UEFA Champions League Second Set
UEFA Champions League Second Set avatar

Wednesday 2nd April

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund

Real Madrid have looked a much more convincing team this year and have had some great wins in the CL. (Getty Images)

Real Madrid have looked a much more convincing team this year and have had some great wins in the CL. (Getty Images)

Wednesday’s quarterfinal sees Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund reunited once again for the chance to play in the Semis. These two sides faced one another four times in last year’s competition, with German side prevailing in a thrilling semi-final, although their Spanish rivals will be hoping they can turn the tables on this occasion.

How they got here

Real Madrid

Los Blancos (The Whites) have been immense in this year’s Champions League and have yet to lose a game. They breezed through the group stage dropping only two points in a 2-2 draw with Juventus to top the group on 16-points. In the round of 16 they brushed German team Schalke aside winning both legs with an aggregate score of 9-2.

Borussia Dortmund

Last year’s runners-up have not been quite as good as they were last year, but have still managed to progress to the quarters. They just about squeezed out of their group topping Group F level on 12 points with Arsenal and Napoli. In the round of 16 they faced a tough Zenit side and managed to edge past them 5-4 over two scintillating games.

Key Players

Cristiano Ronaldo

This seems like it could be Ronaldo's year - he certainly will be hoping to take his team all the way.. (Getty Images)

This seems like it could be Ronaldo’s year – he certainly will be hoping to take his team all the way.. (Getty Images)

The Portuguese international has been in sensational form this season and was deservedly crowned the world’s best player earlier in the year. Ronaldo has scored a whopping 44 goals in 40 games this season for Real, including 13 in 7 Champions League matches.

Marco Reus

Marco Reus has definitely came into his own in the Champions League campaign. (Getty Images)

Marco Reus has definitely came into his own in the Champions League campaign. (Getty Images)

With star player Robert Lewandowski suspended Dortmund will be looking for Reus to give them some cutting edge. The German international had a terrific first season at Dortmund last year, scoring 19 goals. He has pushed on this season and already has 17 goals, including 3 in the Champions League. Quick, strong and good at dribbling, Reus will be Dortmund’s danger man.

Head-to-head

These two sides have met eight times in European competitions with Real Madrid edging the encounters with 3 wins to Dortmund’s 2, and 3 draws. However, the Germans prevailed during their last meeting in last year’s semi-final. Lewandowski scored all four goals – a European Cup semi-final first – in the 1st leg to give Dortmund a 4-1 lead in Germany. But late goals from Karim Benzema (83) and Sergio Ramos (88) set up a frenzied finish to the second leg, though Dortmund held on to progress to the final.

Tactical breakdown

Dortmund had this game more or less wrapped up after the first leg in last year’s semi-final, as Madrid struggled to come to terms with their high-tempo and pressing game.

However, Los Blancos have moved-up a gear in the attacking department with the acquisition of Gareth Bale this season and are many people’s favorites for this year’s title.

Dortmund are struggling with defender Neven Subotić, midfielders Sven Bender, İlkay Gündoğan and Jakub Błaszczykowski all out injured. While star player Robert Lewandowski misses out through suspension.

Robert Lewandowski suspension will be a huge blow for Dortmund (Getty Images)

Robert Lewandowski suspension will be a huge blow for Dortmund (Getty Images)

Real Madrid’s only fresh injury concern is left back Marcelo who misses out with a thigh strain, with Fábio Coentrão likely to deputize.

Dortmund are known for their high-tempo and high-pressing game, but with Madrid possessing so much explosive speed upfront, I expect Dortmund to sit deep, try and keep the game tight, and hit on the counter. However, I doubt they have the ability to keep Marid’s BBC (Benzema, Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo) trio at bay and I expect Madrid to win.

Prediction: 2-0

 

PSG v Chelsea

PSG are now able to compete with the big boys. .(Getty Images)

PSG are now able to compete with the big boys. .(Getty Images)

Jose Mourinho faces the side who were his first Champions League opponents as Chelsea Manager and will hoping for the same result that he earned in 2004. However, the Parisian outfit have been transformed in the last few years with huge investment from new owners the Qatar Investment Fund, and are now many people’s dark horses for this year’s tournament.

How they got here

PSG

The Ligue 1 champions topped Group C with 13 points, losing and drawing only once. In the Round of 16 they faced German side Bayer Leverkusen and easily dispatched of them, winning the first leg 4-0 away in Germany before securing a 2-1 victory in Paris.

Chelsea

Chelsea struggled during the group phase losing twice, but still managed to top their group on 12-points to progress to the next round. In the round of 16 they faced Turkish champions Galatasaray and progressed relatively comfortably drawing the first leg 1-1 in Turkey before winning 2-0 in London.

Key Players

Zlatan Imbrahimovic

PSG Ibrahimovic has proven time and time again that he is world class.(Getty Images)

PSG Ibrahimovic has proven time and time again that he is world class.(Getty Images)

The maverick striker was made PSG captain this season by new coach Laurent Blanc and has been in spectacular form thriving under the extra pressure. Imbrahimovic has scored 40 goals in 42 games for PSG, including 10 goals in only 7 Champions League games.

Eden Hazard

Hazard (L) has been Chelsea's player of the season thus far.(Getty Images)

Hazard (L) has been Chelsea’s player of the season thus far.(Getty Images)

“The little pony” has been linked with a big money move to PSG following a terrific season in the EPL. The 23-year-old is Chelsea’s top scorer this season with 16 goals, but it is his dribbling, speed, power and passing that have really caught the eye and when Chelsea play well it is usually because of this young man.

Head-to-head

These two sides have only met twice before, which was during the 2004/2005 group stages of the Champions League. The first game in Paris was actually Jose Mourinho’s first European game as Chelsea manager and the Blues were 3-0 victors. The second game in London finished in a 0-0 draw.

Tactical Breakdown

Mourinho's Chelsea will have their work cut out to keep PSG at bay (Getty Images)

Mourinho’s Chelsea will have their work cut out to keep PSG at bay (Getty Images)

A few eyebrows were raised when Laurent Blanc was appointed to replace the outgoing Carlos Ancelotti. Blanc was reportedly the club’s eighth choice to replace Ancelotti, but has transformed the side from a counter-attacking unit into a possession obsessed and attacking side.

Chelsea have progressively improved throughout this season and remain a well organized and tough team to play against. However, they still lack cutting edge up top and may find it hard to breakdown the bigger teams.

I expect PSG to push hard and try to earn a good result to take to London with them. Chelsea will sit back make things tight and hope to steal an away goal on the counter, however, whether or not they can shut out the deadly duo of Imbrahimovic and Cavanni remains to be seen.

Prediction: 2-1

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U.S. MNT – Puebla Refuse to Release Beasley and Orozco
U.S. MNT – Puebla Refuse to Release Beasley and Orozco avatar

Mere hours after coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced a shake up to his coaching staff, the U.S. MNT was further roiled by news that Liga MX club Puebla, had refused to release DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco for Tuesday night’s game against Mexico. Klinsmann had already been forced to replace his projected World Cup starter at right fullback, Brad Evans, due to injury, now he will have to do without Beasley, number one on the left back depth chart.

DaMarcus Beasley exclusion will definitely be disappointed for Klinsmann.  (ISI Photos/Don Feria)

DaMarcus Beasley exclusion will definitely be disappointed for Klinsmann. (ISI Photos/Don Feria)

Klinsmann was none too pleased with Puebla’s action, saying in a U.S. Soccer statement, “we are very disappointed in the decision by Puebla.” “When the match was scheduled, it was with the spirit that both teams would have access to their domestic-based players for what is a very important game for those competing for spots in the World Cup. Both MLS and most clubs in Liga MX honored that idea. While we understand their position, it’s a huge opportunity lost for DaMarcus and Michael and doesn’t contribute to the continuation of this respected rivalry.”

Because this is not a FIFA International Date, clubs are not required to release their players, and the last place Gladiators apparently decided that they needed to keep Beasley and Orozco available for training.

Puebla’s move leaves Klinsmann short of defenders for this showdown with Mexico, and it robs the back four of a much needed chance to build continuity with Brazil looming. The first choice U.S. defense, Beasley, Evans, Besler and Gonzalez, had all been expected for this match, but with his fullbacks missing others will have a chance to step forward.

Michael Orozco will be disappointed and surely this will damage his chance of selection.  (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

Michael Orozco will be disappointed and surely this will damage his chance of selection. (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

Just six defenders will travel to Phoenix, and unless Klinsmann opts for midfielder Maurice Edu in a defensive role, Michael Parkhurst and DeAndre Yedlin should get the start. The experienced Parkhurst has stepped in at a moments notice in the past, most recently last September 10, in Columbus when the U.S. shutout Mexico 2-0 to book their passage to Brazil. Parkhurst came on at halftime of that match for an injured Fabian Johnson, and gave a solid performance.

Yedlin and Tony Beltran are Klinsmann’s remaining fullbacks, and the young Seattle player figures to get the nod over Beltran, who was called in to replace Evans. Yedlin impressed Klinsmann in the January camp, and a good game against Mexico could give his longshot World Cup run a significant boost.

Of the two Puebla men, Orozco seems to have the most to lose. Klinsmann has repeatedly singled out Beasley as his first choice left fullback, while Orozco is in a dogfight to make the roster as a reserve center back. Orozco’s chances presumably were on the rise following the 2-0 U.S. loss to Ukraine on March 5, a loss that reflected poorly on center backs Oguchi Onyewu and John Brooks. Missing out against Mexico deprives Orozco of an important chance to impress, and with time running out, there won’t be many more.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

U.S. Soccer announced that Beasley and Orozco will not be replaced.

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UEFA Champions League Quarters
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Tuesday 1st April

Manchester United v Bayern Munich

This is arguably the biggest game of the quarters as two giants of the European stage battle it out for a place in the semi-final.

Ryan Giggs in action in the final in 1999 and should see some playing time for United. (Getty Images)

Ryan Giggs in action in the final in 1999 and should feature again in Tuesday night’s match. (Getty Images)

The two clubs met in one of the most dramatic European Cup finals back in 1999, with Manchester United trailing by one goal to nil with only added time left to play. Bayern Munich fans and players were already half celebrating their victory, but the Red Devils then managed to score twice in the space of two minutes to overturn defeat and snatch the trophy from Bayern Munich.

However, the Red Devils’ fortunes have taken a turn for the worse this season and they will need all the spirit and fighting power of the team of 1999 if they are to overcome a Bayern team that is arguably the best in Europe at the moment.

Bayern will be looking to retain their title.  (Getty Images)

Bayern will be looking to retain their title. (Getty Images)

The Bavarians won an unprecedented treble last season and have moved up a gear under new coach Pep Guardiola. They won the Bundesliga with a record seven games still to play last week, winning a record 19 games in a row during the process.

How they got here

Manchester United

Despite struggling at home in the EPL, Manchester United have done extremely well in Europe this season. The Red Devils sailed through their group undefeated winning four of their six games. In the round of 16 they were made to sweat when they lost 2-0 away to Olympiakos, but they managed to turn the tie around in the 2nd leg winning 3-0 at home thanks to a hat-trick by Robin van Persie to progress to the quarters for the first time since 2011.

Bayern Munich

The reigning European champions have picked up from where they left off last season, blitzing past all on comers. Bayern coasted through their group, winning all but their final game in the group stage, which they lost 2-3 at home to Manchester City. In the round of 16 they faced Arsenal, who made Bayern look human for the first 20 minutes of the game. However, a missed penalty by Mesut Ozil coupled with the sending off of keeper Wojciech Szczęsny all but ended any hope for the Gunners and Bayern easily ran out winners, winning the first leg 2-0, before drawing the second leg in Germany 1-1.

Key Players

Wayne Rooney

Rooney will need to perform well to give Man Utd any chance of winning. (Getty Images)

Rooney will need to perform well to give Man Utd any chance of winning. (Getty Images)

The England international was rumored to have been unhappy and close to leaving Manchester United last summer, but stayed and has been United’s best player this season scoring 17 goals in all competitions, including two in the Champions League. However, it is not just Rooney’s goal scoring that has been vital to United this season, but also his ability to create goals—Rooney is top of the assist charts in the Champions League this season, creating seven goals.

 

Arjen Robben

Bayern winger Arjen Robben is one of themany danger players of Bayern.(Getty Images)

Bayern winger Arjen Robben is one of themany danger players of Bayern.(Getty Images)

Regarded as a ‘nearly man’ for so long, Arjen Robben finally put that tag to bed when he scored the winning goal in the Champions League final last season. Despite being an integral part of Bayern’s success last season many thought the Dutch wingers days were numbered when new coach Pep Guardiola was appointed. However, Robben has thrived under Guardiola and is having another great season, he has scored 18 goals in all competitions and is Bayern’s top creator in the Champions League with 3 assists.

Head-to-head

Bayern edge the head-to-head encounters with 3 wins over United’s 2, and 4 draws. The Bavarians also edge the last encounter at the same stage of the competition in 2011, when they beat United on goals difference after winning the 1st leg 2-1 at home before losing the 2nd 3-2 away.

Tactical Breakdown

Both sides have key players missing through injury and suspension with Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and Bayern Munich defender Dante both suspended, while United forward Robin van Persie and Bayern Midfielder Thiago Alacanatra both miss out with injuries.

Bayern have been the outstanding team in Europe this season and will start this game as overwhelming favorites, especially as Manchester United are enduring a turbulent season.

The Bavarians like to suffocate teams into submission with their high-pressing and possession style of soccer, and will no doubt try to stamp their authority on the game from the start.

United have not been anywhere near their free flowing best this season, but what has really cost them is their lack of steel when defending. The Red Devils have just been too easy and soft to play against and it has cost them dearly. Against Bayern they will have to accept they won’t have the ball for long periods of the game and instead concentrate on making the game compact and hard for Bayern to play with rhythm. Bayern like to press high up the pitch and pen teams in, which leaves them vulnerable to balls in behind, so United may find joy on the counter.

However, I don’t think United really have the players to defend doggedly, get in the opposition’s faces and make life difficult, and that is why I can’t see them getting a result against this strong Bayern side.

Prediction: 1-3

 

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid

Another mouthwatering game lays in wait for soccer fans around the globe with an all-Spanish encounter as Barcelona lock horns with Atletico Madrid.

Atletico have been the surprize package this year and could very well get to the semis(Getty Images)

Atletico have been the surprize package this year and could very well get to the semis(Getty Images)

These two clubs lead the way in Spain with Atletico only a single point ahead of their rivals Barcelona at the top of La Liga. The Los Rojiblancos (The Red and Whites) have been this season’s surprise package in Spain and Europe, sweeping aside all that have come their way.

Iniesta (R) will be key for Barcelona in midfield.  (Getty Images)

Iniesta (R) will be key for Barcelona in midfield. (Getty Images)

Barcelona, meanwhile, have had a mixed season. They started magnificently, but tax scandals and a few defeats have got people saying they no-longer have what it takes to win big tittles, though recent wins over Manchester City and Real Madrid appear to suggest otherwise.

How they got here

Barcelona

Barcelona topped their group comfortably dropping just five points in the process. They then went to Manchester in the round of 16 and saw off Man City with a sublime display winning 2-0. The 2nd leg in Barcelona was a closer affair with Barca once again the victors winning 2-1.

Atletico Madrid

Atlectico stormed through the group stages, drawing just one and winning the rest as they topped their group with 16-points. In the round of 16 they faced the mighty A.C Milan, but they didn’t let Milan’s European pedigree daunt them. Atlectico beat Milan 1-0 in Italy before thrashing them 4-1 in Spain to make it to their first quarterfinal since 1997.

Key Players

Lionel Messi

Messi has had somewhat of quiet season by his standards. (Getty Images)

Messi has had somewhat of quiet season by his standards. (Getty Images)

The Argentinean maestro has supposedly had a poor season and is now only the second best player on the planet. However, the 26-year-old has still scored 36 goals in 36 games this season, including 8 in the Champions League. Injuries have disrupted his form, but Messi is looking back to his best and if Atletico give him a sniff of a chance you can be sure he will take it.

Diego Costa

Diego Costa should definitely cause Barcelona trouble.(Getty images)

Diego Costa should definitely cause Barcelona trouble.(Getty images)

The big forward has been in spectacular form this season and was at the center of a tug of war battle between Brazil and Spain. Costa was born in Brazil but never played there professionally, he was called up for two friendly games in 2013 and actually played in one replacing Fred as a substitute. However, he wasn’t called up for the Brazil squad during last summer’s Confederations Cup and when he gained Spanish Citizenship in 2013, he surprized many by accepting the invitation to play for Spain.

 

Head-to-head

These two sides have never met in a European competition, but Barca are far ahead in the domestic meetings with 60 victories compared to Atletico’s 19.

Their last Camp Nou encounter in La Liga brought a 4-1 win for Barcelona in December 2012. Radamel Falcao gave Atlético a 30th-minute lead but the hosts hit back through Adriano, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi (2).

Tactical Breakdown

Barcelona are still the kings of tiki-taka soccer and have looked impressive in recent weeks with victories over Manchester City and Real Madrid. However, their central defense still looks weak and they don’t appear to be pressing and hurrying teams as much as they did during their peak.

Atletico have been tremendous this season and play in the same vain as their Manager Diego Simone played. Los Rojiblancos (The Red and Whites) play with a high tempo and will no doubt try to stop Barcelona getting into their passing rhythm.

Barcelona are at home and may be forced to come out and attack, however, I think they will be wary of conceding a goal and may play a bit more cautiously than they usually do. Atletico probably will try and keep it tight and hope to steal an away goal. I expect the game to be high intensity and tight, but I think Barca will just edge it.

Prediction: 2-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GotSoccer is Hiring: Office Manager/PA to CEO
GotSoccer is Hiring: Office Manager/PA to CEO avatar

Manager/PA to CEO | Neptune Beach | Permanent

GotSoccer is a software/media online company looking for a proactive and independent Office Manager/ PA to start immediately. Candidate must live in Jacksonville, FL (our office is located in Neptune Beach).

This is a full time position, M-F, 40 hrs a week. Starting salary is $30,000-$35,000 depending on experience, with a three-month probation period after which, candidate can receive full medical and dental benefits.

SKILLS: Office management, secretarial support, PA, diary management, travel arrangements and Microsoft Office

THE ROLE: Your role will be a split of office manager responsibilities and being PA to the CEO. Office manager duties include meeting and greeting guests, office housekeeping, organizing company events, health and safety, liaising with HR, accounts and IT, building maintenance, supplier negotiation & liaison and assisting with petty cash and basic accounts. As PA to the CEO you will be responsible for diary management, organizing meetings, making travel arrangements and collating & processing the CEO’s expenses.

ABOUT YOU: You should hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least 2-3 years experience as an Office Manager/PA. You will also need to have excellent administration and organization skills, along with the ability to work proactively and independently.

GotSoccer LLC provides software products to over 800 clients throughout the country. All products are linked and fully integrated, yet can be used as stand alone modules, which includes state-management, club and association online registration, referee assignment, tournament management, league scheduling, facility management, websites and college recruitment.

If interested in applying, please send a resume to Courtney Lambert:courtney@gotsoccer.com

 

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Klinsmann Hires Former World Cup Winner
Klinsmann Hires Former World Cup Winner avatar

With less than three months to go before the United States Men’s National Team opens World Cup play versus Ghana on June 16, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has shaken up his coaching staff. Klinsmann has brought in his former coach from the German national team Berti Vogts along with Tab Ramos, while reassigning longtime right hand man Martin Vasquez.

Vogts brings a wealth of experience to the national team. (Getty Images)

Vogts brings a wealth of experience to the national team. (Getty Images)

Vogts comes in as special adviser, while Ramos appears to be a direct replacement for the departed Vasquez. Vogts will retain his job as the manager of the Azerbaijan National Team, which should add interest when the U.S. MNT and Azerbaijan meet on May 27, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Vogts brings a wealth of experience and a presumed comfort level with Klinsmann, having coached the U.S. skipper during his international career. Following a glittering playing career, Vogts led Germany for eight years. Vogts also managed Kuwait, Scotland and Nigeria, before taking charge of Azerbaijan.

An enthusiastic Klinsmann had this to say on bringing in Vogts. “We are absolutely thrilled to have Berti join us as an advisor.” “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, both as a player and a coach, and he knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level. He was my coach for Germany in the 1990s and we have a great relationship. Through his time as the head coach of Scotland, Nigeria and Azerbaijan, he is obviously very familiar with our opponents in the group stage of the World Cup, and for us this is a huge bonus.”

Ramos' knowledge of the younger players can only benefit the senior side.(ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Ramos’ knowledge of the younger players can only benefit the senior side.(ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Ramos, one of the best ever U.S. players, was recently named by U.S. Soccer to the title of Youth Technical Director, and he has coached the U20 national side since 2011. Ramos has spent time with the full national team in the past, so his addition to the staff should not be too problematic.
Vasquez has been at Klinsmann’s side since Klinsmann took on the U.S. job in 2011 and was also with Klinsmann during his ill-fated tenure in charge of Bayern Munich. Vasquez was featured in the controversial Sporting News story last March (2013) that depicted the team as rife with disension. The assistant’s communication skills and tactical knowledge were called into question by unnamed sources in the article.

Vasquez and Klinsmann survived the surrounding uproar, and as the U.S. MNT turned their fortunes around, some credited the article with bringing the team together.

Now Vasquez is out of the senior national team setup, waiting to be reassigned to other duties within U.S. Soccer, as the U.S. MNT move ahead to the World Cup.

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Omid Namazi Chosen as New U.S. WNT Assistant Coach
Omid Namazi Chosen as New U.S. WNT Assistant Coach avatar

Omid Namazi coaching Chicago Red Stars (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

Omid Namazi coaching Chicago Red Stars (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

U.S. WNT head coach Tom Sermanni announced Wednesday that Omid Namazi is leaving his position as assistant coach of Iran men’s national team and has accepted the assistant coach position with the U.S. women.

Namazi comes to the U.S. WNT with a ton of experience in coaching both men’s and women’s soccer and also played 18 years of professional soccer following college at West Virginia.

He served as head coach of the San Diego Spirit of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), leading them to the playoffs in 20013. In 2010 he was also the head coach for the Chicago Red Stars in the WPS.

Namazi wraps up a successful year with Iran’s national team, helping them qualify for the FIFA World Cup with a successful finish in the Asian qualifying tournament that put them at the top of Group A. He has been with the team since 2010.

Before his coaching career Namazi played both indoor and outdoor soccer and was awarded MISL Defender of the Year in 2001 when he played for the Philadelphia KiXX.

“It’s a new challenge and an exciting one,”Namazi told USSoccer. “It’s a great time for women’s soccer in the United States with the NWSL starting its second season, our Youth National Teams getting more and more support from U.S. Soccer and with the 2015 Women’s World Cup on the horizon. I’m sincerely enjoying working with some of the best players in the world and helping work to bring the team to an even higher level.”

 

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EPL Week 32 – News Views and Predicitons
EPL Week 32 – News Views and Predicitons avatar

NEWS

FA to examine Fellaini spit footage

The Football Association is to investigate footage of Tuesday night’s Manchester Derby to establish claims that Marouane Fellaini spat at Pablo Zabaleta.

Footage has spread across the Internet that appears to show Fellaini standing over Zabaleta and spitting at him.

Moyes with Fellaini (L) - when he signed him at the beginning of the season. (Getty Images)

Moyes with Fellaini (L) – when he signed him at the beginning of the season. (Getty Images)

The FA feels the Internet video evidence on its own is insufficient to warrant bringing a charge and is trying to find out if there are any clearer images.

If such images do appear then the FA will need to decide whether to charge the Manchester United midfielder.

Just prior to the alleged spit, Fellaini caught Zabaleta in the face with his forearm. The Belgian was booked for the clash, though the incident could easily have been a red card.

Fellaini’s joined United for $41.5m from Everton at the beginning of the season, but has been a major disappointment making only 13 appearances and scoring zero goals.

 

Wenger hits back at Scholes claims

Arsene Wenger has rejected former Manchester United player Paul Scholes’ claim that Arsenal are a “million miles away’ from winning the EPL.

Paul Scholes was one of the winningest players at Manchester United - help leading his team to numerous trophies. (Getty Images)

Paul Scholes was one of the winningest players at Manchester United – help leading his team to numerous trophies. (Getty Images)

The north London side gave a away a last minute goal at home to Swansea to draw 2-2 and fall six-points behind leaders Chelsea on Tuesday. This lead to Paul Scholes, who was in a rare punditry role for Sky Sports, criticizing the Gunners.

“I feel for the Arsenal fans. They get a little hint of the title for a few weeks and go to Chelsea, to Liverpool, to City and they just do nothing,” said Scholes.

“Fans expect Arsenal to go for the league and I know they are third or fourth but they are a million miles away in my eyes.

However, Wenger brushed aside the former England international’s criticism saying: “People who have managed zero games have opinions. We have to accept that,”

“If six points is a ‘million miles away’, I don’t know what the translation of a mile into a point is.”

Wenger also dismissed Scholes’ comment that Jack Wilshere, 22, has “not improved since he was 17”.

“Jack has been handicapped by many injuries, but once he is back and playing consistently he will show everybody that [Scholes] is wrong about that,” said the Frenchman.

“He is an exceptional player – and Scholes knows that.”

 

Predictions

EPL Midweek

Score

Predictions

TUESDAY
Arsenal v Swansea 2-2 2-1
Man Utd v Man City 0-3 1-2
Newcastle v Everton 0-3 1-1
WEDNESDAY
West Ham v Hull 2-1 0-1
Liverpool v Sunderland 2-1 3-1

A correct result (i.e picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point. A correct score earns THREE points.

Midweek I got TWO correct results with ZERO perfect scores to give me a combined total of TWO-points.

 

WEEK 32

Predictions

SATURDAY
Man Utd v Aston Villa 2-1
Crystal Palace v Chelsea 0-1
Southampton v Newcastle 2-0
Stoke v Hull 2-1
Swansea v Norwich 2-1
West Brom v Cardiff 1-2
Arsenal v Man City 1-2
SUNDAY
Fulham v Everton 2-2
Liverpool v Tottenham 3-1
MONDAY
Sunderland v West Ham 2-1

Previews

SATURDAY

Man Utd v Aston Villa

The fans finally turned on David Moyes on Tuesday after Manchester United were once again humbled by one of their rivals in the EPL this season.

The Red Devils easily went down 3-0 against a Manchester City side who barely broke sweat all night. That limp display led to many of the Old Trafford faithfuls, who have been patient in their backing of the club this season, to voice their frustrations and call for Moyes to be sacked.

The defeat was United sixth at home this season, which is more than their last three campaign’s combined, and piles the pressure on Moyes to get a good home performance before next week’s Champions League game with Bayern Munich.

Benteke (L) has found his shooting boots and seems to found his form at the right time. (Getty Images)

Benteke (L) has found his shooting boots and seems to found his form at the right time. (Getty Images)

Aston Villa had been playing well recently, but were well beaten at home last week by Stoke 1-4. The Villains actually took the lead within five minutes with Christian Benteke once again on the score sheet—the Belgium international has now score six goals in his last 10 EPL games—but capitulated after Stoke took the lead. Villa’s inconsistency remains a concern for manager Paul Lambert, but they are still a match for anyone on their day and will give United a good game.

Nemanja Vidic is available after suspension for Manchester United, but fellow defenders Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are doubtful with respective hamstring and calf problems.

Aston Villa’s Karim El Ahmadi and Andreas Weimann are doubtful with slight knocks, but could still both feature.

United have a fantastic record against Villa and have earned a record 100-points against the Villains in the EPL—The Red Devils have lost just one of their last 36 EPL meetings with Villa home and away since 1995 (W26, D9, L1). But Manchester United are vulnerable this season and could be there for the picking if Villa start well.

Prediction: 2-1

 

Crystal Palace v Chelsea

Crystal palace lost 1-0 away to Newcastle to slip closer to the relegation zone. The Eagles’ form has slipped recently and they are now without a win in their last five EPL games.

Hazard (L) has been Chelsea's player of the season thus far.(Getty Images)

Hazard (L) has been Chelsea’s player of the season thus far.(Getty Images)

Chelsea bounced back from their defeat to Aston Villa by crushing Arsenal 6-0 at home. The Blues burst out of the blocks and could have beaten their rivals by more in the end.

Crystal Palace forwards Dwight Gayle and Maraoune Chamakh remain absent for the visit of Chelsea with respective ankle and hamstring injuries, though midfielder Barry Bannan could return after recovering from illness.

Chelsea will be without striker Samuel Eto’o and defender Ashley Cole who are both injured, while Ramires misses out through suspension but Willian is back after a one-match suspension.

Chelsea have won the last five meetings as part of a 12-match unbeaten streak against Palace in the league (W8, D4), so this should be straight forward. Palace lack guile and craft in attack, but make up for it with an incredible work ethic and I expect them to give Chelsea a tough game. However, I think Chelsea have that extra bit of magic in their team that will see them just edge this one.

Prediction: 0-1

 

Arsenal v Man City

Arsenal have endured a disappointing last seven days: First they were thumped 6-0 by Chelsea on Saturday and then were pegged back by Swansea in the last minute on Tuesday to fall further off leaders Chelsea.

Jack Wilshere is one of many key players missing for Arsenal.(Getty Images)

Jack Wilshere is one of many key players missing for Arsenal.(Getty Images)

The Gunners are not quite out of the title race and could still easily win the EPL with Chelsea and Man City still both to visit Liverpool. But, realistically they have to beat Manchester City on Saturday if they wish to harbor any ambitions of winning the EPL.

Manchester City continued their good form with a good display against neighbors Manchester United. The Sky Blues were just too good for their rivals and dominated the game without breaking sweat. They only lie three points off of leaders Chelsea and will move three points clear if they win their two games in hand.

Arsenal have been ravaged with injuries recently with Laurent Koscielny the latest player to join Monreal, Walcott, Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey on the treatment table.

Manchester City’s top scorer Sergio Aguero is expected to be out for another week with a hamstring injury, but David Silva is fit after recovering from an ankle knock sustained in the 3-0 victory over Manchester United.

Arsenal have struggled in the big matches against their rivals in the EPL this season, they lost 5-1 away to Liverpool, 6-3 away to City and 6-0 away to Chelsea, conceding eight of those goals in the first 20 minutes. However, all those games were away from home and the Gunners are a different animal on their home turf—Arsenal are unbeaten in their 14 Premier League home games since the opening-day defeat against Aston Villa (W10, D4).

David Silva (R) is on form and surely will be key to Man City's performance. (Getty Images)

David Silva (R) is on form and surely will be key to Man City’s performance. (Getty Images)

However, Arsenal have only won two of their last nine Premier League matches with Manchester City, and with injuries stripping their squad to its barebones I think they will struggle against this inform City side.

Prediction: 1-2

 

SUNDAY

Liverpool v Tottenham

Liverpool continued their pursuit of the Chelsea at the top of the EPL with a 2-1 win over Sunderland on Wednesday. The Reds started well, but tightened up after they went 2-0 up and endured a nervy end to the game when Ki scored for Sunderland with 15-minutes left to play. But Liverpool saw the game out and now know they have to keep the pressure up on both Chelsea and Man City who visit Anfield in April.

Eriksen looked sharp against  . (Getty Images)

Eriksen looked sharp against Southampton. (Getty Images)

Tottenham came from two goals down to win 3-2 in a exhilarating game at White Hart Lane last Sunday. Spurs started the game well, but gifted the Saints the lead with a defensive error, while the second goal they conceded should have been flagged for offside. But they managed to gather themselves and get back into the game with Christian Erikson at the heart of everything—The Danish international scored two goals and set up the winner.

Liverpool have no fresh injury concerns and could field the same side that beat Sunderland midweek.

Tottenham’s top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor is set to return to the line-up after missing last week’s win over Southampton with a cut heel, but fullback Kyle Walker remains sidelined with a groin problem.

Tottenham have only won six of their 70 league games at Anfield (D20, L44), and their task does not look any easier with Liverpool having lost at home once this season in all competitions (W14, L1, D1). In fact, Liverpool are in red hot form at the moment and have won their last seven EPL games.

Sturridge has been unstoppable for Liverpool. (Getty Images)

Sturridge has been unstoppable for Liverpool. (Getty Images)

Much of that good form has been due to the goal scoring exploits of their striking duo of Suarez and Sturridge, who have scored eight more goals (48) than Tottenham (40) in the Premier League this season.

However, Tottenham have been terrific on their travels this season—Only Manchester United (30) have won more points on their travels than Tottenham (29) this season—though they have lost their last two away games without scoring.

I expect Spurs to go to Anfield and try to play tight and hit Liverpool on the counter, and they may get joy against the Red’s leaky defense. However, I think Liverpool have too much firepower upfront and will just edge this game.

Prediction: 3-1

 

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U.S. MNT – Klinsmann Names 22 to Face Mexico
U.S. MNT – Klinsmann Names 22 to Face Mexico avatar

Jurgen Klinsmann has named a 22 man roster to face Mexico, in Glendale, Arizona on April 2 in a “friendly,” a misnomer if ever there was one. Players on both sides are fighting for World Cup places, so the encounter between these old enemies figures to be far from friendly.

Klinsmann named. (Getty Images)

Klinsmann named his squad to face Mexico. (Getty Images)

On March 5 in Cyprus, it was the turn of the Americans Euro based contingent to make their World Cup case, and it did not go well, with the U.S. crashing to Ukraine 2-0.

Now, on this non- FIFA date, it will be the turn of the North American based players, with MLS and Liga MX (Mexico) players getting their chance. The home based group has been bolstered of late with Michael Bradley joining Clint Dempsey in returning to the Major League Soccer.

Edu in action against Mexico in August 2012.(Getty Images)

Edu in action against Mexico in August 2012.(Getty Images)

As many as eight potential World Cup starters could be on the field together next Wednesday evening, with solid national team contenders Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, and Maurice Edu, recent returnees who should also see the field against Mexico.

So, let’s take a look at who made the cut for U.S. MNT as they begin their crucial World Cup build up? With Tim Howard and Brad Guzan both being kept busy in the English Premier League, Nick Rimando leads the goalkeepers, and is expected to get a well deserved start.

Perennial goalkeepers of the future, Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid get the nod to back up Rimando, with Klinsmann electing to stay with blunder prone Johnson.

Particularly poor in Cyprus was the central defense pairing of veteran Oguchi Onyewu and youngster John Brooks. The one saving grace from that pairs flop was that the duo were thought to be competing for the fourth center back position.

The U.S. celebrating after their victory over Mexico that saw them qualify for Brazil 2014. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

The U.S. celebrating after their victory over Mexico that saw them qualify for Brazil 2014. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez have long seemed primed to start as the central defenders in Brazil, with Clarence Goodson in place as the first sub. All three are on this roster, joined by Michael Orozco. Besler and Gonzalez should get plenty of time together versus Mexico and a cool, assured performance from the pair would calm a lot of nerves.

Nerves that were jangled somewhat by Gonzalez’ recent Concacaf Champions League performance, along with his unconvincing start to the MLS campaign. Goodson should also see time, and Orozco should get a run as well.

A bad night from the starters could open the door for one of the their supposed back ups. And any hope for a dramatic return from former captain Carlos Bocanegra, never likely, can be now be put to bed.

Beasley (L) has impressed many and should make a spot on the starting roster(ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Beasley (L) has impressed many and should make a spot on the starting roster(ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

In fact, if Klinsmann is to believed, we will have a chance to see his entire back four in action against Mexico. Converted midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans have been constants in U.S. MNT lineouts, and Klinsmann has regularly labeled the pair as his first choice fullbacks.

Klinsmann has always seemed more comfortable with the duo than the rest of us are, but then, he is the man who picks the team.

Backing up the fullbacks on Wednesday should be Michael Parkhurst, a versatile backliner who has a real chance to make the trip to Brazil, and DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle’s rising star who remains a long, long, shot for Brazil.

Bradley will surely lead the team as he has been one of the most consistent performers.  (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Bradley will surely lead the team as he has been one of the most consistent performers. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Michael Bradley will lead the midfield and alongside him look for Kyle Beckerman. An MLS lifer, the Real Salt Lake star has thrived under Klinsmann, but 2010 World Cup veteran Maurice Edu is back from several years in Europe and is eager to press his claim.

Klinsmann passed over another 2010 vet Benny Feilhaber, who had been making a strong late World Cup push with his play for Sporting Kansas City. A key sub in South Africa in 2010, Feilhaber revived his slumping career at Sporting Kansas City, but this snub all but kills Feilhaber’s hopes to play in a World Cup in his native Brazil. Young RSL veteran Luis Gil obviously caught Klinsmann’s eye during the January camp, as well as with his good start to 2014 at RSL, earning an invite.

Graham Zusi and Landon Donovan are the likely starters on the wing against Mexico, and either or both could start in Brazil. Brad Davis and his sweet left foot are still hoping to earn a spot in Brazil, and then there is winger/forward Julian Green. The paperwork for the 18 year Bayern Munich prospect’s FIFA switch has gone through, and the Florida born, German raised attacker is now officially a U.S. MNT player, and he is eligible for April 2.

Klinsmann is as anxious to see the youngster in action as the rest of us, so expect Green to see some playing time.

Dempsey should lead the front line for the U.S. (Getty Images)

Dempsey should lead the front line for the U.S. (Getty Images)

Clint Dempsey will lead the forward group against Mexico, and he is the only U.S. or Mexico based player in that position assured of a place on the roster for Brazil. Eddie Johnson has been an important national team player since Klinsmann rescued his international career, but there is little room for sentiment in international soccer.

Just look at Herculez Gomez. Not long ago the Tijuana striker was one Klinsmann’s key guys, with the coach gushing about his attitude and work rate, not to mention his goal scoring touch. Now Gomez is struggling for playing time in Liga MX, and he did not get called in to face Mexico. Like Feilhaber, his 2010 World Cup teammate, Gomez may have just run out of chances. 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee was also passed over, with Chris Wondolowski completing the forward group.

U.S. ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

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U.S. WNT Roster Revealed for Matches Against China
U.S. WNT Roster Revealed for Matches Against China avatar

Today U.S. WNT head coach Tom Sermanni revealed the 24 player training camp roster as the U.S. women begin preparations for two upcoming matches against China PR on April 6 in Commerce City, CO and April 10 in San Diego, CA.

U.S. international Lauren Holiday returns to the squad after missing out on the Algarve Cup due to family commitments. (ISI Photos/Tracy Allen)

U.S. international Lauren Holiday (R) returns to the squad after missing out on the Algarve Cup due to family commitments. (ISI Photos/Tracy Allen)

This will be the first call up following a less than favorable Algarve Cup Tournament in Portugal, where the U.S. experienced their first two losses in 43 games. Twenty-two of the players that took part in the Algarve Cup are on the roster for China, with midfielder Lauren Holiday and Wake Forest forward Katie Stengel added to the mix.

Amongst the veterans, Abby Wambach, Christen Press and Sydney Leroux are tied for most goals scored so far this year with four goals each. Forward Alex Morgan will not be present as she continues to recover from an ankle injury and Hope Solo will be in the net for both matches to hit her 150th cap.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo will be hoping to reach her 150th cap.(Getty Images)

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo will be hoping to reach her 150th cap.(Getty Images)

Out of the young guns, UVA midfielder Morgan Brian made the roster with eight caps along with UCLA midfielder Samantha Mewis, who notched two caps at the Algarve Cup. Defender Crystal Dunn will be out of both matches as she recovers from an ankle injury.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (9): Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC), Whitney Engen (Tyresö), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kristie Mewis (Boston Breakers), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Rachel Van Hollebeke (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Samantha Mewis (UCLA), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (5): Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Christen Press (Tyresö), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Katie Stengel (LA Blues), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

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EPL’s Midweek Bonanza
EPL’s Midweek Bonanza avatar

It’s a midweek bonanza as some teams in the EPL try to catch up on games they have missed due to FA and League Cup commitments. There are only five games this week, but with Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City all in action they could have a huge bearing on where the EPL ends up in may.

The biggest game this week is without doubt the Manchester Derby. Man City have won four of the last five, but United have the greater overall record with winning 59 encounters to City’s 41 in the league.

NEWS

Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs cleared by FA

Neither Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Kieran Gibbs will face supsension for the refereeing blunder that occurred during Arsenal’s defeat by Chelsea at the weekend.

Arsenal were reduced to 10-men when Referee Andre Marriner sent off Gibbs instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had handled a shot from Eden Hazard, despite Oxlade-Chamerlain admitting he committed the offense.

Oxlade- Chamerlain was seen by broadcasters around the world telling Marriner that he was the guilty party. (Getty Images)

Oxlade- Chamerlain was seen by broadcasters around the world telling Marriner that he was the guilty party. (Getty Images)

The Football Association transferred the red card to Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Arsenal successfully argued he had not stopped a goalscoring chance given Hazard’s shot was going wide, meaning neither player will be suspended for the Gunners upcoming game.

It was reported referee Andre Marriner might be dropped for the next round of EPL games, but the 43-year old appears to have also escaped punishment and will now officiate the Southampton v Newcastle game on Saturday.

Rules drawn up by world governing body Fifa state a player should only be shown a red card for handball if “the unacceptable and unfair intervention prevented a goal being scored”. The rules make no mention of a player’s intent when handling the ball.

The error has once again ignited the debate over whether referees should be able to use replays to aid their decisions in soccer, as is the case in the NBA, the NFL and many other sports across the globe.

However, the ever anti-technology cronies disagree. Uefa spokesperson Pedro Pinto said the error highlighted the need for additional goal-line officials.

He tweeted:  “With an additional assistant referee on the end line, referee would not have got that sending off wrong. Technology is not the answer. More eyeballs are the answer.”

 

Predictions

A correct result (i.e picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point. A correct score earns THREE points.

Last week I got EIGHT correct results, including ONE perfect score to give me a combined total of 10-points.

EPL Midweek

Predictions

TUESDAY
Arsenal v Swansea 2-1
Man Utd v Man City 1-2
Newcastle v Everton 1-1
WEDNESDAY
West Ham v Hull 0-1
Liverpool v Sunderland 3-1

 

Previews

TUESDAY

Arsenal v Swansea

Both these sides lost at the weekend and will be looking to bounce back with a good performance on Tuesday.

Arsenal were thrashed 6-0 by rivals Chelsea and desperately need a win against Swansea to stay in within touching distances of the leading pack. The Gunners have not been at their best in recent weeks and that is in large part due to a devastating catalogue of injuries to key players. However, a win on Tuesday would put them only four points behind Chelsea before they host Man City at the Emirates at the weekend.

Swansea will be hoping Michu can help then get back their form. (Getty Images)

Swansea will be hoping Michu can help then get back their form. (Getty Images)

Swansea have had an a disappointing season compared to last year and haven’t really been able to gain any sort of consistency. The Swans played magnificently against Everton at the weekend and created a host of chances, but poor defending cost them in the end and they eventually lost the game 3-2.

Arsenal have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs available to face Swansea after appealing against the red card shown to Gibbs on Saturday, but defender Laurent Koscielny is a doubt with a calf strain.

Swansea have no new injury worries and could hand a starting berth to fit again striker Michu.

Swansea beat Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates last season in the EPL, but Arsenal have won the last three games against Swansea in all competitions and I expect them to continue that streak.

Prediction: 2-1

 

Man Utd v Man City

This is undoubtedly the biggest game midweek and could have bearing on where the title ends up come the end of the season.

Rooney was on the scoresheet twice and his performance could decide how the game goes. (Getty Images)

Rooney was on the scoresheet twice and his performance could decide how the game goes. (Getty Images)

Manchester United bounced back from their defeat against Liverpool last week with a good 2-0 win away to West Ham. Wayne Rooney scored both of United’s goals, with his first one a contender for goal of the season. The Red Devils were without striker Robin van Persie, but played well as they employed a different system with Kagawa and Mata playing behind Rooney.

Man City thumped Fulham 5-0 to maintain their pursuit of Liverpool and Chelsea. The Sky Blues made easy work of EPL’s bottom side and will go top of the EPL if they win their three games in hand. However, those games include the trip to Old Trafford against Man Utd and then a visit to the Emirates to face Arsenal at the weekend.

Manchester United have defensive worries with defenders Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling all major doubts, while United captain Nemanja Vidic is definitely out as he completes a two-match suspension.

Manchester City will be without Matija Nastasic and Sergio Aguero who remain absent with knee and hamstring injuries respectively, but skipper Vincent Kompany returns after his one-match ban.

United lost this game 4-1 earlier in the season away to City, and have lost four of the last five meetings against City. Indeed, City have won on their last two visit to Old Trafford.

United have been poor at home all season—The Red Devils have lost as many Premier League home games this season (five) as in the previous three put together—and just cannot seem to string a run of games together. They have played well and won their last two games, but those games were against lesser oppositions and I’m not convinced United can mix it with the big boys yet—in matches against the current top six at home this season, United have won just once – against Arsenal. (D1 v Chelsea, L2 v Liverpool, L1 v Tottenham and L1 v Everton).

City desperately need a win to maintain the pressure on Chelsea and Liverpool and I think they will get it.

Prediction: 1-2

 

WEDNESDAY

Liverpool v Sunderland

Liverpool continue their pursuit of a first league title in 24-years with a tremendous 3-6 away win to Cardiff.

Suarez goal scoring and predatory skills seemed to have rubbed off on the rest of the frontline. (Getty Images)

Suarez goal scoring and predatory skills seemed to have rubbed off on the rest of the frontline. (Getty Images)

The result did not tell the full story of the game and Liverpool actually came back twice in the first-half. However, they made their class show in the end and Luis Suarez was once again the star of the show, scoring a hat-trick and creating a goal for Daniel Sturridge.

Sunderland’s poor form continued as they went down to their fourth defeat in five games, going down 2-0 away to Norwich. The Black Cats’ EPL form seem to be suffering for their great Cup form and they need to start picking up points soon or they will be left behind in the relegation zone.

Liverpool are flying and are the only side in the EPL still unbeaten in 2014. They are the top scorers in the EPL at the moment with 82 goals, and their striking duo of Suarez and Sturridge (47) look set to break Alan Shearer and Chris Suttons goal tally of 49 goals in a season and challenge the record set by Newcastle’s Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole’s record of 55 goals set in 1994.

Adam Johnson ® is not making as big an impact as he did earlier in the season. (Getty Images)

Adam Johnson ® is not making as big an impact as he did earlier in the season. (Getty Images)

Sunderland’s intensity seems to have dropped and they will need to get back to basics if they want to have a chance of remaining in the EPL. I expect them to sit deep and defended doggedly, but I think Liverpool’s skill and guile upfront will see them win this game comfortably.

Prediction: 3-1

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MLS Big 5
MLS Big 5 avatar

It was another busy week in Major League Soccer, so let’s get straight to the MLS – Big 5.

1) Miami “Beckham’s” Release Stadium Plans

David Beckham and co. turned to the Miami Herald to reveal their plans for a new stadium that the group would like to build at the Port of Miami.

Beckham will hope to get the go ahead for the stadium for his MLS franchise in Miami. (Getty Images)

Beckham will hope to get the go ahead for the stadium for his MLS franchise in Miami. (Getty Images)

The renderings are impressive, as renderings tend to be, but don’t put your ticket request in just yet. There is opposition to the site from various quarters, including from the port’s largest tenant, Royal Caribbean.

That’s not to say this project can’t happen, but like any project planned in a major city it will take time.

2) Seattle Sounders Separate from the Seahawks

Seattle, the league’s best draw, has severed business operations with their shared cities National Football League franchise, the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks.

Seattle seem to .(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Seattle seem confident and feel it is time to branch out on their own.(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

This move means the Sounders are confident enough to stand on their own two feet, and doesn’t signal any trouble between the two teams. The Sounders will move their operations to separate offices in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.

The Sounders will continue to share CenturyLink Field with the Seahawks, and why not? The team averaged almost 39,000 fans last season, the 22nd highest average among soccer teams in the world.

3) Dempsey Suspended for Two Games

U.S. MNT captain Clint Dempsey picked up a two game suspension for his below the belt slap to Toronto defender Mark Bloom, in last week’s 2-1 Seattle loss. National team coach Jurgen Klinsmann had already complained that Dempsey was in need of protection from the league, and he wasn’t happy that his man received two games.

Dempsey will serve his two match ban. (ISI Photos/Brashear)

Dempsey will serve his two match ban. (ISI Photos/Brashear)

For their part, the Sounders took care of business this Sunday, beating Montreal 2-0 behind goals from Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle.

4) NYC FC News

New York City FC coach Jason Kreis and Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna unveiled the expansion teams badge in Soho last Thursday night.

Over 100,000 votes were cast as part of a well orchestrated social media drive by the club, owned by Manchester City and the New York Yankees.

The unveiling of the badge. (Courtesy of New York City FC)

The unveiling of the badge. (Courtesy of New York City FC)

Reyna and Kreis also answered questions from the media, the biggest news coming when Reyna revealed that the club is close to announcing a deal for a temporary home. No details were forthcoming, and the team’s permanent home still seems far off.

5) The Refs are Back

Major League Soccer’s lockout against its whistleblowers ended suddenly this week, allowing the officials back on the field for the weekend’s games.

So (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

Many will be happy that the issues have been dealt with. (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

They may be unloved, but they are necessary, so welcome back.

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EPL Week 31 – The Race Begins
EPL Week 31 – The Race Begins avatar

NEWS

Mourinho to contest FA charge

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has confirmed his intention to contest a charge of improper conduct by the FA.

Mourinho was charged by the FA after he was sent to the stands during Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat by Aston Villa.

Jose Mourinho's just can't stop making the headlines. (Getty Images)

Jose Mourinho’s just can’t stop making the headlines. (Getty Images)

Mourinho was apparently sent off for walking onto the pitch to speak to referee Chris Foy after Chelsea midfielder Ramires was dismissed.

“I have decided how I will respond and I don’t accept the charges,” said Mourinho.

Another Blues player, Willian, was sent off earlier in the match.

Mourinho has until 18:00 GMT on Monday to officially respond to the FA charge

 

Aguero out of Manchester Derby

Manchester City forward Serio Aguero is out for Tuesday’s upcoming Manchester derby with a hamstring injury.

The Argentinean international injured his hamstring during City’s 2-1 defeat away to Barcelona in the Champions League over a week ago and now has “no chance” of making Tuesday’s game according to City manager Pellegrini.

Aguero's absence will be a huge loss for City. (Getty Images)

Aguero’s absence will be a huge loss for City. (Getty Images)

“Maybe next week he will start working with the squad,” said Pellegrini, 60. “Maybe the end of the week.”

City face Fulham on Saturday and title rivals Arsenal four days after United.

Despite missing two spells with calf and hamstring problems Aguero is still City’s top scorer this season with 26 goals.

Pellegrini also responded to reports linking Aguero with a move to Barcelona by insisting the player “is very happy” at City and that the club “is also very happy with him”.

 Week 30

Prediction

Score

SATURDAY    
Hull v Man City 1-2 0-2
Everton v Cardiff 3-1 2-1
Fulham v Newcastle 1-0 1-0
Southampton v Norwich 2-0 4-2
Stoke v West Ham 0-0 3-1
Sunderland v Crystal Palace 1-1 0-0
Swansea v West Brom 2-0 1-2
Aston Villa v Chelsea 1-2 1-0
SUNDAY    
Man Utd v Liverpool 2-3 0-3
Tottenham v Arsenal 1-1 0-1

A correct result (ie picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point. A correct score earns THREE points.

Last week I got SIX correct results, including ONE perfect score to give me a total of EIGHT-points.

Week 31

Predictions

SATURDAY  
Chelsea v Arsenal 2-1
Cardiff v Liverpool 1-3
Everton v Swansea 2-1
Hull v West Brom 2-0
Man City v Fulham 2-0
Newcastle v Crystal Palace 1-1
Norwich v Sunderland 1-0
West Ham v Man Utd 1-2
SUNDAY  
Tottenham v Southampton 1-0
Aston Villa v Stoke 2-1

SATURDAY

Chelsea vs Arsenal

Week 31 kicks-off with a potentially title deciding game as top of the EPL Chelsea  meet third place Arsenal.

Chelsea lost 1-0 away to Aston Villa last week and will be hoping to bounce back with a good result against Arsenal at home. The Blues have not been at their best recently, but have still managed to win most of their games. However, last week’s slip up means that Manchester City can go three-points clear in the EPL if they win their games in hand, while Liverpool and Arsenal could move within one point of Chelsea.

Ozil may return to the Arsenal line-up.(Getty Images)

Ozil may return to the Arsenal line-up.(Getty Images)

Arsenal managed to bounce back for their defeat away to Stoke with a good 1-0 win against neigbours Tottenham. The Gunners took an early lead through a fantastic Rosicky strike, but then spent most of the game defending and will be pleased with the mental strength and character they showed in the game.

Mourinho's Chelsea has a good record against Arsenal. (Getty Images)

Mourinho’s Chelsea has a good record against Arsenal. (Getty Images)

Chelsea are without Ashley Cole, who is out with a knee injury, while Ramires and Willian are suspended as a result of their dismissals at Aston Villa last weekend.

Arsenal have only one fresh injury concern, with Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky to face a fitness test—The Gunners have long-term absentees in Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby.

Arsenal have a good record at Stamford Bridge, winning almost a third of their 76 league visits (W25, D25, L26). However, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four Premier League games against the Gunners (W2, D2), while their boss Jose Mourinho has never lost a game against Arsenal in all competitions (W5, D5).

Prediction: 2-1

 

Cardiff v Liverpool

Cardiff suffered heartbreak last week conceding a last minute goal against Everton to lose 2-1. The Bluebirds had played well and looked to have earned a well-deserved draw, but their luck evaded them right at the end and their fight to avoid relegation looks near impossible now.

Steven Gerrard scored 2 of his 3 penalties against Man Utd. (Getty Images)

Steven Gerrard scored 2 of his 3 penalties against Man Utd. (Getty Images)

Liverpool produced a terrific display against Manchester United winning 3-0 away at Old Trafford. The Reds currently look like the best side in the EPL and a win against Cardiff could see them move within a point of the summit.

Cardiff remain without injured defenders Mark Hudson, Ben Turner and Andy Taylor.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have no new injury concerns and could field the same side that beat Manchester United last week.

Cardiff badly need a win to keep their hopes of staying in the EPL alive and may be boosted by the fact that Liverpool have not won at Cardiff City since a 2-1 victory on 1 April 1929. However, the Reds are in scintillating form at the moment and I expect them to win this one comfortably.

Prediction: 1-3

 

Man City v Fulham

Manchester City bounced back from the disappointment of crashing out of the FA Cup and the Champions League by producing a good win last week to move within six-points of Chelsea. The Sky Blues had captain Vincent Kompany sent-off early on, but showed their class by still winning 2-0 away to a tough Hull side.

Kompany (R) did not react well to the sending off and could have faced a harsher punishment with his follow up behavior. (Getty Images)

Kompany (R) did not react well to the sending off and could have faced a harsher punishment with his follow up behavior. (Getty Images)

City know they will go top if they win their games in hand, and are probably still slight favorites to win the EPL, but with Liverpool and Arsenal also close by they know they cannot afford any slip ups.

Fulham got a terrific 1-0 win over Newcastle to keep their hopes of staying up alive. The Cottagers started defended well and looked decent going forward, however, they still need to win another four games to have a chance of staying up, which surely is too much to ask for.

Manchester City will be without captain Vincent Kompany who serves a one-match ban following his red card at Hull last weekend.

Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah has been ruled out of the game because of a muscle problem, while Kostas Mitroglou is missing with a knee problem sustained last week, and Scott Parker remains sidelined with a knee injury.

Fulham have a good away record against City in the Premier League, winning three matches and drawing four on their last 10 visits. But City have won all but one of their home games this season and I cannot see them slipping up against Fulham.

Prediction: 2-0

 

West Ham v Man Utd

West Ham went the whole of February unbeaten to drag themselves away from the relegation battle, but two consecutive losses in March mean the Hammers are still not sure of their EPL status.

van Persie (L) scored a hattrick in the Champions League. (Getty Images)

van Persie (L) scored a hattrick in the Champions League. (Getty Images)

Manchester United’s poor home form continued as they lost 0-3 at Old Trafford to Liverpool. But it was more United’s performance rather than the result that disappointed the Old Trafford faithfuls, with the Red Devils only registering one shot on target.

However, they produced a big result midweek in the Champions League winning 3-0 to overturn a 2-0 deficit and progress to the quarterfinals. That result could be the catalyst for a good end of season run, but for that to happen they have to win against West Ham.

West Ham pair Joey O’Brien and Marco Boriello remain unavailable for the visit of Manchester United.

Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic serves the first of a two-game ban after he was sent off in the defeat by Liverpool last weekend.

Robin van Persie is ruled out after he suffered a knee injury in midweek Champions League duty.

Manchester United have struggled against West Ham down the years, but are currently unbeaten in their last 10 games against the Hammers home and away (W9, D1), and I expect them to continue that run.

Prediction: 1-2

 

SUNDAY

Tottenham vs Southampton

Tottenham lost 1-0 against neighbors Arsenal last week to all but end their hopes of achieving a place in next season’s Champions League. The loss was their third consecutive loss in all competitions and increases the pressure on coach Tim Sherwood. But to be fair, Spurs did dominate the game against Arsenal and on another day could easily have won the game.

Adam Lallana has been outstanding for Southampton and looks likely to makes England's squad for Brazil.. (Getty Images)

Adam Lallana has been outstanding for Southampton and looks likely to makes England’s squad for Brazil.. (Getty Images)

Southampton produced a magnificent display at home last week cruising past Norwich 4-2. The Saints are currently in purple patch of form and have lost only two of their last 10 league matches (W5, D3, L2).

Tottenham have no fresh injury worries and should recall Emmanuel Adebayor, Mousa Dembele and Younes Kaboul, and Jan Vertonghen who all didn’t feature midweek against Benfica in the Europa League.

Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin is doubtful due to a muscle problem around his pelvis, while Guly Do Prado and Kelvin Davis face fitness tests, but midfielders Jack Cork and Victor Wanyama are definitely out.

Tottenham are without a win in their last four games in all competitions and face a tough task against an in-form Southampton side. However, the Saints have won just two of their 14 matches at White Hart Lane in the Premier League and despite their good form I don’t think they will increase that tally.

Prediction: 2-1

 

 

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MLS Clubs Struggle Again in CCL
MLS Clubs Struggle Again in CCL avatar

Only the San Jose Earthquakes can hold their heads high after a brutal two day stretch that saw all three of Major League Soccer’s qualifiers for the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals sent packing by Mexican opposition.

If Major League Soccer is to catch and someday eclipse Mexico’s Liga MX it looks like it will be at a date far in the future, in light of the beatings administered by Cruz Azul, 5-1 over Sporting Kansas City, and Tijuana, 4-2 over the Los Angeles Galaxy, over the past two days.

Alan Gordon's goal should have been allowed and would have carried his team through to the next round..(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Alan Gordon’s goal should have been allowed and would have carried his team through to the next round..(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Neither game was as close as the scorelines suggest, but for MLS, at least San Jose fought the good fight, going out on penalty kicks, after playing Toluca to a pair of 1-1 ties. In fact, San Jose have reason to feel aggrieved after Alan Gordon’s overtime goal was ruled out, incorrectly it seems, for offsides.

When Shea Salinas’ penalty kick caromed off of the crossbar, the Quakes gutsy performance at Toluca’s 9,000 altitude, was for naught. Wasted as well was a fantastic game from San Jose’s veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch.

The news wasn’t as good from the past two MLS champions, with Los Angeles coughing up their 1-0 lead from the first leg, inside of the first minute at Tijuana.

The Galaxy only had to travel a couple of hundred miles south to Tijuana, but the 2012 MLS champions started off Tuesday night like a team suffering from jetlag.

Jaime Ayovi added to his opening strike with a second goal, just nine minutes in, and before the half hour mark L.A. trailed by three.

Galaxy fell short on the evening .(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Galaxy fell short on the evening .(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

At the break Bruce Arena apparently informed his team that there was in fact a match underway, and the Galaxy briefly responded on the re-start. Robbie Keane scored two minutes in, but the hoped for Los Angeles revival would prove a mirage.

L.A. were done in by shoddy defending, and U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez, while not the prime offender, gave national team watchers plenty to worry about with Brazil on the horizon.

On Wednesday night Kansas City seemed eager to ape the Galaxy’s ineptitude, conceding to hosts Cruz Azul in the game’s second minute. The goal was the first of Mariano Pavone’s hattrick, he added strikes in the 23rd and 55th minutes.

Benny Feilhaber cut the deficit to 2-1 on the night and tied the series on aggregate, with Sporting going ahead on the away goal rule. Feilhaber’s goal turned out to be an isolated moment of individual brilliance that would soon be overshadowed as Cruz Azul ran Kansas City off the field.

Constant attacks down the flanks left SKC exposed, with fullback’s Mechack Jerome and Kevin Ellis isolated and exploited by the pacey Cruz Azul wingers.

The second half was all one way traffic and Cruz Azul goals in the 66th and 70th minute doomed Kansas City to CCL elimination.

The one caveat, or excuse if you prefer, for the performance of the MLS clubs is the timing of these CCL quarterfinals so soon after the start of the MLS campaign. That is a legitimate concern, but it hardly explains the dreadful starts by L.A. and Kansas City, especially given that both teams had earned 1-0 wins at home just days before in the opening leg of the tie.

Having a player with the wages of Henry limits the money you have left for other players salaries. (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

Having a player with the wages of Henry limits the money you have left for other player’s salaries. (ISI Photos/Howard C. Smith)

Perhaps more to the point is the league’s restrictive salary cap that makes competing in these Cup competitions a difficult proposition for MLS coaches attempting to stretch thin rosters. The cap has no doubt served its intended purpose, having allowing the league to establish itself minus the bidding wars that played a part in the demise of the old NASL.

But if MLS Commissioner Don Garber is serious in his stated desire to see Major League Soccer take its place as one of the world’s top leagues by 2022, then he will have to loosen the purse strings to allow teams to build stronger and deeper rosters.

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U.S. MNT Star Cherundolo Retires
U.S. MNT Star Cherundolo Retires avatar

United States Men’s National team and Hannover 96 defender Steve Cherundolo announced his retirement today after struggling with knee injuries for more than a year.

Steve Cherundolo in action for Hanover. (Getty Images)

Steve Cherundolo in action for Hanover. (Getty Images)

Cherundolo played his entire professional club career in Germany, with Hannover, earning the captaincy and coming to be known as the Mayor of Hannover.

Born in Rockford, Illinois Cherundolo was raised in San Diego and left the University of Portland in 1999 to join Bundesliga 2 side Hannover 96.

Cherundolo and Hannover made the jump to the Bundesliga in 2001-02 and he would go on to make a club record 302 Bundesliga appearances for Hannover, and as of 2013, Cherundolo was the longest serving player in the German top flight.

That club success translated into a long international career with the U.S. MNT, and Cherundolo retires with 87 caps, having played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Although he made the roster, injuries prevented Cherundolo from playing in the 2002 Cup.

Churundoo always looked solid in defense. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Churundoo always looked solid in defense. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Never the flashiest of players, Cherundolo made himself essential for both Hannover and the United States with his calm, assured style of play. “Dolo” was never much of a goal scorer, scoring just seven times for his club and twice for the U.S.

Despite that lack of goals, however, Cherundolo was a good offensive player. He had the speed to get down the wing and his crossing and passing were plusses in his game.

The 2010 World Cup was expected to be Cherundolo’s last, but as various potential replacements failed to impress, it became clear that his time as a U.S. international was not quite up. Then came the knee injuries that would lead to today’s announcement.

In Cherundolo’s absence the right fullback position has become a concern for the U.S. MNT, and just three months from Brazil, the spot is still up for grabs.

Cherundalo at his press conference announcing his retirement.

Cherundolo at his press conference announcing his retirement.

Long thought of as a potential coach, Cherundolo will stay on at Hannover as an assistant coach on the club’s U23 team.

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