The Race for the Title – You get what you pay for!

The transfer market has gone bananas.  Cast your mind back to 2006 and the sum of £38m could buy you one of the world’s most prolific strikers – Andriy Shevchenko.  Fast forward to the 2010/11 season and that kind of money would bring you…Andy Carroll!

The latest Premier League TV deals and an influx of wealthy foreign ownership have contributed to a transformation in the football landscape nobody could have foreseen.  July 2017, and the previously mentioned sum of £38m isn’t even enough to sign half of Romelu Lukaku.

The money men at City have spent in the region of £133m on full backs, Romans Chelsea have laid out a further £119m and the idea of FFP (Financial Fair Play) is beginning to seem like a fairy tale.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…You get what you pay for.

Arsenal smashed their transfer record this summer with the acquisition of French striker Alexander Lacazette.  The Gunners are known for keeping their cards close to their chest and although the fee was officially undisclosed it was believed to be around the £50m mark.

Having splashed the cash on Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi before him, the Gunners are still not competing financially with the likes of Manchester City, United and Chelsea.

To put it bluntly, the Arsenal specialize in second rate signings. The game’s elite players demand the kind of wages that would blow the Gunners wage structure apart.  The power is with the seller and Arsenal’s reluctance to be held to ransom and pay a premium means they’re being left behind.

The same can be said for Liverpool.  Another club who’s fan base are desperate for premier league success.  Ownership who seemingly won’t pay the top dollar and a manager who’s inability to defend will ultimately cost them.

Tottenham Hotspur have exceeded expectations for two seasons now, but that won’t continue.  The financial burden of a new stadium and the move to Wembley will see Mauricio Pochettino’s side struggle to compete on all fronts and I’ve yet to mention their lack of transfer activity.

Throughout recent history, with a few anomalies of course, there has been a clear correlation between the title winners and the most dominant in the transfer market.   The title race will be between the top 3 spenders and the sooner the Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs fans accept this, the better.

So you can rest assure, the Arsenal Fan TV melt downs will be back next season, the Spuds will end up heartbroken and the Scousers will still be talking about 2005!

@HarrySymeou

sofasportsnews.com

Check out the latest episode of the SSN Podcast!

Steven Caldwell Interview

Micky Hazard Interview

We had the pleasure of talking with Spurs legend Micky Hazard about his fantastic career. Micky spoke to us regarding his FA & UEFA cup triumphs, a play-off final win, promotion, some of the games current issues and his emotional farewell to White Hart Lane.
An absolute gentleman!

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Micky Hazard Interview

Title won, Hull face the drop & the FA’s plans to make diving stop!

Harry is joined by sofasportsnews.com blogger Dan De Luca & Shoot the Defence host Stel. The lads discuss how the current Chelsea side compare to past champions, Spurs’ imminent move to Wembley, the Championship play off’s, the futures of Marco Silva, Walter Mazzari, Craig Shakespeare, The FA’s plans to introduce a punishment for diving and the usual European Round-up!

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Kante – history maker?

Long time leaders Chelsea finally secured the Premier League title last night with a 1-0 win away at West Brom.

There are no weaknesses in this Chelsea side but much of the plaudits have been levelled towards midfield powerhouse N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman was named Premier League Player Of The Year at the PFA awards ceremony last month.

In winning the title, Kante becomes the first outfield player to win back to back Premier League Titles for different clubs. Kante joins an elite list of now 9 players to have won the Premier League for two different clubs.

1-Henning Berg
First man to achieve the feat as part of Jack Walkers Blackburn revolution in 94/95, later winning the title twice for Manchester United, including the treble winning season of 1999

2-Nicolas Anelka
He’s played for so many Premier League sides this one may not be a surprise, but there was over a decade between his league triumph as a teenager for Arsenal in 97/98 and as a 30 year old for Ancelotti’s Chelsea in 2010

3-Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole won two titles for Arsenal just after the turn of the century and added to the collection in 2010 following his acrimonious departure to Chelsea

4-Kolo Toure
Not just a good chant, he was one of the Arsenal invincibles in 2003/4, he then went on to win the title on the last day of the season in 2012 for Manchester City.
Kolo so nearly became the first and only man to win with three different clubs as part of Liverpool side that fell away in the final 3 games of 2013/14.

5-Gael Clichy
Probably one of the more surprising members of the club, but Gael Clichy has quietly picked up 3 League titles over the course of a decade. At Arsenal in 2004, he later became one of five players to switch North London for Eastlands in the following few years. He won two titles for Manchester City in 11/12 & 13/14.

6-Carlos Tevez
Probably the most controversial of the club having won the title for both Manchester Rivals. Tevez first won the league twice consecutively for Manchester United in 2007/08 & 08/09. Then, he was welcomed to Manchester and helped himself to a league title for the blue half of the city in 11/12.

7-Robert Huth
Huth was one of the experienced heads at the heart of Leicesters triumph in 15/16, and much of that experience was developed a decade earlier when he was part of Mourinho’s Chelsea squads that won the league in 04/05 & 05/06.

8-Mark Schwarzer
Kante may be the first outfield player to do it, but Aussie Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was in the Chelsea squad in 14/15 and the amazing Leicester squad of 15/16. He didn’t play a single minute of either league campaign though.
Should he be part of the club? Well, it’s tough for a reserve goalie to get a game, never mind a 3rd keeper. And all those long kicks back to the number one keeper on training have got to add up to something right?

9-N’Golo Kante
Absolute machine, deserved Player of the Year, and back to back premier league winner.

Reffing Hell!

There are 3 key components of every good side…

A strong spine. A 20-Goal a season striker. And a well chosen referee at key points of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have both had hands in progressing in the Champions League (again), Arsenal have been able to use their hands to avoid Arsenal Fan TVs server reaching capacity, and with Chelsea having a little wobble, well, it’s time for the FA to bring out the A team.

With the Spurs – Chelsea semi final neatly poised in 2012 ref Martin Atkinson decided the game could do with a goal, so… he gave one. Marvellous. Thankfully goal-line technology will prevent any such repeats but there is still no technology to prevent you from being a cheating attention seeking bellend. So with that it mind, who would you not appoint to handle the 2017 reunion of the two sides in the semi final? And who have the FA chosen from their pool of miscreants? Yeah, Martin Atkinson.

Who knows what will happen this time, will he subconsciously try to even things out? will he try so hard not to be seen to even things out and go the other way? Why even appoint him and crank the pressure up more with a crowd that won’t forget? You stupid stupid stupid organisation. Apart from Diego Costa being allowed 17 bookable offences before his first warning instead of his usual 12 expect this to end in tears and controversy and a ref at the centre of it all in the aftermath. Maybe that’s what he wants, but it makes you wonder what the FA know about common bloody sense. What does FA stand for again?

That was De Luca’s 2 pence #2pDDL

sofasportsnews.com

EPL Round up – Week 13

Burnley 1-2 Man City

Another exciting weekend of EPL action kicked off with Burnley hosting title chasers Manchester City at Turf Moor.  Sean Dyche’s side took an early lead through the former Spurs midfielder Dean Marney, a lead the home side fully deserved having made an impressive start to the game.  It wasn’t long before the EPL’s hottest striker Sergio Aguero arrived at the party and with goals on 37 & 60 minutes his brace proved to be the difference.

Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland 

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool faced a stubborn Sunderland side at Anfield this weekend and 75 minutes passed before they finally broke the deadlock.  Belgian striker and substitute Divock Origi broke the Sunderland resistance with around about 15 minutes to go and a late penalty sealed the victory as James Milner calmly dispatched.

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs

In the days late kick off, in-form Chelsea entertained a Spurs side fresh off the back of their Champions League exit midweek.  Many predicted Chelsea to cruise through this one but that certainly wasn’t the case.  An impressive first half performance from Spurs capped by a fine strike from Christian Eriksen had Antonio Conte’s men with their backs to the wall.  Pedro’s curling effort leveled it on the stroke of half time and from then on Chelsea’s superiority was clear for all to see.  Victor Moses’ goal just after the break proved to be the winner and propelled the West Londoners back to the top of the pile.  With Spurs having suffered defeat there are no longer any unbeaten teams in the division.

Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth

The Gunners ended their run of three straight draws with a far from convincing win at the Emirates.  Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side will feel hard done by and probably deserved at least a point from the game.  Some contentious refereeing decisions left the cherries feeling aggrieved, Alexis Sanchez’s brace and Theo Walcott’s header were enough to seal the points for the Gunners and ensure they kept in touch with the leaders.  This Bournemouth performance was further evidence that Eddie Howe is a fine manager and has a bright future in the game.

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Man Utd 1-1 West Ham

Jose Mourinho stole the headlines once again when he appeared to lose it on the touchline and was subsequently sent to the stands for the second time this season.  Man Utd got off to the worst possible start when Diafra Sakho gave the hammers the lead just 2 minutes in.  Summer signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic combined to draw the home side level around about 20 minutes later but neither side were able to take all three points.  Yet another frustrating result for Jose’s side who now find themselves 8 points behind the current top 4.

Game of the Week:

Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace

Bob Bradley celebrated his first win as Swansea manager but oh boy did they leave it late!  Two goals in stoppage time from Spanish striker Fernando Llorente turned the game on its head and ultimately decided this 9 goal thriller.  It looked as though Palace were going to return to South London with all 3 points when Benteke netted on 84 minutes but sadly for Alan Pardew it just wasn’t to be.  Having invested heavily in the squad over the summer there is no doubt Alan Pardew will now be under immense pressure.  Both sides find themselves in the midst of a relegation dogfight and it’s no surprise with that sort of defending!

Elsewhere…

Watford suffered a home defeat at the hands of Stoke.  A Gomes own goal and Mazzari’s refusal to shake Mark Hughes hand post game were the major talking points.  Ronald Koeman’s return to St Mary’s was an unhappy one as his Everton side suffered a 1-0 defeat.  Debutant Josh Sims impressed for the Saints and he may be a player to keep your eye on for the future.  Hull City managed to salvage a draw versus an in-form West Brom side leaving both slightly frustrated.  Champions Leicester City  needed a couple of penalties to deny Middlesbrough a win at the King Power.  Leicester’s form may have completely changed this season but the dodgy penalty awards they were getting certainly haven’t, check that out on MOTD.

Click on the image below to listen to the latest episode of the sofasportsnews.com official podcast.

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Harry

sofasportsnews.com

David Luiz – “You were all wrong!”

“You were all wrong!”

When David Luiz re-signed for Chelsea I was getting plenty of stick. Knowing that I’ve always advocated flair centre backs and defended Luiz at every opportunity, all the “sideshow Bob” jokes came flooding in. Three months later and I’m looking into changing my network provider because the only explanation for the non-existence of witticisms must be bad signal .

Or is the truth what I’ve always maintained? David Luiz is a class footballer and more than competent defender. In actual fact the very reason Luiz isn’t appreciated (and England’s John Stones for that matter) is exactly why England don’t win major trophies. It’s the same with Hoddle, Le Tissier, Barnes and many others.

Antonio Conte forked out £30m to re-sign Luiz, and he’ll be glad that he did. Calamitous Cahill should thank his lucky stars he’s got two central defenders next to him to compensate for his deficiencies as a player. There’s no two ways about it; the 29-year-old has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Chelsea haven’t conceded a goal in six league matches – Mesut Ozil, on September 24, was the last man to score past Thibaut Courtois – and Luiz has played a big part in the Blues’ defensive success.

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So what’s made all the difference? Conte’s 3-4-3 system has allowed David Luiz to flourish in the middle of the back three supported by Cesar Azpilicueta on the right and Gary Cahill to his left. As discussed on the podcast this week, the presence of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses in the wing-back positions mean Chelsea can switch to a back four or five depending on the defensive discipline of the aforementioned wing-backs.

N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in front of him provide further assurance, which means Luiz doesn’t need to be concerned about being pulled out of position. In possession, Luiz continues to make full use of his well-honed ball skills and passing range (87% pass completion rate) to set Chelsea on the attack. For example at Middlesbrough, Luiz at one point won the ball, pushed on and played a superb diagonal ball into Diego Costa, who set up Pedro for a chance that came back off the crossbar. Chelsea are profiting from the supply of his effective passes from deep lying position

It’s clear that the former PSG man is enjoying himself. “The spirit is amazing and when you have this team spirit, this makes the difference,” he said after the 1-0 win against Middlesbrough on Sunday. A player like Luiz needs to be given freedom. Take this surging run against on Sunday just gone. A more cautious manager might have told him to pass the ball off as soon as he won it in midfield. The Brazilian completely marked Negredo out of the game. The doubters are being proved wrong, as the Brazilian finds some of the best form of his career in a system that suits him perfectly. And he may yet be a league champion for the third year on the bounce.

In reality, Luiz was never as bad as people loved making out. He took educated risks to stop attackers building up motion.. The way I’ve always described Luiz’s style of defending is calculated risk taking. If he makes the tackle you don’t get much credit, if you mistime the tackle you’re the villain. Let me explain. Spurs are on the attack with Alli in possession of the ball. Luiz is left outnumbered and marks the natural space in between the Alli and Kane. Alli rolls the ball to Kane who scores. No-one takes the blame. Alli smashes it in from 25 yards. Again, no blame.

Same scenario again but Luiz rushes out and tries to intercept the ball from Alli before he can build up momentum. If he makes the tackle then he’s done his job. If he doesn’t then he looks foolish for rushing out and takes the blame for the goal. My point is that when Luiz came rushing out there was always a decent chance of the opposition scoring anyway.

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He was just willing to put himself on the line and take the risk to prevent a goal. It’s a gamble. No-one remembers these intercepting incidents because there’s no hypothetical test to see whether a goal would have been scored regardless of his actions.  Additionally, if you attempt five audacious passes and one goes wrong then you’ll be remembered for the latter. How about the passes that created chances?

There has been an abundance of skills,  free-kicks and timely interceptions. However, the most poignant moment for me came a few weeks ago when David Luiz risked injury to prevent a corner, and concede a throw instead. The whole of the Stamford bridge faithful stood up and applauded. Most of them have already been proved wrong. As have most of you.  Gary Neville once described David Luiz as “a player seemingly controlled by a kid playing play-station”. Interesting description. That kid must be quite good.

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Alavi

sofasportsnews.com

 

Brand New: The latest edition of the sofasportsnews.com podcast!

The latest edition of the SSN official podcast. Harry & Alavi are joined by the last editions popular guest Andrew to discuss the latest footballing topics. As well as answering YOUR questions they discuss Spurs v WHU, Man Utd v Arsenal, The Milan derby, The Madrid Derby and the latest refereeing howlers. Sponsored by TagPay! www.sofasportsnews.com

Not so Blue anymore!

Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t get a lot wrong in football….but counting Antonio Conte’s Chelsea out as title contenders may end up standing out as one of his few mistakes in the game.

Recent Form

Chelsea’s last 4 premiership games have resulted in 4 clean sheets and more importantly 4 victories. Following the game at the emirates, Conte has switched to a back three. In truth the Saints never looked like scoring and let’s not forget that Claude Puel’s Southampton entered on the back of a five-match unbeaten league run. Conte’s system has speed and adaptability and of course 2 world class players.

World Class Players

Simply, these players win you games, and despite the freak season we had last year I’m a firm believer in class over form. If we put my Silva love-in to one side there are only a handful of World Class premier league players: Aguero, Hazard, KDB, Sanchez, De Gea and Costa.

Whether Pogba enters that list remains to be seen, whilst it can also be argued that a couple of centre backs in North London could be joining that group by the end of the season. But to rule out a team that has 2 of those players? Surely not.

Conte is hard to dislike; a man who has worked well with what he already had. David Luiz looks assured in the middle of a back three that allows him to go forward at times. The boo-boys that are usually quick to write in when the ball playing defenders I respect make a mistake went quiet this weekend. Ahead of them, N’Golo Kanté’s energy appears to be helping Nemanja Matic return to something approaching his best form.

They are both relentless in front of the defence and make Chelsea look as robust as ever. It is a setup that looks at once fluid and secure, and has also brought reactions from Eden Hazard and Pedro, who have benefited from being tasked with less backtracking.

There were times when the future of Victor Moses looked bleak, yet after a few months under Conte, he seems as if he has been a marauding right wing‑back all of his career. The drive and stamina of Moses and Marcos Alonso, the left wing-back, is what lead to Gullit’s praise on MOTD2 last night. “The beauty of 3 at the back working is that you have those 3 central defenders to take out the centre forward and playmaker.

If the wing backs do their job then the opposing team have are pressed out wide as the compact defensive 5 shut the middle and most dangerous routes out”. Gullit’s assessment was certainly valid against Southampton and, of course, the determination and work-rate of those wing backs comes front the manager himself. Conte’s formation was often more 5-4-1 than 3-4-3, with the wing-backs and wide attackers dropped back. When Southampton looked forward, it felt like a daunting assignment to plot the way through.

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One personal change I would make following Conte’s decision to shift Azpilicueta into the back three is replace Cahill for Terry. But then, who am I to doubt an Italian and defensive knowledge?

Ironically, it was Puel who gave Hazard his professional debut at Lille, and the Belgium international was yet again the difference. I predicted on our pre-season podcast that he would win the player of season award come May. I don’t think any one player has stood out so far, but he’ll certainly be top contender. Not forgetting Costa, whose goal  topped what was a perfectly balanced away-day performance.

Next up for Chelsea is Everton at home. Could be worse for a live Saturday game eh?

Alavi

SSN

EFL Cup – Betting Tips! (Wednesday)

Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Hull and Leeds all secured their places in the last 8 of this season’s EFL cup.  There are three more places up for grabs and tonight see’s arguably the clash of the round with Pep’s Man City travelling just down the road to neighbors Man Utd.

A Manchester derby on a Wednesday night is always a treat no matter what the competition and with both managers being questioned at the moment it promises to be a fine encounter.  Elsewhere we have the small matter of a London derby with West Ham taking on Chelsea at the London stadium and Southampton entertain Sunderland at St Mary’s.

Betting: EFL Cup

Manchester United:  31/20   Draw:  5/2   Manchester City: 19/10

West Ham:   15/4    Draw:  16/5   Chelsea: 3/4

Southampton:  2/5   Draw: 19/5   Sunderland: 17/2

Odd’s from Bet365 online…(subject to change)

De Luca’s Tip: “Southampton will win most likely but with the value being so tight I’d back them at -1.

Man City at 19/10 is the best value, especially if both managers go with weakened sides.”

Alavi’s Tip: “For me, backing Chelsea at almost even’s is the one!”

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Sofa Sports News

The Most Exciting Title Race in Years! EPL Week 9 Review.

EPL Week 9 Review

After another weekend of unpredictable results this is shaping up to be the most exciting title race in years.  Of the top eight only Liverpool and Chelsea were able to take all three points from their respective fixtures.

Jurgen Klopp’s side continued their fine run of form with a narrow victory over West Brom.  Having been held to a draw vs Bourinho’s United last Monday the title talk around Anfield had somewhat evaporated, at least temporarily.  Saturday’s victory which ultimately drew them level on points with both City and Arsenal has set the Liverpool band wagon rolling once again.

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Are Liverpool EPL Title Contenders?

Any team joint at the top of the EPL must be considered as contenders.  However, let’s not forget it is only October and so if I was a Liverpool fan I wouldn’t be getting carried away just yet.  Sorry Liverpool fans but I just can’t see you going the distance for a number of reasons.  Two dodgy keepers, the inability to defend any form of set piece and a lack of strength in depth will ultimately cost you.

The Return of the Special One…

Jose returned to the bridge this weekend and prior to kick off it was all about him, just the way he likes it.  Having gone to Anfield last week and parked the bus it was pretty obvious he was going to try and do the same thing in the hope of avoiding defeat.

I’m a huge critic of his ‘anti-football’ approach especially when you are the manager of such a prestigious club and spending hundreds of millions of pounds on ‘top players’.

Nothing pleased me more than to see his game plan go out of the window inside a minute and their vulnerability was clear for all to see.  Chelsea continued to stick the knife in on their old boss and were far superior in every department.

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“I know you sold me the wrong Pogba”

In a poor attempt to deflect the headlines away from his teams awful performance Jose reportedly whispered in the ears of Conte something to the effect of “you don’t celebrate like that at 4-0.  You can do it at 1-0, otherwise it’s humiliating for us.”

Despite his side being horrendous and Chelsea completely out playing them he still had to make it all about him come the end of the game.  He had an issue with the current Chelsea manager celebrating?  That’s rich coming from this man…

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Jose slides on his knee’s in celebration during his Real Madrid days.

City without a win in five…

Once again individual errors cost Pep Guardiola’s side dearly and John Stones’ decision making doesn’t seem to have improved just yet.

City were held at home by an in-form, well organised and resolute Southampton side.  Credit to the Saints but there’s no doubt the blue half of Manchester will be somewhat disappointed with the nature of the goal they conceded.

It appeared to be a mix up between Stones and Vincent Kompany but none the less a goal that could have been avoided had a bit of common sense been applied.  It wasn’t to be City’s day in the end but the results around them gave them some breathing space, a draw this weekend wasn’t as damaging as it could have been.

A constantly changing formation and  a lack of confidence are certainly contributing to City’s bad run but there’s no need for an over reaction, they are top of the EPL!

Arsenal & Spurs stutter…

Neither North London club were able to take all three points this weekend and I would put it down to both suffering from a Champions League hangover.  It’s been years since Spurs have been able to use that excuse!

Spurs failed to dazzle at the vitality stadium and Bournemouth could have nicked it late on. Perhaps the biggest talking point was the moment of madness from Moussa Sissoko where he appeared to throw an elbow at Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter.  The Frenchman was lucky not to see red and I expect him to face retrospective action in the coming days.

I was at the Emirates on Saturday and the Gunners were simply off the boil.  A leggy Arsenal side struggled to create as many openings as they would have liked against a stubborn and well organised Boro side.

The absence of Santi Cazorla in the middle of the park was a big miss for the Gunners.  He plays a vital role in Arsenal’s midfield, a player who is so good at both collecting the ball from the defence and play making from deep was always going to be missed.  The man who normally makes us tick wasn’t in the side and it disrupted our fluency in possession.

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Arsenal missed their deep lying playmaker on Saturday.

It’s worth noting had it not been for Petr Cech Arsenal could have ended up losing that one.  Adana Traore was a constant threat down the right hand side and its hard to believe that he spent last season sitting on Aston Villa’s bench!

Boro were good value for the point.  Both North London clubs suffered a minor stutter but it’s nothing to worry about at this stage, I expect both to be there or thereabouts come May.

EPL Results:

Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs, West Ham 1-0 Sunderland, Swansea 0-0 Watford, Leicester City 3-1 Crystal Palace, Hull City 0-2 Stoke, Burnley 2-1 Everton, Arsenal 0-0 Boro, Man City 1-1 Southampton, Chelsea 4-0 Man Utd.

Click here for the Premier League Table!

Harry

Sofa Sports News.

Official Podcast – Premier League Matchday 6 Review!

On this edition of the Podcast we discuss Sam Allardyce’s slip of the tongue, Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea, the demise of West Ham, Man City’s impressive form and Danny Simpsons comments around shirt-pulling and holding in the penalty area.

As well as our usual La Liga and Serie A round ups!

Also available for download on iTunes, please don’t forget to rate and share our podcast!

Sofa Sports News Podcast – Premier League Round up!

This week Premier League fans were in for a treat, the new ‘Friday Night Football’ featured the weeks stand-out fixture – I think we could get used to this!

Game of the Week: Chelsea (Costa ’61) 12 Liverpool (Lovren ’17, Henderson ’36) 

Liverpool registered their 3rd league win of the season with an impressive victory at Stamford Bridge.  Antonio Conte’s side went into the fixture unbeaten and not many would have backed Jurgen Klopp’s men to take all three points back to Merseyside.  Liverpool have beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea away from home in the early weeks and comprehensively beat last seasons champions Leicester City at Anfield.

Talk of Liverpool for the title has begun surfacing and I for one think its premature.  I can’t help but feel they will fall short defensively and over the years they have been known for pushing the self-destruct button come the business end of the season.  For more on Liverpool click here!  As for Chelsea, Antonio Conte suffered his first defeat of the season and after last weeks draw at Swansea he may have to rethink his approach.  As a talented manager/tactician I’m certain the Italian will scrutinize their recent performances and it won’t be long before they are back to winning ways.

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Performance of the Week: Watford F.C.

This was a tough decision to make, I have to say I considered giving the Sofa Sports News Performance of the Week to Tony Pulis’ West Brom.  Based purely on the quality of the opponent I decided to give it to Watford.  Walter Mazzari’s Hornet’s piled more misery onto the ‘Special One’ – Who’s special? Don’t make me laugh!

An organised, physical and hungry Watford side registered their second win of the season after their impressive come back at the Olympic Stadium just a week earlier.  Odion Ighalo missed a sitter early on when the returning Chris Smalling and David De Gea made a meal of an aerial ball.  Thankfully for the Hornets Etienne Capoue continued his impressive goal scoring form and late goals from Zuniga and Deeney completed the victory.

Jose was quick to shift the blame from himself and criticized the officials post-match.  I guess he just does that wherever he goes, if you refer to an old article I submitted you will see what I mean…click here!  If I was a United fan I’d have questioned his team selection once again, but who am I to judge! 🙂

That leads me onto the next section nicely…

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Worst Performance of the Week: West Ham Utd

Has Slaven Bilic completely lost it at West Ham?  A discussion I never thought I would have so early on in the season – it’s clear that the fans remain behind their manager but whats gone wrong in the past few weeks?

Having surrendered a two goal lead at home last week I was tempted to label that as a one off.  Saturday’s defeat at WBA  has done nothing to ease the pressure on the Croatian and to concede four goals in two games running vs the kind of opposition they should be turning over has set the alarm bells ringing.

It’s far too early to panic but having moved into the Olympic stadium and having crashed out of the Europa League in the qualifying round the Irons will no doubt be aiming to secure the European football that stadium deserves.

For the rest of this weeks Premier League Results click here!

Harry

Sofa Sports News

You could see that FOUL from the Moon! : Chelsea FC

Swansea vs Chelsea: Before the game started I was a bit nervous that Swansea would be up for this game. A home game against a big club and them needing three points. But given our form I expected us to pick up the win.

I wasn’t surprised with Chelsea’s starting line up as I expected Conte to name an unchanged side. You couldn’t expect David Luiz to just walk back into the team even if we had paid 30 odd million.

In the first 20 minutes we didn’t look particularly good. Swansea were dominating the midfield, pressing the ball and stopped us from playing. However although they had all the ball and we didn’t attack much, Swansea didn’t really cause too many problems and Courtois didn’t have a save to make.

So defensively we looked solid, whereas last season we didn’t. This is the difference that Conte has made and everybody in the team seems to know their roles. The difference between this season and last is that we now look compact when defending but are good going forward. Whereas last season we drew a lot of games through playing boring defensive football, excluding the Tottenham, Arsenal and Palace games.

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One other difference is the arrival of Kante, which has given both Hazard and Costa a bit more freedom to go and play. Costa in-particular looks back to the player we signed two years ago. His movement is the same but he’s being found quicker by players like Oscar, Willian and Hazard.

This proved the case when Oscar found Costa for the first goal, which was one chance one goal.

Oscar deserves a mention. I’ve never particularly rated him because he’s been inconsistent, but this season he looks a different player. His work rate has improved and the position he’s playing next to Matic means he’s now winning the ball and once he’s won it he’s always been able to pass it.

I actually think he’s been one of our better players this season and has been underrated because of Costa, Hazard and Kante.

From going a goal up we completely dominated the game but didn’t kill it off. Then Coutois giving away the penalty (I see why he went for it but he just got it wrong) gave Swansea hope and then the Cahill incident!

To be fair he put himself in trouble because of a poor first touch and gave Fer a chance to nick the ball. But once Cahill turned away because he’s seen the danger of Fer behind him, any contact from Fer has to be foul. Once he kicked him twice it just had to be a foul! You can see Cahill’s trying to pass back to Courtois with his left foot and Fer kicks it.

I still felt though that Chelsea could still score. Even though previously we’ve struggled to break teams down, this season we look like we’re always liable to score.

When the goal came Ivanovic done particularly well but Costa’s overhead kick was brilliant and shows just how good he is at the moment.

A draw was frustrating given the amount of dominant play we had. But we look a much better side than we have done for a long time.

Harry Storey

Sofa Sports News

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Chelsea FC: Early Impressions

Chelsea FC: So, the window closed, four fixtures under our belt, and our first international break. A good time to make our first assessment of the new season.

Firstly, the manager, so far so good. Our first two fixtures, he changed the game with his subs, putting two up top on both occasions and reaping the reward. Against West Ham, Batshuayi made the difference, winning a header which resulted in Costa’s goal. Against Watford, Fabregas made the difference, although Batshuayi played his part. Unlike against West Ham, we were disjointed against Watford and it looked like more of the same from last season, until Fabregas came on and started pulling the strings, and producing a world class pass for Costa’s goal.

There’s no point moping about if you’re not in the team, you have to impress when you get your chance, and that’s exactly what our boys have done, all our subs, including Moses and Pedro.

Moses has been a bit of a revelation and been rewarded with two goals, although you feel he’ll never have the quality to cement a first team place. As an impact sub however, and occasional starter, he has everything you want from a winger. He hugs the touchline, he drives at opponents and he puts them on the back foot. Not the most technical, he is nonetheless a direct player and that’s something that’s generally lacking in our team.

He’s the complete opposite of Willian in fact, a certain starter on the right. Willian has far more skill, is the far more refined player, and will help you keep the ball for long periods, as well as give you boundless energy. Where he lets himself down is in cutting edge. For an attacker, you’d expect more goals and assists, though admittedly he did improve in this regard last term. Moses’ game is far more straightforward, but effective nonetheless. He looks confident, Conte has obviously shown faith in him, and it seems to have worked. Moses will have his part to play this term.

Talking of cutting edge, we have to talk about Costa. Two late winners in both our opening games. You can’t knock that, except there is a caveat. Both games he should have been sent off, prior to him scoring. Had he been sent off we would have been bang in trouble, particularly against Watford where we were already a goal down. There is so much work to be done on his discipline and you hope Conte is the man to do it although you wonder if it’s an impossible task. We will see. Certainly the media have got it in for him, scrutinising his every move, and that will only ratchet up the pressure on referees. Sooner or later he’s going to get banned, one would assume. Luckily we seem to have signed good cover in Batshuayi, who has impressed far more than Costa in these opening games, albeit he’s played far less minutes.

Where Costa looks sluggish Batshuayi looks dynamic, where Costa looks ponderous Batshuayi looks sharp. Costa is a fine striker but he’ll need to be on his game if he wants to keep Batshuayi out, and if he does get banned, he may find it hard to get straight back in, unless of course Conte sees potential in playing two up top, something he was prone to do in his other jobs.

Before anyone thinks referees have suddenly gone easy on us, think again. Both opening games we had stonewall penalties denied, something we have got used to at Chelsea. We did eventually get a penalty against West Ham and that was converted by the star of our opening few games, Hazard., who is noticeably tracking back less under Conte and doing his work further up the park, where he can hurt his opponents and where the fans want to see him play. Last season he was totally mismanaged by Mourinho, who ran him into the ground when he clearly had physical issues, and when this didn’t have the desired effect he became an even harder taskmaster. It was noticeable when Hiddink came, and he gave Hazard a six week break, that Hazard came back fit and firing and in a far better mental state. Hazard needed care and understanding, instead all he got was bullying, in my opinion.

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Next up was Bristol Rovers, in the League Cup. In come Begovic, Aina for his debut, and Azpilicueta is moved to the right. Fabregas comes in beside Matic, Pedro and Moses start, and Loftus-Cheek plays up front behind Batshuayi. Out go the spine of our team. Courtois, Terry, Kante and Costa, as well as Oscar, Willian and Hazard. We get through, more comfortably than the scoreline suggests, though the formation and the personnel largely fail their auditions. Terry and Kante particularly are missed and we look vulnerable, whereas we’ve looked solid in our other games, against Premiership opposition. Conte was planning on introducing Chalobah for his debut but instead had to bring on the big-hitters, just to be sure.

Kante has made a difference. He‘s been the only new arrival to start our Premiership games but that one addition has made all the difference, hence the absence of Fabregas. One wonders what’s going to happen to Cesc this season, although of course it’s early days. It’s just difficult to see a place for him in Conte’s first XI. Truth is, nobody has quite worked out Cesc’s best position, is it in front of the back four or further up, nobody quite knows. There’s no doubt he’s a bit of a liability defensively, although of course he has many qualities, he’s a far better player than both Oscar and Matic, in terms of ability. Oscar is the more dynamic player however and Matic is more solid, and that’s what Conte has plumped for so far in our midfield.

Fabregas is not quite a Pirlo, he’s not quite a Modric, and he’s not quite a Mata. He used to play box-to-box, for Arsenal, where he made his name, but he’s not quite cut out for that role anymore, physically. He’s slow, not to put to fine a point on it, he’s lightweight and he’s pretty pedestrian. He was fine with Matic by his side for the first half of our title-winning season under Jose, but then we got overrun at White Hart Lane and the rest, as they say, is history. The Matic-Fabregas pivot has seldom been seen again. Basically we could be got at and this was only proved further in the game against Bristol Rovers. They started to overrun us a bit in midfield, hence they got back in the game.

Whether Conte finds a role for Fabregas remains to be seen. Certainly it’s hard to imagine a player of that quality being content with a place on the bench. We will see.

Defensively there are problems which Conte has sought to address in the window. Terry remains Chelsea’s best defender but he’s not the player he was. Ivanovic has been better this term from a defensive perspective but still leaves a lot to be desired going forward and Cahill will never be top notch, though he’s a decent defender who’s worthy of a place in the squad.

Conte brings in Alonso at the eleventh hour in the window, a signing which has generally been met with a lot of indifference from Chelsea supporters, understandably, given we have possibly sold three better left-backs in recent years, in Luis, Bertrand and Van Aanholt. Nonetheless we needed a left-footed defender and Conte has clearly seen a lot of Alonso playing in Serie A. Alonso is a good age and has Premiership experience. He’s done well at Bolton and Sunderland and established himself in Serie A, so he can’t be all bad. Word has it he lacks pace and physicality and tends to lose concentration and he’s far better going forward. We will see. Conte obviously feels he can work with him. He’s used to playing wing-back and as the left-sided centre-back in a back three, so he also gives Conte the option of going that way. Which brings me nicely to ..

David Luiz. A signing that has polarized opinion I think it’s fair to say. It’s no secret he wasn’t Conte’s first choice. First it appears the club went after Bonucci, then Koulibaly then Romagnoli, in each case they found they weren’t for sale, at least not at the prices offered, and Chelsea bid big, £42m in the case of Koulibaly if reports are to be believed. All of which tells us Conte wants to change something with the defence, either in terms of personnel or in terms of numbers.

It will be interesting to see if Luiz comes straight in against Swansea, and if so, whether we play three at the back now that Conte has that option, or whether he comes in for a straight swap with Cahill. Similarly, it will be interesting to see what happens with Alonso, whether he comes straight in and we finally have a left-footed full-back on the left, and whether that means Azpilicueta finally gets the chance to play regularly on the right. If Conte sticks with a back four, I suspect Alonso may struggle to get a game. If he goes three at the back however you’d think Alonso is a shoo-in for a spot. Luiz gives you that option of going three at the back because he can play as the spare man, meaning he would be less of a liability defensively. We all know he’s prone to the odd rush of blood to the head occasionally. As the spare man he can bring the ball forward, he can hit those glorious forward passes, and he can act as cover for his partners. He may be ready-made for the role. It seems certain we’re going to see him play that role at some point, as we know Conte has played that way previously, and we know he has the requisite qualities, even if he isn’t the world’s greatest defender.

Some Chelsea fans are wondering why we didn’t go after a Mustafi say, or a Maksimovic, if they were available and if we couldn’t get our top targets. Here I have to read Conte’s mind a bit, or at least try. Firstly, those centre-backs are less likely to be able to play the spare man, in all probability. Secondly, although they may be good defenders, and possible upgrades on Ivanovic and Cahill, they may not be enough of an upgrade to warrant the fee, particularly as we have Zouma coming back soon hopefully and Christensen returning next term, both of whom are outstanding prospects. Thirdly, Luiz has Premiership experience, he’s here more for the here and now, rather than the future, so in a perverse way he’s less of a risk, although he happens to be the riskiest of defenders, in terms of playing style. As with Alonso, his Premiership experience may have been a factor in Conte signing him, plus the fact he was actually available as well.

A pragmatic decision to sign him I think and one that will probably prove worthwhile. We hope so. All in all I think Conte must be pretty happy with his squad. It’s not exactly as he would have wanted but we’ve had a pretty successful window. Our squad is far stronger than last term, we have brought in four outfield players and haven’t lost anyone of significance, so the depth is there, as well as added quality.

Conte has gone for experience over youth, as he clearly feels that’s the best way to compete this term. Kids such as Ake, Traore and Kenedy have been sent out on loan, hopefully to get regular game-time which will aid their development far better than if they were making up the numbers back home. Many of this squad have a point to prove, after last term, and many are also fighting for their Chelsea futures, so Conte obviously feels they’ll be highly motivated. Besides, they’re good players, most of them have a record of winning, and he’ll feel confident he can extract the best out of them. The early signs are encouraging ..

Our last game before the international break, against Burnley, saw our best performance to date, and gave us something to really get excited about. It was the best performance for one and a half years, in my opinion. Yes you could say it was only Burnley but it was the manner of the victory that was so encouraging. We moved the ball about at greater speed and we were more cut-throat. We also played with a lot of confidence and the signs were there that we are being given far more freedom than we were under Jose.

The players had stopped enjoying playing under Jose, that much was clear. He had stifled any individual expression, as he is prone to do. In the second-half of the game against Burnley our players had their tails up. Hazard and Oscar both tried a rabona, which would have undoubtedly incurred Jose’s wrath. It seems like the players had been let of the leash a bit.

Long may it continue. The performance was exhilarating. We were a team on the front foot, a team with an attacking mindset. We could easily have hit double figures, if our finishing had been better. It’s been a long time since we really put sides to the sword. Under Jose, we would invariably play safe when in the lead, rather than really go for the jugular. I doubt very much Burnley will have a tougher game all term.

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Next up Swansea, a tricky away game. Some of our players may be tired from travelling and playing international games, and what with the new arrivals, Conte may have a selection dilemma. Either way, it’s good to have a bit of choice, and a bit of competition for places, which hasn’t been there for a long while. One presumes Conte won’t want to change it too much after Burnley but going forward it will be fascinating to see what he has in mind for his first team, and whether this will sustain us for a title challenge.

Let’s hope it’s a good performance but more importantly, let’s hope we win and keep our winning run going. If the Manchester derby ends in a draw this Saturday, we could have the chance to go top.

Forza Conte.

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