The race for Europe’s elite competition

With Chelsea defending their way into the Champions League Final against Barcelona, it’s thrown open a potentially heart breaking sprint for four teams to cross the finishing line and even then, only one team may find themselves guaranteed to play in the highest echelons of European football based on league position.

Arsenal are currently sitting in the last guaranteed position for Champions League football for next season based on an assumption that Chelsea may win in the Champions League final later next month.

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If Wenger sees the incident, then it means he’s looking over his shoulder at a resurgent and formidable Newcastle sitting just behind them, a sinking, stuttering Tottenham and a Chelsea team who may or may not have to finish in fourth place to join Europe’s elite in battle.

Though Arsenal have been in great form since the turn of 2012 and have rocketed ahead of arch-rivals Spurs, they have on paper a potentially difficult run in with the likes of Stoke away, Norwich at home and finishing off with West Brom away. Stoke haven’t been an easy team for Arsenal to brush aside in the past and Norwich have pulled out some stunning results this season against teams many fancied they’d struggle to contain.  West Brom could be a banana skin on the last day of the season as Newcastle fans can well remember throwing away a three goal lead last season.

Newcastle have been in the top seven of the table pretty much since the season began and whilst many expected a plummet, they have defied pundits alike with a strong run to the start of the season and are finishing strongly despite a mid-season blip. In a season that many supporters could only have dreamt of at the start, Europe is beckoning but the season could still end in slight disappointment if the Champions League is missed and the slightly less lauded Europa becomes the competition they enter.

Pardew has seen his team through a strong six game winning streak that has enabled them to jump above Chelsea and Spurs but he’s looking both directions, sitting behind Arsenal by three points yet having a game in hand to move level and keeping an eye on Tottenham and Chelsea who sit three and four points behind respectively on the same total of games played.

The run in includes Wigan, who are fighting to avoid the drop and have managed a good run of form that has taken them out of the relegation zone, followed by three tough matches against game laden Chelsea, title chasing Man City and finishing with the ever tough Everton who always seem to finish a season strongly.

Spurs were seemingly nailed on for a top three finish and perhaps a title challenge before February 2012. Spurs have been in terrible form since hammering Newcastle 5-0 in February which may have been the catalyst for Newcastle to spur on and move up the table. Seeing arch-rivals Arsenal move above them and losing heavily in an FA Cup semi-final seems to have derailed Spurs efforts to finish top four.

Being one of the most out of form teams in the table at present then who can predict the outcomes of playing Blackburn at home, Bolton away, Villa away and then a London derby of Fulham at home to end the season. While generic viagra online‎ Spurs have lost the winning mentality they face three teams at the bottom end of the table fighting for their lives. Redknapp admitted that he needs to win all four and take maximum points but form suggests that that is a tall order.

DiMatteo took on the unenviable task of trying to recover Chelsea’s sub-par season and has turned the team around and brought back winning ways. Whilst the team may not play with swagger and verve as Roman wants, the results to date mean an FA Cup Final and the Champions League Final. Whilst winning the Champions League Final would ensure further participation in the tournament next season, it’s far from certain that it’s guaranteed.

Abramovich wants Champions League. Anything else is deemed a failure and therefore Chelsea are under pressure to finish fourth to ensure they are there again and this causes additional issues as Chelsea have a cornucopia of matches to fit in before the season ends.

Home to nearest and dearest QPR, home to fourth place contenders Newcastle, Liverpool in the FA Cup, and then a few days later away at Anfield before finishing the league with Blackburn at home.

Finally, Chelsea take on either Bayern or Real in Munich on the 19th of May and that game will have massive repercussions for the fourth place league finisher.

In essence, it’s all to play for, for the four teams but, in the end, it may all be pointless.

Best of luck to all supporters but in a truly biased manner: Come on Newcastle!!

Confidence in the Squad

Over the last few weeks I’ve really becoming much more confident that our fringe players can do a job. It’s obviously worrying when Tiote has to go off but I would have felt much worse about it a few months back/start of the season.

It seems we have a selection of players who can play a variety of roles. I’m not worried if Jonas to step in at LB, I believe that Perch can do a job in CM, I’m happy with Ba or Cisse working on the LW, I don’t mind Raylor playing… anywhere.

It’s not ideal, and it’s no reason not to strengthen in the summer, but with every player seemingly stepping up to plate regardless of whether they’re slightly out of position or not, I have much more confidence in players that I wouldn’t have previously.

The main thing it does is give us more adaptability in formation during games, so we can make tactical switches without the need of a sub.

So much credit has to go to Pardew for getting the absolutely maximum out of every player. It’s astonishing what he, and the squad, have achieved, it really is.

Written by Geordie Gashead

How much can our current side improve?

Something just popped into my head a while ago.

It’s a bit cliché I know, but I wonder if our squad can actually become ten times better on Premier League experience alone. Let me elaborate…

Tim Krul, Danny Guthrie, Jose Enrique, Jonas and even James Perch all have one thing in common. They have all significantly improved since we’ve signed them, admittedly at different rates. Obviously, the main factor for their improvement is good old fashioned experience. When Krul first came into the first team he was known to have potential but was hardly seen as a number one, when Jonas and Jose came along it was extremely prevalent that they had no Premier League experience whatsoever, and when Danny Guthrie and James Perch had their brief spells in the team last season, it’s safe to say they hardly shook any foundations.

Now look at them. One is our number one keeper and definitely one of the best keepers in the Prem. Two of them are now getting regular first team football (injuries have helped them out) with one of them even outdoing Tiote at one point in the season and Perch has, well, you know. Another is arguably our most consistent player and provides our key defensive cover as well as our attacking edge. The less said about Jose the better.

Now to think about who could be the next players that could “significantly improve”. Our new transfer policy means we are bringing in players with mostly no Premier League experience at all. Santon, Cabaye, Obertan (admittedly already a Prem player but without much game time), Cissé, Marveaux and in theory Ben Arfa all fall into this category. For them, this all a new experience and some have coped well(Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Cissé), whilst others have had a bit of a tough time(Obertan, Santon, Marveaux if being injured constitutes having a tough time). Can the players who’ve adapted well get even better? Can the likes of Obertan become the new Perch and have a complete breakout season? That’s the thing that needs thinking about.

Look at Tiote though, he adapted to the league straight away and is one of our best players but arguably hasn’t shockingly improved a great deal. The way players actually improve come into question as well, Krul improved after getting a massive amount of playing time whilst Perch just came into the team and was completely different, probably due to good coaching and just blending with the team in training.

So, given time, who do you think could get even better and plant his place on a first team spot?

Written by DavideDuck

FIFA’s Handball Rule

With the recent controversy over whether Danny Simpson’s block on the line against Liverpool constituted a penalty and a red card, it got me thinking. With so many people unsure on whether this, along with other instances throughout the recent seasons, was a handball, what actually constitutes a handball during the game?

We all know what constitutes a blatant handball, the arm blocking an advantage to the other team whilst being in an unnatural position. Along with this, if this was caused in the penalty area, it results in a penalty without a sending off. However, after reading the rules on this, it becomes an incredibly unreliable grey area that varies from ref to ref.

Focusing on the incident mentioned at the beginning, the rules state that if a handball in the Goalkeeper’s area is committed, then the player doesn’t receive a caution but a penalty kick is awarded. Along with this, the next rule says that if the ball is intentionally blocked by a hand, then the player will be sent off for unsporting behavior during play. However, the rules do not state what constitutes a deliberate handball, so depending on the ref’s view of the incident, it could go either way, even if the offender didn’t intentionally commit the foul.

To go with all of this, the rule on handballs go on to talk about the punishment for a handball, but ignore where on the body it stops becoming a handball and becomes a legitimate block. So, in many cases, no one (Even the person refereeing the game) is actually sure whether the player is actually committing the foul, or making a goal line clearance.

Danny Simpson’s incident was a clear arm going for the ball, which in the rules would be an intentional handball if it was anywhere on the lower part of his arm as it was in an unnatural position, but the fact it hits the upper section of his arm leaves everyone divided on what the outcome should have been.

I’m not defending Simpson here. I’m just raising the point that whilst many pundits will go on to say how it was ‘a blatant penalty and sending off’, it’s not actually as black and white as they may think.

– By Amnesiac

Liverpool reaping what they sow

I think that it is quite fitting that liverpool are sliding down the league and looking like a mid table club that will have to rely on decent cup runs to bring them glory. The disgraceful treatment of Woy Hodgeson (who I think would have done a decent job for them given time), the disgusting stance that they took on the Suarez/Evra situation (“we will not let Suarez walk alone” ), and the way the media kisses their backsides, make it all the more pleasurable to see them dropping faster than Ryan Giggs’ sister-in law’s knickers at a Man Utd Xmas party.

Is this the beginning of the end of them being able to challenge the top 4? Next year they will be absent from the Champion’s League again and it is obvious that they will have to make some drastic changes to their squad to get anywhere near the 4th place.

We are looking as if we can challenge the top 6 on a long term basis, and with MON in charge, I would expect Sunderland to be in the top 7/8 next year with Everton. So is competing for 6th-9th place the future for Liverpool?

Do they stick with KD, who looks as if he has lost the plot as well as the dressing room? Or do they try to bring in another manager and start again?

Although they have a great history, I suspect that the appeal of playing for Liverpool is nowhere near as high as it was even a few years ago. They still pay top wages to players, but this will have to change with the onset of the fair play rules, and I get the feeling that mid table obscurity is beckoning.

Would love to see lawro’s face if they ever had a bottom half finish!!

Author – simonbh7