Category Archives: Off the Mark

Liverpool’s Suarez and friends : Premier League Team of the Season

Another fascinating Premier League campaign draws to a close on Sunday, and there can be few arguments that this season has been one of the best in recent memory.

Manchester City look to be about to snatch the league title just when it had been in Liverpool’s grasp, but who have been the standout individual performers of the campaign?

Here we pick our team of the season:


Goalkeeper: Julian Speroni (Crystal Palace)


David Marshall was superb for Cardiff but the league table doesn’t lie. His team are going down, whilst Crystal Palace find themselves in a terrific 11th place.

Much of that is down to the performances of veteran goalkeeper Speroni, who made some terrific and vital saves throughout the cause of the season.


Right-back: Seamus Coleman (Everton)

An incessant goal threat throughout the campaign, Everton’s Irishman was a constant menace down his side’s right flank in Roberto Martinez’s entertaining side.

Now transformed in the eyes of many from merely a good right-back to one of the top performers in the division, Coleman is certainly mustard.


Centre-back: Gary Cahill (Chelsea)

Another season of progression for Cahill, who will rightly go to the World Cup as England’s first-choice defender.

Most centre-backs who work with Jose Mourinho eventually show considerable improvement, and Cahill’s has been more apparent than most.


Centre-back: John Terry (Chelsea)

Seemingly on his way out at his beloved club last season, Terry has risen to the challenge set to him by Mourinho in this campaign and excelled.

There might be some brinksmanship going on over his new contract, but he’ll eventually get one.


Left-back: Leighton Baines (Everton)

More of a consistent force than Southampton’s Luke Shaw, Baines gets in for his importance to the way that Everton play.

The role of both him and Coleman has been crucial to Martinez’s team, and he has long become established as an idol of the fans.


Right midfield: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)


Adam Lallana has been superb for Southampton, but the Saints haven’t really had anything important riding on their games since about January.

The way that Sterling inspired Liverpool’s unlikely and ultimately failed title charge was incredible for one so young, and the teenager deserves recognition and place in the team.


Centre midfield: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

The late drama notwithstanding, Liverpool have been an incredible force this season, and much of that is down to their captain Gerrard.

Playing in a deeper role, he has been able to oversee matches and help keep his young, vibrant side ticking over. A few more years in this position awaits.


Centre midfield: Yaya Toure (Manchester City)

It might seem strange to include only one player from the likely champions, but as theirs has been very much a team effort, Toure has stood tall.

The Ivorian has seemingly taken his game to another level, dominating in midfield and almost trampling over any opponents who dare come near him.


Left midfield: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

The Belgian’s relationship with his manager might be being called into question, but Chelsea and Mourinho would be foolish to lose such a terrific talent.

With a remarkable balance and capable of shooting with both feet, Hazard is a remarkable player and one who has lit up the Premier League this season.


Forward: Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)

A terrific campaign for the English forward, who went into it as a possible World Cup pick but has ended it as one of the first names on the England teamsheet.

Fast, vibrant and with a seemingly infectious desire to score goals, Sturridge has been great to watch this season and only looks like improving in the seasons to come.


Forward: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)

Luis Suarez

An obvious inclusion for the remarkable Uruguayan, who continues to have his detractors but is quite simply one of the world’s best footballers.

Suarez’s tally of 31 Premier League goals has tied with the record for a 38-game Premier League season, and you wouldn’t bet against him breaking that record on Sunday.



The Off the Mark Awards 2013/14: Honouring the Premier League’s best and David Moyes


‘I used to manage Liverpool you know, Luis. Well, for a bit.’


With Luis Suarez having been voted the PFA Player of the Year and the title race entering the home straight, it’s certainly awards season in the Premier League.

But just who have been the best, worst, brightest and dimmest in the division? @Mark_Jones86 puts on his best tux and gets ready to dish out the gongs.


Best Game: There have been a couple of 6-3s, with Liverpool and Manchester City coming out as the victors of both, but for the best game you have to look at the meeting between the sides at Anfield earlier this month, which the Reds won 3-2.

It had everything. One of Liverpool’s trademark fast starts, City’s quality seeing them roar back into the game and then an error from the visiting captain which swung the match and title race in Liverpool’s favour, at least until a more recent mistake from the other captain saw it go back the other way.


Worst Game: Back in August no-one knew quite how bad Manchester United were going to be under David Moyes, and so Jose Mourinho thought he was being really, really ball-achingly clever when his Chelsea side turned up at Old Trafford, opted to play no forwards and bored his way to a goalless draw.

He wasn’t.


Best Player: During one four-game spell in December, Luis Suarez scored 10 goals. Ten in four. That’s ridiculous.

By far and away the best footballer in the Premier League, Suarez has been sensational this season. Ill-feeling and a morbid fascination in him may remain from some, but it’s called Player of the Year for a reason.


Best Young Player: How young is young? Eden Hazard and Daniel Sturridge were both brilliant but they are 23 and 24 respectively, so let’s go for Luke Shaw. Still only 18 and now considered good enough for one of those ridiculously over-priced transfers that English players specialise in.


Best Goal: A worthy late entry here from Jonjo Shelvey, and whilst Wayne Rooney’s goal at West Ham was truly special, the fact that goalkeeper Adrian was flapping around like a beached seal somewhat ruined it.

No, for sheer bloody-minded Jeeeeeesus Christ-ness its Norwich City’s Alex Tettey, with the type of goal that Norwich City’s Alex Tettey shouldn’t be scoring.


Luis Suarez’s best goal: Probably the third of his four against Norwich in December. The control, the flick, the unstoppable blast. Maybe that’s where Tettey got it from.


Best Own Goal: Nice try Everton, but John Terry was always going to clinch this award for his glancing header against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. It was the goal which ensured that Palace would improbably stay in the Premier League and that Chelsea probably wouldn’t win it.


Best Manager: Brendan Rodgers. Less soundbites, more scoring.


Worst Manager: Look Moyesy, you’ve won something! *waves* Sorry Pardew.



The bit where I state how well Tony Pulis did at Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis did incredibly well at Crystal Palace, and is finally getting the credit he deserved at Stoke. London bias?


Worst refereeing decision: Not so much Andre Marriner’s genuine error in mistaking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Kieran Gibbs as a sea of red and white shirted Arsenal players surrounded him at Chelsea, but more the fact that Marriner didn’t sprint down the Stamford Bridge tunnel, grab Gibbs, haul him back on and dismiss Chamberlain once he’d learned of his error.

Do you not know what people are like on Twitter, Andre?!


Alternative, uncool team of the season: David Marshall, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Joel Ward, Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Jordan Henderson, Samir Nasri, Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Bony.


Best Signing: Romelu Lukaku was an unused Chelsea substitute in that aforementioned bore draw at Old Trafford, before Mourinho loaned him to Everton and then watched on as his forwards failed to hit several barn doors for much of the season. Meanwhile, the big Belgian was brilliant at Goodison.


Worst Signing: Roberto Soldado, Marouane Fellaini and Ricky van Wolfswinkel can rest easy, because we’re a little bit concerned that Tottenham might actually have killed the £30m Erik Lamela.

Actually lads, do you mind forming a search party? You’re not doing anything else.


Surprise of the season: Liverpool. Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool.

After years of in-fighting, grave off-field errors and mistakes at every turn, the Reds reinvented themselves as the Premier League’s great entertainers. Every match was an event. It might not be enough to secure league titles until they can back it up defensively, but it’s going to be fun watching them try.



Funniest Manchester United game: Loads to choose from here, but strangely we’re not even going to go for a defeat.

Fulham had barely ever scored a goal north of the Watford Gap until they went to Old Trafford in February, took the lead and then pinched a point through Darren Bent in stoppage time just as the ‘Moyes turns the corner’ headlines were being written.

He’d merely found another cul-de-sac.


The Arsene Wenger award for repeating the same season over and over again, although at least this time he’ll probably win the FA Cup, which will finally bring an end to that long trophy drought and give an admirably hard-working, respectable figure something to enjoy, although he must still have nightmares about the league collapse, I mean, they were top of the league before they went to Liverpool in early February and got battered 5-1, I hope he doesn’t leave though, because deep down I like him and wish him well: Arsene Wenger.


Yaya Toure rampaging run of the season: The one against Palace the other day? Or the one against, er… you know? And that other one. He does it every week. What a player.


Defining moment of the season: If Liverpool win the league then it’ll be Philippe Coutinho’s winner against Manchester City, but if, as now seems likely, they don’t then of course it is Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea which allowed Demba Ba to score.

It was a moment in time which ensures that, no matter how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, how much you long for success for your team, your fans and your city, you are still susceptible to the crazy storylines which run throughout football.

And we wouldn’t want it any other way would we?



Off the Mark Special: David Moyes and Manchester United were never right for each other


And so it came, with a devastating thump, after a visit to his former stomping ground Goodison Park.

Manchester United had taken David Moyes from Everton in the summer because of the good work he had done on that particular patch of Merseyside, stabilising the club and generally making them a nuisance for the bigger sides in the land.

But that is really all they were. A nuisance. And only ever one when they played at home, too.

Whenever Moyes’s Everton faced a big game or a big opportunity they would often go into their shells and fail to grasp the nettle. In 11 years at Goodison Moyes never won a trophy, a Merseyside derby at Anfield, an away match at any of the other big clubs or even many friends. He did well to keep Everton in the mix for the European places whilst lacking the capital of some of their rivals, but as was evident from the boos he received on Sunday, by the end he wasn’t as universally liked as many would have had you believe.

All of which made Manchester United’s decision to appoint him in the summer a very strange one, until you consider who it was who made it.

Sir Alex Ferguson will quite rightly have seen something of himself in Moyes when he decided upon his replacement. And not just because he’s a fellow Scot.

In 1986 when Ferguson came down to Manchester from Aberdeen he would have shared that same hunger, desire and ability to organise a team as Moyes undoubtedly has, but the football landscape has changed so much since then. Ferguson should know that, as he’s someone who helped change it.

Quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest managerial figures there’s ever been in the game – perhaps even the greatest – Ferguson will nonetheless tell you that the secret behind his longevity at United was surrounding himself with other minds and opinions. Steve McClaren, Carlos Queiroz and Mike Phelan were just three of his sounding boards and there were more.

Moyes has his trusted lieutenants too of course, and brought Steve Round and Phil Neville on board when he got the United job, but a failure to keep hold at least one of Phelan or Rene Meulensteen, the men Ferguson left behind, was his first error. It was to prove the first of many.

At a time in football when flexibility, tactical awareness, flair and daring are proving so successful across Europe’s major leagues and in continental competition, Moyes went to Old Trafford with a firm belief that his rigid methods at Everton would translate. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

This season United have basically lost to every talented team they’ve played, with the honourable exception of Arsenal. Make of that what you will.

Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton all beat them twice. Chelsea, Tottenham, Olympiakos and Bayern Munich once. Swansea knocked them out of the FA Cup, Sunderland out of the League Cup, West Brom and Newcastle won at Old Trafford for the first time in decades.

The defeats might have been easier for the club’s fans to take if they could see their team playing attractive, expansive football, but there was absolutely no sign of that, and nor was there an indication that any was coming.

And yet through it all, there was this mistaken belief – a belief bordering on arrogance – that everything would eventually be okay because this was Manchester United.

But Manchester United shouldn’t be seventh in the table, 23 points behind leaders Liverpool and providing fodder for Twitter jokers who have somewhat jealously watched them constantly win for 20 years. That belief eventually eroded, and then Moyes was laid bare.

Change was necessary at the club, and so it seems to have come to pass.

Moyes will forever remain a curious footnote in United’s history, and the club’s supporters must now worry just how much of the future he’ll have affected too.

Because the next appointment they make simply can’t be the wrong one again.


Off the Mark: Demba Ba deserves moments in the spotlight, now he needs to leave Chelsea to find more

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group E - Chelsea v Steaua Bucharest - Stamford Bridge

Less is more, some say. It’s why there were only ever 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers and 14 of The Office. As another well-worn saying goes, always leave them laughing.

Sometimes though, just leaving them full stop is the best option.

Up until the past week, Demba Ba has been Chelsea’s best-paid supporter this season, the Senegalese forward afforded one of the best seats in the house as he got to watch Eden Hazard, Oscar and the like strut their stuff and make prolonged assaults on winning both the Premier League and Champions League.

Sure, Ba would get a chance to get onto the pitch occasionally – a few minutes here, a couple of touches there, two goals against Tottenham Hotspur, you know, the usual stuff – but he wasn’t really part of the team. He wasn’t really part of Jose Mourinho’s plans. He was just there. Another name, another number, another pay cheque to a club who can afford to dole out as many as they want.

Mourinho, utilising that special ability he has to put himself at the front and centre of each and every thing that his team does, has often been critical of his forwards this season, but you got the sense that he was never really singling out Ba. Doing so would be like blaming a weatherman for global warming, or Brazil for the Cuban Missile Crisis. It would just look out of place.

Coming off the back of his priceless strike against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, the winning goal that Ba scored against Swansea in the Premier League last weekend was absolutely vital to Chelsea’s title hopes. It has put those hopes back in their own hands, with logic now dictating that a win at Liverpool in 11 days’ time would see them become favourites again.

The Liberty Stadium saw what was only Ba’s third Premier League start of the season, whilst he scored his fourth goal. It was a big goal, but if Chelsea are to overhaul Liverpool and win the league, then how much of a part has he actually played?

The same can be said of the Champions League run too, as we now have the bizarre notion that Chelsea’s two most important goals of the season were scored by a man who has barely featured.

If, as expected, both Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o depart the club in the summer, with a shiny new £50m+ forward brought in – a Diego Costa or a Radamel Falcao – then Ba might well be put under pressure to stay and play second fiddle again. Chelsea would undoubtedly want him too.

But the forward is far too good a player to be forced into this situation again, and regardless of what the club say to him he should look to escape through the transfer window once it opens.

Ba could take inspiration from the man he effectively replaced at Stamford Bridge, Daniel Sturridge, who sensed an opportunity to leave and join a club and manager who believed in him in Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers.

As we saw at Newcastle, a fit, firing and most importantly selected Ba can be one of the best forwards in the Premier League, and he is certain to have more than a few suitors. Everton, should they be unable to secure Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea permanently, and Tottenham, if they are going to give up on the disastrous Roberto Soldado experiment, immediately spring to mind.

Perhaps Ba will decide that he’s had enough of England and leave for pastures new, but that would be a huge shame for Premier League fans if he does.

The forward is a player who deserves to be seen, to be appreciated, and most of all to play.

Come the summer he’ll find himself at front and centre of the shop window, and must hope for a caring buyer.


Norwich think it’s all over…

I was at the Fulham v Norwich game on Saturday, and whilst the 90 minutes itself wasn’t the most enthralling, what was perhaps most important was the reaction of the Norwich players come full-time.

Upon the final whistle, the likes of Nathan Redmond, Robert Snodgrass and Martin Olsson looked shell-shocked, with some sinking to their knees. It was as though the club had already been relegated.

With fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to come, many think they already have of course, but is there not the possibility that they could pick up a couple of points somewhere there?

Judging by those reactions, some of the players think they are down already.


Fulham can fire at Spurs

West Brom were seconds away from landing our bet last weekend only for Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen to equalise late on, and we’re going to take on Spurs again on Saturday.

Fulham make the trip to White Hart Lane desperate for points, and they can pick up something at a ground they won at last season.

If you’re feeling brave, have Felix Magath’s side at 5/1 to win, although the 11/8 Draw or Fulham Double Chance might be the way to go. They are also 10/3 to win on the Draw No Bet market.


Off the Mark: Why Premier League experience counts in the battle at the bottom


Take a look at the three teams currently residing in the Premier League relegation zone, and indeed at West Brom, the team just outside it. What have they got in common?

The Baggies, Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham all replaced their managers during this season – Fulham did it twice – and all four men now in charge of those respective clubs are currently in their first ever Premier League managerial role. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.

This new quartet aren’t alone amongst the 20 managers at the 20 clubs in the top division in the land.

Tottenham’s Tim Sherwood and Swansea’s Garry Monk are also in their first Premier League roles, actually their first managerial roles full stop. Monk and Swansea, who always had a decent enough points cushion from the moment they dispensed with Michael Laudrup, picked up a good win over Norwich last time out but had gone winless in nine before that, whilst the less said about Sherwood’s tenure at Tottenham the better. We probably said enough last week, anyway.

There’s also Manuel Pellegrini, but the money available to him at Manchester City ensures that he’ll never truly be a failure on a grand scale. He’s been told to win the Premier League, and he’s got City into a good position to do just that. And besides, he’s vastly experienced elsewhere.

It is at the bottom of the division where this lack of experience in the vagaries of the British game can be shown up though.

At this stage of the season when every point needs to be scrapped for and every goal seems to be worth double, having that knowhow of this division is only going to stand you in good stead.

Of course some of these managers aren’t novices. Fulham’s Felix Magath has been in charge of plenty of clubs in his homeland, including Bayern Munich, whilst West Brom’s Pepe Mel took Real Betis into the Europa League this season.

Both have been good managers elsewhere and both will probably go on to be so again, but are they the right men for their clubs at this particular time? Magath was out of work for 18 months before being jettisoned into Fulham. What sort of preparation can he have done for the role?

It’s a different story for Cardiff’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Sunderland’s Gus Poyet.

Solskjaer, an extremely decorated player thanks to his storied spell with Manchester United, doesn’t want a Premier League relegation on his stellar CV, and in truth he never really should have been given the chance to. Hopefully there will be a good manager in there somewhere, and he started off well in his native Norway, but this really isn’t the time to be taking a punt on someone.

Of the quartet of clubs we’ve mentioned, Sunderland perhaps have the best man for this sort of situation in Poyet, who cut his managerial teeth at Brighton. Defeats such as the one against West Ham on Monday won’t help though, and his side now face a huge challenge to climb out of trouble given their difficult away fixtures.

The chairmen at these four clubs must be looking at the jobs that the likes of Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce have been doing this season and feel more than a little envious – that’s indeed if Vincent Tan is capable of emotion. Indeed, there’s a good argument to suggest that Crystal Palace are the only Premier League club to have benefitted from a mid-season managerial change in this campaign.

This isn’t supposed to be a tub-thumping rally cry backing the mediocre British manager, they’ll always find jobs somewhere regardless, but gaining that experience of this division and this culture seems vital to success in the Premier League, look at Roberto Martinez, Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers. Don’t look at David Moyes, as it will ruin the argument.

This season’s relegation battle seems to be all about who can arrest poor form first, as none of the teams involved are particularly inspiring.

And when they need points more than ever before, shouldn’t club chairmen have gone with the tried and tested to try and pick them up?


Heads you lose, Pardew

Ever since Alan Pardew’s headbutt on Hull’s David Meyler, Newcastle have scored one goal in four matches, conceding eight.

It is another worrying run in a 2014 which featured eight winless matches prior to a small turnaround and three wins in four, but as their players appear to have gone on a collective holiday judging by the non-performances against Everton and Southampton, surely it is time for a “conscious uncoupling” between Pardew and his vanity project.

The Premier League wants its old, entertaining Newcastle back.


Everton and Arsenal to share spoils

We’re massively in profit now thanks to Peter Odemwingie scoring the only goal of Stoke’s victory last week, and this time we are turning our attentions to Sunday’s big meeting between Everton and Arsenal.

In a huge match in the context of a top four finish, the Gunners will be looking to show the improved form they displayed in the second half against Manchester City last week, and they can build on that to earn a point at Goodison Park to keep Everton at arm’s length.

The draw is 9/4 with, whilst it’s a tempting 11/2 for the match to finish 1-1.


Off the Mark: Tim Sherwood does his best, but Tottenham deserve a manager not learning on the job

Off the Mark: Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers has to be named Manager of the Year, whatever happens now


The man with a plan is often a difficult man to take to, so engrossed and devoted to his own ideas as to frequently border on arrogance.

When that plan goes wrong the man is often left looking foolish, too obsessed with himself that he can’t see the bigger picture, stuck in a rut, one-dimensional.

It takes great strength, then, to persevere with that plan, to see it through to the end and to both adapt and improve upon it. In the Liverpool renaissance being masterminded by Brendan Rodgers, that is exactly what we are seeing now.

In his first year at Anfield it was easy to mock the Northern Irishman, to bring up quotes from his past when he was a younger coach, more naïve, perhaps covering up for his lack of experience and knowledge in a certain area by spouting a buzz-word or a phrase straight out of a managerial handbook.

When Liverpool were losing home and away to West Brom, at home to Aston Villa, away to Stoke and Southampton, at Oldham in the FA Cup it was easy to quote these words back at Rodgers, to make fun of him and to dress him up as some kind of egotist with a mistaken belief in his own importance. The first four letters of his first name are the same as the first four letters of the surname of a Ricky Gervais character too, and people noticed.

Yet despite all of that, and despite the setbacks which still ensure that really only one of the four transfer windows he’s presided over at Liverpool have been successful ones, look where he is now.

Rodgers has almost certainly guided the Reds to a top four finish this season, something that even the most optimistic of Liverpool supporters only dared to dream of in August, and it could yet get even better than that.

It is right that Rodgers’ side are still only considered as third favourites for the Premier League title behind the enormous strength of Chelsea and Manchester City’s squads and ahead of an Arsenal side who are about to enter some difficult fixtures, but even being there is a staggering enough achievement in itself.

Had you told those same Liverpool fans in August that this is where their team would be, and more importantly that the likes of Jon Flanagan, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson would be playing starring roles within it, then you’d have been laughed out of Merseyside.

Less than a year ago Flanagan’s career seemed to have irreparably stalled. He’d picked up a serious injury and when Liverpool tried to farm him out on loan they were getting the brush off from League One clubs. He came in from the cold to start a match at Arsenal in November and plenty of fans groaned.

Sterling’s rapid rise in the first half of last season, when he was played more out of necessity than anything else, had ground to a halt. He put in an extremely nervy display at right wing-back against Crystal Palace in October and didn’t play again for two months. When he did at Hull he was awful. He’s been utterly fantastic ever since.

Henderson’s transformation has perhaps been the most staggering. From being a big money flop he has evolved to become one of the first names on the teamsheet behind the obvious ones. Actually, he probably is now one of the obvious ones. At Old Trafford on Sunday he bossed the midfield in a 3-0 win. Sterling was playing intelligently in the No. 10 role, Flanagan was tackling anything that moved.

Make no mistake, all of this is down to Rodgers.

The manager himself has had to learn from his mistakes and adapt and improve.

In September he made the bizarre choice to field four recognised centre-backs at home to Southampton and a defeat followed. The three-man defence should have been dispensed with earlier than at half-time in the Arsenal loss in November. Hull away in December was probably the club’s worst display of the season, whilst as recently as Aston Villa at home in January – probably Liverpool’s last bad game – he got his midfield shape wrong and had to bring on Lucas Leiva at half-time.

Yet he’ll have learned from all of that, and it will have made him a better manager.

Whatever happens to Liverpool between now and the middle of May, he deserves to be recognised for that improvement with the Manager of the Year award.

Who knows, it might not be the only trophy he’s seen lifting soon.

Moyes has to go before more damage is done

It’s staggering that there are people claiming that tonight’s Champions League result against Olympiakos could make-or-break David Moyes’ Manchester United career. What difference should it make?

Even if they scrape through United are destined to lose to the first decent side they come up against, with the thought of what a Bayern Munich or a Barcelona could do to Moyes’ rudderless, confidence-free team barely worth thinking about for the club’s supporters.

Whether it’s now or in the summer Moyes needs to go in order for United to try and re-establish themselves amongst the elite of the modern game, and whatever happens tonight should have no bearing on that.


Hammers worth a punt to nail United

The Manchester United misery goes on, and ensures that this weekend’s trip to West Ham is far from a simple one.

Andy Carroll scored at Stoke last weekend and he is just the type of forward who can make things difficult for the visitors’ dodgy defence.

With, The Hammers are 10/11 on the Double Chance, 16/5 to win and 11/2 to taste victory with a Carroll goal.



Off the Mark: With the backing of Moyes, Cleverley can follow Henderson to acceptance

Off the Mark: Cardiff and Fulham face off in the dysfunctional derby

Fulham v Cardiff City - Premier League

It’s only the first week of March, but the loser of this weekend’s clash between Cardiff City and Fulham will find it very difficult to prolong their Premier League futures beyond the next two months.

That might seem to be somewhat of an overreaction given that after it there will be nine games remaining and 27 points available for both to try and climb from the lower reaches of the table, but the misery that currently engulfs both clubs makes it difficult to imagine any sort of winning run being put together, let alone a season-saving one.

Their presence together at the foot of the Premier League table – Fulham bottom on 21 points, Cardiff immediately above them on 22 – might have been established for a few weeks now, but it is made all the more interesting because both have arrived there via very different routes.

For Fulham, this is a 13th consecutive season in the top flight, a run that is only bettered by six of the current top seven (the pre-Sheikh Mansour Manchester City were in the Championship as recently as 2003) and Aston Villa.

For a long time they were almost the ghostly figures of the Premier League, drifting around, going unnoticed until you were able to pick them out of a crowd. A little like Kevin Spacey in that Oscars selfie.

But Mohamed Al-Fayed’s decision to end his ownership last summer always meant that something was going to change. Shahid Khan entered and a season of struggled ensued, with manager Martin Jol paying the price when he was sacked in early December.

That was all well and good – and indeed plenty of Fulham supporters welcomed the decision – but what was key now was that the club united behind the new man as he looked to make improvements, exactly as we have seen with the likes of Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace and Gus Poyet at Sunderland. Fulham didn’t do that.

The decision to sack Rene Meulensteen just 75 days after replacing Jol was a crazy one, especially as the Dutchman had just overseen credible displays against Manchester United and Liverpool. Darren Bent earned his side a hard-fought point from the former, and only a last gasp Steven Gerrard penalty denied them one in the latter.

At Cardiff there have been different, but entirely similar acts of shooting themselves in the foot.

It is a shame – although simply a fact of modern football – that it took the Welsh club’s elevation to the Premier League to finally make the national press take notice of the destructive acts of owner Vincent Tan.

Plenty of the club’s fans – although importantly not all of them – could get over the kit changing from blue to red, but the needless decision to sack manager Malky Mackay was a step too far.

Mackay attracted widespread sympathy when he was given the bullet in the week between Christmas and New Year, with Tan using that occasion and plenty since to show the watching world who the club’s real boss is. All well and good in an ego stroking, self-publicity kind of way, but for keeping a football club in the Premier League? Not so much.

And so it has come to this.

Venerable old Fulham head for South Wales on Saturday, when they will be managed by fierce old Felix Magath. Opponents Cardiff, loud and garish this season thanks to their owner, will be overseen by the quiet, reserved and largely inexperienced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Neither look a good fit, and neither will be managing a team shaped in their image – however many Norwegians and ex-Manchester United  players Solskjaer has managed to rustle up by kick-off.

In many ways, this is the most unpredictable match of the Premier League season so far. Cardiff won 2-1 at Craven Cottage in September, but the teamsheets for this one will be virtually unrecognisable from back then. Two different managers will shake hands before the match, too.

Whoever wins will still face a huge task to stay up, but for whoever loses that task could be too great.

One or both of them looks certain to fall in May, but at least they’ll be leaving behind a valuable lesson both for those that remain and those that replace them.


Ban isn’t enough to tame Pardew

Given his previous – a shoving match with Arsene Wenger, pushing an assistant referee, abusing Manuel Pellegrini – then what use is a touchline ban for Alan Pardew?

After headbutting Hull’s David Meyler the Newcastle boss should be given anger management classes, or at least be made to see a sports psychiatrist such as Dr Steve Peters, who does intermittent work at Liverpool and has just been hired by England for the World Cup.

It is easy to scoff at the mental side of the game when there are those such as Pardew who seek to redefine the word, but controlling your emotions is increasingly important within it, as we saw at the KC Stadium.

Hazard warning for Tottenham

In a shortened Premier League weekend, the big game comes on Saturday night as Chelsea host Tottenham.

The Blues are have clicked into gear as they chase glory on two fronts, and they can see off their London rivals with main man Eden Hazard getting on the scoresheet.

Back Hazard to score at any time and Chelsea to win at 5/2 with



Off the Mark: In a mad Premier League season, are Liverpool actually the sane ones?


Mad, bad, dangerous to know, an absolute joy to watch. There have been few teams in recent English football history that are quite so compelling as the current Liverpool side.

With most clubs facing 11 remaining matches in the Premier League this season, you’d think that we knew pretty much all there was to know about the teams vying for places at the top end of the table, and for the most part we do.

Chelsea are a winning machine built on Jose Mourinho’s twin foundations of control and intimidation. Arsenal are a tremendously talented bunch that are now being fuelled by the desire to prove the many people who are waiting for them to malfunction wrong. Manchester City can be an unstoppable force when all of the expensively assembled parts are in full working order and put in the right place. The rusty Martin Demichelis occasionally throws a spanner in the works though.

But Liverpool? There is nothing robotic about them.

Take their last three Premier League fixtures, matches which saw the Reds bludgeon the then league leaders to death with four goals in the first 19 minutes, twice come from behind to win at a normally sleepy Fulham with a last minute penalty from their captain, and then contrive to twice throw away a lead before winning what should have been a routine home game 4-3.

Predictable isn’t a word that features in the much-storied Brendan Rodgers coaching manual at the moment, but is that such a bad thing?

In those last three league games, the Reds conceded six goals but scored 12.

All football logic, all the football voices on Twitter, message boards, blogs, the corner of the pub, the middle of the pub, from behind a pundit’s desk are shouting at us to focus on those six goals conceded. On Kolo Toure’s comedic moment at Fulham, on Martin Skrtel’s failure to clear at Craven Cottage, on Simon Mignolet’s uncertainty, on Skrtel wrestling Wilfried Bony to the ground. On Toure at West Brom. We could go on and on.

But how about we look at those 12 goals scored instead?

Skrtel doubling up against Arsenal, Raheem Sterling leaving scorch marks on the Anfield pitch, Philippe Coutinho at a crucial time at Fulham, Steven Gerrard nerveless from the spot, Jordan Henderson all energy and boundless enthusiasm, Daniel Sturridge, Daniel Sturridge, Daniel Sturridge and Daniel Sturridge again.

This is the best attack in the country right now, and this is also the furthest that anyone has got into an article about Liverpool for the last three years before mentioning Luis Suarez.

Rodgers’ decision to move the Uruguayan into a perceptively deeper position in the past few weeks has had the effect that the manager will have wanted it to on Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho, Henderson and Gerrard, all of whom have scored a Premier League goal more recently than the division’s top scorer.

So with such an imbalance in the qualities of their squad, are Liverpool not right to simply try and blast their way to the league title?

It isn’t a long-term plan, clearly, but until Rodgers either brings in some new defenders, learns how better to coach his current ones or we see rapid development from the promising but injured Mamadou Sakho, then why not just go with it?

Let Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City worry about the serious business of defending, the Reds should just carry on doing what it is they do best.

It’s mad, obviously, but this is a team and a manager who brought on Toure with the score at 3-3 against Swansea in a bid to calm things down. They do mad well.

There should be no pressure on Liverpool to win the league simply because nobody thought it was possible at the start of the season, or at the start of this year, or at the start of this month, or at the start of this article, but if they aim for first they might land fourth or third or second. Any one of those positions would be an outstanding success.

By sticking to their principles the crazy Reds have the best chance of achieving whatever it is they are capable of, and they might even end up proving that it was they who were the sane ones all along.


Ole Goner?

What a mess Cardiff are in. They’re in the wrong kit, with the wrong owner, the wrong manager and in potentially the wrong division soon.

The 4-0 loss at home to Hull last weekend was far worse than anything experienced under Malky Mackay, and whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves time and a chance to get things right (although his scouting knowledge seems worryingly limited to Norwegians, ex-Manchester United players and sometimes both), Vincent Tan’s itchy trigger finger doesn’t need much encouragement.

The sooner Tan is out of the club the better, but if you had to bet on whether it would be him or his manager out of the door first then it should be pretty obvious where your money will go.


Tigers to maul Geordies

Everton came within a minute or two of landing our Double Chance bet at Chelsea, but Hull should have no problem making us some money at home to Newcastle this weekend.

Alan Pardew’s side beat Aston Villa but were still unconvincing, and with Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long forming a fine partnership, the 7/5 on the hosts looks a good price.

Back Hull to beat Newcastle at 7/5 with


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