Friday, August 26, 2011

AC Milan Draw Barcelona in Champions League Group Stages

The Champions League this year has a very different feel to it. We have the omnipresent Barcelona who look ready to conquer the trophy yet again, now faced with AC Milan in their group of the Champions League group stages. While the past few seasons haven't been the best for AC Milan, the rossoneri have strengthened and seem prepared to make a strong run in Europe this upcoming season.

Along with the Spanish and Italian champions, Bate Borisov and Viktoria Pizen have been drawn together in Group H. So it seems that the Catalans and Milan should have few problems qualifying for the knockout stages of the tournament.

If there is a group of death from the draw, it would have to be the one composed of Napoli, Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Manchester City. All four sides have clear intentions on advancing to the knockout stages, and it looks to be a very tight battle for who will come out on top of the group. While maybe Bayern Munich have more experience in the competition, Manchester City can't be underestimated, and neither can Villarreal and Napoli.
The cup that everyone is after...

Here are all of the groups of the this season's Champions League:

Group A

Manchester City
Bayern Munich

Group B

Inter Milan
CSKA Moscow

Group C

Manchester United
Sporting Lisbon Benfica
FC Basel
Otelul Galati

Group D

Real Madrid
Olympique Lyonnais
Dinamo Zagreb

Group E

Bayer Leverkusen
FC Genk

Group F

Olympique Marseille
Borussia Dortmund

Group G

FC Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk
Zenit St. Petersburg
Apoel FC

Group H

AC Milan
Bate Borisov
Viktoria Pizen

There are some very tricky groups from this draw, especially Group F, where Arsenal will have to compete with Marseille, Olympiacos and the German champions Borussia Dortmund for qualification. Another interesting group is Chelsea's, as they'll be playing Valencia and the Blues's new signing, Juan Mata, will be facing his former side. And of course, the constant clash between Real Madrid and Lyon in Group D could be interesting, especially with Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb in the mix for qualification to the knockout rounds.

What are your thoughts on the groups? Which one will be the toughest? Will there be any surprise eliminations? Share your predictions, thoughts, and comments below!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ipswich Town Re-sign Jimmy Bullard

This article was written by William Taylor.

Jimmy Bullard has signed for Ipswich on a two-year deal, having had his Hull City contract terminated. Town boss Paul Jewell had been keen to bring Bullard – who could wear his new Mizuno Wave Ignitus boots back to Portman Road following a successful loan spell last season.

However, Ipswich appeared unable to afford the transfer fee Hull had been looking for, or Bullard's wages. But when it was announced that the Tigers would be terminating Bullard's contract at the KC Stadium, the Blues were quick to pounce. It is believed that the former Wigan man turned town moves to several Premier League clubs in order to be re-united with Jewell, the manager he has enjoyed most of his success with.

Jewell was understandably delighted to finally complete the deal that at one point did not look like happening. He told the club's official site:

“We had been chipping away at Jimmy and Hull all summer to try and sort something out but Hull were adamant that we wouldn't be going out on loan again unless someone paid his wages. He had a few clubs to talk to but Jimmy made it clear that if we could sort out a deal then coming here would be his preference. It's a great feeling to know that even though he had the opportunity to go to a Premier League team he still wanted the opportunity to come here. Hopefully he can do what he did for us last year and beyond.”

Bullard becomes Ipswich's tenth signing of the summer, and could soon be followed by Ibrahima Sonko, who has reportedly agreed a one-year deal with the club. Daryl Murphy rejoined the club on loan from Celtic on Wednesday, with Jewell likely to include all three players against Leeds United on Saturday. 

Reports suggest that Ipswich could also be close to completing a deal to bring Stoke City defender, Danny Collins to Portman Road. Whether that deal can be completed before the weekend is not yet known, but Jewell has repeatedly made his intentions to strengthen his sides leaky defence known.

What are your thoughts on Jimmy Bullard signing for Ipswich Town? Share your comments regarding the signing below!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lincoln City FC: The Biggest Drop of All

Disappointed Lincoln City fans.

This article was written by Adam Barlow.

Anybody who regularly watches the Premier League will be well aware of the pressure to stay there, the money, revenues and the prestige that go with being a Premiership club. Chairmen of clubs that are threatened with relegation are often quoted as saying how much it will cost their respective clubs should they drop down to the Championship. For the fans the thought of not being in on football’s biggest gravy train and dining at the top table fills them with dread. As bad as all this is, it cannot compare with the biggest and most devastating relegation of them all; being relegated from the Football League itself.

When a club leaves the Premiership they get parachute payments, still get plenty of coverage on TV and in the newspapers, and keep their FA cup seeding. In short life goes on pretty much as it did before the relegation.

Last season with 11 games to go League Two club Lincoln City were as good as safe from the drop into non league football, but a disastrous run of only two points from those eleven games saw them relegated to the fifth tier of English football for the first time since the 1987-88 season. A 0-3 home defeat by Aldershot Town coupled with Barnet’s 1-0 win over Port Vale sealing the Red Imps’ fate. On the face of it, it may look like any other relegation in any other League but in truth it is by far the most painful relegation any club could go through for several reasons.

Lincoln City's final score in League Two
Until the late 90’s over half the clubs in the Blue Square prem (The 5th tier of English football) operated on a part time basis. Nowadays only a handful of clubs are part time. When automatic promotion/relegation between the Football League and the Non League pyramid first started in the late 80’s the relegated clubs found it easy to bounce back even though only one club went up. Lincoln, Darlington, and Colchester all came back up within a year or two. The fact that they stayed full time being a large factor in their success. Over time as more and more clubs switched from part time to full time the relegated clubs struggled to come back up. Even the addition of an extra promotion place in the 2002/03 season didn’t help. The fact that the last team to win the League the season after being relegated the previous season was Darlington in the 1990/91 season shows how hard it is to adjust to this League.

A quick look at the line up for this season’s BSP (Blue Square Premier League) is a stark reminder to Lincoln and Stockport fans (the other relegated club) that they could well be down here for a while. Former League clubs Mansfield Town, York City, Cambridge United, Darlington, and Wrexham have decades of League football behind them and solid fan bases, while Grimsby Town and Luton Town (who had several crowds of over 7,000 last season) have played in the Championship in the last decade. Yet they still can’t escape.

As you are no longer a League club you don’t take part in the Carling Cup at all and have to qualify for the FA Cup. You don’t receive any parachute payments and aren’t included on the TV highlights on the BBC or Sky. Your match reports are no longer carried in the national press. It really feels as if the media fails to acknowledge your club still exists.

Although the fans of the club are undoubtedly hurt, the cost to the club’s employers is even worse. Relegation from the Football League has cost Lincoln roughly £500,000. Peanuts in terms of Premiership money but a huge amount to a club like Lincoln. This means sweeping cuts across the board at the club. The reserve side has been scrapped, several of the staff in the club office have been made redundant and the club shop now only operates on a part time basis. On the field the goalkeeping coach has been released alongside the first team coach. The Centre of Excellence which is the life blood of the club in bringing through young talent was perilously close to folding until a local business man stepped in to make up the funding that has been lost from losing Football League status.

While all this cost cutting was being done. The Board were called to account by a group of shareholders who called for a vote of confidence in each and every director of the Board. Although the Board survived it remains apparent that deep divisions remain amongst the fans; both on the Board and their management of the club. What the club, fans, Board and manager all needed was a good start to the BSP season to get everybody on board and relight the fans passion. They didn’t get it.

An away draw at Southport has been followed by two home defeats by Kidderminster Harriers and Wrexham respectively. This now means that added on the run at the end of last season The Imps have now set a club record 6 consecutive home defeats and haven’t won at all in 14 games. It’s going to be a long way back for Lincoln City.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

EA Sports Developing New FIFA Street Videogame

While the FIFA franchise has reached an amazing amount of success in the past few years, the FIFA Street videogame series has slowly faded away. After FIFA Street 3, it didn't seem like EA was interested in developing the fourth instalment of the series. Yet now, an awesome Youtube trailer has been put out by the EA Sports France channel, showing off what could be the best FIFA Street game yet:

EA is obviously taking this seriously, and they're ditching the cartoony style which they used for FIFA Street 3. The art style looks fresh, the movements and tricks are fluid, and the arenas and environments amazed me. Here's a bit of what EA have said about the game:

“This is the first time our award-winning FIFA development team is creating a street soccer game, and we are going to deliver a level of authenticity never before seen in this genre, along with amazing gameplay,”

EA boasts more than 35 locations around the world, over 50 never-before-experienced skill moves, and a plethora of game modes, including onee on ones and five on fives. But what looks most interesting about the upcoming FIFA Street is that EA Sports have confirmed that it will be connected with EA Sports Football Club.

There's also the new street ball control, brand new aerial maneuvers, and a one-touch passing system. The greatest thing about this new game is probably that we'll get our hands on it in early 2012 on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

What are your thoughts on EA Sports bringing back the FIFA Street series? I'm very excited about it, and I can't wait to play it when it comes out! Share your comments below!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cesc Fabregas Returns to Barcelona

Throughout the past couple of seasons, something must have been on Cesc Fabregas's mind every time he pulled on his Arsenal jersey. His adoration for Arsenal was slowly shifting into a deep homesickness for Barcelona. His past season at Arsenal wasn't his best, as he was probably thinking about playing with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi at Barcelona. Now, he has finally returned to the Spanish and European champions, banishing whatever dark thoughts there were which were haunting him at Arsenal before.

Cesc Fabregas, quite the happy camper at Barcelona
Barcelona and Arsenal have agreed the fee for the 24 year-old Spaniard, and it gravitates around 40 million Euros. Of course, if certain bonuses are met, then we could see the Catalans having to dish out an additional 15 million Euros for Fabregas.

Now that Barcelona have assembled their perfect midfield, Arsenal's has now become questionable. Nasri could also be leaving the Gunners, leaving a creative hole which might need to be replaced. But Arsene Wenger isn't worried about the loss of one of his greatest players:

"We fought to keep him but in the end we have to respect the desire of the player as well. This Club is 125 years-old this season and many big players left and yet the Club went on. We want to show that we have the strengths and unity to fight as we ever did at this Club."

The strange thing is, I slightly agree with him. With or without Fabregas, Arsenal would accomplish the same things in this new season. But the question remains now, can Wenger sign a player who will help Arsenal overachieve? Probably not.

It might sound strange, but a player Wenger should be signing is Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder. He'd be stealing the Dutch playmaker from Manchester United, he'd be replacing Fabregas, and he'd get a player who knows how to shoot the ball from outside the box. Sneijder would strengthen the side notably, and his constant thirst for trophies could only help Arsenal in their struggle for silverware.

Whether Wenger will spend much money this summer is still a mystery to me, but what is certain is that he will be preparing Arsenal to face Udinese tomorrow night. The Champions League qualifier is a defining game for Arsenal's season, and the pressure to get through is all on the Gunners. The first leg of the qualifier is at the Emirates tomorrow, with the second leg being in the Stadio Friuli in Udine.

What are your thoughts on the Fabregas transfer? Who should Arsenal sign? Can Wenger defeat Udinese in the Champions League qualifier? Leave your comments below!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cardiff City Fans Face Transport Problems

Miller celebrates his decisive goal 

Whilst Cardiff’s 1-0 win at Upton Park against West Ham last Sunday was overshadowed by the events in Tottenham, crowd trouble of a different kind is aggravating Cardiff Fans. Arriva Trains Wales have decided to stop trains calling at Ninian Park station for Bluebirds' home games during a 3 hour period.

Arriva claim the decision was taken so as to “better suit the needs of passengers.” Yet the Cardiff City Supporter’s trust thinks differently, and has urged Arriva to reconsider the decision. The Arriva Chair, Tim Hartley said he does not believe there are capacity issues at Ninian Park station ahead of games because "supporters do not arrive in huge numbers at the same time". Hartley also added that there was a lack of consultation about the decision, which means fans will have to use Grangetown station, which is further away from the stadium, a good ten minute walk compared to the convenience of using Ninian Park.

Arriva said to those placing Bet365 Free Bets that the plans for the suspension of services to Ninian Park were made in conjuction with the British Transport Police, Cardiff City FC, South Wales Police and the Welsh Assembly Government.

In other news there has been no end in sight to the confrontation between the Football League and the news organisations that saw coverage of the first round of Championship matches being severely restricted in comparison with the start of last season Sports journalists from national titles, news and picture agencies were locked out of all but a handful of the 36 football league games after talks broke down last Wednesday between the Football league and a media coalition. Many, but not all, national newspapers dropped match reports over the weekend, with a number also dropping, or limiting, mentions of sponsors' names.

Many regional newspapers which take copy and pictures from news and picture services were also affected after the Press Association, a major supplier of sports content, last Friday that it would not be covering any Football League fixtures over the forthcoming weekend. Speaking of this weekend, it is time to look at Bookmakers Free Bets  and decide who you are backing for the win!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Joey Barton Ready to Leave Newcastle United

The slightly controversial Joey Barton could leave Newcastle United

Joey Barton has been told he can leave Newcastle on a free transfer. The midfielder’s controversial stay at St James Park looks to be nearing a close as the Magpies have placed the former Manchester City player on the transfer list. The 28-year-old still has a year to run on his current contract, but looks set to leave with immediate effect after serious developments this week.

Barton has used social networking site Twitter to declare his thoughts on the club’s off the field troubles which have lingered over the team for some time. Barton is said to be extremely disappointed with the club’s board after a series of events that has torn the current playing squad apart.

The unpopular departure of Chris Hughton, who guided the club back into the Premier League at the first attempt, was then followed by the sale of influential striker Andy Carroll on transfer deadline day to Liverpool for £35 million, without been replaced.

Football betting pundits note how Barton became unsettled with the amount of speculation linking the better Newcastle players with an exit and, after he was willing to sign a new deal, the club decided not to offer him an improved contract. Barton's fellow midfielder and close friend Kevin Nolan then rejoined former manager Sam Allardyce at West Ham after Newcastle failed to offer their club captain and top goalscorer a better deal.

Jose Enrique is also ready to leave Newcastle
Another one of Newcastle's influential players, the left-back Jose Enrique, has been linked with a move away from the club, and to a top-four Premier League side. The move looks likely as the Spaniard made a scathing attack on owner Mike Ashley, and then Barton followed suit after he was overlooked for the Newcastle captaincy in the Toon’s 3-2 pre-season defeat to Leeds.

Controversial Barton, who was dealt a blow when he was refused a visa to travel with the club on a pre-season tour fo America due to previous convictions, seems to have pushed Ashley too far this time and will be definitely playing his football elsewhere in the new season. To make things worse, Barton has been made to train alone and has been fined two weeks wages.

Nile Ranger, Newcastle’s young striker, is also said to be nearing the exit door as Alan Pardew looks toreduce his striking options in time for the new season. Pardew brought in Demba Ba from West Ham following the Hammers relegation to the Championship and has been disgruntled by Ranger’s behaviour since he took over the reigns at St James Park. Ranger, also refused a visa to travel to the USA, was close to a move to Blackpool but after that move fell through, may have to wait in order to find new employers.

What are your thoughts on Joey Barton's possible good-bye to Newcastle? Where do you think he will go? One thing seems certain, Barton most likely won't have a career with England, as Fabio Capello recently said that Barton "might lose his head" while playing for the three lions. Share your thoughts and comments about Barton, Capello, Newcastle and everything else below!


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