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Manchester United without Sir Alex or Wayne Rooney, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho – next season is set to be a cracker

As the 2012/13 Premier League season lurches towards its underwhelming end, the realisation for many a fan is that it left us with precious little memories, compared to other seasons – notably the most sensational ending in the competition’s 21-year history last term.

As Sergio Aguero slammed home the winner that gave Manchester City the Premier League over fierce local rivals Manchester United with the last kick of the game against Queen Park Rangers last season, Martin Tyler screamed: “I swear you will never see anything like this again.”

Tyler’s now iconic sound bite may have had some truth to it, certainly this season at least, he was right.

Sergio Aguero

As the season sleepwalks into its final day, there is only the tedious race for fourth place that is still to play for amongst London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The champions United won the division as far back at April 22. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side took advantage of a lacklustre competition and they marched to their 13th Premier League title in an efficient, if unspectacular, manner.

Two of the three relegated teams’ fate were sealed a week later when Queens Park Rangers played out a dour 0-0 with Reading before Wigan Athletic joined them on Tuesday following a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Indeed the most exciting events to happen in the league this season were announcements and decisions that will not come into focus until next season.

Happily next season is already shaping up to be mouth-watering, with a whole of changes sweeping throughout the league, giving it a fresh feel for the summer of 2013.

To begin with, four of the top six teams this season will be starting the 2013/14 campaign with new managers at the helm.

Manchester United will be without Alex Ferguson for the first time in 26 years, with his replacement David Moyes leaving Everton, where he served for over a decade himself.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson’s absence from English football is a concept millions of fans around the country have never known and Moyes’ adaptation to the country’s biggest club will be the most fascinating plot next season.

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright admitted that he will not be hasty in appointing Moyes’ successor, with the most reliable reports linking the Blues with Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, Porto coach Vitor Pereira and Swansea City boss Michael Laudrup.

Rafael Benitez will depart Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho seemingly set for a second stint at Stamford Bridge. The return of the ‘Special One’ is enough to excite every Chelsea fan and most neutrals. Love him or loathe him, Mourinho is pure box office and his return to England is sure to stir up feuds, drama and entertainment.

Man City are looking for a new manager with Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini touted as the favourite to take over from the axed Roberto Mancini. Incidentally, the Italian was given his P45 just 366 days after he ended his side’s 44-year wait for a league title in the top division.

Pellegrini’s presence in English football would provide another interesting sub-plot to next season’s 38 act drama. The Chilean has won widespread plaudits for his work with the Andalusians this season, after guiding them to a Champions League quarter-final in their first season in the competition, despite working against a backdrop of financial meltdown at the club.

Away from the dug-out, the division will be without two players who will have played 1456 top-flight games between them by Sunday evening. Jamie Carragher will retire from Liverpool after 16 years of sterling service for the Reds, while Paul Scholes looks set to make the last of 718 appearances for United when they play West Bromwich Albion.

Between them they have won five FA Cups, three Champions Leagues, five League Cups, a UEFA Cup, a Super Cup and two World Club Championships. Scholes leaves United with 11 Premier Leagues and both players say goodbye to the game as archetypal one-club legends for their respective teams.

Wayne Rooney’s future is also subject to speculation with Ferguson admitting that the England international had asked for a transfer request a few weeks back. Rooney has been linked with moves abroad to Paris Saint-Germain amongst others, but there have also been reports suggesting that the former Everton forward could move to Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney

A move to Stamford Bridge would be another incredible development in United’s recent evolution, and perhaps it may seem incomprehensible that Rooney could turn out for the Blues next season. However, stranger things have happened in football, and Man Utd’s decision-makers have never been shy of selling a star player when they think his talent may be on the wane.

Next season will also have the fixture that pits Cardiff City against Swansea City, a game which will only add more spice to a division that already boasts the Merseyside, Manchester, north London and Tyne-Wear derbies.

Equate in all this with the fact that the transfer window is not yet even open and you get the feeling that next season could be one of the most intriguing all of time.

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QPR in financial strife after relegation from Premier League

QPR will play Championship football next year after a terrible 2012-13 campaign, with relegation from the Premier League already confirmed. The club’s owner Tony Fernandes invested heavily in the club since buying the Loftus Road outfit back in August 2011, but the organisation’s financial future now looks bleak.

Fernandes admitted earlier in the season that he would consider walking away from QPR should the side be relegated, and football in-play betting odds suggest this is still a real possibility.

Should the Air Asia entrepreneur make that move, the club could find themselves in a similar position to the likes of Leeds United and slip down the leagues quickly due to financial mismanagement.

QPR owner Tony Fernandes

Harry Redknapp’s wages will surely be considerable, much more than anyone else in the Championship, and the ex-Tottenham man’s future could also be on the line. However, the rumours suggest that a raft of big-money signings will be leaving the club. The main problem is that some of them will not want to due to the extortionate wages QPR handed them in a bid to salvage their Premier League status.

Players of quality such as Loic Remy, Christopher Samba and Julio Cesar will have no problems finding a new club, however some other players will not want to take a hefty paycut to leave, and could lurk in the reserves eating away at the club’s coffers.

The likes of Jose Bosingwa, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Tal Ben Haim, amongst others, will find it almost impossible to find a club that will match their current wage structure.

One thing is for sure, and that is that QPR must slash their wage bill and recoup as much money from transfer fees as possible over the summer. If Redknapp does stay he could well be the man to lead them back to the top flight, given his reputation for astute buys in the transfer market. But first a period of consolidation and damage limitation is needed.

QPR’s case should serve as an example to other clubs that will look to avoid relegation from the Premier League next season and in the future. Although the temptation will always be there to splurge money in a bid to avoid the drop, the consequences of these actions are far-fetching.

Should a team like Wigan get relegated this season also, the Latics will be in a much better position to bounce straight back to the Premier League given that they are ran sensibly by a cautious chairman and do not live beyond their means.

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

Redknapp only out for QPR’s money?

Harry Redknapp arrived at Queens Park Rangers in November billed as the man to save them.

At the time, the R’s were struggling at the bottom of the Premier League without a win in their first dozen games, and Redknapp signed a two-and-a-half year deal at Loftus Road with one immediate objective – to keep the Londoners in the top flight.

It was deemed by many as an astute appointment from Rangers’ chairman Tony Fernandes; after all, Redknapp had led Tottenham Hotspur to the Champions League in 2010 and was on the brink of the England job before Spurs chairman Daniel Levy decided to ask to for an inflated compensation package for the services of his team’s manager.

Harry Redknapp

The former Southampton and Portsmouth boss claimed the chance to manage a club propping up the Premier League was “too good an opportunity to turn down”.

Just a few weeks into the job, Redknapp announced that it was time to dispense with the players who were only at Loftus Road for wages that were being given. Having seen the club’s fans and owner being taken for a ride by cash-grabbing mercenaries, Redknapp decided it would be him who would put a stop to such behaviour.

“I don’t really want to see the owners have their pants taken down like they have in the past. A lot of agents made money out of them,” declared Redknapp just before Christmas.

“I fined a player last week (Jose Bosingwa) and he was earning more than any player earned at Tottenham. You shouldn’t be paying massive wages when you’ve got a stadium that holds 18,000 people.”

The stance was admirable; Redknapp was riding in on his white horse to save the despairing QPR from a bunch of chancers and charlatans – except, Redknapp is doing the exact same as the players who his ire was aimed at.

Redknapp took over in November with the club in 20th position in the Premier League, four months on the club is still in the same position, only after spending £20m in the January transfer window.

Former Blackburn Rovers defender Christopher Samba moved from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala for £12m and French striker Loic Remy was brought in for £8m from Marseille, in an attempt to stave off the threat of relegation.

Despite being in the job just under two months, Redknapp had smashed the club’s transfer record – twice.

Make no mistake, for a club at the bottom end of the league to spend such a sum in the winter transfer window is unprecedented. So far, the transfers have done little to help the cause and if QPR are demoted to the Championship in May, then the carefree nature of January’s spending could haunt the club for years.

Of course, Redknapp has previous for this spendthrift attitude to transfer dealings. He led Portsmouth to the 2008 FA Cup with a squad that contained many of his signings; players such as Peter Crouch, Glen Johnson, Sulley Muntari and Sylvain Distin.

Three are still performing admirably on a weekly basis in the Premier League, whilst Muntari currently plies his trade in Italy for AC Milan. Five years on Pompey sit rock bottom of League One, plagued by financial trouble stemming from their indulgent attitude of the last few years.

When discussing the fine given to Bosingwa after his refusal to be among the substitutes in a game against Fulham, Redknapp said:

“[Bosingwa] has been fined two weeks’ wages, £130,000. Not too bad for two weeks – decent isn’t it.”

Musing on the amount of money to be earned at Loftus Road is perhaps what he meant when he claimed that the opportunity was “too good to turn down” on his arrival at the club.

Remy Remedy?

Is the Frenchman’s arrival part of Harry’s magic fix or the epitome of January desperation?

Premier League relegation candidates Queens Park Rangers have confirmed the signing of Loic Remy from Ligue 1 title chasers Marseille. It had emerged over the weekend that Newcastle had agreed a fee with the French side and that a deal was close only for the league’s bottom club to hijack the move.

But should the Toon Army really be that disappointed at missing out and should hoops fans be getting excited that Remy could be the key to survival? The forward’s form in the first half of the season certainly suggests not.

The January market is constantly referred to as over-inflated and the transfer of forwards in particular often points to clubs willing to spend big and take risks in search of a magic fix. Forwards score goals, goals win games and that is ultimately the difference in who gets relegated and who qualifies for Europe. A couple of winters ago this striker shuffling reached a crescendo with the huge deadline day deals involving Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll.

Loic Remy

Loic Remy’s solitary league goal this season in 14 appearances should do little to alleviate the relegation concerns of the QPR faithful. A club record £8 million has been spent on a player who is badly out of form and surely this is a sign that Harry Redknapp is gambling and gambling big-time. Remy also arrives at the age of 26 and is a player who Premiership clubs have been linked with for several seasons. Interesting that it is only now, mid-season, that a deal has been agreed to take the France international to the premiership and also that it appeared only to be the bottom side and another who had just lost a forward against their will, that were in the chase.

It’s also worth questioning the former Lyon and Nice man’s decision in picking QPR over Newcastle. Granted Harry Redknapp may have been a factor, there is the opportunity to live in London and Rangers are showing signs of revival but which team is more likely to be in the Pemiership next season? Is Remy merely looking to put himself in the shop window?

Maybe this is unjustified apprehension and the 26 year old is to be believed when he says he is looking forward to the challenge. He also mentions that he spoke to both Redknapp and owner Tony Fernandes at length and that they gave him “the right motivation to play for QPR”. Is that motivation the challenge of avoiding relegation and progressing form there or is it merely superior wages to those offered by Newcastle?

Regardless of his poor form and the reasons behind his choice of club, Remy has got some credentials to justify his transfer fee. Last season he scored close to a goal every two games for l’OM and those exploits helped him extend his tally of France caps to 17. He also has a previous track record of hitting the ground running. He scored six times in his first seven games during his spell at Nice. If he could replicate that it would help the survival fight no end. He has also bagged a couple of goals in the Europa League this year.

These stats suggest that the striker has the ability to make Harry’s gamble pay off and although the signing appears a little desperate at present, Redknapp usually gets things right when it comes to the transfer market.

What next though for Newcastle’s hit-man hunt? There is a definite air of disappointment around the failure to retain the services of top scorer Demba Ba and Alan Pardew will be keen to ensure the window doesn’t close before he can bag a replacement. Last season the January arrival of Papiss Cisse in the Northeast had an immediate impact on the club’s fortunes and while a similarly successful signing might be unrealistic Newcastle’s current plight dictates that a deal must be done. Peter Odemwingie is thought to be available at the right price and journeyman Darren Bent is known to be keen on another move. The movement of strikers though in January is akin to the toppling of dominos and clubs are rarely keen to do business until they have a replacement ready.

By Francis Johnston

Manchester City all over again? Mark Hughes could be in trouble at QPR

Mark Hughes has seen it all before – an ambitious and wealthy owner and heightened expectations. When Sheik Mansour took the reigns at Manchester City and pledged to turn the mid-table side into world-beaters, Hughes was not given the time to steer the rather expensive ship, and was replaced by a more glamorous alternative. With the money spent by current club QPR in the summer, is the Welsh trainer in danger of suffering the same fate?

Looking in from the outside, Tony Fernandes looks more reasonable and patient than the ambitious Mansour, but given the amount of money the entrepreneur has poured into the Loftus Road outfit since his August 2011 takeover, a certain level of success is expected. The R’s sit rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table after six games with a lowly tally of two points, with the fans rightly concerned that their side are once more set for a relegation dogfight.

Hughes must take a large portion of the credit for keeping the London club in the top-tier of English football at the first time of asking in 2011-12, but his new signings have failed to settle in initially. With no wins, pressure starts to build, and football fans and owners have little room for sentimentality in the modern game.

From a neutral point of view Premier League survival would appear like a favourable outcome this season for QPR, but the Loftus Road faithful have entered into the campaign with high hopes after the last-day heroics of last term. However it would appear early thoughts of a mid-table finish will now be scrapped in favour for avoiding relegation.

QPR escaped the drop last season due to excellent home form after the turn of the year, with some of the big boys coming unstuck at Loftus Road. However, defeats to Swansea, West Ham and Reading in the Capital One Cup, all at home, will have alarm bells ringing.

Given the fact that Rangers have all but a new team after eleven purchases in the summer transfer window, it is natural that the team have taken time to hit their straps. The logical thing now is to back Hughes and give him time to lead the club in the right direction. However, with the amount of money invested in the club and the calibre of player at the Welshman’s disposal, the first win for QPR this season is already well overdue.

Longest football bans: Joey Barton the latest in a conspicious list

The FA have slapped QPR midfielder Joey Barton with a 12-match ban following the temperamental midfielder’s sending off against Manchester City on the last day of the Premier League season. The Loftus Road captain is the latest in a long line of players to feel the wrath of the authorities; here are the top football bans in recent times.

Joey Barton – 12 matches

After being shown a red card for elbowing Carlos Tevez, Barton was found guilty of trying to knee Sergio Aguero and head-butt Vincent Kompany. These additional two charges of violent conduct, added to the dismissal, have resulted in a 12-match ban for the former Newcastle man, and put his career at the London club at risk.

Eric Cantona – nine months

The mercurial French attacker was given a nine-month worldwide ban from the game in 1995 after his famed kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons at Selhurst Park. The Manchester United forward was also ordered to complete 120 hours of community service after the shocking act.

Paolo Di Canio – 11 matches

Fiery Sheffield Wednesday forward Paolo Di Canio was on the sidelines for 11 matches after pushing referee Paul Alcock to the ground in September 1998. After being dismissed in a league fixture against Arsenal, the Italian pushed the official to the deck, and was also handed a £10,000 fine for the act of petulance.

Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner – ten matches

Keegan and Bremner were both on the sidelines for 10 matches after coming to blows in the 1974 Charity Shield between Liverpool and Leeds. The pair were involved in a fight on the hour mark of the game, and both dismissed.

David Prutton – ten matches

Southampton man David Prutton was given a ten-match ban for shoving referee Alan Wiley after his dismissal against Arsenal in the Premier League in 2005. The Saints midfielder was also handed out a £6,000 fine.

Paul Davis – nine matches

The Arsenal midfielder was given a nine-match ban for punching Glenn Cockerill in October 1998, breaking the Southampton man’s jaw. Davis was sent off and ordered to pay a £3,000 fine by the FA.

Billy Cook – 12 months

The Middlesbrough player was banned for a year in 1915 when he refused to leave the field of play after being sent off against Oldham; the game had to be abandoned with 35 minutes remaining.

Mark Bosnich – seven months

The Australian goalkeeper was banned for seven months after testing positive for cocaine in 2003. Chelsea terminated his contract after the scandal.

Rio Ferdinand – eight months

The Manchester United defender failed to show up for a drugs test and was duly handed an eight match ban in September 2003.

Luis Suarez – eight matches

The Liverpool forward was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in a Premier League clash between the two in October 2011. After a drawn-out investigation the FA handed down an eight-match ban for the Uruguay international and gave him a £40,000 fine.

Edgar Davids and Jaap Stam – four months

The Juventus midfielder and Lazio defender had their bans for testing positive for banned substance nandrolone reduced from five months to four months in May 2001 and January 2002 respectively.

Dean Windass – six matches

The Aberdeen striker was effectively sent off three times in the first-half of a 5-0 defeat to Dundee United in 1997. Windass was dismissed for two bookable offences, abused the referee and ripped out a corner flag in the SPL fixture.

Roy Keane – five weeks

The aggressive Manchester United midfielder was handed a five-week ban in October 2002 for comments made in his autobiography concerning Alfie Inge Haaland. The Irishman was also fined £150,000.

Vinnie Jones – six months

The Wimbledon midfielder and now movie star Jones was handed a six-month ban in November 1992 and fined £20,000 for his comments glorifying football violence.

Ben Thatcher – eight matches

The Manchester City defender was banned for eight matches after a sickening elbow on Portsmouth’s Pedro Mendes. The Portuguese midfielder was knocked out cold and suffered a seizure after Thatcher’s challenge in August 2006.

Joey Barton – 12 matches (again)

Barton was given a 12 match ban, later six of which were suspended, for assaulting Manchester City team-mate Ousmane Dabo in training. Barton was charged with assault, given a four-month suspended jail sentence and fined £25,000.

Kolo Toure – six months

The Manchester City central defender was given a six-month suspension for failing a drugs test in March 2011. The Ivory Coast international later claimed that he has taken one of his wife’s diet pills.

Published – Soccerlens

Manchester City, Newcastle and the biggest Premier League winners of 2011-12

A fantastic last day of the season capped off one of the most memorable Premier League seasons in the recent memory. 2011/12 has had it all; a topsy-turvy title race that literally went down to the wire, a bitter battle for the top four, heroics in the Champions League and a breathtaking relegation battle. Now that the dust has settled, here are Ninety Minutes Online’s top five winners of 2011/12.

Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City mindgames

An incredible title race has been consisted of champions and perennial favourites Manchester United being confronted by cross-town rivals Manchester City, with the noisy neighbours claiming victory on a captivating last day. The Etihad Stadium outfit looks almost unstoppable at the start of the season, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men struggling to keep up at times, before the Red Devils recaptured the advantage and found themselves eight points clear at the summit. After a derby victory for City, the battle went down to the last day, with two goals in stoppage time by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero against QPR unbelievably giving the Citizens their first top-flight title since 1968.

Ferguson is usually the king of managerial mindgames, but on this occasion the imperious Italian has seemingly got into the United players’ thoughts, and City provide worthy winners of the 2011/12 Premier League.

Alan Pardew and his Newcastle team

Despite missing out on the top four with a last-day defeat by Everton, Newcastle have been exceptional under Alan Pardew this season, and have defied the odds to be in the race for Champions League qualification. The likes of Cheik Tiote, Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye have proved to be astute signings, whilst the January acquisition of Papiss Cisse has resulted in a new number nine hero for the Tyneside club.

Pardew and his side must be given credit for finishing above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool this season and providing some exceptional football at times.

Newly-promoted sides

Norwich, Swansea and QPR faced an uphill battle to stay in the Premier League this season, and many prophesised a speedy return to the Championship for the trio. However, all three sides have proved that they are good enough to cut it in the top-tier, and will look to push on next term. Swansea have been one of the teams of the season, and an 11th place finish, with a stylish brand of football to boot, is an exceptional achievement. Norwich, led by talisman Grant Holt, were not far behind in 12th and also claimed some scalps this term.

Meanwhile, although QPR escaped the drop on the last day, the Loftus Road club have beaten Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool to show their worth. All three will provide motivation to Southampton, Reading and either West Ham or Blackpool for next season.

Roy Hodgson

With Fabio Capello’s decision to walk away from the England manager’s post, a media frenzy has brewed over who the man to lead the Three Lions to Euro 2012 would be. With Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp the frontrunner and favourite, the press had us believing that it would be a matter of when and not if the White Hart Lane supremo took charge.

However, Roy Hodgson’s excellent achievement of lifting West Brom to 10th in the table has been recognised, and the Hawthorns man will now lead England to Ukraine and Poland.

Football

Football has been a massive winner this term, as the 2011/12 Premier League season has been the most competitive, spell-bounding and enthralling campaign for many a year. Whether it was the race for the title, five teams slugging it out to stay in the division, the heroics of the new boys or the quality of the sides in the top six, 2011/12 will take some beating next season.

Honourable Mentions

  • Roberto Di Matteo – The Italian has completely rejuvenated Chelsea since taking over from Andre Villas Boas, and after winning the FA Cup is 90 minutes away from lifting the Champions League crown.
  • Paul Scholes – The ageing veteran came out of retirement to show that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level despite his age. Rumours are circulating that Roy Hodgson will take Scholes to Euro 2012.
  • Arsene Wenger – Many had lost faith in the French manager at the start of the campaign when the Gunners lost four of their first seven games, but Wenger has led the club to a third-placed finish despite the criticism.
  • The FA Cup – With the emergence of the Champions League, over recent seasons the FA Cup has had to take a back seat, but some enthralling games between the nation’s best teams have been a joy to watch this season.
  • David Moyes – The Scottish coach continues to overachieve despite a shoestring transfer budget at Goodison Park, and leading the Toffees to seventh place is an excellent return.

Published – Soccerlens

Tottenham and Manchester City: Beware the wrath of the former manager

With the last day of the Premier League season on Sunday, all is still to play for in the race for the Premier League title, top four and in the battle to avoid relegation. Manchester City and Tottenham are in the driving seat in their respective ambitions of winning the league and qualifying for the Champions League. However, one thing stands in their way; a dedicated former manager.

City sit top of the standings on goal difference and need three points against QPR this weekend to seal their first top-flight title since 1968. Roberto Mancini’s men have been imperious at the Etihad Stadium this term, winning 17 out of their 18 games at home and remaining unbeaten as hosts. On paper City should have the quality and motivation to dispatch the Loftus Road side; however, Rangers still need a point to ensure their Premier League status for next season, as a Bolton win away at Stoke would see the London team drop back into the bottom three.

Rangers’ fortunes have taken an upturn since Mark Hughes replaced Neil Warnock as the club’s manager. The newly-promoted side have beaten Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham since the Welsh trainer’s introduction, and have looked like a stubborn and solid side of late.

Reports in the press indicate that QPR owner Tony Fernandes will reward Hughes with a £1 million payout should he keep the club in the top flight, however the head coach will be motivated to prove a point for other reasons this Sunday. Hughes was treated harshly in his stint at City, dispatched by the club and their lofty ambitions after Sheik Mansour’s takeover, and the Rangers boss will feel that Mancini has taken advantage of the groundwork set by him.

Hughes did not have stars such as David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and others at his disposal during his time at the club, and in the early stages of the City revolution patience was not in abundance. Hughes has excelled since leaving the Manchester team, both at Fulham and QPR, and will be keen to show that City’s current success may originate from his initial underpinnings.

Meanwhile, in north London Tottenham are on the verge of reclaiming a top-four spot, and need three points at home to Fulham to confirm fourth place at least. Although finishing in third is also possible if Arsenal slip-up at West Brom, Harry Redknapp has admitted that he will be happy to claim fourth place.

Spurs’ early-season heroics have hit a sizeable roadblock over the last two months, and the White Hart Lane club have dropped from potential title challengers to scrapping for fourth. However, Martin Jol and Fulham stand in the way of a successful campaign for Spurs.

Fulham have had a good second half of the season, and the likes of Moussa Dembele, Pavel Pogrebnyak and especially Clint Dempsey will prove a threat to Spurs’ season. Martin Jol is a popular figure at White Hart Lane after his stint in the club’s hotseat. The Dutch trainer put the wheels in motion for Spurs’ current place as one of he country’s best teams, and led Tottenham to two fifth-placed finishes.

Jol has done a good job with Fulham also, and Spurs are by no means guaranteed an easy three points. Similar to Hughes, Jol will feel that his departure from Tottenham was slightly unjust, and the headhunting of Juande Ramos to replace him will have left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. Jol will look to prove a point to Daniel Levy and the rest of the Tottenham board this weekend, and in doing so could well end the north London club’s hopes of Champions League football.

Race for Premier League survival: Who will stay and who will go?

A scramble for survival at the bottom of the Premier League table is keeping five clubs on their toes and pushing them to the peak of their ability: Who will stay and who will go?

Wolves – 20th – 22 Points

Probably the only certainty for relegation at this stage; Terry Connor’s side have lost eight of their last ten Premier League games, and with a six-point gap separating them and Blackburn, survival seems a million miles away. Along with their position at the bottom of the table, Wolverhampton Wanderers have a particularly difficult run-in, with Sunderland, Manchester City, and an in-form Everton still to face. Given that the Molineux outfit are in terrible form, it looks like Wolves have no chance.

Blackburn – 19th – 28 points

A hard year for Steve Kean has been reflected in Blackburn’s shaky season, but hope can be found in the Rovers’ star men, Yakubu and Junior Hoilett. Although sitting in precarious 19th place, Blackburn will be facing much easier opposition in the next few weeks compared to other relegation candidates. The Lancashire club will come up against a vulnerable Swansea and Tottenham, and will also hope to grab some points against Norwich and Wigan at home. Despite this, Blackburn need to pick up some momentum and get the best out of their danger-man upfront if they are to stave the drop.

Bolton – 18th – 29 points

Although being awarded March’s Premier League Manager of the month award, Owen Coyle has not brought his side out of the drop zone yet; however with a game in-hand Bolton are on the path to survival. Bolton’s starting XI is not the strongest of the bottom five and with a weak attacking force and no prolific goal machine, they need to grit their teeth and play to the best of their ability. With upcoming matches against teams such as Swansea and Aston Villa, the Reebok Stadium side must be optimistic and maybe, just maybe, they could survive another season of top-flight football.

Wigan – 17th – 31 points

A recent run of fantastic form saw Wigan to a 1-0 victory over Premier League champions Manchester United in their last outing, giving the Latics hope. Despite only losing two of their last ten Premier League games, Wigan have one of the hardest run-ins of the bottom five and still have to face opposition such as in-form Arsenal, Fulham, and Newcastle. DW Stadium boss Roberto Martinez will hope his side can keep this run of good form up and will take hope from their “historic” victory over Manchester United. If Wigan can now end their goal drought and keep pushing and striving, they might just avoid demotion.

QPR – 16th – 31 points

A 3-0 win over Swansea City has moved the newly-promoted west London club to 16th. An upturn home form has given Mark Hughes’ side hope after beating Arsenal and Liverpool in consecutive fixtures at Loftus Road. Although having a hard run-in away from home, facing teams such as West Brom, Chelsea and Man City, QPR will hope to claim a scalp or two, and pick up as many points as possible from their home games against Tottenham and Stoke. If they carry on their good-form and keep playing the way they have, QPR could be well on their way to becoming a stable Premier League club.

By Jacob Tucker

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