Swansea, Bradford City turn England’s League Cup on its head

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Are you ready for a Swansea City-Bradford City meeting at Wembley? We’re not there yet, but after the last two day’s League Cup results, the matchup looks probable. Bradford City took a 3-1 lead out of Tuesday’s leg one with Aston Villa while Swans pulled of a 2-0 upset at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. With both semifinals at their halfway marks, the underdogs are on course to complete their improbable runs.

The stunning thing about fourth-tier Bradford City was not that they took a two-goal lead out of the first leg. They were the better side. Aston Villa is a Premier League team which, while struggling at the top level, should have no problem at least holding their ground over an initial 90 minutes.

Yet the same Villa we’ve seen try to play themselves into the Championship showed up on Tuesday. Goals by Nahki Wells and Rory McArdle had Bradford up two after 77 minutes, and while an Andres Wiemann goal seemed to salvage a workable road deficit, Carl McHugh’s late tally restored Bradford’s 3-1 lead.

As embarrassing as the result is, it’s not unworkable. Bradford are still a League Two side, albeit a decent one. Aston Villa are still a far superior Premier League side, albeit a bad one. Villa should be able to post a lopsided result in their home leg, but having won only once in their last six (beating a Championship side in the FA Cup), it’s foolish to assume too much from Paul Lambert’s team.

We’re getting to the point where Villa may have to make a change. If Paul Lambert can’t get his team past a League Two side, it doesn’t speak well for his ability to accomplish the ultimate goal: Surviving the Premier League.

Yet this team may have gone through too many coaching changes since Martin O’Neill left at the beginning of the 2010-11 season. Kevin MacDonald, Gerard Houllier, Gary McAllister, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert – I’m including the caretakers just to underscore how many different faces players like Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ciaran Clark have had to take instructions from over the last two-plus years. Add in O’Neill (who was still around in the fall of `10) and that’s six different men prodding the underachieving squad. Will adding a seventh name to the list really solve the problem?

Take Chelsea, for example. As you may have heard (ad nauseam over the past three months), the European champions changed managers earlier this season. Out went Roberto Di Matteo, himself a mid-season replacement the previous season, and in came Rafa Benítez.

Results have been mixed. While the Chelsea ended 2012 on a four-game winning streak, they began the year with a home loss to QPR. After an impressive FA Cup win at Southampton this weekend, the Blues lost at home today, 2-0 to Swansea City.

Chelsea looked very good in the first half but still went into intermission down a goal after a defensive mistake by Branislav Ivanovic allowed Michu to put Swans in front. In the second half, another Ivanovic mistake let Danny Graham double Swans’ lead, Swansea taking a 2-0 win out of Stamford Bridge.

It was a strange game because Chelsea didn’t play that bad, particularly after Demba Ba came on for Fernando Torres. He had a goal waved off for offsides and drew a yellow card when he was judged to have drove when trying to round the keeper. But he was influential, and Chelsea were close to getting on the board.

Yet with a team that has Chelsea’s talents, there shouldn’t be the need for asterisks – the rationalizing for poor results in terms of a progress this group should never have had to make. This inconsistent world they inhabit under Rafa Benítez is inexplicable. Whatever Chelsea is doing to succeed against Aston Villa and Southampton needs to be harnessed and implemented against QPR and Swansea.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. Chelsea’s not the first inconsistent team ever, but the challenge remains the same. How does Benítez get them to be good Chelsea more often?

He doesn’t know. He’s only been on the job a couple of months. Perhaps he’ll eventually find out, but by the time he does, his team may be out of the League Cup and further mired in a fight for a Champions League spot.

There’s also the chance they’ll be headed to Wembley. When Chelsea goes to the Liberty Stadium for their second leg, they may play like the team that crushed Saints at St. Marys. And if they do, they’ll eliminate Swansea, move on to the final, and hope Dr. Hyde shows up against Bradford (or Villa).

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.