2013/14 Premier League Kits – the Best and the Worst

Best

#5 WEST BROM – BOTH: Adidas didn’t do too much to mess this one up. Colors on both strips look nice, and the finished product pops on both (unlike Stoke’s offense)

#4- CRYSTAL PALACE – BOTH: Fans are happy about the return of the two-toned half and half look, while the sash on the away strip is equally popular

#3- CHELSEA – HOME: while other top clubs like Man United and Arsenal have had some very lackluster kit variations in recent years, Chelsea has retained a classy yet modern look year after year

#2- MAN CITY – AWAY: while Nike has muddled with overly simple (bland) designs as of late, this one is a stylish yet imposing look.

#1- ARSENAL – AWAY: I’m not an Arsenal fan, and often don’t like their kits, especially since moving to Nike, but this one is what Gunners fans have been waiting for. An ode to the days of glory, with an overall sharp presentation featuring the old-school alternate color scheme.

 

WORST

#5- ASTON VILLA – AWAY: while some like the look, most people are not fans. Luckily, not the worst geometric second kit on the list…

#4 CARDIFF- HOME: this misstep is all in the non-matching shorts. Management finally caved and moved to black shorts after this ruby-red with brick-red turned into a minor uprising.

#3 HULL CITY- AWAY: Yep, this is Hull City, the Tigers famously wearing their black and oran…. wait, huh?

#2 SWANSEA – AWAY: After such a success with both home and away kits last year, they pulled a near 180 for 2013/14. Home strip isn’t terrible, but many people are questioning their thinking with the gold and purple change kit.

#1 LIVERPOOL – BOTH ALTERNATES : the Reds’ second kit was instantly panned, especially after Jose Enrique’s less than excited pose with the new design…

their third kit maybe isn’t as bad because it doesn’t look like the players are in need of a Rolaids or Pepcid. Regardless, this kit looks like the Villa kit (see #5) and went all Picasso on it.

Premier League Outlook: Final Third

OFFICIAL 2/3rd PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW

Now that the Premier League season is about 2/3rds of the way through, the picture is beginning to clear up. Upon the season’s kickoff, most pundits figured it would be a Manchester battle for the title, and that’s exactly where we stand again today. Man City, the defending champions, have enjoyed a spell of successful football in December and January, but still trail the pace-setters Man United by 7 points. While the January transfer window comes to a close, there are only a few moves that will drastically shape the final layout of the league table. So we can really begin to assess what each team can do in their last 14 games

At this point in the season, clubs have different goals: to win the Premier League, qualify for a European spot, make the top half of the table, or to just stay afloat. Each result is crucial, and to some, holding on for draws is good enough, while for others, it could be the different between holding a trophy and coming home empty handed. Here’s how I see things playing out the rest of the way.

Prediction: Final Standings

Place Club Points
1 Manchester United 88
2 Manchester City 83
3 Tottenham 67
4 Chelsea 66
5 Everton 62
6 Arsenal 57
7 Liverpool 56
8 Sunderland 52
9 Swansea 51
10 Stoke City 45
11 West Brom 43
12 West Ham 42
13 Fulham 41
14 Norwich 38
15 Newcastle 36
16 Southampton 33
17 Reading 32
18 Aston Villa 30
19 Wigan 29
20 QPR 24

Quick Assessment:

Top 4: Man United have been improving defensively since Nemanja Vidic’s return, which could be the thing that gets them over the mountain. City’s recent form (5 straight victories) has them keeping pace with their cross-town rivals, and could really put pressure on the Red Devils with continued success leading up to the Manchester derby on April 6. Tottenham Hotspur started the season a bit slow, but AVB now has them hitting their stride. With Chelsea seemingly unable to make their minds up about who they can beat on a given day, Spurs could surprise a few people and pip Chelsea for the 3rd automatic Champions League spot.

Europa League: Everton should be hailed for a marvelous performance; to make the top 4 would be a dream, but even a top 5 finish is impressive for David Moyes. I just don’t see Arsenal clawing back up into the top 4 this season, they’re W1-D2-L4 against teams ahead of them in the table this season and aren’t picking up points with enough consistency. Liverpool should consider things a success as well. Although Brendon Rodgers has had a tumultuous first year at Anfield, their offensive performances are improving, and Luis Suarez has enjoyed his best PL campaign to date.

Mid-Table: Swansea have had a magical run, and deserve praise for what will likely be a top half finish. Perhaps even more praise could go to Martin O’Neill who may be in the process of saving his job and his club. Sunderland was just 2 points above the drop zone last month, but the crafty gaffer has finally turned the tides. West Brom spent a good portion of the year in the top 4, but are now sinking fast. They’re likely safe from the drop though. Stoke City’s once heralded defense has been leaking like a sieve. Can Tony Pulis get them back to their stingy ways?

Relegation Zone: Aston Villa are sitting in the drop zone for the first time this season, but it’s fitting considering they boast the worst Goal Differential in the League. I’m amazed this hasn’t yet cost Paul Lambert his job. My pick for drop zone survivalists is Reading. They’ve lost just one of their last 6 matches, and seem to be repeating their late season run of good form. Wigan and QPR, to me, are both finished, as they continually get outplayed by teams in similar positions, and haven’t shown much grit in the last month or two. Newcastle and Southampton both look to have enough quality to stay afloat.

Redknapp signed on for the impossible job. As you can tell… he’s super excited

Red Title Blow

It’s official. Nemanja Vidic will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured cruciate ligament. Sir Alex Ferguson and United officials confirmed during a press conference that the Serbian Centerback will not be available for the rest of their title chase this year.

So what’s the impact you ask? Huge is the first word that comes to mind. Ferguson will now have to rely on the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Johnny Evans… yes the same Johnny Evans that single-handedly cost United their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of League leaders Man City a few weeks back. Vidic is a towering presence at Old Trafford, and the likes of Rio Ferdinand, who himself could go down with injury at any moment, is United’s only experienced central defender remaining. The Reds will depend on his veteran leadership, and pray he too can stay of the medic’s table.

Fans praying for more Fergie magic

One quote that will surely give United fans an ulcer is that from Fergie this morning. “I thought Rio had his best game of season on Wednesday. His experience will be vital.” A defender, who surrendered two crucial goals in the team’s most important game of the year, had his best game of the season?!?! Certainly won’t help the fans sleep better at night.

To add injury to insult, United host a slew of other absentees at the other end of the pitch. Berbatov, Chicharito, and Michael Owen will all be unavailable for at least the next week, with the latter two missing upwards of a month. Throw in knocks to Tom Cleverly, Anderson, and both da Silva twins. The retirement of Paul Scholes seems to hurt more and more as the months play out.

Phil Jones will be crucial from here on out

The question will soon become. Will Fergie buy this January to offset some of his shortcomings? He has a history of defending his squad, no matter how young, but it’s starting to seem as though a few injuries can really hurt, especially when you’re 5 points off the title lead, and already out of the Champions League.

This has been one of the darkest weeks at Old Trafford in recent memory, perhaps all-time. United fans are begging for a spirited win against Wolves this weekend, and who could blame them. Carling Cup = gone (at home), Champions League = gone, Captain = gone too. Not looking very good in the red half of Manchester.

Time for Liverpool to Splash some Cash?

The news came down last week… Lucas Leiva will miss the remainder of the season, and it’s safe to assume that the Anfield faithful will certainly miss him, whether they realize it or not. In my mind, Lucas is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League. It wasn’t always the case, but the young Brazilian has really shown his worth over the past few seasons.
When Lucas started appearing in the Premier League for the Reds, I was quite skeptical. Who was this funny looking Brazililan who didnt seem to be much of an offensive threat, and who didnt even really look like a typical Brazilian? After a few seasons I got past the initial impression and realized his potential value to Liverpool. When skipper Steven Gerrard went down with prolonged injury spells starting in the 2009 season, Lucas stepped up big time, making 35 appearances and showing much improvement. Javier Mascherano left for Barcelona a few months later leaving then-manager Rafa Benitez with a huge hole in the center of midfield.

It was then that I realized how important a player like Lucas was at Anfield. Someone had to be there to thwart opposition if the likes of Torres, Suarez, and Gerrard ever wanted a chance at the offensive end of the pitch. You won’t find Lucas on the stat sheet very often, because most meaningful stats don’t showcase what he provides. After a bit of digging, I found that Lucas leads the league in tackles and tackle success percentage this season, and has been near the top in these categories for the past few years now. He also consistently ranks near the top of the PL in passes completed and pass %. Overall, it’s safe to say that he’s at the top of the League at his position.

So when the news came down that Liverpool would be without the effective midfielder for the next 6 months, I immediately looked at the Reds’ roster. Who would take Lucas’ place in the line-up? I came up with three options.

1– Liverpool have already announced that Jonjo Shelvey has been recalled from his loan at Blackpool. The teenager is quite unproven at the top level, and has large shoes to fill. However, he has scored 6 times in 10 appearances for the Tangerines this year.

2Charlie Adam gained notoriety at Blackpool for being a box to box midfielder. Since coming to Anfield he’s shown more of an offensive mindset, playing ahead of Lucas on most cases. He’ll need to drop back into the holding role now; can he be as effective?

3– Sign a new defensive midfielder as cover. This is surely a last choice move considering Liverpool seems content with their current squad. Nevertheless, the English media rumormill will certainly turn on in less than a month, so let’s just start it now.

All in all, this is a blow for Liverpool, and the situation is now up to Kenny Dalglish to make the proper adjustment. Liverpool is within striking distance of their coveted top 4 finish, and won’t be able to miss a beat if they intend to catch the growing number of teams ahead of them in the table. Liverpool still has much of the season ahead of them, but their first test will be tonight at Craven Cottage.

Much Ado About Berba

PSG, Anzhi, Valencia, Napoli, Tottenham, the list goes on… several suitors are already lined up for Dimitar Berbatov’s services. While a plane ticket out of Manchester seems to be booked already, I say “Not so fast people!” First and foremost, let’s summarize the current situation for Berba this season: 10 total appearances, 1 goal; quite a different story from last year when the Bulgarian lead the Premier League in goals.

Is Berba becoming fed up with life on the bench?

So what seems to be the problem? Overall, this seems to be an issue of form, but also an issue of favor. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is renowned for tinkering with his line-up, especially when it involves getting younger players involved in the first-team squad. When Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez got hot at the end of last season, Berbatov saw far fewer starts (including an omission from the squad in the Champions League Final in May). Danny Welbeck’s blazing form at the start of the 2011-12 campaign, succeeded in pushing Berba even further down the depth chart. The British media fueled rumors of Berba being shopped around Europe before the transfer deadline in August. Berbatov stayed on in Manchester but has retained his firm place on the bench. So here we are today: another high-priced, renowned goalscorer with no place on the pitch.

Where does Berba go from here? His agent initially claimed that his client was very happy at Old Trafford and planned on staying and competing for his position in the line-up. This week, Berbatov’s agent gave the first indication that a move could be on afterall, claiming he “will sit down with Dimitar and ponder” a move to newlly-rich Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. This wouldn’t be a shock considering Berba spent his early years with CSKA Sofia, and a move to Russia would be much closer to home.

But Sir Alex Ferguson, being the wiley old Scotsman he is, has scuppered all rumors saying exactly what should be said. “We have no plans to sell (him)”. Given their injury history, and Wayne Rooney’s penchant for kicking out at opponents on a whim, Man Utd could surely use all the depth they can get at forward. Welbeck, Hernandez, and Michael Owen have all suffered injuries already this season, and a rash of ill-timed knocks could push the ever-ready Berbatov right back into the starting line-up.

The Berba signed on with man Utd in 2008 for £30.75 million

As most savvy United fans might point out, the Bulgarian’s contract runs out in May. Thus, a transfer in January would be far more profitable than letting him go for free 5 months later. So although Anzhi didnt light the world on fire this season (8th in the table), the Russian club still looks sexy for any high-profile stars looking for more playing time. Samuelo Eto’o has managed to net 7 goals in a few short months, and the team has looked more competitive as of late. Plus, the possibility of Champions League football could certainly be in the cards in the next year or two.

At the end of the day, it seems as though the Berbatov camp would approve any move that brought more playing time. But ultimately, it will be up to Fergie. While noone at United wants this to turn into an ugly incident like the Carlos Tevez saga across town, a bigger question still rules all. If Berba is allowed to go, United will be missing a big offensive threat, should someone go down with an injury. Is that a risk the veteran gaffer can take? especially with United already 5 points down to rival Man City….

Gratuitous photo

CITY BLINKS FIRST, UNITED GRABS EDGE IN TABLE

As Fernando Torres stole the headlines in the Chelsea v Man United fixture, was it City taking the role as biggest chokers of the weekend? Up 2-nil just after the break, the Blue Moon faithful looked to celebrate yet another victory away from home. Sergio Aguero couldn’t be stopped. City were certain to seal their best start to a Premier League campaign in the team’s history, but Fulham had other plans. Goals from Bobby Zamora and Danny Murphy shocked City fans, who saw their club turn in an unproductive final 44 minutes. Back in Manchester, United was busy pinning Chelsea back by 3 goals, and well on their way to sealing a 5-win start to their 2011 campaign; more importantly, they now held a tangible edge over their rivals.

Chelsea v Man Utd

Despite a Blues team that played well overall, and a dangerous Torres reminiscent of old, United were able to find the net early and keep the Chelsea attack at bay. Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s men were able to make the most of their opportunities, as usual, but the United boss kept things in perspective after the game. “‘There were so many mistakes from both teams. We have won a game we could have thrown away.” Fortunate, the Red side of Manchester has been, but right now it just seems like every ball is bouncing in their favor… much to the chagrin of Torres. The struggling Spaniard seemed to shake off much of his recent troubles after finding the net early in the second half. A missed penalty from Wayne Rooney kept Chelsea in the game, and Nicholas Anelka’s entrance into the match seemed to help open up the offense. A brilliant Ramires through ball into the United box, was perfectly placed for a streaking Torres. A clever move that beat De Gea left the striker with an open goal, six-yards from his first brace in nearly 9 months. But then came the moment when no onlooker could believe their eyes. The ball was booted wide, and Torres crumpled to the ground in crushing disbelief.

I won’t speculate much on Fernando’s condition today, but I can only imagine it’s not good. Mental solidarity has been proven to be a must-have attribute of the world’s best athletes; Torres seems to lack any confidence right now. You can tell his touch deceives him and often it seems that his frustration turns to despair when things don’t go his way. I’ll leave his price-tag out of the equation; his proven goal-scoring ability must still be present, but is likely buried under a heap of disbelief, public pressure, and self-questioning. Andres Villas-Boaz certainly has pressure on him as well. In order to catch the team they just failed to beat, he’ll have to get his entire team to perform at their best, and start locking down 3-point performances on a weekly basis.

Other thoughts from the weekend:

Sunderland looked like a completely different team than the one that showed up for their first 4 games, deserved all 3 points in a demolition of a good Stoke defense.

If you told me that Arsenal would be a point from the drop-zone after 5 weeks I’d have said something like “not surprised”… I have to admit, I’m still a little surprised.

Swansea finally found the back of the net this week. Good thing their defensive strengths held onto a couple of scoreless draws. Those points could turn out to be really valuable in May.

Man United and Man City are both undefeated. Not surprised…. Aston Villa and Newcastle are also both undefeated. Quite surprised!

Liverpool goes from a Top 4 shoo-in, to a big question mark in just two weeks. Away form could become a major concern for Dalglish this year.

Spurs‘ first two weeks were disastrous. Thier second two weeks were much more indicative of the team we thought they’d be this year… good thing they only have to play teams from Manchester two more times this season.

EPL Fantasy Football Failures

Three weeks into to season and I’m pretty much ready to blow up my team. As an avid player of the Official Premier League Fantasy game, I spent countless hours researching who I’d place on my team to start the season. The toughest part is making things work with the budget of just £100. Not only was I able to do this, but I can boast that I have more star players than most others in our league. Going into the year, I had a pretty good feeling about my squad.

As a top 3 finisher in my league in each of the past three seasons, I figured I’d be somewhere near the top of the table at this point in the year. I had plenty of time to research which players would be one’s to start off the year hot, and which one’s would simply be in the line-up week in and week out. I am comfortable with the latter point, almost all of my players have played 90 minutes each game thus far. My ability to pick the players who would light up the scoreboard was slightly off however…

Here’s a quick look at my starting XI:
GK: Given (AV)
DEF: Cole (CH), Hughes (FU), Kompany (MC)
MID: Malouda (CH), Nani (MU), Moses (WI), Yaya Toure (MC)
FWD: Bent (AV), Carroll (LI), Holt (NC)

Needless to say, less than stellar. But let me take you behind the thought processes, and we’ll see just where I went wrong. In doing so, we’ll hope to come away with some valuable lessons on picking between two players.

Nani vs Ashley Young– opted for Nani due to the fact that he’s a proven Man United player, and Young’s new to the squad. It will take him time to gel, right?

Carroll vs Suarez– Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said he’d give Suarez a rest after coming off a busy summer with Uruguay. 14 points his first two weeks, some rest.

Bent vs Aguero– the English striker was a guaranteed starter week 1, between Dzeko, Aguero, Tevez, and Balotelli only Mancini knew who’d start. Missed out on at least 17 points

A paltry Week 1 for midfielders and strikers

Overall, we can always look back and say, shoulda-woulda-coulda, especially since hindsight is 20/20. But, when you’re debating between two players, and the one you pass on is the top performer, you certainly want to kick yourself. Whitsport vows to return to prominence, but it may take some time. Transfers for Aguero, Suarez, and Young have been made, but they seem to be wasted transfers at this point, since I nearly had them on my squad to start the year. “Oh well,” that’s all I can say… hoping for goals, and more goals going forward…

Happy hunting fantasy players.