This Halloween Weekend

Its that time of the year; when our people across the oceans and seas get dressed up in their very best costumes all having a good time. For we football people, we just hope we won’t have any costuming type performances by our favorite teams. I know I did quite poorly on the predictions last week, who would have thought Chelsea would blow Manchester United away, Milan would get the better of Juventus, Sampdoria would stand tall in the derby and PSG would play out a bore fest of a nil-nil draw with Marseille.

So as with everything; if at first you don’t succeed; time to put on those costumes and lets try again, here’s my preview of the big games in Russia, Germany and Italy:

Spartak Moscow v CSKA Moscow

One of the most fiercely contested derbies in Russia, although Spartak have fallen behind CSKA considerable over the last few years; as CSKA consistently compete for the title and participate in the UEFA Champions League every season; Spartak have somewhat lost there way.

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This season is a little different as Spartak are pushing Zenit close and playing some quality football along the way and are ahead of their city rivals going into the derby. With Spartak as host; CSKA have a formidable record with only one defeat from their last 17 visits to their City rivals. Obviously, Spartak’s current form and position in the league sets them as favorites, but as we have always known with derbies; the form book goes out the window.

Prediction: Draw (Betting Punt: CSKA Win/Draw)

Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04

The Ruhr derby could not have come at a better time for Schalke especially with Dortmund struggling lately. Schalke’s big summer loan imports finally seem to be finding their feet in the Bundesliga, whilst Dortmund’s great summer business has suffered a huge set back with the amount of injuries that has befallen the Black and Golds.

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Both teams were in action in the DFB Pokal, but sailed through but a greater cost to Dortmund who were forced to extra time by Union Berlin with this in mind and a current run of three winless games in the league; definitely this is crisis time for the team I like many expected to give Bayern a proper go this season. Schalke come into the derby reinvigorated, after a slow start to the campaign are on a three game unbeaten run in the Bundesliga and six in all competitions, playing some good stuff and scoring plenty of goals; their confidence is back and I think they stand a very strong chance in the derby this time.

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Dortmund’s 25 game unbeaten sequence at home is the only indices that swings things there way; I expect a high tempo, physical and intense contest between both sides with plenty scoring opportunities created.

Prediction: Draw (Betting Punt: Both Teams to Score)

Juventus v Napoli

The Bianconeri have already lost two big games this season and to both Milan clubs at that, but still occupy the top of the Serie A standings. Juventus and Gonzalo Higuian welcome their closest rivals and the striker’s former club from last season in Maurizi0 Sarri’s Napoli to the Juventus Stadium.

SSC Napoli's Argentine striker Gonzalo H

All the big questions going into this clash has to do with Gonzalo Higuian coming up against his former club, will he score? Will he celebrate? All interesting if you consider that he hasn’t scored in his last four matches; Is he reserving the goals for the Azzurri? Spear a thought for Napoli though; Higuian’s replacement is out for four months with Sarri saddled with a major striking problem and may have to do with wingers in striking positions with the likes of Insigne and Mertens looking to lead the line.

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It would be a huge surprise if Napoli manage to pull off a victory at the Juventus Stadium; which they haven’t won at in their last six attempts. Juventus bounced back and confidence restored after to powerful headers from Chiellini among the goals as the Old Lady bounced back to winning ways.

Prediction: Juventus to Win (Betting Punt: Juventus Win or Draw)

THE PREMIER LEAGUE: WEEK 10 PREVIEW

10 games on the cards, each with its own level on importance, for the teams in the top rank of the table, most of them had mixed fortunes last week and it’s all about seeking some breathing space from the chasing pack whilst for the bottom teams, focus is on climbing out of the relegation zone, here is my preview of Week 10 fixtures in the Premier League.

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No wins in Six, Panic time for Pep?

Manchester City started like a house on fire, new tactics, ball playing goal keeper, a ‘Rolls Royce’ defender in John Stones, a reborn Raheem Sterling, 6 wins in their first 6 Premier league matches, 10 wins in all competitions and life could not be better at the blue side of Manchester but all that seems to be eons ago now, no win in last 3 Premier league games, two points from a possible nine and knocked out midweek in the EFL Cup by rivals United, City somehow remain top of the log and would be keen to break the streak with a win this weekend. They are away at the Hawthorns where they face West Brom, who parade one of the most organized teams in the league under manager Tony Pulis who put pen to paper on a new deal this week, the Baggies have no worries allowing their opponents much possession on the ball but Pep’s boys will be at their very best to unlock the defense, they are however also winless in their last 4 games and would be counting on the likes of Rondon, Chadli and Fletcher to help get at least a point from this fixture

Prediction: West Brom 1 Manchester City 3

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It’s Bottom VS Joint Top

Sunderland remain the bookmakers top bet for relegation and despite David Moyes’s team seeming to be getting slightly better with their performances in recent games, luck and goals seem to have evaded the team as after a strong showing last week away to West Ham, they were left heartbroken as a Winston Reid late winner meant they returned home with no points to show for their travels, they welcome high flying Arsenal in the lunch time kick-off with Arsene Wenger’s boys in enviable form despite picking just a point in their last league game, the gunners have won 5 of their last 6 games and with the form of the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, the black cats will be hoping their star forward Jermaine Defoe rediscovers his scoring form if they are to stand any chance against the visitors.

Prediction: Arsenal to win

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Manchester United VS Burnley

Last week Sunday did happen, the thrashing on his return to Stamford Bridge wasn’t an act, Jose was humbled and his side have now gone three games in the league without a win, they needed a response and  the EFL fixture against City midweek gave them that perfect opportunity which United did take with a Juan Mata strike, Jose Mourinho will be hoping to build on that result and kick his team into a winning momentum that will see them close the gap with the log leaders if their slim title aspirations is to be kept alive. For Burnley, Sean Dyche’s team go into this one confident off the back of a win over Everton and would be smelling blood on their visit to Old Trafford.

Prediction: Manchester United 2 Burnley 0

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Tottenham Hotspurs VS Leicester City

No win in 5 for Pochettino’s men since their victory over Manchester City, Tottenham seems to be falling off as the season gets deeper, they are up against last season’s Champions, Leicester City, the last time Leicester City visited White Hart Lane, a Robert Huth goal was enough to earn maximum points as the foxes went on to win the league. This season has however not gone according to plan as Ranieri’s men have been struggling in the league especially on away grounds and top Striker Jamie Vardy is without a goal for over a month now, though they got a moral boosting win last weekend, a repeat of that performance will be required if they are to better their poor away record.

Prediction: A draw

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The Eagles seek to fly past Liverpool

Liverpool are winning games against teams that in past seasons they probably would have dropped points, slim 1 nil margins in their last three wins also prove that outside being a free scoring side with the likes of Mane, Coutinho and Firminho, they can also grind out the result when required. Alan Pardew’s men have seen their good start to the season halted with back to back defeats and slumped to 11th place on the log. Former Liverpool forward, Christian Benteke gets a chance to prove to Klopp that he made a mistake in letting him go and the Eagles will be hoping their good run of just one defeat in five games against Liverpool continues.

Prediction: Liverpool to nick this

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Southampton Vs Chelsea

3 wins in 3 for Antonio Conte with no goals conceded since he adopted the 3-5-2 formation in the league, a blip in the EFL midweek is one that will not give him sleepless nights if the performance displayed by his team against Manchester United gets repeated every other week in the league, for the Saints, the St. Mary’s stadium is a fortress of sort as the only team to have defeated them on the ground this year is Chelsea back in February. Claude Puel has adjusted well to the league and would be in high spirits for this one.

Prediction: Draw

Fortunes reversed in Everton VS West Ham

The swagger has returned, confidence has found its place yet again and the results are finally going the way of the Hammers, after struggling to buy a win, its 3 victories in their last 3 games in all competitions and they will fancy their chances against an Everton side that seems to have lost steam, Ronald Koeman’s men have not won in their last four games, he would be seeking to change this especially as the fans at Goodison Park will be cheering for a win to enhance their chase for an European place .

Prediction: Everton to edge this

Stoke City VS Swansea City

Despite their poor run weeks back, we consistently stated that Stoke had enough individual talents to be doing much better in the league and thus it was only a matter of time before Mark Hughes sorted the mess and results start going their way, this has proven to be true as we have seen the likes of Joe Allen, Arnautovic and last week Xherdan Shaqiri show to the world how special they were. For Bob Bradley, his search for a first win continues, no win in last 7 games, and a cold Monday night visit to Stoke City’s Bet365 Stadium awaits, a ground where Premier League fans claim even a Lionel Messi will struggle may not be bearing gifts for the new Swansea Manager.

Prediction: Stoke City 2 Swansea City 1

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Watford VS Hull City

A first win since been confirmed as Hull City Manager in the EFL Cupcame with a bit of relief for Mike Phelan’s under-performing side but can they build on this momentum on their visit to Vicarage Road. For Watford, it’s been a season of inconsistencies as they have drawn more games that they would have wished but up against a really poor and uninspiring Hull side, they should do enough to get maximum points at home.

Prediction: Watford to win

Middlesbrough VS Bournemouth

One of my favorite teams in the league this season under manger Eddie Howe, Bournemouth have proven that they have what it takes to mix it with the big boys in the top tier, they take valuable points from teams around them and have pulled some upsets against top teams especially with their win over Everton and draw last weekend against Tottenham. For Boro, a draw against Arsenal in a game where many predicted them to lose should be a morale booster going into this weekend fixture and a win at home is one that Karanka will be in a hunt for.

Prediction: Draw

 

 

Halftimeng Premier League Team of Week 9

Well in my blockbuster weekend write up I stated that it would be an really fantastic weekend; well the weekend did not disappoint at all it was actually a ”Fourmidable” one with a performance for the ages by Antonio Conte and his wards at Stamford Bridge. Across the Premier League; there were also performances of note from Burnley, Bournemouth and Southampton with solid showings against Everton, Spurs and Manchester City respectively.

With all that said; here is my team of the week selection; like I told my friends from the Soccer Pub and Access Group; I could put out a team of all Chelsea players; but then that won’t be fair on others nor be an objective selection.

 

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This Blockbuster Weekend (21/10/16)

I do not think there will be many weekends where you have so many blockbuster games across all the big leagues in Europe all rolled up in on weekend. There’s the La Classique in France, Chelsea v Manchester United, Bayern face their boggy side, Monchenglabach in the Bundesliga; Barcelona go visiting Cesare Prandelli’s Valencia and in Italy; there’s ”The Derby della Lanterna” (The Genoa Derby) and the small matter of Milan v Juventus.

PSG v Marseille

Without a shadow of a doubt; this is the biggest game in French football; yes there is obviously a huge gap in the quality of the two sides and the fortunes of both sides over the last few years. Whilst the Parisians have continued to conquer all before them domestically, the sea-siders have struggled with their football, managers, fans and every other thing you can think about.

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Paris Saint Germain under Unai Emery are a different proposition from the last three seasons; there seems to be an air of caution at the Parc D’ Princes and they don’t seem to have that fear factor any more especially with the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Marseille come into the Classique with former Lille and Roma Manager; Rudi Garcia taking over the reins of one of France’s sleeping giants. Its imperative for Garcia to get things going quickly; he has inherited a proper poison chalice and with new owners and expectations of transfer funds, pressure will be at its highest.

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There’s a lot of optimism from the Marseille going into this clash has to concluded take over and the arrival of Rudi Garcia; Marseille will expect to be the ones to run PSG closest once they are able to strengthen their squad. Unai Emery seems to be finding some consistency now; with four straight wins in all competitions and the chances of a fifth straight are quite bright with PSG having won their last 11 games against Marseille in all competitions.

Prediction: PSG to Win

Chelsea v Manchester United

No matter what you think or feel about Jose Mourinho; he is without doubt the greatest manager in the history of Chelsea Football Club; as the saying goes ” men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t”. In the case of Jose Mourinho; the trophies and honour brought and won by Chelsea Football Club under is guidance distinguishes him from the long list of Managers Chelsea have had over the Roman Years. I expect him to receive a warm reception from the Stamford Bridge faithful, once the formalities are over, I expect a keenly contested battle between both sides that would even resonate to the stands.

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Chelsea for Manchester United are the only club with a better head to head record since the Premier League era; visiting Stamford Bridge has been one of United’s toughest test season in season out; with only one win in twelve visits to West London; it paints clearly the picture of how strongly Chelsea have held the Red Devils in the Jugular. Sunday would not be any different; Chelsea under Antonio Conte are gradually finding some form of stability of late; but I worry about the set up of their so called back three and I still feel it is a back four in disguise; it just depends on the perspective and position you seek to view it from; all its needs is one of the big hitters to come to town and dismantle the supposed defensive base Chelsea has now; it is firmly there for the taking.

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In the space of a week, Manchester United have shown two sides to their game; a gritty and hard fought performance at Anfield to a more fluid and free flowing performance in the Europa League; this is what you can expect from a Jose Mourinho side. I do not expect United to play like at Anfield at Stamford Bridge; expect a more positive, but cautious approach; Chelsea’s pace especially in wide areas remain a big threat.

Prediction: A Draw (Betting Punt: Both Teams Score)

Valencia v Barcelona

Valencia are on of the teams that almost cost the Catalans the League title last season with their win at the Nou Camp during Barca’s six game winless streak towards the final stretch of last season. This is a different Valencia Side; they have finally matched their ambition with the appointment of a proper coach and not the experiment of a Arm chair critic. Cesare Prandelli has arrived at the Mestalla and the attitude in the dressing room as changed and livened up; which resulted in a first win last weekend that has got Fans of the club buzzing.

Italian head coach Cesare Prandelli speaks during a press conference at Casa Azzurri in Krakow, Poland, 05 June 2012. The Italy national team is preparing for the Uefa Euro 2012 soccer championship. ANSA/MAURIZIO BRAMBATTI

Barcelona would obviously be in very confident mood after scoring four in mid week; taking their tally to eight in two games; injuries to Pique and Alba are major worries for the Catalans and it would be interesting to see how they line up at the Mestalla.

I still worry about Valencia from a defensive position; the pairing of Mangala and Garay still hasn’t gelled and this is not the kind of game you expect to build team chemistry. Valencia haven’t kept a clean sheet in five games; so this is an area Prandelli has to work is magic. Barcelona are undefeated in their last ten visits to the Mestalla; expect the Catalans to get a least a draw; because of defensive inadequacies of their own.

Prediction: Barcelona Win (Betting Punt: Over 2.5 goals)

Bayern Munich v Borussia Monchengladbach

All through the three year stint of Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena; this was the one team that gave him the most grief; he just couldn’t find a way to beat them. In comes Carlo Ancelotti; renowned veteran and one of the leading lights of world football; will the Gladbach nuisance be allowed to continue or would the Italian quickly put them to the sword to lay down a marker.

Back to Back draws in the Bundesliga has finally given way to a resounding victory in Europe; so expect confidence to be high now at FC Hollywood. A few changes are expected as Ancelotti continues to understand his side; maintain freshness and giving others a run out; Gladbach have a series of injury doubts coupled with a poor away record of late with only one win in 14 away games in the Bundesliga; their win away to Celtic in the Champions League should give them the desired leap.

Can Ancelotti finally silence the beast called Borussia Monchengladbach? Tough proposition; no Bayern win in their last six games against Gladbach.

Prediction: Bayern Win (Betting Punt: Over 2.5 goals)

Sampdoria v Genoa

The Derby della Lanterna or the Genoa derby, if you are not too familiar with this tie; is probably one of the most keenly contested derbies in the Calcio. Interestingly; Genoa have had the edge in the derby of late and have also had better fortunes as regards participation and finishing positions in the league. This season hasn’t been different Genoa are ahead of their city rivals and look more like the team that would have a better all round season.

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Sampdoria have received a timely boost of two consecutive draws which followed four consecutive defeats; with their suspect performances they come against the team with the sixth best defense in Europe’s top five leagues which has only conceded 5 goals in 7 games. Genoa are not just all about their defensive solidity built by the impressive Ivan Juric; who was responsible for Crotone’s promotion to Serie A; but possess a promising youngster in their ranks in Giovanni Simeone (Diego Simeone’s Son); who has scored in back to back starts with the rest of Serie A and Europe taking note.

Genoa must be considered as favorites; as Sampdoria have only won two of the last eight derby matches at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris; especially with Samp’s current winless streak that’s at six matches.

Prediction: Draw (Betting Punt: Halftime Draw)

AC Milan v Juventus

The Serie A these days is a measured along the lines of Juventus and the rest; so great is the domination of the Turin Giants; that they could afford to have a less than convincing start last season, but still rally to win the Scudetto comfortably. Contrast this to the sleeping giants in Milan; Berlusconi’s Rossoneri to be precise; every day its a different news headline on the laundry list of prospective investors looking to breathe life into the red and black club; this Milan sale most enter the Guinness Book of Records as the most protracted and longest club sale negotiation in the history of Football Business.

In spite of all the issues on the financial front; AC Milan under Vincenzo Montella have climbed up the table to a very impressive third position; only behind second place on goals difference (even though its head to head results that determines finishing positions). Montella has done a very steady job and has worked well with the resources at his disposal; especially considering how young and inexperienced their back line is. Juventus have a number of injury concerns; that may lead to a shuffling of the pack,there might a surprise inclusion or two as well.

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Milan have been in good form lately; expect Carlos Bacca to make a return to boost their striking options; undefeated in their last five games with four of those games ending as wins; unfortunately Juventus are a different proposition; it would be interesting to see how they recover from their hard fought victory at Lyon in mid week. The Old Lady are undefeated in their last nine meetings with the Rossoneri; you may have to go back to when Allegri was manager at Milan for their last win against the Bianconeri.

Despite Milan’s regeneration from within; you have got to say Juventus are in a league of their own and are definitely a different kettle of fish; Juventus to take this for me despite the fact that their defense in aging, suffering from injuries and also they have already lost at the San Siro this season.

Prediction: Juventus Win (Betting Punt: Both Team to Score)

 

**Pictures courtesy goal.com, 101greatgoals.com etc

THE PREMIER LEAGUE: WEEK 9 PREVIEW

The Champions league came up midweek and it was a case of mixed fortunes for Premiership teams, Arsenal continued their fine form, Leicester has a plan and it includes conquering Europe after securing their third straight win and only a point away from earning the second round phase, Tottenham Hotspurs got a valuable away point whilst Manchester City just can’t seem to catch a break losing heavily to Barcelona. In the Europa Cup, United had something to cheer as Pogba inspired them to a win, whilst Southampton were unlucky at Inter Milan.

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The bread and butter of the ever intriguing Premier League takes center stage yet again this weekend and there is a juicy tie on the cards. 10 matches across various grounds and Halftimeng presents a preview of every single one of them.

Jose returns to the Bridge

When the fixtures for this season’s games were released, outside the Manchester Derby, another game that a lot of football followers marked the date on their calendar is finally here. Manchester United up against Chelsea, a game of several sub plots but none more intriguing than that of Jose Mourinho filing out against the team he made a force during his first spell, returned after his Madrid adventure, won yet another title, then supposedly lost his dressing room and ended up losing his job. A lot has been speculated as to how the London fans will welcome him but let’s try focus our attention to the game itself. It’s fifth up against seventh, it is a game of two tacticians seeking a little bit more from their respective teams. United were largely criticized in certain quarters for what many called their boring and negative style in the last game against Liverpool considering the pool of individual attacking talent in the squad, this has been a feature of Jose in big games over the years, so the question is, are we going to see the same of the same come Sunday evening? For Conte, the 3-5-2 formation seems to be working wonders, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have brought some newness to the squad, Hazard is loving the game yet again and Diego Costa can’t seem to stop scoring, it’s a game that both managers would love to win but would be more interested in not losing.

Prediction: Chelsea 1 Manchester United 1

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The Citizens welcome the Saints

Manchester City have now gone 4 games without a win and this is not a drill, from a flawless start to the season to being proven to be mortals both in the league and in Europe, Pep Guardiola’s men come off a 4 nil defeat in the hands of Barcelona mid week, which raised a lot of questions surrounding Peps tactics especially his decision to drop Sergio Aguero. City needs to react and they come up against a Southampton team that is proving that it has an ability to recreate itself despite losing major players every season. Claude Puel has forged a unit based less on individual talents and more on team effort and solidity with the likes of Nathan Redmond and Charlie Austin enjoying a good spell thus far, one wonders what tactics Puel will deploy as his team also has a flair for expansive and attractive football up against the manager who just won’t defend and will play the game in the only way he knows how to. This promises to be an exciting game and should come with a good number of goals.

Prediction: A slim City win

Arsenal VS Middlesbrough

It’s 7 wins in their last 7 games in all competitions, 23 goals including 9 in the last two games and Mesut Ozil is not just providing assists but scoring hat-tricks while Theo Walcott can’t seem to stop scoring also, this is definitely a good time at the Emirates and the question is do Aitor Karanka’s boys have enough in them to stop this moving train? Looks like a one way traffic with goals bound to rain yet again for the gunners

Prediction: Arsenal 4 Boro 1

Bournemouth VS Tottenham Hotspurs

Back to back away draws for Pochettino’s men and yet another away game at Bournemouth who mauled Hull City scoring six goals last time out, Manager Eddie Howe is one of those impressive young managers who knows how to work around the limit of his squad, they however welcome an undefeated Spurs side who are keen to get back to winning ways, this is a tricky tie and I won’t be surprised if it ends in a draw.

Prediction: A draw

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Leicester City VS Crystal Palace

It is almost certain the Leicester City will not be defending their title this season, lost again to Chelsea last weekend and are 13th on the log with 8 points from 8 games, for Alan Pardew’s Palace side, they come off the back of a defeat to West Ham with Christian Benteke who has had a decent start to the season missing a penalty. Claudio Ranieri seems to have prioritized getting to the latter stages of the Champions league as his goal this season and with this in view, an upset could yet be on the cards.

Prediction: Leicester City to edge this

Burnley Vs Everton

Ronald Koeman’s Everton has shown that they have the ability to mix it when it matters, got their tactics near perfect last weekend against City, though Phil Jagielka’s silly mistakes meant Maarten Stekelenburg had to be called upon to make two penalty saves from two different players. The way they took their goal was however impressive, breaking from the back, few touches and Lukaku was one on one with his defender and Belgian forward took his goal exceptionally well. They visit Turf Moor, home to Burnley who have proven to be quite a handful at home. Everton should have enough in their tank to nick this.

Prediction: Everton win

Swansea City VS Watford 

With Bob Bradley surviving a baptism of sort in his first game against an inform Arsenal, he would take some delight in his forwards Siggurdson and Borja getting on the score sheet, for Watford, it is a case of finding consistency off the back of successive draws, this could yet see both sides sharing the spoils.

Prediction: A Draw

Editorial use only. No merchandising. For Football images FA and Premier League restrictions apply inc. no internet/mobile usage without FAPL license - for details contact Football Dataco  Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Zemanek/BPI/REX/Shutterstock (5505365bc)  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool looks on   during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Liverpool   played at Boleyn Ground on 2nd January 2016 in London  Barclays Premier League 2015/16 West Ham United v Liverpool Upton Park, Green St, Upton Park, London, United Kingdom - 2 Jan 2016

Liverpool VS West Bromwich Albion – despite being held by Manchester United last weekend, manager Jurgen Klopp can build on his sides second half performance especially after the introduction of Adam Lallana. Tony Pulis men will be dogged, Chadli will be dangerous but this looks like a Liverpool Win.

Prediction: Liverpool to win

West Ham United VS Sunderland – After finally securing their first win in five, the Hammers would be seeking to consolidate against bottom side Sunderland, manager Slaven Bilic however has a long injury list with some key players missing and Cresswell suspended, he will however rely on the mercurial talents of Payet and Lanzini to get this victory over a Sunderland team who are still searching for their first win of the campaign.

Prediction: West Ham to win

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Hull City VS Stoke City – Last weekend was a bad way for Mike Phelan to celebrate his confirmation as manager losing by 6 goals to Bournemouth, he would need to address this immediately or else all the good work done in the first few games will count for nothing, he is however up against a Stoke City that seems to be regaining confidence and Joe Allen proving indeed to be the ‘British Pirlo’, the KCOM stadium is the venue come Saturday afternoon and Mark Hughes men should be stealing this.

Prediction: Hull City 1 Stoke City 2

MY CHELSEA/ MANCHESTER UNITED COMBINED XI

It is Week 9 in the ever exciting Premier League and the major battle ground shifts to Stamford Bridge this weekend in a game perfectly set up as Jose Mourinho returns to the ground where he has tasted both sour and glorious moments. It’s a fixture where big name players are on parade for both sides, De Gea or Courtois in one of the unending debates, Costa or Zlatan to lead the attack? Conte’s 3-5-2 formation or United’s 4-3-3. As we preview the weekend big games, Halftimeng has compiled a combined eleven of the two sides based on form, stats gathered and appearances thus far this season.

Goal Keeper – David De Gea (Manchester United)

There is an unending war on social media over how good De Gea really is, United fans loosely term him as the ‘best goalkeeper in the world’ whilst fans from the other side think he is still ‘learning work’ when compared to Belgian safe hands, Thibaut Courtois. This list is not one seeking to end that debate but stats shows that De Gea edges it this season, conceded a goal less than his Chelsea rival, and made twice as many saves in comparison, make of that what you will especially in the light of an unsettled back-line at the Bridge.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

Again holding down the right back position is the Ecuadorian captain, Antonio Valencia, his opposite number Ivanovic has had a horrible start to the season, coupled with injury and has featured in less games. Valencia has earned this spot as he has been assured, solid and making decent forward runs.

Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Back in 2014 in preparation of a Champions league game, Jose in his post-match interview said ‘Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicueta’s probably can win the Champions league’…. Two seasons later and these words still ring true as whilst the Chelsea defense has been in sixes and sevens especially after the injury to John Terry, Azpilicueta has been the Mr. Dependable and even when called upon to slot in at his favorite right back position in a 3-5-2 system, Cesar has been sterling.

Eric Bailly (Manchester United)

With every passing week, Eric Bailly seems to be the pick of United’s big summer spending this season, many swore that he would not go five games without amassing three red cards, but he has not only featured in all United’s game thus far, he has also fared exceptionally well with 29 interceptions, one of the highest by any defender in the league.

Daley Blind (Manchester United)

This is one position that will likely raise some form of arguments, but here are the facts. Based on stats, Blind is actually United’s highest rated player this season, factoring his tackles, interceptions, passes completion and the defender also has two assists to his name, the likes of Gary Cahill have not shown enough consistency or good performance thus far whilst David Luiz is yet to have enough games to stake a claim.

N’golo Kante (Chelsea)

The modern day Claude Makelele with modern day passing abilities, when Leicester City won the league, Kante was voted in some quarters as their player of the season ahead of the likes of Mahrez and Vardy, happenings at the Kings Power may have proved that right. The Frenchman whilst having been below par in some games has been an indispensable force for the blues this season, his ability to read the game well, interceptions and tackles, all round energy, ball retrieving and passing skills which many overlook makes him a solid weapon for any side.

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Ander Herrera (Manchester United)

My favorite United player makes the list based on his recent performances and more importantly aided by the fact that the likes of Fabregas and Oscar are yet to get their season going. Outside being the man of the match in the game against Liverpool, Herrera could easily lay claim to being the midfielder of the week following a season high 11 interceptions in a single game, seven tackles, six successful completed dribbles and a pass accuracy of over 70%.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Last week, I put the Frenchman in my Liverpool/ United combined XI and It led to a bit of debate in certain quarters, his two goals last night in the Europa league may have gone some way in calming the voices but Pogba has earned his place in this list and should have been credited with a glorious assist in the game against Liverpool if only Zlatan had his header properly directed.

Willian (Chelsea)

Almost tempted to go with Victor Moses on this one, following his last two starts as Conte’s team took a new shape and he capped it with his beautiful goal in the game against Leicester City but bar being allowed to go on leave following his family loss, Willian has been one of the Blues most consistent performers this season starting all seven games before last week and has created the most chances per game by any Premier league player this season.

Diego Costa (Chelsea)

Again this is not a list over who a better player is but one strictly guided by form and consistency, so it should come as a no-brainier really for Costa to take this place ahead of the big man Zlatan. I watch Costa play every week and despite many not liking his person based on his physicality or antics, the Brazilian who chose to play for Spain is the man you would want leading the front-line for your favorite team. He can play effectively as a lone forward with his strength and ability to hold up play, also good playing in a two man attack and with seven goals and two assists to his name already including the beautiful curler in the last game, no one is taking that number nine shirt from him.

Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

The golden boy of two seasons ago where he was the star when Jose Mourinho led the team to their last league title is slowly rediscovering that form that earned him his player of the season award. He seems to be flourishing in his new found free role, three goals to his name already and his runs keeping defenders on the edge.

Halftimeng Premier League Team of Week 8

What a weekend of football with the added bonus of a Monday game between the biggest teams in the country for the biggest tie in the Premier League (not bothered with what the rest of the Off the Post crew on IFM923 will say). After a goal fest over the weekend we had a battling, resolute and tactical nil-nil draw on Monday; major praise to Eddie Howe and his Bournemouth Team for a six star performance as they put Hull City to the sword, Everton were not left out of the make Pep miserable party and Chelsea turned on the style against the Champions. With all this in mind, here’s my Premier League Team of Week 8; let me know what you think and special mention to Ander Herrera, the Basque dynamite has grown in leaps and bounds buttressed by his Man of the Match performance at Anfield.

 

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THE PREMIER LEAGUE: WEEK 8 PREVIEW

After the torture of the International break which have seen several players unable to feature for their club sides in a while after picking up various degree of injuries, Ladies and Gentlemen, We are back, yes the Premier League makes a much needed return this weekend alongside other leagues across the globe and as usual some really juicy ties are up for preview.

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The Champions are at the Bridge

Lunchtime kickoff on Saturday sees the last two Champions of the league go head to head. When Chelsea won the league two seasons back, they made a mess of their defense the following season and same is the fate that seems to be befalling Claudio Ranieri’s men this season, inconsistent performances thus far sees them lying 12th on the log with just 8 points collected from seven games. For Antonio Conte’s men, their win in the last game just before the break was much welcome to steady the ship after back to back defeats. A defeat for Leicester in this game will be one too many already especially with their away form thus far been less than sterling, whilst a win for the Blues will do them a world of good as they edge further towards the top four.
Prediction: Chelsea 2 Leicester City 1

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Arsenal VS Swansea City

This is not a good time for the Swans or any team really to be facing the gunners, Arsene Wenger’s lads look so formidable at the moment, defending resolutely and attacking ruthlessly, with their last minute goal against Burnley (though it needed the help of Koscielny’s hand) showing the teams new found spirit and ability to mix it when it matters. For the Swans, who recently appointed former USA Manager Bob Bradley as the man in charge, it’s a case of hoping the new manager effect that at times works on the psychology of a team comes to play here. Arsenal are on a roll and the Swans would have to be at their defensive best, which is something they have lacked in most games to get anything from this fixture.
Prediction: An Arsenal win

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Perfectly set up for a City response?

After looking almost untouchable and already crowned league champions after the first six games, Manchester City have proven to be a team made of humans after all with a draw in the UCL at Celtic followed by a defeat at Spurs in a game where they were out thought, out muscled and out played.
For Pep Guardiola, some feel the pressure of the defeat was one he never really saw coming and claimed he is showing signs of panic already with the several bans placed on players activities in the team, this claim will be further tested with the visit of Ronald Koeman’s Everton to the Etihad, after a fine start for the Mersysiders, they have run into a dry patch with no win in their last three games. Koeman will have seen the Spurs game and how the midfield of Sissoko and Wanyama stifled City’s creativity with the forwards not giving much room for Claudio Bravo to build the game from the rear. A lot of work will be required form the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Gareth Barry and Tom Cleverley if he gets to play with Lukaku standing a chance as the City’s defense still looks far from convincing. City are favorites but like all Pep’s team, do they have a plan B if Koeman’s tactics works as well as that of Pochettino?
Prediction: City 2 Everton 1

The Battle of the Bottom teams

It is Stoke hosting Sunderland in a game that I have penned as one of the biggest ties of the weekend. This is a relegation 6 pointer that would see the winner moving out of the red zone while further condemning the losing side chances. Both sides are yet to pick up a win this season and whilst that of Sunderland have not been too surprising considering the lack of quality in the side and outside the likes of Defoe and the injured Januzaj, you find it hard to see them scoring goals or even creating them, Mark Hughes side have however been alarming with their below par performances despite the presence of decent individual talents in their rank, the likes of Arnautovic, Joe Allen, Bojan and Shaqiri should be doing more really. The team was fortunate to steal a point last time at Old Trafford and will be hoping to build on that as they desperately seek their first win at home.
Prediction: Stoke City 2 Sunderland 1

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It’s West Brom against Spurs

17 points from a possible 21, 2nd on the log and the first side to defeat Peps’ army is no mean feat and Spurs are proving that last season’s run wasn’t a fluke by any standard, even with the loss of their key striker to injury, the team has spread the responsibilities with the likes of Jansen, Son and Alli racking in the goals. A trip to West Brom is another stern test that they have to win if they are to enhance their title credentials, the Baggies have not been at their best but over the last weeks, they seem to have found form with their expensive signing Nacer Chadli showing the class he is made of, Rondon getting in among the goals and the tenacity with which they battle resurfacing yet again. Pochettino will definitely need to deploy a different set of tactics from the City game in this one and whilst the Baggies may not parade the big name players, the test might prove to be at same level if not sterner.
Prediction: Draw

Editorial use only. No merchandising. For Football images FA and Premier League restrictions apply inc. no internet/mobile usage without FAPL license - for details contact Football Dataco  Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Zemanek/BPI/REX/Shutterstock (5505365bc)  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool looks on   during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Liverpool   played at Boleyn Ground on 2nd January 2016 in London  Barclays Premier League 2015/16 West Ham United v Liverpool Upton Park, Green St, Upton Park, London, United Kingdom - 2 Jan 2016

Liverpool Vs Manchester United

The stand out game of the weekend sees one of the fiercest rivalries in English football taking place at Anfield as the two most successful clubs in the league clash. Former United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson fulfilled a lifelong dream when he knocked Liverpool off their perch and placed the red devils as the new dominant force in the league, Liverpool have since failed to win the league since 1990 and United’s performances over the last three season sees them going down this road if not quickly fixed. Jurgen Klopp’s side are on the up with 5 wins in all competitions whilst United’s seeming resurgence was halted last time around by Stoke City, Liverpool are seeking to be in the title race once again and for that to happen this is one of the games they need to win to further lay down their marker whilst for Jose, his lads cannot afford to drop further points behind the leading pack. Henrik Mkhitaryan could make a return in this whilst, Emre Can has also been passed fit for Liverpool. United have recently had a good run at Anfield winning their last two encounters there though the man who bagged the solitary strike last time in Wayne Rooney might be starting from the bench. This is a game that holds more than just three points but for either manager, getting the three points irrespective of how it comes is key.
Prediction: Draw

Other fixtures and Predictions

Bournemouth VS Hull City – Bournemouth Win

Crystal Palace VS West Ham – Palace Win

Middlesbrough VS Watford – Draw

Southampton VS Burnley – Southampton Win

MY LIVERPOOL/ MANCHESTER UNITED COMBINED XI

As we look ahead to the weekend which ushers in the return of league matches after the international break, no fixture catches the eye more than that which comes up on Monday Night between two fierce rivals and two teams who have won The Premier league the most number of times. Manchester United with 20 titles takes on Liverpool with 18 titles but yet to win the league since 1990. It is one of those games that boils over the top most times, at-times ends up as a grudge explosive end to end encounter but on other nights a tepid, ‘fail to live up to the hype’ fixture. It is also one that has thrown many memorable moments and made some players legends in the eyes of their fans, with that in mind, we at Halftime have attempted a combined XI of Liverpool and Manchester United players thus far this season based on their form and contributions. It is a 4-3-3 formation deployed and the manager for the day is Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool.

Goal Keeper – David De Gea (Manchester United)

In goal, this is a no brainier really as outside his momentary lapse in the last round of games that granted Stoke City an equalizer, the Spaniard has been consistent and been one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the league. Whilst for Liverpool, this is a position that has been clouded with uncertainty as we have seen Mignolet lose his place recently to Loris Karius.

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Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

At right back is the Ecuadorian who many doubted his ability to retain that position under Jose Mourinho but he has not only gone ahead to solidify his place starting all seven games, he also has a high number of 21 tackles, one of the most by any player in the league.

James Milner (Liverpool)

How he ended up as the left back in this line up is one of the wonders of this world, drafted to the position to cover for the unimpressive Alberto Moreno, the Englishman who has largely played in midfield or on the wings for a larger part of his career has put up impressive performances and has earned his place ahead of the likes of Luke Shaw who has been plagued by injury and poor form.

Eric Bailly (Manchester United)

From arriving at a huge price from Villarreal during the summer window, the Ivorian is proving his doubters wrong with every game. Calm, decisive, reads the game pretty well and his ability to play the ball out of the defense is one feature that has been tagged with modern day top defenders. Bailly is ranked fourth among the players who have made the most tackles/ interceptions in the league thus far and for the 22 year old, things can only get better.

Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)

Pairing Bailly at the heart of the defense will be Dejan Lovren, a player who has seen his game improve under Klopp and adds the occasional goal like the one against Chelsea to take his place in this team.

Editorial use only. No merchandising. For Football images FA and Premier League restrictions apply inc. no internet/mobile usage without FAPL license - for details contact Football Dataco  Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Zemanek/BPI/REX/Shutterstock (5505365bc)  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool looks on   during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Liverpool   played at Boleyn Ground on 2nd January 2016 in London  Barclays Premier League 2015/16 West Ham United v Liverpool Upton Park, Green St, Upton Park, London, United Kingdom - 2 Jan 2016

Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)

Though not one of those players that I fancy especially for his inconsistency, Philippe Coutinho is enjoying a good start to the season and has been one of the key players for Liverpool in their free flowing attack this season, the Brazilian has three goals and two assists to his name already and possesses the ability to do the spectacular in big games.

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Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

For the player who became the 11th Liverpool player in history to captain the Three Lions in their barren draw at Slovenia on Tuesday night, Hendo as he is called has become a fixture in the middle of the pack averaging more passes per game than any other player in the league already and his beauty of a strike against Chelsea is one that the gaffer will be willing gets reenacted come Monday night.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Being the most expensive player in the world comes with a lot of pressure and after some below par performances, Paul Pogba seems to be gradually wearing the tag with some panache, opened his account against Leicester City where he also dominated the game, his confidence has since grown and his influence on matches more evident, unlucky not to have scored against Stoke and also created some good chances for his teammates. Like his changing hairstyle, the Frenchman has the ability to change and win games which he proved with his belter for France against Holland and in this game where he will be up against Henderson and Wijnaldum, Pogba will have to bring his intensity to the fore.

Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

He has been one of the steals of the transfer window, been absolutely brilliant for the team, ever busy, skillful, possesses power and pace, contributes not just goals but assists and is a handful for opposition defenders.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)

The Big man takes his place as the number nine in this team, adjusted to life in The Premier League like a house on fire with four goals in his first five games and defenders struggling to cope with his physicality, his form has dipped a little in recent games and this game provides a perfect opportunity for him to regain his scoring form.

Roberto Firminho (Liverpool)

I thought about going with Adam Lallana or Rashford in this position but whilst the former is finally settling into life as a Liverpool player despite a slow start and the latter not having enough games but being influential every time he is called upon. Firminho gets the nod for his dynamism, unpredictability, passing ability, opening up spaces for his teammates and also adding goals of late to his bag of tricks.

THREE THINGS CLUB MANAGERS DO DURING THE INTERNATIONAL BREAK

The bread and butter of league football takes a backseat this weekend as the International games make a return. This is usually a period of anxiety for most club managers as they see their squad disband and go on long trips round the world to represent their various national teams, with some returning with injuries and others struggling to recover from fatigue. The eternal argument of Club VS Country persists as the Nigerian fans feel the likes of Victor Moses have chosen gaining a starting role at his club over playing certain games with the Eagles. Few coaches welcome it especially for some who can’t seem to find a way round their teams bad run but most vilify it with open arms.
Whilst the players still get some action time on the football field, for the coaches this is one break they do not really need but they however get to deal with it and whilst some have found smart ways to get around the break, others have created some not too smart ideas during this period, here are three things Premier League club managers do during the International break.

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1. Pray against the god of injuries – Jose Mourinho saw his new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan suffer a thigh injury during the last round of International games which then worsened in the game against Manchester City and since then the Armenian has seemingly not recovered fully, sometimes last year Sergio Aguero suffered a hamstring injury whilst on duty for Argentina against Ecuador during a World Cup qualifier which saw him miss up-to a month of action, a lot of teams have seen crucial players get injured whilst representing their countries which has had major impact on the clubs fortunes, so Yes, to whatever Gods they believe in, the respective club managers will be down on their knees binding and casting all spirit of injuries especially to their key players.

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2. Items to ban and change – For some managers, they will miss the early morning training with the lads, as they are mostly left with players just recovering from several injuries or those not good enough to get call-ups, hence the sessions are not usually as intense and competitive as they like. So what happens in this stead is that they begin to get ideas, for some they place bans on junk foods and rid the cafeteria before the players’ returns, whilst for others it is the Wi-fi that irks them, who knows what next will be on the banned list, headphones, maybe?

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3. Rethink Tactics with their family – for some managers, the break presents an opportunity to steal some family time whilst at the same time analyzing the season thus far, hence don’t be surprised when you see teams line up in new formations or different approach to their games after the break, the manager has probably had input from his better half or that son of his who spent the summer on Football Manager rather than his assistant coaches and is hoping that fortunes does smile on his team afterwards.