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.

Fighting homophobia in football – Football v Homophobia February campaign

In an ideal world, regardless of sexual orientation and gender, we could all go watch or play in a football match where ever its held in the country and enjoy it, good banter between fans and players where the game is the winner. Sadly we don’t live in that world, as there are morons up and down the country that seem to think that it is ok for people to be harrassed physically, verbally or virtually because of their orientation. Frankly it is not acceptable and will never be, which is why it is important to have groups campaigning against homophobia. You don’t need to be a straight man or woman to find homophobia appalling and disgusting, at the end of the day as a football fan we should come together to stand up against such vile hatred.

The Football Association together with various clubs up and down the country work together with LGBT organisations to help bring down homophobia in the game. Stonewall and FootballvHomophobia are two groups that work towards making the game we all love, easier for people in the LGBT community, there will be more of that later.

In a BBC Radio 5 Live Survey last year 82% of sports fans said they would have no issue with their club signing a gay player, however 8% of football fans said they would stop watching their team. Whilst it may only be 8% it is still 8% too much and frankly if they would stop watching their team because they signed a player who was gay, then it is no loss to the club or the game. Unfortunately the Football Association Chairman appeared to take the easy way out with his personal view that the abuse must be stopped before a player comes out. Greg Clarke was wrong in his personal view because homophobia wouldn’t be tolerated within the workplace of the Football Association so why should it be allowed to carry on in the stands of a football club, which is as much a workplace as an office or a factory. Those fans who choose to resort to abuse at a game or online should be identified and banned from attending games. We don’t tolerate hooligans or racists, neither should we tolerate homophobes.

The month of February sees the month of action from the Football v Homophobia where clubs, officials and fans can work together to highlight the issues of homophobia in the game. Of course for the group, the it’s not just February but every month they work hard. Im sure they would rather not be having to do it, but all the whilst there is homophobia in the game, they will be working hard to eradicate it. At some point I hope to chat but you can find out more at http://www.footballvhomophobia.com. I also look to chat with gay supporters clubs around the country and how they find tackling the issue.

World Cup to 48 – No thanks

 So the reality of an expanded World Cup moves ever closer. FIFA voted on Tuesday 10th January for a 48 nations in 2026. If you thought Russia and Qatar being handed the World Cup Finals was a crazy idea, then expanding to 48 seems one step too far. Of course it will all be about making it more profitable and making more money. It is all very well making things profitable if the actual product improves. Sadly it is very unlikely that the football will improve. The  reality is that the teams from Europe and South America will continue to dominate whilst African nations keep their toes dipped in the pool as it were. It is very unlikely that other than Japan, South Korea or Australia,the Asian teams or even those from Oceania (should they qualify) will be nothing more than adding numbers to the loss column. There were five options available for the member nations to vote for but it seems

  • Keep The Existing Structure
  • Expand to 40 ( 8 Groups of 5)
  • Expand to 40 (10 Groups of 4)
  • Expand to 48 (16 Groups of 3)
  • Expand to 48 (Opening 32 play off round)

As you can see there are five options. The first one is the if it aint broke dont fix it option, you then have the increase to 40, this was an idea that the former UEFA man Michel Platini had suggested, which could have been bearable and then finally the 48 option.

It is one thing to make the World Cup bigger but to choose the most ridiculous option of 16 groups of three is just bordering on pointless and with two going through. The last time the World Cup finals saw groups of three was when Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982. Back then it saw just the group winners make it into the next round. That idea seemed to have been quickly thrown away as the following World Cup finals format returned to group then knockout rounds. If the idea of three team groups was a bad idea then, why in gods name does anyone think it’s going to be better in 2026. I guess in the post Qatar fall out anything might seem bearable.

The Scottish FA seem to support it, I guess anything that enhances their chances of qualifying can only seem good. That said they dont seem to be able to make headway in a group that contains Slovenia, Slovakia and Lithuania. I guess though anything that keeps the Scot’s somewhat happy. The not so happy people included the European Club Association, who opposed it and called it regrettable and merely for political reasons. The Spanish La Liga are also against it.

There may not be any reversal in the decision, but one can only hope that before the competition has reached it’s centenary year, the tournament may have seen its enjoyment tarnished.

Sam Allardyce – Good riddance

I take a week off abroad and it seems all hell breaks loose. Having appeared to be the victim of a newspaper sting, the FA had no choice but to call time on Sam Allardyce’s England tenure. Allardyce was appointed following the resignation of Roy Hodgson following Euro 2016 exit.

The appointment of ‘Big Sam’was always a questionable one given that he had no major honours and a management win ratio of under 40%. How was a manager with a win ratio that low, ever going to be suited to being England manager. If it wasn’t the percentage rate, it was the unattractive football. There had to be better choices, even if the FA were looking at a foreign manager. Thanks to Celtic the English FA didn’t have to look at Brendan Rodgers.

If Allardyce was to depart from the post as England manager, we would have expected disappointing football and records. We should not have expected him to be booted after one game and under 70 days, unfortunately we shouldn’t have expected any different. Allardyce had been drawn into the darker side of football ten years ago along side his son. You might have expected him to avoid any kind of dodgy stuff but apparently not. In a secret filming he claimed he could get round things. Post departure he claimed he was doing a favour for a friend, in reality Allardyce should have known better.

It appears that the former Sunderland manager could be in further trouble with the FA following the recent incident, not before he apparently receives a £1 million pay off. The logic makes no sense, but then to be honest when did the FA have any logic? They did after all screw over the late Sir Bobby Robson by not offering him a deal post Italia 90.

It is likely that Allardyce will get some punishment, but not enough to keep him from managing again.

Premier League review – Moaning and Mane

The Premier League was back this weekend just gone and it seems that some things just never change. Mourinho was moaning about incorrect decisions and missed cards after his first Manchester derby ended in a 2-1 home defeat. A handball decision and a challenge by Bravo on Rooney. Whilst Bravo touched the ball, some will look at his initial feet being both off the ground when he went charging. On the other hand some could say if United had started better and not allowed City the space, the result again could have been different. It was probably not something United fans might have expected under Mourinho that being tactically out done by the opposition at Old Trafford, but there we were.

Tottenham maintained their unbeaten start to the Premier League with a 4-0 pasting against Stoke City. The North London club seem to enjoy their trips to Stoke and made easy work of Mark Hughes team. They have only conceded two goals which is one of the tightest defences in the Premier League.

Arsenal left it late to grab a win against Southampton. WInless Saints had gone ahead after an unfortunate own goal from Cech, but with Koscielny equalising the Saints looked to take a third point of the season. Southampton hearts were broken deep into injury time with a Santi Corzola penalty winner.

Watford came back from 2-0 to win 4-2 and open their win account. Having gone 2-0 down after 33 minutes, it seemed that Watford might be in for a beating but two goals in four minutes brought the visitors level. Second half seemed no better for the home side as a Watford side now with a buzz, grabbed two in ten to secure the three points and hand another defeat for the struggling Hammers.

Another team knocking four in the back of the net were Liverpool. The Reds were finally getting to play at Anfield for the first time since last season. With the main stand now expanded, Anfield was now at a capacity of 54,000. Anfield was a sellout as Liverpool hosted the defending Champions Leicester. It was a strong attacking performance from the home side although the defence still had a few iffy moments, such as Lucas giving the ball away for Leicester to pull on back. That as as good as it got for the visitors as Mane and Firmino did the damage.

Bournemouth and Palace secured wins in their matches to win their first league games of the season.

League One Plus

With the World Cup European qualifiers taking place this weekend (separate post to come on that) it meant no Premier League and Championship games taking place. This means a look at League One and below.

LEAGUE ONE

Bolton Wanderers missed the chance to open a four point gap when they were held at home to early season strugglers Southend United. Despite the gulf between the two, it was coastal side Southend that took the early advantage with a third minute goal. Unfortunately for the visitors, that was as good as it got. They had just two further goal attempts in the rest of the game and had to withstand a barrage of Bolton possession and shots on goal. It did seem though that at half time the visitors might pull it off. Three minutes into the second half Wanderers were level and then pushed on for the second goal to in the game, it never came and they had to settle for a point.

Bradford City faced fellow promotion hopefuls Millwall. The Bantams could have gone top and Millwall could have risen to second depending on other scores. A goal either side of half time was all that came in the game.

Fleetwood continued to keep in touch with the top two by grabbing a 2-0 home win over struggling Coventry City. For the home side they have only lost one game which came against the league leaders Bolton. Fleetwood will no doubt be serious contenders for promotion come the end of the season.

 LEAGUE TWO

Luton Town, having  finished eleventh last season, stormed to the top of League Two with a 4-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers.  Having only dropped points in a draw against Yeovil and an injury time defeat against rivals Stevenage, the league leaders have amassed a goal difference of plus nine in their 6 league games with thirteen points. Compare this to their rivals Morecambe and Plymouth close behind on twelve, neither of theirs is more than plus two.

Portsmouth looking to return to League One are hot on the trail and two points behind Luton. They are the closest in goal difference threat to Luton. They have plus four having had a slow start to the season. With Wycombe coming up, they will no doubt be looking to add to the goal difference and increase their chance of a top two place.

At the other end of the table Cambridge United find themselves propping up the table. Three points coming from three draws doesnt bode well for the club and have managed just three goals. A trip to third place Plymouth Argyle this weekend doesnt exactly bode well for them especially when the hosts have kept three clean sheets in a row.

There seems no escape for Yeovil Town either. Having started with four points in the first two games, that’s as good as it got. They shipped seven goals in the last two games. Their only hope is that this weekend they face Hartlepool who have leakier defence. They have shipped fifteen in six games including a 6-1 pasting by Stevenage.

It may still be a long way to go, but looking at League One and Two it would seem they are the leagues to keep a look at.

Premier League clubs – Change for success

After England’s disappointly embarrassing exit to Iceland at Euro 2016,there was much debate as to what should happen next. Whilst appointing Sam Allardyce definitely wasn’t one of them, many looked towards the Premier League itself and what could be done club wise in order to boost England’s chances.

One of the common lines is that Premier League teams more games (cue the well they get paid enough comments). Domestically a Premier League club will play 38 games, six games in the FA Cup minimum not including replays, which could add three extra games. Something to note though is this seasons FA Cup quarter finals will be decided on the day instead of the usual replay. This apparently a mixture of keeping the interest and helping to reduce the fixture list for clubs, especially when games have often been squeezed into some busy schedules. Of course there is then the league cup. For teams not in Europe there is one less game, that could add a possible seven games. Recently though some clubs have rested first team players in the earlier ties. On the subject of clubs in Europe depending on where you qualify, take Manchester City for example, that could add another fifteen ties. An English club could end up playing over sixty games.

Naturally if you expect a team and/or player to feature in over sixty games a season and before a major tournament, something is going to have to give. This of course is not the whole excuse for England’s poor performance, but fitness and the likelihood of burnout is likely to have a key affect.

So how do we deal with the issue. There are a couple that are obvious ones that will reduce the amount of games a team/player will compete in. Reduce the Premier League to eighteen clubs. Whilst the league would only lose two games per team, it would go a way to reduce the fixture pile up for the latter part of the season. This would especially be the case when the FA Cup third round springs into place and the likelihood of replays enter the fray and the frantic rearranging of fixtures.

Reducing the Premier League fixtures would enable the Premier League clubs and players to have the Christmas period off. Just because they earn mega millions, doesnt mean that they cant have the festive period off, they should be entitled just as much as everyone else. This could appeal to the non football lovers who wouldnt have to put up with football through the Christmas period. It might though not appeal greatly to the fans who like the traditional festive football programme. For me the idea of no footy over the Christmas period would be a hard one especially with no Boxing Day Match of The Day to look forward to. It will be one that no doubt splits opinion. The season wouldn’t be shortened either as two of the midweek rounds of Premier League fixtures would be moved to the weekend. This again would also reduce the fixture list pile up as the season heads towards the final weeks.

It isnt just the league of course. There are the Cup competitions, the FA and League Cup. The FA Cup doesnt see the top flight clubs enter until round three, this takes off one lot of pressure to a point. Some might say that the FA should abolish the idea of replays full stop. Seeing that the competition has seen the reduction to one replay, what difference would it make if all games were to be completed on the day. It might help the fixtures even further. For me though that would take away a lot from the FA Cup. There is nothing more exciting than seeing an FA Cup replay and a Cup upset and not only that, the smaller clubs would lose out on possible extra revenue. As mentioned earlier, the 2016-17 FA Cup would see no replays in the Quarter Finals.

Then of course there is the League Cup which has seen it drop way down the list of the leading Premier League clubs priority list. Many would rather not enter it if they didnt have to and to an extent would rather field mixtures of reserves and youth. Sometimes though that can still see the club progress far in the competition if you have a good combination of youth talent and reserves.

There are many ways that the Premier League could deal with this, first off would be for Premier League clubs to withdraw from the competition, that though may not be a straight forward way. A vote would possibly be split with the majority of clubs voting to remain in the competition as another opportunity to win a piece of silverware. Of course though there could be a compromise of teams that dont want to take part being able to withdraw. If though the Premier League clubs voted to leave, this would leave twenty club spaces to fill. The League could either restructure the competition or even elect to invite twenty National League clubs into the competition. There could also be the option of every season Premier League clubs invited to take part or not.

If Premier League clubs were to withdraw, what would happen to the Europa League spot that the League Cup has? Would UEFA withdraw that spot or as more recently with many of the League Cup winners coming from the top eight, would it just remain with the Premier League. It will be certainly interesting to see.

Whether these plans would work is something that would be interesting to see, but introducing the National League teams to the competition couldn’t do any real harm to its future.