With the Premier League title race done and dusted, the fight for relegation will get even more focus than usual from now until the end of the season.
With QPR and Reading virtually relegated, barring a miracle for either side, who will join them in the Championship next season?
The side who currently lie in the relegation zone are Wigan. They are known for their heroic end-of-season form, however, and do have two games in hand on those above them. Although the FA Cup final against Manchester City could act as a distraction, they have a little too much quality to go down.
Aston Villa are just outside the bottom three, and one week they leave you impressed after a great win but then they go and draw with Fulham in a game they had to be winning. They are a very young side lacking in experience, which could work against them when the really vital games arrive in the last two or three games. What they would give to have captain Stilian Petrov fit and bossing the midfield. You feel it could go right up to the final day with Paul Lambert’s side.
Stoke are level on points with Villa, and they are unquestionably the most out of form side in the Premier League. Since Christmas they have got less points than anyone, and coach Tony Pulis is under huge pressure now. Their home form used to win them so many points, but the Britannia Stadium is not the fortress it once was. If they don’t start scoring soon and playing more positively away from home, they will be relegated.
Sunderland and Norwich are the only other two sides in danger if going down. Paolo Di Canio’s arrival at Sunderland has given them a massive boost, and their 3-0 derby win over Newcastle was huge. You feel that they have momentum in their favour and that they will be safe. Norwich have the ability to grind out important wins at home, and there’s just a few too many sides below them for them to get sucked into the bottom three.
At the moment it looks like Aston Villa and Stoke will be the ones battling it out for safety, with Stoke the one’s seriously lacking confidence. If Wigan lose their games in hand, however, they will be favourites to join QPR and Reading, but they just have enough in their ranks to avoid the drop for yet another season.
Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)
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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.
That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.
One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.
[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]
Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.
Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.
Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:
Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.
I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.
Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.
I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.
I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.