Who’s Staying Up?: Relegation Battle down to the Wire

Three in the Red: Bolton, Fulham, Derby

Derby County 

It’s clear. We don’t need to discuss Derby, but it’s safe to say Paul Jewell’s January acquisitions have done little to help the prospects of a club that should have paid more attention to trying to get the most of Robert Earnshaw – who has all but vanished – and the highly coveted Giles Barnes. All that’s left with the Rams is to see whether or not they can escape the shame of holding the record for fewest points ever by an EPL squad. Sunderland sits with that record at 15 points. Derby needs 6 points out of their last 7 and a game vs. Fulham at home this Saturday could be the first three points towards their homestretch.

On we go…Fulham.

The Cottagers sit in a position they undoubtedly put themselves in. Many times this year they carried a lead into the final 15 minutes of a match only to be overtaken. Roy Hodgson has done little to turn around a team and many have said, Hodgson needs the full year to do so. The schedule is working against him though…nevermind the opponents. The Cottagers might have games against Derby and Reading coming up, but one troubling fact remains. They are away. And this is a Fulham team that hasn’t won away all year. If it was based on the personnel alone, Fulham certainly have the tools as long as they can service Brian McBride, EJ, and Dempsey properly, but when 4 of your last 7 are away that’s big. Remaining fixtures: @ Derby County, vs. Sunderland, @ Reading, vs. Liverpool, @ Manchester City, vs. Birmingham City, @ Portsmouth

Bolton

I don’t care what Gary Megson has said or wants to say. Not having Nicolas Anelka in the homestretch destroys them. Not having Jussi Jaskaleinen in the midst of a relegation battle destroys them. The Wanderers’ only saving grace is Kevin Nolan, who continues to organize Bolton’s midfield well enough to grab points here and there. Truth is, though, that Bolton’s recent tie with Manchester City at home was their first point in almost two months. Their final games see Arsenal coming to Reebok Stadium and a visit to Chelsea, Tottenham, and Aston Villa. That doesn’t paint a pretty picture, and – in all honesty – it’s about time sparkplug El-Hadji Diouf is brought down to Earth. Bolton is on their way down. Remaining Fixtures: vs. Arsenal, @ Aston Villa, vs. West Ham United, @ Middlesbrough, @ Tottenham, vs. Sunderland, @ Chelsea.

Who will stay up…

Newcastle

Kevin Keegan is still cleaning up Big Sam Allardyce’s mess and, understandably, it’s hard to believe one has to do so when you have players like Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, and Mark Viduka at your forefront. And that’s precisely why the Magpies will stay up…Keegan has decided to put all three of these boys on the field. With Barton and Butt in the midfield and these three on the forward line – even working at subpar rates – Keegan’s troupe can climb their way out of the darkness. Newcastle’s 2-0 win over Fulham this past Saturday was a testament to that. Owen had countless chances, Martins created chances, and Viduka dutifully took the ones he was  given. Keegan has opted to play himself out of relegation through offense and it will work. Plus, who doesn’t love a manager that wears his heart on his sleeve game in and game out. Newcastle sits 6 points clear of Bolton – the third relegation spot. Their remaining schedule includes – @ Tottenham, vs. Reading, @ Portsmouth, vs. Sunderland, @ West Ham, vs. Chelsea, @ Everton.

Reading

Anytime that bounces back from 9 consecutive defeats to start the new year gets my nod to resist relegation. The Royals weren’t just losing games, they were losing close games. The ones where you fight until the bitter end. Reading’s talent level and tenacity on the playing field set them up for that kind of disappointment in defeat, but sheer joy when the result goes in their favor. Their nine losses – 5 came in dramatic fashion, one goal thrillers, while others came at the hands Villa [twice], Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham. The Royals have been found out…they’re not being underestimated like last season. All clubs are firmly aware this year of the rapid development of Dave Kitson, Shane Long, and Stephen Hunt. No one has questioned the form of Marcus Hahnemann, who along with Tim Howard and Brad Friedel, looks poised to grab at least a top-three in GK of the Year tallies. Reading has won two out of three as of late, losing out only to Liverpool, but I wouldn’t peg them to slide any further into the abyss. Fixtures remaining: vs. Blackburn,  @ Newcastle, vs. Fulham, @ Arsenal, @ Wigan, vs. Tottenham, @ Derby County.

Birmingham

March 1st’s 4-1 drubbing of Tottenham could have been the three points that wind up keeping Birmingham from the bottom three. Hell, before that they took points from Arsenal and Newcastle. If there’s a clear loser when it comes to remaining schedule, the Blues have got to be it. Alex McLeish has done well to instill a hard-nosed approach to every game in his squad and that approach has helped them so far, but will it withstand meetings with Manchester City, Everton, Blackburn, Villa, and Liverpool? Yep. And believe it or not, if they had Fulham’s schedule remaining – the Blues would be on their way down. Fixtures Remaining: vs. Manchester City, @ Wigan, vs. Everton, @ Aston Villa, vs. Liverpool, @ Fulham, vs. Blackburn

Two teams primed to go down, but will escape…

Wigan Athletic

Five points separate the Latics with Bolton and who is worse off? Bolton. Wigan was able to grab a 1-0 win over . If there was a team next in line behind Fulham and Bolton to go down, it’s the Latics. But Wigan hasn’t been pisspoor as of late. Yes, they were routed by Blackburn even when they had a man advantage for half the game, but they squeezed points from Arsenal and beat West Ham and Derby. More than most of these relegation battlers can claim. Their schedule doesn’t help much with 5 games against top-half club. Wigan has also made it their habit to start slow and end strong, which will not fly against the likes of Pompey, Chelsea, and ManYoo. Both Emile Heskey and Marcus Bent have returned to the line-up which could provide the jumpstart needed to slip just above the relegation zone. Verdict: Up, but barely. Remaining Schedule: @ Portsmouth, vs. Birmingham, @ Chelsea, vs. Tottenham, vs. Reading, @ Aston Villa, vs. Manchester United

Sunderland

It’s Roy Keane people. He’ll fight managers on the sideline and kids in the stands to stay up. The Black Cats started admirably and have faded in the homestretch. Kenwyne Jones has been figured out and Keane’s talent pool has all but dried up. Still Keane has shown a knack for putting in the right people at the right time and Michael Chopra’s entrance this past weekend secured a 1-0 upset win over Aston Villa, a vital three points to have. This is not the 2005/2006 Sunderland team. The difference – a battling Keane personality, a will to win in the last 15 minutes of tough matches, and a discipline that sticks against the big competition. Verdict: the Cats will remain and an infusion of talent in the offseason will make them mid-table runners next year. Remaining Fixtures: vs. West Ham United, @ Fulham, vs. Manchester City, @ Newcastle, vs. Middlesbrough, @ Bolton, vs. Arsenal

——————————————————————————————

Big Fulham supporter, but if the mentality shown against Newcastle prevails – the Cottagers are going down. Bolton and Derby are locks with seven games to go, but Fulham has the chance if they play the way they did against Everton. Hodgson also has to let Dempsey play. Jimmy Bullard was the only real threat vs. Newcastle, I agree, but it was as if Hodgson set him up that way. He might have a long shot, but Dempsey will be able to open up McBride and Eddie Johnson with outlet passes, instead of passes to their feet with a defender in tow.

Final Verdict: the same three we got now, Fulham, Bolton, and Derby.

What do you think?

Advertisements

EPL Daily 3.21: Ronaldo better than Best?, Defoe left home

BIG FIXTURES: Saturday – Tottenham vs. Portsmouth, Fulham vs. Newcastle (relegation clash), Reading vs. Birmingham (relegation clash), Sunday – Chelsea vs. Arsenal, Liverpool vs. Manchester United

DEFOE: Portsmouth’s Jermain Defoe was ruled ineligible to play in Saturday’s Pompey vs. Defoe’s former team Tottenham clash. The reason for this? In order to get the transfer done before the January transfer window closed – Pompey had to rush a loan deal through before they eventually followed it up with a permanent deal AFTER the window had closed. The rules stipulate that if a player is loaned, he cannot play against his former team unless put specifically in a clause within the contract (this is regardless of the fact it was eventually made permanent). Needless to say, Harry Redknapp is livid and even says that Tottenham was expecting Defoe to play. Kinda nitpicky for the English FA is you ask me, but then again – rules are rules.

TOTTENHAM: Speaking of the Hotspur, Juande Ramos is predicting a “spectacle” on Saturday in their match vs. Portsmouth this Saturday. If this Saturday’s match will be a spectacle, what the hell was Wednesday’s crazy 4-4 draw with Chelsea??? In that game, Robbie Keane grabbed the late equalizer, while 7 different people hit for goals. In no particular order they were Joe Cole (2), Drogba, Woodgate, Keane, Huddlestone, Berbatov, and Michael Essien.

DERBY: Despite fighting to keep from grabbing the worst record ever in EPL play, Derby County’s investors – American Andy Appleby – are still extremely happy with their investment. Good things are afloat for the soon-to-be-Championship team. The Rams need 6 more points in 8 games to beat Sunderland’s 15-point record set in 2005/2006. What Appleby really should be doing is forcing Paul Jewell to play out-of-form Benny Feilhaber.

CRISTIANO RONALDO: Tony Paskin over at the Daily Express UK asks if Ronaldo is in fact better than the late Georgie Best? Best held the 40-year old scoring record that Ronaldo just surpassed after scoring both goals in a 2-0 beating of relegation battlers Bolton. I’d be interested to hear your take – ESPECIALLY if you had the chance to watch Georgie Best play.

With that said – who is better – Best or Ronaldo?

The Math for Bringing Back Benny F.

In an attempt to improve on covering stories until they reach an end, I updated my earlier post on Benny Feilhaber’s now-kiboshed move to Maccabi Tel Aviv; England’s Derby County rejected the move.

There was more to the story – and I covered it in the update – but there’s more still yet in play…enough so that to warrant a new post. A blurb by Richard Jolly for ESPN noted “a lot of interest” in moving Feilhaber to Major League Soccer (MLS). There’s a lot to like about this and on a couple levels. First, unless fans across the country all rate him higher than MLS’s coaches, Feilhaber will get plenty of playing time in the States. That plays into a secondary element: keeping Feilhaber fit and available – i.e. more than he is currently – for the U.S. National Team. And that’s a good thing, even if he doesn’t pan out for the U.S.; at least we’ll know, right?

The tricky bit comes with the money side – and this something a few people are kicking around today, WVHooligan among them. Even setting aside a transfer fee – and that could hurt badly enough – the trickier part is Feilhaber’s pay. Is he worth designated player money? Much as I like Benny, he’s too green, too unknown to justify that kind of money. So, does he want to play badly enough to take what would likely be a whopping pay cut?

Curiously, it’s MLS Rumors that came up with a plausible, even likely, solution (I went with “curiously” because I count on that site for rumors first and analysis second):

“According to a source it is quite possible Derby will send him to MLS on a loan deal and if that happens his most likely destination is San Jose.”

Ta-da! Benny gets to play, Derby keeps an asset, and, assuming I understand how loans work, pays Benny’s bills. Whether or not this comes together, the mechanics of the deal “a source” describes sounds workable.

Feilhaber to Israel…less weird than it sounds.

Keying off a BBC report (which, for the record, I didn’t read), Sports Illustrated’s FanNation reports Benny Feilhaber may move to the Israeli First Division, specifically, to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Not to bag on the Israeli league (as I may have done to, say, the Greek First Division…at some point), but this is not one of the regular destinations for players looking to “go to Europe.” Obviously, that Israel isn’t actually in Europe complicates things just a little.

That said, this isn’t a horrible move. To begin, there’s the promise of some European football. Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Wikipedia page ends with a chart on how far the team got in various European competitions in recent years. Doesn’t look like Maccabi gets very far, and there’s more UEFA Cup than Champions League in there, but provided this means regular, competitive playing time, it improves on Feilhaber’s current pine-riding gig.

UPDATE: Thought I’d keep this post current in case Google or something refers people back to it.  Derby rejected Maccabi Tel Aviv’s offer for Feilhaber.  So, no Israel for this Yanqui.  There is talk, however, of interest from Major League Soccer (MLS)…and that’s more interesting still…and, possibly, driven by a desire to insure availability for the U.S. National team?

EPL Daily 12.14: All things Capello; Derby/Coventry takeover?, etc.

Coventry and Derby are the latest English clubs to be pegged for an imminent takeover – Derby’s has an American feel however (an “American sports company”) and is still in critical stages. Whereas, Coventry has gone the Ray Ranson-led SISU Capital route (Ranson was responsible for a bid to takeover Man City early last year). With the takeover, which is now just subject to a 90% approval from all Coventry City shareholders, the Championship club saves themselves from administrative and competitive penalties. Also, West Ham is gearing up for yet another injection of capital as baldy Icelandic chairman Eggert Magnusson has relinquished his 5% stake in the Hammers to his Icelandic chum ‘BG’ – Bjorgolfur Gudmondsson – who plans to put another $60 million or so into the club (not player purchases persay).

Now – with the final verdict subject to contract negotiations (6.25 mill pounds/yr) – ALL of the controversy arises around the inevitable appointment of Italian Fabio Capello to the English manager’s position. Paul Parker at Eurosport says this confirms that England is now a ‘second-rate football nation’. Reading’s main man Steve Coppell, M’bro’s Gareth Southgate, former Arsenal defender Tony Adams don’t agree with the decision as well. Former English midfielder and MK Dons boss Paul Ince is pissed too. Got me thinking, were they this pissed when Sven Goran Eriksson took over? SoccerLens put together a list of 10 reasons why Fabio Capello IS a good choice.

If the head coach is Italian, does it balance it out if the majority of the coaching staff is British? Both Alan Shearer and current English U-21 gaffer Stuart Pearce have been tagged as potential number twos. Shearer to England seems a bit improbable as the former Newcastle striker turned down a chance to be assistant when McLaren took over.

Amidst all that, Chelsea’s new boss Avram Grant has just signed on for 4 more years. Pretty well done considering the Mourinho mess.

Nery Castillo – Mexico’s pride and joy at this past summer’s Copa America  and long-time Mexican Guiseppe Rossi – is already sick of Shakhtar (Ukraine) and is being linked to a loan deal with Sven Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City

One hell of a Sunday this weekend – Manchester United vs. Liverpool and Chelsea vs. Arsenal in the EPL. Ajax vs. PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie. Valencia vs. Barcelona in La Liga. Juventus vs. Lazio in the Serie A. Who prevails??

Eddie Lewis – yea remember him? – to join Feilhaber at Derby?

Coupled with the news that the Benny Feilhaber transfer is – in fact- complete was the unveiling of a possible swoop for versatile left back/midfielder and Leeds United’s Eddie Lewis. The 33-year old has endured a crazy past 12 months with the demotion of Leeds to League Two as well as the docking of 15 points to start the season. He has appeared almost 200 times for Preston North End (McBride’s old digs) and Leeds United and could add some much needed veteran presence within the Derby squad. Unfortunately, that presence is more or less based on a very scant amount of Premiership exposure. It had originally been rumoured that it was Stoke City ready to make the swoop – but with Davies eager to grab more personnel, you can expect that Derby will better what offer Stoke had in mind.

Capped 72 times for the national team, Lewis is most well known for the cross delivered to Landon Donovan to seal the 2-0 victory over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup and also his ears that seem to rival Will Smith’s. Is Derby boss Billy Davies (who recently re-upped his contract til 2011) trying to rival the American contingent at Craven Cottage? As far as Feilhaber goes, expect him to start against Tottenham this weekend as he has received clearance and is itching to grab a result from the underachiever Hotspur. What do you think about Feilhaber at Derby?

EPL: Sven and Big Sam start with 3; Man Utd falters

Another slew of games this Tuesday and Wednesday as the Premiership starts with a bang. This past weekend’s slate however was chock full of entertaining matches – most of which I didn’t get to see. Some things that did stick out however:

 Derby 2, Portsmouth 2: Not many expected this I am sure but freshly promoted teams generally fight like hell for the first several games then sputter when it comes to the long-haul of the Premiership season. The Rams took the lead in this one thanks to a Matthew Oakley strike. Pompey fought back to take the lead 2-1 and it looked as of Derby was down and out. Former Blackburn Rover Andy Todd made it 2-2 in the waning moments to secure a point. If they can tie Portsmouth with a squad  that boss Billy Davies is vocally unhappy with – what can they do once strengthened? (is it too early to regret my decision of predicting a 5th place finish for Portsmouth?)

Sunderland 1, Tottenham 0: Spurs faithful have got to be incensed with this one, but looking back on it – why did I ever bet against Roy Keane in his Premiership managerial debut; Chopra doubters were treated to a nice serving of ‘I told you so’ as the former Newcastle dud provided the only goal in the 90th minute

Chelsea 3, Birmingham 2: the Blues struck first early with Mikael Forssell staking a claim for a starting spot but new Chelsea acquisition made his argument by striking less than 2 minutes later; the rest of the game was back and forth as fellow new Chelsea signing Florent Malouda also put his name on the scoresheet; Johan Djourou – plucked from Arsenal’s talent pool – worked all 90 minutes for Birmingham in the back; Michael Essien provided the game winner in the 50th minute and extended Chelsea’s home unbeaten streak; Drogba quelled Chelsea supporter fears with a solid 30 minute run-out

Arsenal 2, Fulham 1: David Healy pounced on a particularly embarassing screw up by Jens Lehmann; search it on YouTube – not quite Paul Robinson-ish but still borderline pathetic; the Gunners fought back for him though as two late goals – a PK from Van Persie and Aleksander Hleb – put Arsenal clear; McBride started up front and Bocanegra in the back, both played all 90 minutes while Clint Dempsey came on for new signing Hamuer Bouazza in the beginning of the second half and worked a serviceable half; Gunner fans have got to be excited about the play of Bakary Sagna and Emmanuel Eboue down the right wing

Reading 0, Manchester United 0: another giant held with unfortunate consequences for Alex Ferguson and all Red Devil fans; Wayne Rooney broke his foot and will be out 2 months at least; they do have Carlos Tevez to look forward to but Rooney looked primed to have a phenomenal year and his absence will make things a bit harder for that Red Devil offense to produce consistently; Reading played the last 20 minutes a man down after Dave Kitson’s ejection and proved pesky (though never threatening); Nicky Shorey was the best man on the field for the Royals and Giggsy for the Red Devils

Other results:

Liverpool 2, Aston Villa 1 – The Reds’ new signings start slow but Gerrard’s goal of the week give them the win

Manchester City 2, West Ham 0 – Spector plays all 90 minutes but can’t stop Sven’s new signings – Geovanni and Bianchi from finding  the net, while their newly crafted back line preserves the shutout and 3 away points

Newcastle 3, Bolton 1 – Sam Allardyce beats his former team as the Magpie offense is driven by the brace of Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins

Blackburn 2, Middlesbrough 1 – Brad Friedel worked well in a goal as usual while the young Derbyshire and new signing Roque Santa Cruz provide the goal scoring power to beat the Boro

Everton 2, Wigan Athletic 1 – Tim Howard held his own in net for the Toffees as they fought their way to a win at home thanks to a Leon Osman and young’un Victor Anichebe strike