Will Hull City's form continue, can David Moyes leapfrog Everton and will a Chelsea striker score an away goal in 2013?
What a pleasure it must be for a football manager etching out a team sheet when the first five names more or less write themselves. Goalkeeper. Right-back. Two centre-halves. Left-back. No pauses, no undue worries, as one name weaves seamlessly into the next to make a superglued defensive mass: SzczesnySagnaMertesackerKoscielnyGibbs. It has felt like ages since Arsenal could feel so secure about their back line. A new resilience was forged at the end of last season as a determined base became the foundation for another late scramble to a top-four finish. Continue reading
On Sunday Hull City AFC beat Liverpool FC for the first time. Imagine how that feels to fans who lived through the dark days of the 90s, of dubious owners, dreadful managers, dozy players, all against the backdrop of wondering whether the club would actually exist in the morning. Given that we are in what is only the club's third season in the top tier of English football, you would think that after finally scalping one of the game's aristocrats, there would be no other topic of conversation in the pubs, clubs and pavement cafes of the country's latest City of Culture. Sadly, you'd be wrong. There was a bristling atmosphere for the visit of Liverpool that had little to do with football. We had read in the Sunday papers that the club's owner and chairman, Dr Assem Allam had referred to fans as "hooligans" and "a militant minority". Most remarkably of all, he had suggested that these fans "can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football." Continue reading
Match fact: Arsenal have conceded one goal in their last five league games (and that was to "an Arsenal man")
Liverpool signed eight players in the summer, two on loan, for almost £50m but only one – the goalkeeper Simon Mignolet – has truly established himself in the first team. The rest may have improved the depth of the squad, a task Rodgers and the owner, Fenway Sports Group, agreed on for the summer, and may yet enhance Liverpool's future. Overall results in 2013 and a consistent place in the top four this season demonstrate that FSG's strategy of acquiring young potential and the occasional gem such as Coutinho has its merits. The intended path towards a Champions League return has been clear since Rodgers arrived and a transfer "committee" was set up but Sunday's display, and the manager's analysis, suggest the transfer policy has not maximised the prospect of a top-four finish this term. Continue reading
Match fact: Last season Liverpool won this fixture 5-0 at Anfield and 5-2 at Carrow Road.
We are sitting in a ground-floor office at Manchester United's training ground and Phil Neville is reminiscing about the time Old Trafford serenaded him with the old Joy Division number usually reserved for Ryan Giggs. It goes back to Rene Meulensteen's early days in Manchester when the now Fulham manager was brought in as a skills specialist. "His big thing was that in a game, under the most pressure, you need something to get you out of trouble," Neville says. "And me being a full-back, he thought I should learn how to do a step-over." Neville would have 30-minute sessions with Meulensteen, along with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ruud van Nistelrooy. "I was serious about it. I practised for six months and then we had a game against Southampton and the opportunity just came to try it out. I turned round, feeling quite pleased with myself, and the first thing I saw was Giggsy and Becks [David Beckham] laughing their heads off." Contine reading
Roberto Martínez has told Everton to break their "damage-limitation" mentality in the Premier League's toughest away fixtures as they prepare for Wednesday's reunion with David Moyes at Manchester United. Everton have not won at Old Trafford since 1992 and that dreadful record also continued at Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool under Moyes, who did not win one of 46 away league matches against those four clubs during his 11 years as manager. The Scot's perceived negativity in those fixtures gained substance in the summer when he admitted heading to United with Everton thinking: "You want to get out of Old Trafford alive, that was our saying." Continue reading
Match fact: Ryan Giggs could become only the fourth outfield player to appear in a Premier League game in his 40s, after Teddy Sheringham, Gordon Strachan and Kevin Phillips.
Christian Benteke is a "victim of his own success" according to Aston Villa's manager, Paul Lambert. Benteke has gone seven games without scoring and Lambert, who has no doubt it is a blip, says it was inevitable Benteke would be under the microscope this season after a tally of 23 goals in his maiden campaign. "I'm pretty sure Christian's a victim of his own success but he's created that himself," he said. Continue reading
Match fact: Southampton are one of four teams in the Premier League to remain unbeaten at home this season. Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton are the others.
The Stoke City chairman, Peter Coates, has promised Mark Hughes there will be money to spend when the transfer window reopens next month, admitting that a striker will be the priority for a club that continues to struggle to score goals and is languishing just above the relegation zone. Beaten 4-0 at Everton on Saturday, Stoke have won only one of their last 10 league matches and sit two places above the drop zone before Wednesday's crucial home game against Cardiff City, who are behind them on goal difference. Continue reading
Match fact: These teams last played each other in the top flight on Valentine's Day, 1953. There was a solar eclipse that night – and it has its own Wikipedia page.
José Mourinho has claimed Manchester City's "unique" squad has placed greater pressure on them to secure the Premier League title and is concerned Chelsea's rivals, most obviously Manuel Pellegrini's side, may bypass the new financial fair-play regulations and spend lavishly in the transfer window. Chelsea's outlay on six players in the summer approached £65m, a figure eclipsed at the Etihad Stadium where almost £100m was spent. Yet, while Chelsea believe they are on track to adhere to Uefa's FFP policy and do not anticipate adding to their options in January, they are concerned a rival title contender may sanction a massive outlay which could, potentially, flout the regulations. Continue reading
Match fact: No striker has scored an away league goal for Chelsea in 2013. In the same time, Romelu Lukaku has scored seven away goals for West Brom in the league.
Pardew's side are currently enjoying a four-match winning streak for only the second time in the Premier League since April 2006, the other time being during that aforementioned campaign when they finished just outside the Champions League places. Only table-topping Arsenal (five matches) have embarked on as good a run of successive wins this season, while only champions Manchester United managed any better last season (seven matches). Newcastle are certainly not going to win the title, but at the moment this is title-winning form from Pardew's men. So what is going so right for them this season that they have gone from fifth from bottom at the end of last season to sixth from top 13 games into this one? Continue reading
Match fact: French players have scored 18 of Newcastle's 19 Premier League goals this season.
Rene Meulensteen expects to be granted funding by the Fulham owner, Shahid Khan, in January to try to avoid relegation as the Dutchman sets about making a success of his first managerial role in English football. Meulensteen, who was initially recruited as head coach last month, was given sole responsibility for the first-team following the departure of his compatriot, Martin Jol. Meulensteen , has spoken at length with the chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, and has made no secret of his desire to recruit to bolster a side who have suffered five successive league defeats to drop below the cut-off. Continue reading
The Brondby dressing room, Frankfurt Stadion, 14 September 2006. Rene Meulensteen is about to deliver an intriguing team-talk before a Uefa Cup first-leg match against Eintracht Frankfurt. To the captain, Per Nielsen, he says: "OK, Per, what animal are you today?"
Nielsen: "Erm, a snake."
Meulensteen: "No. Snakes are slow."
Nielsen: "Then a tiger."
Meulensteen: "Good. Tigers are brave, fast and strong. That is what we need from a captain."
Soren Sorgenfri Frederiksen, the co-author of 4 Per Nielsen – Brondby for evigt? (Brondby for ever?), takes up the story at the point at which foxes, giraffes, a whole zoo have been nominated.
"When Rene has asked all 11 players, he says: 'OK we have pretty good cover – we have tigers, lions: we are clever, we have muscle, we are strong, and so on. We cannot lose today,'" Frederiksen adds. "Then Rene left the dressing room and all the players sat there looking at each other and started laughing, saying: 'Shit. What the hell is this guy all about?" And then they went out and lost 4-0 and got two red cards." Continue reading
Match fact: Tottenham are without a win in four league matches ... but Fulham have lost their last five.
Manuel Pellegrini says he has faith in all his defenders but cannot deny the return of Vincent Kompany is significant. Kompany, the influential captain and centre-back, is poised to play at West Brom on Wednesday night after 10 games out with a thigh injury. "Kompany is in the squad list and he is travelling with the team," Pellegrini said. "Vincent is a very important player. He is a very good defender and, of course, we need him. He is also the captain of the team and he will normally be in the 11 starting. We have other captains but all the team is happy with the return of the captain. Continue reading
Match fact: Manchester City have lost four away matches in the league this season – the same number as they lost last season, when they finished 11 points behind Manchester United.