African Cup of Nations-Group Stage review..

Looking for people who would be interested in producing a podcast with me. Still working the logistics, but was thinking of connecting via google+ hangouts or skype. Please DM if you are interested in contributing to the podcast. The main focus would be English football.

There has been a few times the English footballing community has been left dumbfounded, usually in the way of managerial changes. Certainly at Chelsea in November 2012 with the dismissal of the popular, Roberto Di Matteo and the appointment of the man the Chelsea fans love to hate, Rafa Benitez. The latest happenings at Southampton have left many dumbstruck to put it, Nigel Adkins sacked when they seemed to be turning a corner. Rumours had rumbled on in September and October when Southampton had been dwindling. But at such a time as this, it seems bizarre. His replacement is slightly confusing, Maurico Pochettino has recently been sacked for his management of Espanyol, in which they looked near certainties to go down. The implications of the managerial change , time will only tell.

It does of course make the relegation battle that much more interesting. It has been a significant week in the relegation zone. Reading showed their character by beating West Brom in dramatic fashion, Aston Villa will see the return of Ron Vlaar to their defence, perhaps paving the way for more security than in early winter. QPR have potentially made their ‘impact signing in Loic Remy and now the week has been topped off by the sacking of Adkins.

It is difficult to call who will get relegated this season, QPR looked dead and buried at the end of 2012. But a couple of clean sheets against two of the leagues better sides in Chelsea and Tottenham. Along with the signing of Remy, who will look to be the catalyst in survival. Things are certainly back on the up. Aston Villa have looked horrendous in winter, the defence consisting of very unexperienced players has cost them. Regularly ripped apart very easily, exploited by any who takes them on. The fall of Villa could be seen in their cup tie against Bradford, well beaten by the League Two side. They looked as if they wanted to bury their heads in the sand. What is going for Villa is their attacking threat, Andreas Weimann and Christian Bentenke provide the most exciting attacking pairing in the bottom. Sort out the defence problems and Aston Villa are dangerous.

Injuries are important at this point in the season. All potential relegation candidates have their ‘key player’ .Rickie Lambert for Southampton would be a massive loss for Southampton, without him things would get tough. Although an appointment of an Argentine manager may open the question of change in style. Rickie Lambert may suffer in this, being a very traditional English forward. Pavel Pobrebneyak has never quite hit the heights he did at Fulham yet, but he seems to be getting there. His recent goals have been important in wins over West Ham and West Brom. If they lost him, the goals could dry up.

The relegation battle will be intense to the end. Sides could be dragged into the frame, Newcastle have been dragged into the frame. The loss of Demba Ba has been most concerning. Papiss Cisse is a shadow of his former self, unable to recapture last seasons fabulous form. Cabaye returned to the fold against Norwich. He gives the Newcastle midfield that added edge. A new striker is on the cards for Newcastle, they desperately need a new striker. Missing out on Loic Remy was a hammer blow, but Yoan Gouffran has been linked to the club. He has never settled in at Bourdeaux but a move to Newcastle could be a match made in heaven.

This could be the most fierce relegation battle in years, perhaps the dramatics of West Brom in 2005 could be on the cards. Anyone in the bottom half could be dragged into it, the point is. No is immune.

12 months ago, Zambia surprisingly won the 2012 African cup of nations in dramatic and emotional style. The Zambians captivated the imagination, winning in honour of the side that fell victim to the 1993 air disaster. A fairly unknown squad, they earned plaudits playing attractive football under their highly motivated coach, Herve Renard. 12 months on, the cup of nations is back. This time in the ‘Rainbow nation.’

Ivory Coast are favourites among many of the bookmakers, this is claimed the last time the ‘golden generation’ can win the competition. It is no surprise they are favourites with their squad boasting some of the worlds biggest names in Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. The latter being perhaps the Premier League’s best. This years tournament could be more difficult, the group looks tougher on paper than last year. Algeria, Togo and Tunisia, look like they could cause problems to Ivory Coast, with Algeria getting the upper-hand in the 2010 edition at the Quarter Final stage.

Algeria and Tunisia come across as teams that could trouble the competition as ‘dark horses’. Both have had a good record in cup of nations tournaments, with their north African flair. If one got the upper-hand of the Ivory Coast in the group standings, they certainly couldn’t be ruled out.

Morocco could spark some interest in the competition, last year they failed to get out the group. Perhaps a learning curve, for still a young side. There is the blow of missing Adel Taarabt, but they are by no means a ‘one man team’. With Younes Belhanda and Oussama Assiadi two players that have the ability to give a team the desired edge. Perhaps, Assiaidi could tempt more playing time at Liverpool if he impresses. He hasn’t featured in league games despite coming across as an exciting talent.

The southern African nations could potentially dominate the competition. Current holders Zambia are definitely hot prospects if they have the same team unity as last year, their underdog attitude pulled them through the competition last year. The hosts, South Africa cannot be discounted. The loss of Steven Pienaar was a blow but they still have a good squad. Kaizer Chiefs striker, Bernard Parker and Ajax youngster, Thulani Serero are supposedly the ‘ones to watch’ in the Bafana Bafana squad. A memory of the 1996 triumph could fuel a South African win. If there is one thing South Africa will bring, that is passion and lots of it.

Nigeria and Ghana are perhaps under the radar, but they should be held as the biggest challengers to Ivory Coast. Nigeria missed out last year and their squad has changed somewhat since 2010. Still regulating the midfield is the reliable John Obi Mikel, but upfront Emmanuel Emenike provides pace and power in an abundance that provides a real threat to the opposition .The Spartak Moscow forward hadn’t broke onto the scene back at the last nations cup Nigeria competed in. In the the two years since, he’s shown his credentials as one of Europe’s top African strikers.

Ghana are well set up to be an exciting outfit. Asmoah Gyan has been convinced to give it another go, he may have been off the radar since joining UAE outfit Al Ain. But he is very much still within the goals with over 40 in two seasons in UAE pro league. The Ghana squad will be missing a few key players, the two Ayew brothers. Jordan and Andre will be missed along with Sulley Muntari. However, Albert Adamoah and highly rated Berekum Chelsea man, Solomon Asante will be players to watch in competition. Ghana’s pedigree of playing quality football, makes them seem like tournament challengers.

The African Cup of Nations promises to be one of the football highlights of the year, the passion of the fans to the memorable moments makes it fantastic competition. The setting of South Africa shall be a good one, the return of the vuvuzelas to our TV screens is imminent.

Some say it has lost its magic and is no longer prestigious, but this years FA Cup should prove to be very exciting. With the title battle a two way fight between the two Manchester clubs, the FA cup could prove to an interesting battle between the country’s other top clubs.

A high intense battle between the two North London clubs could be on the horizon in the cup. Andre Villas Boas appears to have the cup in his sights, with Tottenham fielding a strong team in the 3-0 win over Coventry. There is a sense that AVB takes trophies very seriously, his approach to the Europa League is a fine demonstration of this. Arsenal ‘need’ to win the FA Cup, pressure on Wenger is at its highest from the fans. The defeat in the league cup helped fuel the disapproval, another trophy cannot slip through the grasp. A north London derby semi final wouldn’t be turned down by many. The desperation from both to get one over each other, the game of mind games would prevail between AVB and Wenger. Who wouldn’t want that?

There are, of course some outsiders for the competition. Liverpool came a whisker away from winning the competition last year. A win this year would surely improve Brendan Rodgers’ credentials, he certainly is not immune to the cries of ‘get out’ by the Liverpool fans. A cup win could quieten the doubters. Norwich are another side that have potential to make the cup exciting, their style which opens to winning games through set pieces could lead to success in the cup. A few lucky wins and they could have the cup in their hands.

Despite producing some decent performances in his early Chelsea days, Rafa Benitez will remain an unpopular man. However, this hasn’t stopped his desire and with the title race all but over. The FA Cup provides a chance of silverware and the chance to impress Roman. With the big stars of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard leaving in the summer, it opens it up for the youngsters to blended into the Chelsea setup as well as sending their club ‘legends’ out with a bang.

Therefore out with the criticism of the cup, it beholds some exciting encounters. This is the finest cup competition, lets not have it any other way.

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It’s a football show on a Sunday on Hospital radio. What I need is some volunteers or ‘experts’. What we would do is connect via skype on Sunday mornings between 10-11 to discuss your area of expertise for twenty minutes. This would be discussing the Saturday action, the Sunday action cannot be covered as the show doesn’t go out till 9pm.
A Premier League expert
A football league expert
A La Liga expert.

Feel free to contact me via direct message on Twitter.
Email me jamescartwright628@yahoo.co.uk

Skype name: Jimbob1294

Every season, it is the same. The relegated Premier League teams are the favourites to return to the promised land. This season is no different, with Blackburn and Bolton tipped as the takers of the automatic spots early on. It comes at no surprise, in recent season West Ham and Newcastle managed to bounce back on the first attempt. Many have not been so lucky, with the likes of Sheffield United and Coventry dropping down to League One.

Bolton and Blackburn could fear the same fate as the Coventry. Blackburn have went through two managers this season after the sacking of Henning Berg. Sitting 17th in the league and with off field issues, Blackburn are a club in ruin. Bolton are not much better off, after sacking Owen Coyle. Dougie Freedman has struggled to settle in, as Bolton have remained inconsistent. Which has killed their promotion bid. It is easy to see why these Promotion attempts have ultimately failed. The belief that they have a higher entitlement to promotion than other clubs added with the deluded belief that the Championship harbours a poor standard has lead to their downfalls. Blackburn quite obviously have these view, their indian owners were known supporters of the plan to scrap relegation.

One thing was also missing from their promotion bids, team spirit. After relegation, a motivator needs to be there. Owen Coyle and Steve Kean did not provide this. In the case of West Ham and Newcastle, Sam Allardyce and Chris Hughton were certainly the type to ‘rally the troops’. A phenomenon in recent Championship seasons has nailed on the importance of team spirit, an underrated trait in football. This phenomenon is the back to back promotions, Norwich and Southampton have managed it, bringing up an average squad, unified by a glued in team spirit. They both stormed the league, on the fact that they had a team that was finely tuned like clockwork. Every player knowing his job and doing it. The belief that no player is bigger than team.

The Championship again reflects this. Malky Mackay has managed to build a unified squad that has finally clicked as unit following his first year in charge. Hull, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough are other contenders for promotion. Three teams that have a great idea what they are doing, a well thought out plan that they are trying to perfect.

Until the importance of team spirit is realised by relegated Premier League teams, they will continue to find life in the Championship very difficult. Eyes need to be opened to the harsh reality of complacency in the Championship.

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