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2012/13 Show 31::Season ends with a whimper

The last week of the English Premier League season of 2012/13 and it was…well…all a bit of a let-down really.

Sure, West Brom and title-winners Man Utd served up a 5-5 draw, something of a rarity in the English Premier League but it wasn’t serious stuff and where it was serious – at Stamford Bridge, WHL and St James Park – the scores were infuriatingly predictable.

In fact, that just mirrored the whole season with eight of last season’s top 10 finished in the top 10 this season whilst the relegated clubs included Wigan who’s run in the English Premier League had to end at some point, Reading – one of the promoted clubs generally gets relegated and QPR who simply picked up where they left off last season.

Perhaps the only unpredictability was in the cup competitions with Swansea winning the League Cup and Wigan the FA Cup although Wigan combining Championship football with the Europa League certainly begs the questions of whether Euro football should be confined to those clubs in the English Premier League and whether we need the Europa League at all.

The only area for speculation are the managerial positions and whilst the roles at Man City and Chelsea appear to be spoken for, the jobs at Everton and now Stoke are very much open. Stoke want Benitez but we suspect the feelings are not mutual; Martinez is also on the list and on Everton’s list but neither have made an approach. Malaga also haven’t.

Perhaps then this season was always on a hiding to nothing following on from last season’s never to be repeated last day dramas.In the end it may be remembered more for those who hung up their boots this season: Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Steve Harper who all, except Owen, spent their entire careers at one club. An increasingly rare feat in the modern English Premier League.

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2012/13 Show 30::Highs and Robertos of the English Premier League

The extremes of the English Premier League were on display this week as Ferguson bid goodbye  after 26 years and Mancini was sacked after only 3 and a half.

It ended for Ferguson much happier than it began, as a trademark late United goal scored perhaps surprisingly but fittingly by Rio Ferdinand gave United a 2-1 win over a Swansea side that threatened to upset the party. As it was, everything went according to plan as Fergie held court with 72,000 adoring fans.

Quite what Wayne Rooney was thinking is anybody’s guess but he has only made his position at the club weaker now that it is public knowledge that his transfer request has been turned down. How can he stay and is his only viable pathway one that leads out of the English Premier League and a stint abroad? Could the rumours of his being part of the deal to bring back Ronaldo to Old Trafford be true?

David Moyes also went out a winner, with his Everton side demolishing West Ham despite only scoring 2 goals. There is the slightly uncomfortable feeling that his succession to the Man Utd job was agreed a long time before last week but the Everton faithful rightly showed the English Premier League’s third longest serving manager the gratitude he deserves. Just how long, though, will he be given to win over the Old Trafford faithful?

Rafa Benitez, to his credit, never tried to win over the Chelsea faithful and has been all the more successful for it. He’ll walk out of Stamford Bridge having likely secured Champions League football for the Blues and having won the Europa League and with those credentials on his cv, probably into a very lucrative job. Rafa has shown a mental fortitude that rarely surfaced in his last English Premier League stint with Liverpool where he was regularly undone by Ferguson and Mourinho and at least some Chelsea fans must have some regrets about only employing the Spaniard on an interim basis.

After next week, Arsene Wenger will be the longest serving manager in the English Premier League and that record will be all the more secure if his side can wrap up 4th spot this weekend. With the Gunners away to Newcastle and Spurs at home to Sunderland, wins for the North London rivals look more than likely with the only other twist a possible “dead heat” between Arsenal and Chelsea should Everton grab a point at Stamford Bridge.

The Premier League have declared that the two clubs would play off for 3rd spot when the obvious route is to use head-to-head which has a clear winner as Chelsea have done the double over Arsenal this season. Is the governing body completely devoid of all common sense?

The race for 3rd and 4th is the only interest in the last set of fixtures as Wigan’s defeat at The Emirates on Tuesday means that the Latics are finally relegated and the joy of winning the FA Cup shortlived. It’s been a tragic set of circumstances for Roberto Martinez’s team and they have been the victims of some appalling scheduling but surely Martinez won’t be managing in the Championship next season?

Either Gianfranco Zola or Ian Holloway will also be swapping the Championship for the English Premier League as their respective teams, Watford and Crystal Palace have reach the play-off final for Wigan’s spot. Palace will need to make the most of star striker and Man Utd loanee Wilfrid Zaha as this talented youngster will surely be playing with the big boys next season?

Download show (mp3 49m47s 24mb)

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2012/13 Show 29:: Will David replace Goliath at United?

Wigan’s loss to Swansea may have taken the wind out of the English Premier League’s relegation battle sails but that was quickly forgotten with Alex Ferguson’s surprise retirement announcement.

Is Moye’s the right choice?

Perhaps even more surprising is that David Moyes is apparently SAF’s successor at the English Premier League’s most successful club. True, he is the league’s third longest-serving manager, and also true that he has often bettered expectations in the blue half of Merseyside but the simple fact remains that he’s won nothing which puts him 34 trophies behind his predecessor.

Who’s next at Everton?

If Moyes does move on then that creates a vacancy at Everton, so who’d be the choice for one of the top clubs in the English Premier League’s second tier. Laudrup or Martinez say the press and you’d have to think that Martinez would be Kenwright’s choice given he’s got a few more seasons in the English Premier League under his belt, he’s shown considerable club loyalty and, if Wigan are relegated, may be considerably cheaper.

Of course, the fact he turned down the Liverpool job last summer is probably enough to land him the gig at Goodison Park!

Are Wigan down?

It’s been a rollercoaster few days for Latics fans with the high of a 3-2 win at The Hawthorns and the low of a 3-2 loss to Swansea at home. With an away game at The Emirates just 3 days after the FA Cup it would seem that this might be one English Premier League survival act too many for Athletic.

Can Wigan even enjoy the FA Cup?

The Cup Final has come at exactly the wrong time for Martinez’s team. The midweek game against Swansea has cut short their build-up to the game and with them in the middle of a battle for English Premier League survival you wonder just what team Martinez will put out for the Wembley showpiece.

Why can’t the English Premier League be more like the Championship?

As we wait to see who will join Cardiff and Hull in the English Premier League next season, it’s worth noting the differences between the two leagues. For a start, in the time the Championship has completed 46 games the Premier League has managed only 36. The difference between the final play-off spot and 3rd from bottom was 14 points – Everton are currently 25 points ahead of Wigan. Relegated Peterborough won 32% of their games – only the top 8 teams in the Premier League have a better win percentage and Norwich, who will likely survive, have only won 22%.

Something for the English Premier League to aspire to?

Download show (mp3 28m25s 24MB)

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2012/3 Show 28::Big clubs still keen to fish whilst Suarez biting?

It was, of course, the week that Manchester United won their 13th English Premier League title but all the talk has been about Luis Suarez and his mid-match snack.

The Liverpool forward showed why he is a human headline: the very deliberate handball to give Chelsea a penalty; the madness of biting Ivanovic’s arm; the brilliance in his equaliser. With Suarez there’s always something to talk about. And he’ll be able to to do plenty of talking with 10 English Premier League games to sit out thanks to the FA’s lengthy ban.

Liverpool were quick to say that Suarez’s position at the club is safe but if a decent offer comes this summer then surely the powers-that-be at Anfield will take it now matter world-class Suazrez is?

Down the canal, Liverpool’s fierce rivals are celebrating yet another English Premier League title after the unexpected opportunity to secure the title was firmly taken with a comfortable win at home over Aston Villa.

Won with 4 games still left to play, is this dominant display by United more to do with their rivals inconsistency?

Man City’s loss to Spurs has not really harmed their chances of making it a Manchester 1-2 but it has reduced the race for 3rd, 4th and 5th to an uncallable all-London race with a mere 2 points separating Arsenal in 3rd and Spurs in 5th, although the Gunners have played a game more than both Spurs and Chelsea.

Gareth Bale, dormant for 60 minutes, was a shining star for the last 30, with an assist and a goal. With Suarez now disgraced, is the PFA Player of the Year Award down to Bale and RvP?

No PFA Award nominations for those at the bottom of the English Premier League where Stoke and Sunderland came up with crucial wins. In 16 previous away games, Stoke had only won once and only scored 9 goals so was their 2-0 win at Loftus Road something of a surprise?

Sunderland continue to defy the stats and win games despite giving up plenty of possession mainly from scoring from distance. Is this just luck – that will run out – or has Di Canio instilled a level of confidence that was completely absent under Martin O’Neill?

Villa’s loss at Old Trafford was not capitalised on by Wigan Athletic who contrived to dominate West Ham at Upton Park but lose 2-0. Roberto Martinez has vowed to continue to play his way out of trouble but is this season just one escape too many for the Latics?

All this plus a look at the weekend’s fixtures.

Download show (mp3 56m34s 27mb)

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2012/3 Show 27:: Di Canio’s plan as easy as 1-2-3

The Tyne & Wear derby delivered perhaps the biggest surprise so far in this English Premier League season and left us wondering is Paolo Di Canio really completely bonkers?

He’s clearly a man of extremes and it’s hard to tell whether this is a man who wears not just his heart but practically all his major organs on his double-fist pumping sleeves, or whether the knee-slide celebrations are all part of a cunning plan to ingratiate himself with Black Cats fans.

Whatever it was it worked and Sunderland recorded a famous victory although they are very much still a major player in this season’s battle to avoid relegation from the English Premier League.

Sunderland are joined by the freefalling Stoke who’ve now picked up only 1 point out of the last 21 and scored only 2 goals despite a squad with a plethora of strikers. The problem is that none of them can strike. Then there’s also Aston Villa who can score goals but can’t keep clean sheets, Norwich who are probably still trying to work out how they came away from Emirates with nothing, Sunderland’s deflated neighbours Newcastle and perennial relegation candidates and now FA Cup finalists, Wigan Athletic who face the possibility of Championship and Europa League football at the DW next season.

Two of the English Premier League’s relegation spots seem all but mathematically decided: 10 points behind with only 15 points left available, QPR and Reading can contemplating their Championship navels. Whether Harry Rednapp will want to operate away from the English Premier League limelight is an interesting question.

This weekend could see United reclaim the English Premier League title but they’ll need Spurs to beat Man City on Sunday and then beat Aston Villa on Monday. Much may depend on whether Gareth Bale is fit for the visit of Mancini’s team to White Hart Lane. Spurs run-in not only includes City, but also Chelsea and three of the teams fighting relegation so the season is still in the balance for AVB.

Download show (mp3 1h2m18s 30mb)

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2012/13 Show 26::Chaos reigns at Stadium of Plight

Since our last show not one but two English Premier League managerial appointments, neither of which makes any sense.

Reading have taken a great deal of time to appoint the freely available Nigel Adkins and given him the task that his previous club, Southampton, felt he wasn’t capable of completing, namely keeping them in the English Premier League.

Is that the case or our Reading consigned to their fate and they are planning for a promotion push for next season?

Adkins is only there because Brighton’s Gus Poyet turned down the job. Had he accepted then the Seagulls would have found themselves in a Championship play-off spot, with six games left and no manager. Whilst Paul Ince’s idea of a managerial window is plain daft, perhaps a cut-off date after which currently employed managers cannot be approach would be a good idea.

Sunderland made Reading’s rashness look positively considered as they decided that losing to Man Utd at home, as have 10 other English Premier League teams this season, was the straw that broke Martin O’Neill’s back. Sunderland have been horrible this season but surely 31 games in is not the time to losing faith in the Irishman.

The Sunderland Board then managed to dramatically compound the situation by bringing in Paolo Di Canio whose political views have already alienated most of the fan base although it has helped everyone to forget that the Black Cats English Premier League future is dependent on a man whose last job was at the helm of League One Swindon.

Have the Sunderland Board ensured the club’s English Premier League relegation?

Of the bottom ten teams only three, West Ham United, Southampton and Wigan won giving us the delicious situation of four points covering the teams from 12th to 18th – a relegation scrap of some magnitude. Included in that scrap are Newcastle who are living out the bittersweet existence of fighting off relegation and playing in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

A team selection conundrum for Alan Pardew? Where do his priorities lie?

Meanwhile the Manchester Derby takes place on Monday with little but pride at stake. If Utd win then they could wrap up the title in the following week but will it be a slightly hollow ending to the season with nothing else to look forward to after being knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea?

Rafa also has competing priorities with the FA Cup semi against Man City, the Europa League quarter-final against Rubin and trying to stay in the top 4 of the English Premier League. Still, Sunderland this week so that should cement the league position.

Two of those battling Chelsea for a Champions League spot play each other this week with Everton tripping down to White Hart Lane to take on Spurs. A defining game for both clubs; will Spurs’ flair be able to crack Everton’s stubbornness?

Download show (mp3 1h00m36s 29MB).

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2012/13 Show 25 :: Lambert watching one-eyed through rose-tinted glasses

At times, the unique perspective that some of the English Premier League managers seem to have is simultaneously bewildering and breathtaking.

Villa’s English Premier League form never short of fantastic according to Lambert

Every week, without fail, Paul Lambert starts his post-match interview with the words: “I thought we were fantastic today”. Clearly, even the most one-eyed Villan would have to admit that, sometimes Lambert’s team are merely good, often mediocre and far too frequently appalling. If it weren’t for the woodwork and a spectacular save from Brad Guzan, QPR would have had all three points in this English Premier League relegation six-pointer wrapped up by half-time.

Just who is Lambert trying to convince and does he run the risk of making himself sounded stupid with his constant misplaced optimism?

Martinez defending the indefensible

Sharing the rose-coloured spectacles this week was, surprisingly, Roberto Martinez. Instead of displaying his usual humility, probably appropriate given that Lady Luck had enjoyed an afternoon at the DW with a bevy of her mates, he sought to defend Callum Macmanam’s indefensible tackle on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara.

Why do manager’s think that “not being that kind of player” is somehow some sort of defence?

Trust the FA to save Martinez’s blushes though by proving what a wholly inadequate and antiquated organisation it is. Ref Mike Halsey put his hand up almost immediately after the game and said that he didn’t see it which is normally grounds for the FA to be able to retrospectively punish the player. However, the FA declined to do so reasoning that the assistant official did see it and chose not to bring it to Halsey’s attention.

How is it that the FA are seemingly unable to make a sensible decision even when it’s easier to do so? How is it that players can appeal a decision to send a player off but can’t appeal a decision not to?

QPR and Reading out of relegation battle?

The FA’s non-decision capped off a great week for Martinez, first knocking Everton out of the FA Cup, then getting drawn against Millwall in the semi-final at Wembley and then a 2-1 win over Newcastle in a must-win English Premier League game, given that Villa had pulled out a six point gap after their win over QPR.

Helped enormously by Macmanam avoiding a sending-off and Figueroa’s helping-hand in the winning goal, are the Latics the only team in the bottom 3 with a realistic chance of avoiding relegation?

Reading are hoping to appoint a replacement for Brian McDermott by this weekend, their Russian billionaire owner is flying-in to interview candidates said to include Southampton’s ex Nigel Adkins. But given that nine out nine Englsih Premier League teams who have sacked a manager this close to the end of the season have been relegated, what’s the point?

Wouldn’t have been too many Saints fans thinking about Nigel Adkins on Saturday as Southampton spanked Liverpool 3-1 at St Mary’s. A deft touch, an appalling wall and non-existent defending all contributed to the Reds backing up from last week’s win over high-flying Spurs with yet another defeat to a side in the relegation battle.

Who are the real Liverpool and will Suarez be at Anfield next season?

Is the hardest thing with Liverpool this season, working out whether the win over Spurs or the loss to Southampton (or Aston Villa) is the freak result? If it weren’t for Luis Suarez’s 22 English Premier League goals this season, could this game have been a six-pointer at the wrong end of the table?

More than likely Suarez will be the English Premier League’s top scorer playing for a middle-ranking side so isn’t it almost inevitable that a club that can offer European football, perhaps Champions League, is going to try and tempt him away?

Man City’s season falling apart

Man City’s chances of retaining their English Premier League title looked to have passed way beyond realistic as their surprisingly meek defeat at the hands of Everton at Goodison Park leaves them 15 points behind Man Utd, who beat Reading 1-0 at Old Trafford.

Forget thinking about what are the chances of United losing five of their remaining nine games, surely the question is what are the chances of City putting nine consecutive victories together?

What’s going to happen to this City side come the end of the season – Yaya Toure’s manager is already making noises about leaving, could we see this team fracture and even Mancini leave, particularly if City don’t get a trip to Wembley?

Interesting to see that former Swansea winger Scott Sinclair is looking for an Eastland’s exit after failing to gain a regular spot.

We’ve seen it so many times where a player who’s a regular is a smaller side gets lost in the squads of a big club, so why do they move? Is it all just about the money?

Arsenal turn a corner

Swansea suffered only a third defeat of the season at the Liberty Stadium and surprisingly it was to Arsenal. Or was it surprising – was the game against Bayern the previous Wednesday something of a watershed for the Gunners?

In fact it was a perfect weekend for the Gunners after Spurs recorded back-to-back defeats as Fulham recorded an upset 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, only their third away win of the season and only Spurs third defeat at home.

Dimitar Berbatov scored the only goal of the game – and had a suitably subdued celebration in front of his old fans – but was the real hero Mark Schwarzer who brilliantly saved twice from Defoe?

Actually, AVB was Mr Sensible Coach this weekend, refusing to take the excuse offered to him by his interviewer that may be Spurs were tired from their trip to Inter on Thursday. He will be hoping, however, that his international players return injury-free from the WC Qualifiers taking place over the next week or so as that race for 4th hots up, especially with Arsenal and Everton only 4 and 6 points behind respectively but both with a game in hand.

Have Spurs simply been relying on Bale too much or is it a case of the season starting to take its toll on AVB’s team?

Doom and gloom at Stadium of Light

Norwich City inched closer to safety and Sunderland remained on the fringes of the relegation battle after one of the hardest points they’ll ever earn. With their goalkeeper sent-off after only 30 minutes, Norwich not only played an hour with 10 men but gave Sunderland a penalty to help level the scores. When the game finished level Chris Hughton was by far the happier of the two managers.

Just three points in the last seven games, are Sunderland in a death spiral that will end in relegation?

All this plus the Rio Ferdinand saga! Download show (mp3 59m39s 29mb).

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2012/13 Show 24::QPR, Barca, Gunners and Chelsea KISS and make up

If there was one thing that the English Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League taught us this week it was that teams seem to perform better when there is just one option.

QPR, Barcelona and Arsenal all started their respective matches knowing anything less than a win would be disaster. Chelsea knew they had to win their second-half at Old Trafford by two clear goals just to remain in the competition.

Does this mean that we overrate the value of coaching – that a clear and simple goal, backed up by urgent necessity is actually the best recipe?

And for the Gunners, in particular, is their much improved showing at the Allianz Arena a much needed morale boost for the English Premier run home?

FA Cup the last hurrah for Moyes?

Everton’s lame exit at the hands of Wigan, compounded by the hindsight that the Toffees could have played Championship side Millwall in the semi-final, has not put the spotlight on Wigan boss Roberto Martinez but instead on Everton’s David Moyes. The third longest-serving manager in the English Premier League after SAF and Arsene Wenger, the Everton boss, who has postponed any talks about a new contract until the end of the season when his current one expires, will now complete 11 seasons without a trophy.

Is it time for both club and manager to part ways and, if so, where will Moyes go and who might replace him?

Wolves and Newcastle lessons not learned by Reading

One man who’s uncertainty has turned to perfect clarity is Reading boss Brian McDermott who found himself out of a job after the Royals lost their English Premier League relegation six-pointer to Aston Villa, 2-1 at the Madjeski.

Are Reading wilfully ignoring the disastrous outcomes of similar late-season sackings by Wolves and Newcastle? What can a new man at Reading do – it’s not as if they are not creating goal-scoring opportunities? And if Reading haven’t already appointed the unemployed ex-Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio, why is he the bookies’ favourite for the job?

Will we see Taraabt in a QPR shirt again?

Villa’s win was the only crimp in Harry Rednapp’s day as his QPR side recorded back-to-back English Premier League fixtures for first time since December 1995(!) with a stirring 3-1 victory over struggling Sunderland. Sucker-punched by Sunderland, Rangers responded with 3 unanswered goals, 2 of which were absolute crackerjacks.

All achieved without Adel Taraabt who suffered a mid-week “thigh strain or something” as Rednapp put it. With two wins achieved without the mercurial midfielder have we seen the last of Adel in a QPR shirt?

Is Tony Pulis the glummest man in the English Premier League?

Never happy at the best of times, Stoke City’s Tony Pulis was understandably morose after Papis Cisse, emerging from the shadow of Demba Ba, scored a time-added-on winner at St James Park for the bearded Alan Pardew’s Newcastle.

Pulis is stiff competition for that other wasp-chewing manager Steve Bruce and with Hull City in an automatic promotion spot in the Championship, Stoke v Hull is a very real prospect next season. Will we need to take anti-depressants before watching the post-match interviews after those two games?

Game won by Liverpool or thrown away by Spurs?

On paper it looked like Liverpool’s best win of the season so far over a high-flying Spurs but the goals that levelled the game and then ultimately won it for Brendon Rodgers team were eminently avoidable, so was it case of Spurs throwing 3 points away?

Someone must have mentioned tv replay?

Whilst Norwich and Southampton battled manfully in appalling conditions and West Brom and Swansea gave us a highly entertaining game at the Hawthorns, both games were overshadowed by the officiating.

In retrospect, and probably having watched a replay or two of Grant Holt’s tumble, is Mark Clattenberg breathing a sigh of relief that Artur Boruc saved Holt’s last gasp penalty?

Southampton has been charged with failing to control their players when the penalty was awarded – what is it that players are thinking – that the ref might change his mind?

And was it an English Premier League first as Saints manager Pochettino stormed onto the pitch at the end of the game to confront Clattenberg via an interpreter?

Whilst Clattenberg might, given enough time, have been able to put some semblance of a case together for his decision, the same could not be said of Lee Mason’s decision to disallow Lamah’s equaliser for Swansea at the Hawthorns when the Swansea player’s cross clearly rebounded to him off not one but two West Brom players before he smashed the ball into the back of the net.

The worst officiating decision of the English Premier League season so far?

All this plus a look ahead to this weekend’s fixtures. Download show (mp3 53m06s 26MB)

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2012/13 Show 23::Is Rooney on his way out of Man Utd?

Will Wayne be playing English Premier League at Old Trafford next season?

A mixed bag for Man Utd fans this week. They see their team maintain their iron grip on the English Premier League title-race but lose out to Real Madrid in the Champions League and in controversial circumstances. All the talk about Nani’s red card, however, was drowned out by the long bows being drawn about Wayne Rooney starting the big game on the bench. Could this be the beginning of the end for Rooney at Old Trafford?

Can Spurs put pressure on City by winning at Anfield?

Spurs continued on their merry way and ensured that Arsenal continued on their not-so-merry way with a 2-1 win in the North London derby. The English Premier League’s man-of-the-moment Gareth Bale scored again and with Chelsea and Man City playing in the FA Cup this weekend, a chance for AVB’s team to make some ground on City and put some daylight between themselves and Chelsea. But can they grab a win at Anfield especially with the game against Inter in the Europa League in between?

Will Rafa go all out to beat Utd to win over fans?

Chelsea are also in Europa League action but Rafa Benitez must have at least one eye on the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford on Sunday. Surely, if his team could win that game then even those dissenting fans would have to get behind him, even if begrudingly?

Is this Reading’s English Premier League season defining game?

Wigan’s pre-occupation with the FA Cup (away to Everton) means that Reading and Aston Villa have the chance to climb out of the English Premier League’s bottom 3 at the Latics’ expense. As luck would have it they are playing each other at the Madjeski in a relegation crunch game but is the pressure all on Reading?

Adel or no Adel? That is the question

Last week QPR dominated the only stat that really counts – goals for. And whilst a 3rd win of the season is obviously welcome it won’t mean much unless they back it up with a win over Sunderland this weekend. Harry dropped Adel Taraabt for the Saints’ game – does he bring him back for this one or go with the 11 that earned the points last week?

All this and more!

Download show (mp3 51m02s 25MB)

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2012/13 Show 22::Gunners at the crossroads

Europol warned that the English Premier League was not immune from match-fixing and how right they were – although even the Euro cops probably didn’t mean by the body that runs the game.

Swansea game a “gimme” for Liverpool

Just what the English Premier League suits were thinking in re-arranging this game for the FA Cup weekend has no doubt got a lot to do with television but in asking Swansea to play a week before perhaps the biggest game in the club’s history pretty much guaranteed the result.

Michael Laudrup may have been embarrassed at the result but his post-match comments indicated that he would have accepted a “2 nil or 3 1 loss”.

Arsenal at a cross-roads

When the Gunners kicked-off against Blackburn on Saturday in their FA Cup, Arsene Wenger could not have envisaged that this was to be the start of a torrid few days that would see his side exit the FA Cup at the hands of the Championship side, his meltdown at a press conference and humiliation by Bayern at Emirates in the Champions League.

This week’s English Premier League game, also at Emirates, against Aston Villa looms large but trophy-less for 8 years, the club has some big decisions to make in the next few months, not least of which is whether Wenger is the man to take the club forwards.

Crunch games for top and bottom in the English Premier League

In fact we have top playing bottom and although the game is at Loftus Road, even the most wildly optimistic QPR fan would be pessimistic about getting a result against Man Utd.

That game will be done and dusted and so by the time Man City face Chelsea at Eastlands on Sunday, they could find themselves 15 points behind the English Premier League leaders. A must-win game then not just for the title but also to maintain the gap on Chelsea.

At the bottom it’s Reading and Wigan at the Madjeski, with both teams knowing that a win could lift them out of the bottom 3 should Arsenal beat Aston Villa. The form is all with Reading but if ever there was a game to start yet another Wigan relegation escape act then this is it.

Also interesting is the Southampton’s trip to St James Park, with both teams level on 27 points a win here would earn some valuable breathing space. Last home outing saw Newcastle beat Chelsea, whilst Southampton, unbeaten in 9 tasted victory over Man City.

Download Show 22 (mp3 47m31s 23MB).