EPL Daily 1.23: EJ to England, Cousin to follow? but Fulham knocked out the FA Cup

EJ TO ENGLAND: Eddie Johnson has signed for Fulham to join an ailing strike force of Shefki Kuqi, David Healy, and Diomansy Kamara. Johnson joins as part of new coach Roy Hodgson’s turnover of the Cottagers as they sit in a dead heat for a relegation battle. Defensive reinforcements have already been brought in in the form of Norwegian Brede Hangeland and creative Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen. There are talks taking place with unsettled Glasgow Rangers’ striker Daniel Cousin as well. The deal is for 3 1/2 years.

BERBATOV: Dimitar Berbatov’s wrestling with Tottenham quieted down a bit after the Hotspur’s trouncing of a young Arsenal side in the Carling Cup semifinals.

BIANCHI: Rolando Bianchi – Manchester City’s . His time with City started strong and fizzled recently. Bianchi admitted he 1. hates England 2. hates English football and 3. wants back to Italy. Well to Italy he goes – on loan to Lazio.

MCFADDEN: The wantaway Everton striker has completed his move to Birmingham as the Blues became rather keen on him after his recent form. The Scotsman moved for $10 million. Birmingham has done well this transfer window – bringing in young Argentinian striker Mauro Zarate on loan and keen to bring in Guglielmo Stendardo in on loan from Lazio.

FA CUP ROUND 3 REPLAYS:

Bristol Rovers 0, Fulham 0 (Bristol R. wins 5-3 on penalties)

Roy Hodgson played a rested squad in their replay with Bristol Rovers. Dempsey and Bocanegra went all 120 minutes in a losing cause, one that many expected Hodgson to lay in to his players for. Instead, he defended them and placed the blame on himself, but the truth is, they’re still looking for a win in Hodgson’s reign. Jimmy Bullard played the bad man, missing the PK that allowed Bristol to move ahead.

Derby County 1, Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Derby wins on penalties 4-2)

A Kenny Miller saved the Rams from embarrassment putting their only shot on goal in the back of the net. The match went to overtime and Derby played like the underdog most of the way, throwing hard tackles left and right. Eddie Lewis came in for an ineffective Giles Barnes (rare) and wreaked havoc for a solid 80 minutes on the left side. Deadlocked through overtime, it came down to penalties and Derby didn’t disappoint. Sheffield Wednesday missed their first two, while Eddie Lewis and Kenny Miller converted theirs making it somewhat of a no-contest.

Barnet 0, Swindon 0 (Barnet wins 2-0 on penalties)

In the ugliest display of penalty taking I have seen in a long time, Barnet came out on top. Billy Paynter had probably the most up and down, roller coaster day of his career. First, he scored in the 42nd minute to put Swindon Town up 1-0. Ten minutes later, however, he was hiding in a corner after he put one in the back of his own net. Then to end on a definitive note, Paynter botched his PK attempt as all Swindon Town penalty takers went on to miss their respective attempts.

CARLING CUP SEMIFINALS:

Chelsea 1, Everton 0 (3-1 on aggregate)

Chelsea booked a place in the final as Joe Cole drove the proverbial nail in Everton’s coffin snuffing out in the process a spirited effort from the Toffees. Everton fought with tough tackling and relied on a couple players returning from injury to test the Chelsea defense. Andy Johnson was scrappy as usual, while Manuel Fernandes returned for what seems to be his 40th stint with the club. Either way, Chelsea is through to the final against Tottenham.

Tottenham 5, Arsenal 1 (6-2 on aggregate)

Odd game – but Tottenham pulled apart a shaky Arsenal defense consisting of no one particularly guilty of inconsistent play. The backs were captained by Bakary Sagna and William Gallas, while young goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski got the start in goal. Other surprising names included Justin Hoyte, Denilson, Armand Traore. These youngsters aren’t exactly scared of the spotlight, but no one could cope – not even Gallas and Sagna – with the quality of Jermaine Jenas, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Keane, Berbatov, and a nasty shot from Frenchmen Steed Malbranque. Wenger put on the studs too late – with Adebayor, Eduardo coming in later in the game (Adebayor eventually bagged the lone Gunner goal) and Cesc Fabregas in right after Wenger got a whiff of trouble – the 20 minute mark. Tottenham got the result they deserved in this instance, as last week in the first leg – they came out with a 1-1 draw after firmly holding the upper hand. On top of that, as seen above, a Carling Cup final might be what the Spurs need to keep Dimitar Berbatov around. Best Arsenal moment of the night was probably the friendly fire – Bendtner vs. Adebayor (it’s off in the distance, watch for it). Investigation to follow.

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EPL Daily 1.9: Yanks transfer news hits the other side of the pond…

BRAD GUZAN: Brad Guzan’s transfer speculaton hit SkySports for the first time adding credibility from both sides of the pond to his potential suitors. Celtic is the most recently named party interested in the shotstopper, while we have all heard the rumors involving Arsenal. Some other suitors include Liverpool, Auxerre, and Greek champions Olympiakos. In terms of playing time, Guzan’s best bet would be at Auxerre where 26-year old Olivier Sorin mans the net. They have Lyon-product Remy Riou as back-up, but neither have impressed much as Auxerre has sputtered to 15th place. Liverpool and Arsenal would be a grooming back-up role, as would Celtic. The difference with the Hoops, however, is that Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc has recently signed a new deal with a reported “get-out” clause in which if a suitor comes along and gives the right price (number set in the contract), Boruc would move on. Guzan could go in, learn under the wing of Boruc, and wait for his exit someday soon. Olympiakos could be an ideal place as well as age is what will wipe out the two top goalkeepers there now – Antonios Nikopolidis (36) and Tomislav Butina (33). The real question is: if Guzan leaves, what happens at Chivas?

TWELLMAN: Though Preston North End isn’t the EPL, a Twellman bid is something every American fan wants to hear about. PNE would be a fantastic place for Twellman to restart his European career, but the bid was already rebuffed according to Mike Burns. SkySports caught wind of it and placed the transfer fee at $1.5 million.

JOHNSON: Soccer365 has gotten us all confused now. What is different at Derby County (other than a record MLS transfer fee) now that Eddie Johnson would even consider a move to Derby? All things considered, a lot has happened since this article (1/4/2008) was published. Manager Paul Jewell brought in Argentinian striker Emmanuel Villa for $4 million making it unlikely for EJ’s destination to be Derby. There are others interested out there though……..

MOMO SISSOKO: Ever since Javier Mascherano came to Anfield, the big defensive midfielder from Mali hasn’t had the best of times. Raw talent left unused, however, never goes unnoticed as many of the top European clubs watched Momo has he grew not unhappy, but underappreciated, with the Reds. The problem with Liverpool is Mascherano is a question mark in his own right with his contract status pending, so expect Benitez to beg for Sissoko to stick around a little bit longer. Unhappy though? Enter Juventus…

CARLING CUP: Chelsea 2, Everton 1

Everton went down 1-0 early to a Shaun Wright-Phillips 26th minute finish, but all hopes were revived when Jon Obi Mikel unleashed a ridiculous studs-up tackle on Phil Neville which had him sent to the showers. Chelsea was left to survive 40 minutes a man down. Kind of funny isn’t it? – Chelsea fights to keep Mikel around for at least one more game heading into the African Nations Cup and the Nigerian gets himself sent off, offering no help at all. The Blues paid for it as Yakubu fired home a shot, upper-90 after a scrum in the penalty box with about 15 minutes to go. Then it happened…a goofy cross in injury time left Shaun Wright-Phillips unevenly matched in an aerial battle against the big Joleon Lescott. SWP jumped in full-force forcing Lescott in cringe, close his eyes, and head the ball into his own net. A 1-0 win will do it back at Goodison Park, but Everton will be without their rock in the back, Joseph Yobo. Chelsea will be hurting as well, but in terms of depth, one can never bet against the Blues.

Today’s Carling Cup Semifinal – Arsenal v. Tottenham (expect a young Arsenal squad to take the pitch against the Spurs)

EPL Daily 1.8.08: A Carling Cup of Rumors – Anelka, Cisse and Rafa’s found a back

DERBY TRIO: The Derby Rams are going for a complete makeover. After having already captured UAG Tecos striker Emmanuel Villa for $4 million and Manchester City wantaway Danny Mills, Paul Jewell will not be stopping there. Laurent Robert – the wing midfielder who cost Newcastle around $20 million back in 2001 with decent returns – is expected to sign today barring international clearance. At 32-years old, it looks like Jewell is going for the veteran leadership aspect, confirmed through the apparent courting of Blackburn’s out-of-favour midfielder Robbie Savage (33yo). This certainly doesn’t bode well for Benny Feilhaber who sits uncomfortably far down in the pecking order right now. Not done there though as reports have linked Tottenham misfit midfielder Hossam Ghaly with Derby as well. It isn’t likely all three would sign, but Ghaly looks to be a viable option as a loanee.

FRED CHAVES: The still-young 24 year old Brazilian striker has seen better days at Lyon. Once put on the transfer list, plenty of interest has already been shown – predominantly from Brazil, but some English clubs have thrown their wallets into the mix. Tottenham and West Ham are the latest to have shown some interest, but the likely destination seems to be Ligue One rivals Paris St-Germain. The asking price is a cool $20 million. Fred’s descent at Stade Gerland has been countered by the rise of starlets Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema as well as the formation which puts the young Benzema at the lone striker positon. Worst of it is, it’s been working…(Benzema has 12 goals, Lyon is in 1st). Regardless, over three years and 55 appearances, Fred still managed 25 goals. It’d be a hell of capture for either West Ham and Tottenham, if they’re willing to part with the cash (which has never been a problem).

LIVERPOOL: Ready to go Eastern European in the back. Hard not to after watching the success of Serbian Nemanja Vidic in the center of defense for champions Manchester United. The cat is out of the bag on Eastern European defenders in general as there will be no more lenient price tags. Rafa’s target is Martin Skrtel – a 23-year old Slovakian centreback, capable of playing on the left as well. As he has passed his medical, all that’s left is formalities and Skrtel will become Liverpool’s most expensive defender at $13 million. Defense has become somewhat of urgency at Liverpool as Sami Hyppia has been hit with injury to add to the already injured Daniel Agger. Skrtel, playing for Zenit St. Petersburg now and used to European competition, will fit the bill. Read up on Skrtel here.

FRENCH STRIKERS: Nicolas Anelka wants to be at Stamford Bridge. Bolton says no, but Chelsea is still hopeful they can get a deal done. The bid was apparently laughable to Bolton at $24 million and with Manchester United also actively searching for a striker, should Chelsea be biding their time with a bid like that? Djibril Cisse, the former Liverpool strikeman, is ready for a Premiership return but his stock has taken a hit following two major injuries over the past several years. Marseille’s President Pape Diouf has already followed an apparent bid for Cisse from Manchester City with a resounding no.

OTHER RUMORS: Lassana Diarra to Newcastle; Jermain Defoe open for the bidding even after scoring 5 in his last 7 appearances – destination: Manchester United?;  

CARLING CUP: 1st Leg of the Semifinals today and tomorrow – Chelsea vs. Everton (Tues.) and Arsenal vs. Tottenham (Wed.). Here’s a quick preview of this week’s games from the Carling Cup site. Predictions – Everton comes out of Stamford Bridge even, while Arsenal outclasses Tottenham at home. Especially if the in-form Eduardo is on the field.

EPL Daily 12.20: 5th Richest Man picks a team; Bangura stays for now; Cup semis set!

Alhassan “Al” Bangura – the Watford midfielder and Sierra Leone native – was granted the opportunity to qualify for a work permit, which effectively has kept him from being sent back to Sierra Leone for the time being. If it was a ‘regular’ work permit hearing, Bangura would still be packing his bags, but apparently the 19-year old has been granted a special hearing by an independent panel consisting of Home Office members and football-related officers. We should know more in a couple of weeks, but as of right now the prospects look pretty good.

TAKEOVERS: Birmingham City has terminated any takeover talks with Carson Yeung’s company Grandtop International Holdings. On the other hand, Queens Park Rangers has an extremely promising moneybags suitor on their hands. Pegged as the 5th richest man in the world, Lakshmi Mittal (an Indian steel magnate worth over $100 billion) has reportedly bought a 20% share into QPR, a club in crisis for some time now. This is even AFTER some Formula One businessman (Flavio Briatore, Renault team boss, and Bernie Ecclestone – Formula 1 chief) took over the club in November. If Mittal decides to dip into his war chest then QPR, who sits at the bottom of the Championship right now, could rival EPL clubs in the transfer market. Just like Roy Keane at Sunderland, though, the trick will be luring them to Loftus Road in London. Key word: London. Shouldn’t be too hard.

CARLING CUP: Frank Lampard and GASP! Andrei Shevchenko sandwiched a Peter Crouch ejection with goals booking Chelsea a place in Carling Cup semifinals, along with Arsenal (3-2 win over Blackburn with a ‘watered down’ squad), Everton (2-1 victors over WHU), and Tottenham (2-0 winners over Man City). At least if Pepe Reina goes down with injury, all Merseysiders now know they have Charles Itandje to back him up. That guy was superb.

Semi-final pairings set!

CHELSEA vs. EVERTON and TOTTENHAM vs. ARSENAL
1st Leg will be week of January 7th, Return Leg will be week of January 21st

DIMITAR BERBATOV: Reports are coming out that that Bulgarian striker could be headed to Manchester United in return for cash and a couple players. New Hotspur coach Juande Ramos says otherwise though. In short, Berbatov ain’t goin’ anywhere.

MLS ALL-STAR GAME: According to the Toronto Star, the MLS has contacted Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid to be 2008’s All-Star Game opponent. And of course, due to the American investor connection of Gillet and Hicks, Liverpool is the front-runner. Liverpool might also be slated for a friendly in Montreal around the same time as it has already been confirmed that they will be touring USA and Canada this coming summer.

A GRINCH AT READING?: Steve Coppell is having all Reading players report to training on Christmas day. This policy has been labeled, “Forget Christmas” as the Royals have upcoming matches over the Holiday break against West Ham and Tottenham. Sitting in 13th means a couple of wins could catapult them into European competition contention. Apparently, their Christmas will be winning those games…

Who is Michael Mifsud? The Maltese Man Yoo Killer?

There is a history behind the guy who single-handedly acted as executioner in Manchester United’s 2-0 loss to Championship side Coventry City in the Carling Cup.

Mifsud scored an early goal and a clincher in the 70th minute to put the Red Devils on edge in front of over 70,000 at Old Trafford. Man Utd’s Anderson and Nani as well as seasoned defenders John O’Shea, Wes Brown, and Phil Bardsley could do nothing to stop the veteran.

First surprise: Mifsud is from Malta. You don’t see that many from Malta making an impact in international soccer (remember the guy fantastically named Chucks Nwokwo? Nigerian heritage, Maltese wife). Secondly: he has been nicknamed ‘Mosquito’ by former goalkeeper Tim Flowers for his peskiness and determination despite a small frame. The 26-year old actually should have had three as he missed an open sitter – or could it have been he was toying with Man U’s piecemeail back-line. Nah – there is, after all, a reason why the guy has been looked at but never snapped up by real ‘high-tier’ clubs. Mifsud did light up the Norwegian Tippeligean with Lillestrom as early as last season, as he struck for 17 goals in less than 50 appearances. His time with Coventry City, however, has actually been a bit up and down finding only 4 goals in 19 Championship appearances so far. Most of his goals have come in the Cup competitions, but his recent partnership with Dele Adebola has supporters’ optimistic of heightened production. Key word being ‘height’ as Mifsud, 5’5″, acts as the little in the big/little combination that the Blues have going.