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Archives for April 2012

Roy Hodgson: He's not Harry Redknapp but...

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Phil McNulty | 11:15 UK time, Monday, 30 April 2012

Roy Hodgson – among other things – suffered for not being Kenny Dalglish during his failed tenure at Liverpool. The Football Association must hope their choice as England manager does not suffer similarly for the crime of not being Harry Redknapp.

In the eyes of Liverpool fans, Hodgson paled miserably in comparison to Dalglish after Anfield’s icon, a serial collector of silverware as player and manager, was overlooked in favour of the man who had just taken Fulham to the Europa League Final in 2010.

As soon as the FA’s official move for Hodgson was announced on Sunday evening the comparisons with Redknapp, previously the prime contender and the so-called “People’s Choice”, began. And not many were flattering.

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England gamble on 'safe option' Hodgson

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Phil McNulty | 20:37 UK time, Sunday, 29 April 2012

All roads appeared to lead to Harry Redknapp as England's next manager - but it now looks like Roy Hodgson will be plotting England's route through Euro 2012.

The emphatic tone of Football Association chairman David Bernstein's statement painted Hodgson as the first and only choice to succeed Fabio Capello rather than a smokescreen to flush Redknapp out of White Hart Lane.

Tottenham manager Redknapp may have been "The People's Choice" when Capello quit in February but it appears the FA's four-man selection panel of Bernstein, FA general secretary Alex Horne, director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking and managing director of Club England Adrian Bevington have opted for the conservative approach.

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Manchester's derby decision day

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Phil McNulty | 09:45 UK time, Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Stretford End demanded a wave and Sir Alex Ferguson gave them a clenched fist. Manchester United led Everton 4-2 with time running out and the Premier League title was in sight.

Ferguson felt so relaxed he even felt able to joke and joust on the touchline with his old foe the fourth official, this time in the shape of Kevin Friend. What happened in the ensuing minutes last Sunday lunchtime proved to be no laughing matter for United's manager.

Everton mounted a late comeback to snatch two points away from the reigning champions, giving Manchester City even greater incentive to subsequently beat Wolves and set up the match of the season at Etihad Stadium on Monday.

Ferguson's switch in emotions in those final moments were a graphic illustration of the mood swings that have transformed the meeting between City and United from potential dead rubber to the season's decisive moment inside the space of three weeks.

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McLeish short of support at stumbling Villa

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Phil McNulty | 09:44 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish found a supportive voice in American owner Randy Lerner as he walked Villa Park's corridors after defeat to Bolton. He would not have found much sympathy elsewhere.

With around five minutes left of a damaging loss that leaves Villa only three points above the relegation places), the discontent which has simmered since McLeish arrived from relegated rivals Birmingham City last June spilled over into hostile, abusive discontent.

Fans on The Holte End were wrestling with an anti-McLeish "Get The 'Eck' Out Of Here" banner when chants demanding the Scot's sacking - and others of a more unsavoury but equally uncomplimentary nature - rang deafeningly around Villa Park.

McLeish stood alone outside his technical area, almost bemused at how Villa had transformed a deserved one-goal lead given to them by Stephen Warnock into a loss that leaves them with genuine relegation fears as Martin Petrov's penalty and David Ngog's winner gave Bolton the points.

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Spurs looked jaded but Redknapp still in England pole

When Tottenham were thrashing Newcastle United in February White Hart Lane - and it seemed most of the country - was awash with love for Harry Redknapp.

Fabio Capello had quit as England coach, Redknapp had emerged as "The People's Choice" and Spurs fans were beside themselves with affection for their manager as they pleaded with him to keep out of the Football Association's clutches during a 5-0 win that was a riot of dazzling, attacking football.

How times change. Fast forward to Saturday evening and a 1-0 defeat at QPR and Redknapp was wrestling with the prospect of a season in meltdown as well as listening to Spurs supporters loudly questioning his tactical know-how.

And, to add an extra layer of irony, the manager in the opposite dug-out to Redknapp that night in February was applying his own pressure as Alan Pardew's Newcastle removed Spurs from the Premier League's top four for the first time since November with a 3-0 win against Stoke City.

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Who scored the best goal in Premier League history?

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Phil McNulty | 07:00 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

The wall-to-wall coverage of 20 seasons of the Barclays Premier League ensures that barely a goal - or indeed barely an incident - has not been preserved for posterity and to be pored over at leisure.

Every fan of every team will have their personal favourites, its memory framed by the context in which it was scored as a match-winner, match-saver or quite simply a piece of spectacular skill that will endure forever.

Southampton's Matt Le Tissier was a rare Premier League breed - the one club man. And how he served that club with languid brilliance and the ability to conjure magic in an instant.

The list of those vying for the Premier League's greatest goal in the public vote reels off the names of the superstars who have produced these moments - but choosing the winner is once again a hazardous occupation.

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What is the best XI in the history of the Premier League?

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Phil McNulty | 15:16 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Premier League has been home to many of football's elite for 20 years - so choosing the final XI to represent the best of those two decades is the equivalent of the game's hospital pass.

No choice will please everyone because someone's favourite will be excluded, someone's compelling case ignored because only 11 players can be picked within the designated 4-4-2 format.

So with the hardest tin hat on, here goes - and then you have the opportunity to choose your Barclays Premier League team of the last 20 seasons.

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Only one statistic matters for Chelsea: One chance, one goal

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Phil McNulty | 07:36 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2012

At Stamford Bridge

Chelsea fans taunted their Barcelona counterparts with chants of “Jose Mourinho” as they made their way out of Stamford Bridge only 90 minutes away from the Champions League final.

This added insult to the injuries felt by those clad in Catalan colours, who cheered the sight of the defeated Mourinho as images from Real Madrid’s loss against Bayern Munich in the other semi-final flashed on to big screens before kick-off.

Barcelona’s long game was to face Mourinho in the final in Munich next month – and inflict painful defeat on the man who has been a past nemesis. But Chelsea threw those plans into doubt.

Not only do Mourinho’s Real now face a fight to reach their destination, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is in a similarly hazardous position after Didier Drogba gave Chelsea a 1-0 lead to take to the Nou Camp on Tuesday.

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Which was your favourite Premier League goal celebration?

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Phil McNulty | 07:00 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2012

It is the moment players and managers work for every day - the moment when the work is rewarded and the ball hits the back of the net.

The days of the old-fashioned firm handshake and a trot back to the centre circle after a goal has been scored have long gone and 20 years of the Barclays Premier League reflects the change in attitudes.

Goal celebrations can be pre-planned or purely spontaneous, from the bizarre to a simple burst of uncontrolled elation that accompanies the high point of every game.

And all celebratory life is there as it comes to casting the public vote on the best of the Premier League's two decades - but one man has been there through it all, watching on the sidelines.

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Who made the best save in Premier League history?

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Phil McNulty | 07:00 UK time, Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tomasz Kuszczak will not be recalled as one of the great names of the first 20 years of the Barclays Premier League but he will take his place in the roll of honour to celebrate the anniversary.

The Polish goalkeeper, currently on loan to Watford from Manchester United, has made his mark in the search for the greatest save in those two decades.

United's legendary "Great Dane" Peter Schmeichel - a giant figure in the club's rich Premier League history - predictably takes his place with two saves in the nominated 10, but it is perhaps a reflection of the varied shades of the keeper's life that Kuszczak also has his two moments, despite being one of the league's unheralded figures.

Schmeichel's speed of reactions and athleticism are on display with saves against Liverpool and Newcastle United, while Kuszczak is included for a wonderful show of reflexes playing for West Bromwich Albion at Wigan and then for Sir Alex Ferguson's side at Birmingham.

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What was the best Premier League match of the past 20 seasons?

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Phil McNulty | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 17 April 2012

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Try to pick the best match of the Barclays Premier League's 20 seasons and supporters will arrive at hundreds of different conclusions.

Different games mean different things. Was it a match full of goals? Was it a match that saved your team from relegation? Or was it a match that won your team a title?

All purely subjective and all designed to provoke debate from now until the time the Premier League celebrates its 40th anniversary but all part of what has made England's top tier such a compelling product.

In the nominated list, it is inevitable that Manchester United and Arsenal feature heavily - although some may find it surprising that three of the games that feature Arsene Wenger's side include three 4-4 draws and an 8-2 defeat at Manchester United.

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Match officials need all the help they can get

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Phil McNulty | 07:32 UK time, Monday, 16 April 2012

Martin Atkinson's anguish was revealed by Harry Redknapp as the latest calls for the introduction of technology reached a crescendo deep inside Wembley.

Tottenham manager Redknapp had spoken to referee Atkinson after a decision - and indeed a wider issue for world football - had been highlighted once more in a moment that helped to define Chelsea's 5-1 win in the FA Cup semi-final.

With Chelsea leading 1-0 Atkinson, well-positioned and close to the action, ruled Juan Mata's 49th-minute shot had beaten a desperate scramble by Spurs duo Ledley King and Benoit Assou-Ekotto and crossed the line. Initial suspicions proved ominous for Atkinson and were confirmed by the evidence of replays - it had not and Tottenham were the victims of a serious injustice.

It was the continuation of what has been a harrowing period for officialdom and Redknapp said: "Martin said he's going to have a bad week. He said he feels worse about it than I do. I said 'I don't think so.'"

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Silverware can help Reds' lacklustre season to shine

BBC Sport blog editor | 22:49 UK time, Saturday, 14 April 2012

If you are going to cover up cracks at a football club, doing it with silverware is a highly attractive option - and one that clearly appeals to Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.

Dalglish was made aware of the dissatisfaction of Liverpool's owners with a contrary, fractured season when his team's preparations for the FA Cup semi-final with Everton were interrupted by a visit from owner John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner.

Their three-day stay on Merseyside claimed the jobs of director of football Damien Comolli and head of sports science and medicine Peter Brukner, while also delivering a very obvious "must do better" hint to Dalglish.

Henry and Werner returned to the United States rather than attend Liverpool's 2-1 victory at Wembley but a return for the pageantry and prestige of the FA Cup final in May is sure to make them feel a little better about how the season has gone.

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Wigan result is music to Roberto Mancini's ears

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Phil McNulty | 06:36 UK time, Thursday, 12 April 2012

At The DW Stadium

The soundtrack to survival accompanied Sir Alex Ferguson as he marched down the tunnel at The DW Stadium. What awaited Manchester United's players may not have been quite so melodic.

As Roberto Martinez enjoyed what he labelled "a historic performance" with Wigan's first win against United after 14 successive defeats, the significance of the victory was celebrated in song.

Wigan's DJ captured their mood with The Great Escape" theme and - just in case anyone missed the message - The Monkees' "I'm A Believer", "Let's Hang On" by Frankie Valli and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

It may now be a good idea to start spinning these tracks in August to convince Wigan that the season does not actually start when they are in dire trouble in the final weeks of the campaign. On the evidence of how they outplayed United, mid-table should be more familiar territory.

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Man City's horse bolts as Balotelli heads for the exit

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Phil McNulty | 07:45 UK time, Monday, 9 April 2012

Roberto Mancini stopped short of admitting defeat, but Manchester City's manager surely lost two crucial battles at the Emirates - the fight to win the Premier League and his personal crusade to control Mario Balotelli.

The striker's chaotic contribution to a loss at Arsenal, which leaves City eight points behind Manchester United with six games to play, was symptomatic of his part in the decline of a season that held so much promise for Mancini and his team.

And, while the conclusion to this campaign's story has yet to be written, it is increasingly likely that the red card Balotelli received to complete a day of unrelenting misery for City could be his final act in England.

On a day when, after United's win against QPR, City knew only victory would suffice they produced a performance short on ambition, low on energy and looked and acted like a team that knew the game was up.

Honourable exceptions could be found in defenders Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott, as well as keeper Joe Hart, but there was nothing of substance to console City.

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Chelsea dreams driven by revenge

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Phil McNulty | 09:04 UK time, Thursday, 5 April 2012

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. And Chelsea were already preparing one that has been lying at the bottom of the freezer for three years in anticipation of the latest Champions League semi-final meeting with Barcelona.

After the Blues' nervy 2-1 win (3-1 on aggregate) over Benfica in the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday, Frank Lampard spoke of "unfinished business" with Pep Guardiola's Catalan artists, while caretaker manager Roberto di Matteo revealed some of his players still felt "hard done by" after their last brush with the Spaniards.

As Di Matteo talked of devising a strategy to cope with Lionel Messi and the magical midfield carousel of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, it was also clear that settling old scores will weigh heavily as a factor.

Those of us present at Stamford Bridge on that balmy - make that barmy - May night in 2009 will understand why the fires of injustice still rage within those players who so nearly toppled a Barcelona side that went on to outclass Manchester United in the final in Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

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Manchester United leave it late to defy mystic Mancini

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Phil McNulty | 08:18 UK time, Tuesday, 3 April 2012

At Ewood Park

Roberto Mancini must now fear Manchester City’s Premier League title challenge will go the same way as his prediction that Manchester United would draw at Blackburn Rovers – and come up agonisingly short.

City manager Mancini, perhaps clutching at straws, suggested Blackburn might take points off United as some belated compensation for his own team's shortcomings in allowing Sunderland to leave Etihad Stadium with a draw on Saturday.

And for 81 minutes at Ewood Park Mancini’s luck held as Blackburn fulfilled his prophecy and United struggled to make the breakthrough that would have put clear daylight between themselves and their neighbours.

It all changed, with an air of inevitability, in the space of five minutes late on as Antonio Valencia’s swerving finish and Ashley Young’s precision strike gave United a 2-0 win that had a fired-up Sir Alex Ferguson ending his night as it began, with a fist-pumping salute to 7,000 travelling supporters.

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