I predict the winners and losers of 2013
Halfway through the season, a new year has started and it’s the time for me to predict who will win what come the end of the campaign, and anything else that may happen over the course of the year. So here goes…
At the start of the season I felt Manchester City would be too strong for the rest but the signing of Robin van Persie has tipped the balance heavily in United’s favour. Seven points clear, a superior goal difference and City and Chelsea still to visit Old Trafford means I have to go with the Red Devils.
But it’s no guarantee - they are vulnerable at the back though and last year lost an eight point lead with six games left.
Tip: Manchester United
1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
Promoted from the Championship
David Moyes has been at Everton now for 10 years and as yet hasn’t won any silverware. The closest he came was the FA Cup in 2009 losing to Chelsea 2-1. The Toffees start their campaign at Cheltenham on Monday night and maybe this is the year Moyes breaks his duck.
Capital One Cup
It’s very difficult to look beyond Chelsea. Swansea are a great side to watch and capable of a surprise in their semi-final, but over two legs the London side should be too strong.
I would also expect Aston Villa to win the other semi against Bradford. Chelsea recently thrashed Villa 8-0 so I really can’t see past a first trophy for Rafa Benitez at Stamford Bridge.
Barcelona are the favourites with some justification. They have won three of the last seven finals and have the best player on the planet in Lionel Messi.
However, we saw last year that they can be stopped and there are no shortage
I really like the look of Borussia Dortmund. A youthful, energetic team with the star quality of players such as Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. They are a brilliantly run club with no debt or rich billionaire owner and would like to see them go far in the tournament. But, I’m sticking with Barca though as long as Messi stays fit.
This is a competition that not enough teams take seriously. I would like to see it return to a non-seeded, two-legged straight knockout tournament that doesn’t allow Champions League failures to enter.
There are a few sides that really want to win it though and one of those are Tottenham. Andre Villas-Boas has won this trophy before with Porto and consistently picked strong sides in the group stages. They have a tough draw though against Lyon and then most likely Inter Milan, so they will have to do it the hard way if they are to win it.
Other predictions for 2013
Jose Mourinho will be back in the Premier League – at Manchester City.
Gareth Bale will join Real Madrid for a fee of around £40 million.
Retrospective punishment for diving will be introduced for the start of next season.
Marouanne Fellaini will get a radical haircut to rival Steven Pienaar (we can only hope!)
No doubt the majority of the above will fail to materialise but it would be interesting to read your views as to what you think will happen in 2013.
Finally may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year.
My last week's predictions again weren't bad and I managed to beat MSN Sport editor Rob Jones by four points. So I'm now beating him by a single point over the season.
Let's see if I can extend that lead this weekend with some cracking games to look forward to...
12.45pm Sunderland v Tottenham
Only a few weeks ago rumours were circulating that Martin O’Neill was on the verge of quitting the Stadium of Light. Almost from that moment there has been an upturn in results and Sunderland have now won three of the last four including a terrific win over the champions Man City.
Spurs and, in particular, Gareth Bale were brilliant against Villa on Boxing Day and will take some stopping. If they can re-produce that level of performance then I don’t see Sunderland being able to cope with them.
@MattHolland8 - Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham
@MSNSportRob – Sunderland 0-1 Tottenham
3pm Aston Villa v Wigan
After crushing defeats in their last two games it is imperative that Villa get a draw at least from this game. And they will fancy their chances against a Wigan side that now occupy a spot in the relegation zone after picking up just one point from their last six games.
Confidence will be low in both camps coming into this game but both will feel it represents a great chance of gaining three vital points.
@MattHolland8 - Aston Villa 1-1 Wigan
@MSNSportRob – Aston Villa 2-1 Wigan
3pm Fulham v Swansea
Fulham have had a really poor run winning just one of their last 11 but Martin Jol will have been pleased to see Bryan Ruiz make his comeback from injury in the draw with Southampton.
Swansea on the other hand have been in better form and played really well against leaders Man United just before Christmas. They could be without leading scorer Michu though and that would be a huge blow.
@MattHolland8 - Fulham 2-1 Swansea
@MSNSportRob – Fulham 2-2 Swansea
3pm Man United v West Brom
United are seven points clear at the top and scoring goals for fun yet their porous defence will be giving Sir Alex a few headaches going into the second half of the season. He can’t keep relying on his strikers to get them out of trouble. Having said that going forward they are superb.
West Brom had a welcome win over QPR and have the quality to cause United problems but I don’t think they’ll score as many as the Reds!
@MattHolland8 - Man United 3-1 West Brom
@MSNSportRob - Man United 2-1 West Brom
3pm Norwich v Man City
When Man City were beaten in the Manchester derby they responded by producing one of their best displays of the season against Newcastle and I expect them to come back strong again here. They simply can’t afford to lose any more ground in the title race.
Norwich suffered defeat on Boxing Day, albeit against a resurgent Chelsea and they will no doubt prove stubborn opposition for Man City. They have already beaten Arsenal and Man United at Carrow Road but I think the extra quality that Mancini’s men possess will tell in the end.
@MattHolland8 - Norwich 1-2 Man City
@MSNSportRob - Norwich 0-3 Man City
3pm Reading v West Ham
Reading have been more resilient in their last couple of games, conceding a late winner at the Etihad and then getting a much needed clean sheet against Swansea on Boxing Day but it has taken something away from the attacking part of their game.
West Ham will be rested after their fixture with Arsenal was postponed and have Carlton Cole available having won his appeal against the red card he suffered against Everton. They do still have a few injury concerns though so I fancy Reading to get another point.
@MattHolland8 - Reading 1-1 West Ham
@MSNSportRob - Reading 1-2 West Ham
3pm Stoke v Southampton
Stoke were hugely impressive on Boxing Day against Liverpool. They passed the ball really well and the victory has seen them rise to eight in the Premier League. They have a very good defensive record as well so I can’t see beyond a home win.
The Saints do have players capable of testing the Potters but look like they will have to make do without influential skipper Adam Lallana again which is a huge miss for them.
@MattHolland8 - Stoke 2-1 Southampton
@MSNSportRob - Stoke 1-0 Southampton
5.30pm Arsenal v Newcastle
A long trip south is not ideal for Newcastle after late heartache in the defeat at Old Trafford. They played well in that game but got nothing and it will have taken a lot out of what is a stretched squad at the moment. The future of Demba Ba is an issue that won’t go away either and the Gunners are one of the clubs reportedly keen on him.
Arsenal got a rest on Boxing day and that may prove pivotal in this fixture as they look to build on a recent good run which has seen them win their last three league games.
@MattHolland8 - Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle
@MSNSportRob - Arsenal 3-1 Newcastle
1.30pm Everton v Chelsea
This promises to be a cracker. Everton are one of the two teams (the other being Stoke) yet to be beaten at home in the league and sit just two points behind Chelsea. They were also successful in appealing Darron Gibson’s red card and will feel they can give the Blues a really tough game.
Chelsea have been excellent since their return from the Club World Cup and have shown little sign of fatigue from the trip. They may have to settle for a point though from this one.
@MattHolland8 - Everton 1-1 Chelsea
@MSNSportRob - Everton 1-2 Chelsea
4pm QPR v Liverpool
January can’t come quick enough for both these clubs. Harry Redknapp will be desperate to ship a few out so he can bring a few in, although he will he be boosted by the news that Adel Taarabt hasn’t been selected for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Liverpool appear to be on the verge of bringing in Daniel Sturridge amongst others and that will be welcome news for Luis Suarez who really needs help up top. At the moment you’re not sure what you are going to get from one game to the next with the Reds so this is a tough one to call.
@MattHolland8 - QPR 2-2 Liverpool
@MSNSportRob - QPR 1-1 Liverpool
I wouldn't want a midseason break over Christmas
My initial thoughts on the Christmas schedule for the Premier League teams this year is that it’s not too bad. The main dates of the matches are the 22, 26 and 29 December and 1 January.
That’s four games in 11 days which with the size of squads these teams possess nowadays should be absolutely fine.
With Arsenal's match with West Ham on Boxing Day being postponed due to the tube strike, both Arsene Wenger and Sam Allardyce will be ecstatic that their players can that extra recovery time.
No doubt you will see a lot of changes to the starting line-ups throughout this period from all teams...which makes your fantasy football selections very tough!
As much as people say you should be able to play every day and be unaffected that is just not the case.
Most clubs in the top flight use a system called Prozone whereby every pass, how far you have run, how many tackles you have made, how many sprints you have done etc, is monitored.
There will more than likely be a significant fall in each individuals statistics for the second game in a 72-hour period.
So what’s it actually like to be a footballer during the festive period?
To be honest it’s business as usual. Throughout my career I think I only had one Christmas Day off. That was when I was at Bournemouth under the stewardship of Mel Machin. I think he felt sorry for us as we were away at Crewe the next day, which meant a 6am departure from Dean Court!
If I was playing at home on Boxing day then my typical Christmas day would be to get up early with the kids (sometimes having to wake them up) to open the presents and then head off to training about 9.00am.
It would normally be a short sharp session of about an hour and then return home around 1pm to have lunch. Of course, I had to be careful what I ate and drank and certainly no alcohol could be consumed!
Sometimes managers would want you in a hotel on Christmas night to make sure players adhered to the rules so if that was the case it would mean returning to the ground early evening to go to the hotel.
"When you think about the many heroes of our armed services that don’t even get home it puts things into perspective."
If we were playing away from home on Boxing day the schedule would be slightly different. We would probably have most of the day at home before training late afternoon and then off to the hotel afterwards.
To be honest, I don’t think many players minded being in on Christmas day for training. It’s part of the job and getting out of the house for a kickabout when there was more than likely chaos at home wasn’t particularly a hardship.
And when you think about the many heroes of our armed services/nurses etc that don’t even get home/work all day it puts things into real perspective.
There have been calls in the past for a winter break in the football season and maybe a couple of weeks off would benefit the players to re-charge their batteries and allow for one or two niggles to heal, but I wouldn’t want to see it over the festive period.
Invariably the crowds are bigger with great atmospheres at the matches and it’s also a great tradition. If there was to be a break I would prefer it to be in January.
I remember one Christmas when my children were stuck for ideas in choosing me a present. I said not to bother and that a goal and a win the next day would be just fine.
It was during my time at Charlton and we were playing Chelsea at the Valley. We won the game 4-2 and I managed to get on the scoresheet. It was the best Christmas present ever!
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a fabulous Christmas and, if you are going to a game, that your team can deliver you three points!
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It will take something monumental for the interim Chelsea boss to have any chance of winning over disgruntled fans
Just two weeks into his tenure as Chelsea interim boss and Rafa Benitez is already one of the favourites to be the next manager sacked.
It has been a torrid fortnight for the Spaniard who has had to deal with some fierce hostility from his own fans.
Last night he oversaw a 6-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in which the much-maligned Fernando Torres scored twice. Yet Rafa still faces an inquest into why the Blues have failed to make the knockout stages of the Champions League. Hardly his fault, that one!
I honestly don’t think Rafa realised (and I didn't realise either) how difficult it would be for him to win over the majority of supporters who clearly don’t want him at their football club.
I was at his opening match in charge against Manchester City and I can’t ever remember a new manager getting so much flak.
Whether or not he will eventually change the fans opinion of him is debatable but to have any chance he must find results and quickly.
Chelsea are still battling on four fronts – the World Club championships, the Premier League, the FA Cup and now the Europa League and will surely have to be successful in at least two of those competitions.
There’s no doubt it will take something monumental for Benitez to have any chance of winning over a disgruntled crowd and even that might not be enough. If it isn’t then he must do enough to impress potential suitors elsewhere.
Some believe Benitez was foolish to take the job in the first place - particularly on a temporary basis - but having been out of the game for a long period it was an opportunity he simply couldn’t turn down. It has given him a platform to re-build his reputation at one of the leading clubs in the world.
I think he needs to be careful how he goes about it though. He is known for being pragmatic and at times negative in his approach to games and yes, he does need to make Chelsea a tighter defensive unit.
But he must also allow his flair players to be exactly that. There are some wonderful individual players at the club who must be allowed the freedom to express themselves and not be shackled tactically.
Benitez also needs leaders on the field, particularly in the absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard who have been sorely missed in the last few weeks.
If those two aren’t playing then others must stand up and be counted when things are tough.
I do believe the title ‘interim’ manager doesn’t help Benitez in that respect.
All it does is undermine his authority with the players who, like everyone else, will be unsure as to how long he will be there.
Andre Villas-Boas paid the price for trying to change too much too quickly and the dressing room won the power struggle.
Roberto Di Matteo did little wrong and although hugely popular amongst the fans was never first choice of the owner. Benitez has that backing for now but not the supporters.
The Chelsea/Benitez marriage is a complex situation for sure. Your guess is as good as mine as to how long Benitez stays in the hot seat. All he can do is win matches and hope that is enough.
I will be an interested spectator at the Stadium of Light on Saturday where nothing less than three points will do!
Follow me on Twitter @mattholland8
It can't be his professionalism that's in question, so perhaps it's a contract issue
There must be more to it than meets the eye regarding the situation Darren Bent currently finds himself in.
Aston Villa’s record signing is a proven goalscorer with over 100 Premier League goals, and yet he is unable to even force his way onto the bench.
It is not as if Villa are scoring freely either – they have the joint lowest goals in the league, having notched only 11 in 14 games.
I know that he’s only just returned from injury but for him to be sat in the stand where he is unable to influence the game seems very strange.
Don’t get me wrong, no player has a divine right to be in the starting line-up, or even in the squad, particularly if form or attitude have dropped below the required standards.
"Is it a contract thing? For instance Sunderland may be due another chunk of money on him reaching 50 league appearances - he currently has 47"
But I find it hard to believe that attitude could be a problem in the case of Darren.
I played with him at both Ipswich and Charlton and he was always spot-on with the way he approached both training and games.
George Burley and Alan Curbishley had to regularly drag both him and Darren Ambrose off the training field because they would spend every hour they could practising.
It was even known for them to return to the pitches when the manager had gone home so they could continue striking balls into an empty net.
Being cynical I wonder whether there is something in his contract which is making it difficult to play him.
For instance, Sunderland may be due another chunk of money on him reaching 50 league appearances - he currently has 47.
"At times his hold up play isn’t great but he is good in the air and comes alive inside the box"
I may well be reading far more into it than there is, but money is tight at Villa and my guess is that they will try to sell him in January to generate funds for the manager to spend on new players.
There is no doubt that Paul Lambert has a difficult job on his hands with a very young squad and he has shown he is willing to make some tough decisions.
For instance, Brad Guzan has come into the team in goal ahead of Shay Given which initially raised a few eyebrows, mine included, but he has been excellent.
And the system that Villa are playing at the moment with one striker has meant that Christian Benteke is currently in the side ahead of Bent rather than playing alongside him.
Lambert feels his all-round game is better and I can understand that thinking.
Darren would admit that his best work is done in the penalty area. At times his hold-up play isn’t great but he is good in the air and comes alive inside the box. For those qualities not to be utilised from the bench at least is a waste.
The hardest thing to do in football is to score a goal and that is why strikers are paid the most money.
I have been told by more than one manager that they are only as good as their frontmen because ultimately they are the ones that win you matches.
Goalkeepers and defenders keep you in a game but forwards win you them.
That is why I’m baffled by what is going on with Darren and hope for the sake of him, Villa and Lambert that the situation is resolved and quickly.
It's harsh on Di Matteo, but no surprise
I, like the vast majority of Chelsea fans and football fans in general, think that the decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo is harsh.
Having delivered the FA Cup, and far more importantly the Champions League, to the trophy cabinet at Stamford Bridge surely he deserved better.
However, logic doesn’t always seem to follow where Roman Abramovich is concerned.
In his nine years at the club he has had eight different managers and seems to hire and fire on instinct. But we can’t argue that the way he has dealt with management has been wrong, because Chelsea have won 12 trophies in his time at the club.
People often talk about stability and building foundations and point to what Sir Alex Ferguson has done at Manchester United as the example. That way would be my choice if I were a chairman but the Russian sees it differently and has the money to be able to do as he pleases. Success certainly hasn’t been absent his way.
"Di Matteo did have some luck along the way to winning the Champions League"
Although most of us think it is tough on Di Matteo, I don’t think too many are surprised. There’s no doubt he did a wonderful job last year in re-galvanising an ailing team spirit and he got the very best out of Didier Drogba in the process.
Winning the Champions League was the icing on the cake, and although you wouldn’t begrudge him it, he did have some luck along the way to achieving that feat.
The win in the final against Bayern Munich did give Abramovich a problem though. I’m not convinced the Italian was ever part of the long-term plan and indeed Pep Guardiola was sounded out before he was given the job on a permanent basis.
I think that this current run of two wins in their last eight games has given the owner the perfect excuse to make a change.
So who will be next? Well Rafa Benitez is the favourite with the bookies. He was approached with regard to the job before and is available.
"Harry Redknapp would relish the opportunity to be caretaker boss and would be a perfect fit"
He also has the added bonus of having brought Fernando Torres to England, developing him and getting the very best out of him at Liverpool. However, he also has the reputation of being pragmatic tactically and that will surely count against him as Abramovich has spent big on trying to bring a more flamboyant style to the Bridge.
I believe Guardiola is the man at the top of the wish-list but he is currently on a sabbatical from the game and would need some serious persuading to take a job with no history of longevity.
I personally think he will be true to his word and wait until the end of the season before deciding his next port of call.
So if Abramovich is willing to be patient and wait for Guardiola then another ‘interim’ manager is on the cards. If that is the case then my guess is that Harry Redknapp would relish the opportunity and would be a perfect fit.
Last year the dressing room needed a lift, which Di Matteo provided, and Harry could do likewise as he is the master of man-management. He would also enjoy working with some of the creative talents at the club and would definitely try and play the expansive style so craved by the owner.
We will see what happens and who is appointed but don’t be shocked if I’m writing about yet another change of manager at Chelsea in the very near future!
Spurs should play Defoe AND Adebayor
There is pressure on both teams with neither having made the best start to the season. This is Arsenal’s worst start to a campaign since 1982/83 whilst Spurs come into the game having lost three of their last four.
Both sides would have expected to be a lot higher than their current positions.
I used to love derby day. Okay I may not have played in any of the high profile derbies but games between Ipswich and Norwich, and Charlton and Palace were always special with a real edge and needle to them.
It is important to handle the atmosphere and not get carried away with the occasion. You must treat it as just another game and not do things you normally wouldn’t.
By that I mean don’t go chasing balls you can’t win and get dragged out of position because of it. Don’t dive into tackles just because the crowd are urging you to do so and don’t get unnecessarily involved in arguments with the opposition.
Those that keep their heads and keep cool under the pressure usually come out on top.
So what of the game tomorrow? Well historically this is a fixture that contains plenty of goals. I was at Arsenal last week and they were very good going forward.
Giroud was a major positive after a slow start to life as a Gunner and they will be hoping Theo Walcott will be fit as he too had an excellent game.
However, defensively they were poor and they have now conceded 16 goals in their last eight.
Mikel Arteta, the holding midfielder is not a natural defender and struggles to fill in for the full-backs who love to bomb forward.
"They won seven of the eight games they played together last season dispelling the myth that they can’t play as a pair"
Fulham created numerous chances from breaking into the channels and putting balls into the box and if Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelan play as high up the pitch as they did last week then Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will have plenty of joy.
For Spurs a lot will depend on how brave AVB is with his selection. I would be tempted to put the Gunners defence under pressure and select both Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe, if fit, in the starting XI.
They won seven of the eight games they played together last season dispelling the myth that they can’t play as a pair.
I also think AVB needs to be braver with his substitutions at times. He has been guilty of trying to protect a lead too often and has paid the price because of it.
It should be a cracker and as there have been more draws in this fixture than any other in Premier League history, I am going to sit on the fence and go for 2-2!
The only way to stop it is hit them where it hurts most
On Sunday we saw the ugly issue of diving rear its ugly head again – firstly with Luis Suarez’s comical celebration and secondly Fernando Torres being sent off for perceived simulation.
The issue is not going to go away without something drastic being done.
All problems have a solution. The solution to diving is retrospective punishments.
When players get fined – it’s not too much of an issue. When players miss games that’s what hurts the most. If you ban players for simulation, they’ll start thinking twice about it.
There should be a panel after each game and if they see a player go down without contact and it’s a clear dive they should award a three-game ban to the offender.
"If managers know they’ll be without one of their stars for long periods they will be telling them not go down. Simple"
Take Liverpool for example and Suarez. He’s their only striker and the only Red really scoring any goals. If you take him out of the team, Liverpool are really in trouble.
If he comes back and hasn’t learnt his lesson and does it again you could increase it to a four or five-game ban.
If managers know they’ll be without one of their stars for long periods they will be telling them not go down. Simple.
The Torres situation was difficult. He’s gone down very easily and he could, and should, have stayed on his feet.
He just has no confidence at the moment. He had a chance to be through on goal on his right foot and he chose to go to ground to try and get a free-kick. That is the sign of a player lacking belief. He just didn’t believe he’d be able to get on the end of that ball. We’ve seen flashes of his class this season, but not enough of it.
"Alex Ferguson is right - Torres has given himself a problem by going down"
Everything’s been designed to get the best out of the Spaniard this season - the players they’ve bought, the system they play – so he’s got no excuses for me now.
If Robin van Persie and Torres had swapped shirts yesterday before kick-off Chelsea would have won.
It can’t be simulation because he was touched, so it’s a harsh sending off. But Alex Ferguson is right - he’s given himself a problem by going down. He should have stayed on his feet.
I never got a yellow card for diving, but I did once get accused of diving by Arsene Wenger. I was playing for Charlton against Arsenal at the Valley and I got a knock on the knee and went down.
I got straight back up to follow up the second ball, but the ref had already blown for the initial foul. Paulo Di Canio stepped up to score and we ended up drawing 1-1.
Wenger gave me a bit of stick in the press and said I dived, but there was contact and I never appealed for it.
Felipe Massa is aiming for another podium finish as Williams hold third place in the F1 constructor's championship
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Who will win the Champions League?
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- Real Madrid
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