Niklas Bendtner

Photo by Trond Tandberg/Getty Images

Former Denmark forward apologizes for Copenhagen episode

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OSLO, Norway (AP) Former Denmark international Niklas Bendtner has apologized for an episode over the weekend in which a cab driver in Copenhagen reportedly broke his jaw.

The Rosenborg forward says he had been “involved in a very unpleasant situation at around 2 a.m. Sunday. I am of course extremely sorry about that the outcome.”

[ MORE: USMNT-Mexico preview ]

Bendtner’s lawyer told Danish media that his client is innocent of any wrongdoing. The cab company says it has handed a video of the episode over to the police.

Bendtner’s girlfriend said on Instagram that the player had acted in self-defense after a quarrel over the fare.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Three things we learned from the USA’s late defeat vs. Denmark

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On Wednesday the U.S. suffered a late loss in Aarhus against Denmark after yet another second half collapse.

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s side went down 3-2, despite leading with less than 10 minutes to go, and after giving plenty of youngsters a chance to impress, the USMNT are very much still a work in progress as Niklas Bendtner bagged a hat trick.

[ RELATED: Recap – Denmark 3-2 USA ]

Here’s three things we learned as Klinsmann’s men continue to fine tune things before the Gold Cup this summer.

Another friendly, another second half collapse

Okay, so this trend is getting very worrying now. Since the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. has been outscored 11-1 in the second half of games and are failing to shut games out time and time again with. 10 of the 14 goals the U.S. has conceded since the World Cup have come in the 60th minute or later of games and on Wednesday a new set of defenders, albeit it largely inexperienced at the international level, failed to close out a Danish side largely going through the motions ahead of their Euro 2016 qualifier next week, but still able to dominate play.

Michael Orozco did okay at center back, but he was the pick of the bunch as Timmy Chandler and Greg Garza had days to forget at full back, while John Brooks put in a shaky display at center back as Denmark’s hat trick hero Niklas Bendtner gave him the runaround. Sure, these guys need experience, but the fact the the U.S. could not see out a 2-1 lead in the final 10 minutes is distressing. Klinsmann, as you can see in the Tweet above, believes his side is defending well. Many would argue that the U.S. has not defended well since before the World Cup as the sit back, contain and then counter approach just isn’t working. Defensively, the likes of Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez must be feeling pretty safe with their place in the upcoming squads. But the bigger issue here is that the U.S. failed to possess the ball sufficiently and the only time they really put pressure on Denmark was a five minute spell before and after they went 2-1 up in the 70th minute.

In past friendlies in October and November, a hangover from the World Cup was blamed. In February, Klinsmann blamed fitness issues for the USA’s recent downturn. Surely fitness levels aren’t to blame this time, as the mentality of the U.S. side will be called into question after another late collapse.

source: Getty Images
The U.S. were run ragged by Denmark’s three-man central midfield.

4-4-2 fails as Danes outnumber U.S. in midfield

The U.S. got dominated in midfield in Aarhus, as Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya barely got on the ball in the first half. Bradley buzzed around and tried to get the U.S. going, but the Danes had Kvist, Eriksen and Poulsen who are all comfortable on the ball and dictated the tempo.

Klinsmann refrained from switching to a 4-3-3 or a diamond in midfield but brought in Alfredo Morales for Bedoya at half time. Morales had a bit of a nightmare, giving the ball away three times within his first five minutes on the pitch and although his energy allowed Bradley to push up and pressure the Danish midfield high for moments in the second half, it was all too fleeting. With so much chopping and changing in friendly matches before the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying cycles, we will likely see an entirely different midfield against Switzerland next Tuesday. Danny Williams could start in the holding role, as there’s a spot up for grabs in the center following Klinsmann’s decision to push Jermaine Jones back into defense. If the personnel isn’t sorted, one thing needs to be: what formation is best for the USA? Right now, 4-4-2 doesn’t seem to fit the needs of the players at JK’s disposal and a 4-3-3 system would be advisable moving forward. But, this is the perfect time for Klinsmann and his staff to experiment before this summer.

Altidore’s rich vein of form continues

Despite all of the distress around youngsters struggling in defense and mental lapses late in games, Jozy Altidore is continuing his rich vein of form for the U.S. Against Denmark he lashed home the opening goal at the back post in the 19th minute and set up Aron Johannsson to put the USA ahead after an intelligent run following Michael Bradley’s (who, by the way, looked so much better in a deep-lying role in central midfield) delightful chipped pass.

Altidore now has 27 goals in 78 games for the USA, but he is becoming a forlorn figure up top. The only saving grace is that his teammate at Toronto FC, Bradley, now appears to be playing in his preferred role for the USMNT and can provide him chances to score on a plate. For the last 18 months at Sunderland, Altidore hasn’t had that. His form for the U.S. national team (four goals in his last six matches) was one of the only bright spots to take from a drab display in the rain in Denmark.

Premier League Playback: Man Utd’s revival begins, AVB gone, Arsenal’s bad luck

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LIFE AFTER VAN PERSIE… THERE’S HOPE FOR UNITED

In the midst of Manchester United’s run of no wins in four Premier League games, the news earlier this week that talismanic striker Robin van Persie is out injured for over a month and may miss eight games added to the misery.

But in United’s dominant 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday, several stunning performances proved there may be life after RVP (those strands of dyed jet-black hair won’t hide the wrinkles, Robin) as David Moyes’ men produced an attacking masterclass to potentially reignite their campaign. Moyes has been under-fire for most of this season but managed to crack plenty of smiles in his post-game conference as Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj tore Villa’s defense apart with their desire, speed and skill in a three-pronged assault that left Villa’s young defense in ruins. Yet Moyes wasn’t happy with the way his youngest pretender, Januzaj, was treated as several late tackles flew in.

It’s been a reoccurring theme.

“In every game recently, I don’t know how many tackles have been on Januzaj but the last two, three games that’s why I’ve been annoyed with the fourth officials. Before you know it, the boy will get a sore one because he’s definitely not getting protected by the officials. It’s terrible what they’re allowed to do at the moment because this boy’s an incredible talent. The opposition are queuing up and taking turns at who’s going to have a kick at him next. But Adnan will just get up, walk away and get on with it, he’s a great lad. That’s maybe one of his biggest attributes apart from his outstanding ability, he will just get up and walk away and say ‘go on then, kick me again if you want, I’ll get up again.’” – David Moyes on Januzaj being targeted.

Aside for being worried about his starlet being physically assaulted in most games, Moyes has plenty to be happy about.

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Click to enlarge – Welbeck is about to enter the box, as his desire to get to the ball first seems him bag a crucial second goal for United. Note: Rooney on the edge and Januzaj slashing in from the left flank.

He spoke about his delight in seeing Welbeck get back on the score sheet, as the United forward grabbed his first PL goals since the opening day of the season with two predatory strikes in the box. Welbeck, 23, showed his vast hunger and desire to finish both off, just look at the image on the left as Valencia (who was outstanding on the wing) prepared to cross the ball in for Welbeck’s second goal. From that position, you see how much ground the England international has to make up but he got to the ball first, tellingly ahead of his teammate Januzaj, who was always extremely hungry and eager to attack. The Belgian born winger was ready to prove a point all afternoon as his terrific header, which cannoned off the post to give Welbeck his first goal, proved.

Plus his relentless running down the left saw his slight frame breeze past players as if they weren’t there, with the 18-year-olds pace a real asset.

Moyes mentioned that you have to “show what you can do” when opportunities arise.

Welbeck, Januzaj and Valencia all did that with RVP and Javier Hernandez on the sidelines. The pressure looked off for the Red Devils as the feel-good factor returned following a horrid month in which their last PL win came on Nov. 10 against Arsenal. They proved that their attacking juggernaut can be in full flow without being directed by RVP and that bodes well for the rest of the season. Also telling is that United have scored 17 away from home but just eight at home… Are the shackles loosened when they’re away from the 75,000 home fans scrutinizing their every move at Old Trafford maybe?

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Click to enlarge – My prematch thoughts on United were answered with resounding displays from Januzaj, Welbeck and Valencia

Before Sunday’s game as I sipped on a cup of coffee in the press box under the grey clouds forming above Birmingham, I circled Welbeck, Januzaj and Valencia’s names on my team sheet, linked them together and put a question mark next to them… Honest. Look at the picture on the right. I did that because I was unimpressed with them so far, they had to show everyone they had the desire to be winners.

They did that. And some.

Those three were the shinning lights, along with Wayne Rooney, in a dazzling display in the damp drizzle at Villa Park. United’s new-look attacking trio with Rooney orchestrating things from a deep-lying role offers cause for optimism amongst United’s fans who chanted “we are staying up” with heavy irony when the Red Devils went ahead. They’ve had their struggles this season, that’s been well documented. But with a run of three very winnable games coming up in the league (against West Ham, Hull and Norwich) the likes of Darren Fletcher returning from a long-term illness to rapturous applause in the second half and even the much-maligned Tom Cleverley getting a goal and playing well, there’s plenty to be cheerful for this Christmas at Old Trafford.

Just ignore the fact that they’re in 8th place and 10 points behind leaders Arsenal. The way this PL season’s going, United will be back top of the table by the end of January…

If they keep attacking like they did against Villa, they have every chance.

Premier League Schedule – Week 16

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd Recap and watch here
Cardiff 1-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Everton 4-1 Fulham Recap and watch here
Hull City 0-0 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Man City 6-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here

HIGH-LINE, TRANSFER MEDDLING SEES AVB’S TIME TICKING

Number one, Tottenham is in trouble. Number two, so is Andre Villas-Boas.

UPDATE: Andre Villas-Boas has been sacked as Spurs’ manager. But the rest still applies…

After seeing his side collapse once again to a team full of attacking creativity and nous, AVB’s time at Tottenham Hotspur has now run out as Spurs were humiliated 5-0 by Liverpool at White Hart Lane. Sad fact is, it could’ve been more.

Do Spurs work on defending during the week at the training ground? It doesn’t seem like it. To be fair they had Ettiene Capoue, usually a central midfielder, playing at center back and he looked all at sea as he pushed up high and Tottenham kept a criminally high-line against one of the deadliest strikers in world soccer Luis Suarez, who made them pay with two goals and had a hand in the others. The defending was extremely poor and it shows Spurs have got insufficient cover at the back due to injuries.

That brings me to my next point.

When AVB and Franco Baldini ‘masterminded’ one of the biggest roster reconstructions in PL history over the summer, many (including yours truly) were hailing Tottenham’s manager and the Sporting Director as geniuses for the way they worked the market and brought in eight top-class players for one, when they sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for approximately $132 million.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Baldini and AVB forget that more defenders were needed and just went out and bought a ton of midfielders who were either industrious wide players or industrious central guys. They were all clones of each other. Now, when Spurs are looking for a change and fresh impetus off the bench, the players they bring on all do the same thing. New guys Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Capoue are the same as Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Mousa Dembele and Lewis Holtby. Did nobody think of that?

Asked of the transfer policy after the game and if he had made the signings or was given the players by Baldini, AVB gave a strange answer as he mumbled through his answer and backed the players, completely dodging the issue.

The fact that his side has had their pants pulled down and their backsides smacked twice in the last five PL games won’t help his cause, as the Portuguese managers’ future is hanging in the balance at Spurs.

He was fired less than 24 hours after the humbling loss. Nobody was surprised.

Liverpool were fantastic and look like title-contenders, let alone settling for a top four finish. Tottenham are a million miles away from that and AVB is history.

Note: Steve Clarke lost his job as manager of West Bromwich Albion after their defeat to Cardiff on Saturday. Just nine wins in 41 games in charge isn’t a great return but many thought the sacking was harsh. Five managers and counting in this season sack race, so far…

ARSENAL HARD DONE BY TO LOSE 6-3? PERHAPS…

Okay, Manchester City were sublime going forward and in the grand scheme of things deserved all three points in their brilliant display of finishing when beating Arsenal 6-3 on Saturday at the Eithad. But it all could’ve been so different if a few pivotal calls would’ve gone Arsenal’s way.

In the first half two clear offside calls were somehow flagged as Nacho Monreal and Theo Walcott raced through on goal. Both, more than likely, would’ve resulted in goals for Arsenal. In the second half Olivier Giroud was adjudged to be offside as a telling cross approached him in the box. Like the other decisions, replays showed he wasn’t offside.

And finally, to cap it all off, Niklas Bendtner’s goal late in the game was ruled out when he was clearly onside to infuriate Arsenal’s fans, players (so much so that Jack Wilshere is facing a ban as he flipped the bird) and their manager.

Do they have a point? City were incredibly good going forward but Alvaro Negredo did stray into an offside position for his goal. Sooo, if we add those mistake by officials up, Arsenal win 7-6 or 6-5… There’s a small margin for error in this game and the officials are just as capable as the players for some results. Believe me, I’m not taking anything away from City for winning this game. I’m just chucking the evidence out there. Regardless, Wenger wasn’t happy with the defending and Mesut Ozil is in hot water after refusing to go and applaud Arsenal’s fans despite captain and fellow countryman Per Mertesacker telling him to.

THROWING PUNCHES AND PULLING TRICKS

We’ve talked about some pretty heavy stuff in playback this week, so it’s time to tone things down.

Have you ever seen a ref take a dive? That’s right folks, it happened.

First up, we all love the referees (deep down) and realize the game couldn’t happen without them. Moussa Sissoko’s right fist struck poor Mike Jones with an accidental uppercut to his nose from Newcastle’s French attacker with he was involved in ‘handbags’ with Saints’ ‘keeper Paolo Gaazaniga. In the same game, Newcastle and Southampton’s benches cleared as a huge scuffle broke out between the coaching staffs just after Jones had his nose reattached and plugged up to continue. What a crazy ending to that game at St. James Park. Enjoy, or grimace, as you watch it all unfold above.

Finishing on another light note, don’t adjust your displays when looking at the image below. Yes, Peter Whittingham and Peter Odemwingie do both look like they’re about to strike the free kick at the same time, one with his left foot and the other with his right, in Cardiff’s 1-0 win over West Brom on Saturday.

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Click to enlarge – who took this free kick… Whittingham or Odemwingie?

Can you work out which players actually hit the ball? Bizarre.

I’ve seen this before and if it comes off, it utterly bamboozles the ‘keeper and could be a trick we see deployed more often as the season goes on. Hilarious, devious and downright genius.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at the PL weekend gone by.

Late Lewandowski winner sees Borussia Dortmund past Arsenal

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Two slips bookending an otherwise solid performance undid Arsenal on Tuesday, the new ambition of Arsène Wenger’s side handed a harsh reminder from one of last year’s finalists. An Aaron Ramsey error, leading to a 16th minute goal, and pristine execution on a 82nd minute counter saw visiting Borussia Dortmund take full points from the Emirates, their 2-1 win claiming a valuable road win in UEFA Champions League’s toughest group.

The result, along with Napoli’s 2-1 win in Marseille, leave three teams tied at the top of Group F, though perhaps more importantly, Borussia Dortmund becomes the first of the trio to draw blood on the road. With home games remaining against Arsenal and Napoli, BVB have the inside track to first place in the group, leaving Arsenal hoping to reclaim lost points two weeks from now in Dortmund.

It took Arsenal 16 minutes and Ramsey mistake’s to wake up, a first quarter-hour spent second best to their visitors capped by a goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ramsey, foolishly trying to dribble through Borussia Dortmund’s attackers at the edge of his own penalty area, created the first goal, a turnover forced by Marco Reus helping Robert Lewandowski set up his teammate’s finish into the right of goal.

With the lead, Dortmund receded back into their more comfortable posture. Instead of orchestrating the match, they reacted to it, allowing Arsenal to come into the game. By the half hour mark, the Gunners looked like their normal selves, even if they were still chasing a goal.

source: Reuters
Olivier Giroud, celebrating his goal on Tuesday, pulled back Borussia Dortmund’s early lead. (Photo: Reuters.)

That goal was pulled back just before halftime, in no small part because of Dortmund’s lax defending. With Arsenal in possession at the edge of their attacking third, a ball played wide to the oncoming Bacary Sagna gave the Arsenal right back all the time in the world to put a ball right inside the six-yard box. Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller came for the ball but positioned himself to take it on the bounce, leaving his net open as Olivier Giroud got inside Neven Subotic and half-volleyed Arsenal’s equalizer home.

Coming out of halftime, Dortmund tried to resume the presence they had at the match’s onset, though they found more resistance. Arsenal had woken up, and while Dortmund were enjoying more possession then they had over the first half’s final 15 minutes, they weren’t generating additional chances. Arsenal still looked the slightly better hide, coming close to a winner when substitute Santi Cazorla hit the woodwork.

In the last quarter-hour Arsenal started pushing for their winner, an impertinence for which they’d pay. One 82nd minute dash down the right from Jakub Blaszczykowski, one sublime far post cross, and an exquisitely finished volley from Lewandowski gave Dortmund their second lead of the match. The counter-attacking posture that seemed ill-advised in the first half paid off in the second, taking advantage of Arsenal’s pursuit and a poor decision from Kieran Gibbs to snatch the game-winning goal.

source: Reuters
Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyeng celebrate in front of Borussia Dortmund’s fans after Tuesday’s game-winning goal. (Photo: Reuters.)

Had Arsenal not been so slow out of the gate, the match may have gone the other way, a difficult caveat to cling to given the Gunners’ opportunities to win this match. That they didn’t tells of their relative strength in this season of resurgence. Like other recent leaders in England, they’ve found Champions League to be a much higher level, and while Arsène Wenger’s team may yet do damage in this year’s tournament, for one night they allowed their fate to get away from them. Borussia Dortmund, despite having lost at Napoli in match one, is now in control of their group stage fate.

That they reclaimed it without three of their normal starters was telling, though we’ve long gotten used to the absences of Ilkay Gündogen and Lukasz Piszczek. With the likes of Lewandowski and Mkhitarayan, one counterattack or opponent’s slip at the edge of the penalty area is all BVB need. More than any other team in Europe, they’ve become accustomed to making the most of those situations.

Wenger called it yesterday, in his pre-match press conference. What separates Dortmund is their efficiency; their quality. Often content with few chances, their execution makes offsets their willingness to cede control. As Arsenal managed the body of the match, they may have forgotten: Dortmund’s as dangerous controlling the match as they are when they’re being controlled.

Perhaps Arsenal, just now coming to rips with renewed ambitions, needed to be reminded of the difference between Premier League quality and Champions League excellence. Dortmund provided that tonight.

Tuesday’s lineups:

ARSENAL: Wojciech Szczesny; Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta; Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere; Olivier Giroud

Substitutes: Serge Gnabry, Niklas Bendtner, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Vermaelen, Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal

BORUSSIA DORTMUND: Roman Weidenfeller; Kevin Großkreutz, Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer; Sven Bender, Nuri Shain; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Robert Lewandowski

Substitutes: Jonas Hofmann, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Oliver Kirch, Erik Durm, Mitchell Langerak, Julian Schieber

Manchester City title favorites, Arsenal surging – View from the Booth, with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White talks about Tottenham vs. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal’s title credentials and much more Premier League news.

(MORE: View from the Booth Archive)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this weekend on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

Let’s get to it.

Are you still in shock after Manchester City comprehensively dismantled Manchester United? And do you think Manuel Pellegrini’s side can sustain that level of play throughout the season?

The thought crossed my mind after 50 minutes, when Samir Nasri put City 4-0 up, that we might see the sort of seismic, once in a generation result that Manchester United achieved themselves in thrashing Arsenal 8-2 a couple of seasons ago. City were tearing United apart and had achieved a level of performance beyond anything we’ve seen in the Premier League so far this season. To United’s (and Wayne Rooney’s) great credit, they displayed defiance in the face of humiliation and great pride in playing for such a successful and significant club. In addition however, Yaya Toure took a bit of a breather in the center of the park after his hitherto awesome display, which did let United off the hook.

Vincent Kompany was incredible. An absolute rock at the back. Did you see his lung busting run into the United penalty area before Navas crossed for Nasri’s goal? It distracted me on the call, and clearly upset the United defense. It was an incredible display of desire and athleticism, and it was a finger in the eye to the convention of center backs knowing their place.

source: Reuters
Can Manuel Pellegrini bring Premier League success to the Etihad?

I could reel off a list of City names who excelled, but to Kompany and Toure I would add Aguero, Kolorov, Navas and Negredo as those having stupendous games.

Can they keep it up? They won’t play like that every week that’s for sure. I have a theory that teams who carry a genuine threat in wide areas (pace, guile, touchline hugging wingers) have a wonderful chance of success this season, as the trend seems to be to play more narrow in the attacking third of the pitch, which is clogging up the space. City have width (Navas is fantastic) and that is part of the reason they have to be favorites to regain their Premier League title this season.

With Arsenal now winning eight on the bounce in all competitions since that opening day loss to Aston Villa, are they the title favorites? That vibe has started to gather momentum in the past few days, but do you expect that game at Swansea to be their biggest test yet?

No, I think City are favorites, but Arsenal are in the mix for sure. Whilst prepping to call the Swansea v Arsenal match, I was reminded of just how much attacking talent Arsene Wenger has at his disposal in his midfield alone. Mesut Ozil is world class. Aaron Ramsey has scored 7 goals in 7 matches this season, and not only that, he is second in the Premier League in touches (behind Yaya Toure) and equal first in tackles (with Lucas of Liverpool). Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta will see Premier League action again soon. Jack Wilshere will be the best English midfielder of his generation. Tomas Rosicky it still a talent. Then there’s the injured duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

However, it’s a different story up front.  Olivier Giroud has produced the goods so far, but there has been recent talk of a knee problem.  If he succumbs to that issue, another injury, or just a simple barren run of form, then the Gunners are in a spot of bother. Niklas Bendtner played his first Arsenal match for 767 days at West Brom on Wednesday in the League Cup. In Niklas Bendtner’s mind, Niklas Bendtner is the greatest player that ever walked the planet, so let’s see if his talent can eventually break the shackles of the reality that he’s been decent, full of promise, but ultimately disappointing so far. Arsenal might need him.

The big game this weekend is of course Tottenham vs. Chelsea early on Saturday. Will this match act as a measuring stick to see if both teams can challenge for the title, like they think they can? 

source: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho vs. Andre Villas-Boas… who will come out on top?

I’ve seen more of Chelsea (3 games) so far this season, than I’ve seen of Spurs (0 games). Chelsea’s squad is packed with talent, but it is taking time for Jose Mourinho to mold them into the team he wants, and the process is producing as much selection controversy as it is Premier League points. I cannot wait to see if Juan Mata features in this game. He had a good run out at Swindon in the League Cup, but it’s the Premier League that matters, so is Jose ready to give him another go? We shall see. It’s an issue that is beginning to dominate the agenda with Chelsea, and not in a positive way.

Mourinho has his ‘anointed one’ in Oscar. The young Brazilian responded very well to his elevation with a good performance against Fulham. He was always keen to receive the ball and also worked hard when Chelsea didn’t have it. I thought Fernando Torres looked lively and confident when he came on in that match. I wonder if he is about to embark on a decent run of goals?

Look at Spurs. Bale has gone but they have won 8 of their 9 matches so far this season, scoring 22 goals and conceding just 1. But that ‘1’ was a crucial goal to give away. It was scored by Olivier Giroud and it won the North London derby for Arsenal. Can Spurs win the big one? History suggests not, they’ve only beaten Chelsea three times in 42 Premier League encounters, but this is the time for them.

Their squad is packed with talent.  Soldado, Paulinho, Lamela, Eriksen etc have added a different dimension to the club. If they can beat Chelsea, and look convincing in doing so, it’ll set tongues wagging that perhaps they might be involved in the title race down the stretch.

Are you sad to see Paolo Di Canio exit the Premier League? Do you think he was given a fair crack of the whip? And who would you like to see replace him? 

I wouldn’t say that I’m sad and I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m surprised. We spoke to Jozy Altidore before the season started and when I asked him about Di Canio’s methods he replied “Err, it’s different.” Jozy was extremely diplomatic, but I read between the lines that Di Canio’s idiosyncratic methods might lead to trouble ahead.

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Paolo Di Canio’s departure wasn’t a huge surprise. What now for Sunderland?

His reaction after the final whistle at the Hawthorns was simply bizarre. It was his Phil Brown moment. I just didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve. Was he thanking the fans for their support? If so, why didn’t he approach them closer? Was his posture defiant or actually quite aggressive? If it was intended to placate a disgruntled away end it failed catastrophically. Sunderland came out of the game with more concern about their form and more evidence that their manager was a loose cannon, so they acted.

Do you remember last year when Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins lost their jobs at Reading and Southampton at relatively early stages of the season?  There was uproar. In contrast, the sacking of Di Canio just 5 games into the season was greeted with a collective and knowing nod that said we all expected it.

After going through Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and now Paolo Di Canio since the start of the 2008/09 season, Sunderland need a period of stability.  Their next appointment is absolutely vital.

What about Martin Jol at Fulham, he must be worried? It is ridiculously early to talk about sackings, but the Cottagers have looked pretty woeful in recent weeks. Is there now too much pressure to start the season well, what with the even bigger financial incentives?

There is pressure that’s for sure. We’ve already seen one ‘MJ’ removed from Craven Cottage this week, but thankfully for Jol, it was the Michael Jackson statue from outside the stadium.

It’s far too early to really assess Fulham this season. They were beaten at home by Arsenal, who we now know are a terrific side this year. They’ve also traveled to Chelsea and lost. I wonder what could have been if Darren Bent had scored with that great first half chance?

But, where there is Berbatov and Bent, Parker and Sidwell, Hangeland and Riether, there is hope.

Fulham have a crucial run of 4 games now, after which, we’ll know more about their prospects this season. They face Cardiff at home this weekend, and follow that with Stoke (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Southampton (A). Those are all teams that the Cottagers will be competing with, so they must gather a decent haul of points.

Finally, what are you really looking forward to this weekend?

For me, it’s the game at the Liberty Stadium between Swansea and Arsenal on Saturday afternoon (12:30pm ET).  I can’t wait to call this one on NBC with Graeme Le Saux. The last time we were in South Wales we were treated to a terrific match between the Swans and Liverpool that’ll be forever known as the ‘Shelvey game’. This game could be even better.

source: Getty Images
Michu and Swansea are back in form, can they beat Arsenal on Saturday?

Swansea are so impressive.  Michu has started scoring goals again and they seem to have a batch of wonderfully inter changeable Spaniards! I really liked Pozuelo when he came on against Liverpool. But I also liked Pablo Hernandez when he came on against Manchester United on opening day.

Swansea have had a busy run of games. They followed the Liverpool match on a Monday night with a game in Valencia on Thursday, then they were in London on Sunday to face Palace, before a midweek trip to Birmingham in the League Cup. They will be happy to be at home (where they are due a win in the Premier League), and Michael Laudrup has rotated the squad very effectively.

This is a massive test for both sides, but it’s got all the purest ingredients to satisfy the appetites of neutral fans who like purposeful passing Football. Don’t miss it!

Enjoy the Premier League weekend everybody…