Football Fixtures release review

It doesn’t seem so long ago that the domestic football season came to an end, but here we are yet again with the release of the Premier League fixtures. No doubt some will be happy with the opening few games whilst others will be looking towards the run ins their respective clubs will have to get through to either stay in the league, qualify for Champions League/Europa League and the grand prize of the Premier League title.

The opening set of fixtures sees Premier League Champions Chelsea kick off their defence with a home game against Burnley. It’s a repeat of last seasons opener and the blues will be hoping to have a repeat the same which saw a 3-0 win. The Blues find themselves though with a mix of the top six thrown in. Following Burnley it’s a trip to Wembley in the London derby at Spurs. By the end of September, they would have hosted four of last seasons top seven. Chelsea have a relatively good Christmas period as they have back to back home games where they face Brighton & Stoke City with the return trip to Everton just before Christmas. If Chelsea are in the hunt for the title come April, it will be a good run seeing how tricky March is. Trips to the Etihad and Turf Moor are mixed in with games at home against Palace and Tottenham. April brings West Ham and Huddersfield to the Bridge alongside trips to Southampton and Swansea. The final two games see a visit from Liverpool and a trip to Newcastle Utd.  Liverpool have started are currently unbeaten in the league against Chelsea since 2014. Results between Conte’s men and Newcastle have been even with a mix of wins and losses although United fans will be keen to forget their last visit to the Bridge.

Staying with Newcastle Utd, their return to Premier League football sees them host runners up Tottenham. It will be interesting to see how Spurs line up in the coming season, will players join or even leave, one thing is for sure is that the Magpies wont be fussed and will be looking to open their return with three points and Premier League security under the managerial guidance of Rafa Bentez. they follow that up with a trip to fellow promoted club Huddersfield Town. The Magpies will be looking to repeat the victory that they managed in the Championship last season. Newcastle Utd see a mixed bag affair for the Christmas fixtures. Pre Christmas Eve fixture sees a trip to West Ham, where the visitors will be hoping that they grab three points at the London stadium. Boxing Day and the final fixture of the year sees two home games in the shape of Manchester City and last seasons Championship runners up Brighton. A couple of juicy fixtures no doubt as many enjoy the festive period. Their  New Years Day fixture sees a trip to Stoke, possibly not the best journey for anyone with sore heads.

New boys Brighton kick off their top flight return with the hosting of Manchester City, not the easiest start for the club but as the old addage goes, everyone has to play each other at some point in the season. It’s a double dose on the road as they travel to Leicester City and Watford. These are certainly winnable games in the league. Christmas and New Year looks challenging as the Seagulls have the return  fixtures against Watford pre Christmas Eve, a trip to defending Champions Chelsea and a return against Newcastle Utd.

Their run in mind you is a bit trickier, they host Tottenham and Man Utd, before going to Anfield on the final game of the season. Certainly not the best run in if looking for Premier League survival.

Manchester City have a mixed start in terms of opponents. Having faced Brighton on the opening day, they find themselves facing Everton and Liverpool at home with Bournemouth sandwiched inbetween. Finishing wise Man City have a reasonable run in. Only Tottenham from the top five are in City’s possible title push. Finishing with newly promoted Huddersfield, who could be battling relegation or even securing mid table safety.

Liverpool kick off their campaign with a trip to Watford. Bogey team Crystal Palace are at Anfield next in back to back home games which sees Arsenal heading up next. It’s first of two games running which see top team clashes. Last season Liverpool came out top and unbeaten against Utd Chelsea Arsenal Spurs and City. This season they will look to repeat it once again. Pre Christmas sees a trip to Arsenal following home games against Swansea and Leicester City. Liverpool, hoping to be challengers once again for the title will see visits to Chelsea with home games against Stoke and a final game at home to Brighton. It will be interesting to see if  any summer signings make a huge impact during the season.

Manchester United will be hoping to go better than last season, where draws proved the end to United’s title and top four challenge. This season West Ham, Swansea, Leicester and Stoke are the opening opponents for the Europa League champions. Christmas looks certain to bring festive cheer, although a new look Everton might be a bit more tricky for United, who could be seeing the return of Ronaldo, if reports are to be believed. Whilst May might be easy, April could be tricky. Man City and Arsenal stand in the way together with Bournemouth and West Brom.

Tottenham will find themselves having to deal with a different stadium for their home games. With the renovation of White Hart Lane,  last seasons runners up will be hosting their games at Wembley.  Champions League is one thing, but 19 games might have an effect on their title aspirations. Chelsea, Burnley and Swansea are the first three visitors to Spurs temporary home. It’s natural to think that Spurs might struggle, but there is no guarantee that their opposition will necessarily have any advantage. Christmas for Spurs is Burnley, Southampton and West Ham. It will be interesting to see what presents they get.  Tottenham’s run in sees Watford, West Brom and Leicester in the run in.

Finally its Arsenal, who this season will be having Thursday night football. Having played Leicester and Stoke, it’s the tricky visit to Liverpool followed by a visit from Bournemouth and a trip to defending champions Chelsea. West Brom and Brighton are next. Christmas sees more return trips for the Gunners who will be hoping to have a happy Christmas. Arsenal’s run in, which could see them either challenging for the title or a top four place looks fairly easy as Man Utd look the strongest of the opponents Huddersfield and Stoke.

It is looking very interesting in the coming season, especially with the chase for Champions League football. There will be no worries about top four spots as they will all be automatically qualifying for the group stages.

Sin Bins and shootouts – UEFA talks

UEFA will be meeting to discuss the idea of introducing sin bins along with changing the method of the penalty shootout. Why they need to discuss making changes or introducing things that really aren’t necessary is beyond me, but UEFA seem to think it’s a good idea but then UEFA introduced the ill-fated silver goal in 2003.

Sin bins have over the past three years been tested in UEFA development competitions and so you would think that if they were deemed successful then they would be introduced further into higher leagues already. The English FA though have decided that they will introduce them on a trial basis. Leagues that are six tiers below the National League and lower.

I don’t see the point of introducing the sin bin, it’s pointless and unecessary. It might sound great but it will possibly lead to more expense for Sunday league clubs. Why would that be? Well if you are to have a ‘sin bin’ in the lower levels, someone will need to monitor. The referee and assistants will be needing to concentrate on the game rather than someone having time out of the game.  It might even lead to the team with a player down resorting to negative tactics, but that’s just my opinion.

There is a simple way to reorder the balance of respecting the referee and the game. It’s not a sin bin, it’s in fact an idea from rugby union. Have the referee with a mic so the conversations between player and referee are heard. This should in one step cut out the dissent from players and the players who try to surround a referee.

So to the dreaded penalty shoot out. Fantastic for the neutrals but not so much for fans of the teams involved. Currently it is the ABAB approach which has worked well for decades. Following an IFAB meeting, it was trialled at the UEFA Under-17 European wish to trial. Spain met Germany in the semi final. The game ended goalless in 90 minutes and extra time. Spain won 4-2 but the ABBA process looked like making barely any difference. Spain were in the final against England and the game went to penalties. Yes England did lose. Again the ABBA setup seemed to make no difference as Spain won 4-1.

To be honest, instead of faffing about with various things, the football governing bodies should be making progress with video technology and retrospective action which we will see in the Premier League in the coming season. Diving will be punished retrospectively.

30 Years a Lilywhite – Dan Raywood guest blog

So another season is over, and it is one that is magnificent for Spurs for a number of reasons. Firstly, we finished second for the first time since the 1960s, and of course we ended the curse of St Totteringham’s Day that has long lingered over N17. That postcode is also significant, as Spurs will not call White Hart Lane home for a year, as the new stadium takes shape and Spurs relocate to Wembley Stadium for next season.

The last game and following pitch invasion and ceremony were all lavishly done. A final victory at the stadium over a half hearted Manchester United – who probably have most eyes on the Europa League final – was followed by a parade of legends in the rain, and choir and opera singers of some terrace chants. Amusing of course was the pitch invasion, with one claim from The Spurs Show podcast that to clear it, all they needed to do was give the microphone to Pat Jennings!

I’m writing this an hour ahead of the final games of the season, where Spurs finish off against a relegated Hull City. The season has been a good one from my point of view – Spurs were generally excellent despite struggles in the Champions League and FA Cup when we hit Wembley. The winners Chelsea are led by a terrific coach in Conte, while the on-off form of West Brom, Southampton and Bournemouth has showed that this remains the best league in the world.
On the downside, Arsenal and Manchester United look to be in disarray. United will buy their way out of trouble, but Arsenal face a divided fan base over the future of manager Arsene Wenger. See my previous post for my view on that situation.
The main down point of the Premier League season has been it’s end. A strong title race between Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City was over after one defeat by West Ham over Spurs, while the relegation places were confirmed over a disastrous Sunderland, too defensive Middlesbrough and resurgent Hull City. All three will struggle to hold on to the few big names they have and I don’t know how fast they will return with Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion claiming the promotion places.

The last things to confirm are the final fourth place in the league to play in the Champions League next season – that is in Liverpool’s hands. Also I’ll be hoping Everton don’t score so Harry Kane can claim the golden boot, one trophy for Spurs to boast about this season!

Two into one – Chase for the Champions League

With both Arsenal and Manchester City both winning their games in hand, the chase for the final two Champions League spots looks like going from three into two to two into one. As it currently stands, Manchester City have all but  sealed their Champions League in third with on 78 points and a goal difference of plus 36, fourth place sees Liverpool on 73 and plus 33 together with Arsenal on 72 points and plus 31 goal difference.

After a roller coaster season for the three sides, City look odds on to finish third. Only Liverpool can overtake the Manchester club should City lose to away to Watford. Say a 1-0 defeat for Man City and a Liverpool win of 3-0 and its City drop down into fourth. It wouldn’t matter on the Arsenal result unless the Gunners give the home fans some joy and spank the toffees 4-0, which would then Arsenal would go into the Champions League and Man City finish fifth. How interesting would that be to see.

Realistically Manchester City should finish the game Sunday knowing that they can put their feet up with regards to Champions League football. The only thing they need to worry about is if they say for example 4-4 and Liverpool win 4-1. In these set of circumstances you would see a playoff match at a neutral ground.  The likelihood of that though is very slim. I imagine though should that happen, come Sunday evening there would be a large number of nervous Liverpool and City fans.

For Liverpool, it is Champions League playoff if they win. Should they draw or lose to Middlesbrough, not only will it be typical of the season, but all eyes will be on the Emirates hoping that their neighbours Everton can do them a favour. Should Liverpool lose and Arsenal draw, then that is when it becomes interesting. Should Liverpool lose 2-1 and Arsenal win 2-1 then both teams would have a record of 76-44 and plus 32. Under the Premier League rules, this would require a play off to distinguish who would finish in 4th and 5th place. Im sure neither team would want to go through a play off given their post season activities. As a Liverpool fan like others, I doubt there will be much hunger for 90 minutes at a neutral ground. I guess the same for Arsenal fans.

Not since 1989 when Arsenal won at Anfield to take the title, have either Liverpool or Arsenal gone to the wire in deciding league placings. Personally I dont want to relive that moment any time soon.

Love the One You’re With – Dan Raywood blog


League One: Battling for Promotion

With Sheffield United having won the league a while back, the only thing for them to worry about is whether they can reach a century of points. Standing in their way are MK Dons and the already relegated Chesterfield. For the next four teams though it’s fighting for that final automatic promotion place.

Bolton Wanderers missed a chance to make things a little less nervy as they were surprisingly held to a goalless draw at home to Bury. They should in theory be favourites for second, given that they play Port Vale this weekend, who not only are battling for League One survival but have failed to win in their last four games. If they fail that hurdle then they will hope that Gillingham who have been playing relegation chicken, will fail to add to their one win in the last seven. Fleetwood though might want to be aware that the only win in the barren run has come against playoff chasing Bristol Rovers, whose dreams of Wembley promotion are crushed. Fleetwood then on the final game of the season host Port Vale. You have to feel for the Vale in that two of the three remaining games come against Promotion chasing teams.

Either way Bolton and Fleetwood are at least assured of a playoff place if they don’t achieve automatic promotion. The only other team with a guaranteed playoff place are Scunthorpe Utd. Their 3-1 win over relegated Chesterfield meant that they could not drop out. For Bradford they in theory only need a point from their home game against Wimbledon. Southend are the only club that could reach 75 points but seeing that they have hit a one win in four game run, even though Southend travel to relegation threatened Shrewsbury, Bradford should be there. Bradford though face Rochdale who are within three points of Millwall who are in the fourth play off spot.

Whilst other teams can probably secure their playoff place with a point, Millwall unfortunately dont have that luxury, regardless of a struggling Southend below them. Both their remaining two opponents Oxford Utd and Bristol Rovers wont be pushovers although in the previous fixtures, they won both games. Things would be easy if that were the case, but at the same time the London club had lost to Port Vale, who as previously mentioned find themselves languishing at the wrong end of the table. Victory for Millwall and defeat for Southend will all but confirm their play off spot. Should Millwall drop points then not only will Southend still have a chance, but if Rochdale beat Oldham, then it could be an uncomfortable final 90 minutes in the last game of the season.

Chase for The Championship – Down to the wire?

With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.

Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.

For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.

Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.

Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.

Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.

Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.

It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.

Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.