Who will win the Championship?

The Championship is always one of the most exciting leagues in the world and is always one of the hardest to predict.

The relegated teams have a good chance of going straight back if they can keep hold of their best players and as we have seen in previous seasons sometimes the teams that get promoted into the league carry on their momentum and get a second promotion on the bounce.

The favourites to win the league are Harry Redknapp’s QPR and he does have experience of leading a team to the Premier League in Portsmouth so does know what it is all about and will surely get more out of his team than he did last year. The signings he has made so far have been very good and they will definitely be committed to the cause. Richard Dunne and Danny Simpson are both good enough defenders to still be in the Premier League. Karl Henry will add steel to the midfield and Charlie Austin is a proven goal scorer at this level.

Reading only had one season in the Premier League but they have got rid of quite a few of the players that helped them to promotion the last time but they have brought in some good players themselves that have Champions League experience in the shape of Wayne Bridge and Royston Drenthe. Nigel Adkins is a good manager and I feel that he will get the team playing decent football and will be right near the top of the table come the end of the season.

Bolton Wanderers will be hoping for a better year than last year and will hope that Dougie Freedman can do what he started at Crystal Palace in the early part of the season. He has made some strange choices in my opinion letting Marvin Sordell got out on loan when he has proved his ability in the Championship before. But in his defence he has replaced him with Jermaine Beckford who will be looking to prove some of his doubters wrong. Alex Baptiste, Marc Tierney and Andre Moritz are also solid signings.

Whether you agree with what they did last season you have to give Gianfranco Zola and Watford credit for getting the team together and playing as well as they did straight away. It looks like it is a similar story this year but using a slightly different loophole to bring in the players that they want from their owners ‘parent’ clubs. But the most exciting signing they have made in my opinion is Lewis McGugan because he has a decent goalscoring record and will be hoping that he can add something to the already talented team.

The team that I personally think will win the league are Wigan Athletic. The signings new manager Owen Coyle has made are already really consistent players, they may not grab the headlines but they do everything that is asked of them. James Perch, Stephen Crainey and Chris McCann all fall into this category. Then they have brought in more attacking players that will definitely get goals in Grant Holt and Marc Antoine Fortune. Also Scott Carson will be a brilliant goalkeeper and could get the most clean sheets. The only worry I have is if their campaign in Europe takes too much out of them.

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Newcastle United’s front three the best in the Premier League?

Newcastle United’s first half display against West Brom was one of the best performances of this season as there three attacking players tore open Albion’s defence time and time again.

Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse all played a part in making it a torrid afternoon for their opposition and most teams in the country would have struggled against the pace and the movement of Newcastle’s front three. Hatem Ben Arfa had been criticised for his defensive work this season and this is why he struggled to get into Alan Pardew’s first 11 for a large part of the season but today proved why you cannot leave him out. He just gives the team something different, there are very few players in the world that can pick up the ball from inside their own half and beat three or four players before shooting or laying it off to someone else. He was simply unplayable in the first half and even in the second he managed to get on the ball and relieve some of the pressure that was being put on the defence.

The first goal was pretty simple but still required some craft as Jonas Gutierrez (he had a very good game and will not get the credit he deserves for his performance as the front three stole the limelight, any other game and he would have been close to man of the match) had to play through Ben Arfa who was not being tracked by a defender. His part in the goal was simple as all he had to do was put the ball across the six yard box which doesn’t seem that hard however we see it week after week that wingers struggle to put it in the right spot and the chance is missed. Demba Ba slid in and missed the ball but Papiss Cisse was on hand to finish first time, this does show natural strikers instinct from both of them as they were both onside but unchallenged. So it was fantastic movement from them both and very good concentration from Cisse as he had to watch the ball onto his foot and steer expertly into the net.

The second goal showed everyone what a quick counter attack is with Ben Arfa picking up the ball inside his own half and playing a few neat little passes with his teammates and then placing the ball past the diving Ben Foster. Cisse yet again played a part in the goal but the Frenchman will take all the credit as he ran a long way and there was no chance he was going to be stopped by the defence. His finish was pretty good too which any striker would have been proud of.

The third goal was pretty similar to the second as it was on the counter attack. Ben Arfa yet again picked up the ball deep and ran with it before sliding it to Ba who cleverly flicked it round the corner for Ben Arfa to put the ball into the danger area. It was slightly fortuitous as he was looking for Ba but he was bundled over and may have been awarded a penalty, and the ball rolled to Cisse who yet again produced a very good finish with his left foot.

A fantastic display from the Newcastle attackers but what I want to know is, why when Newcastle are performing well and have good attacking players do the defence look so weak and vulnerable to any attack? Mike Williamson had a shocker for the goal and he struggles when dealing with pace and movement. Danny Simpson is quite consistent but he does occasionally get beaten too easily and the winger has a clear cross or shot at goal. Davide Santon always looks more interested in attacking and taking players on. James Perch has actually proved he is quite good and was the best defender in the second half although he sometimes struggles too. When Coloccini went off injured the alarm bells must have been ringing in the Toon fans heads as he is a very good defender and is arguably one of the most in from defenders in the Premier League.

If they could sort out the defence Newcastle would certainly be a top 6 side consistently. This summer is massive for the Toon and if they can keep their best players and add to their defence they will have a very good chance of winning trophies which the fans desperately crave.

Solid defensive work at Newcastle United

Newcastle moved up to fifth place with a victory over Blackburn with a very good defensive performance. Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul have been getting praise and all season and rightfully so as yet again they both out in flawless performance. Mike Williamson has came back into the team in recent weeks and yes he has problems when dealing with players with a bit of pace and good movement but when the ball is in the air he is one of the best as he very rarely loses a header. With Steven Taylor missing, the club needed Williamson to step up as last year he started off very well but fell away towards the back end of the season and was dropped after a few dismal performances particularly against Liverpool at Anfield.

In the full back areas they also have players that are consistent rather than brilliant but this has worked for the team so far this season. Danny Simpson at right back at times looks very good and dependable but then at other times he looks very suspect like against Brighton in the FA Cup when he was beaten far too easily on the halfway line and it eventually led to the winning goal. He does always provide an attacking threat and constantly tries to put crosses in although his final delivery can also be very inconsistent and lack the necessary quality for the Premier League. On the other side Davide Santon has had a decent start to his Newcastle career, but like Simpson can look suspect defensively, like against Fulham when in the second half he was targeted and led to a capitulation eventually losing the game 5-2. But going forward he is confident with both feet and likes to play the ball around, he seems to be developing a good understanding with Jonas Gutierrez who in my opinion can make any left back look good because he is always helping them and providing support and not leaving them too exposed. It is a great credit to Gutierrez but you can definitely see why Santon was very highly rated at Inter Milan.

But I am going to give a lot of praise to James Perch who for long periods has been criticised by the Toon faithful because of some of his performances from the early part of last season. He tried to make tackles he couldn’t win and was inevitably booked, he was caught out of position and I’m sure not many will forget his own goal against Stoke. But this season he has turned a corner and has become a fantastic addition to the Newcastle squad as he has played at centre back and the centre of midfield and has not disappointed anyone. He came on at halftime in the game against Blackburn and deserved man of the match because he changed the game as at the end of the first half Rovers began to take control of the game and it looked as though they would get an equaliser. But Perch came on and steadied the ship and made some vital blocks and put in some good challenges and then when he had the ball played it simple.

It just shows in football how quickly opinions of certain players can change very quickly and James Perch deserves praise because he has clearly trained hard and wants to become a success at St James’ Park so he deserves a lot of credit for this and I just hope the fans will now cheer his name when it’s read out.

England’s right back for the Euros

When Liverpool played Manchester City in the Carling Cup it gave England fans the opportunity to see two players aiming to be England’s starting right back at Euro 2012 with Glen Johnson being switched to left back for the tie and Micah Richards playing in his usual right back position.

Both players have played plenty of times for England and will be hoping to impress Fabio Capello in the coming months to show why they should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Glen Johnson seems the favourite at the minute for Capello but may not be the fans’ choice. Everyone that watches Johnson play knows he is good going forward but at times looks suspect at the back and even though in the modern game full backs need to be good going forward, their primary role in the team is to stop the opposition scoring.

Micah Richards must feel hard done by as he broke into the England team a number of years ago and seemed to be the natural successor to Gary Neville but for some reason he lost his way on the international scene. But his team are top of the table and have one of the best defences in the league so surely he deserves another shot. Like Johnson, very good at going forward and is probably one of the strongest and quickest players in the Premier League which allows him to get back into position quickly after making a break forward.

While this game was being played, Kyle Walker of Tottenham was helping his team keep a clean sheet at home to Everton and is proving to everyone why Harry Redknapp made him his first choice right back at the start of the season. Scoring a wonderful goal against Arsenal obviously made the Spurs fans love him but he is most certainly catching the eye of Capello. His loan move to Aston Villa last season has done him the world of good and he would be disappointed if he wasn’t selected.

Danny Simpson has an outside chance of making the trip to Ukraine and Poland because he has been in good form for club side Newcastle but it isn’t looking very likely at this stage. But he is proving to be one of the best right backs in the country and if the players above him in the pecking order suffer an injury or go on a poor run of form, he would do a solid job for the team.

Other options for Capello are to play Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Phil Jagielka at right back as all of these have played in that position at some stage in their career but all three of them are better centre halves than right backs. Although, their versatility could work in their favour, it is unlikely that they will get played at right back ahead of Walker, Richards or Johnson.

Verdict: Micah Richards should be England’s first choice right back as he is currently stand in captain for the team that is top of the league and is looking very impressive, his marauding runs forward cause panic in the oppositions defence due to his sheer size and presence therefore he adds something completely different to the team.

But who will Capello choose?

Newcastle United vs Manchester United- Head to head battles

This result could prove to be very pivotal in both teams seasons with Newcastle only winning one of their last eight after starting the season with an 11 game unbeaten run and Manchester United now losing two games in a row and conceding six goals in the process. This isn’t very Manchester United like and the performance against Newcastle further highlighted the need for strengthening at Old Trafford with the Toon Army having firstly more drive and determination but also more skill and ability.

Demba Ba was a constant threat and should have had a penalty when he was blatantly took out by Rio Ferdinand in the box but this probably evens out what happened earlier in the season when Newcastle won a penalty against Ferdinand which was clearly a mistake by the officials.

The first two Newcastle goals were through a little bit of individual quality and they had clearly watched Manchester United’s previous game against Blackburn where they also looked suspect at the back. Newcastle deserved their emphatic victory as they had more shots and even under slight pressure they held strong and only really looked like conceding once or twice.

As a team, Newcastle won the battle obviously as the stats suggest but what about the individuals.

Krul vs Lindegaard

Krul didn’t have much to do in the game but has proved time and time again this season that he is valuable to the squad and that goalkeeper’s are so important in this league and can win you points almost singlehandedly in some games. He dealt with everything that was thrown at him quite comfortably apart from one Nani shot in the first half which he didn’t take cleanly but recovered quickly enough to get control of the loose ball.

Lindegaard must be quite a confused man this morning, conceding three goals, yet he also didn’t have much to do. The first two goals were unstoppable and even if him and De Gea had been in goal it still would have been 2-0 Newcastle. He does not look convincing though and when put under pressure he could struggle with Williamson putting a header over the bar after he came for a corner and got nowhere near it. Also, a worrying part of his game is his communication with his defenders which was shown when Phil Jones put the ball into the back of his own net.

Winner= Tim Krul

Simpson vs Valencia

This may have been Danny Simpson’s best performance in the Premier League for the Magpies as he attacked very well and attempted to support Ryan Taylor whenever he could, although his final ball at times was poor. But it was his defending that was most impressive especially after his shocking performance against Liverpool, he was strong in the tackle and his positioning for the most part was spot on. His goal line clearance was celebrated like a goal by the team and so it should have been because if the team from Manchester had scored then we would probably have been looking at a different result.

Got to feel sorry for Valencia, he isn’t a right back but always puts in a good shift wherever he is told to play and was no different in this game. He always looked to get forward and was probably their most attacking threat. Like Simpson his final ball let him down but his work rate, getting up and down the wing time and time again was commendable.

Winner= Danny Simpson

Santon vs Evra

Davide Santon was signed with quite a big reputation from Inter Milan but couldn’t seem to shift Ryan Taylor a makeshift left back from the team and a lot of fans were wondering is this guy the real deal or just another flop we have signed from Europe? Based on his performance last night you can see why he was highly rated by every Inter manager apart from Mourinho. But like most fullbacks these days he is better at going forward than defending producing jinking runs and alleviating the pressure on him and his fellow defenders with his ability to keep the ball. Performed well against Nani who is quite a tricky customer when he is on his game.

Patrice Evra, this season for me does not look as solid as he has done in previous seasons and this was shown again at times as he got beaten for pace by Ryan Taylor and allowed him space to cross time and time again which the central defenders won’t have been too happy with. He was given the captains armband but I don’t understand why, he doesn’t not seem influential or inspiring as captain at all. Going forward he didn’t really have a chance and this is the best part of his game. Poor performance but will surely before the end of the season prove he is one of the best left backs in Europe.

Winner= Davide Santon

Williamson vs Jones

Just back from injury, Williamson adds much needed height and power to the Newcastle defence especially after the injury to Steven Taylor which ruled him out for the rest of the season. He sometimes looks suspect when dealing with a bit of pace and movement but he does win a lot of aerial battles and can tackle when he gets the chance. Also, he gives the team another attacking threat from set pieces, missing a simple chance in the process but he will be happier with the way he and his fellow defenders snuffed out the threat from the opposition.

Phil Jones there is no doubt about it, is one of the most promising young players currently in England with his ability to play in several different positions. But he played centre back against Newcastle and was given a lesson from Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba. He could not deal with their power and pace. Losing the first header in the first goal and giving away the free kick for the second. For the third, he probably wished the ground would open up and swallow him after a breakdown in communication with his keeper, he went to header the ball but misjudged it and it his knee and went into the back of the net. A night to forget for the young lad but he will prove to be a very good signing for United.

Winner= Williamson

Coloccini vs Ferdinand

‘Captain Colo’ has been in fantastic form this season and never looks flustered under pressure producing moments of magic the most attacking players would be proud of. He didn’t get much of a chance to maraud forward as much as he likes to from centre back but it is his defending that has improved dramatically since he first arrived in Newcastle. He is quick along the ground and seems to see danger very quickly to get across and clear for his team. It’s not just luck that he seems to be in the right place at the right time over and over again. His curly locks in his first season were noticeable for his mistakes but now everyone not only notices his flamboyant hair but his abilities as a top class central defender.

Rio Ferdinand was very lucky not to give away a penalty after a tangle of legs in the box and this just typified his night. He didn’t seem to be at the races almost gifting a goal to Demba Ba after a poor first touch, he could not deal with the strikers just like his much younger and less experienced partner Phil Jones couldn’t. But surely we expect better from the man that is hoping to lead England’s defence at Euro 2012 (if John Terry is banned for racism then surely he can’t play for England? But this is an issue for another time). He just didn’t look his normal composed self at the back and maybe it’s because he is getting older or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have any confidence in his goalkeeper and players either side of him. Not all his fault but should have been tighter on Ba for the first goal.

Winner= Coloccini

Taylor vs Nani

Ryan Taylor is fast becoming a cult hero for the Toon Army with his impressive displays at left back and obviously his winning goal in the Tyne Wear Derby against Sunderland. But he played on the right of midfield and he was energetic and full of life always asking for the ball and most of the time keeping good possession. He provided Simpson with a lot of support and was a very hardworking performance from the Scouser. His set pieces were always a threat as usual causing panic in the Manchester United defence from his corners.

Nani didn’t have his best game in a United shirt but it was down the right hand side that they caused the most threat but still he couldn’t produce a moment of magic to unlock the Newcastle defence. A couple of good runs and little flashes of skill were just not good enough but at least he did try a few different things. He seemed to stay on the wing for much of the game and maybe should have drifted inside more but if he did that and didn’t cause problems he would have been slated as well and told to stay out wide. So maybe it just wasn’t his night and he was fighting a losing battle

Winner= Ryan Taylor

Gutierrez vs Park

As always the Argentinean did his job and worked hard winning free kicks for his team in tight positions and covering every blade of grass down the left hand side. Sometimes his final ball lets him down and going forward he can be frustrating but that is all forgiven when the fans see him working hard and at times running the length of the pitch to get back just so he can give extra support to his teammates which not every winger is willing to do. He is nothing more than an average player but he is worth his weight in gold and Newcastle are very glad they have him.

Park is similar to Gutierrez always works hard for the cause but he doesn’t seem to get as much credit probably because being a Manchester United player you need more than just hard work but Park doesn’t seem to offer anymore. Possibly only still at the club because of the financial side of the game as he will bring even more money in from Asia for the champions. Maybe this is a little harsh on Park but from his performance he does not look good enough for a team wanting to win the league.

Winner= Jonas Gutierrez

Cabaye vs Giggs

A fantastic free kick capped off a fine performance, was an absolute steal for Newcastle when they signed him from Lille. His passing has been a vital part to the way Newcastle play with his ability to accurately send cross field to passes to the winger on the opposite side. Against Man United he played slightly differently to normal as he looked to break forward a lot more and get into the box, having a few shots which he is capable of hitting with both power and accuracy with either foot. But his free kick will be remembered by the Geordie faithful for quite a long time. He could be in the running for signing of the season but unfortunately for him and fantastically for the Newcastle scouting team who deserve huge amounts of credit he probably hasn’t even been Newcastle’s best signing. He has a great partnership with Tiote but even earlier in the season when Tiote was injured he formed a good partnership with Danny Guthrie so it just proves his quality and his ability to adapt his game to whoever is playing alongside him.

The Welshman for the first time actually looked his age against Newcastle, dominated by the opposition and unable to produce any magic we still expect from him. Playing in the centre of midfield he looked a shadow of his former self and this may be down to the performance of the Newcastle centre midfield. Maybe it’s time to call it a day although against a less pressurising team he could still do a job for United but it may be better just to play him in the home games. In my opinion Paul Scholes could have had more of an impact on a game like this if he was still playing.

Winner= Yohan Cabaye

Tiote vs Carrick

Cheick Tiote will be a massive miss now he has going to the Africa Cup of Nations and it’s not just coincidence that when he got injured Newcastle went on a winless run. Last season he was constantly criticised for the amount of bookings he picked up and yes he did get booked yesterday but it was one that goes in the category of had to be done for the team. Which is what Tiote is all about, everything he does benefits the team and is another fantastic acquisition for Newcastle. He is so strong and his ability on the ball is definitely underrated. He gets about the pitch and does all of the dirty work closing down the opposition and making tackles so the more attacking players can play their natural game. It’s not surprising he is linked with the biggest teams in Europe and if Newcastle are ambitious and want to progress they have to keep hold of their holding midfielder

Another holding midfielder but plays very differently to Tiote, he is more of a passer than a tackler although he doesn’t mind getting stuck in at all. The game seemed to pass him by and as a Geordie probably wanted to perform at St James’ Park but this wasn’t great and is probably glad Fabio Capello does not come up to the North East to watch football or it could have reduced his chances of going to the Euros. Although he is a player who’s work often goes unnoticed, in this game he was invisible and lacked the needed quality to break down this resilient Newcastle team and is further proof that Fergie needs to invest in a central midfielder. Maybe players like Cabaye and Tiote would be good signings.

Winner= Cheick Tiote

Ameobi vs Berbatov

Shola Ameobi affectionately known as the ‘Sunderland Slayer’ by the Geordies had arguably one of his best games in a Newcastle shirt, he caused a threat every time the ball was in the air and won a large majority of flick ons to his teammates. He is often criticised because of his lack of ability but he made up for it with his determination and movement. He won the flick for the first goal and then dragged the defender out of position so Demba Ba could attack the space and win the free kick that led to the second. Shola along with the other strikers will have to step up to the plate in the next month with Ba away on international duty but this performance should give the fans some hope.

Simply anonymous. Hit the post with a deflected header in the first half and was then substituted in the second. That’s about it for his performance which is quite disappointing seen as though he was on a good run of form. Just couldn’t get into the game and didn’t look interested although with his languid style even at the best of times he doesn’t look that interested

Winner= Shola Ameobi

Ba vs Rooney

What more is there to say about this man? He has such fantastic ability on the ball but it was his hard work that impressed me most , he chased down everything and led from the front in not giving any Manchester United player time to settle on the ball. But, his goal showed how good of a player he is, what fantastic technique to hit the ball first time like that and it finding the corner of the net. He is a constant menace and seems to be scoring goals for fun and for a free transfer surely must be the signing of the season. Fans wondered where the goals were going to come from and how would they replace Andy Carroll. Demba Ba has stepped up and surpassed even the most optimistic fans expectations. It’s not surprising fans and pundits are running out of superlatives to describe his season. It’s just unfortunate not only for the Newcastle fans but also the Premier League that his season is being disrupted by the African Cup of Nations.

Wayne Rooney was not at the races at all, and it was clear to see when he was played through and his touch let him down, it was a chance he would usually gobble up, especially against Newcastle, who he has such a good record against. Substituted for Anderson and this basically emphasises how bad of a night it was for the England striker, losing by two goals and taking off a player that is usually feared by every defender in the country. With him not playing against Blackburn it seemed to be written in the script that he would be influential in the game but this was ripped up and never happened.

Winner= Demba Ba

Newcastle won the battles all over the pitch and although ability wise they may not have the same quality as their Manchester counterparts but they made up for it in deteremination and desire to win the game. Huge praise has to go to Alan Pardew because not many managers over the years have got one over Sir Alex Ferguson tactically. He called it perfectly, and got everything spot on, he wasn’t wanted at Newcastle to begin with but now the fans see him as one of them, if he can secure European football he will probably be considered their best manager since the great Sir Bobby Robson