Premier League: Manchester United 2 Stoke City 0

Manchester United became joint-leaders of the Premier League after a 2-0 win over Stoke City at Old Trafford.

The game struggled to get going at times as United dominated possession without ever creating a clear cut opportunity, and both goals came from the penalty spot as Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov converted either side of half-time.

Both sides produced wayward efforts in the opening quarter of the game, and it was not until Paul Scholes’ deflected volley, which seemed destined for the bottom corner before a slight deflection sent it wide, that United found their rhythm.

The home side continued to dominate possession and midfielder Michael Carrick tried to test Thomas Sorensen from distance but fired wide of the post.

The game finally got the goal it had needed eight minutes before the interval after Park-Ji Sung was brought down by a sliding tackle from Jermaine Pennant. Hernandez grabbed the ball and calmly fired past Sorensen to put his side ahead.

United continued to control proceedings after the interval and eight minutes into the half they were awarded their second penalty of the game.

Jon Walters and Antonio Valencia tangled in the area and when the Ecuadorian fell to the floor referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot. Berbatov calmly stepped up and fired it past the dive of Sorensen.

Chances remained few and far between, but Stoke almost pulled one back when substitute Cameron Jerome leapt above Johnny Evans only to see his effort saved by Ben Amos.

The home side cruised their way through the final half-hour of the match but again were unable to fashion many clear cut chances as Stoke remained defiant in defence.

Scholes saw a late chance well blocked by Robert Huth and Patrice Evra felt he should have had another penalty but his claims were waved away by the referee.

United share top spot with rivals Manchester City, who suffered a 1-0 defeat at Everton.

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Premier League: Wolves 0 Liverpool 3

A strong display from Liverpool piled more misery on Wolves as goals from Andy Carroll, Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt inspired a 3-0 win.

Carroll opened the scoring after half-time at Molineux Stadium before Bellamy and Kuyt sealed the points, with Wolves failing to mount a single attack of note after the interval.

Liverpool should have taken the lead in just the fourth minute when Carroll nodded down for Kuyt, but the Dutchman miscontrolled the ball when he should have scored.

It was a disjointed start from Wolves but in the 14th minute they had a great chance to take the lead through top scorer Steven Fletcher.

Emmanuel Frimpong retained possession before spraying out to Kevin Foley, who delivered a near-post cross that found Fletcher, though the Scot could not get enough power on his glancing volley.

The Reds produced a great chance shortly afterwards but Wayne Hennessey made a superb reaction save from a Daniel Agger header.

Liverpool took the lead in the 53rd minute when Carroll met Charlie Adam’s cross at the back post and poked past Hennessey.

The visitors doubled their advantage through Bellamy in the 61st minute when the Welshman was gifted a free run on goal by a lacklustre Wolves side.

Bellamy received the ball just inside his own half before running unchallenged into the area and curling past Hennessey, who should have palmed the ball clear.

Kenny Dalglish’s side secured the points in the 78th minute as Dirk Kuyt ended his long run without a goal, sliding the ball into the far corner after Adam was again the architect.

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Premier League: Tottenham 3 Wigan 1

Majestic displays by Luka Modric and Gareth Bale gave a dominant Tottenham a 3-1 win over Wigan on Tuesday.

Modric set up Bale’s opener before lashing in a goal of his own past Ali Al-Habsi, and Bale added a third after the interval in a sumptuous performance at White Hart Lane.

James McArthur netted in the 81st minute for Wigan but it was mere consolation for Roberto Martinez’s side.

Spurs fashioned the first chance of the game after five minutes when Younes Kaboul’s header from a corner was pushed away by Al-Habsi at the far post.

Niko Kranjcar was a constant threat for the Wigan defence, finding space on the left-side of the box as he alternated flanks with Bale. The recalled Croat found space for a shot on 20 minutes but drove into Al-Habsi’s arms.

The Spurs attacks kept coming and when Modric utilised his famed vision to find Bale at the back-post, the Welshman controlled with his chest before volleying past Al-Habsi.

Bale’s performance was electric throughout, the winger drifting in from both flanks and making it hard for Wigan to cope with his movement. He almost added a second before half-time when a Kranjcar pass set him free down the left, though his shot was saved by a busy Al-Habsi.

Modric then extended the margin when he swivelled on the edge of the penalty area and drilled a fine strike past Al Habsi into the bottom right corner.

Victor Moses had Wigan’s first real chance early in the second half, taking advantage of some slack defending to cut inside and arrow a shot just over Brad Friedel’s crossbar.

Martinez’s side began to gather more of the ball and Tottenham were a bit more relaxed and consequently sloppy in possession up until the hour mark.

Bale was key in thwarting the visitors’ mini-revival, making it 2-0 when he shuffled to the left corner of the box before driving the ball beyond Al-Habsi’s despairing left hand.

Substitute McArthur pulled one back for the visitors, with his left footed strike taking a deflection and looping over Friedel.

Wigan pressed for a second and Friedel was called into action a number of times but Tottenham held on for the deserved win.

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Predicting Wednesday’s EPL fixtures

Despite the top four clubs in England’s top-tier having taken the pitch on Tuesday, Wednesday’s match-ups are just as enticing.

Wednesday’s English Premier League schedule is as follows:

Aston Villa v Queens Park Rangers

Blackburn Rovers v Newcastle United

Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal

Fulham v West Bromwich Albion

Sunderland v Norwich City

For those of you who were expecting transfer news and rumors, my apologies. Let’s get started.

Aston Villa v Queens Park Rangers:

Mark Hughes and new signings Taye Taiwo and Nedum Onuoha travel to Villa Park to take on Alex McLeish and Aston Villa on Wednesday night.

Players to Watch

Keep an eye on left-back Taye Taiwo, who should be able to quell with Aston Villa wingers Marc Albrighton and Charles N’Zogbia.

For Villa, in-form striker Darren Bent will be looking to add to his tally of eight Premier League goals in 2011-12.

Prediction

A 1-1 draw seems a fair result for both sides, but perhaps the managers have other plans.

Blackburn Rovers v Newcastle United:

Next, the Magpies travel to Ewood Park to face 18th place Blackburn Rovers, who are trying to claw their way out of the relegation zone.

Will Blackburn’s supporters turn against them yet again?

Players to Watch

For Blackburn, Yakubu, who has netted 12 Premier League goals in 16 games in 2011-12, is the man to watch.

Besides Demba Ba, Leon Best is the only other Magpie with more than two goals in the Premier League this season.

Look for the Ireland international to cause havoc in front of Blackburn’s goal.

Prediction

Magpies win 2-1.

Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal:

After coming from two goals down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 in the FA Cup, Arsenal take their momentum to the Reebok to take on Bolton Wanderers.

Unless Bolton recruit Amir Khan to feature in their defence, this one could get rather ugly for the home side.

Players to Watch

Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen will need to be on legendary form if Bolton are to rescue a point from the Gunners in this one.

Arsenal will need Dutch striker Robin van Persie to be on top-form if they wish to cruise to victory at the Reebok.

Prediction

This may be a bit of a stretch, but I’ll go with 3-0 Gunners.

Fulham v West Bromwich Albion:

West Brom will face the in-form Clint Dempsey and Fulham at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night.

Players to Watch

The aforementioned US international Clint Dempsey, who has bagged 15 goals and 4 assists in 31 games in all competitions, is surely the man to fear if you are West Brom.

For West Brom, leading scorer Shane Long will he hoping that he can add to his tally of six Premier League goals in 2011-12.

Prediction

To be perfectly honest, I fancy Fulham to boss the game and win 2-0.

Sunderland v Norwich City:

The last EPL game on Wednesday is between Premier League newcomers Norwich City and Sunderland.

Sitting in 9th place in the table, Norwich have been the surprise of the season thus far, while Sunderland have risen to 10th under new boss Martin O’Neill.

Players to Watch

For Sunderland, watch out for Arsenal loanee Nicklas Bendtner.

As for Norwich City, keep a close watch on former Millwall striker Steve Morison.

Prediction

A point for each side seems justifiable. 1-1 draw.

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Africa Cup of Nations wrap: Wins for Gabon, Morocco

A second half Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal gave Gabon a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday.

Tunisia were the better side in the opening stages, controlling the midfield and applying pressure on the home team with Youssef Msakni initially thriving in a more central role than he has played in previous matches.

It took 20 minutes for Gabon to get into the match by winning some corners and relying on long balls played towards the physically imposing Daniel Cousin.

Their most notable opportunity came near the end of the half when Tunisian goalkeeper Rami Jeridi misjudged a cross that was almost steered in by an onrushing Bruno Mbanangoye Zita.

The second half started much like the first, with Tunisia playing their best brand of possession football, but still they lacked the crucial final touch.

Sami Trabelsi’s men continued their domination until the 64th minute when a Gabon counter attack concluded with Aubameyang beating Jeridi.

Newly energised, the Gabonese could have scored a second when the Tunisian goalkeeper made another mess of a save attempt, dropping the ball into Cousin’s path but Bilel Ifa recovered well to cover up his team-mate’s mistake.

Gabon top Group C and will face the second-placed side in Group D, while Tunisia will be taking on the top team from the same pool, which will be decided on Wednesday.

In the other Group C match, Morocco left it late to secure their first win of their campaign, triumphing 1-0 over a respectable Niger side in Libreville.

Eric Gerets made seven changes following Morocco’s 3-2 loss to Tunisia, bringing in Marouane Chamakh and Mbark Boussoufa in an attempt to give his side more firepower.

However, it was Younes Belhanda who proved to be the difference as his 79th-minute strike ensured that Morocco finished the tournament on a positive.

Morocco exit the tournament after losing their first two games to Gabon and Tunisia, while Niger leave having lost all three of their matches.

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Parma – Juventus snowed off

Wintry weather forced the postponement of Monday’s Serie A clash between Parma and Juventus at Stadio Ennio Tardini.

Ground staff worked throughout the day to clear the pitch of excessive snow, but the icy conditions and cold weather were deemed unsafe for spectators.

Play was called off shortly before kick-off, with a rescheduled fixture yet to be announced.

Juventus are the only unbeaten team in the Italian top flight this season and top the standings, while Parma sit in 11th place.

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Allegri´s Milan face tough February

Massimiliano Allegri has told his AC Milan players to brace themselves for a tough run-in as they look to retain their Serie A crown.

Milan are second on the table, one point behind leaders Juventus, with less than half of the Italian domestic season remaining.

They meet their championship rivals from Turin in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia on February 8, before a Champions League round-of-16 clash with Arsenal a week later.

The coming weeks will also see Milan tackle Napoli, Udinese and Juventus in the league, matches that could go some way to determining the outcome of the championship.

“February is about to start and we’ll have a lot of matches against direct rivals in Serie A, the Coppa Italia semi-finals and the first leg of Champions League (elimination) round,” Allegri said.

“We need to be ready and try to play every match in the best possible conditions, both physical and mental.”

First up for Milan is a trip to Rome on Wednesday, where they will take on Lazio are the Stadio Olimpico.

Allegri has singled out the strike partnership of German veteran Miroslav Klose and Lazio captain Tommaso Rocchi as the chief threat to his team’s chances of taking all three points.

“Lazio are surely a good team, with excellent and players and good technique,” he said.

“The partnership between Klose and Rocchi is very important for them, Klose is doing great things in Italian football.”

“They also have Hernanes and (Christian) Ledesma who can make the difference, they have a good squad and deserve to be in the position they are at the moment.”

And while Allegri acknowledges his Milan team are heavily favoured to defend the Scudetto, he considers front-runners Juve just as likely to finish top of the pile in May.

“It’s normal we are among the favourites this season, because we won last season, but it’s also true Juventus remain the only unbeaten team up to now,” he said.

“They (have) gained 44 points, they have the best defence in Serie A and one point more than us, so at the moment Juventus would be the winner.”

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Ranieri counting on Motta

Inter Milan coach Claudio Ranieri expects midfielder Thiago Motta to play in his side’s Serie A match against Palermo on Wednesday.

That comes despite media reports suggesting Motta will complete a move to Paris Saint-German before the January transfer window closes on Tuesday.

“I didn’t say goodbye to Thiago Motta,” Ranieri said. “I said (to) him ‘hello’ today, as I did with the rest of the team and I put him in the squad for tomorrow’s fixture.”

“I hope he can be at my disposal tomorrow, but you always know more things than me.”

Wesley Sneijder confirmed last week he would stay at Inter despite ongoing speculation linking him with a move to Manchester United, and Ranieri must now decide whether to start the Dutchman ahead of in-form midfielder Ricky Alvarez.

“I haven’t talked to Sneijder yet, I’ll probably talk to him in tonight’s technical meeting,” Ranieri said.

“It’s my duty to field players with more qualities, as Sneijder, but I cannot forget that those with less qualities brought us to seven victories in a row.”

“Obviously we cannot go on like this, we must let our champions play, but we still need to find the right balance, differently from what happened in the first half against Lecce.”

“Sneijder is necessary and very important for us, but it’s equally important that he understands what the manager wants from him, otherwise it will be like speaking two different languages and not understanding each other and that’s not good.”

Inter’s seven-match unbeaten run in Serie A came to an end last weekend with a 1-0 loss at Lecce, the club’s first defeat in the league since December 3, putting added emphasis on the Palermo fixture at San Siro.

“The match against Palermo will be difficult because we’ve just lost two matches in a row, and because Palermo won their last two matches, so we’ll face a team in good shape and determined to come back,” Ranieri said.

“They have good players, and we need to turn over a new leaf straight away and play a great match with great determination.”

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Belichick: Patriots not dwelling on 2007

Bill Belichick will not be looking for revenge when his New England Patriots face the New York Giants in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

American Football Conference champions The Patriots are ready to take on National Football Conference winners the Giants in the NFL’s season-ending showpiece in Indianapolis.

The match is a repeat of 2007′s Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14.

Belichick will be keen to make amends for what was his only Super Bowl defeat in four outings as a head coach, but he does not consider this weekend’s decider as a revenge mission.

“I see this game as this game,” he said.

“And, again, there aren’t that many people that played in the last game four years ago.”

“This team is this team. Our team is different from what it was in mid-season. It’s different from what it was in December.”

“I think the Giants are a different team from when we played them in November. And they’re a different team from early December.”

“So I think this game and the elements of it are what we have in front of us – not what happened two months ago, not what happened two years ago, four years ago, or whatever it was.”

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed

Zamora and Cisse arrive at QPR

QPR have pulled off a double coup in their bid to avoid relegation, with Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse signing on transfer deadline day.

Zamora will be reunited with former manager Mark Hughes after completing a switch from Fulham for a fee thought to be in the region of four million pounds.

The England forward arrived at Craven Cottage for 4.8 million pounds in 2008.

He has scored seven goals in 29 appearances this season, but is widely reported to have fallen out with Fulham manager Martin Jol.

Likewise, 30-year-old Cisse has agreed personal terms for a reported fee of four million pounds, and arrives at Loftus Road on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

The former Liverpool forward, signed from Italian club Lazio, will begin his second stint in England after spells at Anfield and Sunderland.

“I have unfinished business here in England,” Cisse said.

“The English league is the best in the world. It is the league that suits me the most.”

“When I talked to the manager (Hughes), he spoke highly of the club and where he wants to take it over the next few years. He wanted to sign me at Manchester City and now I am finally here with him at QPR.”

“QPR have a hugely ambitious project. He (Hughes) wants to achieve big things here – that was all I needed to hear from him.”

Tue 31 January, 2012
RSS Feed