Sunday, May 31, 2009

English Premier League 2008/09 Season Review

Sky Sports has published these stats from another memorable season of the English Premier League. Opta stats report for the 2008/09 season,

942 - The final goal tally was the second lowest in Premier League history.

14 - Manchester United set a new Premier League record of 14 consecutive clean sheets between November 2008 and February 2009.

167 - There have been 167 headed goals scored this season.

22 - Liverpool have recouped the most points from losing positions this season.

23 - Sunderland dropped the most points from winning positions this season.

31 - There were just 31 goals scored at White Hart lane - fewer than at any other stadium.

59 - The Hawthorns saw more goals than any other this season.

117 - Kevin Davies conceded the most fouls this season. He has topped this ranking in five of the last six Premier League seasons.

5 - Danny Murphy has scored five Premier League goals this season - all penalties.

37 - Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 37 goals in his last 33 Premier League games at Old Trafford.

100 - Kanu made his 100th appearance as a substitute in the Premier League when he came off the bench away at Blackburn on 9th May, becoming the first player to reach this landmark.

100 - Nicolas Anelka, Frank Lampard and Emile Heskey all netted their 100th Premier League goals this season to make it 16 players to reach this landmark.

11 - Chelsea set a new Premier league record of 11 consecutive away wins between April and December 2008.

248 - Chelsea fired in the most shots on target this season.

566 - Hull committed the most fouls in the Premier League.

73 & 5 - Stoke City picked up the most cards - 73 yellow and five red.

24 - Manchester United kept the most clean sheets.

50 - Man Utd had the best home record picking up 50 points.

44 - Chelsea had the best away record winning 44 points.

57 - Frank Lampard had more shots on target than any other player.

10 - Frank Lampard and Robin van Persie were joint-top of the assists ranking.

167 - Lee Cattermole made 167 tackles during the season - a league high.

14 - Marouane Fellaini picked up the most yellow cards in the top flight.

7 - Seven Premier League players were sent off twice in this season's Premier League.

80% - Mark Schwarzer of Fulham was the league's best shot-stopper saving 80% of shots on target faced.

149 - Jussi Jaaskelainen made more saves than any other goalkeeper.

6-0 - Man City's win over Portsmouth at home was the season's biggest winning margin.

7 - Peter Crouch scored more headed goals than any other player.

18% - Headed goals accounted for 18% of all strikes this season.

1 - Middlesbrough scored fewer headed goals than any other team.

7 - Bolton conceded more headed goals than any other side.

20 - Hull took 20 points from their opening nine games but just 15 from their last 29 matches.

10 - Hull scored the most goals from corners in the Premier League.

9 - Newcastle gave away a league high nine penalties in 2008-09.

34 - Manchester City have used more players than any other team in the Premier League this season.

21 - Aston Villa have called upon the least amount of players in the PL this season.

7 - Blackburn won a joint-high seven penalties along with Man City.

3 - Blackburn missed three penalties - more than any other team.

10 - Bolton scored 10 goals from free-kicks - the most in the Premier League.

51% - Hull scored the highest percentage of their goals from set plays.

20% - Spurs scored the lowest percentage of goals from set pieces.

12 - Hull conceded 12 goals from corners - a league high.

38% - Everton conceded the highest proportion of goals from set plays in the top division.

9 - Spurs, Man Utd and Liverpool all had nine goals netted by subs - a joint-league high.

61 - Aston Villa used the fewest substitutes.

109 - Hull, Stoke and Liverpool made the most substitutions.

6 - Cristiano Ronaldo scored six goals from outside the box - more than any other player.

26 - Premier League champions, Manchester United, have used the most number of players as substitutes.

4 - Bolton have had more players featuring in every game of the season than any other PL outfit.

3 - Liverpool have the most players who have accrued 10 or more goals this season.

5 - Newcastle used the most penalty takers in this season's PL.

5 - Sunderland only had five players who netted more than once this season.

7 - Liverpool had more opponents sent off than any other side in the top flight.

29 - The opposition hit the woodwork more often against relegation survivors Hull City than any other team.

345 - English players scored 345 goals in 2008-09, accounting for just 37% of goals.

15% - Aston Villa were the league's most clinical teams scoring with 15% of their shots.

81% - Chelsea were the most accurate passers in the league this term.

337 - Stoke took the most long throw ins this season.

267 - Rory Delap took 189 more long throws than any other player this season.

9 - Stoke scored the most goals from throw in situations this season.

8 - Eight different Liverpool players scored with shots from outside the box this season.

13 - Spurs picked up the most points in London derbies this season.

8 - West Ham picked up the fewest in capital clashes.

30 - Liverpool garnered 30 points against their north west rivals.

1 - Bolton won just one match against another team from the north west this season.

8 - Sunderland took the most points in north east derbies this season.

77 - Liverpool were the league's top scorers with 77 goals.

83 - Shaun Wright-Phillips made more successful dribbles than anyone else in the PL this term.

4 - Anton Ferdinand and Hermann Hreidarsson both received four yellow cards for dissent, more than any other players in the year the FA's 'Respect' campaign was launched.

10 - Stoke have collected only 10 of their 45 points on the road this season.

5 - Aston Villa have benefited from five own goals this season - more than any other team in the division.

6 - Jamie Carragher and Richard Dunne now hold the Premier League record for own goals with six apiece.

6 - Middlesbrough scored six own goals - more than any other team.

24 - Gareth Bale has played 24 league games for Spurs and never been on the winning side.

2 - Liverpool became the first team in top-flight history to lose only two games and not win the title.

63 - Spurs have not won away at any of the big four since August 1993 - a run of 63 games.

86 - Liverpool's tally of 86 points is the highest of any team not winning the league in a 38-game Premier League season.

10 - It is 10 seasons (1998-99) since the Premier League top scorer ended the campaign with fewer than 20 goals.

82 - Stewart Downing had more shots (including blocked attempts) than any other player who did not score.

110 - Liverpool allowed their opponents fewer shots on target than any other team.

141 - Hull were flagged offside more than any other team this season.

61 - Djibril Cisse was caught offside more than any other player.

6 - Six players scored hat-tricks this season.

4 - Andrey Arshavin was the first player to score four goals in a Premier League and not end on the winning side.

13 - Mike Dean awarded more penalties than any other referee.

8 - Mike Dean sent off more players than any other official.

63 - There were 63 red cards shown this season.

13.5 - Mark Halsey was the league's most lenient official, showing a card on average for every 13.5 fouls.

5.8 - Rob Styles was the strictest referee dishing out a card for every 5.8 fouls committed.

More statistics on individual performers are available here also at the Sky Sports website.

You can also find all the great goals here at Soccer Mania.

For me, this has been a season defined specifically by ten incidents.
1. Liverpool coming up short in the title challenge

Lessons learnt eh Rafa?
Valiant effort but Liverpool have missed El Nino

2. United becoming champions due to two goals from a teenager

Stunning strike from Kiko Macheda against Villa
Image from PA Sport: Flukey winner from Kiko Macheda against Sunderland

3. Arshavin scoring four at Anfield

Arshavin telling Liverpool fans that Manchester United will win the title by 4 points

4. The Zola-Clarke combination transforming West Ham United

The right team to propel West Ham United into Europe next season

5. Robinho signing for the wrong Blues and Stephen Ireland playing like "Kaka" since the signing

Wait a minute - you mean Man City is NOT Chelsea??

Getty Images: Ireland-Robinho partnership, how odd is that?

6. Newcastle having three managers in a season, Keegan's walkout, Kinnear's four letter expletive and Shearer's managerial deficiencies

Keegan walked out...Kinnear took over but pressure was too great
The fans thought he could save them...

He couldn't because he opted to hire Iain Dowie

In the end, Shearer was in tears as Newcastle was relegated

7. Steven Gerrard's camera kiss after scoring the penalty against United at OT

You could tell he has done it before!

8. Frank Lampard's stellar season which was overlooked by all

Getty Images
12 goals, 10 assists, 5 match winning goals - a complete midfielder

Associated Press Image
Last game of the season - Lampard made space to score the matchwinning goal with a left footed drive

9. Barcelona crushing Manchester United in the UCL final

Getty Images
The greatest team of the decade? 154 goals this season and the unique treble

and finally,
10. Chelsea winning the FA Cup for Guus Hiddink

Getty Images
Goodbye Guus - Thank you for putting Chelsea back on track

Can't wait for next season to start...

Friday, May 29, 2009

The FA Cup Final Preview: Chelsea vs. Everton

After 759 matches, some 3,023 goals and 759 teams eliminated, 2 teams stand at the cusp of FA Cup glory. The world's most famous cup competition started on 16 August 2008 will reach its climax on Saturday 30 May 2009. It is Chelsea versus Everton for the 128th instalment of the FA Cup competition.
image from Soccernet
Chelsea will want to win this trophy as consolation for a troubled season by their own high standards. John Terry and Frank Lampard have already signalled their intention to win this season's FA Cup as a tribute and parting gift to Russia and temporary Chelsea manager, Guus Hiddink.

Everton, on the other hand, are bidding to become only the second team, outside the Big 4, to lift the cup in the last 14 years. Portsmouth establish a new trend last season. We can only hope this year will also favour the underdogs.

Chelsea are the overwhelming favourites as they have the better players. Just to quote Steve McMahon, "if Chelsea plays to their potential and if Everton plays to their potential, then Chelsea will win it". If I were a betting man, I would put my house on a Chelsea win...but I am not, hence for romance and variety-sake, I will cheer for an Everton win and hope that Chelsea will have an off-day.

This is how the teams should line-up:
Probably line-up,
Chelsea (4-3-3)

Everton (4-4-1-1)

David Moyes will be banking on a solid performance from his defenders and midfielders. He has called this final "a pivotal moment" in Everton football club in the sense that winning the FA Cup will mean a significant breakthrough in his time at Everton. It will also prove to everyone that being voted League Manager of the Year, three years in a row by the LMA is no fluke.

Guus Hiddink will not want his farewell match to end in heartbreak. He has the tactics and the players to bring the cup back to The Bridge. Chelsea won the cup in 2007 beating Manchester United with a Drogba goal.

Let's now look at the match-ups that could take place on the pitch:
Cech-Terry-Cole VS. Saha-Fellaini
Cech has been a pale shadow of himself this season. From being a pillar of strength for Chelsea, he has been inconsistent producing great saves to howlers. On his day thought he is difficult to beat. However, the Chelsea central pairing looks slow and static. This is where Everton can capitalize. Saha and Fellaini, especially on set pieces, can make themselves a nuisance by hassling and hurrying both Alex and Terry into making mistakes.

Fellaini has evolved from a defensive midfielder into an attacking midfielder adept at holding up play, and allowing Cahill and Osman time to get into the box. Together with Cahill, Fellaini has been the two best players on the Everton team. David Moyes should be looking at both Cahill and Fellaini to get Everton ticking and competing on the pitch.

Bosingwa-Cole VS. Pienaar-Neville
Bosingwa and Ashley Cole loves to bomb forward at the slightest chance. Hiddink will not want to curb this natural instinct of the two players. Ashley Cole has 2 assists in the FA Cup and Bosingwa has scored 2 goals and 4 assists this season. This shows how dangerous both these overlapping fullbacks are.

Everton will need to stop these two players, Neville and Pienaar will have to work hard tracking back to help Baines and Hibbert. Since Mikel Arteta suffered the season-ending injury, Pienaar has taken over as the creative force in this Everton side. His runs and dribbles on the ball are hard to stop and with Everton particularly good at set-pieces, the fouls on Pienaar and the ensuing set-piece delivery may be the difference in what looks like a tight Cup final.

Ballack-Lampard-Essien VS. Osman-Cahill-Fellaini
Whatever midfield that Chelsea may field, whether it be Mikel, Ballack, Lampard, Essien, Belletti, it is a world class lineup. Everton's Osman, Cahill and Fellaini will have to work hard and scrap for every ball in the middle of the park.

Lampard holds the key in this midfield battle. He has been excellent this whole season. His passing, leadership and goalscoring will be needed. There is no specific weakness in this Chelsea midfield. Chelsea midfielders are just as comfortably passing the ball as they are in doing the hard running, tough tackling but. They are all complete midfielders, able to do a bit of everything.

Osman, Cahill and Fellaini have their work cut out for them. Keeping the ball away from the Chelsea midfield trio may be the best option for Everton. Everton must try to spread play a little more, using the width of Wembley to their advantage. Pinging the ball left and right should disrupt the Chelsea midfield and keep them off-balance.

Malouda-Anelka-Drogba VS. Howard-Hibbert-Yobo-Lescott-Baines
The Chelsea trio are in fine form going into this match. Drogba have been rejuvenated during Hiddink's time in Chelsea. He now looks like the imposing physical power of old. Hiddink has successfully implemented a system where all three can play together which did not look a possibility when Scolari was in charge.

But this Everton back four had let in just three goals in this FA Cup campaign, and that's no mean feat considering that they were up against Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United. Tim Howard's heroics against United in the semifinal continue to underline his solid goalkeeping abilities as one of the top 6 goalkeepers in the Premier League.

Anelka is the top scorer in this season's FA Cup campaign with 4 goals. He will be looking to fire the goals to add the FA Cup to his trophy cabinet, having already taken the EPL Golden Boot award.

Everton's defence is quick, physical and strong in the air. It should be the perfect counterfoil for the intimidating Chelsea attacking trio. A great battle is in store.

Guus Hiddink VS. David Moyes
Guus Hiddink will know that David Moyes' Everton will be set up to fight and compete first before settling down to play football. Therefore, he will demand Chelsea to do the same. In spite of the abundance of skills, this Chelsea team knows how to play ugly football as well.

David Moyes will thrive on discipline and organisation. He will have a game plan to try to nullify the Chelsea midfield. Set-piece execution must have been the area that his team worked on during the week in preparation for today's final.

Evertonians are ready. They sense that this is the moment for a rare but glorious trophy season.
Chelsea fans are expecting silverware after a rollercoaster season.

Prediction? 2-0 to the Toffeemen.
Enjoy the game!
Find out also what has happened to the Chelsea FA Cup winning team of 1997.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

2009 Champions League Final: The Goals, The Fans and The Celebrations

Here are some pictures of the best Champions League final that I have seen in recent years. Credit must be given to Barcelona for a very composed attitude towards the final. The team refused to be bullied and overawed by Manchester United. In the end, all that was seen from United were displays of frustration by the so-called "Fab Four".

pictures are from Getty Images
The Barca fans in anticipation of a potential Spanish treble

Eto'o scores!

The Barca players celebrate the confidence-building goal no. 1

Little Messi heads a looping ball over giant Van Der Sar for goal no. 2!

Lionel Messi offers his boot to Ronaldo as a consolation prize

Barcelona - the newly crowned European champions!

The agony of defeat - Dejected United manager and players look on

Barca fans celebrate a resounding victory!

The celebrations continue...wild scenes in Rome

The party will go on for months and months...well at least until pre-season starts.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barcelona vs Manchester United Champions League Final Result: Minute-by-Minute Game Commentary

And finally the "Dream Final" that everyone wants is here. The team news have just come through from Rome, and I will be covering the game on a minute-by-minute commentary.Manchester United's usually formidable defence let them down today. Two defensive lapses and two goals by Barcelona. It is rare to see even Wayne Rooney looking jaded and tired after a long season. In the end, Barcelona were deserved champions and clearly the sucker punch first goal dramatically affected the minds of both sets of players.

For Barcelona, the first goal brought about a change in mindset and a flood of confidence which permeated through all the players. For Manchester United, that goal took away all the good work in the first ten minutes. The self-belief that they could overcome Barcelona faded away.

Excellent final. Romance still exists in football after all. A victory for fan power? Yes, I think so.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Manchester United vs. Barcelona: Champions League Final Preview

So where do we begin? The two most attractive teams on the planet is gearing up to do battle at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. And it will be only the second time that Manchester United and Barcelona contest in a European final. The first being the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup in which Manchester United won 2-1.

The corporate-styled Manchester United against the fan-owned FC fitting is that? If Barcelona wins, it represents a victory for the fans and a fillip to the corporate bigwigs that dominate the game these days. If Manchester United wins, it will mean that club owners and directors demanded it, success means profitability and sustainability.

But I digress, without a doubt, both Barcelona and Manchester United are incredibly attractive to watch as they play a passing game with an emphasis on attack. This is what the football purists will term a "Dream Final".

Barcelona plays a high possession game, they keep possession of the ball 62% of the time in a match. They have scored 2.5 goals per game and conceded 1.1 goals per game. Xavi Hernandez (6 assists) and Lionel Messi (5 assists) are the creative influence of this team. Messi (8 goals) is also Barca's as well as the competition's top scorer.

United also keep the ball well, having it 54% against any opposition. They have scored 1.5 goals per game and conceded only 0.5 goals per game. The selfless Wayne Rooney (3 assists) and Ryan Giggs (3 assists) contributed the most to the goals that Manchester United have scored in the Champions League. Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov are joint top scorer with 4 goals each for Man Utd.

So what do we have in store for Wednesday's Rome final?

Barcelona will be without Eric Abidal, Danny Alves and Rafa Marquez for sure. Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta are questionable but I doubt they will miss a final as significant as this one. Defensively, Barca will be weakened and it may prove fatal. Manchester United's superior attacking prowess will test Barca's defence to the hilt.

Barca's famed attack of Messi, Henry and Eto'o will be up against the Ferdinand-Vidic partnership which has only yielded 6 goals throughout the competiton. Barca should look to get their little generals, Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings quickly. Pep Guardiola must task Seydou Keita to protect Xavi and Iniesta while United will try to disrupt the rhythm of play.

To overcome Manchester United, Barcelona must keep the ball and pass the ball accurately. Any misplaced pass will create a counter-attacking opportunity for the Red Devils. Barca must capitalize and punish United whenever freekicks are awarded. Vidic tend to give away many "cheap" freekicks and with Henry, Xavi and Eto'o, freekicks could be where Barca can profit from. Barcelona will need to stay patient and continue to probe for openings in Man Utd's defence.

Manchester United are relatively injury-free. The big news will be whether Rio Ferdinand is fit to play. Again, as is with the Barca duo, Rio will not want to miss this final. The suspended Darren Fletcher will be missed as the midfield battle is crucial in this game.

Barca's weakness is obvious - the defence. Quick counter attacks could be the option to overcome a Barcelona side who has conceded 13 goals. The Red Devils need to impose themselves in midfield and put in some crunching tackles early on to disrupt the fluent Barcelona midfield.

Once Anderson and Carrick start winning the tackles and regaining the ball in midfield then space should open up, enabling the quick ball release to Ronaldo to strut his magic. I believe Ronaldo will be playing up top as a striker. Having been disappointing in last year's final, this could be the final where he cements his reputation as arguably the best player in the world.

The key to this match lies in midfield. Once the creativity of Xavi and Iniesta are stifled, Man Utd can and should go on to win the match. Ronaldo's pace upfront against the big Gerard Pique and Toure is a weapon that Man Utd must try to exploit. Support from Rooney and Park who will be running from deep will be difficult to track.

Just like Chelsea, Sir Alex will try to contain and thwart the initial onslaught from Barca. Anderson and Carrick will have a crucial role to play as they will be told to break up the creative flair that is oozing out of Xavi and Iniesta. Once the ball is won back, you can expect Carrick to spray 30-40 yard passes for Rooney and Park to attack and put the Barca defence on the back foot.

Predicted Lineup:
Barcelona (4-3-3)
Subs: Pinto, Gudjohnsen, Krkic, Milito, Busquets, Caceres, Hleb

Manchester United (4-5-1)
Van Der Sar-O'Shea-Ferdinand-Vidic-Evra-Giggs-Carrick-Rooney-Park-Anderson-Ronaldo
Subs: Kuszcak, Rafael, Tevez, Berbatov, Scholes, Evans, Nani

Some more interesting stats and gems ahead of the upcoming Champions League final,

Of the previous three finals to be held in the Stadio Olimpico, two have been won by English sides (both Liverpool) and two have needed penalties to find a winner, including one of Liverpool's wins.

Four of the last seven finals have ended in penalty shootouts.

This will be United’s fifth final and their fourth in the Champions League/European Cup. The Red Devils have won all of their previous finals.

These two sides have met on nine previous occasions, with United managing three wins to Barcelona’s two.

Barcelona have only managed to win once in their last eight Champions League fixtures against an English side.

The Catalan side have scored just one goal in their last four European games against a team from England.

United are unbeaten in their last seven Champions League meetings with Spanish sides. However, in their last six games against a side from Spain in the Champions League, they have only scored one goal, but have kept a clean sheet in each match.

Manchester United are currently on an all-time record 25 game unbeaten run in the Champions League.

United have kept a clean sheet in 13 of their last 18 Champions League matches.

Edwin Van der Sar has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the Champions League this season – seven.

Manchester United vs. Barcelona - a mouthwatering final? Let's hope so...lest we forget these two teams treated us to two 3-3 thrillers in the group stages of the Champions League 1998.

If we get even 50% the amount of goals and action, then we are in for a treat....

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Winners Around the European Leagues

Just as the football season around Europe is finishing, let's take a look at the cup winners and newly crowned league champions of some of the major European leagues which have been decided. A short recap of those leagues which are yet to be decided will also have a special mention.

Premier League Champions: Manchester United 90pts
Carling Cup Winners: Manchester United
FA Cup: Chelsea vs. Everton (scheduled for May 30th)

Liga Champions: Porto 70pts
Portuguese League Cup Winners: Benfica

Bundesliga Champions: VfL Wolfsburg 69pts
DFB Pokal: Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen (scheduled for May 30th)

Serie A Champions: Inter Milan 81pts with one more game to play
Coppa Italia Winners: Lazio

La Liga Champions: Barcelona 86pts with one more game to play - scored 104 league goals!
Copa Del Rey Winners: Barcelona

Ere Divisie Champions: AZ Alkmaar 80pts
KNVB Beker Cup Winners: Heerenveen

Premier League Champions: Rangers 86pts
Scottish League Cup Winners: Celtic
Scottish FA Cup: Ranger vs. Falkirk (scheduled for May 30th)

Turkish Cup Winners: Besiktas
Super Liga Champions?

It's down to the wire in Turkey. Sivasspor has been going great guns all season, trying to break up the Istanbul clubs dominance on the Super Liga. Besiktas leads the table, two points ahead of Sivasspor leading up to May 31st Sunday's title decider. Sivasspor will find it difficult to pip Besiktas as they will have to face Galatasaray in the Ali Sami Yen stadium. Besiktas will look to stroll past Denizlispor to win their 11th Super Liga title.

Bundesliga Champions: RB Salzburg 74pts
Austrian Cup Winners: FK Austria Wien

First Division League Champions: Standard Liege 77pts
Belgian Cup Winners: Genk

Coupe de France Winners: Guingamp
Ligue 1 Champions?
The French league, Ligue 1, will play its last round of matches this coming Saturday May 30th 2009. Bordeaux, powered by the excellent Yoann Gourcuff, leads the table by 3 points over second placed Marseille. They face lowly Caen away and should wrap up the title then. It will be their 6th championship win. More significantly, this breaks the Lyon stranglehold on the French Le Championnat. Lyon had won it a record breaking seven times before this season.

Super League Champions: FC Zurich 76pts

UEFA Cup Winners: Shaktar Donetsk

Champions League Cup: Manchester United vs. Barcelona (scheduled for May 27th)

So what's left after this weekend of European matches...well there are,
1. Copa Libertadores quarterfinal stages
2. FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa
3. World Cup Qualifiers
4. Barclays Asia Trophy (the Premier League's version of the 39th game)
5. Liverpool and Manchester United's Summer Tour of Asia
6. Chelsea's Tour of United States
7. UEFA European U-21 Championships
8. AFC Asian Champions League

So it looks like there is still a lot of football to watch and read about...which is great! And I thought that it would be a dull 2-3 months with no football at all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Most Dramatic Relegation Escapes in the EPL

Will this be how young Newcastle fans react after this Sunday or will it be all night celebration of preserving Premier League status? Whatever the outcome may be, expect a passionate and committed brand of football against Aston Villa at Villa Park.

Since some of us are about to experience the highs and lows of Survival Sunday, let's take a look at some of the most dramatic relegation escapes in EPL history.

West Bromwich Albion, 2005
West Brom claim the top spot in this list as the only club to be bottom of the Premier league at Christmas and survive.

With their fate out of their hands on final day, Bryan Robson’s men beat Portsmouth 2-0 and waited for the good news from Norwich City and Southampton as their relegation rivals duly lost. Charlton drew with Palace, handing West Brom a miraculous escape.

Their final points tally of 34 is the lowest with which a team has survived relegation since the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams in 1995.

West Ham, 2007
After West Ham sacked Alan Pardew in December, Alan Curbishley led a revival as the club won seven of their last nine games, including 1-0 victories away to Arsenal and Manchester United

The transfer saga surrounding Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez came to a head in the run-in, when West Ham were fined £5.5m by the Premier league, but avoided a points deduction.

Tevez scored the winner at Old Trafford on the last day of the season, sending Sheffield United into the Championship and reigniting the controversy over his transfer.

Oldham Athletic, 1993
In possibly the greatest final day ever, Oldham beat Southampton 4-3, despite a Matthew Le Tissier hat-trick, to complete an escape that saw them close an eight point gap in the last seven days of the season.

Everton, 1994
In a five-way final day relegation dogfight, the permutations were baffling and the football even more so as Everton took on sixth place Wimbledon at Goodison Park.

After gifting Wimbledon a two-goal lead, Mike Walker’s side pulled the game back to 2-2 through goals from Graham Stuart and a 30 yard screamer from Barry Horne, his only goal of the season. With nine minutes to go, Stuart struck again with a goal that would later form part of match fixing allegations against goalkeeper Hans Segers (Segers was later cleared). Everton held on and ended one of the most emotional relegation great escapes.

Fulham, 2008
Roy Hodgson’s side were written off, but they went on to amass a third of their total points tally for that season in their final five games to finish level on 36 points with Reading and survive on goal difference.

Their amazing revival included a pivotal encounter at Manchester City. Two goals down and relegated at half time, Fulham completed a memorable comeback to win 3-2 with an injury time strike by Diomansy Kamara.

They went on to beat Portsmouth 1-0 on the final day, ensuring Reading’s 4-0 demolition of Derby would still not be enough.

Everton, 1998
Back in trouble again and needing a result from their last match against Coventry, who for once weren’t in a battle of their own, Everton had to better Bolton’s result in order to avoid the drop.

Howard Kendall’s side got off to a good start, Gareth Farrelly firing home from 25 yards, but a late Dion Dublin equaliser meant Everton had to rely on two late Chelsea goals against Bolton to survive on goal difference.

Portsmouth, 2006

They looked down and out under Perrin before Harry worked his Houdini magic. Portsmouth took 20 points from their last nine matches. A come-from-behind win against Wigan secured safety for Pompey.Two years on, Harry Redknapp and Portsmouth won the FA Cup, the script for this club cannot be better written.

Is Alan Shearer about to enhance his reputation amongst the Toon faithfuls? Does he have what it takes to be a top-notch manager? We will reserve our opinion until after Survival Sunday.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Bundesliga comes down to the Final Day - Will Wolfsburg Triumph?

While Bayern Munich players were trying to get used to the management style and new age thinking of Juergen Klinsmann, three other teams tried to prise away the Bundesliga title from them. These three teams were Wolfsburg, Hertha Berlin and Hoffenheim. They have succeeded, a new champion will be crowned this Saturday.

Hertha Berlin, Hoffenheim and Bayern had at one point this season led the league. Hoffenheim even ended the first half of the season as the unofficial "Winter Champions". Hoffenheim then slumped to a devastating 12-match winless run and is currently 7th in the table. This loss of form coincided with the season-ending injury to star striker, Vedad Ibisevic.

Hertha Berlin went through the season squeezing out narrow victories, 14 games have been won by a one-goal margin. Andriy Voronin, on loan from Liverpool is the club's top scorer with 11 goals with the excellent Marko Pantelic the key creator with 8 assists. Due to an inferior goal difference, Hertha will not win the league.

With Hoffenheim slipping, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg had steadily climbed up the table rankings and are now 3rd and 1st respectively with final day of matches to be played on Saturday. VfL Wolfsburg is currently top of the Bundesliga and does have the easier final day match.

Billed as title decider weekend, Bayern will meet Markus Babbel's on-form Stuttgart at the Allianz Arena while the formidable VfL Wolfsburg will look to add to the UEFA Cup woes of Werder Bremen. A win for the Wolves will mean a historical first trophy for the club. For Felix Magath, it will be a third league title for the man. He will leave for Schalke 04 this summer.

There is no reason to look beyond a win for Wolfsburg. The Wolves are unbeaten at home this season, winning 15 matches and drawing only once. They have scored 46 goals at home and only conceded 12. Just formidable. In Josue, the Brazilian team captain, they have a leader capable of inspiring and keeping the team focused on the task at home. Goals will not be a problem with the two top scorers in the league. Edin Dzeko and Grafite have scored 51 goals this season, 68% of all Wolfsburg's goals. Dzeko's exploits have alerted Arsenal to his talents and a possible foray into the English Premier League beckons.

Stuttgart is the form team at this time, and currently third behind Bayern on goal difference (-7). Stuttgart's Mario Gomez is the club's top scorer and primary danger man. Bayern will have to stop Mario Gomez if they are to win this tie. A draw seems to be the most probable result. This could be all that Bayern is playing for this season - automatic Champions League spot.

It would be a fitting ending to VfLWolfsburg's season if they clinch the first ever Bundesliga championship in front of their fans. The 27,000 strong fans would be proud of the way their team have performed all season. They are deserving champions with their brand of attacking football.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Relegation Threatened WAGS

This is the 3rd edition of the WAGS series, following up from the ArseWAGs and Promoted WAGs. This time, the spotlight falls on teams threatened by relegation. We may not be able to see these WAGs for some time if Middlesborough, Newcastle and Sunderland do get relegated. So hope you will enjoy these!

Leilani Dowding have been seen with Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing and Jeremie Aliadiere. Rumoured also to have dated ex-Toon Kieron Dyer. A Page Three girl, glamour model, television celebrity and former beauty queen. She has travelled to Bosnia, Kosovo. Iraq and Cyprus on morale-boosting trips for British troops abroad.

Michaela Henderson-Thynne was part of the WAG circus in Baden Baden when Stewart Downing was with the England squad during World Cup 2006. Still a student but already living the luxurious lifestyle of a WAG. Ooh, the joys of being a footballer's girlfriend. Too bad she is no longer with Stewie.

Channelle Hayes who dates Boro defender, Matthew Bates created a swine flu scare recently when she came back from a WAGs holiday. She was a Big Brother reality show contestant which brought her into fame and prominence.

Staying on the subject of defenders, Justin Hoyte and girlfriend, Madeleine Bowden. Madeleine starred in the reality show WAGs boutique.

Sunderland Trinidad & Tobago winger Carlos Edwards has a pop star wife named Teressa. Now where have we seen that before? Hmmm....

Sunderland star striker Djibril Cisse and his wife Jude on a night out apparently. Some of you may know that Cisse is actually inherited the title of "Lord" in England courtesy of his 2005 purchase of a mansion in Merseyside. Officially he is Lord Djibril Cisse of Frodsham.

Roy Keane once famously said that it was difficult to sign players for Sunderland because the wives and girlfriends would not move to places like Sunderland. He does have a point as highlighted by Wearside has fewer beauty salons, jewellers, nightclubs, au pair services and tanning salons for every 10,000 residents than most other footballing towns in the UK.

Sunderland came in 13th place in the UK's bottom 20 WAG magnet clubs (Wagnet), beating rivals Middlesborough by 0.21 points. Newcastle, however was named the best transfer destination.

Mark Viduka just regained fitness and starred in the Tyne Tees basement battle. Here he is with his wife Ivana Viduka. It would be a shame to lose him to the Championship.

Sophie Bovington-Kerr once shared a toilet with Newcastle's Alan Smith. Old Smithy is a real cad judging from some of the stories about him.

Georgia McNeil, an interior designer met with Newcastle troubled star, Joey Barton and decided to move in with him. This picture is taken from the Daily Mirror.

Newcastle striker, Michael Owen's wife, Louise Owen looking very good indeed. She is also crazy about horses. If Michael loves gambling on them, Louise loves caring and riding them.

If you find these sort of news interesting, there are several sites which are excellent for gossip and WAGspotting, Kickette and The WAGs section in The Spoiler are real popular. A personal favourite is My Relationship with Football.
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