Paul Lambert brings fresh hope to Stoke City

Paul Lambert’s return to the Premier League ended in victory against Huddersfield, as his Stoke side eased to a 2-0 victory.

The Scotsman spoke of his pride after the game, “I’m delighted for the players and supporters, that was my main concern. From the moment I came to the club, it was about supporters and players”

Two goals in the second half from Joe Allen and Mame Diouf gave Stoke City a much-needed win to lift them from the relegation zone and new manager Lambert told how much work the players had done in training in the lead up to the game, “The first goal was something we’d worked on in training because Huddersfield play a high line”.

It wasn’t just the attackers that impressed the former Villa man, his defence who kept only their third clean sheet of the season, and their first since their only away win in October at Watford, “They had to get at it and if we had won 2-1, 3-1, and conceded, so be it. But it’s nice to get a clean sheet for the back lads.”

Huddersfield boss David Wagner was gracious in defeat, “This was a deserved defeat, Stoke have shown their top quality as a team and they limited our offensive players.”

But the Town boss remains confident his players have what it takes to avoid the drop come May, laughing he said, “We keep cool heads since we were promoted and we will not get ahead of ourselves after positive or negative results.”

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PL Matchweek 6 preview

5 games in and the 2017/18 Premier League season looks set to be another cracker. Let’s take a look at who plays who and how different the table can look come Monday evening.

West Ham vs Totteham

A London derby gets the weekend underway with Spurs visiting the London Stadium at lunch time. With this the first meeting since Slaven Bilic’s team destroyed any hopes Spurs had last season of clinching the title. The Hammers didn’t have the best of beginnings this season, having done their transfer business early in the window, it was expected that they would hit the ball rolling from the off. Waiting until their 4th game against league new boys Huddersfield for their first win, Bilic was under real pressure however the pressure has eased a little on the Croatian with two impressive displays in the win at the Olympic Stadium against the Terriers and clinching a point against West Brom at the Hawthorns. Tottenham on the other hand have had a nonplussed start to the season with away wins at both Newcastle and Everton, Spurs have looked disappointing at home, losing to last seasons champions Chelsea and conceding a last minute equaliser in a disappointing demise against Sean Dyche’s Burnley. Their last league outing was a 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium against an ever resolute Swansea outfit. Being away from home will suit Spurs at the moment, and West Ham have never looked really settled since moving from the Boleyn Ground over a year ago so my prediction for this game is a Tottenham win.

Burnley vs Huddersfield

Sean Dyche has lead his team to an impressive start to the new campaign. With the 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge on the first day of the season, Burnley have gone on to collect eight points from a possible 15. Drawing away at both Spurs and Liverpool, Dyche’s men have shown how they can mix it with the big boys, and having been tipped for relegation by many, perhaps the surprise package of the season. But to be given that title they’ll have to fight off other surprise candidates Huddersfield Town, the Premier League first timers visit Turf Moor in similar form to the hosts, with two wins, two draws and a loss under their belts, Huddersfield come with a sense of optimism about a season seen as others that could have been a waste of time. David Wagner looks to have settled on a sale of football that gets results and facing this Burnley side could arguably be one of the toughest challenges they’ve had yet. With Burnley being at home and the Terriers not having won in their last three games I’m going with a narrow Burnley win.

Everton vs Bournemouth

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth visit Goodison Park on the back of their first Premier League win of the season at home to Brighton. Jermain Defoe’s first goal since returning to the seaside bought to an end a somewhat abysmal start to the season by the Cherries. Everton began the season in good stead with a 1-0 home victory against Stoke in early August but their form of late has left a lot to be desired for, especially coming from Old Trafford with no points and another four goals conceded to add to the three conceded against Spurs without reply. This game has seen Bournemouth finish victors just once since their introduction to the top league, and that came 364 days before the Goodison Park clash. Koeman’s side return to Goodison Park in hope that they can show the fans they really are European contenders, having made it into the group stages this season. With the game being played on Merseyside you would expect an Everton win, but low on confidence I would suggest the now optimistic Eddie Howe will think his team can match the Toffee’s and as do I. I’m going with a score draw.

Manchester City vs Crystal Palace

Recent 6-0 victors City head into the weekend level on points and goal difference with local rivals Man United and will hope this weekend can create a tap between the two sides. Crystal Palace on the other hand head into the game yet to win a Premier League game and yet to score a Premier League goal, creating a new record for themselves. The first team to not score and lose all five of their opening games in the Premier League. Former England gaffer Roy Hodgson has taken the reigns from Dutchman Frank de Boer, and didn’t have the instant impact he had perhaps hoped for in his first game at home to Southampton. Guardiola’s side return to the Etihad on the back of their 6-0 win away at Watford where Sergio Aguero ran the show, scoring a hat trick and City fans will be hoping for much the same not just in this fixture but throughout the season, providing he stays relatively injury free. But if Aguero does get injured, the Brazilian apprentice is more than capable of stepping up, as he’s showed playing alongside the Argentine already this season. With Palace showing no signs of scoring a Premier League goal and City in rampant form of late, I’m going with a comprehensive City win.

Southampton vs Manchester United

The Saints return to St Mary’s having beaten struggling Palace at Selhurst Park last weekend and Pellegrino’s men look set to have a better season than last terms disappointment under Claude Puel. With two wins, two draws and just the one loss, Southampton are currently sitting pretty in 9th, a position they will hope they can cement as their own come May. They face a United side who are in a rich vein of form currently on the back of their 4-0 trouncing of Everton. United have, this season, made a name for themselves scoring multiple goals in the final moments of games. Shown best against Everton last week scoring three in the final 10 minutes. Mourinho has put his stamp on the Salford side and looks set to march them towards quite a comprehensive title charge. This game is a repeat of last season League Cup final, where United ran out 3-2 winners, but St Mary’s hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Reds of recent, and I can see a repeat of the Stoke game where United are held at arms length. A draw in my opinion.

Stoke City vs Chelsea

Antonio Conte takes his Chelsea side to the bet365 Stadium having played three games since his last Premier League win, all three games in different competitions. Last time out against Arsenal they were perhaps a little disappointed by not getting the win, but there is still plenty of signs that Chelsea can keep hold of the Premier League trophy come the end of the season. Stoke head into the game with a lack of available central defenders. Kurt Zouma can’t play against his parent side, Shawcross and Wimmer are both doubts, leaving Bruno Martins Indi as the only senior centre back available to Mark Hughes. The Potters have looked better against the ‘top four’ oppositions they’ve faced this season, having not won away from home yet they’re showing that home really is where the heart is. With the support the fans of the Potters offer, and the approach they take against the big teams, I can see this being a home win.

Swansea City vs Watford

The side from South Wales have created some waves over the summer with their transfers. Hot prospect Renato Sanches didn’t impress like everyone had hoped on his debut and the return of Wilfred Bony hasn’t paid immediate dividends but patience is a virtue and the Ivorian will surely return to his former glories. Watford had a crushing defeat at home last weekend conceding six with no return to Manchester City. Paul Clements will be hoping that his side can perform better than they did in their previous home game to Newcastle. Marco Silva is somewhat over performing with his new side, although Watford do always seem to get off to a flying start in the league. At one point he had his side reaching the dizzy heights of the top six, but come the end of the season I’m sure he’ll be happy with a top 10/12 place. This is a tough game to call but I think it’s only a matter of time until Bony comes up trumps for the Swans so I’m going with a home win.

Leicester vs Liverpool

A repeat of the recent Carabao Cup tie that saw Shakespeare’s side run out winners after a Shinji Okazaki goal and an Islam Slimani stunner. The one time Premier League champions don’t look like they’re going to flirt with relegation but will probably not be fighting for Champions League football again any time soon (but I will NEVER write them off again). Jurgen Klopp is under some pressure from the Kopites, especially after the recent performances and whilst new signing Mo Sarah has hit the ground running the same can’t be said for former Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Sadio Mane is the key to Klopp’s side performing this season and if they want to mount a real title challenge or top four challenge, this is the sort of tie they should be winning. All things considered I’m predicting a draw in this tie with Liverpool having learnt from their midweek mistakes.

Brighton vs Newcastle

Premier League new boys face fellow promotion successors Newcastle in this 1st vs 2nd game of last season. Brighton have won just one of their games in this, their introductory season to the Premier League. Hughton’s side failed to score in their first three games this term before netting three in a home match against Tony Pulis’s usually resolute West Brom. The AMEX Stadium plays host to visitors from the North East in Newcastle United. Benitez’s players beat Stoke last time out in a comprehensive 2-1 win. Brighton still look as though they are struggling for goals but look a lot better in their home performances than in visits to other grounds. Newcastle may have won their last away game at Swansea but look shaky away from home, having failed to win away at Huddersfield, who finished below the Geordies last season. I’m going with a goalless draw.

Arsenal vs West Brom

Monday Night Football on Sky Sports shows Tony Pulis taking his West Bromwich Albion team to the Emirates to face an Arsene Wenger side who look as decidedly average as they have in the past. With Alexis Sanchez looking reluctant, a still shaky defensive line and a fan base who harbours no trust within the Frenchman at the helm of the club, could Arsenal be set for their worst season yet. The Baggies are searching for their first win in three and you can expect Tony Pulis to set up a wall in the shape of his defence to stop Alexandre Lacazette and co. from breaching his goal. However, I don’t think that will be enough and Pulis and his players will go a fourth straight game without a win, with Arsenal taking all the points in this fixture.

How do you think your team will do this weekend?

 

 

 

 

Are modern footballers too protected?

In the wake of the Sadio Mane red card, the debate continues on how the game of football has evolved over the past few decades.

With long injury lay offs rife in modern football, ACL’s tearing left, right and centre and constant sprained, broken and fractured bones being fixed by club doctors. Sadio Mane has added fuel to the flames of the question, are todays pedigree ‘ballers too protected by the laws of the game?

Some injuries are unavoidable, for want of a better word. For example the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament damage or tear. It’s a season ender and has taken the season of Zlatan Ibrahimovic most recently, along with basically ruining Bojan’s Premier League career with Stoke. There’s nothing a referee can do to stop injuries like that, its often an awkward landing or a ‘weak’ ligament that causes it and ruins not just a players season but often a teams.

However, injuries like broken bones, deep cuts, and even a fractured skull in Petr Cech’s case that means to this day he wears a protective helmet in game, can often be prevented by players following the rules of the game strictly. Football is supposed to be a “non-contact game” is a line I hear and read over and over again, but if it was to be non-contact then it would admittedly become significantly more boring. So how can such injuries be stopped, will football players ever become more cautious in their play?

Sadio Mane kicking Man’ City goalkeeper Ederson in the face with a high boot lead to a divide of opinion on football Twitter. Gary Lineker tweeted

and he wasn’t alone in his opinion with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp (obviously) agreeing  as did Gary Neville. On Match of the Day Alan Shearer and Ian Wright both agreed they would have gone for the ball in the same position so perhaps the referee, Jon Moss, was in the wrong to send him off? I don’t think so, though.

Whilst it’s always argued referees in the Premier League like the attention to be on them, it’s simply not true in all cases. Yes, sometimes referees perhaps let the power goes to the heads of the men in the middle but often referees are acting in the games and the players best interests. In this case whilst Mane had eyes for the ball and undoubtedly didn’t expect the Brazilian ‘keeper Ederson to be so far from his goal line, he put his foot in a dangerous position, unbelievably high and so close to causing damage a lot more serious than he did. Citizens team mate and social media GENIUS, Benjamin Mendy tweeted;

Which in English roughly translates to “Crazy is here, he’s okay.” or something like that, Google Translate wasn’t very reliable.

Either way I believe the protection offered by the laws of the game and the enforcers (a more intimidating name for a referee) is ample. Mane deserved a red and it should deter players from doing similar things and putting opposition players in difficult positions.

What do you think, should Mane have seen red?

Manchester United: Genuine Title Contenders?

Photo courtesy of BBC.

Manchester United have had an emphatic summer, signing the likes of striker Romelu Lukaku and deep lying midfielder Nemanja Matic to create a real case to be considered as marathon runners in the title race.

Thats right, it’s #confessyourunpopularopinion time. The footballing community has somewhat of a dislike towards the Salford based giants, Manchester United, perhaps due to their excessive spending in their transfer window; or the fact that the brand is a worldwide phenomenon. Think what you like, but Manchester United look to be resurrected from the dead by Jose Mourinho.

The enigmatic Portuguese manager has had unrivalled amounts of success in his, surprisingly short time, as a football manager. The success seems to follow him wherever he goes, from Porto to London, Madrid to Manchester. Winning trophies is part of his DNA, which is why when he was announced as Red Devils boss in the summer of 2016 it was easy to see it wouldn’t be long until United’s fortunes were quickly turned around. One season in and it certainly looks like the Mourinho effect is beginning to gather pace.

Whilst United have so often been seen as title contenders in recent past, the past few season have been ones to forget, whilst trophies are still present, the Premier League trophy is the one so sought after by the red side of Manchester. Perhaps this season could be their time. Mourinho has a strong case to put forward to anyone who argues otherwise. So often throughout his career, United’s gaffer has had copious amounts of success in his SECOND season with a club. Chelsea the second time around, second season, CHAMPIONS. Real Madrid, second season, CHAMPIONS, finishing 9 points ahead of their closest rivals Barcelona. Not only that but his consistency in delivering what fans expect of him sets him up in great stead to deliver this season, to the Old Trafford faithful. With controversy a close second, it can be argued Mourinho’s most consistent aspect is trophies, with at least one trophy at every club he has ever been to. But at United, why not in the first season, what is he doing this season so different to what he did last?

First of all, he’s been able to shape the team, really put his mark on it. Like I mentioned, marquee signings such as the powerhouses that are Lukaku and Matic, alongside Premier League veterans Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia, shows the progress being made by the Red Devils. Last season United got off to a good start, it was questioned whether there rise to the top was going to come sooner rather than later, but an inability to sign, seal and deliver in games, where they struggled to put away chances any pro would finish, ultimately cost them their top four place. This season however looks different, a more patient approach is being used, one which I can only applaud Mourinho for. Tactically it’s genius. United keep the ball for long periods, allowing the opposition to chase them, then go hell for leather in the dying embers of a game and inflict a world of misery upon their victims opponents. It’s not the most exciting way to go about it, but its ingenious and in my opinion is the sole reason for their blistering start to the campaign, which has seen them score 10 goals, concede none and collect all nine points available.

Perhaps it’s too early to call them frontrunners but they will almost definitely be up there come game week 38 in May next year.

Who is your favourite for the title this year?

The Rise of Salford City

Salford City, originally founded in 1940 but re-established in 2014 when Manchester United’s famous Class of 92 (minus David Beckham who instead has opted for a franchise in Miami) are progressing quickly and efficiently through the English league hierarchy and it’s a story which has been at the centre of English media attention including a BBC documentary might I add.

With two consecutive promotions and in the hunt for another one the small team turned fans favourites are progressing magnificently well under the ownership of Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville and the management of Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley.

It was a brave move when in 2014 the cult heroes of the Red Devils decided to buy the non league town who at the time were a consistently mid table side with no hopes or aspirations of gaining promotion and an eye on the Football League was something in their wildest dreams, but now they’re just two promotions away from being one of 24 teams in Football League Two. With two consecutive promotions under their belts Salford will consider themselves front runners for promotion this season but being up against the likes of Stockport County who were a mainstay in the Football League for 106 years and seem to be on a slippery slope down the leagues. For Salford this means whilst they probably consider themselves as promotion contenders, other teams will look at them as a dragon that needs to be slayed, they’re growing quickly and perhaps other teams will look upon them enviously meaning they are the team to beat in the league.

The documentary commissioned by the BBC, featured the owners, the managers and now former star striker and model Gareth Seddon. Gareth, in my opinion, is the kind of person that embodies everything modern football should be about, he showed in the BBC show his passion for playing football was as big as anyone’s, but last year Seddon left Salford City to join Ramsbottom United of the Northern Premier League, and has scored an impressive 6 goals in 12 games for The Rams.

Salford City could be considered the symbol for the lower tiers of English football, all waiting for a break, for example a team of ex footballers with a wealth of experience at the very top of the game!

Who's your favourite non league team?

100 Not Out!

As Stoke City seal a 2-0 win at the KCOM Stadium against Hull City to make it 100 wins in the Premier League, I’m going to take a look at the difference between todays team and the one from the very first Premier League win for the Potters and some of the best wins along the way.

Stoke City, promoted in 2008, a focal point for media mockery for many years, and now an established Premier League side, have now won an impressive 100 Premier League games and perhaps even more impressively have only had two managers in a time when a manager has a short window to make an impression and cement their employment status. The first win of the 100 Premier League wins came against Aston Villa at the formerly named Britannia Stadium, scoring three goals to out-do the Villains two. If you look at the team compared to the 11 that started in the 100th win against Hull today you’ll see just how far the Potters have come.

Goalkeepers: Thomas Sørensen vs Lee Grant

One of the more underwhelming comparisons comes between the sticks, the Great Dane Sørensen was a Stoke City servant for the club and at the time was undoubtedly a coup signing for the team having amassed so much top flight experience compared to todays number one Lee Grant who before this season had never made a Premier League appearance in his life.

Right back: Andy Griffin vs Phil Bardsley

Two tough no nonsense defenders who, it could be said, were in their prime years when joining Stoke. Perhaps Phil Bardsley could be seen as more versatile and mobile compared to ‘Griff’. But every Stoke fan will tell you that they were grateful for Andy Griffin in the early stages of their first Premier League campaign.

Centre back pairing: Leon Cort and Abdoulaye Faye vs Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi

Whilst Ryan Shawcross was at Stoke City in the early days new signing Abdoulaye Faye, another somewhat coup for the Potters, was preferred to the now captain of the club and Leon Cort a new signing having been on loan at the Britannia the season before was his partner. Compare that to todays pairing of Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi, who has a World Cup third place medal to his name, and the gulf in class is clear. Whilst Stoke fans appreciated Tony Pulis’ solid defense, Mark Hughes pairing is looking more solid by the game.

Left back: Carl Dickinson vs Eric Pieters

Carl Dickinson, now of Notts County, was a real tough tackling, hot headed defender and probably still is, which differs immensely from the more technical ability of Eric Pieters. Of course football has changed and full backs are expected to act as wing backs now which is why we can see such a difference in the Stoke of old and the Stoke of today.

Right midfield: Liam Lawrence vs Xherdan Shaqiri

Both heroes in games against Hull, Liam Lawrence scored the goal that confirmed Stoke City’s Premier League status in 2009 and Shaqiri scored two stunners today against a very different Hull side. Liam Lawrence was a somewhat cult hero at Stoke City and many of the Potters fans will be hoping Shaqiri can achieve as much as Lawrence did.

Central midfield three: Seyi Olofinjana, Rory Delap and Amdy Faye vs Glenn Whelan, Joe Allen and Geoff Cameron

The Welsh Pirlo is the main feature of Stoke City this season and the same could have been said about Rory Delap in the 2008-09 season. His long throw struck fear into opponents and was talked about not just nationally, but internationally. Perhaps a more solid middle three now, who aren’t as technically inept, without sounding rude about the old midfield three who did a great job, the Stoke of today have a much more solid three.

Left midfield/ Secondary striker: Ricardo Fuller vs Marko Arnautovic

Two undoubted fans favourites who were temperamental and moody but when they get the ball are UNBELIEVABLE. The kind of things ‘Arnie’ does with the ball now are very comparable to what Fuller used to. It excites fans and gets them off their seats. It’s mesmerising.

Striker: Dave Kitson vs Wilfried Bony

Two very very very very different strikers, at the time Kitson was Stoke’s record signing and it turned out to be a bad move on both parts. Kitson never really kicked on, and left on loan the next year to his previous club Reading. Wilfried Bony, on loan from Manchester City, brings a wealth of goalscoring experience in the league having impressed for Swansea previously. Stoke fans will hope he differs to Kitson and does kick on, but they are yet to see evidence of it yet, still he is a massive upgrade…

Having looked at that there are a few wins that stand out in a Stoke City fans mind. The 6-1 drubbing of Liverpool at the end of the 2015 season.The 3-2 beating of Arsenal where the Potters were 3-0 up at half time. The 3-2 triumph over Chelsea when Oussama Assaidi scored that thumping effort in the final seconds of the game. Or my personal favourite, the 4-1 win away at Aston Villa, when the Potters really strutted their stuff and ran out comfortable winners.

What Stoke City win stands out in your memory?

The New Premier League Rules…

As the new Premier League season really begins to gather steam, we take a look at the new laws that have been implemented by the F.A, but maybe not all 95 amendments. The key points are something that have been discussed by all media outlets and are causing some debate in the football world.

The first one is the change in the way players are punished for the way in which they treat the referee. We’ve all known for a while that players don’t really respect referees and like fans will take any opportunity to jump on the back of a bad decision, and not hold back in their criticism of the referee. Now if a player is deemed to “visibly disrespect” when he makes a decision, it will result in a yellow card. I have been a spectator of this rule being bought into play by Kevin Friend in the Middlesborough vs Stoke City game, when Marko Arnautovic threw his arms into the air despite having already got the free kick, a confusing one on his part, but it showed the referees are taking the new laws seriously.

Another one is what is deemed to be a penalty, perhaps the most controversial one of all. Having been discussed at length in the media, Mike Dean has caused controversy in what he deemed to be a penalty. Stoke City again are involved and it was in the televised game against Manchester City, when two penalties were awarded for an infringement by the defending team when defending a corner. Ryan Shawcross and Raheem Sterling were both penalised for some contact in the box, but then when the same incident if not worse was seen in the Spurs vs Liverpool match, referee Bobby Madley had a clear view and decided not to award a penalty for an infringement, which caused uproar not only in the media but on the touchline, when Jurgen Klopp made the point to the fourth official, that the same thing had happened in match-week two at the bet365 Stadium, if players are punished post match for something referees haven’t seen, then why aren’t referees punished for not awarding decisions, they’ve seen clearly and are a clear breach of the rules.

The final rule we’ll discuss is the treatment of injuries. Players now no longer have to “leave the field of play for treatment to an injury”. This is undoubtedly my least favourite of all the changes. For what reason do the paying fans have to watch a player be treated in the middle of the pitch if there is space on the touchline? I can understand head injuries or broken bones, but when a player goes down with an injury say just ten yards from the touchline, they can be treated their instead of walking, rolling or crawling to the touchline, which is beyond ridiculous. This just gives player another excuse to waste time, and when players feign injury, it will cause more problems than its worth and hopefully the F.A will see the error in their ways sooner rather than later on this one.

I do however think it’s good that the F.A are trying to improve fans enjoyment of the beautiful game, and hope that they view this season as a tester for any laws implicated and next season will see more consistent and concrete rules in place, maybe even a winter break?