Author: Tom Dart

Queens Park Rangers' manager Redknapp reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at Loftus Road in London

Redknapp admits QPR are relegated

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Harry Redknapp’s an optimistic guy, but even the QPR manager admits that his side’s dreams of a miraculous escape from relegation are over after a 2-0 home defeat today by fellow Premier League strugglers, Stoke City.

“It looks in tatters doesn’t it? But we’ve got to try to win a game or two. We’ve got to go to Reading next week and try to win. We’ve got to keep going,” Redknapp told the BBC.

QPR are ten points behind fourth-bottom Aston Villa with four games to play. “It looks almost impossible,” he added. In the unlikely event that Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday, both QPR and the bottom club, Reading, will officially be playing second-level soccer next season. Reading host QPR a week tomorrow.

Reading and Wigan also lost today, so all three clubs in the Premier League danger area tasted defeat.

Redknapp, formerly in charge of West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham and a rumored England managerial candidate not so long ago, doesn’t exactly sound  thrilled with the caliber of the roster he inherited from Mark Hughes last November. “People say this team will come straight back up – that’s rubbish. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said, adding that he would not quit: “What am I going to do, play golf every day?”

Seen as a savior after turning round Tottenham in 2008-09 and keeping little Portsmouth in the Premier League, Redknapp has won only four of his 21 league games in charge. And then there was the tabloid story about QPR’s players treating a warm-weather training trip to Dubai as if it was a bachelor party. QPR did beat west London neighbors Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on January 2. But in truth, any fanciful notions the club had about mounting an escape for the ages were gone when Wigan scored from a last-minute free kick to snatch a 1-1 draw two weeks ago. That was the sort of demoralizing blow that is a momentum-killer.

What now for a club with a very recent history of acute financial and ownership turmoil? Their owner since 2011, Malaysian low-cost airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, is a rich man. And he might have to be. Fernandes said this week that a recent $23m loan the club have taken out is to be put towards a new stadium, not to ease any short-term money problems.

But QPR are a reported $140m in debt and there is no doubt that the wage bill is far beyond what a club with an aging 18,000-capacity home could normally support, despite all that lovely broadcast rights lucre that keeps flowing the league’s way in ever-increasing amounts.

Wanting the club to become a serious Premier League presence after their first year in the top-flight since 1995-96 ended in a panicky last-day survival, Fernandes threw money at the roster. Despite his best intentions, he ultimately fostered the conditions for the same sort of managerial instability, profligate spending and ridiculous player turnover that has previously proved catastrophic for other Icarus-like Premier League clubs who chased the dream down the years.

According to, QPR have signed 28 players plus two loanees since the summer of 2011. Well-known, expensive names among them, with a decent pedigree: Ji-Sung Park, Bobby Zamora, Christopher Samba, Loic Remy. Former West Ham and England goalkeeper Rob Green arrived last July – then was replaced after three games when QPR suddenly signed the Brazil international and Champions League winner, Julio Cesar, from Inter Milan.

We’ll wait to see just how disastrous QPR’s lavish spending will prove for the club. Much may depend on how easy it is to offload the high-earning, low-achieving veterans in the close-season. Meanwhile, little Southampton, Norwich and Swansea are all going to stay up – comfortably and without breaking the bank. And how many of their players could the average fan name?



Premier League rapid results round-up

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League
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It was a busy day in England as – unusually – all seven Saturday fixtures kicked off at the same time.

Fulham 0 Arsenal 1: With fellow top-four wannabes Chelsea and Tottenham not in action until tomorrow, Arsenal moved into third place but were largely unimpressive against opponents reduced to ten men in the twelfth minute when Steve Sidwell was red-carded for a foul on Mikel Arteta. Per Mertesacker’s first-half header was the difference but Olivier Giroud was dismissed late on.

Norwich 2 Reading 1: Visiting goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was terrific against Liverpool last week but less good today as Norwich scored twice in 90 seconds to take a giant stride towards survival and all but seal Reading’s relegation. Ryan Bennett and Elliott Bennett scored early in the second half, with Garath McCleary replying for Reading in the final twenty minutes.

QPR 0 Stoke 2: Only mathematical pedants wouldn’t stick a fork in Harry Redknapp’s team now. They’re ten points from safety with four games left and will be down if Aston Villa win on Monday. QPR old boy Peter Crouch gave the out-of-form visitors a 42nd-minute lead and Jon Walters added a penalty kick in the second half. It was a huge win for Stoke and under-pressure manager Tony Pulis, lifting them to six points clear of the drop zone.

Sunderland 1 Everton 0: A week after a stunning 3-0 win over rivals Newcastle, Paolo Di Canio’s first home game as Sunderland manager brought another vital victory (pictured). It was a scrappy match settled by a fine dribble and low shot from Stephane Sessegnon, capitalizing on a rare misplaced pass from Leighton Baines.  Defeat leaves a huge dent in Everton’s prospects of a top-four finish.

Swansea 0 Southampton 0: Two clubs effectively playing out the season in cosy mid-table security shared the points at the Liberty Stadium. The visitors defended well and sit twelfth, eight points clear of the bottom three. Swansea were indebted to goalkeeper Michel Vorm for a couple of good saves. They’re ninth in the standings.

West Brom 1 Newcastle 1: With Stoke, Norwich and Sunderland winning, Alan Pardew’s team slipped to a stressful 16th despite what in other circumstances might have seemed a solid draw at The Hawthorns. Yoan Gouffran’s early header gave Newcastle the lead and they had chances to add to it before Billy Jones responded for the home side in the  64th minute.

West Ham 2 Wigan 0: The London club can start planning for next season with confidence: this win lifted them to tenth place, eleven points above today’s opponents. Wigan remain three points adrift of safety in the relegation zone, though they have a game in hand on rivals. A cross-shot from Matt Jarvis midway through the first period and a late Kevin Nolan volley made Wigan pay for missed opportunities.

Theo Walcott doubts Tottenham can handle pressure

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League

You can tell Theo Walcott loves Arsenal. With his future under intense scrutiny, he signed a new contract rather than follow the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri out the door. And now he’s questioned the desire of the club’s bitter north London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 on March 4 to go third in the Premier League, seven points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal. Now? They came into this weekend in fifth, two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal. Ouch. While Arsene Wenger’s team has found its form when it matters most, Tottenham are, as usual, swooning in the springtime. And tomorrow they have to play Manchester City.

Last season, Spurs even blew a 13-point lead over their great rivals and finished outside the top four, condemning them to the purgatory of the Europa League with fond memories still fresh of the club’s thrilling debut Champions League campaign in 2010-11, which included games against Inter Milan, A.C. Milan and Real Madrid.

Injuries to Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe haven’t helped, making the attack over-reliant on the unreliable Emmanuel Adebayor. But Walcott reckons the problem might be psychological.

“I think because we’ve had the experience of doing it at the death and Tottenham have a history of phasing out, we have the upper-hand, definitely, the experience of coping with the pressure of it,” he told The Times.

“Losing at their place was obviously a blow, but we’ve bounced back from that and when you’ve expected them to win and they don’t, that has to make you wonder about how much they want it.”

Not that you’d blame Tottenham if the club does indeed have a mental block about finishing above their neighbors from four miles down the road. You want omens? We’ve got omens.

In theory, they’re similar-sized clubs with comparable pedigree, resources, fanbases and talent. Yet Tottenham haven’t finished above Arsenal since 1995. It doesn’t look like there’s room for both London clubs in next season’s Champions League, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea expected to comprise the top three. And Wenger’s side hasn’t finished outside the Premier League’s top four since 1995-96.



Rafa Benitez returns to a very different Liverpool

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Now seems like  a good moment to assess Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge of Liverpool.

It’s his 50th game as manager tomorrow as the club hosts Chelsea – whose interim manager is Rafael Benitez, the Spaniard adored by Liverpool fans for a six-year spell that brought the Champions League in 2005 and second place in the Premier League in 2008-09. His family still live near Liverpool.

Since many Chelsea fans detest Benitez, he can expect a much better reception from opposition supporters than from his own club’s traveling fans at Anfield. Benitez brought Xabi Alonso and a then-useful Fernando Torres to Liverpool and finishing as runner-up to Manchester United was a credible achievement for a club that has not won the English league title since 1989-90. Their impressive total of 86 points might have brought the championship trophy in another, less competitive season.

After four successive top-four finishes under Benitez between 2006 and 2009, Liverpool are about to miss out on the Champions League for the fourth year in a row. They ended up eighth in the Premier League standings under Kenny Dalglish’s management last year and are currently seventh under Rodgers, ten points adrift of Arsenal, in fourth.

Rodgers has been forced to slash the wage bill by the club’s American owners after heavy transfer spending on the likes of Andy Carroll failed to pay off. The former Swansea manager says the club are a work in progress.

“I am very hopeful we can meet the challenge going forward and we can try to be a consistent team to get into those top four places,” he told reporters.

But it is a big ask and you only have to look at Chelsea themselves. They finished sixth in the league last season and they had a net spend of over [$108m] in the summer in order to try to get back into that top four… It is an ongoing process. I’ve signed here for three years and I would hope from the first day I came in until the final day I leave we will be in a better position. But I don’t think you can put a timeline on it. Without that lightning bolt of investment you have to build and coach your way towards it and mould the team. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen overnight but I’m not crying for time, it is just the reality of the club.”

Two points behind last year’s tally of 52 points with five fixtures remaining, Rodgers is likely to surpass the mediocre total that contributed to Dalglish’s exit. But Liverpool trail low-budget neighbors Everton: never a good look in the red sector of the city. And Rodgers has spent money on transfers. Some $70-0dd million, much of it on former Swansea players Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, whose impact is debatable. Without Steven Gerrard’s class and Luis Suarez’s goals, Liverpool would probably be closer to the relegation zone than the European qualification places.

It’s rare these days that a manager of a high-profile club gets to write off an entire season as a transition period. Owners and fans want quick results, even during a comprehensive roster overhaul. Rodgers may argue the rebuild will take every minute of those three years, and he may be right. But he’ll have to mount a more sustained and serious challenge for the top four next season.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to show patience

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Frank Lampard has a radical idea for Chelsea’s trigger-happy hierarchy: give the next manager some time.

The Premier League club has been speed-dating coaches since Jose Mourinho left Stamford Bridge in September, 2007. Current interim boss Rafael Benitez is the seventh man to follow the Portuguese – and Benitez is out at the end of the season. He replaced Roberto Di Matteo last November, only six months after the Italian brought the club its first Champions League title. Speculation has it that Mourinho, presently at Real Madrid, is a candidate to make a dramatic return to London.

“Whatever the situation, it would be nice if a manager could come in and have a good crack at some consistency and stay in the job. We all understand we’ve had some interim managers and the fans and the club would probably be happier if we could get a manager who could stay for more than half a season, or for some period of time,” Lampard told reporters yesterday.

The 34-year-old midfielder weighed his words carefully – of course, he wasn’t about to deliver a stinging rebuke directly to owner Roman Abramovich, the decision-maker. Especially when the future of the possible MLS target remains uncertain despite yet another impressive season that leaves him two goals behind Bobby Tambling’s club record of 202.

Lampard has been a Chelsea player since 2001, a model of consistency and stability, but he is out of contract in the summer and the club seems uninterested in opening discussions before the end of the season. He has scored 12 Premier League goals in 2012-13 despite starting only 18 games. The fans would love him to stay, but like John Terry, the one-time mainstay is slowly being eased out of the line-up as Chelsea build around younger, faster players.

“The manager has changed the team around. I’ve only played a few games since [scoring against] West Ham [on March 17] and the manager put me in a deeper role,” Lampard said. So deep he’s often not even on the pitch: Benitez left him out of the high-profile FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City last Sunday. But should Mourinho come back to Chelsea, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t want Lampard to stay, since he was such a crucial part of the club’s Premier League title-winning teams in 2005 and 2006.

Chelsea face Liverpool at Anfield tomorrow – it’s a return to his old club for Benitez, who spent six  years on Merseyside and won the Champions League in 2005, his first season there.