Blackburn Rovers v Wigan Athletic - Premier League

Shipped from abroad, England: Blackburn visited by the ghost of chaos’ past


In a season that will end with a new club winning the title (this has only happen five times in 20 seasons), one of the Premier League’s few previous winners will go down. Not that this hasn’t happened before. None of Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea have sniffed relegation since finishing atop Sky’s league, but Blackburn Rovers? They’ll be making their second trip to the Championship since Jack Walker bought the title in 1995.

(Don’t take offense, Blackburn fans. All titles are bought.)

That fate was confirmed on Monday. Perhaps you heard about it? The match with the chicken? Well, like all matches, it also ended with a final score: 1-0 in favor of visiting Wigan, with Paraguayan international Antolín Alcaraz’s 87th minute winner helping Blackburn fill the Premier League’s quota of sending one chaotic mess back into the Football League.

Three years ago, that mess was Newcastle. The club’s season was sent spinning early when manager Kevin Keegan walked away amidst disagreements with then-maligned owner Mike Ashley. By season’s end, Match of the Day face Alan Shearer (also a wildly prolific scorer with Newcastle) was brought in to keep the Toon up, only he couldn’t guide the club to a final day win at home over Aston Villa, a side whose season had long since been decided.

Two years ago, Portsmouth adopted an involuntary ownership rotation scheme, apparently intent on testing the bounds of fit and proper personhood. By March they were on their fifth owner, had been docked nine points, and were relying on Avram Grant to save them (fact: nothing says chaotic ownership like Avram Grant). Two years later, the club’s been relegated to the third tier, a 10-point deduction dropping them from 18th to 22nd in the Championship. But at least the doors are still open.

Last year, West Ham started the season by looking at Pompey’s problems and demanding “get us the man who orchestrated that.” Grant was brought in and didn’t disappoint. The Hammers finished dead last despite an array of enviable talents (by relegation standards): Scott Parker, Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Carlton Cole, Victor Obinna, Wayne Bridge, Tomas Hitzlsperger, Demba Ba, Pablo Barrera amongst them. They were no match for the power of Avram, nor the powers of Davids Gold and Sullivan, a duo that had previous guided Birmingham City into the Championship.

Blackburn is the latest club to fall beneath the scythe of ownership chaos. Last year, Venky’s Limited Group (best known for interests in poultry, hence the chicken) bought the team at the behest of agent Jerome Anderson. Quickly, it became known that Swiss sports agency Kentaro (affiliated with Anderson) where the brains behind the Venky’s soccer operation. Manager Sam Allardyce was let go, presumably for stylistic reasons, yet ownership never replaced interim manager Steve Kean, who proved willing to accept the Kentaro-introduced policies. One year later, downtrodden Rovers supporters are releasing live chickens during matches.

Looking to next season, which club could become the Premier League’s annual inane ownership offering? There aren’t any obvious candidates, but you can’t sleep on a club that made the brilliant decision to hire the manager of a recently-relegated arch rival. That’s what Aston Villa did at this season’s onset. Now, two years after a string of three consecutive sixth place finishes, Villa could finish 17th. It’s difficult to see next year being better if Alex McLeish is still in charge.

This season, Blackburn predictably filled the chaos quota. Hopefully next year will see 20 ownership groups appropriately value their club’s place in the first division.

Elsewhere in England

Saturday’s results
Arsenal 3-3 Norwich City

Sunday’s results
Newcastle 0-2 Manchester City
Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Bolton Wanderers 2-2 West Bromwich Albion
Fulham 2-1 Sunderland
Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Stoke City
Wolverhampton 0-0 Everton
Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City

Monday’s results
Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Wigan Athletic


Champions League: Manchester City (86 points/37 games), Manchester United (86/36), Arsenal (67/37), Tottenham (66/36)*

Europa League: Newcastle (65/37) (Liverpool has already qualified by virtue of winning the League Cup; Chelsea has qualified by virtue of winning the FA Cup)

Survival (relegation): Aston Villa (38/37), Queens Park Rangers (37/37) Bolton (35/37) (Blackburn and Wolverhampton have already had relegation confirmed)

* – if Chelsea wins Champions League, they take Spurs’ spot in the 2012-13 tournament, relegating Tottenham to Europa.

Stuff that stuck out:

  • Steve touched on it on Saturday, but with Sunday’s results, Arsenal got a bit of an undeserved reprieve. Tottenham dominated Aston Villa but couldn’t get more than a point, leaving the Gunners in control of their own destiny ahead of a final round visit to The Hawthornes. That match is far from a foregone conclusion. Arsenal’s winless in four, and if they can stumble at home to Norwich, they certainly can be had in Roy Hodgson’s last match with West Brom.
  • Robin van Persie scored twice on Saturday, giving him a four-goal lead atop the league’s scoring charts after Wayne Rooney failed to find the net against Swansea.
  • Speaking of scoring charts, Clint Dempsey’s goal against Sunderland (a team that checked out when they were eliminated from the FA Cup) leaves him alone in fourth place amongst Premier League goal scorers. He’s the only player amongst the chart’s top nine whose total hasn’t been bolstered by a penalty kick.
  • Despite their loss to Manchester City, Newcastle can still qualify for Champions League, though they will have to win at Everton. Should they do so, they finish top four with as little as a +8 goal difference. It’s been seven years since a club finished as high was a worse ratio, Everton remarkably claiming fourth in 2004-05 with a -1.
  • It’s the least Djibril could have done. Since arriving from Lazio in the winter window, QPR’s Djibril Cisse has seen red twice. On Sunday, he may have reclaimed the points he’s cost Rangers, his 89th minute winner giving QPR three from Stoke.
  • Mark Hughes’ team is still in dire straits. They have to get a point at the Etihad on Sunday, which isn’t going to happen. Bolton go to the Brittania to face a Stoke side that’s last in the league in goals scored. One will do for Owen Coyle’s boys.
  • If ownership is a hint as to who will and won’t survive relegation battles, it’s no wonder Wigan keeps pulling off these May escapes. Dave Whelan has kept his small-ish club in that rugby-ish town up for seven straight seasons. The faith he’s shown in Roberto Martíne, has been admirable. There’ve been many times over the last three seasons another owner would have changed course. A steady hand with realistic goals, Whelan has the Latics set for an eighth season of Premier League soccer.

Up next: It’s Survival Sunday, we’re told. Ten matches, all kicking off at the same time (10:00 a.m. Eastern), only a few of which are worth your time:

  • Manchester City vs. Queens Park Rangers: City will win and claim the title.
  • Sunderland vs. Manchester United: I suppose United could make up their eight-goal disadvantage in difference.
  • West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal: If Arsenal draws, they can finish no worse than fourth. If they win, they claim third.
  • Tottenham vs. Fulham: Spurs win only gives them third if Arsenal stumbles. Anything less opens the door for Newcastle.
  • Everton vs. Newcastle:
  • The Magpies can only move up with a win. If they get it, they need Arsenal to lose or Fulham to win to climb into (at least) fourth.

  • Norwich City vs. Aston Villa:
  • Villa would have to lose by at least 16 goals, have QPR get a point from Man City and have Bolton win in order to go down. I don’t know why I bothered to type that out.

  • Stoke City vs. Bolton Wanderers:
  • The Trotters need a win. If they get it, they should survive (with QPR’s loss at City).

Will this be most competitive Premier League title race ever?

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So, who is going to win the Premier League this season?

That’s right, you haven’t got a solid answer.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

It’s okay. Most people haven’t. And that’s incredibly exciting.

As Jenna Corrado and I discussed in the latest PST Extra (watch by clicking play, above), it is tough to remember any Premier League season in history being this competitive at the top end of the table.

A unique set of circumstances has created what could be described as a “perfect storm” for the 2016-17 campaign.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City all have new managers and are taking time to settle down. The projects at Tottenham and Liverpool are in full flow. Arsenal’s squad is looking better balanced than ever. Chelsea and Liverpool do not have European action to contend with. The midtable teams in the PL are continuing to punch above their weight too.

[ VIDEO: Full PST Extra archive ]

The closeness between the perennial top six is apparent in the early season table too.

Via the, there has never been a closer margin between the team in first place and the team in fifth place after nine games of a season. There is just one point separating first-place Man City with fifth-place Tottenham. In fact, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool all have 20 points and only goal differential separates them. Spurs and Chelsea sit one point behind on 19. Despite some early struggles, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United only sits six points off top spot.

What this all adds up to is parity. Last season we saw Leicester City come from nowhere to win the league. It was remarkable. Unlike anything we’ve ever seen or are likely to see. However, in the end Claudio Ranieri‘s side won it at a canter as they were 10 points clear.

That happens in most PL campaigns.

In 2013-14 the title race went down to the penultimate weekend of the season where technically three teams could win it: Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Apart from that, it’s been pretty much a two-horse race up until the end.

The feeling early on this season is that a multitude of factors are combining which see the top six big boys more evenly matched than ever before.

The stats back it up in terms of the opening quarter of the season. Now let’s see if anybody can make a run and separate themselves from the pack.

Most would bet the team to eventually win it all are Man City as Pep Guardiola‘s methods start to ingrain themselves in City’s players and the potential for another spending spree in January is there. That said, the others can also spend big midseason too and if the margins between them are fine come the midway point, the addition of a few key players could make all the difference.

I’m willing to bet that this will be the most competitive ever season in the history of the PL’s title race. Bring it on.

Premier League Power Rankings: The Reds rise to the top

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The top of the Premier League is as close as it’s ever been with the top five teams separated by just one point.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Chelsea won big in the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge, while Tottenham and Arsenal faltered with draws against Bournemouth and Middlesbrough respectively.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

Check out the latest round of power rankings ahead of Matchday 10.

source: 20 (20) Sunderland: The Black Cats have had a historically bad start to the Premier League season with just two points from nine matches. Things do not get easier this weekend as Sunderland faces Arsenal.
Hull City logo 19 (19) Hull City: The Tigers have lost five straight Premier League matches and have allowed five more goals than any other team in the league this season.  
source: 18 (18) Swansea City: Bob Bradley earned his first point as Swansea City manager with a scoreless draw against Watford. However, Swansea has still only won one match this season and are in the relegation zone.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 17 (17) Middlesbrough: An impressive draw at the Emirates has Middlesbrough just out of the relegation zone on goal difference. A home match against Bournemouth will be another tough test for The Boro. 
source: 16 (14) West HamWest Ham earned its second straight 1-0 win, but needed a Winston Reid goal in stoppage time to sneak past Sunderland.
source: 15 (12) West Bromwich Albion: After falling to Liverpool 2-1 last weekend, the Baggies face another tough test as Manchester City makes a visit to The Hawthrons. West Brom is winless in its last four Premier League matches. 
source: 14 (16) Stoke City: The offense has picked up for the Potters, led by Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brace this past weekend. Another winnable match against Swansea on Monday offers Stoke the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to five matches.
burnley fc crest 13 (15) Burnley: Burnley earned a 2-1 win over Everton thanks to a dramatic 90th-minute winner from Scott Arfield. The Clarets are three points clear of the relegation zone.

12 (9) Crystal Palace: Crystal Palace was clearly the inferior side in the team’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Leicester City. A match against Liverpool on Saturday will make it difficult for Palace to bounce back.
source: 11 (10) Watford: Watford had the chance to earn three points against Swansea City, but could only come away with a point. The Hornets have another chance at three points this weekend against Hull City. 
source: 10 (13) Leicester City: The Foxes looked impressive in their win against Crystal Palace despite having Jamie Vardy on the bench. Leicester will need to continue their good form to get a result against Tottenham this weekend.

9 (7) Manchester United: Manchester United suffered an embarassing defeat against Chelsea and appear to lack an identity under Jose Mourinho. 
source: 8 (11)
Bournemouth: Bournemouth has eight points from its last four matches, including a 6-1 victory over Hull City and a draw against Tottenham in their last two matches. The Cherries have a chance to continue their good form against Middlesbrough this weekend. 
source: 7 (4) Everton: Everton suffered a damaging defeat to Burnley. Although the Toffees are in sixth place, they are now four points off the pace of the top five.
source: 6 (8) Southampton: Southampton is unbeaten in its last five matches and earned an impressive point against Manchester City at the Etihad last weekend. 
source: 5 (5) Tottenham: Spurs are still the lone unbeaten team in the Premier League, but a draw against Bournemouth is not the type of result Tottenham has become accumosted to under Mauricio Pochettino 
source: 4 (2) Arsenal: The Gunners only earned a point at home against Middlesbrough. However, the team is unbeaten in its last eight.
source: 3 (6) Chelsea: Chelsea looks to have found its form under Antino Conte. The Blues dominated Manchester United and Jose Mourinho in a 4-0 victory. After a winless September, Chelsea have won all three of its Premier League matches in October and are just one point off the top of the table.
Logo_Manchester_City 2 (1) Manchester City: Pep Guardiola has gone six games without a win for the first time in his managerial career. Manchester City could only earn a point at home against Southampton last weekend, but the team is still at the top of Premier League on goal difference.
source: 1 (3) Liverpool: The Reds put on a beatuiful display against West Brom at Anfield last weekend. Liverpool is unbeaten in seven matches and is tied at the top of the table with Manchester City and Arsenal at 20 points.

VIDEO: Incredible goal from Graziano Pelle in China

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Graziano Pelle seems to be enjoying his time in the Chinese Super League with 5 goals and two assists in his first 12 games in China.

It’s no wonder he’s having fun when he’s scoring goals like this.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Pelle, 31, joined CSL side Shandong Lenung in July from Premier League side Southampton with plenty of people around the world raising their eyebrows at him.

With reported wages of over $250,000 per week making him the joint-sixth highest paid player in the world, you can understand why he moved to China for the final few years of his career.

Pelle’s decision to head to the Far East also hasn’t harmed his international chances as he continues to get callups to the Italian national team. Although, after refusing to shake the coaches hand during the last international break after he was substituted he may find callups harder to come by in the future.

Putting all of that aside, let’s marvel in the beauty of his fine finish in the CSL on Wednesday against Chongqing Lifan.

From the chest control, to the flick over the defenders head and then the volley, it has to be a contender for FIFA’s Puskas award which is given to the best goal score in world soccer each year.

Graziano, take it away…

Napoli treating Higuain as a traitor after record transfer

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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ROME (AP) A traitor. A mercenary. An ingrate.

Napoli fans have no shortage of insulting words when it comes to describing Gonzalo Higuain, the striker who transferred to rival Juventus for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) after scoring 36 goals last season to break a 66-year-old Serie A record.

So it will be interesting to see what type of reception Higuain gets when he faces his old club for the first time as Napoli visits Juventus on Saturday.

“I’ll greet him like a father does with a son who has really (ticked) him off,” Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri said.

Napoli forward Dries Mertens, one of Higuain’s best friends when they played together, was asked if he would prepare a “trick” for his former teammate to celebrate Halloween.

“No. At most, I’ll give him a slap,” Mertens said with a laugh.

Napoli fans are banned from attending the match for security reasons. That may prevent replicating a scene like when Luis Figo returned to face Barcelona after transferring to Real Madrid in 2000 and a pig’s head was thrown onto the pitch.

Juventus doesn’t visit Napoli until April.

Other strikers have left Napoli at the height of their powers in recent years – namely Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who went to Paris Saint-Germain – but the fact that Higuain moved to the club’s fiercest domestic competitor has sparked more outrage.

With 71 league goals in 104 Serie A matches for Napoli the past three seasons, Higuain’s popularity in Naples was beginning to approach that of Diego Maradona, his fellow Argentine who led Napoli to its only two league titles in 1987 and 1990.

When the transfer was announced in July, Napoli fans publicly threw their Higuain shirts, banners and scarves into the trash.

Outside the San Paolo stadium at Napoli matches this season, vendors sell toilet paper with Higuain’s image printed on it.

“He prefers the money to our love,” read a headline in Naples’ Il Mattino newspaper after the transfer.

The artisans on Naples’ famed San Gregorio Armeno street placed placards in the hands of Higuain’s Christmas figurine that read, “I’m a traitor” and “I’m a mercenary.”

Higuain was lambasted for performing medical exams with Juventus in secret in Madrid.

“Neapolitans were met with betrayal this summer,” Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis said. “(Higuain’s) brother (and manager) told me in February that he wanted to leave because there were no other stars in our squad besides him.”

Higuain attempted to calm the tensions before the season started by thanking Napoli’s fans for supporting him the past three years, but that only seemed to cause more problems.

Ten games into the season, Juventus holds a four-point lead over third-place Napoli.

Higuain enters on a four-match scoring drought in all competitions, while Napoli has struggled to replace him at center forward.

With seven goals in eight matches in all competitions, newly signed Poland forward Arkadiusz Milik was filling in quite nicely until he severely injured his left knee.

Manolo Gabbiadini, who had performed well as a backup to Higuain the past two seasons, struggled to replace Milik, then was suspended for two matches for a reaction foul last weekend.

As a result, Sarri has been relying on a three-man forward line with Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon flanking Mertens. The trio has been labeled the “piccoli” line for the players’ small stature.

“We don’t have a natural striker right now and we’ve got to adapt,” Sarri said.

Besides Higuain’s recent troubles, Juventus has its own injury problems in attack with Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca each out for several weeks.

Higuain started the season with six goals in seven Serie A matches but hasn’t scored since. He struggled again in a 4-1 win over Sampdoria on Wednesday.

“Higuain will score again soon, and by the end of the season he’ll have scored many,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri said.

A goal against Napoli would be difficult for his former fans to digest.

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