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Premier League preview: Big games for Tottenham, Arsenal, Wigan and Aston Villa

With Manchester United sealing their 20th league title with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday, all the attention now shifts to the relegation battle and the top four places.

Arsenal v Manchester United

The Gunners welcome the champions to the Emirates for a big game in their battle for the top four. Arsenal currently have a two-point advantage over fifth-placed Spurs and are one point in front of fourth-placed Chelsea. After their vital win at Fulham last weekend, this is another huge game for the home side as Chelsea and Spurs both have a game in hand on them.

Robin van Persie

Some people may be wondering what sort of attitude Manchester United will have toward this game having already clinched the title. Sir Alex Ferguson has set them the target of winning their last four games to break Chelsea’s Premier League record of 95 points, and with questions also being asked about how good this United team actually is, they will want to put down a marker against one of the top teams in the division. With both teams wanting the win there is sure to be goals and you would expect there to be a positive result one way or the other.

Aston Villa v Sunderland

A massive relegation battle at Villa Park as Paolo Di Canio’s in-form Sunderland look to secure their Premiership safety. Following impressive back-to-back wins against Newcastle and Everton, Sunderland know a win here would take them to 40 points and all-but secure their place in the league next season. Di Canio has got them playing attacking football by getting the ball wide to their creative players like Adam Johnson and James McClean and getting more men into the box than under the previous regime. Di Canio has also got them well organised with two clean sheets in his three games in charge so far. His passion on the touchline seems to be translating to the players and the fans, the players seem to be enjoying their football again and have pride in the shirt.

Paul Lambert

For Villa despite their defeat at Manchester United they have been in decent form, with three wins in their last six games. The problem remains with their home form though, as they still seem to suffer from nervousness at Villa Park, with just two wins in their last six. Despite this fact Luxbet have them as favorites at 2.20. They need to start improving their home form, as come Monday night Wigan may be level on points with them and the Latics still have a game in hand at home to Swansea to come. Paul Lambert will be desperate to avoid having to go to Wigan on the last day of the season needing a result but it is hard seeing them getting the win here against a rejuvenated Sunderland.

Wigan v Tottenham

Arguably the biggest game of the weekend comes at the DW Stadium as relegation-threatened Wigan welcome a Spurs side buoyed by their 3-1 victory over Manchester City last weekend. Wigan’s usual good form at this time of the season has not come to fruition, with just two wins in their last six and with trips to West Brom and Arsenal still to come they need to find some better form quickly. Despite what Roberto Martinez has claimed, the upcoming FA Cup final may well be a distraction to the players as in the back of their minds the players will want to keep themselves fit for their big day at Wembley.

André Villas-Boas

Spurs meanwhile will be full of confidence after their comeback victory against Manchester City and know that they need to keep winning before their big showdown against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a couple of weeks. With Gareth Bale another week further along in terms of regaining fitness and so much pace and so many goal scoring threats it is hard to see how Wigan will cope with this Spurs side.

By Chris Newman

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Premier League preview: A big weekend for Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool

This weekend features three massive games in the race for the Champions League places as the season enters its final few weeks.

Fulham v Arsenal

Arsenal’s late season charge to make the top four takes them to Craven Cottage. After a midweek draw against Everton, the Gunners will feel they need three points from this away trip before Manchester United come to the Emirates next weekend.

Santi Cazorla

After their surprise away win at Spurs a few weeks ago guaranteed their Premiership status for another season, Fulham’s season is drifting towards its conclusion with no win in their last three games, which included a crushing home defeat to local rivals Chelsea in midweek. Arsenal’s greater desire and need to win should be enough to see them to a comfortable three points at the Cottage.

Tottenham v Manchester City

A huge game at White Hart Lane as Spurs host the current champions. Spurs have been feeling the pressure once again late in the season with their last two home games ending in defeat to Fulham and a draw with Everton, whilst also crashing out of the Europa League to Basel. This is a big opportunity for them to get themselves back in a prime position for the top four against a Manchester City side who looked jaded in their 1-0 home win over Wigan in midweek.

Gareth Bale

The crowd will certainly be up for this game as well and with the likely return of Gareth Bale, Spurs will fancy their chances of getting a positive result out of this game. City know that they are not going to catch Manchester United and that they have second place pretty much sown up. For them all the focus is now on the FA Cup final and they may make a few changes after playing three games in a week. Spurs know a win is vital as they still have tough away games to come against Chelsea and two teams who are battling for survival in Stoke and Wigan.

Liverpool v Chelsea

Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield for the first time as an opposing manager with his Chelsea side. The Spaniard is sure to get a terrific reception from the home supporters and it will be interesting to see how it affects the Chelsea team. When Gerard Houllier returned with his Aston Villa team a couple of years ago and got an amazing reception Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 victory. This Chelsea team though are a lot more experienced than that Villa side and you would expect them to be able to cope with what is sure to be a passionate atmosphere.

Rafa Benitez

On the pitch Liverpool have won four of their last five meetings in the league against Chelsea and they drew the other. Liverpool have once again saved most of their best performances for games against the bigger clubs this season, even though this may not be borne out by results. Benitez continues to rotate his squad well to cope with their demanding fixture list and their 3-0 away win at Fulham in midweek was certainly impressive, whilst they were unfortunate not to take Manchester City to extra time in last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool’s recent record against the Blues may well swing this game in their favour and Daniel Sturridge may well be out to prove a point against the club who he feels never gave him a proper chance to make his mark in his time there.

By Chris Newman

Premier League Preview: Big games for Manchester United, Stoke, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa

Premier League preview: Derby day on Tyneside, United look to bounce back and a big game for Villa

While most eyes will be on Wembley this weekend for the FA Cup semi-finals, there are still some massive games in the Premiership with a number of teams looking for the precious three points.

Newcastle v Sunderland

A massive derby game on Sunday at St James’ Park, with a huge three points on offer in this relegation battle. After their last-gasp victory against Fulham last Sunday, Newcastle know that three points here would all but secure their place in the Premier League for next season and possibly condemn their nearest rivals to a place in the relegation zone.

Paolo Di Canio

After an encouraging performance at Stamford Bridge, Paolo Di Canio will have his team fired up and want them showing the same passion that he will undoubtedly be putting across on the touchline. Sunderland may well see this as a big opportunity with Newcastle playing on Thursday night against Benfica and they may well find it tough to get themselves up for another big physical effort just over two days later. This fixture generally produces goals, cards and talking points so a high scoring draw may well be on the cards, and with a lot of combative midfielders on the pitch a red card or two would not be a surprise.

Stoke v Manchester United

A big game at both ends of the table as Manchester United travel to the Britannia to take on a Stoke City side who have been dragged into a relegation battle. Only Reading are in worst form in the last six games than the hosts, who haven’t won in their last six league games and have only won one of their last six at home. Manchester United meanwhile are at the top of the form table and have not lost an away league game since defeat at Norwich in November.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Stoke now sit just three points above the drop zone after the damaging home defeat to Villa last week and as the lowest scorers in the division and their usually tight defence beginning to leak goals, they are in real danger of falling back into the Championship. The last thing Stoke need now is a visit from the champions elect. Manchester United will be stung by their derby defeat on Monday and they know that defeat here will give Manchester City a chance to get back into the title race. The first goal here will be crucial as the Stoke fans will try and create their famous intimidating atmosphere straight from kick off, an early goal for United and it may well be another easy away day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. If Stoke could manage to get in front though a positive result will surely act as a springboard for them to retain Premier League status.

Aston Villa v Fulham

Another massive game down the bottom as Paul Lambert’s young side have an opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and Wigan, who are in FA Cup action this weekend. After their impressive win at Stoke last weekend, which dragged them into trouble, Villa could take a massive stride toward safety by making it back-to-back wins.

Christian Benteke

One problem for this Villa side is playing in front of their home fans as they have lost four out of their last six home games. The young players seem to freeze in front of their own fans and play with much more freedom in their away games. Fulham meanwhile have picked up slightly with their away form, losing just two of their last six games but they are generally poor on their travels and now that they are safe for another season Villa’s extra need for the win may sway this fixture in their favour.

By Chris Newman

Crucial games for Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton this weekend

Premier League Preview: Di Canio ready to prove a point, Last chance for QPR and a Manchester derby.

As the Premiership comes into its last two months every fixture has significance at both the top and bottom of the table. Here is a look at the key fixtures this weekend.

Chelsea v Sunderland

After a week of talking about his political beliefs, Paolo Di Canio finally gets a chance to focus on what he wants as he makes his managerial debut in the Premiership. He certainly couldn’t have asked for a much harder task as he takes his Sunderland side to Stamford Bridge. There is no doubt Di Canio will have his side well organised defensively, as he left a Swindon side with the best defensive record in the country.

Paolo Di Canio

He is also well known for watching hours of video of the opposition looking at collective and individual strengths and weaknesses. The only problem may well be working out what team Chelsea will play, as it is their fourth game in just over a week. With the incentive of impressing their new manager and Chelsea’s possible weariness it would not be a surprise to see Sunderland take a point here.

QPR v Wigan

This is surely the last chance for Harry Redknapp’s side to make up ground on the teams above them. They are currently seven points behind a Wigan side, who are in 17th. A defeat would leave them ten points behind with just six games left and surely facing an impossible task.

Roberto Martínez

This Wigan side are starting to hit form at just the right time with back-to-back home wins over Newcastle and Norwich. Home advantage may just sway this in QPR’s favour and the first goal will be vital. If Wigan get it then the home fans will be on their teams back but if Rangers can get it the fans may well inspire them to a vital home win.

Tottenham v Everton

The race for the European places enters another crucial weekend and there is no game bigger than at White Hart Lane. Everton travel to a Spurs side that may have Manchester City in their sights if results go their way this weekend. Before Thursday night Spurs were full of confidence and a home win was extremely likely, but after a poor defensive showing against Basel and injuries to key men Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, this fixture is looking a lot more troublesome.

Andre Villas-Boas

Everton have responded well to their FA Cup humiliation against Wigan with back-to-back home wins against Manchester City and Stoke. Everton know a win here would leave them just three points behind Spurs with a game in hand and right in the thick of the race for the Champions League places. This will be a hard fought game but with Tottenham having played on Thursday and the injuries to key men Everton may well pick up an away win here.

Manchester United v Manchester City

While the title may well be pretty much won by the Old Trafford side, this game is still important for a number of reasons. Manchester United will see this as a chance for revenge for last season’s 6-1 defeat to their nearest rivals and an opportunity to do the double following their 3-2 win at the Etihad earlier this season.

Roberto Mancini

For City it is about laying down a marker for next season and proving that they can still match United. This game is also vital for the blue half of Manchester to keep the teams behind them out of reach. If results don’t go the right way for City before they play, then Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal may well be within a few points of them and City will find themselves in a fight for an automatic Champions League place.

By Chris Newman

Who will be Championship Player of the Year?

For the last few weeks most football fans when debating Player of the Year have been speaking about Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez; this Sunday though the Football League will take centre stage with its annual awards. One of the main awards is the Championship Player of the Year, and this week the three nominees were announced.

Glenn Murray

The first nominee is Crystal Palace striker Glenn Murray. Along with Wilfried Zaha, Murray has provided the firepower for Palace’s promotion challenge.  Having signed from rivals Brighton in 2011 Murray’s first season at Selhurst Park was disappointing with just seven goals in 44 games.

Glenn Murray

This season though he has come alive with 30 goals in 36 appearances. Murray is good in the air, has great hold-up play and terrific strength. He has a very similar style of play to Rickie Lambert and Grant Holt, who have both thrived at Premier League level and it was rumoured that Roy Hodgson watched Murray along with Zaha in Crystal Palace’s game with Bristol City earlier this season.

Tom Ince

The Blackpool winger is thoroughly deserving of his nomination. Despite a lot of speculation linking him with moves to Liverpool and Swansea, Ince has managed to keep a high level of performance and continues to be the Tangerines standout player.

Tom Ince

Ince already has 18 league goals and the second highest assists in the league with 11. These all-round statistics and his high energy style of play probably make Ince favourite for this award, even more so when you consider that he is playing in a team that has been struggling for the last few months.

Matej Vydra

The young Watford striker on loan from Udinese has certainly made a big impact. Vydra has 20 goals already this season, including an incredible run in January where he scored seven goals in four games, including three braces. The scouts have been flocking to Vicarage Road to see him in action.

Matej Vydra

A good turn of pace and clinical finishing has seen Vydra’s value soar and there will be a number of clubs interested if Watford do not get promotion to the Premier League. While they may be in pole position to sign him due to their owners having stakes in both clubs, a valuation of £10 million will not put bigger clubs off and at just 20 years old there is amazing potential in him.

On Sunday the League One and League Two player of the year awards will also be decided. In League One the vote should be extremely close. Leon Clarke kept Scunthorpe in the battle for survival pretty much single-handedly in the first half of the season, before a move to Coventry has seen him fire them to within touching distance of the play-offs.

After winning the League Two version last year with Swindon, Matt Ritchie finds himself nominated once more. With nine goals and nine assists for the Robins before a deadline day move to Bournemouth he once again proved what an all-round threat he is.

The final nominee is Alan Judge of Notts County. At 24 years old Judge has this season proved what an exciting player he could be. Excellent dribbling skills, always taking full-backs on and a bullet of a shot on him has made Judge an exciting player to watch and a move to a Championship club in the summer may be on the cards.

In League Two the favourite is surely Tom Pope of Port Vale. With 27 goals in 44 games this season Pope has fired Port Vale to within touching distance of promotion. Just behind Pope in the scoring charts is 37-year-old Jamie Cureton, who once again this season has shown what a natural goal scorer he is with 20 league goals which has helped Exeter into the play-off places. The final nominee is Bradford captain Gary Jones. Jones was instrumental in Bradford’s fairy tale run to Wembley in the Capital One Cup and his box-to-box style makes him a useful player at both ends of the pitch.

By Chris Newman

Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle have a real chance of Europa League glory

Even though there is no English interest in the Champions League, the same cannot be said of the Europa League where there are three teams battling to make the final at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15th. All the English teams face tough tasks though, and the draw has conjured up four ties between teams that have never met before.

Chelsea v Rubin Kazan

Whilst Chelsea may have been installed as bookmakers favourites following the draw they take a step into the unknown against the Russian outfit. Chelsea have been far from convincing in Europe this season, crashing out of the Champions League as holders at the group stage and then scraping past Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest in the first two rounds of this competition. Rubin meanwhile have been mightily impressive in getting to this stage. They topped their group ahead of Inter Milan who they thumped 3-0 at home. They then followed that by knocking out the holders Atletico Madrid 2-1 on aggregate, which included a 2-0 victory in the Vicente Calderon.

John Obi Mikel

Rubin have a mixture of nationalities in their squad including their danger man, the Venezuelan striker Jose Rondon who has scored five goals in the competition so far. While he is their main threat up front Rubin also have a solid backline, which has only conceded four goals in their 10 games so far and two of those came in the first group game away at Inter. Make no mistake; this is a massive test for Chelsea, and with the away leg coming second the Blues may need a couple of goals advantage to take to Russia. These two games also come in a spell of six games in 16 days for Chelsea and all that may add up to a shock in this tie.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Basel

The easiest looking tie for the English clubs on paper begins at White Hart Lane as Spurs take on the rank outsiders FC Basel. Tottenham cruised through their group as runners-up behind Lazio and have then fought their way through two tough ties against Lyon thanks to a late Mousa Dembele goal and against Inter Milan on away goals. Basel started the season in the Champions League but lost out to Cluj in the final play-off round. Having dropped into the Europa League they finished second in a weak group behind Genk before seeing off Ukrainian minnows Dnipro. They were impressive in the last round though, knocking out Liverpool’s conquerors Zenit 2-1 on aggregate.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto

Basel have a good blend of youth and experience with the Swiss pairing of Marco Streller and Alex Frei still scoring goals at this level. Over two legs though Spurs will surely be a class above and if Inter Milan struggled to contain the likes of Gareth Bale then it is hard to see how the Swiss will fare any better. Being at home first does make things harder for Tottenham as they have not been too convincing away from home thus far, but they will surely be too far ahead after the first leg for it to make a difference.

Fenerbahce v Lazio

The only tie that does not contain an English team but it is still very tough to call. Fenerbahce are another team who came down from the Champions League after losing their play-off to Spartak Moscow. Their path through the group stage was easy enough finishing top of their pool, however during the knockout rounds they have been unconvincing in getting past Bate 1-0 on aggregate and Plzen 2-1 over the two games. Lazio have been much more impressive, topping the group ahead of Spurs and then scoring five times in each of their knockout rounds against Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart.

Raul Meireles

Both sides have a lot of experience running through their teams. Lazio have the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lorik Cana while Fenerbahce have some well-known faces in the form of Joseph Yobo, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt. Lazio may well just have the edge in this tie though through their goal threat. They have the Czech striker Libor Kozak who has managed eight goals in eight games so far and the unpredictable Mauro Zarate. With Lazio at home second they have to be favourites and will have too much firepower for an unspectacular Fenerbahce side.

Benfica v Newcastle United

The final tie should be an absolute cracker as Portuguese heavyweights Benfica take on Newcastle. Newcastle have been solid if unspectacular so far, coming second in their group behind Bordeaux and then going through 1-0 on aggregate in both knockout rounds against tricky opposition in the shape of Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala. Benfica are another team that dropped out of the Champions League, finishing third in their group behind Celtic and Barcelona despite a creditable 0-0 draw at Camp Nou. They have won every game in the Europa League so far though beating both Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux home and away.

Moussa Sissoko

Benfica’s main threat is of course their goal machine Oscar Cardozo who already has three in four games in this competition. They also have exciting young midfielders in Nicolas Gaitan and Nemanja Matic and the experience at the back with Luisao and Ezequiel Garay. Newcastle could not have wished for a tougher task and a lot will depend on how their young team cope with the intimidating atmosphere in Lisbon in the first leg. If Newcastle can continue their solid defensive form then they may give themselves a chance of a special European night at St James Park in the return game.

By Chris Newman

No Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or City: Champions League quarter-final preview

For the first time since 1996 there is no English representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Despite this, the draw has still thrown up some potentially exciting ties that are bound to produce plenty of goals and talking points.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund

Probably the least glamorous looking of the ties but has the potential to be one of the most entertaining. Both teams have been extremely impressive in getting this far. Malaga topped their group, remaining unbeaten, and finishing ahead of AC Milan and Zenit, before overturning a first-leg deficit against Porto in the last 16. Dortmund meanwhile were put in the so-called Group of Death alongside Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax. They too remained unbeaten though, and also finished first in their group before sweeping aside Shakhtar in the last 16.

Mario Gotze

While most people will look at Isco as Malaga’s main threat, the experience they possess with the likes of Joaquin, Toulalan, Saviola and Demichelis is not to be under-estimated though, and they will be prepared for the occasion. Dortmund’s youth and attacking style may just prove to be too much for the Spaniards however, and with the guaranteed goals and creativity of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski along with home advantage in the second leg, the Germans may well be a good outside bet to make it all the way to Wembley.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

The second favourites meet the rank outsiders in this quarter-final tie. Madrid cruised through their group, even though they finished second to Dortmund, and then controversially saw off Manchester United over two tense games. Galatasaray just edged through their group ahead of CFR Cluj and their attacking prowess saw them score three in Germany to get past Schalke.

Didier Drogba

There is no doubting the Turkish side’s attacking options. Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder were the big name signings in January but they also boast the joint top scorer in the competition with Burak Yilmaz. Add to this the experience of Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop in the midfield and they certainly have a strong core to their team. Over two games though it is hard to see a defence which has already conceded in all but one game in the competition so far this season containing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Galatasaray do have the advantage of being at home for the second leg but they cannot afford to be more than a goal or two behind after their trip to the Bernabeu.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

Undoubtedly the tie of the round, the big-spending French team against the side who have raised most of their players through their youth team. Despite a couple of wobbles along the way against Celtic and in the first leg against AC Milan, the Catalan giants still remain the team to beat. As they showed in the second leg against Milan they are still unstoppable when they are on form. PSG were very impressive in topping their group and despite a nervy second leg against Valencia they deservedly fought their way through.

Jordi Alba

The biggest problem for the French side in the first game will be the continued suspension of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To have any chance against Barcelona they will need their strongest team and it will be a big blow to not have their talisman. Not that PSG are a one-man team though. Ezequiel Lavezzi continues to show his talent with five goals in this tournament and they have the exciting young talents of Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. The problem they may find though is getting the ball to these players, but if they can there is no doubt they can cause Barcelona problems. It would be no surprise if Paris Saint-Germain got a positive result at home but as Milan found out in the last 16, it needs a big lead to take to the Nou Camp for the return game.

Bayern Munich v Juventus

The final tie pits together two of the heavyweights of European football over the years. Bayern have been very impressive to this stage and despite their second-leg defeat to Arsenal they still dominated in terms of attempts at goal and possession. Juventus came through a slow start to qualify first from a group containing Shakhtar and defending champions Chelsea, before brushing aside the challenge of Celtic.

Andrea Pirlo

Bayern will be determined to make amends for their final defeat to Chelsea last year and they certainly have a team who find it easy to create chances and, certainly at domestic level, score goals. They are coming up against a side though that is more of a stereotypical Italian team. Solid at the back and good in possession, Juve play the game at their own pace. They may be short of big names but they have an Italian core that are well drilled and know exactly what they are doing. This is probably the hardest of the quarter-finals to call, but it may well be that Bayern’s extra options in the attacking third will be enough to see them through; but only just.

By Chris Newman

Is it time for Everton and David Moyes to part company?

Is the time right for Moyes to move on?

Next week marks the 11th year anniversary of David Moyes taking charge of Everton but after Saturday’s 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Wigan he may feel it is time for a change for both himself and the club when his contract runs out in the summer.

After such a lacklustre performance in such a big game for the club, Moyes may wonder how much longer he can continue getting so close to that elusive first trophy only for his players to seemingly freeze when the opportunity presents itself. Just like last year when they held a 1-0 half-time lead over Liverpool in the semi-final; they seemed to go into their shells and not have the belief to grasp the chance of glory.

He will certainly not be short of offers if he does decide to call time on his tenure at Goodison Park. His record in the league has been outstanding considering the budget he has had compared to the teams he has been competing with. For the last six seasons Everton have finished no lower than eighth and they are likely to finish higher than that this season as well. Add into that Champions League qualification once and three times qualifying for the Europa League and Moyes has unquestionably regalvanised the club.

David Moyes

Moyes has completely rebuilt the team as well to include players who are now coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs. His record in the transfer market has been exceptional. The likes of Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic have all had an impact to make Everton an attacking force, not forgetting the now departed Mikel Arteta. He has also turned Everton into a solid defensive unit with the consistent Tim Howard in goal, the experience of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka at centre-back and the ever improving Leighton Baines at left back.

Having these good players though may provide another reason for Moyes to consider his future in the summer. Fellaini seems almost certain to leave in the summer with Chelsea rumoured to be preparing a bid. Baines also seems certain to attract interest in the summer having been the league’s most consistent left-back this season. Manchester United continue to be linked with him, and a move could especially be on the cards if Patrice Evra makes his way to PSG. If these types of players are sold and with no news on the horizon of new investment, Moyes may feel there is no more that he can achieve.

A couple of months ago Moyes already stated his ambition to manage abroad at some point, citing Germany as his ideal destination.

“I always had the hope of being a coach abroad. If I had the choice, I would probably go to Germany, in part because of the mentality, which is similar to mine. I’m also fascinated by what happens in German football.”

Decision time is inching closer and closer for Moyes. There is no doubt that the board and fans want him to stay, but is the constant saga about whether he will sign or not beginning to have an unsettling effect on the players? Does a defeat like the one on Saturday make him even more determined to come back fighting next season? Or does it just confirm to him that enough is enough and he now needs to seek a new challenge?

These are all questions that need to be answered quickly, ideally with a decision from Moyes himself, otherwise Everton may find themselves wasting their good work from the first three quarters of the season.

By Chris Newman

Who will the next Chelsea manager be?

Abramovich continues search for the right man

With Rafael Benitez confirming last week that he would not be at Chelsea past the end of the season, the hunt is on once again to find a manager that can bring Roman Abramovich the success and style of football that he craves. Here we look at the main contenders for the job and a few of the outsiders.

Jose Mourinho

Undoubtedly the fans’ favourite for the job. The self-proclaimed special one is having a tough time in Madrid with his team currently 13 points behind Barcelona in La Liga.  Recent victories over Barcelona in league and cup, plus continued progression in the Champions League, means that the pressure has relented a little.  It is clear though that Mourinho does not have a good relationship with the Madrid board and his constant quotes that his next job will be in England shows that the time may be right for a return.

Jose Mourinho

The only question is whether Chelsea will be his destination. With Roberto Mancini’s position at Manchester City looking increasingly unstable, it may need Abramovich’s personal intervention to stop Mourinho being lured by Sheikh Mansour’s billions.

Fabio Capello

Rumours have already begun that Capello is disillusioned with life as Russia manager. Having spent a number of years now as an international manager,  the Italian may well be looking for one last challenge as a club manager before retirement. Abramovich has shown interest in appointing Capello in the past and with his close ties to the Russian national team he may well find it easy to negotiate a way out of the coach’s contract.

The only drawback would be the negative fans reaction as Capello’s time in charge of England is mostly remembered for the disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign. Abramovich has shown though he does not take much notice of the fans view with the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo and the subsequent appointment of Benitez.

Guus Hiddink

A favourite of the Chelsea board and the fans, Hiddink would be a popular choice. A successful short stint as Chelsea boss in 2009 culminated in an FA Cup victory, a runners-up spot in the Premiership and being seconds away from the Champions League final.

A close friend and advisor to Abramovich makes Hiddink one of the outstanding candidates for the role. Despite the fact that the Dutchman has announced his retirement at the end of this season once his contract with Anzhi Makhachkala ends, a plea from his good friend may be enough to persuade him.

David Moyes

Currently third favourite with a few bookmakers, will the Everton manager finally get his reward for the outstanding job he has done at Goodison Park? At Everton he has built a team which is solid at the back and one that attacks with pace and variation. He has done this on a limited budget and has a good track record with signings as shown by the likes of Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar, Phil Jagielka and Tim Howard.

David Moyes

With the vast resources on offer at Stamford Bridge he should be able to unearth even more talent. The only question mark over this appointment would be the apparent reluctance of Abramovich to appoint a British manager and whether Moyes is a big enough name for him.

The Outsiders

There are also a number of other candidates that may come into the reckoning. Gus Poyet and Gianfranco Zola would also be popular choices among the fans for obvious reasons. Both have proved their worth in the Championship this season with Brighton and Watford as two of the most attractive passing teams to watch and both may be celebrating promotion to the Premiership come May.

Michael Laudrup has certainly come into the frame since Swansea’s first major cup triumph a couple of weeks ago. Their possession football would certainly appeal to Abramovich, who craves to watch his team play like Barcelona, and his ability in the transfer market is unquestionable with the signings of Michu, Pablo Hernandez and Jonathan De Guzman prime examples.

Jurgen Klopp may also be under consideration after his stunning performance with Dortmund in the last few years. Despite his constant reassurance to Dortmund supporters that he is not going anywhere, the imminent sale of star striker Robert Lewandowski and undoubted interest in the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels may make him re-think his position if the board do not back him.

By Chris Newman

Premier League 2012/13: The race begins

The fixtures have been announced for the new domestic Premier League season, with some exciting games straight up. After Manchester City’s dramatic title victory on the last day of the season everyone will be looking to make a flying start in an attempt to overhaul Roberto Mancini’s men as champions. The opening day fixtures shape up like this:

Arsenal v Sunderland

Will this be the season that Arsenal end their trophy drought? Gunners’ fans will be hoping to see a front line of Podolski, Giroud and Van Persie on the opening day of the season. With a tough first three away games at Stoke, Liverpool and Man City, a good start at home will be vital. Sunderland will be looking to continue their progression under Martin O’Neill. A clinical striker is needed for the Black Cats to push on this season to add to the exciting talents of James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon. A tough opening day assignment and they will do well to get a draw here.

Everton v Manchester United

One of the stand-out opening day fixtures. Everton will be looking to put to bed their reputation for being extremely slow starters and if they can keep all their major players over the summer then they will provide a stern test for last season’s runners-up. This is not the start United would have wanted. With a number of their squad involved in the European Championships and then the Olympic Games their pre-season will be very much disrupted. The Red Devils will be determined to reclaim their title this season but they would probably be happy with a point here.

Fulham v Norwich

Martin Jol will be looking to push on from his excellent first season at Craven Cottage. Fulham’s home form was exceptional last term and if they can add a couple of players to their current squad they may well be looking to push on towards the European places this season. Norwich fans may well be wondering what has gone wrong since the end of the season. An excellent first season back has turned sour with Paul Lambert leaving for Aston Villa and Grant Holt handing in a transfer request. Chris Hughton has got a tough job on his hands but has shown he is capable at Newcastle and Birmingham. It is hard to look beyond a home win here though.

Man City v Southampton

Last season’s champions begin at home and will be looking to make a big statement of intent. No doubt there will be a couple of big additions to City’s already impressive squad as they look to dominate domestic football and make a mark in the Champions League. Southampton could not have wished for a harder start. They will go to the Etihad and play their passing attacking game with no fear but will be happy to get this one out of the way and concentrate on their second game at home to Wigan.

Newcastle v Tottenham

This is certainly a mouth-watering opening day fixture. Newcastle will be looking to prove that what they achieved last season was no fluke. Much like Everton if they can keep their major players over the summer and add a couple more quality additions they will be around the top six again. No-one knows what state Tottenham will be in by the time this game kicks off. After the sacking of Harry Redknapp a number of Spurs players are being linked with moves away and it may be a very different Tottenham team at the start of this season.

QPR v Swansea

Mark Hughes has promised that QPR will not be in a relegation battle again. A continuation of their excellent home form from the end of last season will certainly help and they may fancy their chances against a Swansea team getting used to a new manager. An interesting time lies ahead for the Welsh team. Michael Laudrup has a reputation for passing attacking football but after last year’s achievements with a big British contingent, he is already being linked with a number of foreign players who may take time to settle in.

Reading v Stoke

Reading make their return to the top flight with a home game. A good chance for the Royals to make a positive start and like all the promoted teams their home form will be crucial to them having a chance of survival. A prolific proven striker may well be needed but Brian McDermott’s men will be tough to beat on their own patch. Stoke will be looking to spoil Reading’s party. Always tough to play against, Tony Pulis will have Stoke well organised and determined. Rumours continue linking Michael Owen with a move to the Britannia and a partnership of Owen and Crouch would surely guarantee goals.

West Brom v Liverpool

Two clubs with new managers clash at the Hawthorns. Steve Clarke comes up against the side where he was assistant manager last year looking to prove himself as a capable number one. He may have a tough job following on from the impressive reign of Roy Hodgson and it could take some time to get his own ideas across. Brendan Rodgers will be looking to make his mark on a Liverpool side that have to improve on last season’s disappointment. With a tough first three home games against Man City, Arsenal and Manchester United, a winning start may be imperative for the Anfield club.

West Ham v Aston Villa

West Ham return after one season in the Championship with a winnable home game. Sam Allardyce will have the Hammers well prepared and determined to make a good start. The manager’s experience will be crucial and backed by a fired-up home support this is a big chance to get off to a winning start. Paul Lambert takes over a Villa side that had a disastrous 2011/12 season. Expect big transfer movement at Villa Park this summer both in and out as the Scot tries to create a hardworking and attacking team similar to what he had at Norwich to try and entertain the Villa fans.

Wigan v Chelsea

Wigan Athletic start the season determined to build on their incredible end to last season. Roberto Martinez continues to ignore interest from other clubs to try and improve the side and turn them into a mid-table outfit. The loss of Mohamed Diame and possibly Victor Moses will be a big blow and it is how they replace them that will determine their fate. After months of speculation Roberto Di Matteo finally landed the Chelsea job and will be desperate to improve on their disappointing sixth place. They will be looking to make a serious statement of intent at the DW Stadium and the new look attacking line up of Fernando Torres, Marko Marin and Eden Hazard will have too much for the Latics.

By Chris Newman

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