour misery on Blues

A 2-1 defeat was not the worst outcome for Chelsea and no-one knows better than Jose Mourinho himself. The 2004/05 season showed Mourinho beginning to build his empire in London, signing key players Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira as he created his vision of a footballing dynasty. Mourinho ensured fans that Champions League glory was well within reach, although many doubted his credentials after the Blues crashed to a 2-1 defeat in their first leg away game to Barcelona. However a return leg at the Bridge saw Chelsea…

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Wayne Bridge pulls out of England squad and World Cup

Wayne Bridge has sensationally ruled himself out of the England squad – and this year’s World Cup – in the wake of the John Terry scandal that has dominated the front and back pages for the past month. In a statement released through his lawyers, Bridge, 29, said his position in the squad alongside Terry, 29, had become “untenable and potentially divisive.” The Manchester City left-back was set to be called up to Fabio Capello’s squad for the game against Egypt – the Coach’s last squad before announcing his World…

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News and Views from the Football League – Newcastle in the driving seat as pressure begins to mount

The fight for the promotion places is really beginning to heat up in all three divisions of the football league, and the battles to avoid the drop are looking just as tense. This is the end of the season where footballers really earn their money, as the form book and league standings are thrown out of the window. On any given day, a team seemingly destined for the drop will turn over a title-chasing side, as the mad dash for points rears its head. All that remains to be seen…

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Jupp Heynckes – the veteran Leverkusen Coach on a mission to break his own record

Bayer Leverkusen climbed back to the top of the Bundesliga on Sunday with a 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen. Eren Derdiyok had given Bayer the lead before ex-Chelsea striker Claudio Pizarro levelled the game. Toni Kroos put the away side back on top before in the last minute Per Mertesacker snatched a point. Bayer are now top of the league on goal difference and they have also equalled a Bundesliga record of 23 games unbeaten – ironically a record set by Leverkusen’s own Coach Jupp Heynckes when he managed the…

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Capello’s options at left-back – Leighton Baines, Everton

With Fabio Capello set to name his final squad before deciding on the shortlist for the World Cup finals, A Different League looks at two of the country’s left-backs pushing Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole for a spot at South Africa. Leighton Baines Stephen Warnock Leighton BainesEverton’s left-back has been one of the club’s most consistent performers in a topsy-turvy season, producing a string of impressive displays leaving him well worth talk of a first England cap. The Everton No 3 has featured regularly for David Moyes, appearing in 33…

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Capello’s options at left-back – Stephen Warnock, Aston Villa

With Fabio Capello set to name his final squad before deciding on the shortlist for the World Cup finals, A Different League looks at two of the country’s left-backs pushing Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole for a spot at South Africa. Leighton Baines Stephen Warnock Stephen WarnockAfter Rafa Benitez didn’t see Stephen Warnock as Liverpool’s long term left-back in 2007, questions were asked of whether he had what it took to become England’s first choice left-back, especially with the likes of Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge plying their successful trade…

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Stuttgart superb as Barca threat nullified

STUTTGART 1Cacau 25 BARCELONA 1Ibrahimovic 52 In terms of the status of both clubs and the players on their respective books, it was without doubt the largest mismatch of the Champions League last-16 ties. Barcelona, full to the brim with veritable world-beaters and outstanding technical ability, travelled to the Mercedes-Benz Arena to meet Stuttgart. The Germans currently sit a lowly ninth in the Bundesliga and many expected their inexperienced side to dismantle in the face of Spanish superiority. Anything but a defeat would be thought of as a miraculous success…

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England’s Future Stars – Andy Carroll

Little over a year ago and the name Andy Carroll meant little more than a young battering ram, 12 months on and he’s taking the Championship by storm, attracting Premier League attention as he amongst others drives Newcastle to the summit of second tier football. Since the break of 2010 it seems every football fan in England is now surely to have heard of ‘Big Andy’. Recently given a prolonged spell in the Newcastle starting line-up as their quest for an immediate return to the Premier League continues, the Gateshead-born…

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Club Focus – Reading – Temporary setbacks and temporary signings

It has been a while since the phrase “unbeaten run comes to an end” has been uttered around Reading but after four straight league wins, the weekend brought a defeat at Blackpool. A defeat is never particularly welcome, but it will be a fillip to the team that this loss comes after a positive run of form and is not the latest in a string of reverses as was becoming the norm earlier in the season. Playing in front of the smallest crowd to watch a Royals match home or…

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Club Focus – Sunderland – Bruce feels pressure as another relegation battle looms

After Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday left the Black Cats hovering just three points above the relegation zone, Steve Bruce admitted that his team are embroiled in yet another relegation dogfight. He cited injuries as one of the key reasons that the north-east club finds themselves in their current predicament but maintained that positive signs are evident: “We have been struck down with big players missing. I don’t want to make excuses and the signs have been good in the last four weeks. We are getting back to…

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Chester City – A ‘helping hand’ that nobody wants

With finances among Football League clubs featuring so prominently in the headlines this season, it is unfortunate that the most desperate case in English football currently resides outside the top four tiers. Last season Chester City were relegated from the Football League and entered administration. Coupled with other solvency issues, this saw the club docked a crippling 25 points at the start of their first Conference season for six years. That they currently sit at the bottom of the Conference table on minus three points is the least of their…

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Club Focus – Liverpool – Dull and duller

What, Manchester City vs. Liverpool isn’t on television? A potentially season-defining match that could decide the race for fourth place that Sky Sports are so fond of endlessly discussing is not being shown? They would rather screen an easily winnable Aston Villa home match and the Greater Manchester mud-wrestling championships live from the DW Stadium in Wigan? Ninety minutes of ‘action’ at Eastlands later, and you can see that the TV companies made the right decision. It’s not that City and Liverpool were especially negative in their meeting at the…

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Club Focus – Portsmouth – Premier League dream now over

The fact Portsmouth finished Saturday’s game with five strikers on the pitch only strengthened the point that this was indeed a must-win game. Avram Grant knew it, the players knew it and the supporters knew it. So as Salif Diao rifled in Stoke’s dramatic late winner, everyone inside Fratton Park knew that was that – the final nail in the coffin. The sorrow and devastation reeked around the stadium after Pompey’s latest loss, with all inside safe in the knowledge that their seven-year Premier League stay was almost certainly over.…

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Club Focus – West Ham – All’s well after Tigers mauling

A fairly quiet week off the pitch for West Ham, something which is a massive positive for everybody at the club. With all the controversy of recent weeks and all the negative press the club has received, the only noises coming from the club were rallying cries from players to supporters about making the Boleyn Ground a cauldron for the massive six-pointer against Hull City. The fans responded magnificently as Hull were blown away by the Hammers’ intensity and clear desire to keep the club in the top flight. It…

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Club Focus – Stoke – Lady Luck finally smiles on Potters

Fortune finally favoured Stoke City at Fratton Park on Saturday evening. Having battled adversity over the last fortnight in the form of injuries to key players and some truly rotten refereeing, the Potters found themselves benefiting from some contentious decisions before snatching all three points at the death thanks to the unlikeliest of heroes. Neither team could honestly stake much of a claim to being worthy winners in what was, for the most part, a poor game. Stoke were in control for large periods but could not find a way…

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Club Focus – Newcastle – Three and easy for Magpies

Newcastle’s impeccable home form shows little sign of easing up as they added another important three points to their Championship promotion push. Preston North End were the latest side to leave Tyneside pointless as they went down 3-0. Despite never really hitting the heights of their previous two home games, Newcastle still had more than enough about them to win comfortably without ever hitting top gear. The Magpies’ recent slump in form appears to have been forgotten as in the space of a couple of games they have created a…

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Club Focus – Everton – Five years in the making

When Jack Rodwell capped Everton’s convincing victory over Manchester United on Saturday, half a decade’s worth of frustration was released by the loyal Evertonians who turned Goodison Park into a cauldron of atmosphere for the duration of the game, roaring their team on as they outplayed the Champions. Five years ago, the last time Everton beat United in the league, the noise was similar but the manner of the Blues’ victory was very different. It took a battling performance to see off United then, with Duncan Ferguson rolling back the…

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Club Focus – Aston Villa – Villa retain goal-scoring form

Martin O’Neill recently announced that he would support the controversial proposal for a play-off for the fourth Champions League place. The play-off system would mean that the teams that have finished from fourth to seventh would play each other for the desirable spot, instead of the privilege going to fourth place. It is difficult to see if O’Neill is being realistic about his chances of finishing fourth this season after finishing sixth in two consecutive years or if he just in favour of a proposal which will certainly benefit his…

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Club Focus – Arsenal – One Song, we’ve only got one Song

This is the chant that has been regularly heard to ring out from the Ashburton Grove faithful this season. As well as being heavily laced with irony, it is a sign of the esteem in which the player is now held and recognition of how far he has come. This season has seen a period of sustained development for Alex Song who has quickly established himself as a key player in the Arsenal first-team. Having made his breakthrough last term, the second season, much like a musician’s second album is…

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Club Focus – Chelsea – Keen to seize the sleaze

Sex, shame and scandal are beginning to affiliate themselves with a team formerly prized on their winning mentality and goal-scoring prowess. Chelsea gained a reputation even in the earliest years of their development for attributing big-name signings and it seems now they are paying the price for these top performers as their rising stars begin to attract controversy. Amidst allegations John Terry had an affair with ex-team-mate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend sleaze at the club has now heightened as current England left-back, Ashley Cole, is alleged with infidelity. Ron Gourlay amongst…

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