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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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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

Wigan Athletic and the possibility of last-day roulette

Last season, with just nine games left in their Premier League campaign, Wigan looked doomed to relegation. And then something amazing happened. Winning seven of their last nine matches, the Latics turned the formbook on its head.

A run that included wins over Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle meant Roberto Martinez had yet again worked miracles, maintaining his side’s place in the top flight for an eighth-successive season.

It is for reasons such as this that when you look at Wigan’s current lowly position you still assume they will get out of it. You assume another seemingly impossible run will be masterminded. And you already picture owner Dave Whelan’s euphoric grin on the final day.

James McArthur celebrates for Wigan

But this time it could be different. Because this time the team – arguably the strongest Martinez has had in his time there – are only showing glimpses of what is needed to survive. And that is despite the fact that they are currently clear of the relegation zone, if only on goal-difference.

Where last season they were unified and steadfast, particularly in those final few games, this year they are yet to keep a clean sheet at home.

And while it is wrong to paint a mere tiff as anything more than that, Saturday’s altercation between Emerson Boyce and James McArthur would have been a worrying sight for Martinez, even if publicly he said otherwise.

The disagreement came about following one too many misplaced passes. But that in itself is a concern, as Martinez’s Wigan have always tried to play football the right way. It is an ethos that should have seen them finish higher in the past, but one that may see them relying on the failure of others to survive this season.

With such a small squad, Martinez has successfully utilised tactics and formations that have reaped rich rewards, most notably last year when Shaun Maloney excelled as a playmaker and Franco Di Santo began to understand what he could do.

Yet despite the introduction of Arouna Kone – their most consistent goal-threat since Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts – they could fall short if plucky late comebacks and last-minute equalisers are not turned into wins.

Of their remaining 10 league games, seven are winnable. And the Wigan who ended last season would achieve that with ease.

But it is their next four that are crucial, as an away match at QPR is sandwiched between home games against Norwich, Newcastle and Swansea. It is a run they are more than capable of navigating, and if they are at least nine points better off afterwards, this article is all but redundant.

Then again, it could all come down to Wigan against Aston Villa on the final day; and what better time than that to keep their first home clean sheet of the season.

Wigan’s destruction of Newcastle shows that the Latics belong in the Premier League

Wigan put on a show on Saturday to all-but-secure their Premier League status for another year, and delighted the DW Stadium and onlookers in the process. A 4-0 win over Champions League qualification hopefuls Newcastle mixed a determined and dogged defensive approach with sublime attacking play, and Roberto Martinez’s men were good value for their comprehensive victory.

With Newcastle undoubtedly the surprise package of the season, and Alan Pardew crafting a team of rough-around-the-edges players into some of the most sought-after stars in the league, the victory is all the more impressive. The first-half showing by the hosts was nothing short of masterful, as Wigan were quite simply too good for their Tyneside opponents.

A Victor Moses brace and goals from Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo gave the home side an unassailable lead, and in truth Wigan could have scored more in the first 45. The win sends Wigan up to 16th place and 37 points, three ahead of the bottom three, and three adrift of the holy grail of 40.

Wigan’s escapology act from last season had the club’s fans on cloud nine, but this season seems to be even more of an achievement. Given the fact that the Latics were bottom of the pile not too long ago, and faced a stern fixture list, Martinez and his team should be proud of their end of season heroics.

Five wins in the last eight games has lifted Wigan above their relegation rivals, with three points against Liverpool at Anfield, at home against Manchester United and at the Emirates against Arsenal, along with yesterday’s triumph, sticking out in the memory. The Latics could already be safe, but one win from their last two games against Blackburn and Wolves, will ensure Martinez’s men stay in the top flight for another year.

The manner of the afore-mentioned victories, and Wigan’s play for the majority of the campaign, is the real standout point. Martinez has urged his troops to consistently get the ball down on the deck and play football, even against their supposedly superior opponents, and this must be admired. When a team goes into a spiral of bad results, like Wigan have this season, there is a temptation to try and get the ball forward in a direct fashion rather than keeping possession, and the Latics have resisted this urge for the majority of the campaign.

The likes of Victor Moses, James McCarthy and Maynor Figueroa have all been excellent, and the cash-strapped side may have a battle on their hands to hold onto their best players. Like Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia and Charles N’Zogbia before them, the chance to play for a bigger club could be too good to resist.

Looking forward, there could be a few changes at the DW Stadium this summer, and the club’s fans will hope that Wigan can get off to a better start next term. Despite their heroics in escaping relegation through end-of-season wins over the last couple of years, the team will hope to not leave it so late next term, and secure their Premier League status well before the last five games. A sensible summer in the transfer market and a continuation of Martinez’s positive attitude could well see Wigan as more than relegation escapees in 2012-13.

Published – Soccerlens

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

Hitman Rodallega stifled by Wigan’s lack of creativity

Wigan Athletic currently sit rock bottom of the Barclays Premier League, and looked doomed to Championship football next season, however, if they are to stand any chance of survival they must increase supply to their diamond in the rough, Hugo Rodallega.

The Colombian striker has shown glimpses of genius in his two and a half seasons in English football, but has struggled to produce the form and goals he is capable of this season as The Latics have lacked creativity and the necessary enterprise to conjure up chances for him. The striker cuts a forlorn figure and is clearly frustrated at the limited and poor service he has to endure; it is obvious that the powerful hitman has outgrown his struggling Wigan team.

Rodallega has scored seven league goals this season, not an especially impressive return but the men who are supposed to create chances for him must harbour a lot of the blame for this, and Wigan’s dire predicament. Charles N’Zogbia sporadically can offer quality supply to manufacture chances for Rodallega, whilst young midfield dynamo James McCarthy has grown in stature with every game he gets. Unfortunately for Rodallega and Wigan fans, apart from this the Colombian would-be goalscorer does not have the quality around him to contribute considerable quality service to create chances.

Roberto Martinez has instilled a footballing mentality into his Wigan team, and has implored his side to get the ball down and pass it; the problem is that Martinez just does not have the personnel to successfully execute this gameplan, and Rodallega suffers due to this. The sale of Antonio Valencia to Manchester United for £16 million may have made good financial sense for the club given the fact the signed him for less than £5 million, but it has left Rodallega bereft of service. Valencia’s pace and quality of delivery helped Wigan sustain and prosper in the Premier League; without him they lack incision.

Put Hugo Rodallega into the Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United team and he would be one of the league’s leading scorers. The Colombian is your stereotypical centre forward; big, powerful, strong and fast, good in the air and he has an eye for goal. The South American is certainly still learning his trade but he has the potential to be an excellent player and has all the raw assets to cause Premier League defenders headaches on a weekly basis.

So what of Hugo Rodallega’s future? Wigan, in all honesty look doomed, and if a host of Premier League clubs aren’t keeping tabs on the striker, they should be. Newcastle have an Andy Carroll shaped hole in their attack, and could do worse than offer Wigan £10 million for Rodallega. Sunderland need a partner for Asamoah Gyan and Rodallega is of the Darren Bent mould, and would be an excellent addition at the Stadium of Light. Teams like Everton and West Ham, provided they stay up, would be lucky to have the Colombian heading their frontline come the start of the 2011/12 season. The striker wouldn’t look out of place in a top six side’s squad either and if they are clever, the bigger teams could grab a potential 20 goal a season striker at a budget price.

Wigan look likely to be playing Championship football next season but Hugo Rodallega won’t be, as The Latics demotion should trigger interest in the Colombian from other Premier League clubs and teams abroad. If Roberto Martinez had more creativity in his team Rodallega may well have contributed the goals to fire them out of danger, but Wigan’s relegation will benefit the striker as he will thrive from improved service at his new club next season.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/03/09/hitman-rodallega-stifled-by-wigan%E2%80%99s-lack-of-creativity/

 

Relegation dogfight intensifies; the contenders facing the drop

Let’s face it; obviously no-one wants to get relegated, but a relegation scrap can be as exciting as the race for the title, and this year there are an added number of clubs in the mix to be demoted to The Championship. The cost of relegation from the Premier League is a massive one financially and emotionally; a club can lose up to £40 million worth of television money, attendances can drop, your best players will look to jump ship in order to retain Premiership football and well, there’s the heartbreak if you’re a fan of a team that finishes in the bottom three that will spoil your summer. 40 points has been stated as the expected target to survival; so who are this year’s relegation threatened clubs, and what chance do they stand of staying up?

Wolves

Mick McCarthy’s men sit bottom on goal difference at time of writing on 25 points, and can blame a terrible away record for their current predicament with only one win and five points away from Molineux this campaign. They have looked more of a threat at home, and gave their season a shot in the arm with a historic 2-1 win over leaders Manchester United a couple of weeks ago. Wolves fans will know they missed a glorious chance to steal a march on fellow bottom feeders West Brom  in their last outing,  the Baggies grabbed a injury-time equaliser. Wolves actually have a fairly good fixture list for the run-in, with only Spurs of the top six teams yet to play. They face Blackpool at home this weekend, and must win if they are to stand a chance of avoiding Championship football next season.

Prediction – relegated

Blackpool

The Seasiders have been a revelation in their first season amongst English football elite, with Ian Holloway instilling a passing football mentality and great work ethic to his team. Blackpool started the season well and up to Christmas showed no fear to record some memorable victories. However 2011 has been more of a struggle, and there are signs that Holloway’s men are running out of steam. However the Seasiders caught Tottenham daydreaming of European glory in mid-week, and claimed an invaluable three points that puts a buffer between themselves and the team in the bottom three. They have performed better away from Bloomfield Road than at home, and need a few more wins to secure safety. The game against Wolves at Molineux is an important one, and if they can escape without defeat should be safe.

Prediction – safe

West Ham

West Ham are a big team in big trouble; they currently are on 25 points and sit one place above Wolves on goal difference. They were bottom at Christmas, which is always an ominous sign, but will be boosted by a good win in the FA Cup in midweek. If they are to stay up they need to win home games, and have six of their last eleven at Upton Park. The defeat at home to Birmingham a couple of weeks ago was a massive blow to their chances, and Avram Grant’s men are staring into the last chance saloon. The fact that the Hammers’ board have backed Grant to lead them to safety should unite the London club, and they have their next two games at home against Liverpool and Stoke, which they need to capitalise on if they want to be playing in the Premiership when they move to the Olympic stadium.

Prediction – safe, but only just

Birmingham

Alex McLeish has done an excellent job at Birmingham given the limited resources at his disposal, but the Scot has one huge problem; his team does not score enough goals. The Blues have only found the back of the net 25 times in 26 games and must start converting chances to avoid being dragged back into the mire. Their form at St Andrews should be enough to keep them up, but McLeish will not be able to rest easy until his team win a couple more games.

Prediction – safe

Aston Villa

Villa are too big a club to go down surely? Right? Wrong. Gerard Houiller’s men have had a terrible first season post Martin O’Neill and are sitting precariously in 16th on 30 points. The Birmingham club have lacked bite in the final third and some flimsy defending has cost them points, drawing too many games and losing their proud home form from seasons past. Houiller has spent big to bring in Darren Bent in January, and the responsibility lies on him and fellow England men Young, Agbonlahor and Downing to get them out of this mess. Vitally, Villa have still to play West Ham, Wigan, Wolves and West Brom, which should decide their fate.

Prediction – safe, but still a very poor season for Villa

Wigan

Wigan have been one of the most inconsistent sides in the league this year, at times looking to play good football and young players showing potential to compete at this level, but mostly they have lacked direction in midfield and leaked soft goals. Roberto Martinez’s men are sitting in the dropzone in 18th, and alarm bells must be ringing around the DW Stadium. To boot, The Latics have one of the toughest run-ins, with their next two games against Manchester United and City, and still with Tottenham and Chelsea to play. To stand any chance of survival they must work together to grind out results, which at this stage are more important than the brand of football Martinez wants them to play.

Prediction – relegated, and may finish bottom

West Brom

Roy Hodgson has taken on a tough test, and will need to utilise all his managerial experience and know-how to avoid perennial yo-yo side West Brom from dropping back to The Championship. The Baggies are sitting in 17th place, one point ahead of Wigan and home draws against fellow strugglers Wolves and West Ham in their last two games have not eased pressure on the club from The Hawthornes. West Brom have a tough run in, and if they are to avoid the drop must continue their relatively strong home record, and will need the fans to get behind them, Adrian Chilles and Frank Skinner included.

Prediction – relegated

So in my opinion it will be the three W’s, West Brom, Wolves and Wigan who will face the agony of relegation and the heavy upheaval of trying to wade through The Championship to make it back to English football’s top tournament. A lot will depend on the games the struggling sides play against each other, but this season’s fight for survival should provide a very close and enthralling finale to the 2010/11 season.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/02/25/premier-league-relegation-dogfight-contenders-facing-the-drop-and-predicted-outcomes/

N’Zogbia focuses on Lactics relegation battle

Wigan wideman Charles N’Zogbia has stated that he is 100% committed to helping Wigan avoid the drop to The Championship, despite doubts over the French stars future at the club. N’Zogbia was the subject of transfer talk in the January transfer window, and opted to stay and fight at the DW Stadium amid interest from Birmingham and ex-employers Newcastle.

The Frenchman at times cuts something of a forlorn figure and his temperament and work ethic has been called into question previously, but he has told L’Equipe that he is not interested in speculation and is focused on helping Wigan move out of the dropzone.

“I don’t want to hear anymore about the January transfer market”, N’Zogbia claimed this week. “I told people who called me that I would not move, I just want to do everything to help Wigan survive”.

N’Zogbia recently made his debut for the French International team, and is keen to improve both personal and team performances to increase his chances of impressing Les Blues head coach Laurent Blanc and being selected for remaining UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers. If Wigan are to avoid the drop the creativity and versatility of N’Zogbia will be essential; they face a tough task this weekend however as they go up against rejuvenated Liverpool at Anfield.

Published – http://www.1000goals.com/nzogbia-focuses-on-lactics-relegation-battle

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