Will the FA Cup ever be restored to its former glory?

As we approach this weekend I cannot wait for another couple of days of sport as the sun hopefully continues to beam down on us. We’ve got some crucial EPL games, the Monte Carlo tennis masters and a handful of thought-provoking boxing cards. Oh and the FA cup apparently…..

Earlier this season we witnessed Bournemouth resting players at Millwall that saw them go out but I don’t blame Eddie Howe. If a team wins the FA Cup, they earn £1.8million but each club gets £2m per place they finish in the Premier League. In terms of monetary value the three points are potentially more treasured than winning the esteemed trophy. Are Bournemouth going to be thinking about losing 3-0 to Millwall when they visit Old Trafford and Anfield next season?

Common consensus with respect to this competition of vivacious history, is that the biggest blow came in 2000 when Manchester United elected to play in the World Club Championships instead of the FA cup. For me, it happened a few years earlier. The Champions League became “the” competition and in 1997 qualification was changed so winning your domestic league was no longer the only way of qualifying. Out went the European Cup Winners Cup too.

Part of the problem is the scheduling (January to May). The big clubs need to prioritise the EPL and European competition. The Capital One Cup, on the other hand, is done by February. But there are more logistical issues than that which has diminished that feeling of nostalgia. The feeling that “this is the FA-cup” (previously leading to me banging on Harry Symeou’s front door in the mid to late 90s so we could watch the final build up!). It was the last fixture of domestic calendar with the day solely focused on the final until 2011 where Manchester City beat Stoke City 1-0 in the final. Meanwhile, on that very day, Manchester United were playing in one of several EPL fixtures that claimed them the EPL title. Again in 2013 Wigan Athletic went from winning the FA cup to being relegated the following week. Now we see this TV (and global) friendly 5:15 kick off time. If the game goes to extra time or even penalties are fans from the north of the country going to be hanging around for the coveted trophy presentation?

Is there a solution to all of this? Probably not. Although one thing I would do is offer the winner a place in the Champions League in a play-game vs the team that finishes fourth in the league. Whether this would restore any credibility I don’t know. What are our followers suggestions? Or am I the only one apathetic towards the world’s oldest football competition?

Words: @Alavi_SSN


No to VAR & a look ahead to the FA Cup Semi Final weekend – feat Keith Hackett

Host @HarrySymeou and panelist Dan De Luca are joined by former top level referee & former manager of the PGMOL Keith Hackett to discuss at length the Premier League clubs’ vote against the introduction of VAR next season.  We also look ahead to this weekends FA Cup Semi Finals: Manchester United vs Spurs & Chelsea vs Southampton.  As always Keith provided plenty of insight, shared his honest views and doesn’t hold back in his opinions.

Check out youaretheref.com for more of Keith’s excellent analysis.

Twitter: @sofasportspod

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Who cares about the Premier League anyway?

Host @HarrySymeou is joined by sports informative @c11davison and football documentarian @jecook to discuss our progression in Europe, the Europa League draw and our 11th Premier League defeat of the season.
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Follow us on Twitter: @chronicles_afc

The Battle for Survival

On our most recent podcast the panel, hosted by Harry Symeou, discussed the relegation battle in the EPL. Let’s take it as given that West Brom are down, the bookies (as it currently stands) believe that the table will stay as it is, which advocates that both Southampton and Stoke will join West Brom in the Championship next season.

In my opinion, Stoke will be relegated. Paul Lambert’s men haven’t won since his opening game in charge at home to Huddersfield on January 20th , and still have to go away to an in-form Liverpool at the end of this month. The Staffordshire based outfit became the first team to concede fifty goals in Europe’s top five leagues this campaign; stressing a defensive frailty in the side to say the least. Lambert has failed to instil any more defensive nuance and instead seems to be relying on Shaqiri, who for what it’s worth is the second best player outside the top six (after Mahrez) for me.

Southampton have enough combat and quality in their squad to stay up. We saw that on Sunday against Arsenal where they were unlucky to come away empty handed from the Emirates. I’m impressed at how they bounced back against West Ham and they seem to have got that fight in them. They’ve got to go to Manchester City on the last day of the season so they need to acquire as many points on the board as possible before then! With Chelsea focusing on the FA Cup, Southampton could get something this weekend in the early kick off, but they’ll be relying on someone to slip up…..

From the day the season started I’ve maintained Huddersfield will go down and nothing has made me more confident than the fact that Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson yesterday backed the Terriers to stay up. I’ve got a feeling they are going to miss the chance of taking all 3 points against Watford on Saturday. As well as having the second-worst goal difference in the league (-28), they haven’t won since beating West Brom back in late February. However, Paul Merson jokes aside, the foremost reason for tipping them for the drop is the unnerving away trips that lie ahead in their final three games.

Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal with two of those coming away from home. A squad consisting largely of Football League stalwarts and German imports, I just feel their lack of experience at this level will cost them. They simply don’t score enough and the fact that only two Huddersfield players scored more than four league goals last season should have been a sign of what was to come.

Words: @Alavi_SSN

Gunners rally late but the performance wasn’t great

CSKA Moscow 2-2 Arsenal FT

Arsenal made it through to their first European semi final since 2009 but not without a scare.  The Gunner’s progression was in real doubt when they found themselves two goals down on the night having played just 50 minutes.  At that point the Russian side were just a solitary goal away from turning the tie on it’s head and in a week where remarkable comebacks had become something of a theme the Gunner’s faithful would have feared the worst.

Nacho Monreal seemed to get caught under the ball when a cross came in from the left hand side and although Petr Cech made a fine save down to his right from Kirill Nababkin’s header he was unable to prevent forward Fedor Chalov from turning in the rebound.  Slack defending has been a problem for Arsenal throughout the season and shortly after the break it was Petr Cech’s turn to gift CSKA a goal.  Aleksandr Golovin’s shot was on target but should never have caused the veteran goalkeeper anywhere near as much difficulty as it did.

Peter Cech seemed to beat the shot down into the ground but once again a CSKA attacker was on hand to pounce.  This time Kirill Nababkin found the back of the net but questions will undoubtedly be asked of the goalkeeper for his involvement and not for the first time this season.  His failure to divert the ball away from the danger area proved costly and all of a sudden CSKA began to believe.

Twenty five more nervous minutes passed before Arsenal scored the goal they so desperately needed.  A fine move both started and emphatically finished by Danny Welbeck – the first sign of any real quality from the Premier League side and you could feel an over riding sense of relief in the way the 500 or so travelling Gunners fans and the players celebrated.  The pass that split CSKA’s ageing defence was provided by Mohamed Elneny, perfectly weighted, exquisitely timed and at first glance you could have been forgiven for thinking it had been played by Mesut Ozil.

The Egyptian international now keen to steal Ozil’s title of assist king laid on another sublime pass right at the death but this time it was for Aaron Ramsey to race onto.  The Welshman continued his excellent form in front of goal, beat the onrushing Igor Akinfeev with ease and levelled things on the night.

In my opinion Arsene Wenger deserves a great deal of credit for the way he managed the game this evening, the introduction of Callum Chambers and his decision to switch to a back three succeeded in changing the course of this fixture.  The change in system allowed both Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to play in slightly more advanced roles as wing backs and as a result nullify the threats of  Kirill Nababkin and Kuchaev on the opposite flank who had caused the Gunners plenty of trouble up until that point.

The standout player on the park this evening was without question the Russian international Aleksandr Golovin.  He’s certainly one to keep your eye on during this summers World Cup tournament.  Despite being just 21 years of age he displayed a composure, a maturity and a truly magical touch.   He possesses the vision, awareness and intelligence required to compliment his outstanding technical ability and the sky is the limit for this young man.

Ahead of the game there was much talk regarding what impact the political tensions between the two nations could have on the fixture and those travelling to the Russian Capital.  However, despite many people’s concerns there were no reports of any disturbances between the two sets of supporters.  CSKA Moscow provided each Arsenal fan in attendance with a complimentary Russian style hat in order to protect them against the cold.  A nice touch indeed and one that highlights the willingness of the hosts to put politics aside and let the football take centre stage.

The Gunners will need to improve in the semi finals if they are to make the final in Lyon, I think thats obvious.  Given the way they had cut through CSKA with such ease and regularity in the first leg the fact Wenger’s side failed to register a shot on target for more than 70 minutes came as a surprise to most.  Atletico Madrid, Salzburg and Leipzig are all potential semi final opponents for the Gunners but they’ll feel as long as they can avoid the Spanish giants they have an excellent chance of progressing to the final.

Player Ratings:

Cech 5/10 – At fault for CSKA’s second goal.

Bellerin 6/10 – Average performance from the Spaniard.

Mustafi 5/10 – Fedor Chalov pulled off of him to open the scoring and the German international looked sloppy particularly in the first period.

Koscielny 6/10 – Despite some shaky moments in the early stages he improved as the game went on.

Monreal 5/10 – One of the worst performances I’ve seen from him in an Arsenal shirt.  Improved when the manager changed the system after Callum Chambers’ introduction.

Elneny 8/10 – Worked tirelessly and provided the assists for both the Gunner’s goals.

Wilshere 3/10 – Poor from the very first minute, caught in possession far too often, physically off the pace and the team improved significantly once he was withdrawn.

Ramsey 7/10 – Put in a good shift as usual and continued his fine run of goalscoring form.

Ozil 6/10 – Showed glimpses of his ability but his decision to pull out of clearing a ball from fear of getting hurt almost led to CSKA’s third goal at the point they were 2-0 up.

Welbeck 8/10 – Scored the vital goal by finishing off a move he started and worked tirelessly throughout.

Lacazette 5/10 – Anonymous for the most part, failed to have any impact on the game.

Words: @HarrySymeou

Buffon See’s Red, Pep’s City Crash Out, A Greek God in Rome? What’s That All About?

Host @HarrySymeou is joined by regular panelists Simon Alavi & Dan De Luca. This week’s special guest is the host and brains behind the fabulous @shootthedefence – Stel Stylianou. The panel look back on a whole load of Champions League drama, a disappointing week for City, we try make sense of the relegation battle and take a brief look at the current situation in Serie A as Juve and Napoli continue to fight for the Scudetto.

Don’t forget to register your vote for this years Football Blogging Awards – You can vote via Twitter by simply Tweeting the following…

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Twitter: @sofasportspod


The Banega Effect

Ever Banega has arguably been Sevilla’s most impressive player this season following his return from Inter last summer. A player who’s steadily improved since being sent off in his first league game since returning to the club.  The Argentina international played a vital role in Sevilla’s victory over Manchester United in the last round of the competition, he and Steven N’Zonzi dominated Jose Mourinho’s midfield in both legs. It was that very game against Manchester United where he picked up the suspension that ruled him out of the first leg versus Bayern Munich.

I spoke on this weeks podcast about how I thought Banega’s suspension proved a huge loss on Tuesday night. They lacked his creativity and incisiveness. Banega is a versatile midfielder capable of both playing off of the front man and dropping deep to collect the ball from the centre backs.

Sevilla missed his ability to link up play with the front men but moreover, his absence meant players such as Vidal (before the injury) were forced to play without Banega’s pressing and defensive awareness.  Unfortunately we are unlikely to see Sevila in the Champions League next season, which makes me wonder whether any clubs will turn the head of the 29 year old, particularly if he impresses at the world cup.

Words: Alavi_SSN

Twitter: @sofasportspod

Cristiano El Magnifico

The UEFA Champions League is without question the pinnacle of club competition and a playground for the world’s most talented footballers.  ‘Cristiano el magnifico’ has lifted the famous trophy four times thus far and you’d be foolish to bet against him getting his hands on a 5th in the Ukrainian capital come May.  His exquisite overhead kick in Turin last night left football fans right across the globe in awe and the Portuguese received a standing ovation from the Juventus supporters, an acknowledgement they’d just witnessed something remarkable from one of the greatest of all time.  The debate around who is currently the best player in world football continues and just when you think you’ve finally made your mind up be it Ronaldo or Messi the other one raises the bar with something even more spectacular.

Quite frankly, it’s a debate I’m sick to death of.  As football fans we are blessed to be able to watch these two artists simultaneously and in many ways they spur each other on to continuously deliver football of the highest quality.  Such is the intensity at which they battle for the Ballon D’or each year neither would dare allow their standard to drop from fear of being outshone by the other.  Thanks to advances in satellite TV and the fact the internet has made the world a much smaller place we never have to miss any of the magical moments and for that we should be grateful.  That’s something our parents/grandparents couldn’t say during the days of Pele, Maradona and Cruyff.  The consistency these two men display from one week to the next both in domestic and European competition is like nothing the world of football has ever seen.  The game has certainly advanced both tactically and physically since the days of the aforementioned players therefore its becoming increasingly difficult for the traditionalists to dismiss Ronaldo or indeed Messi when discussing the greatest of all time.

You’ve probably seen the replay of Ronaldo’s overhead kick multiple times by now and the likelihood is you’ll see it repeated in Champions League highlight reels for years to come.  The more I see it the more I’m impressed by his athleticism, the flawless technique and the audacity of the man, to try something as outrageous as that in a Champions League Quarter final requires an abundance of self-belief.  Despite going behind inside 3 minutes Juventus responded relatively well, having a couple of penalty appeals waved away and Gonzalo Higuain forced an instinctive save from Keylor Navas in the first half.  However, a goal of that caliber is enough to force even the most mentally resilient of sportsmen to throw in the towel and the Italian Champions fell apart.

Zizou’s reaction was priceless and with the tie effectively over the second leg will be nothing more than a formality.  Sergio Ramos and Paulo Dybala will miss out next week through suspension but as we saw last night its Cristiano that calls the shots.

Words: @HarrySymeou

Follow us on Twitter: @sofasportspod

Salah leads the way

At the start of the season myself and DDL promised the very dubious Harry Symeou that Mohamed Salah would have a fine season in a Liverpool shirt. However, my money was was on Sergio Aguero to finish as the Premier League’s top goal scorer, as it is every season which is compounded by the belief that I’m betting on the best striker in the league. Possibly the best player, which I firmly still have confidence in.

Nonetheless the race for the race for the 2017-18 Premier League Golden Boot is well and truly on, with Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah leading the way, closely followed by Sergio Aguero. Last season we saw Harry Kane score 29 goals in 30 appearances for Tottenham, whilst Romelu Lukaku a close (ish) second ended up with 25 in 37 games for Everton.

It looked as though history was going to repeat itself after the England striker scored consecutive hat-tricks against Burnley and Southampton, but an ankle injury to Harry Kane  meant Salah  had the chance to strike 4 times in a 5-0 rout of Watford therefore moving 4 goals clear of Harry Kane in the golden boot standings.  This week his vital goal led to another Liverpool victory, his 29th Premier League goal of the campaign and his 37th in all competitions. What impresses me most about Mohamed Salah is that he’s always first to react every time his team win the ball and break away.

The Egyptian is alert enough to pop in pockets of space whether starting from a central area or having cut inside from his natural wide position. He’s selfless too, as are Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero to be fair. He’s also quick to note the impact of “Bobby” Firmino, quoted recently as saying “He is doing everything. Running, fighting for every ball, giving the ball back, trying to get the ball in any position. He’s very good for us, and very important. He’s very, very smart

In some ways I hope the Egyptian wins the Golden Boot because he deserves it for having re-joined the EPL despite things not going his way the first time around but also for the quality of many of his goals.  As short as 1/8 with some bookies you wouldn’t bet against Mohamed Salah. Just for reference he was between 60/1 and 70/1 before a ball was kicked.  Well I at least won’t be making the same mistake twice in one season!

Who do you guys think will end up as this season’s Golden Boot winner?

Words: @Alavi_SSN

Follow us on Twitter: @sofasportspod


Podcast: Martin Tyler Interview

The voice of football Martin Tyler joins host @HarrySymeou for an insightful talk regarding his outstanding career, his journey from non-league football to the gantry, the FIFA video game, life at Sky Sports and shares his thoughts on the controversial VAR trials. Martin truly is a fountain of footballing knowledge and this is an episode you will not want to miss! Check it out!

If you are listening to the show via iTunes please don’t forget to rate us.   Thank you in advance.

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Twitter: @sofasportspod

Praise for Ballo whilst Icardi & Dybala miss out

Argentina Head Coach Jorge Sampaoli told the press on Thursday “I’d like to have Mario Balotelli as my player” after the Nice forward was left out of the Italian squad to face Argentina and England. Despite the strikers impressive form Luigi Di Biagio decided against his inclusion and one can only suspect with the Azzuri not going to the World Cup he’s focused on providing the likes of Simone Verdi and Patrick Cutrone with some valuable experience.

Sampaoli went on to say “We’re talking about a great player, with skill and passion for the game. Those are the reasons I admire him.” But perhaps the Casilda born coach ought to worry about his own selection troubles and his bizarre decision to overlook Inter captain Mauro Icardi who scored four goals as recently as last weekend and Juventus starlet Paulo Dybala.

The Albiceleste as per usual have an array of attacking talent to choose from and so it was never going to be an easy decision but I’d question whether Diego Perotti (Roma) or Joaoquin Correa (Sevilla) would deserve to go to Russia ahead of the two aforementioned forwards. When speaking about Dybala he had this to say “We thought Dybala was one of the top in the national team, but with the passage of time maybe he hasn’t been able to adapt to our ideas. He’s struggling to fit in. He generates a lot of points for his club as an anarchist footballer, and that’s made him a big name in world football. Either we didn’t understand where to use him or he couldn’t adapt to our ideas, which are totally different to his club. We have to evaluate whether there are those who are better than him, or if we have to strengthen Paulo.”

He did however; refuse to shut the door on Mauro Icardi clearly stating “I’m not ruling him out”. Make of that what you will but it’s becoming increasingly evident that the 2015 Copa America winner simply doesn’t fancy the pair, perhaps it’s a tactical thing, it has to be.

Those participating this summer will use the upcoming friendly fixtures as an opportunity to evaluate their options and experiment whereas in Italy the general feeling is that with no World Cup to look forward to it’s about giving the youngsters a chance to shine and grooming them ahead of the Euro 2020 qualification campaign.

Words: @HarrySymeou

Twitter: @sofasportspod

AW told JW he could leave during the summer, but was he correct to?

With Jack Wilshere’s contract hovering dangerously close to its expiration date I’m sitting here wondering how on earth the Arsenal find themselves in this type of situation again.  The uncertainty around Jack’s future has been a talking point for quite some time but I’m almost certain most of us expected this latest contract issue to have been resolved by now one way or another.  Jack Wilshere has been quoted as saying Arsene Wenger told him he could leave over the summer as the club were unwilling to offer him a new deal – I for one am not surprised by that and neither should you be, so why the seismic reaction to Wenger’s alleged comments?

Granted, Jack Wilshere has been able to stay clear of injury during this past few months and has performed relatively well at times but let’s not forget the managers comments were made at a time the England midfielder was sidelined and yet to prove his fitness.  From the clubs point of view, Jack had failed to make any significant impact during his loan spell at Bournemouth, his body looked fragile and as has been the case throughout his career it was impossible to predict how many games you’d get out of him.

You’ll struggle to find an Arsenal fan out there who is against the idea of Jack signing an extension, after all his return to the team has been one of the few positives in what’s been a rather depressing season.  It’s widely reported that Wilshere has been offered a new deal but in order for both parties to be satisfied he’d need to accept a pay cut.  The club clearly still has doubts over his physical condition, that’s the only explanation because there is certainly no question over his ability.  The likes of Jack and Ramsey (both in the spotlight regarding their contract situations) have just witnessed Mesut Ozil delay committing his own future in order to obtain the deal he wanted so it’d be naïve to think these lads and their representatives won’t be trying the same thing.

In my view, the club should do whatever it takes to keep one of the few players who understands what it means to play for this great club.  Care will have to be taken in the way he is utilized and you’d hope the medical staff can find a way to limit his injuries.  Of course there is a financial risk involved, but me personally, I believe it is a chance worth taking and I’d be deeply upset if he was to be allowed to leave.

Criticize the club, the manager, the board all you like because this situation must be resolved sooner rather than later but just remember Wenger’s comments were made back in the summer when most of us would have been feeling the exact same way.

Words: @HarrySymeou 

Twitter: @chronicles_afc

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England’s Number One?

Most of the International sides travelling to Russia this summer know who their first choice goalkeeper will be, but nothing could be further from the truth in England’s case. Joe Hart, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope are all competing to see who should start at this summer’s World Cup. Against Lithuania we saw Jack Butland take up the position between the sticks despite Joe Hart having seemingly  cemented his position as the number one during the past 6 years.  The West Ham stopper having played 9 of England’s 10 World Cup Qualifiers.  I’ve decided to put myself in Gareth Southgate’s shoes and would like to know what you guys think too…

To some Joe Hart is still the obvious choice being England’s most experienced keeper (and by some distance). For others, the 33 goals he’s conceded in just 15 EPL games this season is, in fact, reason enough for Hart to miss out altogether. That’s far too many goals conceded in not nearly enough games. I personally rate Joe Hart as both a goalkeeper and a personality and believe that on his day he can be one of England’s key men.  Unfortunately, those kind of days I’m referring to seem nothing more than a distant memory.  Of course, experience counts for a lot, although playing consistently throughout a season counts for even more. It may sound contradictory that I would start both John Stones and Jack Wilshere, but that’s because ball playing centre backs and creative deep lying central midfielders are few and far between for England. The same cannot be said for the goalkeeper situation. That all being said I’d take Joe Hart to Russia and he’d be my substitute keeper.

Nick Pope has kept more clean sheets and conceded fewer EPL goals than any of the other 3 goalkeepers in Gareth Southgate’s latest squad. Looking at form alone it’s difficult to see past Pope considering he’s saved just over 80% of the shots on target he has faced in the league. The argument against him is a lack of experience having only made his EPL debut a few months ago, but I’d take him to Russia to get the feel of being around the squad. In my opinion this is one World Cup too soon for the Burnley man to be a considered a starter.

Of the 4 goalkeepers Jack Butland is the most capable of both producing outstanding saves but also the most intermittent in his form. There is just something I don’t trust about Jack Butland and that’s why I’d leave him out of the squad travelling to Russia. Last weekend he was culpable for both Everton’s goals, which supported my thinking that he would be the one to be watching England from home soil.

Jordan Pickford, for all intents and purposes, is still an inexperienced goalkeeper. Last season, while at Sunderland, Pickford made more saves than any other keeper in the EPL (118). That form hasn’t deserted him as he tops this season’s stats for Everton (95). Not just a shot-stopper, Pickford has by far the best distribution of the 4 men in contention. England, have to play counter-attacking football with speed due to the players at their disposal. In my opinion, that’s where you need a keeper with Pickford’s ability to distribute the ball effectively, to kick start (literally) the counter attack. Pep Guardiola swears by keeper’s that can play, which is good enough reason for me. When shot-stopping between the competitors is reasonably similar, the distribution factor is why I believe Jordan Pickford should start as England’s first choice goal-keeper.

Words: @Alavi_SSN

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