All posts by Adam Stephens

Will the presence of fans in some stadiums affect results?

March 9, 2020 was the last game that involved fans watching their team live.  The match was Leicester City vs Aston Villa and resulted in a 4-0 victory for The Foxes. 

Who would have thought though that it would have taken until December to see fans to witness competitive sports in some of the lands most famous stadiums again? 

Well, if you’re a supporter of a team living in COVID-19 Tier One or Two areas some fans will be able to watch their side live for the first time in almost nine months. This means 51 of the 104 clubs across the Premier League, EFL and Women’s Super League able to host a maximum of 2,000 supporters.

Which teams can have fans in stadiums again?

This means good news for Premier League’s London clubs: Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Fulham. While also on the list are South Coast clubs Southampton and Brighton as well as the Premier League Champions Liverpool and their rivals Everton. 

The other ten sides in the top flight, however, will have to wait to welcome back supporters.  Being in Tier three areas such as Manchester and Yorkshire they will continue to play games behind closed doors.  This means: Manchester United, Manchester City, Burnley, Sheffield United, Leeds United and Newcastle United .  While midlands clubs Leicester City, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton and West Brom will also have to play games without their fans. 

In addition, away fans from tier three areas will be unable to travel to games in tier two stadiums. 

Indeed, on Thursday Arsenal will have the honour of being the first English team to play a competitive match, a Europa League tie against Austrian side Rapid Vienna.  Being in a Tier 2 area, the Gunners will be able to play in front of 2,000 of their own supporters for the first time in nearly nine months. 

Unsurprisingly, however, the 2,000 tickets were sold out within 20 minutes of going on sale.  The first Premier League games, meanwhile, to take place in front of fans are set to be West Ham United’s encounter with Manchester United and Chelsea’s home game with Leeds United. 

Will allowing supporters in certain grounds be fair?

The awkward question remains. Will having supporters back in certain grounds affect the outcome of the match? 

Crystal Palace Manager and former England Coach, Roy Hodgson said:

“It will make a bit of a difference at Selhurst Park than it will do at some other stadiums, where the capacity is so much higher. 

“But I don’t think it is a question really of what difference the fans are going to make, I think it is more of how nice it is going to be for those fans who are selected to be one of those who gets a ticket to see a match live again.”

While Fulham boss Scott Parker said: 

“It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s what we all want. It’s what the fans want and what we want as a team.”

Understandably not everyone is in agreement.  Leeds United Manager Marcelo Bielsa, whose side falls into the category of a tier three area, meaning supporters will have to wait a little longer to see their side live, said:

“It shouldn’t be about the category, or the consequences of being in a category, it should be about trying to maintain the competition as equal as possible with things that are controllable. 

“I am just looking at common sense, which perhaps doesn’t go.  The presence of fans has an effect on the results.” 

Boton Wanders boss Ian Evatt, whose side play in League One and will also have to continue playing without the support of fans in stadiums, said:

“Without getting into a big political debate I just cannot believe the way (it has gone).  For me, we’re a country and we should all be together, regardless.  It should be one for all and all for one.”

What do you think?

It must come, therefore, as no surprise to see the football world split down the middle following this government announcement. There certainly is a compelling case for both arguments, on the one hand watching football without fans in the stadiums is not the same as stated by former Manchester United Manager, Sir Matt Busby. 

Busby was once famously quoted as saying:

“Football is nothing without fans.”

There is, however, the legitimate question of fairness and equal competition when it comes to competitive sport.  How do you create a level playing field?

Personally, however, I can’t wait to see to see fans bring the atmosphere and magic back to the sport again, no matter whom they support! 

Feel free to share your views in the comments below. 

Marcus RASHFORD to be presented with special award at BBC SPOTY

The Manchester United and England International Marcus Rasford is set to be presented with an award in recognition of his impressive contribution in raising awareness of child food poverty within the UK. 

Rashford will receive the honour at this year’s BBC Sports Personality show hosted at the Media City in Salford on December 20. 

Earlier this year, Rashford successfully campaigned for the Government to extend free school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition, following further campaigning from the 23-year-old in November the Government were persuaded to announce more than £400 million will be made available to support poor children and their families in England.  While the striker has also launched a book club to help children enjoy reading.  

The BBC director of sport, Barbara Slater said:

“In a year that has been challenging for everyone, but particularly vulnerable families, he has gone above and beyond to transcend his sport and make a real difference.

“This award is a tribute to a remarkable young man.”

Indeed, on December 21 there will also be a documentary shown on BBC One, which will feature Rashford and go more in-depth into the motivation of the Manchester United striker’s decision to launch this campaign. 

It will also show how his efforts contributed to the announcement of the relief measures announced by the Government. 

The BBC head of commissioning for documentaries, Clare Sillery added:

“Through our access, we hope viewers will get to see just how passionate and determined he is about tackling child food poverty in Britain today.”  

Rashford has also been named on the Football Black List in recognition of his off the field campaigning. The list was first drawn up in 2008 by co-founders Leon Mann and Rodney Hinds and is designed to highlight black industry professionals who are positive influencers.

The Manchester United player follows other footballers such as: Watford’s Troy Deeney, Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings and Wilfred Zaha and Chole Morgan of Crystal Palace.  While one of the most recent names to also be added was Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling for his work to combat racisim. 

When asked about Marcus Rasford’s campaigning efforts the Football Black List’ co-founder, Hinds said:

“The efforts of Marcus Rashford deserve acclaim alongside the others on the list who go about their business for the good of others.”

You can find out more about the Black List, the work they do and who is on it in the link here

Should Arsenal make a move for Christian Eriksen in January?

Following Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with newly promoted Leeds United on Sunday, it is now seven hours and 56 minutes since the Gunners scored from open play in the Premier League. 

This equates to the North London side’s lowest tally in 34 years, just nine goals in nine games. The failure to score against the leagues’ worst defence must draw concerns for Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff all be it they were playing with ten men for the best part of half an hour. 

In addition, Mikel Arteta’s side have now not scored in four of their last Premier League matches.  Their one goal came in an impressive 1-0 victory at Old Trafford scored from the penalty spot by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

What is a more startling stat, however, is that the North London club now rank among the bottom six teams so far this campaign for chances creation per match in the top flight. 

German international Mesut Ozil, who has not played for Arsenal this season, ended up ranking second on the list of most creative player for the 2019/20 season. Despite only playing 18 games he created 38 chances for his teammates.  

This begs the question whether Ozil should be recalled from his exile or in fact should Arteta go all out to recruit another creative player in the January transfer window?

Arsenal’s Christian Eriksen link?

One former Arsenal player Kevin Campbell has suggested that the Gunners should sign the ‘superb’ ex-Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. 

The 28-year-old Danish attacking midfielder has reportedly asked to leave his current club Inter Milan and could be sold in January according to the Serie A club’s sporting director Giusppe Marotta. 

Marotta told DAZN:

“We do not certainly have to force a player to stay when he asks to leave.”

Indeed, since moving for £17.5 million from Spurs to the San Siro in January of this year, Eriksen has just managed four goals in 33 matches – including none this season. 

Eriksen has also only started three of the club’s eight league matches so far and has been an unused substitute in Inter’s last two matches, including Sunday’s 4-2 win over Torino.  

The attacking midfielder’s contract with Inter Milan runs until 2024, but when asked about his current role with the club Eriksen told TV2:

This isn’t want I dreamed of, 

It is a strange situation, as the fans want to see me playing more and so would I, but the coach has different ideas and as a player I have to respect that.

“I am concentrating on my football, then when the transfer window opens we will see if something happens or not.”

While Inter Milan manager, Antonio Conte said:

“I will not select my team just to please one player.” 

Eriksen’s record with Tottenham

The Denmark midfielder’s record with Tottenham is significantly more impressive as he played more than 300 games for the club and helped Mauricio Pochettino’s side reach the Champions League final back in 2018. 

Overall he scored 69 goals in his 305 games for the club but perhaps more importantly chipped in with 89 assists for his team. 

When asked about the Eriksen speculation, Campbell said: 

“Christian Eriksen played for the rivals but we all know the quality he possesses, that’s for sure.

“It is not quite working out for him at Inter Milan right now and I am sure he would be a good addition to Arsenal’s squad.” 

Do Arsenal need a player like Eriksen?

Truth be told, a team like Arteta’s could certainly do with someone of Eriksen’s talents.  

The Danish playmaker is certainly someone who has that potential to come up with that spark in the final third and picking that pivotal final pass is something that the Gunners clearly lack at the moment.

It is also clear that Eriksen is a player who currently does not fit in with Conte’s plans at Inter Milan and he has struggled so far to get the best out of the Danish international. 

It certainly worked out well for Eriksen first time round in the Premier League for another North London side, could perhaps it do so again?

Let us know what you think Arsenal fans in the comments below, would you be happy to see your side make a move for the Danish international in the January transfer window? 

Pep Guardiola signs new contract with Manchester City

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has signed a new two- year deal with the club that will extend his stay until the summer of 2023.

The former Spanish and Barcelona defensive midfielder has been in charge of the ‘Sky Blues’ since 2016 and his previous deal was set to expire at the end of the season. 

During that period Guardiola has guided City to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and three League Cups.  While to date the team has won 181 of the 245 games that the 49-year-old has taken charge of, which equates to an impressive win ratio of 73.87%.

Indeed, Guardiola’s five-year commitment with City is already the longest he has stayed at a football club since becoming a manager in 2008. 

If he were to see out the new contract, the Spaniard would become City’s second longest serving post-war manager, behind Les McDowall, who managed the club between 1950 and 1963.

Speaking to the club website, Guardiola said:

“Ever since I arrived at Manchester City I have been made to feel so welcome to the club and in the city itself – from the players, the staff, the supporters, the people of Manchester and the Chairman and the Owner. 

“Since then we have achieved a great deal together, scored goals, won games and trophies and are all very proud of that success. 

“The challenge for us is to continue improving and evolving, and I am very excited about helping Manchester City do that.”

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, meanwhile added:

“Pep’s contract extension is the natural next step in a journey which has evolved over many years.”

Record as manager

In his 11 full seasons as manager, Guardiola has in total won an incredible 29 major trophies.  During his four year stint with Barcelona he won a grand total of 14, which included the club’s first ever treble in 2009. 

After taking a year out of the game, Guardiola went to German side Bayern Munich where he won three Bundesliga titles and two DFB-Pokal Cups. 

Then in 2016 Guardiola arrived at Manchester City and after finishing third in his first season in charge, the 2017-18 campaign saw him set a new Premier League points record of 100 points on his way to winning his first title with the club.

The following year, Guardiola would guide the Citizens to another title, making them the first side to win back-to-back Premier League trophies this decade. 

What will the contract extension mean for City?

The news that Guardiola has now committed his future to the club will clearly delight City fans and the team can now focus on their quest to secure their first ever Champions League title. 

This is something that Guardiola will clearly be determined to achieve as he has not won the biggest prize in European football since 2011 with Barcelona. 

While there is also the question of whether Lionel Messi will arrive at the Ethiad in the summer of 2021? The Argentine was blocked from leaving the Nou Camp this year and with Messi’s contract officially expiring the prospect of him moving to Manchester is certainly looking more and more likely. 

Indeed, a reunion with the manager who he won so much with must be an exciting proposition for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner and truth be told, would be terrific to witness for fans of the English Premier League.  

Will Guardiola finally be able to lead City to Champions League glory this season? Will Messi join the club in the summer? Feel free to give us your thoughts in the comments below….

Thrilling Manchester Derby ends all square

Kirsty Hanson came off the bench to secure a crucial 2-2 draw for Manchester United, in an absorbing WSL Manchester Derby contest.

The build up to the game was all about how United could potentially close the gap to the big three sides following their terrific 1-0 victory Arsenal last weekend. 

Indeed, Casey Stoney just made one change from that impressive display last weekend, with Jess Singsworth coming in to the Red Devils midfield in place of Kirsty Hanson.

It was, however, City who took the early initiative in the derby encounter as Georgia Stanway caused Stoney’s side a number of problems and forced a relatively cheep corner.

What followed was Chloe Kelly opening the scoring for Gareth Taylor’s Manchester City after United’s failure to deal with the resulting corner. The former Everton striker was able to produce a clever finish into the far corner past the goalkeeper Mary Earps. 

The England striker has been particularly impressive for her new club having scored four WSL goals already this campaign in six league appearances. 

Following the opening goal, City completely controlled the first half with American Sam Mewis once again impressing in midfield. Taylor’s side created a number of chances to put the game beyond the Red Devils.  Former United captain and City defender Alex Greenwood particularly causing problems with her deliveries from set pieces. 

The best of the chances fell to Stanway in the 30thminute, when she ended up taking one touch too many while one on one with Earps, who subsequently made an important save. 

Indeed, just when United thought they would get to half time with only a 1-0 deficit, in first half added time Laura Coombs produced terrific shot from the edge of the area giving Earps absolutely no chance.  

Coombs’ strike made it three goals in her last three games for the midfielder and meant that City held a 2-0 lead at half time in the derby.  

Hanson subsequently came on for Singsworth at half time for the Red Devils in a bid to halt City’s first half momentum. The change certainly produced the reaction that Stoney would have wanted. 

The new Red Devils’ NWSL signing, Tobin Heath produced an unbelievable strike giving Ellie Roebuck no chance in the City goal to half the deficit.  

From there, United continued to increase the pressure on City goal and there efforts were rewarded through substitute Hanson, who bundled in a corner, which the defence failed to deal with.

The home side could have snatched what would have been an unlikely winner at half time, as full back Demi Stokes made a crucial goal line clearance to deny Stoney’s United in second half injury time.

The game, however, finished with both Manchester clubs having to be content with a point a piece.

Derby Reaction

Manchester United Manager Casey Stoney told BT Sport:

 “It [being top of the table] doesn’t matter, it’s November.

“It’s about performing and being at that consistent level week in week out.

That first half was enough motivation to make sure we keep going.

“That second half performance was for our fans, to make sure we got that result in the Manchester derby which is really important for them.

Manchester City’s midfielder and player of the match, Sam Mewis said:

“What we did in the first half was working, but I give Man Utd a lot of credit, they did well [to come back]. It’s testament to the derby and the rivalry.

“I’m definitely feeling the animosity. I was fighting back at the end, and had this feeling of pride for City and wanted to win.

“We’re still growing, we have so much potential as a group, and every game is a learning opportunity for us.

What next?

United’s next WSL game sees them travel to newly promoted Aston Villa on Saturday 5thDecember.  Before then, however, they have another encounter with Taylor’s City in the Continental Tyres League Cup match on Thursday night.   

For City, meanwhile, they travel to Everton in the WSL on Sunday 6thDecember and remain five points behind their city rivals in fifth.