Saturday, 29 November 2014

Party on: Mourinho lifts Chelsea Christmas ban

Party on: Mourinho lifts Chelsea Christmas ban Jose Mourinho has revealed that he will allow his Chelsea players to enjoy the festive period more than usual this season, having lifted the club ban on Christmas parties.

The Portuguese suspended last year’s event after a 2-1 League Cup loss to Sunderland on December 17.

But Mourinho has now moved to ensure his players let their hair down ahead of the hectic Christmas schedule, and says he trusts his squad to ensure they maintain their fitness levels following a scintillating start to the season.

"I think it’s more important what they do when they are not with us than what they do with us," said Mourinho, who can see his side move nine points clear at the top of the Premier League with a win over the Black Cats this weekend.

"With us, the percentage of the day is so small that what they can do here they can destroy in one click. And they have 20 hours to do that. It’s their responsibility. When they come here better today than yesterday and the recovery process is fluid, it’s because they’re doing that very well.

"Probably, because of that, the club is preparing a little Christmas party for them and their families. This is a squad with lots of young guys with kids a couple of weeks to 10-years-old. I think it’s good for them."

Mourinho rubbished any suggestion that he would dress up as Chelsea’s very own Father Christmas, but admits that the party will involve players and children alike.

"I think I have to go to say a couple of words and, after that, to leave them with their families and kids," he said. "There are Christmas parties and Christmas parties.

"This one I think the families deserve and the boys are very happy to be with their families."

Such is Mourinho’s pleasure at his team’s displays, he does not intend to ask Roman Abramovich to finance a January transfer splurge, claiming that his squad is "perfect."

"I don’t want people to leave — I don’t want people to come in," he added. "That, for me, is the perfect situation.

"If other teams do it in January, good for them. It will not be something I will use by saying, ‘these guys spend €38 million more’."

Stars adorn Premier League team of 2014

WhoScored's team of 2014 so far
Stars from Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Man City join shock inclusion Wayne Rooney as WhoScored name their best Premier League team of 2014.
The opener at Manchester City may well have proved fruitless by the final whistle but Wilfried Bony's early strike took his total for the calendar year to a league-leading 17, one clear of Sergio Aguero, who failed to register for the opposing side.
It got us thinking about which players have really shone since the turn of the year, with bringing us their top-rated Premier League XI over the course of the last 11 months. To qualify, players must have made at least ten appearances at the tail end of last season and more than five at the start of this, rendering the likes of Luis Suarez, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Daniel Sturridge ineligible.
WhoScored's Premier League Team of 2014 (4-4-2): Mannone; Ivanovic, Davies, Dawson, Baines; Sterling, Matic, Jedinak, Hazard; Aguero, Rooney
Vito Mannone (Sunderland)
He may have been partly at fault for a frankly embarrassing defensive showing against the likes of Southampton and Arsenal this season but the gaffes Vito Mannone made in those matches were all the more baffling given his previous performances for the Black Cats. The 26-year-old was voted Sunderland's player of the season in his debut campaign for the club and for good reason, with no goalkeeper having made more saves in the calendar year (122).
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
Not exactly your typical slight full-back, Branislav Ivanovic's development into undoubtedly one of the Premier League's finest has been intriguing. The intimidating Serbian is now a key component to Chelsea's attack and has adapted his game so much so that it's arguably the defensive side of his armoury that is now weaker than his attacking threat. Nevertheless, Ivanovic has averaged an impressive two tackles per game to accompany 1.1 key passes per match and four league goals in 2014.
Curtis Davies (Hull)
The Hull captain had a near dream debut campaign for the Tigers, performing admirably in the league before scoring a goal that so nearly helped the side to an FA Cup final upset against Arsenal. Davies' rating in the calendar year of 7.47 is the best of any Premier League defender in that time and comes having produced the second most clearances (311) and won the third most aerial duels (147) in 2014.
Michael Dawson (Hull)
Taking his place alongside new teammate Davies, Michael Dawson has made a superb start to life at the KC and in the most recent meeting with former club Spurs he showed the Londoners that they may well have been wrong to let him go. His league rating of 7.43 over 20 appearances this year has been aided by impressive figures including 2.5 interceptions and 4.9 aerial duels won per game.
Leighton Baines (Everton)
When talking about defenders that are most crucial to their side's general play it's hard to look beyond Leighton Baines and the left-back has continued to provide a genuine threat in the final third for Everton this season, and indeed this year. No player has registered more PL assists in 2014 than the England full-back (10), with a total of 62 chances created ranking seventh in the Premier League, but well clear of any other defender.
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
The Liverpool wonderkid may have been unable to continue his blistering form from the end of last season, and indeed start of this of late but having featured in every single league game for the Reds in this calendar year (31) it's understandable. Nevertheless the winger has been a real menace wherever he has played in that time, scoring nine times and registering six assists, with only one player completing more dribbles (94).
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)
It's easy to forget that Nemanja Matic only re-signed for Chelsea at the start of this year, such has been his seamless integration into the Blues line-up, becoming a crucial member of Jose Mourinho's regular starting XI. The Serb hit the ground running for the capital club and continues to dominate matches with his physicality and assured presence on the ball, with only one player having made more tackles in 2014 (97).
Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
The man to effectively out-tackle Matic this year partners him in a robust midfield pairing, with Palace captain Mile Jedinak also having made the step into Premier League football in impressive fashion. The Australian has produced both the most tackles (114) and the most interceptions (116) since the turn of the year, as well as ranking amongst the top ten for aerial duels won, with 112. A rating of 7.58 from is fully merited.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
The best player in the Premier League in 2014 according to's ratings is Eden Hazard, with a score of 7.91. The Belgian flyer has been at the top of his game for some time now and has proved to be a nightmare for opposing defences all year, ranking first in the English top flight for both successful dribbles (127) - a full 33 more than any other player - and key passes (70).
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
An unsurprising inclusion in the XI having struck 16 league goals from just 20 appearances in 2014, Sergio Aguero is Hazard's closest rival in WhoScored's ratings (7.65). The Argentine's goal tally comes having mustered the fourth most shots this year (88) but the most on target despite his limited playing time (43), with his unerring accuracy having helped City regain the Premier League title last season.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Some may be surprised that Wayne Rooney pips 2014's top scorer Wilfried Bony to the best XI but it's worth considering that the United skipper's tally of 12 - five fewer than the Ivorian - has come from nine fewer appearances this year (22), leaving the two with a near identical strike rate. Considering that the England man has played from a far deeper position, his goal threat is impressive and has been supplemented by 1.4 key passes per game to Bony's 0.9.

Klopp suited for Arsenal or Liverpool?

Jurgen Klopp: Linked with Arsenal and Liverpool
With Jurgen Klopp linked with Arsenal and Liverpool, Matt Stanger and Adam Bate present the cases for and against the Borussia Dortmund boss.

The Case for Klopp

So here we are again. It's late November, Arsenal are in crisis and that sound you can hear is Hewlett-Packard furiously printing 'Wenger Out' on A4 sheet after A4 sheet.
This is what football reduces us to: middle-aged men spending their short winter evenings carefully conveying their frustration in glorious Comic Sans. No, you can't finish your school project, Thierry. Daddy's got some very important work to do.
It does seem that Arsenal are crawling towards a crossroads at which point Arsene Wenger may very politely be begged to move upstairs, or leave, or just stop making the same exasperating mistakes year after year. Eventually the time will come when Ivan Gazidis must pluck up the courage to grab a quick word. Surely it has to.
Arsenal have been a living fossil for the past decade, perfectly captured by the last week which brought a soul-crushingly predictable defeat to United and news of Abou Diaby's inclusion in the Champions League squad ahead of Olivier Giroud.
Forget the prognosis of the striker's ankle injury, presuming that Diaby is going to be fitter than any other human at any given time is the sort of show of faith that landed the club in this mess. It's admirable that Wenger affords that level of trust, but it's also death by a thousand cuts.
Despite Alisher Usmanov's tasty comments on Monday, Arsenal are likely to stick with the man they handed a new three-year contract back in the summer when he was sowing seeds of sadness by failing to address the defensive shortage and lack of steel in midfield.
But there is a tempting alternative to persisting with Wenger which appears to be considered with all the solemnity of the nuclear option at the Emirates.
One of the greatest things about the game is its tendency to throw up 'sliding doors' moments. On Wednesday, Arsenal and Klopp will meet at the Emirates.
Perhaps they'll brush hands, perhaps Klopp will get all giggly and say something Arsenal finds adorable. Who knows? But there has been no better opportunity for the two to get romantically entwined.

On the previous occasions Klopp has managed against Arsenal, his commitment to Dortmund has been unyielding.
But then Bayern scorched the earth, Dortmund stopped winning, relegation became an unexpected yet suddenly very real possibility and Klopp said this: "I think it (England) is the only country where I should work, because it's the only country I know the language a little bit, and I need the language for my work. If somebody will call me, then we will talk about it."
That's right, he actually said it. For once it isn't conjecture or something conjured up by (who also do a great trade in Vines and amusing tweets you've already read on Twitter); J├╝rgen Klopp genuinely said those words, issuing a pretty unequivocal come-and-get-me plea to the Premier League.
Of course, Arsenal may have concerns over Dortmund's current Bundesliga form, but it would be deliberately obtuse to ignore Klopp's success over the past six seasons.
Despite Bayern dwarfing Dortmund's spending power, Klopp has led the club to two Bundesliga crowns, the DFB-Pokal, two DFL Supercups and the Champions League final. And all this was achieved with a brand of enthralling flowing football that used to be Arsenal's hallmark.
With Liverpool also thought to be monitoring his situation, this may be Arsenal's only chance to capture theoretically the ideal replacement for Wenger.
This isn't United following Sir Alex Ferguson with David Moyes; Klopp possesses the power of personality to walk into the Emirates as Wenger did Highbury in 1996, embrace the club's culture, and yet be strong enough to impose his own ideas. Ideas that have been successful elsewhere at the highest level.
In truth, this should no longer be the big decision that has been billed. Gazidis ought to be tempted to throw a net over Klopp on Wednesday night and get him to dot the Us there and then.
If Arsenal lose again, it will be difficult to stem the tide of anti-Wenger sentiment. Change is needed and, after making himself available, Klopp is the man to bring it.

The Case against Klopp

With Liverpool making their worst start in 22 years and Arsenal fans having to go back another decade to find a more miserable opening to their campaign, Jurgen Klopp's arrival on English soil is beautifully timed for everyone but Brendan and Arsene.
A flash of a grin and that roaring laugh will likely see a swooning English media fall for the charismatic German all over again.
His Borussia Dortmund side visit the Emirates as the top dogs in Group D and one of only three teams - alongside Real Madrid and Bayern Munich - with a 100 per cent record in qualifying. Fresh in the mind too is the 2-0 win that Dortmund conjured up in their previous meeting when they played with the sort of verve and panache that's become a mere memory in north London.
But there's a small problem with the notion of Klopp as panacea for the problems facing Arsenal and Liverpool. Notably that Dortmund's crisis is every bit as troubling as the ones threatening to engulf those colleagues in England that some would have him replace. Twelve games into the Bundesliga campaign and Dortmund are in the bottom three with just 11 points.
Ten games into the season and the German media was abuzz with the shocking statistic that this was the club's worst start in 48 years - alarming given that BVB have actually been relegated in that period.
More pertinently, they have already lost as many games - seven - as in any of the four previous seasons under Klopp. "It's anything but good, what has happened," said the man himself.
Dortmund started badly with a home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen and it's got worse from there. Klopp insists he's in control of the situation, but after calling a home defeat to Hamburg at the start of October "rock bottom" and going so far as to suggest he'd already identified the solution, Dortmund promptly went and lost the next three league games.
A manager can only get away with that talk - attempting to draw a line in the sand - once or twice before the blip becomes a malaise and people begin to doubt he has the answers.
Dortmund have long been better when hitting teams on the counter-attack, but chances to do so are now limited in the Bundesliga as their rivals know what to expect.

Klopp's focus is on imposing his team's will on the other side through a pressing game that relies on players able to work harder than their opponents.
But there are those now questioning whether Klopp has a Plan B - an ironic criticism given the long-held belief that Wenger pays too little attention to the tactics of the men in the other dressing room.
Rodgers too has been accused of being found out, creating a picture of the Premier League that suggests the would-be-philosophers are languishing while that arch-pragmatist Jose Mourinho is left chuckling from his lofty position at the top of the table at the golden prison his rivals have constructed for themselves.
Klopp was long seen as the alchemist able to bend those prison bars to his will, not only replacing star players such as Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa but even able to bring them back to the Westfalenstadion with nothing to show for their travels but a fistful of dollars and a host of recriminations.
But just as Rodgers has found the departure of Luis Suarez a bitter blow, the exit of Robert Lewandowksi might be one too many for Klopp to deal with. Ilkay Gundogan is reportedly doing interviews revealing his plans to leave, while only an unfortunate injury is likely to keep Marco Reus in the Ruhr beyond 2015.
This is not an attempt to besmirch the reputation of a coach who has achieved marvellous things - those accomplishments will not be erased whatever happens next at Dortmund.
But it is a reminder to fans of Arsenal and Liverpool that any hope there is a coach out there ready to transform their fortunes with a smile and a quip might not be as straightforward as a Champions League group stage table can make it look.

Southampton-Manchester City Preview

Southampton-Manchester City Preview: Koeman wants proof that Saints can do something 'special'
 Ronald Koeman wants Southampton to prove that they are capable of achieving "something special" this season by beating Manchester City on Sunday.

The south-coast club are second in the Premier League after winning eight of their first 12 games and suffering just two defeats in a sensational start under Koeman.

The Saints had been tipped for a season of struggle after losing a host of key players, who followed manager Mauricio Pochettino through the St Mary's Stadium exit door.

But rather than bracing himself for a relegation battle, Koeman has set his sights on securing a Champions League spot in his first season in English football.

The former Netherlands international knows that the visit of champions City will be a major test for Southampton but backs his side to rise to the challenge.

"We realise that this Sunday we play against one of the teams who can win the title," Koeman told the press. "We've shown before that it's not easy to beat Southampton and we'll show that on Sunday.

"If we want to do something special this season, then we have to win these types of games. They have a strong squad and good players. In the last few weeks [Sergio] Aguero has made the difference.

"Manchester City will take this game seriously. They know that we are strong and that they'll have to be good to beat us."

City will go above Southampton into second spot if they consign Koeman's men to a first home defeat of the season.

Manuel Pellegrini's side head into the game on the back of a dramatic 3-2 Champions League win over Bayern Munich in midweek, which kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the last 16.

Southampton's impressive start to the season has led to them being described as a surprise package but City boss Pellegrini has not been shocked by their impressive form.

The Chilean said: "Southampton are a good team with very good players and they're playing very well. It's no surprise they are where they are. Koeman has lost four or five players but they are still a good team and that's a merit to him. It will be a tough game."

Southampton have conceded only one goal at St Mary's this season - against QPR in September - but they will have to be at their best to keep quiet the in-form Aguero.

The Argentina forward scored a hat-trick against European champions Bayern and has 18 goals to his name already this season.

City will be without Edin Dzeko (thigh), David Silva (knee) and Aleksandar Kolarov (calf) but Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are back in the squad after missing the win over Bayern due to suspension. Southampton midfielder Steven Davis, meanwhile, is rated as doubtful due to a hamstring problem.


Rodgers reminds me of Wenger, says Arsenal old-boy Kolo Toure

Rodgers reminds me of Wenger, says Arsenal old-boy Kolo Toure
Kolo Toure has likened under-fire boss Brendan Rodgers to his old manager Arsene Wenger and is confident the Northern Irishman can turn Liverpool’s season around.

The Merseysiders have endured a tricky start to the new campaign, failing to win their last four Premier League outings and languishing in 12th place, while they face a must-win clash with Basel in their final Champions League match.

Toure, though, is confident Rodgers can get Liverpool back to the levels that saw them challenge for the title last season and has praised the Wenger-like philosophy he is installing at Anfield.

“I do see Wenger in him, because he’s so intelligent. He knows how to speak to players and how to get the best out of them,” Toure is quoted in The Mirror. “He will prove that, because we will come out of this hard time.

“Just look at what he’s done during a short time here. When he arrived Liverpool were doing badly. He came in and brought the club a long way up.

“Maintaining it is more difficult than first coming up there. I think he is learning. This season is a learning process but he will get there.

“Last season was unbelievable. This season has been more tough. We need to stick with Brendan though, because he’s one of the best managers in the Premier League.

“At the end of the day, he’s a fair guy who is working hard and gives 100 per cent every day. Like Arsene, he’s always there at training, trying to improve things. His style of play is also similar. He always wants us to pass the ball and keep playing which is very important.”

Liverpool succumbed to a late draw against Ludogorets on Wednesday night meaning they not won a Champions League encounter since September, but Toure believes Rodgers is simply adapting to the Champions League.

“This is the first time he has managed in the Champions League,” the Ivory Coast centre-back added.

“He is learning. The Champions League is tough. We’ve seen it with teams like City, who have found it tough. You have to learn about it.

“You need time as a manager. I think he has done a great job for this club and we like him. He works so hard and gives 100%. That’s why I am sure we will get out of this spell we’re in.” 

Liverpool already planning for life without Rodgers

Liverpool already planning for life without Rodgers
Liverpool have responded to a debilitating start to their season by exploring options to replace Brendan Rodgers as manager, Goal understands.

According to sources involved in the process, potential successors have been contacted to assess their suitability for, and interest in, the position.

The Premier League club's approach, which is described as “very informal”, included questions about management style, training methods and philosophy. That the process began several weeks ago is an indication that Liverpool's American owners are considering radical measures should their expensively restructured squad's underperformance continue.

Rodgers was rewarded with an improved four-year contract after overseeing a wholly unexpected second-place finish last season. The Northern Irishman was also permitted to lead a €147million summer spend on transfer fees as Liverpool sought to wrestle the Premier League title away from Manchester City this campaign while qualifying for the Champions League again.

Eighteen points adrift of leaders Chelsea having lost half of their opening 12 Premier League fixtures, the title is already unattainable, leading Rodgers to focus resources on what has become a more open race than usual for fourth place. Fenway Sports Group's plan upon taking control of the club was to be benefiting from Champions League revenues from 2015 onwards.

Rodgers was not John W Henry's first choice as manager when FSG last changed coaches in the summer of 2012, only winning over the club's principal owner with his performance at interview and a 180-page “document on the culture, philosophy and game plan going forward” that Rodgers claimed to have “been piecing together” for 15 years. It is understood that Henry has had to be talked down from dismissing him as manager on at least two occasions since.

Should a definitive decision be made to change manager again, FSG are expected to appoint a young, forward thinking coach. Roberto Martinez was initially Henry's preferred canditate for the role in 2012, though his position at Everton and renowned loyalty to employers mitigate against him this time around.

Andre Villas-Boas - who has led Zenit St Petersburg to an eight-point advantage at the summit of the Russian Premier League - was also short listed two years ago, but is not keen on coaching in England again. FSG have been impressed by Jurgen Klopp's achievements at Borussia Dortmund and are well aware that he has begun positioning himself for a job in England.

Asked this week if any Premier League club had contacted him, the German evaded the question. “Sometimes timing is very important,” said Klopp. “In each part of life, I think.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, has seen bookmakers radically shorten odds on his dismissal. “They obviously expect me to lose my job,” he said yesterday.

“It's as simple as that. That's football. A few months ago, I was manager of year and now I'm favourite to get the sack. It's part and parcel of this wonderful life of working in football. It's short-termism. All you can do is focus on the immediate job and what you can control. It's about working with the players, really consolidating, defining and providing even more clarity in their roles.”

Wenger targeting 'at least one' new Arsenal recruit in January

Wenger targeting 'at least one' new Arsenal recruit in January Arsene Wenger has revealed that he will try to sign "at least one" new recruit during the January transfer window but insists that Arsenal will only target players of the "right quality".

The Gunners boss has been under increasing pressure with a growing injury list contributing to disappointing recent results, with Jack Wilshere ruled out for up to three months following ankle surgery and Mikel Arteta set to miss the rest of 2014 with a calf complaint.

The midfield duo join the likes of Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Debuchy on the sidelines but Wenger says that he will not sign sub-standard players as reinforcements given competition in the market.

"In January we will try to get at least one body in," he told reporters. "You have to give us time. We do our job as always.

"This season we bought five players who are all top quality so I think we have done really well, we will try to repeat that.

"To buy football players is not to go into a supermarket and just say: 'I want to buy a right-back or a centre-back.' It's to find the right quality. If you go out tomorrow you will see that everybody looks for the same positions. It's not as simple as it looks."

The Gunners currently sit eighth in the Premier League – 15 points behind table-toppers Chelsea – and though Wenger has rejected rumours of an approach for Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, he is hopeful of surprising fans with potential arrivals.

"In January it makes it even more difficult because players are even less available than in June or July," he added, "but we will try to be creative and have one or two good ideas.

"We have gone through a period where we are very short but January might be a month when we have nearly everybody back."

Barcelona would be complete with new defender, say; Mathieu.

Mathieu: Barcelona would be complete with new defender
Jeremy Mathieu says Barcelona need another defender to have a “complete squad” after the latest injury setback to Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgium defender has not kicked a ball since signing from Arsenal in the summer and now faces another four to six months out after suffering a further strain in his hamstring that will require surgery.
Mathieu admits the blow does leave Luis Enrique’s side short at the back and suggested having another defender would fill one of the few holes remaining in the Camp Nou squad.
Barcelona are appealing a transfer ban that prevents them from buying players in 2015 after irregularities in their acquisition of players aged under 18 and Mathieu is clearly hoping that attempt proves successful.
"It is difficult for him and for the group because we are left with one player less," the Frenchman told reporters when asked about Vermaelen.
"Now we have only three centre-backs and Thomas will be out of action for a long time.
"We will see if the club can sign another player to try to complete our squad."
The 31-year-old stopper will face former club Valencia as Barcelona travel to the Mestalla on Sunday and he admits it will be a memorable fixture against a team he represented for five years.
"It will be a special match for me – it is nice to return to the Mestalla, where I was for so long," said Mathieu.
"I don’t know how I will be received. I left a good impression there and if they whistle me I have to accept it. I will be on the opposite side and now I am 100 per cent Barca, but I had great moments at Valencia.
"Barca have gone through a difficult period and we are better after two good matches. I hope that we can continue the form in this game. We are going there to win, but we know they are a team who are capable of doing great things and they are very close to us in the league."
Mathieu attempted to play down any controversy between him and coach Luis Enrique after his post-Clasico comments that suggested he was surprised to have been picked to play at left-back for the 3-1 defeat at the Bernabeu.
He continued: "I said that without looking to cause controversy. When I signed, I spoke about playing as a full-back or as a centre-back. I said that I was surprised, but I will play where they tell me.
"I did not know I was going to play as a full-back, but it was not a criticism. I did not say it to create a bad atmosphere, only that I was surprised when I saw my name at full-back. If the coach asks, I will play there again."
Second-placed Barcelona currently sit four points clear of Valencia in the Liga table going into the match.

Wenger rules out Arsenal bid for Cech

Wenger rules out Arsenal bid for Cech
Arsene Wenger has quashed rumours linking Arsenal with a January move for Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Cech has hinted at looking for a new club after falling behind Thibaut Courtois in the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, and according to newspaper reports the Gunners are planning a £7 million bid.

But when asked about a possible move by reporters on Friday, Wenger rejected the notion out of hand.

Lukas Podolski is another who has gone public with unhappiness at a lack of sufficient playing time, with a January move also mooted for the Germany international.

Former club Koln have already ruled out bringing the striker back in January, as well as Schalke, and Wenger has admitted Arsenal are yet to receive any offers for the 29-year-old.

"I have had no enquiries from anybody," Wenger said.

"He faces big competition. He has an outstanding attitude and he works very hard." 

Arsenal target Mings has what it takes

Nearly "...nearly doesn't kill the bird is a common saying we have here in Nigeria. Anyway, thank God they all escaped your web...we would never have known the awesomness of the likes of Messi et al. I for one would have been doomed to abject misery after every undewhelming or outright abject performance by my Arsenal, no thanks to you Monsieur Le Prof. Messifully, after such downers, I usually have the option of watching Barca lift me from the dumps...even when they lose! At least I get to enjoy a game with, flair (as with Arsenal) but with purpose and a clear direction and intent to win.
Nearly "...nearly doesn't kill the bird is a common saying we have here in Nigeria. Anyway, thank God they all escaped your web...we would never have known the awesomness of the likes of Messi et al. I for one would have been doomed to abject misery after every undewhelming or outright abject performance by my Arsenal, no thanks to you Monsieur Le Prof. Messifully, after such downers, I usually have the option of watching Barca lift me from the dumps...even when they lose! At least I get to enjoy a game with, flair (as with Arsenal) but with purpose and a clear direction and intent to win.
Nearly "...nearly doesn't kill the bird is a common saying we have here in Nigeria. Anyway, thank God they all escaped your web...we would never have known the awesomness of the likes of Messi et al. I for one would have been doomed to abject misery after every undewhelming or outright abject performance by my Arsenal, no thanks to you Monsieur Le Prof. Messifully, after such downers, I usually have the option of watching Barca lift me from the dumps...even when they lose! At least I get to enjoy a game with, flair (as with Arsenal) but with purpose and a clear direction and intent to win.

Adam Bate looks at why Ipswich Town defender and reported Arsenal target Tyrone Mings may have what it takes to make it to the top.
yrone Mings isn’t your average footballer. In fact, there are times when the Ipswich defender seems to be on a one-man mission to confound the assumptions surrounding his profession.
As neither he nor his girlfriend have family in Ipswich, Mings decided they would spend their Christmas preparing food for the homeless and subsequently share the big day with them – later calling it the “best thing” he’d ever done.
He refunded the supporters who’d bought his No 15 jersey when he switched shirts upon Aaron Cresswell’s exit from the club and even paid for a Twitter follower to attend a game when they mentioned they couldn’t afford it.
Perhaps this generosity of spirit has been fuelled by a realisation how fortunate he is to be living this lifestyle. Being released by Southampton as a young teenager in 2009 is the sort of blow from which many fail to bounce back – especially once they fall into the non-league game.
But Mings showed admirable dedication and was rewarded when Ipswich signed him from Chippenham Town for the modest fee of £10,000. By that point, the lack of height that had been cited as a reason for his Southampton release was no longer an issue. Mings stands at 6’ 3”.
Able to play all across the back line and making his debut at right-back at Burnley in May 2013, the naturally left-footed Mings soon showed his potential. But the presence of Cresswell – described by manager Mick McCarthy as “the best left-back in the league” – meant patience was required.
Having made 12 of his 16 Championship appearances last season from the bench, Mings’ opportunity finally came when Cresswell signed for West Ham in July. The 21-year-old has seized it in emphatic fashion.
Defensively, he has been combative – making more interceptions than any full-back in the Championship – while he also ranks among the top 10 for his position when it comes to tackling. But it’s his effectiveness striding forwards that has made him stand out this season.
Mings has created more chances than any other Ipswich player, picking up three assists, and unusually for a full-back is second only to forward David McGoldrick when it comes to successful dribbles. The Premier League interest late in the summer got short shrift from McCarthy.
"He wasn't going anywhere and no amount of euros or pounds was going to make a difference," said the Ipswich boss. "We picked him up from relative obscurity and helped him become a player. Now I want him to help us become a good team."
It’s an understandable ambition but with even bigger Premier League clubs reportedly tracking the player’s progress, keeping hold of Mings could prove tricky. Although his father scouts for Chelsea, it’s Arsenal who are the latest to be linked with a move for the versatile defender.
Don’t expect Mings to rush for the big pay day however. His ongoing commitment to improving his game was shown by the fact that paid for himself to attend Olympic champion Michael Johnson’s sprint school in 2013 – one of only two players to do so – and returned again last summer.
As a result, he’s predictably level-headed about a Premier League move. "There are pros and cons, going there," he said in the Green Un. "Would I have got in the team straight away? I doubt it. Would I have got the development that I will probably get at Ipswich? Probably not.
"Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor here have definitely got my best interests at heart, and I can’t think of two better people to help me with my development. I think I get that here better than anywhere else.
"In terms of my performance, I am performing a lot better going forward and I have shown no fear, rather than trying not to make mistakes. I am taking the game to them and having more of an imposing effect. I have not done anything different in terms of my play, I have just loosened up."
Predicting the career paths of young players can be notoriously tricky but the importance of attitude should not be underestimated. All the signs are that this is a young man willing to do more than most to get to the top. But then, Tyrone Mings isn’t your average footballer.

Merson tips big guns for weekend wins

Manchester City: Backed to get better of Southampton
Paul Merson has predicted weekend wins for Arsenal, Burnley, Liverpool, Man United, QPR, Swansea, West Ham, Chelsea, Man City and Everton.

West Brom v Arsenal

I fancy Arsenal, I think they'll go on a roll now after Wednesday's win over Dortmund. Defensively the other night, they were very good. We all know they can score goals.
I watched West Brom last week and they got well rinsed at Chelsea and they were well beaten the week before at home to Newcastle.
If they don't pick up from either of those two performances, they'll be well beaten again. I fancy Oxlade-Chamberlain to score; he's getting better and better. So I'm going to go 2-0 Arsenal, and another clean sheet.

Burnley v Aston Villa

Well, I'm hoping I'm wrong here but I think Burnley will win this game 1-0 but, like I said, I hope I'm wrong. Villa have one shot in a game and that's it - they can't keep doing that.
If Burnley play like they did in the first 20 minutes against Hull, I think they'll be hard to beat. When you look at the match, you think that if Burnley are able to get one goal, then that will be enough. Hopefully I'm wrong but I'm going for a home win.

Liverpool v Stoke

I think just Liverpool here. Stoke have been better away from home this season than at home which is a surprise.
I know Liverpool are all over the place at the moment but I'm going to go with Liverpool on the strength that they have got to turn the corner sooner rather than later, otherwise I couldn't see them winning this game to be honest.

Manchester United v Hull

I thought Hull were unlucky last week against Spurs. If Gaston Ramirez doesn't get sent off, they win the game and they definitely don't lose.
If Man United got back on that coach on Saturday and thought that was a good performance at the Emirates, then they better start worrying. That could have been any scoreline in the first 30 minutes so you can't tell me that was good.
I think they'll struggle again here as they haven't shown any form to change my mind yet. Saying that, I think they'll just nick it.

QPR v Leicester

This is a cup final, a six-pointer! I don't think Leicester have recovered since Burnley scored that last-minute free-kick against them.
They beat Man United, but Burnley fought back and if they had won that, there would have been a bit of momentum. Instead they just haven't recovered.
QPR, at home especially, are a different team now with Zamora in there. They have a lot of energy so I'm going for a home win.

Swansea v Crystal Palace

I'm doing this game on Soccer Saturday. I've watched Palace a few times this season and Liverpool made them look like the Harlem Globetrotters last week and they're not, believe me!
I think Swansea will win this game. Palace shouldn't get too carried away, they did very well the other day but there's a long way to go yet and Swansea are a decent team, especially with Bony up front.
Swansea gave a good account of themselves last week at Man City and they only lost by the odd goal; they've beaten Arsenal at home as well so they're doing well. They're floating around the top part of the table so I can't see anything other than a home win.

West Ham v Newcastle

I watched West Ham last week at Everton and I thought they were bang unlucky. I thought they were decent. They should have at least got a draw out of the game.
They had a lot injuries - Sakho, and Valencia didn't play and Carroll played up front. Downing was out last week as well and he'll be back, he's a big player them.
Was it a blessing in disguise they lost? Maybe. If they had won that game and Carroll and Nolan played well, what happens this week? Do they play again and then we're back to last season's team?
Look what happened last season when the crowd were on their backs and they didn't win but the team played well, so do you go and put the big boys back in again?
I know they're on a roll, Newcastle, but I can't see anything but a West Ham win this week.

Sunderland v Chelsea, Saturday 5.30pm, Sportmasta 1HD

I think Sunderland will be well out of their depth here. Chelsea are so good at the moment, it's just phenomenal. Sunderland can play at 100 miles an hour and they'll just get picked off.
Chelsea can mix it at one stage and then they can play football, play with pace or slow the game down. They are the complete team; they don't have a weak link.
Their time may come later on when there are a few injuries but at the moment, I just can't see anything but a Chelsea win.
I wouldn't get disheartened if I was Sunderland though. Sometimes you give your all in these games, you may pinch a draw or get a win then great, but if you don't move on, don't worry, Chelsea are a top team.

Southampton v Man City, Sunday 1.30pm, Sportmasta 1HD

I watched Southampton last week and I was disappointed. Everybody is telling me how great they are. I hadn't seen them play before and I watched the Villa game and they didn't look like a second-placed team to me.
I said on Soccer Saturday they will finish seventh or eighth and I'm not going to change my mind from Monday's performance. I didn't think their attitude was great and I think they thought they just had to turn up and that wasn't the case.
I think they'll be better against City, but how do you stop Aguero? I don't see how you can stop him; he's up there with the best in world.
City are a great team to watch at the moment because if it goes to form, and Chelsea beat Sunderland, they have to win - draws are no good. We know they're going to finish in the top four but they've got to go out every week and try to win.

Tottenham v Everton, Sunday 4pm, Sportmasta 1HD

Spurs have won two away games when they should have got beat, thanks to the other team having players sent off, and then they got beaten by Stoke, so I think there are really struggling at the moment. I watched them last week and they never looked like scoring.
I wasn't impressed with Everton last week if I'm being honest either but they won. So I fancy Everton again this week, and that's not my Arsenal head talking, that's my football head!

Ronaldo the best player I've ever played with; says.Alonso

Alonso: Ronaldo the best player I've ever played with
The World Cup winner is backing the Portugal international's bid for a second successive Ballon d'Or award - even though he also feels Manuel Neuer would be a deserving recipient

Xabi Alonso says former Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player he has ever played with.
The midfielder spent five years playing alongside the Portugal international at the Santiago Bernabeu before leaving for Bayern Munich this summer, meaning Alonso can now count several members of Germany's World Cup-winning squad as colleagues.
Consequently, when it comes to picking a deserving winner for this year's Ballon d'Or, the 32-year-old is somewhat torn.
However, Alonso is edging towards titleholder Ronaldo, admitting that he has never come across a more talented individual.
"I said recently if Manuel Neuer or another German player won the Ballon d'Or, it would be fair as they won the World Cup," the former Liverpool ace told the Sportmasta.
"But if Ronaldo wins it again, it would also be fair for the season he had, winning the Champions League.
"He is the best player I have played with."
Meanwhile, Alonso admitted that he had expected to extend his stay at the Bernabeu until he learned that Pep Guardiola wanted him at the Allianz Arena.
"My idea was to stay in Madrid," he explained. "Then, when I heard of Munich's interest I said 'Xabi, think what you want and where you will be happy.'
"I had been at Madrid for five years. We had won the 10th European Cup, we had been chasing it for a long time and it felt like the business was done.
"It was either a case of continuing for a few more years in Madrid or trying something different.
"Having experienced La Liga and the Premier League, it was a great chance to come here.
"The Bundesliga is getting better and this is one of the top clubs in the world.
"I needed a fresh start somewhere. This might be my last experience in football.
"I came from my hometown team, Real Sociedad, to the best team in England, to the best team in Spain, to the best team in Germany.
"It is a beautiful career. I wanted a nice football script."

Ballon d'Or should go to a German; says Platini

Platini: Ballon d'Or should go to a GermanThe former France international believes that while Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are worthy candidates, the accolade should go to one of Joachim Low's men

Uefa president Michel Platini believes that this year's Ballon d'Or should go to a member of Germany's World Cup-winning squad.
Real Madrid's prolific forward Cristiano Ronaldo is widely expected to retain the prize after firing the Spanish side to 10th European Cup last season, while four-time winner Lionel Messi is also in contention after breaking the Liga and Champions League all-time goalscoring records.
Messi, of course, also led Argentina to the final of the World Cup but Platini believes that the Ballon d'Or should go to one of the men who lifted the trophy in Brazil.
"Several players deserve the Ballon d'Or, but I'm of the opinion that in a World Cup year this award should go to a world champion," the Frenchman told Sportmasta.
"This is in line with what I said four years ago when, in my opinion, the prize should have been awarded to a Spanish player."
Meanwhile, Platini reiterated his view that Fifa should release Michael Garcia's report on alleged corruption during the voting process for the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Garcia presented his findings to Fifa earlier this month but the American attorney has since distanced himself from the conclusions drawn from his investigation by Hans-Joachim Eckert, the head of Fifa's ethics committee.
"I would like the report was published in its entirety, always in line with the rules of the Ethics Committee," the European Championship winner stated.
"And of course, if there was something wrong, there should be a new vote."
Regarding the Qatar World Cup, Platini also stood by his assertion that the tournament should be staged in winter to reduce the risk posed by the country's searing summer temperatures - even if it would affect the schedules of Europe's top leagues.
It is absolutely clear that the World Cup should be played in winter and I am sure we will find a solution bringing together all members of the football family around the same table, for the sake of the players, the fans and the World Cup," he concluded.

Platini should keep quiet over Ballon d'Or; says Ancelotti

Ancelotti: Platini should keep quiet over Ballon d'Or
The Madrid coach is the latest to attack the Uefa president, while the Champions League holders have hit out at the Frenchman with an official statement as well
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has hit out at Uefa president Michel Platini in the wake of the Frenchman's comments that a German player should win the Fifa Ballon d'Or rather than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Platini stated earlier this week that a Germany international should scoop up the individual award following their successful World Cup campaign, thus causing unrest in the Madrid camp, with Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao both attacking the Uefa chief for his "campaign against Ronaldo".
Ancelotti has now also come to the defence of his star player and has stressed Platini should have kept his opinion to himself.
"I share Arbeloa's opinion. I don't think Uefa's president should opine about the Ballon d'Or," Ancelotti said at a press conference.
The Madrid coach then went on to praise Lionel Messi, but refused to discuss the Argentine's chances of winning the prestigious award.
"Messi is fantastic, but I will not speak about what Barcelona are doing for the Ballon d'Or."
Meanwhile, Madrid have backed Arbeloa, Coentrao and Ancelotti and have released a statement condemning Platini's comments.
"In response to the comments made by the president of Uefa, Michel Platini, concerning the winner of the Ballon d'Or," the statement reads. "Real Madrid C. F. would like to outline:
"Firstly, its surprise at the repeated comments regarding his personal preferences over the choice of the winner of the Ballon d'Or, particularly given that he is the head of European football's principal body, where our understanding is that the strictest impartiality should prevail.
"Secondly, the Ballon d'Or is an individual rather than collective prize which is awarded annually to the best player in the world, and we believe that, in order to maintain its prestige, those who participate in the vote should take into account exclusively the individual professional achievements of the players.
"Finally, we believe that Cristiano Ronaldo has without doubt had his best ever professional year individually, and has claimed the Champions League, the Golden Shoe and the record for the highest goalscorer in an edition of the Champions League, as well as the Copa del Rey and the top-scorer award in La Liga. In the current season, he has won the European Super Cup, scoring both goals in the match, and is achieving spectacular figures such as his 20 goals in the first 12 matchdays of La Liga, which confirm his great moment of form and ensure that, more than ever, he is deserving of the Ballon d'Or."

Are Real Madrid right to complain about Platini's Ronaldo snub?

Debate: Are Real Madrid right to complain about Platini's Ronaldo snub?
On Friday, Real Madrid issued a statement condemning Michel Platini after the Uefa president had earlier this week expressed his opinion that a German World Cup-winner, and not Cristiano Ronaldo, should claim the 2014 Ballon d’Or.

Madrid’s statement read: "Firstly, we are surprised at the repeated comments regarding his [Platini’s] personal preferences over the choice of winner of the Ballon d'Or, particularly given that he is the head of European football's principal body, where our understanding is that the strictest impartiality should prevail.

"Secondly, the Ballon d'Or is an individual rather than collective prize which is awarded annually to the best player in the world, and we believe that, in order to maintain its prestige, those who participate in the vote should take into account exclusively the individual professional achievements of the players.

"Finally, we believe that Cristiano Ronaldo has without doubt had his best ever professional year individually and he is deserving of the Ballon d'Or."

The coach of the European champions, Carlo Ancelotti, also hit out at Platini during his pre-match press conference on Friday, insisting it is wrong for the president to voice his opinion on who deserves the award.

So are Madrid right to be unhappy with the former France international star? Two of Goal’s writers go head-to-head on the issue.


By Okeowo Destiny

Public confidence in the selection process for the Fifa Ballon d’Or has never been lower. Over the last few years there has been clear favouritism towards certain players and clubs – particularly Barcelona who have made up 10 of the last 15 podium places.

It is very difficult for many football fans to take the award seriously given some of the inexplicable omissions in recent times – from Wesley Sneijder in 2010 to Arjen Robben last year.

The underlying feeling is that the Ballon d’Or has become a political prize, which are backed up by the views expressed this week by last year’s bronze medallist Franck Ribery.

"I learned a lot during last year's Ballon d'Or gala. As soon as I got there, I told my wife that I would lose," he told Sportmasta.

"There is a lot of politics. I saw how Sepp Blatter was hugging Ronaldo and how his entire family was there. I'm not stupid. It was clear that he had to win it. He wouldn't have brought his entire family with him otherwise.”

This latest storm is not really about Ronaldo or Madrid, it is about ethics. While the Ballon d’Or is a Fifa award, someone with as much political influence as the president of Uefa should not be publicly revealing his personal favourite. The head of any governing body must be 100 per cent neutral at all times.

Could you imagine the uproar if the chairman of the Football Association stated that he wanted Manchester United to win the Premier League? It would bring the English game into disrepute.

Just as it did the Italian game in 2009 when then Italy coach Marcello Lippi tipped Juventus to win the Scudetto. "A man with great institutional responsibility should not take sides," slammed then Inter boss Jose Mourinho.

And he was right. Platini has scored a spectacular own goal and only provided more fuel for the critics of the Ballon d’Or, as well as those of Uefa and Fifa.
Follow DestinyOkeowo on

By Okeowo Destiny

Real Madrid are making a mountain out of a molehill. There is no agenda - Michel Platini was simply expressing a harmless personal opinion which will have no bearing whatsoever on the final vote.
Just because he is president of Uefa, why should he keep quiet? We live in a world where freedom of speech is one of the greatest gifts to man and it is surely better anyway that public figures are open and transparent with their views - especially given the mistrust in Uefa and Fifa today.

Last year, Sepp Blatter was disrespectful towards Ronaldo when he described him as a "commander" who likes to go to the hairdresser, but Platini's comments don't even mention Ronaldo or Madrid - nor do they discredit the award itself.

Platini was merely highlighting the importance of the World Cup and how it should weigh heavily in the outcome of the Ballon d’Or vote. He said the same four years ago - and his words had no impact as Lionel Messi took the prize.

Strangely enough, nobody at Madrid felt compelled to complain in 2010 when Platini stated that a Spanish player should win the award. Was it because Iker Casillas was a contender that year?

Madrid are simply using Platini's words as leverage to promote and placate a player who can sulk and strop when he doesn't get his own way. Before Brazil 2014, Ronaldo appeared to be the only candidate to win the Ballon d’Or. Germany’s World Cup win and Lionel Messi’s recent scoring spree have changed the landscape, though.

It is no longer a foregone conclusion that Ronaldo will emerge victorious on January 12 – so Madrid have gone into public relations overdrive. Last year they had every reason to be upset with Blatter. This time, however, they are just playing their own politics.

Liverpool and City backed

Liverpool: Backed to get back on track in Premier League

Mark Holmes faces The Farm frontman and Liverpool fan Peter Hooton in this week's prediction challenge, with both men backing the Reds to win.
This season, our man Mark will take on someone from the world of music or celebrity every Friday to predict the outcome of the 10 Premier League games that weekend.
Every correct result is worth one point, while every correct scoreline is worth three points. We will keep a tally throughout the season to see how Mark fares against all of our guests.
After a 13-3 win in week 12, Mark now has 88 points for the season, 25 more than the guests' 63.

TEAMtalk Prediction League 2014-15
Contestant Points
Franko Fraize 10
Olly Murs 8
Peter Oags 8
Mark Holmes 7.3 (average)
Alex Brooker 7
Van McCann 6
Billy Lunn 5
Ryan Malcolm 5
Wretch 32 5
Jono Yates 5
Ben Samson 3
Steve Bracknall 3
Meridian Dan 0

West Brom v Arsenal

Mark: The win over Dortmund in a week will have helped, but Arsene Wenger needs a run of good results in the Premier League to stop the fans from really turning. This should be the first step. 0-2
Peter: Both teams have lost their last two Premier League matches but I think Arsenal will just be too strong for West Brom, who've only won one of their last six home games. 1-2

Burnley v Aston Villa

Mark: Burnley defended magnificently at Stoke last weekend and also have a striker who can score goals in Danny Ings. Villa lack that threat in attack but have played pretty well in their last three games and can get a point. 0-0
Peter: Burnley are in a run of form, winning their last two matches. but Villa need something from this game. 2-2

Liverpool v Stoke City

Mark: Stoke seem to do exactly what you expect them to this season, winning at Manchester City and Tottenham but losing at home to Aston Villa, Leicester and Burnley. As a Potters fan myself, I hope the theme continues this weekend! 2-0
Peter: We are desperate for a win, and hopefully the exertions in Sofia won't have damaged our prospects. I would like to see Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini up front to see if they can form some sort of understanding. 2-1

Manchester United v Hull City

Mark: They aren't quite 'back' yet, but United's win at Arsenal last weekend will give everyone huge confidence that they are on the right track again. Steve Bruce, meanwhile, could find himself in trouble if results don't improve soon. 3-0
Peter: United's home form is pretty good and they will be confident after their win against Arsenal so I can only see a home victory. 2-0

QPR v Leicester City

Mark: QPR are gradually improving, but Leicester seem to be going the other way and could well finish the weekend bottom of the Premier League. 2-0
Peter: QPR's home form has been reasonably good whereas Leicester have struggled away from home so it's a home win for me. 2-1

Swansea City v Crystal Palace

Mark: Palace were fantastic against Liverpool last weekend but, remarkable as it may sound, this is a much, much tougher game. 2-0
Peter: Swansea are a decent side at home, winning four of their last six home games, whereas Palace tend to struggle on the road. 3-1

West Ham v Newcastle United

Mark: Newcastle are going for a seventh straight win and might well fancy their chances of getting it with a few key players possibly out for West Ham. The Irons are strong at home, though, and can nick this. 2-1
Peter: I never thought I would be saying this but Newcastle are the form team at the moment. However, West Ham are strong at home so a draw is more than likely. 2-2

Sunderland v Chelsea

Mark: Don't ask me why, but something in my gut tells me Chelsea could slip up here. It certainly won't be easy for them but, to avoid looking daft, I'll go with the form book. 1-2
Peter: Chelsea seem to be unstoppable at the moment and I think they will just be too strong for the Black Cats. 0-2

Southampton v Manchester City

Mark: This is a real opportunity for Southampton to prove they can last the distance this season. Win this and they will have to be taken seriously as top-four contenders. Unfortunately for them, City simply can't afford to lose - and won't. 0-2
Peter: Southampton's home form has been tremendous recently - they've won five of their last six home games - but I think City will put an end to that run especially with the firepower of Sergio Aguero. 1-2

Tottenham v Everton

Mark: This, for me, is the hardest game to predict of the weekend. Both teams played in Europe on Thursday, and there isn't too much between them in terms of quality, but the fact that Spurs' Europa League game was at home sees me leaning towards them. 1-0
Peter: Everton's away form has been good recently, and Spurs are struggling at home, but with Everton having travelled to Germany for the Europa I think Spurs might get a draw.2-2

How did you come to support your club and what are your favourite memories from your time as a fan?
My grandad and dad were both born in the shadow of Anfield and were both staunch Liverpool fans. My earliest memory as a child was going to the ground for reserve games with my grandad. My dad has been a season ticket holder since the 1960s and still goes but only if its 3pm on a Saturday.
I've got so many memories over the years but I would say the best 'experience' was beating Roma in their own stadium to win the European Cup in 1984. As far as the city of Rome was concerned they had already won it and we were the 'sacrificial lambs'- they even had flags all around the city with Roma Campioni 1984 on them, so to win there was unbelievable.
Who have been your biggest heroes during your time supporting the club?
I loved John Barnes; he was quite simply unplayable around 1988/89. I never thought we would witness Brazilian skills at Anfield but Barnes delivered on that score.
Many fans put Dalglish down as the best ever Liverpool player but I tend to go for Barnes; he used to simply walk/ghost past defenders and did things with the ball that we had only seen on Brazilian documentaries.
What do you make of the current team? What are your hopes for the season?
It's been a very disappointing season after the rollercoaster of last season but we just need to grind out a few results. I think it was a mistake to buy so many players with 'potential' but that is the strategy of the American owners, i.e. to buy young 'potential' on lower wages.
It would have been better to go for three proven Premier League players. The buys may or may not come good but I don't think you can buy via a 'transfer committee'; it should really rest with the manager not accountants!
Everyone has a soft spot for another team. Who's yours and why?
It's probably Hibs at the moment because my mate John Doolan is their first-team coach. He was at Wigan last year and it's no surprise that when he left their form suffered.
What's going on for you at the moment?
We've played a few festivals during the summer time over the past few years and have recently helped re-record All Together Now with the Peace Collective and 60 Under-12s from the Premier League Academies and the Bundesliga (two from each club) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 Christmas Truce.
So many artists got involved to raise awareness and funds for the British Red Cross and the Thorncliffe Trust. It's an eclectic mix including Suggs from Madness, Mick Jones from The Clash, David Gray, Gabrielle, Amelle from The Sugarbabes, Clean Bandit, Gorgon City, Julian Lennon, The Proclaimers, Alexandra Burke, Holly Johnson, Englebert Humperdinck, John Power, Jon McClure from Reverend and The Makers, Shara Nelson from Massive Attack, I Am Kloot, Garry Christian, Jona Lewie, Leo Sayer, Jah Wobble, Jermaine Jackman from the Voice, Jane McDonald, Paul Potts...the list goes on!
Text GET PEACE to 84222 to buy the single and help @PeaceForXmas up the charts at Christmas. You will receive the track on 15/12/2014.
This season Mark has been most overly optimistic about Arsenal, who have claimed some 12 points less than he has predicted, but has seriously underestimated the abilities of Southampton, who have won nine points more than he has predicted.
Attempt to predict the scores of this weekend's games yourself in the comments section below - and be sure to tell Mark next Friday if you better his score.

Time for Valencia to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid, says Kily Gonzalez

Time for Valencia to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid, says Kily Gonzalez
Former Valencia midfielder Kily Gonzalez believes the club can now rival the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid for the La Liga title.

The Argentine spent four seasons at Mestalla between 1999 and 2003, conquering Spain's top flight and twice finishing as a runner-up in the Champions League.

Ahead of los Che's meeting with Barcelona on Sunday, Gonzalez is convinced his former club can be a force once again.

"It makes me sad to see Valencia 20 points behind Barca, Atletico [Madrid], Real Madrid," Gonzalez told Marca.

"With Barca it is a key game, there you will realise if they are prepared to face them.

"Before, they went to the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu and took it for granted that we would lose. The mentality is changing.

"In football you have to have a lot of personality, it is important to be brave when starting the game.

"Valencia has players with experience and hunger for glory, it is time to compete on equal terms with Barca and Madrid.

"This Valencia has made a significant change from last season. They have great players, a coach who wants his team to be a problem. That is key."

The Mestalla club currently sit in fourth position in La Liga and could move to within one point of the Catalan giants with a victory on Sunday. 

Chelsea must not get complacent; says, Mourinho

Mourinho: Chelsea must not get complacent The Blues remain unbeaten in all competitions and sealed their progress to the Champions League knockout rounds with a stunning 5-0 win over Schalke in midweek
 Jose Mourinho says Chelsea must avoid complacency if they are to keep their impressive form going after an almost flawless start to the season.

Chelsea remain unbeaten in all competitions following a scintillating opening to the season, with their lead at the top of the Premier League currently standing at six points.

Tuesday's 5-0 thrashing of Schalke saw Chelsea qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League in convincing fashion but, speaking ahead of this weekend's trip to Sunderland, Mourinho has warned his side against any drop in standards.

"Every player in my squad is fantastic and I'm so happy with all of them," Mourinho said. "The only risk we have is complacency."

The Portuguese coach added that, despite the club's fine form, he has no reason to be "over the moon when we win or in hell when we lose," but he believes that his squad has been improved after last season's third-placed finish.

"We've improved where we can without worrying about other factors and other teams," he added.

"For us every competition is important so we don't rest players and we try to play with our best team."

Chelsea have won 10 and drawn two of their opening 12 Premier League games, and will look to continue their superb form against a Sunderland side in 14th place in the Premier League this Saturday.

LvG: Van Persie is struggling

Robin van Persie: Manchester United striker is struggling for form
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal says Robin van Persie is struggling for confidence in front of goal and admits the striker had "a very bad game" against Arsenal last weekend.
Van Persie only touched the ball 13 times against his former club, three of which were while taking corners, before Van Gaal replaced him with 18-year-old James Wilson for the last 15 minutes.
Indeed, in the whole of 2014, the Dutch striker has scored only eight goals in 21 Barclays Premier League games.
Van Gaal said: "I do think 13 is few for a striker. I want to improve that. You can count his touches on the ball but more important is how he is playing.
"It was a very bad game for him. That is why I changed him. When I change a player, it is not because he is the best player on the pitch. You are doing something wrong. I believe in the players. When I change them, normally, it is because they are doing something not good in their performance.
"When you pick up this match it is easy to put a question about 13 touches. Okay. But strikers do not touch the ball often. That is their profession.
"Now I have a surprise for you. I had an international striker, Mario Gomez. He touched the ball nine times during Bayern Munich matches in my time."
Asked what Van Persie needs to do to get back to the level of being the best striker in England, the United boss added: "It is a question of confidence, or maybe scoring a wonderful goal at the right moment.
"You know how strikers are. They have to score goals. They feel like that. It is not that I am asking that. I have said they have to be an attacking point and help our team in the third and fourth phase. For me, it is not important who scores. The team has to score."
Van Gaal also warned Van Persie that he will have to fight for his place as he prepares to welcome Radamel Falcao back to his squad after injury.
Falcao's loan spell at Old Trafford has been disrupted by injuries, but Van Gaal is hopeful he will be in the squad for today's visit of Hull.
Asked if Falcao's return would increase the pressure on Van Persie, Van Gaal said: "Every player in my selection has to fight for his position and I shall always take the best of the players and it must also be suitable for the mix of players. So it is also an obligation of a player that he does that."

Ballon d'Or is bad for football; says; Mourinho

Mourinho: Ballon d'Or is bad for football
Jose Mourinho has branded Fifa's Ballon d'Or as "bad for football" as he thinks it highlights individualism rather than working for a team - which is not an ethic he wants at Chelsea.

Uefa president Michel Platini proclaimed in midweek that a Germany player - not favourite Cristiano Ronaldo - deserves to win 2014's Ballon d'Or due to the nation's World Cup win in the summer.

On Friday, Real Madrid issued an embittered criticism of Platini's remarks, stating that they clearly felt their top goalscorer and global icon Ronaldo was the most deserving of the accolade, while coach Carlo Ancelotti also condemned the Frenchman for airing his views.

These sort of public spats are exactly what Chelsea want to avoid, according to Mourinho, who does not believe the obsession that clubs and players have over the Ballon d'Or is healthy or beneficial.

"This kind of trophy, the Ballon d'Or, is not good for football," the former Real Madrid and Inter boss told reporters. "This is why I don't care about it.

"Sometimes it looks like we are looking for stars, we are looking for some people to be more important than others. And this is not the culture we want in this club.

"I don't care about it. But it's there. It's there as a consequence of the good work the team is doing. And, if they feel that, okay. It's good for them.

"But the mentality here is not to be worried about that. Even less being obsessed with that.

"When I see these two names, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard, I think clearly they don't think about it. They think about the team, about playing well and trying to win matches."

Mourinho won Fifa's Coach of the Year award - which is handed out in the same ceremony as the Ballon d'Or - in 2010 after guiding Inter to treble glory and has since come second and third.

The Portuguese manager is currently in the midst of his second stint at Chelsea, after leaving Madrid in 2013. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Rory McIlroy & Shane Lowry share lead

Rory McIlroy in first-round action at the World Tour Championship

World Tour Championship first round leaderboard

-6 S Lowry (Ire), R McIlroy (NI); -5 R Ramsay (Sco), T Olesen (Den); -4 E Grillo (Arg), H Stenson (Swe); Selected others -2: L Westwood (Eng), -1 V Dubuisson (Fr), J Rose (Eng); level G McDowell (NI); +1 S Garcia (Sp); +3 I Poulter (Eg); +4 L Donald (Eng)
World number one Rory McIlroy hit a six-under 66 to share the first-round lead at the World Tour Championship.
In his first tournament for six weeks because of legal wrangles, the 25-year-old began imperiously with four birdies in his opening five holes in Dubai.
McIlroy did not drop a shot but playing partner Henrik Stenson mixed seven birdies with three bogeys in his 68.
Shane Lowry had seven birdies and is the other man at six under, but Sergio Garcia had two late bogeys in a 73.
Scotland's Richie Ramsay shares third with Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, both players on five under.
McIlroy, who will play with Irishman Lowry on Friday as the second round is re-drawn in score order, has already secured the European Tour's Race to Dubai title for the second time in three years.
"I've been hitting the ball really well in practice and luckily that continued," he said. "I feel like I missed a lot of putt in the middle of the round but hopefully I can hole a few more and go even lower."

Henrik Stenson leads from Rory McIlroy

Henrik Stenson

DP World Tour Championship second round leaderboard

-10 H Stenson (Swe) -8 D Willett (Eng), R Ramsay (Sco), R McIlroy (NI); -7 R Cabrera-Bello (Spa), J Rose (Eng), K Broberg (Swe), T Olesen (Den), S Lowry (Ire). Selected others -5 V Dubuisson (Fra); -4 S Gallacher (Sco); -3 L Westwood (Eng); -2 L Donald (Eng), S Garcia (Spa), J Donaldson (Wal), G McDowell (NI); Level I Poulter (Eng)
Defending champion Henrik Stenson fired a six-under-par 66 to take the halfway lead on 10 under at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
The Swede leads by two from world number one Rory McIlroy, who carded a two-under 70, England's Danny Willett (67) and Scotland's Richie Ramsay (69).
Ireland's Shane Lowry, who led overnight with McIlroy, made a hole-in-one on the par-three 13th in his 71.
England's Justin Rose bogeyed the last for a 66 to join Lowry on seven under.
Rose, who was four over after six holes in round one, finished with five birdies in eight holes and continued that form with three birdies in his opening seven on Friday.
Rory McIlroy
McIlroy has won the European Tour's Race to Dubai title for the second time in three years
"I won the US Open (in 2013) from four over after 11 holes as well," said Rose. "My caddie and I were joking about putting an extra club in my bag for the first two holes (earning a four-shot penalty) just to get it over with."
Stenson, who won the Race to Dubai by winning this tournament with a record 25-under aggregate last year, managed three birdies in his final six holes despite admitting to "hitting the wall" from the 12th.
"I felt like I was running out of steam," said the 38-year-old. "It was difficult mentally. I had to really focus hard and drag myself over the finish line.
"I just felt like I hit the wall on 12. If it's one or two holes left, you normally feel like, 'OK, I can hang on'. But it was a bit of an uphill struggle from there."
McIlroy, who has already won the Race to Dubai, mixed four birdies with two bogeys in his round, which also included a mis-hit five wood that he described as "a fat, low, duck-hook runner that was not intentional".
The Northern Irishman also drove into the water on the par-five 18th but escaped with a par after a deft chip from greenside rough to six inches.
"It could have been worse but it probably could have been a little better," said McIlroy.
"I'm in a good position and there is a lot of golf left. I've definitely been in worse positions after two rounds and still won.

Henrik Stenson, Rafa Cabrera-Bello top

Henrik Stenson

World Tour Championship third-round scores

-14 R Cabrera-Bello (Spa), H Stenson (Swe) -11 J Rose (Eng) -10 V Dubuisson (Fra), T Hatton (Eng), T Olesen (Den), R McIlroy (NI) Selected others: -9 M Warren (Sco), D Willett (Eng); -7 J Donaldson (Wal) -5 S Garcia (Spa), S Gallacher (Sco) -3 L Donald (Eng) -2 I Poulter (Eng), G McDowell (NI) -1 L Westwood (Eng)
Swede Henrik Stenson and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello share a three-shot lead after three rounds of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Defending champion Stenson, 38, carded a four-under 68 to be 14 under with one round remaining, while 30-year-old Cabrera-Bello shot a 65.
Stenson was briefly joined at the top of the leaderboard by Rory McIlroy, only for the European Tour Race to Dubai winner to double-bogey 12 and 13.
McIlroy's 70 left him four behind.
The Northern Irishman made light of a two-shot deficit on overnight leader Stenson by knocking in four birdies in his opening 10 holes.
But the world number one shot an ugly six on the par-four 12th and a five at the par-three 13th to tumble down the leaderboard.
"It was annoying to follow a double with another one, but it was nice to get a couple back and keep myself within touching distance," said the 25-year-old.
Looking ahead to Sunday's final round, the four-time major winner added: "I'll try to get off to a fast start. I can't afford to stay patient."
Stenson said it would "mean a lot" to successfully defend the title but acknowledged Cabrera-Bello was "on fire".
He added: "It's been a good year, but when you assess it you always look at the trophies and there hasn't been one yet."

Henrik Stenson retains title in Dubai

Henrik Stenson

World Tour Championship final leaderboard

-16 H Stenson (Swe) -14 R McIlroy (NI), J Rose (Eng), V Dubuisson (Fra) -13 S Lowry (Ire) -12 L Oosthuizen (SA), R Karlsson (Swe), T Hatton (Eng) -11 B Grace (SA), J Luiten (NL), R Cabrera-Bello (Spa) Selected others:-10 S Garcia (Spa), J Donaldson (Wal) -9 S Dyson (Eng) -8 I Poulter (Eng) -7 L Donald (Eng) -6 S Gallacher (Sco) -2 L Westwood (Eng), G McDowell (NI)
Sweden's Henrik Stenson has retained his DP World Tour Championship title, winning by two shots in Dubai.
The 38-year-old shot back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th to card a 70 and finish 16 under par.
His Ryder Cup team-mates Rory McIlroy, Victor Dubuisson and Justin Rose were tied for second place on 14 under.
Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello started the day as joint leader with Stenson but successive double bogeys on the 16th and 17th saw his challenge fade.
Stenson had struggled on the back nine, hitting his tee shot out of bounds on the 11th to gift his playing partner Cabrera-Bello a two-shot lead.
But as the Spaniard collapsed twice hitting the water, Stenson hit a brilliant tee shot on the 17th for a tap-in birdie to reclaim the outright lead.
Henrik Stenson wins the World Tour Championship
"It would be nice to have been ranked the world's best at some point" - Stenson
"It feels great," said Stenson. "I'm exhausted to say the least.
"It was hot out there and tricky on the back nine. I did not play my best and had a shocking hole on 11 which knocked me back, but I did not give up. I just had to dig in there and wait for something to happen.
"I had a couple of close calls this year to get my win and it was not to be. It's been close but eventually you get something if you stick around and I surely did that."
Northern Ireland's world number one McIlroy and Englishman Rose both missed birdie putts on the 18th, finishing joint second with France's Dubuisson.
McIlroy said: "It seemed like no-one took it by the scruff of the neck and I thought if I could post 16 under I might have a chance. I just did not play well enough to win this week."
Ireland's Shane Lowry finished a shot further back in fifth to move into the top 50 in the world rankings.
The win means Stenson stays in second place in the Race to Dubai standings behind McIlroy - who had already made sure of the title a week ago as no challengers can catch him.
Henrik Stenson wins the World Tour Championship
Stenson said he aims to be "in good shape" for the majors in 2015
Rory McIlroy
"In seasons gone by a bad week would have been middle of the pack or battling to make the cut" - McIlroy finished joint second