Toe-punts, temples and Tasmanian devils – A footballing travelogue through Asia and Australia

Part 3- Indonesia

Bali quickly found its way into my heart as my favorite place in Asia for three main reasons. First, the water. Whether seeing dolphins at Lovina beach in the north, the marine life around the Gili Islands or the waves of Kuta, being in the water was always exhilarating.

Second was the chance to escape real life in the rain forest town of Ubud, where all day long you relax in tranquillity and soak in the jungle wildlife surrounding you.

Last and most important of all was the accessibility to soccer, and all sport for that matter, in the lively areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

Kuta is many people’s worst nightmare but every lad’s dream with cheap booze, music blaring all night long and a long stretch of bars and clubs showing nearly every sporting event imaginable.

It was the last point that impressed me the most. No matter what time the match was on, I was able to find every game I wanted to watch, which mostly involved the big guns.

Contrary to reports I read before coming out, I felt safe thanks to the locals of the area. I had read on TripAdvisor that Bali and Kuta were dangerous, and that western tourists had to be careful. In my experience however, the Balinese were very accommodating, helpful and some of the nicest people I have met.

Kuta was quite strange to me as an English soccer fan because it catered more to Australians. The bars showed Aussie Rules matches. There were many ‘Oz style’ BBQs and shops that sold Australian rugby (both union and league) jerseys.

Throughout the USA, Europe and most of Asia, I was used to sports stores selling Manchester United and Chelsea jerseys or Lakers and Bulls jerseys, so it was strange seeing all these different teams I had never seen before.

However, in the back of the stores were European soccer and NBA jerseys. Not long ago, you would struggle to find a jersey that wasn’t United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Juventus (at a push).

Alongside these so-called ‘top teams’ were Borussia Dortmund, Southampton, Napoli, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Who would have wanted a Manchester City top five years ago when Thaksin Shinawatra was chairman and they were getting beat 8-1 at Middlesbrough?

The variety of jerseys struck me and made me realize how there’s much more fierce competition in the top leagues thanks to the emergence of clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and PSG.

During my Balinese adventure, I took the fast boat to the party island of Gili Trawangan to snorkel, lay on the white beaches and see what all the fuss was about.

Unlike most other beaches, where you spot a volleyball game or people playing frisbee, there were no signs of any ball games as the sand was a thin strip and if you stepped in the sea you’d land on hard, rocky coral.

The one exception was my last night where I joined in with two teenage locals doing keepy-ups on the beach whilst their family set up their beach shacks for the fire show. These were no ordinary keepy-ups, however. They used a small ball made of wood and had an unusual technique to keep the ball in the air, only using the inside of their feet.

One of the first things I was taught in soccer was to pass and control with the inside of the foot. I was never taught to juggle with it.

One thing I can definitely say is that the Balinese love soccer. I even met one guy who supported both Bayern Munich and Arsenal, and another who had a jersey that was half the sky blue of Manchester City and the other half the devil red of United. I couldn’t imagine seeing that in the middle of Manchester.

From what I saw, the locals were enthused by soccer as a whole, not by one particular club. They enjoyed watching and playing the sport, which is dramatically different than the relationship with the game in the UK. The Balinese do not have the same connection with the club than someone supporting their hometown team in England, which means the Balinese can enjoy watching a good goal no matter who scored it.

Bali is memorable for the beaches, rice fields, temples and people. It’s also the locale where I saw Wayne Rooney on TV surpass Sir Bobby Charlton as England’s all-time leading scorer, watched Middlesbrough grasp a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest, and where I watched the beginning of the Rugby World Cup.

Next up is Australia!


Champions League 2017 final in Cardiff could give English teams a platform for success

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The final of the biggest club competition in world football is expected to come back to Britain for the third time in six years, however, not to the capital.

Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is the current favourite to host the 2017 final with UEFA likely to announce their decision in Prague on the 29th June.

If the decision were to go in the way of the Welsh national venue, it would give English clubs another stab at winning the competition on home soil and to catch up with Spanish and German clubs in European competition.

This would be hugely beneficial to the Premier League after a transitional period where England’s dominant club, Manchester United, failed to make the Champions League for the first time since 1995/96. In the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons no English team progressed beyond the last 16; a dismal portrayal of English football in comparison to the 1999-2011 era, where at least two Premier League teams reached the quarter finals in 10 out of the 12 seasons.

The last Champions League outing at Wembley in 2013 was solely represented by Germany, as Bayern Munich triumphed over Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund. Two years earlier, Man United made their way to the capital to face Barcelona, but were outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s unstoppable Barcelona.

European football has been dominated by the Spaniards in recent times and they have proved a giant obstacle for English clubs. Despite winning two of the last four Premier League titles, big spenders Manchester City have consistently struggled in Europe and became the seventh English club to be knocked out by Real Madrid or Barcelona in the last six years.

Although winning two Champions Leagues and appearing in finals, Premier League teams seem to come unstuck against the Goliath figures of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. When you look at the domestic leagues however, the Premier League has higher calibre of competition, fiercer rivalries and a greater portfolio of players compared to others in Europe; so why do they struggle when reaching the knockout stages after the turn of the year?

A difference between the leagues is the winter break applied by other countries. When the February knockout stage comes around, other European big guns come fresh from a two week break. English teams have come straight out the back of a gruelling Christmas fixture list, playing two games over three days in some cases.

Cardiff’s 74,500-seater stadium missed out on its bid to host Euro 2020 matches, however has proven it can host these momentous occasions as it did whilst hosting the Football League play-offs and FA Cup finals between 2001 and 2006.

This year’s final was held in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, while next year’s final will be held at the San Siro in Milan. English teams must show a substancial improvement in next year’s competition in order to start dominating the continent as they did in the 2000’s, and withstand any chance of glory in Cardiff by the time 2017 comes around.

Chelsea’s undeniable influence on Middlesbrough’s extraordinary season

Middlesbrough are 90 minutes away from returning to the Premier League, and there’s plenty of optimism around Teesside as manager Aitor Karanka has his team in a confident mood going into the Wembley showdown with Norwich on Monday.

This optimism and belief has been a rarity in recent years, but the Spaniard has brought stability into the squad with the emphasis focused on winning; a trait that also sits well with his good friend Jose Mourinho and his triumphant Chelsea team.

Three-time Champions League winner Karanka was assistant manager to Mourinho in his time at Real Madrid and has a calendar of The Special One in his office at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training facility. Both left Madrid in 2013. However, this wasn’t the end of their working relationship as the pair chose to follow different paths in England.

There are uncanny similarities between the two managers and their clubs, with both the Premier League champions and Championship Play-Off finalists helping each other throughout the season.

Through Karanka’s connections with the Chelsea boss, Boro were able to secure three loan signings that have had a real impact at the Riverside. Kenneth Omeruo had a strong start to the season and Tomas Kalas was inspirational during his loan spell.

The Czech international showed his disappointment at not being able to play the full season due to Football League loan regulations. The defender has, however, stayed with the squad since his last game in the victory at Carrow Road; signifying the togetherness of the squad Karanka has assembled.

The third, Patrick Bamford, has had his best season yet. The England U-21 international has scored 19 goals and picked up the Championship player of the season award. His form has had Chelsea fans’ alarm bells ringing as they would like to see the promising youngster sign a new contract at Stamford Bridge; something he is yet to negotiate with the champions.

Chelsea have utilised the loan market this season and used the Championship experience at Middlesbrough to bring on their highly rated young prospects. A smart move from Mourinho, who may have found a future England starlet out of nothing in Bamford.

Boro’s number 23 has been just another one of Chelsea’s young loanees in the past few seasons, but has stepped up to the mark this campaign and sparked plenty of Premier League interest from around the country.

Like the Blues, many have called Boro a ‘boring’ side this season. However some of the counter-attacking play between the front four has been Barcelona-esque. Albert Adomah’s finish in the 3-0 drumming of Brentford last week topped off an unbelievable offensive performance in the most important game of the season so far.

The link-up play between Jelle Vossen, Lee Tomlin and Adomah was more like that of something you’d expect to see at the Nou Camp rather than the second tier of English football.

Boro and Chelsea boast the best defence in their respective leagues and both managers emphasise the importance of being solid at the back in order to be a successful team. Under Karanka, Boro have had a knack of when playing poorly, coming out with all three points thanks to formidable displays from Dimi Konstantopoulos and the reliable back four.

From experience over the years Teessiders are all too familiar with the fact that when Boro play poorly, the defensive floodgates are usually wide open; memories of the 2006 UEFA Cup Final come rushing back.

Another similarity between the teams is the club captaincy; John Terry and Jonathan Woodgate are both local lads and born leaders with die-hard defensive attitudes. The former England centre-backs lift the team and build morale week in, week out, on and off the pitch.

The applause for the Boro skipper when he came on in the semi-final second leg for the last few seconds shows what his presence means to the club, even though he has made only a handful of starts all season.

Karanka has another more than capable on the field motivator when Woodgate is unavailable. Grant Leadbitter’s performances and goals have proved ever so valuable to the Boro faithful this year and his determination against Brentford typified the midfielder’s season.

Leadbitter is likely to captain the side at Wembley, with Woodgate providing direction from the bench as he has done for most of the season. The only question is will it be the injury-struck Boro boy or the set-play specialist who lifts the cup, should they get the job done?

The managerial styles of both managers are consistent on the pitch and behind the scenes. The emphasis is on building from the back and winning at all costs, even if it means upsetting people on the way. The Special One is famous for his mind games and media outbursts, whereas his former assistant deals with the press in a calm and collected way.

It was well documented that Brentford’s Harlee Dean and Mark Warburton accused Boro of being dirty and a team who can only score from set-plays; a clear attempt to provoke a reaction from the boss and players.

Instead, the Spaniard did little but praise the opposition to the media and told his men to do the talking on the pitch, as they have all season long. His master tactics worked once again, as Brentford were swallowed up by an overwhelming Riverside crowd and the Londoners failed to get a point against the Boro for the fourth time this season.

Karanka praises Mourinho at every opportunity and the pair are still close, but should Boro progress past Norwich on Monday, there will be no favors next season when Boro travel to Stamford Bridge searching for an important three points to help establish their Premier League status.


Record-breaker Jose raises the bar

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Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over West Ham marked Jose Mourinho’s 100th clean sheet as the Blues boss. He becomes the quickest manager to reach the feat in Premier League history.

The Portuguese is most famous for his mind games off the pitch, however in his time at Stamford Bridge he has proved how successful you can be if you master the basics.

Mourinho’s first clean sheet came against Manchester United back in 2004 and since then, his attention to the less attractive side of the sport has enabled him to boast the best defensive record out of any manager in the Premier League era.

The closest to Jose’s record is the great Sir Alex Ferguson, who managed the 100 mark in 29 more games than the Chelsea boss. Following closely behind are Rafa Benitez and the ever-present Arsene Wenger, along with another Gunner George Graham.

EPL clean sheets managers

One astonishing fact from Opta is that Chelsea keep a clean sheet more often than not under the ‘special one,’ with a 54% record. Next in line is Rafael Benitez, who had a clean sheet figure of 45% during his time at Liverpool.

In his first season in charge at the Bridge, his well-drilled defence only let in a staggering 15 goals on the way to the league title – the first record gained under his leadership.

This term Chelsea have shown minor frailties at the back letting in 0.85 goals on average, however Mourinho still has the best goals per game ratio with 0.63; nearly 20% better than Benitez, Mancini and Ancelotti who average no better than 0.82.

Mourinho has built his team from the reliable back five. Chelsea have kept their solid defensive structure from last season and acquired an attacking force that would scare any defence in world football.

Jamie Carragher and Jamie Redknapp have repeatedly emphasized Chelsea’s signings in the Mail online, admitting that the Blues ‘won’ both transfer windows, adding more ammunition to the frontline.

The signings of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have got the Blues looking increasingly dangerous. The Spanish duo provide a cutting edge that was non-existent in the last campaign and have both played vital roles in the club being the second highest scorers in the league with 57- two goals behind Manchester City.

Chelsea’s next fixture is against the current meanest defence in the league Southampton, who have shipped just 20 goals prior to the weekends Stamford Bridge showdown.

Former Atletico strikers battle it out for the Premier League title

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La Liga champions Atletico Madrid churn out the finest goal scorers in world football year after year. Ever since Fernando Torres captained the club in 2007, the standard of strikers being produced has been of the highest quality; far superior compared to other teams around the globe.

Three of these forwards are the most feared in world football, and now applying their trade in England they are competing against each other to become Premier League champions.

Sergio Aguero- Destined for glory…

Man City’s talisman is football royalty in his homeland of Argentina and has been tipped for success from a very young age. He has been a regular international since the age of 18 and had fathered Diego Maradona’s grandson by the time he was 20.

Aguero has been Mr Consistent over the previous three seasons and carried this form into the 2014/15 campaign. He is level with Diego Costa on 17 goals so far this term, however unlike the Spaniard Aguero has proven he has what it takes to conquer the Premier League, year after year.

The past few campaigns have been head to head battles with Luis Suarez for top scorer bragging rights. This campaign it looks like his former team-mate over at Stamford Bridge will be his main competition for glory.

Many world-class strike partners have played with the Argentinian since his arrival in Manchester, including Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez; however he has been and will remain City’s ever present attacking threat. His goals have proved vital for the club and without him the trophy cabinet at the Etihad wouldn’t look quite as impressive.

His finish for one of the most famous goals of the Premier League era (against QPR in 2011) shows you exactly what his game is all about- he doesn’t stop until the last kick, gives his all in every match and oozes passion for the sport.

The good thing for both club and country is that the little man is probably capable of more. It would be fair to say that the Premier League is lucky to have such a talent performing week in week out.

Diego Costa- Resilience paid off…

The Brazilian turn Spaniard has had to battle his way through the rough to become the striker he is today. Whilst Aguero was making his debut for Argentina against Brazil, Costa was loaned out to second division Portuguese side Penafiel.

The devastating partnership of Aguero and Diego Forlan kept Costa on the fringes of Simeone’s squad for the best part of two seasons. Costa’s real chance for Atletico came when Forlan’s fitness and form deteriorated after his memorable performances at the 2010 World Cup, in which he picked up the Golden Ball award.

After hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Osasuna, Costa was described as a ‘Battering ram,’ who played like a hybrid version of the two strikers who used to keep him out of Simeone’s side.

In his most successful so far, Costa scored 27 goals in La Liga and 8 in the Champions League as Atletico became Champions and runners-up, respectively.He continued this form into the 2014/15 Premiership season for Chelsea after the £32m release clause was met by the Blues in the summer.

Under Mourinho he is living up to the fearsome, world-class status he earned last season and is proving to Abramovic that splashing out on his price tag is money well spent.

Costa is currently joint top scorer in the Premier League with 17 goals and has all the attributes needed for the English game. The aggression, physicality and pure presence in the box makes defenders tremble at the thought of facing the Spaniard.

His temper is an issue, however, and keeping away from match bans could prove the difference between his goals helping Chelsea clinch the title or finishing just short in 2nd place.

Radamel Falcao- Expectations too high?

Falcao’s prolific goal scoring at Atletico earned him the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The Columbian front man hit the back of the net 52 times in 68 La Liga games for the Madrid outfit, becoming one of most established and feared strikers in world football.

Amid questions over whether he could be as successful in the Premier League, Falcao smashed an unstoppable first half hat-trick versus Champions League winners Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. After the game, Diego Simeone portrayed him as ‘indescribable,’ saying “whenever you set the bar high he sets it higher and rises to the occasion.”

Falcao continued his La Liga form for Ligue 1 big spenders Monaco, scoring 9 in 16 games in an injury-struck season. This was enough for Louis Van Gaal to snap him up in a big money loan deal for Manchester United.

As has been the case for other big name United signings, the transition from other European leagues to the Premier League has not been as explosive as you may have expected at the start of the season.

He has just 4 goals in 16 games and although we have seen glimpses of the Falcao of old, it just doesn’t seem to be clicking in a United shirt. One reason for this is that he used to being the main man, the goal scorer, the one to watch in a system where he is the focal point.

Under Van Gaal, he is playing alongside Robin van Persie, who is essentially a left footed version of himself, and other star attackers such as Angel Di Maria and captain Wayne Rooney.

Going forward United haven’t yet flourished this season, however if the system changes to more suit Falcao and he stays at United we may see him up there with the likes of Aguero and Costa next season.

Mid-season Fantasy Football Scouting report- Gameweek 22

Where has 2014 gone? We are now into the second half of the season and injuries, suspensions and run of fixtures are taking their toll on struggling teams, on top of the loss of key men to the African Cup of Nations. Here is a round up of upcoming key battles and how to utilise your use of transfers/wildcards…

Finding a goal scorer at Villa Park…

For a team with 11 goals scored since the season began, Aston Villa aren’t fairing too bad in 13th place. Narrow 1-0 victories have kept them in a solid position going into the back end of the season; however it is unlikely the same scoring form in 2015 will keep them there. Main goal threat Christian Benteke has been back for a while now and will be looking to use his recent average form as a spring to terrorise the shaky Liverpool defence; who have shipped 27 goals past them already this season. Holding on for dear life and squandering opportunities has been a familiar tale for Liverpool this season and looking at Brendan Rodgers’ attacking options you wouldn’t expect them to be sitting on a goal difference of plus two. If Liverpool can’t find goal scorer and become unsettled, Benteke could be the man to unlock the defence and be in for a field day.

Kane is able…

…to lead Tottenham into rekindling their impressive form. The inform striker for the inform team (minus the Selhurst blip) will be hoping to keep the Spurs marching on Versus Gus Poyet’s Sunderland – who find them 17th in the form table and 16th in the Barclays Premier League. In front of the White Hart Lane faithful and with a £5.8 million price tag, Harry Kane is well worth a punt considering the amount of misfiring strikers almost double his asking price. With seven goals each, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli are also worth a thought in the short term. When Spurs are high flying they can compete with any midfielder, however inconsistency may overshadow this good form in coming weeks.

Hamer over Schwarzer…

When Mark Schwarzer signed for Leicester on the 2nd January, Ben Hamer had conceded seven goals in five games and was under huge pressure after the injury to number one Kasper Schmeichel. However, as soon as the Aussie came in Hamer and his backline have had a complete transformation, shutting out Hull, Newcastle and Aston Villa on their way to 1-0 victories. Stoke are lacking a prolific goalscorer this season, but seem to share the accolades between Mame Biram Diouf (5 goals), Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters (4 goals) and Bojan Krkic (3 goals). If Mark Hughes doesn’t measure his attacking options right, Leicester could be on their way to a fourth clean sheet in five games.

Potential midfield diamond for United on their travels…

After the unsatisfying performance against Southampton using his beloved 5-3-2 formation, Van Gaal may opt for a 4-4-2 against QPR. With another week’s training under his belt, Marcos Rojo is likely to come back in to the team alongside Michael Carrick at the back- this change will allow Daley Blind to push forward and play the most defensive position in a midfield diamond. This formation has seen Man United flourish this season with the right players available, plus the manager has plenty of options in attack with Radamel Falcao and Marouane Fallaini possibly coming into the starting Xl. Of the midfield quartet, it is Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria – virtually unchallenged for the number ten role- who hold the greatest threat at Loftus road, both from open play and set pieces.

Back five a risk for the Swans…

Chelsea have failed to find the net only once this season – an unwelcoming stat for any Fantasy manager with one of the Swansea back four, who haven’t kept a clean sheet in four games. Now that there is light between them and City in second place, Jose Mourinho’s men will not put on the breaks once they find the back of the net and we could be in for another goal fest- as was the case in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge, where the Blues ran out 4-2 winners. Safety first would see any Swansea defenders dropped to the bench for this Gameweek, before reinjecting them into the team for games they would deem winnable versus Southampton, Sunderland and West Brom. The likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa are not to be taken lightly and have already proven that they deserve their place in the overall Dream Team this season.

The future’s bright, the future’s Pardew…

After the comeback versus Tottenham and the talk of Alan Pardew’s attacking style, little seems to be going wrong for the South London outfit. Looking to their next four fixtures and they are up against teams who have leaked goals at the back, starting with a tricky, however hopeful trip to Burnley. then Everton, Leicester and Newcastle. With an asking price of just £5 million, Dwight Gayle is sure to be on everyone fingertips along with Wilfried Zaha, who sparkled after coming off the bench versus Spurs and topped it off with a fine assist.

Saints utilising defence to defend 3rd place…

It’s North vs South when these two meet at St James’ Park with Southampton on the up, and Newcastle spiraling downwards. The best defence in the league take on the manager-less Geordies, who have failed to score in the last two matches. The Saints are on a six game unbeaten run, conquering top four rivals Man United and Arsenal in the process. Dusan Tadic will be hoping for a starting position after his match winning display at Old Trafford, however it is in the defensive areas where points could be picked up. At under £6 million each, wing-backs Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne will bomb forward and provide for Graziano Pelle, whilst knowing they have a more than capable defensive structure to shut Newcastle out in this fixture for the 3rd time in a row- the previous 2 finishing 4-0 to Southampton.

Injuries a real concern for struggling Hull…

With record signing Abel Hernandez and top scorer Nikica Jelavic out for the foreseeable future, it’s difficult to see who will come up with the goods for Hull – especially against a well-drilled West Ham side. Enner Valencia could be the man to step up into Diafra Sakho’s scoring boots, after scoring the opening goal in the midweek FA Cup triumph over Everton. It was the Ecuadorian forwards first strike in front of the home crowd, and he will be looking for similar link up play leading to that goal with the man mountain that is Andy Carroll, whilst praying Stewart Downing’s sweet left foot delivers – as it has done all season. These three are the main goal threat for the Hammers and are all at a reasonable price at under £7 million.

Exploiting the hole in front of Arsenals back four…

In the stand-out clash in Gameweek 22, we see a well-documented problem for Arsenal – who have a dismal record against clubs challenging for the title. If they were going challenge the physical strength of Man City, they’d need a proven defensive midfield player, something they have lacked since the days of Gilberto Silva. With Mikel Arteta injured, Arsene Wengers options are Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, both of whom will find it difficult keeping up with the fast paced movement and creativity of Silva and the physicality of his accompanying team mates. Despite not coming away with three points, Silva was instrumental last weekend against Everton, creating pockets of space for others as well as typical creative flair in City’s attacks. At £9.4 million the 29-year-old doesn’t come cheap, but he is a consistent performer if he stays away from injury troubles.

Will Saido be celebrating?…

Monday night’s game has great potential for both Saido Berahino and Romelu Lukaku, who will be looking to continue their good form since the turn of the year. Lukaku has already scored against West Brom this season and will be eager to show the away fans what they are missing. The Belgian scored 17 in 35 games for the Baggies but has struggled for goals so far in the League. In recent games however, Everton have been forced to pump the ball forward to the big man, and Lukaku looks dangerous once again. At the other end of the pitch is a great finisher with five goals in his last two games. The last thing on Berahino’s mind is a celebration – the kid just wants to find the back of the net. New boss Tony Pulis has stated he will not be sold, so expect his name on the score sheet for Baggies a lot more in the coming weeks.

Club heroes who have gone on to break their fans hearts…

With all the focus on Stevie G’s announcement earlier this week, we take a look at other players idolised by their fans who have crushed that almost perfect relationship with the club…

2015 Gerrard Announces the end of his Liverpool Love Affair (for now anyway)-

Just into the New Year and the Ex- England skipper announces that we will no longer be playing for his hometown club after the end of the season. As the news broke, you could here a Scouse whine across the country. Many pundits and Ex- Pro’s of the footballing world describe Gerrard as a true Liverpool and England great, one who is very rare in this day and age with all the money and fame. Gerrard may well be the last of his kind- Someone who has stayed with his hometown club since being a schoolboy, rejecting offers from the world’s biggest club’s to try and conquer success with the Red’s. No matter what anyone says, Stevie G has been an asset to English football for club and country; the question is, what’s next in store?

2009 Shearer managing Newcastle to relegation-

Well, it wasn’t all his fault but with Hull travelling to Old Trafford the Geordies would have ben safe with a point- Something which a side battling to avoid relegation should expect away at Villa Park. A lacklustre display summed up by a definitive own goal by Damien Duff capped off a season in which four managers tried and failed to revive the North East giants. On a day when all three of the North East clubs could’ve gone down, Sunderland were the ones having the last laugh. Their fans were seen in complete jubilation as the scores came in and Middlesbrough and Newcastle were in the English second tier for the first time since 1998 and 1993 respectively.

In Shearer’s playing career for Newcastle he was unstoppable, netting 148 times in 303 games for the Magpies and becoming the Premier League’s all time top scorer with 260 goals. Although Shearer was only Manager for four games, Newcastle were without a win and scored just one goal.

2014 Lampard coming off the bench to score vs his beloved Chelsea-

Upon Lampard’s arrival for the game against his previous employer, Chelsea fans were cheering and singing his name and when he made his appearance off the bench there was a huge applause from the away end. Chelsea were 1-0 up after a goal from Schurrle and Zabaleta had just been sent off so it was turning out quite an away day for the fans. However, in the 85th minute Lamps scored with a typical good finish from a James milner pass, although he refused to celebrate after. This marked the revival for City, who were 5 points behind at the time.

Lamps is Chelsea’s all time top scorer and the 4th highest scorer in Premier League history (level with Thierry Henry); Some feat considering all his goals came from midfield. With Yaya Toure off to the African Cup of Nation’s, Lampard could be key in City’s pursuing of the title and could be the man to inflict more misery on his old club as City are now on level points with the early-season front runners. The two giants clash at Stamford Bridge on the 31st January in a game that could shape the rest of the season.

2006 Ronaldo Winks to the Portugal Bench as Rooney’s Sent to the Changing Room-

This was heartache for football fans all over the country. England’s promising starlet was dismissed for a kick out at Chelsea Centre back Ricardo Carvalho right in front of the referee. As soon as the incident occurred Ronaldo and co surroundeed the Argentinian referee, urging him to take action – Rooney was sent off and with him, any hope England had in progressing to the Semi’s.

When the pair turned up back in Manchester there was rumours Ronaldo had to leave the club and that there was a feud between both players, however Rooney was quick to dismiss these and admitted that he would have done the same if it was the other way round.

In recent years both players have become legends at Old Trafford, with Ronaldo in unstoppable form from 2007-2009 before jetting off to Spain to win Spanish titles, Ballon D’ors and pretty much everything else. Rooney has since beedn handed both the United and England captaincy and is on his way to becoming the top scorer for his country on top of overtaking Ryan Giggs as the Red Devil’s all time Premier League top scorer.

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Preview

This Saturday (10am ET on NBCSN for viewers in the United States) sees Chelsea take the short trip down the road to South London, where Crystal Palace await them. The last time these two sides met skipper John Terry scored an own goal, denting the Blue’s title hopes and giving Palace a real hope of staying up. The sides meet at Selhurst with the current league leaders hoping to still be unbeaten come 5pm Saturday evening.

There’s good news for Jose Mourinho as marksmen Diego Costa emerged unscathed, after two appearances for Spain last week in which he netted his first international goal. The Spaniard is in fine form this season, already netting nine times in only seven appearances. Thibaut Courtois is still out injured after his concussion against Arsenal a fortnight ago, which gives the veteran Petr Cech his chance to prove he should be starting ahead of the young Belgian. Drogba and Ramires are both back in full training after shaking off groin and ankle problems, however, neither are expected to start. Andre Schurrle missed out for Germany midweek with suspected flu, but the German is expected to play a part for the blues come Saturday.

Palace are hoping to make it back-to-back victories against their West London rivals – a feat they haven’t achieved since March 1982. The South Londoners have had an edgy start to the season, having already lost Tony Pulis and appointed a new manager in Neil Warnock, who has proven experience in the top-flight with his first spell at Palace, as well as QPR and Sheffield United.

Cesc Fabregas is making the Premiership look easy after an amazing start in which he has seven assists – more than any Palace player since their promotion to the top-flight in 2013. He is the real danger man for the Blues and his link up play with fellow countryman Costa will keep the Eagles’ backline on their toes throughout the meeting. His ability to unlock defenses is priceless and he also has a few goals in his locker too.

Wilfried Zaha has impressed since his loan return to Palace, but he was only used as a substitute in their defeat to Hull City last time out. The young England U/21 international has played his best football throughout his career in a blue and red shirt, and will need to produce the goods if Palace are to get past Chelsea’s defense, who have kept 21 clean sheets Mourinho’s return at the start of last season. Both James McArthur and captain Mile Jedinak return in the heart of midfield after being away on international duty in the week.

A win for Chelsea will see them extend their best start to a campaign since 2005 and maybe even further the gap at the top, depending on City’s result in the early kick-off against Spurs.

Palace need a victory to inject lift into their campaign and try to avoid the relegation scrap, at least for the time being. If they lose and QPR, Newcastle and Burnley all win they will be only one point off the relegation zone and will find themselves in a precarious situation.

Whatever the result, a London derby is certain to have passion from both sets of supporters and on the pitch there’s the exciting prospect of goals.

Predicted XI’s:

Crystal Palace
Palace lineup