Tagged: Farah’s Football

Arturo Vidal: Did Toshiba Medical Systems save Manchester United £40 million?

Manchester United's advert in The Economist boasting about their new Toshiba Medical Systems imaging suite

Manchester United’s advert in The Economist boasting about their new Toshiba Medical Systems imaging suite

A handy bit of medical kit from Toshiba has perhaps saved Manchester United over £40 million, after reports of Juventus and Chile star Arturo Vidal suffering a re-occurrence of his long-standing knee injury.

Those stories have since been downplayed by Vidal, and the 27-year-old did play the full 90 minutes in Chile 0-0 friendly draw with Mexico on Saturday.

However, the all-action midfielder hasn’t been the same player since his injury and had a relatively poor World Cup, hampered by the supposedly “rushed” operation before the tournament in Brazil.

And that hastened surgery came after he struggled on the pitch for over a month with his knee injury before he physically couldn’t go on any further – which came during the second leg of Juventus’ Europa League semifinal against Benfica.

The anthroscopic surgery Vidal had on the lateral meniscus in his right knee usually requires 6-8 weeks for full recovery.

Vidal started and played 60 minutes in his team’s 3-1 win over Australia at the World Cup, just five weeks after his procedure.

Of course recovery times can be shorter for athletes at the highest level in their sport, but it must be pointed out the demands are also greater.

After playing for an hour against Australia, Vidal played for 88 minutes in a 2-0 win over Spain just five days later.

Six weeks following his knee procedure, Vidal was in the centre of what for any footballer would’ve been a draining match – Chile had to work extremely hard to get that famous 2-0 win, especially with Spain having 63 per cent possession, a better pass success rate and more shots both on and off target.

Vidal was rested with qualification secured for the 2-0 loss to the Netherlands, but played for 87 minutes in the round of 16 loss to Brazil.

While footballers can recover ahead of the 6-8 week period, most would usually start returning to full training a week ahead of that time, not already be starting in matches played at some of the highest intensities he’ll ever experience in his career.

So the signs are there that Vidal’s problems in his right knee might very well not be over.

And if reports are to be believed that the player did have a medical at Carrington – something that even if true can be easily denied by the club, especially considering the ways to get into United’s training ground unnoticed – it could well have been the new Toshiba Medical Systems facility the Red Devils have boasted about which could’ve prevented the move and saved United wasting a reported £40 million, or more.

The facility at Manchester United’s base – which the club showed off in an advert in The Economist – allows the club’s medical staff to predict future injury problems a player may have.

According to the United website, the ‘medical imaging suite’ can:

“improve player welfare and also facilitate research into early markers of potentially preventable injuries and ways of maintaining player career longetivity at elite level.”

The boastful press release continues:

The new facility will aid analysis of patterns and trends in rehabilitation, with innovative cardiac and musculoskeletal profiling helping to gain a wider understanding of both normal and abnormal responses to athletic training with possible applications to everyday health problems and injuries outside of professional sports.”

From this information and the apparent deliberation from the Manchester United board and Louis van Gaal, it would appear that Vidal went through this imaging suite at Carrington and potentially serious knee problems showed up.

Or research gleaned from the facility suggested that terms with Juventus were agreed and the midfielder arrived for a medical, it would be pointless as he would fail it and another injury in that right knee was more than likely to happen at some point this season.

Further on in the press release, issued on 11 March 2014, the soon-to-be-axed Manchester United manager David Moyes says:

Not only is it cutting edge medical technology, it will also help us detect the early signs of injury and help to refine the rehabilitation process – something that will pay dividends for years to come.”

For new man van Gaal, the Toshiba Medical Systems imaging suite could well have paid dividends, especially when dodging bullets in the transfer market.


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Benjamin Stambouli: Tottenham Signing Better Value Than Morgan Schneiderlin

With international friendlies swiftly following the Premier League’s transfer deadline day, the dust has barely settled on what was a remarkable day of spending.

But among the myriad of high-profile transfers, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a brilliant coup with the £4.7 million capture of French midfielder Benjamin Stambouli from 2012’s Ligue 1 champions Montpellier.

Of course Stambouli – who has never been capped at any level for France – was not Tottenham’s first choice.

That was Morgan Schneiderlin, the midfield maestro who makes Southampton tick. Schneiderlin has arguably been the best holding midfielder in the Premier League for the past two seasons, and undoubtedly the best tackler in the league.

But with the Saints wanting £27 million for their team’s most important player (thanks to Adam Lallana’s move to Liverpool), getting Stambouli instead for under £5 million is a bargain.

Of course, Schneiderlin is slightly the better player – or at least that’s what the stats say.

Last season was Stambouli’s breakout season for Montpellier. The team struggled a lot last season, but had a strong score with their captain Hilton at the centre of defence, Stambouli has the stronger half of a double pivot with Morgan Sanson in the 4-2-3-1, and Newcastle United’s new signing Remy Cabella thriving in the no.10 role.

So it’s fairest to focus at the stats from last season, when Schneiderlin also had his best days under Mauricio Pochettino.

In the last campaign, according to WhoScored.com statistics Schneiderlin made 113 tackles in the Premier League at a rate of 3.4 per game. Stambouli made 111 tackles at a rate of 3.1 per match.

Schneiderlin also made 69 interceptions at a rate of 2.1 per game, significantly higher than Stambouli’s 57 interceptions at a rate of 1.6 per match.

And in building play out from the back – combined with tackling and intercepting the most important of a holding midfielder’s game – Schneiderlin appears to be streets ahead with a pass success rate of 89.3 per cent from an average of 58.5 passes per game.

To be a truly world-class midfielder he’d need a success rate of 90 per cent or more with an average of over 60 passes per game, but Schneiderlin is certainly very close when it comes to passing.

Stambouli’s statistics in this regard aren’t anywhere near as impressive. The 24-year-old managed a success rate of 82.8 per cent from an average of 40.6 passes per game.

However, Schneiderlin was part of a stellar Southampton side filled with great talent, working under one of the game’s most intelligent and innovative managers in Mauricio Pochettino.

Stambouli meanwhile was part of a poor Montpellier team which had ditched his stellar midfield partner Marco Estrada, replaced title-winning manager Rene Girard with the lacklustre Rolland Courbis, sold star players Younes Belhanda, Henri Bedimo, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and allowed key striker John Utaka to leave on a free.

In a team that struggled to a 15th place finish in Ligue 1 last season, Stambouli comfortably made the most tackles, interceptions and accurate passes. In fact, only three players made more tackles than him in France’s top-flight last season.

Without him, Montpellier could well have been relegated, he was that important.

Benjamin Stambouli has signed a five-year contract with Tottenham Hotspurs - it shows how highly Pochettino rates him. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Benjamin Stambouli has signed a five-year contract with Tottenham Hotspurs – it shows how highly Pochettino rates him. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

While Morgan Schneiderlin can boast some impressive statistics from last season, Stambouli’s were no doubt skewed by his poor-performing teammates.

In fact, to have those kind of stats in a team which were two points clear of the relegation zone last season shows the potential Stambouli has.

Potential which can be filled at White Hart Lane. As was clear in the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, Spurs are crying out for a high pressing, enthusiastic midfielder to fit Pochettino’s Barcelona-esque pressing game.

That’s even clear by looking at the stats from last season – Stambouli made almost double the tackles than any Tottenham player did in 2013-14.

The Frenchman will add that steel which has been missing with the shy and retiring partnership of Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue, both in the tackle and vocally.

Indeed the player himself said (h/t SkySports):

 

I like to talk in the locker room, it’s a pleasure for me. You have to manage when it goes wrong and I’m glad to have responsibilities.”

 

So while Stambouli may not be the Morgan Schneiderlin Tottenham fans wanted, he is a very similar player to the man who is the same age, same nationality and plays in the same position as him.

And on the pitch Stambouli brings all of the same qualities as the Southampton midfielder.

The only difference is, he’s more than £20 million cheaper. A better fit for Pochettino’s plans than any of Tottenham’s holding midfielders, and with a point to prove in the Premier League, Benjamin Stambouli could well be the bargain of the season for Tottenham.

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England 1-0 Norway: Live Tactics Blog

Less than 40,000 are expected at Wembley for the friendly between England and Norway, much less than in the picture here. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Less than 40,000 are expected at Wembley for the friendly between England and Norway, much less than in the picture here. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

FULL-TIME – England secure a 1-0 win over Norway at Wembley, their first win in six games. The Three Lions dominated throughout, and after the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup, at the very least England needed a win to get public confidence back. They’ve done that, but the lack of many goals is unlikely to inspire people to starting watching the national team again. As for Norway, they lost their composure after going behind and Per-Mathias Hogmo will have to work on that, but they kept their shape and discipline admirably in the first half and threatened on the counter. They could have with more experience in their side though.

93 mins – Leighton Baines has a chance after being set up by Danny Welbeck following a surging run into the penalty. Right until the end England seem to have a positive, attacking mentality. They were attacking at the World Cup, and clearly that’s how the England manager wants his team to play.

92 mins – Halfway into the four minutes of added time and still England are pressing high when Norway have the ball. Roy Hdogson seems to have engrained a high pressing game into his new look team.

86 mins – Sterling named man of the match and rightly so. On his fifth international start, Sterling has been at the heart of almost every England attack. His run and matching control enticed Elabdellaoui to give away a penalty, and at the tip of the diamond he’s opened up gaps in Norway’s defence which didn’t exist in the first half (though fatigue has also helped).

83 mins – England’s defence also deserves credit. In general they’ve picked up their men well, kept their shape and denied Norway any space to work a chance in the last 25 minutes.

80 mins – Raheem Sterling much more effective at the tip of the diamond in the no.10 role for England. His great pace and dribbling ability has allowed him to burst his way through Norway’s midfield multiple times, and that’s allowed the likes of Welbeck and Sturridge to attack an exposed defence.

78 mins – Norway have visibly lost their confidence after conceding. They’ve lost possession on the edge of their penalty area and could have been 2-0 behind had Jordan Henderson not ruined great link-up play between Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck with a poor finish.

75 mins – Good run in behind the defence by Danny Welbeck and good cross, even if it was too quick for his teammates. His pace is already having an impact in this game. He can have a good future for England if he can improve his finishing at Arsenal.

71 mins – England playing a diamond 4-4-2 formation now after Fabian Delph and James Milner come on for Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Jordan Henderson is playing deep, Raheem Sterling is at the tip of the diamond with Delph and Milner in the middle. Danny Welbeck has come on for Rooney and is playing the same role.

67 mins – 1-0 ENGLAND! Wayne Rooney finishes well from the penalty spot. Omar Elabdellaoui brings down Raheem Sterling for the penalty, after the winger’s expertly played in from a long pass by Jordan Henderson. Henderson’s passing range is going to be important for England in their qualifying campaign, especially to the likes of Sterling and Sturridge. Henderson read Sterling’s run and played in a perfectly weighted and accurate ball. Good movement by Sterling and good control to beat Elabdellaoui and win the spot kick.

63 mins – Rickie Lambert and James Milner warming up for England. They need to make a change soon to try and get some fresh legs running past Norway’s midfield and defence, but Milner isn’t likely to make a great impact. Lambert’s link-up ability and good finishing could make a difference though.

61 mins – England try to counter but Daniel Sturridge is held off well by Havard Nordtveit in the penalty area and the move comes to nothing. If the likes of Sturridge, Rooney, Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain can show more composure, counter-attacks will be the quickest and most effective way to get a goal in this game.

58 mins – Norway’s midfield line is a lot further forward from defence than in first half. It’s proving a more effective way of defending as England’s midfield struggling to find the gaps and so they have to force it wide, which isn’t working at the moment.

52 mins – Great chance for Norway as Joshua King dispossesses Gary Cahill and forces Joe Hart to make a save. He should’ve squared it to Mats Moeller Daehli who would have had a tap in, but that’s much better from Norway now who are pressing higher up the pitch and showing more belief in their play. Half-time team talk from the manager looks like it’s working.

49 mins – Two corners in a row for Norway. Second comes to nothing, but the first produced a good save from England goalkeeper Joe Hart after John Stones lost his man in the box. Rapid movement in the penalty area for set-pieces will be key in Norway carving out goalscoring chances.

48 mins – Norway manager Per-Mathias Hogmo clearly wasn’t happy with his side’s play in the first half. The Norwegians have shown much more attacking intent in the second half.

HALF-TIME – England need to play much quicker out from the back if they are to break Norway’s disciplined defence. The hosts have been rarely troubled in defence but need a re-think in how they go forward.

45 mins – First attacking free-kick for Norway. Ball in comes to nothing as lack of quality in attack shows. The away side need to capitalise on chances like that if they are to score at Wembley.

42 mins – Failed long ball by Wayne Rooney out on left wing to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on right side. The ball goes out for a goal-kick. Symptomatic of England’s play. Rooney has to drop very deep for the ball, and has to play speculative passes to try and help his team find some space in Norway’s final third.

39 mins – Rare move forward for Norway as Joshua King holds the ball up after a long ball forward before trying to feed in Mats Moeller Daehli. That’s the visitors’ best bet for a goal.

37 mins – Another attack breaks down for England as they’re again too slow in the build-up. It’s all well and good injecting pace halfway through an attacking move, but the Three Lions need to start pushing out quickly from the back.

34 mins – England could benefit from dropping off Norway and hitting them on the counter. They’re slow in the build-up and that means Norway have all the time they need to shut off the spaces in their final third and penalty area.

33 mins – England are having all of the play and possession, but they’re still not carving out the space to create proper goalscoring chances. The Three Lions need to work harder on breaking down stubborn defences, especially at Wembley.

30 mins – England show great range of passing combinations as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlains plays a long diagonal ball to Raheem Sterling. Great anticipation and run beyond by Leighton Baines, who has a decent shot. Looks like Baines and Sterling will build up a left-wing partnership during England’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

29 mins – John Stones not afraid to come forward and put crosses in. That’s giving England a lot of good options to get in behind Norway defence.

25 mins – Raheem Sterling looking long for Daniel Sturridge, who’s dink over Orjan Nyland almost pays off. That’s one right there from Liverpool’s training at Melwood.

24 mins – Norway midfield sitting very deep, almost on top of their defence. That’s allowing England a lot of space around the penalty area.

22 mins – A lot of space available for midfielders like Jordan Henderson around the penalty area. Norway struggling to stay disciplined and close down spaces.

20 mins – England looking to inject a lot more pace into their game than 10 minutes ago. It’s clear they do want to win after disappointing World Cup.

18 mins – Daniel Sturridge comes deep and tries long ball to Raheem Sterling in behind Norway centre-back Havard Nordtveit. Another attacking tactic used by Roy Hodgson, taken from Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.

14 mins – Great chance for Raheem Sterling who runs in behind Norway centre-back Vegard Forren. England will look to do that a lot tonight.

13 mins – England looking to get Oxlade-Chamberlain on the ball whenever possible. Not surprising considering how highly England manager Roy Hodgson rates him.

8 mins – Patient passing from England. Norway have no desire to press high up the field and are sitting deep. Away at Wembley in a friendly, it’s easier for Norway to let England play in and around their own half. Hence why the Three Lions are struggling to carve out early chances.

4 mins – Poor Leighton Baines free-kick but good start for England, pressing high up the pitch and passing well.

3 mins – England looking to get Raheem Sterling in centrally, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too.

2 mins – England passing it around all areas of the pitch, designed to give as many players a touch as possible and calm Wembley nerves.

Top tier of Wembley Stadium closed, the crowd as low as expected for England. And that’s fair enough, given that England had a disappointing World Cup and have not won in five games. The last game, the 0-0 draw with Costa Rica at the World Cup, was particularly uninspiring. 

And Norway have five players in their starting Xi – Orjan Nyland (GK), Havard Nordtveit (CB), Omar Elabdelloui (RB), Martin Linnes (LB) and Stefan Johansen (CM) – who played for the U21s when they beat England’s U21s 3-1 at Euro 2013 in Israel. The Norwegians are said to have a lot of promising youngsters coming through.

Five England players in their starting XI aged 22 or under: John Stones, Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling. Five players who will most likely be key in Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Line-ups are in. England’s starting XI was announced yesterday of course. Norway’s team has been announced and like the Three Lions, Norway seem to be looking to the future after a disappointing 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. 22-year-old full-backs Omar Elabdelloui and Martin Linnes are given their chance to impress Per-Mathias Hogmo. Up-front, Blackburn Rovers striker Joshua King gets his chance in the new-look squad, as does Cardiff City’s Mats Moeller Daehli and Celtic’s Stefan Johansen.

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England v Norway – Wembley Stadium – 8pm kick off, live on ITV1

Welcome to live coverage of England’s friendly with Norway at Wembley. Farah’s Football will analyse the match tactically as it happens, highlighting all the clever attacking moves and best performing players, as well as the weak links, defensive deficiencies and so on.

There’s only been one previous meeting between the two, a 1-0 friendly win for England in Norway in a warm-up game for Euro 2012. Ashley Young scored the winner that day, highlighting his spectacular loss of form over the past few years for Manchester United.

The statistical gurus at WhoScored.com believe this match “has the makings of everything about a badly-timed, underwhelming, low-paced and dull international friendly.”

That could well be right with a disappointing crowd of less than 40,000 expected, but if the Three Lions can get Raheem Sterling in behind the full-backs (just like his goals for Liverpool against Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur), and if Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge can build on their World Cup partnership, there could well be a good few goals in this game for the hosts.

Team line-ups:

England (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart, John Stones, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge.

Norway (4-5-1): Orjan Nyland, Omar Elabdellaoui, Havard Nordtveit, Vegard Forren, Martin Linnes, Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Stefan Johansen, Ruben Yttergard Jenssen, Mats Moeller Daehli, Joshua King, Tarik Elyounoussi.


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Radamel Falcao to Manchester United perfect on all levels

Radamel Falcao will be happy joining Manchester United for a reported £136,000-a-week after tax.

Radamel Falcao will be happy joining Manchester United for a reported £136,000-a-week after tax. Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/elhormiguerotv/8558799034

Radamel Falcao’s move from Monaco to Manchester United is the perfect transfer on all levels for the Red Devils.

The reported £6 million loan deal, which Guillem Balague insists will be a permanent £51.4 million transfer, has stunned their rivals.

It’s also shown how United, and in particular Ed Woodward, are finally thinking ahead, and why Louis van Gaal has more than a shade of Sir Alex Ferguson about him.

Falcao was the one elite striker who was available for transfer this summer.

With United already having four strikers in Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, and with young James Wilson also set to be promoted to the first-team, it seemed that the striker position was one area the Red Devils wouldn’t look to strengthen.

The club has already spent over £150 million this window, and while Chicharito has gone to Real Madrid, even if Welbeck also left, signing a new striker still appeared a long shot. And it’s that suprise factor which might well have ruined the plans of United’s rivals.

There seemed to be a lot of truth in Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal pursuing Falcao recently. While Liverpool plumped for Mario Balotelli in the end (though they would have almost certainly preferred Radamel Falcao), it appeared City especially were planning for his arrival.

It was thought that Falcao would arrive after wantaway striker Alvaro Negredo left for Valencia (h/t Daily Mail). However, United’s swoop for the Colombian now means City could well have to keep the disgruntled Negredo. While the Gunners now appear set to continue without a new striker if Arsene Wenger’s comments (h/t SkySports.com) are to be believed – particularly damaging for his team after missing out on Loic Remy.

So in one fell swoop, Manchester United have boosted the optimism flying around their squad and their fans, while creating an air of disappointment at both Manchester City and Arsenal.

On top of that, Falcao’s transfer shows how United – and Ed Woodward – have learned the lessons of their midfield crisis, and are now investing to avoid a similar situation up-front.

While Falcao is the same age as Rooney and just three years younger than van Persie, with the latter’s injury concerns the Falcao move provides that security for the Red Devils in attack.

In a season where Manchester United need to get back into the Champions League if their hard work building a money-spinning empire is not to be all for nothing, Louis van Gaal needs to have two world-class forwards in his line-up.

With van Persie needing to go under the knife and thus be ruled out for a number of months, United would be short of the required quality should Welbeck or Hernandez be deputising in that time.

So to replace van Persie in the short-term with a truly world-class forward in Falcao is the ideal situation for United which is now a reality.Plus van Persie’s injury record and the reported concerns over his fitness means a top striker is more of a necessity than most would think.  

And in the long-term, yes Falcao is only three years younger than van Persie, but that’s potentially three more years with a world-class striker in the team.

Signing Falcao almost certainly means Welbeck will follow Chicharito out of Old Trafford, and will provide a further boost for United in terms of the progress of James Wilson.

Wilson was better than both Welbeck and Chicharito put together in his cameo appearance at MK Dons, and the 18-year-old has already shown great promise with his two-goal debut against Hull City.

His promotion to fourth choice this season will enhance his development – and give United a better option than Welbeck or Hernandez – but the real boost to his progress will be at Carrington.

Training and learning off Radamel Falcao, in addition to Rooney and van Persie, could improve Wilson’s game immeasurably – again keeping United strong up-front for the long-term.

And finally for Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, his agreeing to the Falcao signing provides a good insight into how his team will play this season.

That is, we now know that United – in terms of how the team is set-up – will be one of the most unpredictable sides in the Premier League this season.

Radamel Falcao signing also begs the question of where Angel di Maria will play. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Radamel Falcao signing also begs the question of where Angel di Maria will play. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

While van Persie is out of action, van Gaal could well stick to the 3-5-2 formation. But when the Dutchman returns, the manager has a plethora of options.

He could go 4-3-3 with a fearsome Falcao-Rooney-RvP trio up front, or he could play Angel di Maria on one side with Rooney playing deeper.

Or van Gaal could stick to 3-5-2 with Falcao and van Persie, with Rooney just behind and di Maria as a wing-back. Or have Juan Mata in the no.10 with Rooney in central midfield.

The possibilities are endless.

Falcao’s signing begs the question of where the likes of di Maria, Rooney and Mata will play, and simply makes United a much harder team to second-guess for managers and oppositon scouts across the Premier League.

It also makes competition for places even tougher in the forward positions – that will make Rooney, van Persie, Mata, even di Maria and Falcao himself work harder in training and become more focused.

Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson always had many different options in midfield and attack.

They could be impossible to second-guess, and with so many quality players to choose from, teams would face the Red Devils without much of a clue as to how they would line up and how they would play.

It’s part of the reason why United were so dominant under Sir Alex – opponents just didn’t know who would play, but they knew whoever did play was going to be a quality option that could tear their team apart.

After sanctioning this deal, Louis van Gaal appears to be following a similar route to Sir Alex.

The signing of Radamel Falcao looks set to bring the fear factor back to Manchester United.


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2014-15 Premier League betting tips: Gameweek 3

Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Here are some Premier League betting tips for Gameweek 3.

While these tips are based on tactical, psychological and statistical analysis, the Premier League can be damn near impossible to predict at times.

As such, they could all be wrong.

Or they could all be right.

Or some of them could be right.

Aston Villa v Hull City – Draw @ 9/4 (or 0-0 @ 6/1)

Aston Villa are favourites for this game at Villa Park, but this one has draw written all over it.

Even Paul Lambert and Steve Bruce would probably be surprised if either walked away with a win.

Going for 0-0 would be a good shout for a number of reasons. Looking back at the stats, Hull have failed to score in eight of their last nine matches against Villa.

On top of that, the understanding between Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos is improving every match, and crucially both are in top form.

They both close down the space well, can read an opponent’s run and most importantly, they can read each other’s play as well.

Especially after losing Shane Long, who – despite his lack of good finishing ability (reflected in his goal tally) – is great at dragging defenders out of position to create space for teammates, Hull don’t have the imaginative kind of striker or midfielder who could trouble such a solid partnership as Vlaar and Senderos.

As for Aston Villa, they simply don’t have the firepower, especially with Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak still injured. Much more on that is outlined here.

Both will be fatigued and lower on confidence after their midweek losses in the League Cup and Europa League respectively (Hull’s being on aggregate of course).

And at home Villa have a big problem tactically which manager Paul Lambert still hasn’t sorted.

He’s worked hard on making sure his team keep their shape, have runners in midfield who can slot into defence to provide cover (Kieran Richardson is the one who doing it most this season), and are ready to pounce on the counter-attack.

However, teams drop off and let Villa play when they’re at home, knowing that Villa don’t have a good rhythm when they have time and space on the ball.

Lambert has yet to get his team playing better with long spells in possession.

Again, this one has draw – and quite probably 0-0 – written all over it.

Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar - or 'Big Gay Ron' - has been immense this season. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar – or ‘Big Gay Ron’ – has been immense this season. Photo credit: wikimedia.commons.org

Everton v Chelsea – Draw @ 12/5

Chelsea are the favourites here by a fair distance, but Everton have won the past four out of five between the two sides at Goodison Park.

That doesn’t make them favourites however. They may have two strikers who used to play for the Blues – Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o – who no doubt will be more fired up than ever, but this Chelsea team will be the best they’ve played in a long time.

Roberto Martinez’s men were brilliant in the first half against Arsenal when facing Alexis Sanchez up-front.

But in that first-half, Sanchez couldn’t adapt to being a centre forward, and often looked for the ball on the wing, leaving nobody in the middle. That meant no focal point.

Arsene Wenger then makes a masterstroke sub at half-time, bringing on Olivier Giroud for Sanchez.

Suddenly the Gunners have direction in attack, and a focus in how they go forward. As a result, the Everton defence is tested more and eventually cracks.

Against Chelsea, Everton’s defence will be tested much more than last weekend with a direct striker like Diego Costa, or even Didier Drogba.

The weak point for Martinez’s men is their difficulty dealing with direct strikers who are supported with great service in midfield.

Hence Chris Wood got on the scoresheet for Leicester against the Toffees on the opening day.

Chelsea have the striker in Costa, and the midfielder in Cesc Fabregas (and of course the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, etc).

But, it will play on Chelsea and Mourinho’s mind that they lost the last game at Goodison, and that they haven’t done well there over the years.

On top of that, Everton have quality through the pitch themselves, which will leave the Blues vulnerable at times (as evidenced against Leicester last weekend).

The likes of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman seem more comfortable in their play at Goodison – regardless of opposition – and that will help Everton stick to the manager’s tactics.

A draw with both teams scoring seems the most likely outcome here.

Tottenham v Liverpool – Home win @ 8/5

Mauricio Pochettino has worked wonders at White Hart Lane this season.

When Tottenham beat AEL Limassol 3-0 on Thursday night, the commentator on ITV4 was spot on. “Liverpool can’t come soon enough for Spurs”, he said.

The feel-good factor around the club is highly visible, even from the outside. It is only two games into the season, but the fact that Tottenham sit top of the Premier League is significant.

Pochettino has established a solid core to his team and has blended strong defensive football with attacking flair beautifully.

The likes of Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen have been reinvigorated by Pochettino’s arrival, while overall the team is finally starting to gel with the understanding between them much better than last season.

However, the picture is rather different at Liverpool. The defence still needs sorting (much more explained here) tactically, and confidence is fairly low after a lacklustre win over Southampton, and a crushing defeat at Manchester City.

And going forward, Brendan Rodgers still seems to be working out the best way for his team to attack without Luis Suarez, part of the reason why Daniel Sturridge hasn’t been in the same form as last season.

There seems to be a bit of transition at Liverpool after losing Suarez and adding a lot of numbers to the squad for the Champions League.

However, Spurs have hit the ground running and don’t look like stopping soon. A home win and a clean sheet for Tottenham appears most probable.

Sergio Aguero to score two or more @ 5/2 (or three or more @ 9/1)

Sergio Aguero has three goals in his three games in the Premier League at home to Stoke City.

He’s approaching full fitness and is providing early indications – with the ease at which he scores, the cleverness of his forward runs, the spaces he can create for himself, the list is endless – that he is in the form of his life.

Stevan Jovetic may also be in stellar form, but there’s no doubt Manchester City look first to Aguero for goals.

Tactically, Stoke’s defence and midfield simply aren’t good enough to stop a player like Aguero, especially at the Etihad.

Two goals is a safe bet for Aguero, but it could well be quids in with an Aguero hat-trick.

Manchester United and both teams to score @ 13/5

This one doesn’t need a great deal of analysis and is quite obvious, but with odds of 13/5 seems worth a punt.

Angel di Maria is in line to make his Manchester United debut, and besides the obvious improvement he will clearly give the team, his signing could well have the ‘Mesut Ozil effect’ seen at Arsenal.

Also, United have greater belief in themselves away from Old Trafford, and will seek a response from last week’s disappointing draw at Sunderland (the 4-0 MK Dons defeat compromised virtually none of those who will start this season, besides David de Gea).

Burnley did beat United 1-0 at Turf Moor at the start of the 2009/10 Premier League season, and while the teams are markedly different today, that will still give the Clarets confidence.

Combine that with a defence still struggling with their roles in the 3-5-2, and it does seem clear United will concede.

But overall, with the ‘di Maria’ effect, as bad as they’ve been it’s really hard not to see United win this one.

A blog covering the 2014-15 Premier League season

The first post of this blog is just to describe what it’s about.

It comes from the mind of a guy in England, who believes the top football league in his country is the best in the world and the most interesting to write about.

The drama, the excitement, everything that makes the Premier League what it is, will all be analysed in engaging detail.

There’s millions of football blogs on the Internet. This writer’s adding another one just to pass the time.