Saturday, September 12, 2015

Espanyol VS Real Madrid Preview

Real Madrid visit Catalunya on Saturday for a clash with Espanyol as Rafael Benitez's men bid to kick on from a hugely encouraging win over Real Betis last time around.

In contrast, the Periquitos come into the contest hoping to bounce back from a deflating 3-1 defeat at Villarreal - and end a 17-match winless streak against the Madrid giants in the process.

With one win and one defeat so far, little remains known of what to expect from Espanyol in a season which threw up so much hardship before a ball was even kicked.

Four of the players that helped Sergio Gonzalez's side to a respectable 10th-place Liga finish last term departed the Catalans for pastures new and left Sergio with a spine to rebuild.

Goalkeeper Kiko Casilla left for Real Madrid, defender Hector Moreno joined PSV Eindhoven, midfielder Christian Stuani left for Middlesbrough, while top goalscorer and striker Sergio Garcia - a member of Spain's successful Euro 2008 squad - opted for Qatar.

Despite the mini exodus of influential players, Espanyol opened their 2015-16 season with a 1-0 win over Getafe, with Salva Sevilla netting the winner, but two late goals at Villarreal a week later saw them go down 3-1.

Still, the latter was a game in which the visitors earned a half-time lead through Felipe Caicedo - the second time that Espanyol had scored within five minutes of kickoff this season - and Sergio will hope for another fast and furious start come Saturday.

Recent form: WL

Real Madrid
Coming into the job, Benitez's brief as Real Madrid boss would have been simple: relieve Barcelona of as many of their three trophies as possible. Their fans will feel slightly better about that unenviable task now than they would have after gameweek one.

Despite an uninspiring start, having drawn 0-0 away to newly-promoted Sporting Gijon, the veteran Spanish coach restored optimism of a promising season with a 5-0 demolition of Real Betis. The Benitez era starts now.

Indeed, braces from Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, and another from Karim Benzema, helped the former Liverpool manager secure a stylish win in what was the 55-year-old's first game at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Eyebrows were raised when president Florentino Perez turned to Benitez to succeed Carlo Ancelotti - who had won them their 10th Champions League title - but the way in which they dismantled Betis will quell questions regarding his long-term suitability.

Following the unconvincing stalemate in Gijon, however, their early-season away form is a bud there to be nipped, and Real can ill afford any more dropped points with Barcelona already two points ahead after winning their two Liga openers - albeit with stuttering displays.

With games against Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid on the horizon after Saturday, victory over Espanyol is arguably even more important given the banana-skin nature of their future outings.

Recent form: DW

Team News
Playmaker Rodriguez and full-back Danilo are expected to miss the trip with thigh and foot injuries, sustained on international duty with Colombia and Brazil respectively.

Right-back Dani Carvajal is expected to come in for the Brazilian, while Isco is the obvious choice to succeed the other.

Goalkeeper Keylor Navas could continue between the sticks despite almost joining Manchester United on Spain's deadline day as part of the botched David de Gea deal.

Meanwhile, Sergio has the luxury of naming an unchanged side, but the 38-year-old coach is expected to make a number of changes from the side that went down at Villarreal.

Espanyol possible starting lineup:
Lopez; Duarte, Alvaro, Arilla, Raillo; Sanchez, Montanes, Lopez, Alvarez; Moreno, Caicedo

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Navas; Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Carvajal; Kroos, Modric, Isco; Benzema, Bale, Ronaldo

Head To Head
If recent history is anything to go by then Sergio's men have little to no chance of a win this weekend. It has been a little under eight years since Espanyol beat Real Madrid, and over two years since they last took points off them.

Ominously for Saturday's hosts, Madrid have won 14 of the last 17 meetings - the rest of which were draws - and they take a six-match winning streak with them to Catalunya.
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Atletico Madrid Vs Barcelona Preview

The Vicente Calderon will play host to an early La Liga six-pointer this Saturday as Atletico Madrid host title rivals and reigning champions Barcelona in the Spanish capital.

Both sides boast 100% records after the first two rounds of fixtures in Spain's top flight, but at least one of those must end this weekend.

Atletico Madrid
The 2013-14 campaign will go down as arguably the finest in the history of Atletico Madrid, with Diego Simeone upsetting the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid on their way to La Liga glory, while also reaching the final of the Champions League.

Having reached such heady heights, it was perhaps no surprise that they struggled to replicate that form last term, particularly considering they lost the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis and top scorer Diego Costa, amongst others.

In the end, they finished 16 points adrift of champions Barca, but there is a feeling this time around that they will be able to push the Catalan giants, and their capital rivals Real, all the way in the title race.

They have certainly started in encouraging fashion. Two wins from two games puts them joint top of the table as one of only four teams still with a 100% record, while they are one of just five sides yet to concede a goal this season.

That being said, Simeone's side were given a scare in the opening match of the campaign. Las Palmas were the visitors to the Vicente Calderon and, while Antoine Griezmann's 16th-minute strike proved to be the difference, the newly-promoted side did hit the woodwork twice in response.

There was nothing fortunate about their most recent outing before the international break, however, as Atletico brushed aside Sevilla in a match that strengthened the thought that they will be looking up towards the top two rather than over their shoulders at fellow Champions League hopefuls this season.

The 3-0 scoreline in Seville was perhaps a little flattering to Atletico, but there was little doubt that they deserved the points, and the fact that Jackson Martinez opened his account for the club - adding to goals from Koke and Gabi - served to make it a very successful day for Simone's side.

The Argentine boss has never lost any of his first three matches of the season while in charge at Atletico, but he is also without a league victory over Barcelona so far, drawing twice and losing on five occasions.

The Rojiblancos have only been beaten twice in 16 home matches this calendar year, although ominously both of those defeats came at the hands of their opponents this weekend.

The hosts may also have one eye on European matters, with a tricky trip to face Galatasaray awaiting them in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Recent form: WW

A return to the Vicente Calderon will bring happy memories for the Barcelona players. It was here that they clinched the La Liga title last season, with Lionel Messi fittingly getting the only goal of the game.

That wrapped up the first leg of what would become a memorable treble for Luis Enrique's side, with subsequent victories over Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and Juventus in the Champions League completing the achievement.

They haven't quite begun the new campaign in such all-conquering fashion, however, blowing a three-goal lead against Sevilla in the European Super Cup final before eventually prevailing in extra time, and then being soundly beaten by Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup.

The issue of fatigue has already been raised despite the season being only a few weeks old, and the international break is unlikely to have helped in that sense, with key players such as Messi, Neymar and Javier Mascherano travelling on long-haul flights to the United States for a pair of friendlies having also featured in the Copa America this summer.

Speaking of Messi and Neymar, they are yet to find the back of the net in La Liga so far this season, with the fabled front three - including Luis Suarez - managing just one goal between them in the opening two games having notched a record-breaking 122 last season. Barca as a team have only scored twice in the league - their lowest tally at this stage of a season for seven years.

The Catalans were indebted to Thomas Vermaelen in their last match before the international break as the former Arsenal defender, who suffered an injury-ravaged debut campaign at Camp Nou, lashed home the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory over Malaga.

It wasn't the most convincing win that Barca will pick up this season, but it extended their unbeaten streak in the league to 16 games - a run that includes 14 victories and 11 clean sheets.

Their record on the road is similarly impressive, not being beaten since January and winning 10 of their 11 matches since. In that time they have kept eight clean sheets, including one in each of their last four outings.

Like Atletico, Barca are back in Champions League action next week as they begin their quest to become the first side to successfully defend the title in its current format away to Roma on Wednesday.

Recent form: WW
Recent form (all competitions): WLDWW

Team News
Barcelona's La Liga goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has been ruled out for at least a couple of weeks with a calf injury, which means that Marc-Andre ter Stegen will make his long-awaited league debut for the club.

Gerard Pique is still suspended following his red card in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, so Vermaelen should continue to partner Mascherano at the heart of the defence.

Douglas and Dani Alves are also sidelined for the clash, while makeshift right-back Sergi Roberto has emerged as a doubt. Should he not be fit enough to start then Adriano is likely to come in for the visitors.

As for Atletico, Martinez's goal against Sevilla could be enough to earn him a start ahead of Fernando Torres up front alongside Griezmann.

Tiago is the only injury doubt for the hosts, though, with Saul Niguez ready to step in should the midfielder fail to pass a late fitness test.

Atletico possible starting lineup:
Oblak; Juanfran, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Oliver Torres, Gabi, Tiago, Koke; Griezmann, Martinez

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Alba; Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Head To Head
This fixture has been a season-defining one in recent years. Atletico clinched the 2013-14 title with a draw at Camp Nou on the final day of that campaign, while Barcelona won last term's crown in Atletico's own back yard exactly one year later.

Atletico have not beaten Barca in a domestic match since 2010, however, with their current 10-match winless streak against them in the league being their longest drought in top-flight history.

The Catalans have won each of the last four meetings, all of which came last season due to a double-header in the cup in addition to their league meetings.
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Manchester United Vs Liverpool Preview

The 193rd edition of English football's biggest fixture will take place this weekend as Manchester United host bitter rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Both sides saw their unbeaten starts to the new Premier League season come to an end before the international break, and Saturday evening's kickoff will give them a chance to bounce back in the best possible way.

Manchester United
If matters on the field have not been convincing so far this season for Manchester United, their dealings off it during the closing stages of the transfer window raised yet more questions.

Ed Woodward appeared to have heeded the criticism from years gone by with some early signings this summer, bringing in the likes of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian and Sergio Romero before August had even begun.

However, just two goals - one of which was an own goal and the other a deflected strike - in their opening three matches increased calls for a striker to be brought in to replace the departed duo of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao.

Those calls grew even louder when United were unable to overcome Swansea City before the international break, with Juan Mata's early second-half goal being cancelled out by strikes from Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis as Garry Monk's side recorded a third consecutive victory over the Red Devils.

All eyes were on United on the final two days of the transfer window as a result, and Louis van Gaal turned to 19-year-old Anthony Martial as the answer to his side's goalscoring troubles. The Frenchman's £36m move on deadline day made him the most expensive teenager in the history of football, and that fee could still significantly rise.

It is undoubtedly a risk for a player who has made just 52 senior league appearances in his career, while his modest tally of 11 goals in that time will suggest to some that he is not the man to fire United towards a title challenge. The depth issue in the final third was not really addressed either, with Van Gaal allowing Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj - two options in an already sparse attack - to leave the club.

One player who did remain at Old Trafford was David de Gea following the dramatic collapse of his move to Real Madrid due to the paperwork being filed late. The latest reports suggest that the Spanish goalkeeper could now be on the verge of signing a new contract with the club, performing a remarkable U-turn to end a bizarre and ungainly saga.

De Gea was outstanding in the corresponding fixture last season, however, and while the whole scenario did not paint United or Madrid in a particularly favourable light, ultimately the Red Devils have kept hold of one of the league's best goalkeepers and their player of the season for the past two years.

At the other end of the field, Wayne Rooney is the latest player to have dominated the back pages following his record-breaking 50th international goal for England on Tuesday, and the 29-year-old now has Sir Bobby Charlton's United record in his sights - he is currently just 16 short.

A boyhood Everton fan and United legend in the making, there is no team he would rather break his Premier League duck against than Liverpool. He has now gone 10 league matches without finding the back of the net, although a hat-trick in the Champions League makes him the club's top scorer in all competitions this season.

United have only managed one win from their last four league games at home, however, which is a record in desperate need of improvement if they are to bridge the five-point gap that already separates them from local rivals and league leaders Manchester City.

All does not seem to be well behind the scenes at the club, though, with reports emerging that senior players have confronted Van Gaal over his managerial style. The Dutchman's stark admission that his side are not in the title race this season - despite spending more than £250m since his arrival - will also raise a few eyebrows.

Victory over their fiercest rivals will make everything look a lot more positive, though, and with the club returning to action in the Champions League proper on Tuesday, it has the potential to be a memorable week for the Red Devils.

Recent form: WWDL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDWL

While United's actions off the field have taken much of the attention away from their loss to Swansea, Liverpool have been left to stew over a damaging defeat of their own during the international break.

Not since the days of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst had West Ham United beaten the Reds in a league match at Anfield, but goals from Manuel Lanzini, Mark Noble and Diafra Sakho saw the Hammers end a 52-year wait in memorable fashion.

It was a humbling, chastening and error-laden defeat for Brendan Rodgers's side following a steady, if unspectacular start to the new season. Narrow victories over Stoke City and Bournemouth got six early points on the board, while only a man-of-the-match display from Petr Cech - helped on a couple of occasions by the woodwork - prevented them from making it three wins from three against Arsenal at the Emirates.

Philippe Coutinho's sending-off compounded a miserable day against the Hammers as Liverpool drew a second blank in a row. No team has scored fewer than them in the opening four games of the campaign, despite the new attacking talent of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino adapting relatively quickly.

Indeed, Rodgers can be content with how the majority of his new additions have settled into the team, something which could not be said for last season. Even so, they need to start firing in the final third if they are to avoid a repeat of the previous campaign.

They too got the majority of their business done early in the transfer window, resulting in a quiet deadline day on Merseyside, although their attempts to get rid of the likes of Jose Enrique were unsuccessful.

Liverpool have won just one of their last seven Premier League away games, but are yet to concede on the road this season and have picked up four points from a possible six on tricky trips to the Britannia and the Emirates. With Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City to come in their next four away games after this weekend, they will be hoping to maintain that improved form.

European action will also return for the club in the coming week, with a trip to face Bordeaux first up in Europa League Group B - which they also share with Sion and Rubin Kazan.

Recent form: WWDL

Team News

The big question mark in terms of team news for this match surrounds De Gea. The keeper has not been included in the United matchday squad so far this season but, with the uncertainty over his future now put to bed, Van Gaal may decide to welcome him back into the fold.

His inclusion in the club's Champions League squad suggests that he is in the Dutchman's plans, which could spell trouble for incumbent number one Romero, who was criticised for his role in Swansea's winner last time out.

Elsewhere, Michael Carrick is a major doubt for the match having been forced to withdraw from international duty due to a calf injury this week, which means that Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin will continue in the middle of the park.

New boy Martial is expected to be involved, but may have to settle for a place on the bench as Van Gaal keeps faith with Rooney - who has five goals in 22 games against Liverpool - up front. Phil Jones could also return from the mild thrombosis which has kept him out so far this season, while Marcos Rojo is available again.

Liverpool have a number of notable absentees themselves, including the suspended Coutinho. Captain Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana will both undergo late fitness tests, although the chances of either starting are thought to be relatively slim.

Joe Allen is another pushing to be fit in time for the match, but Daniel Sturridge's comeback will have to wait for at least another week. Benteke, who has scored in his last two appearances against United, will lead the line despite an injury scare on international duty with Belgium.

Man Utd possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Herrera, Depay; Rooney

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Mignolet; Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez; Can, Lucas, Milner; Ibe, Benteke, Firmino

Head To Head
Manchester United came away with the bragging rights from this famous fixture last season, with the most recent meeting coming in March when a Mata brace saw the Red Devils run out 2-1 victors at Anfield - a match that saw Steven Gerrard memorably sent off within seconds of his half-time introduction.

Mata was on the scoresheet again in last season's corresponding fixture, with his goal sandwiched between strikes from Rooney and Van Persie as United ran out 3-0 victors - although the scoreline only tells half of the story, with De Gea keeping the visitors at bay on numerous occasions.

This is the 193rd meeting between the two sides overall and the 47th in the Premier League, making it the most-played fixture since the division was introduced in 1992. United have won five of the last seven, but Liverpool did emerge 3-0 victors at Old Trafford as recently as last year.
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Jose Mourinho: 'Chelsea will not sack me'

Jose Mourinho has laughed off suggestions that his Chelsea job could be under threat if the Blues' early-season struggles do not abate shortly.

With four points from a possible 12, the Premier League champions have endured a testing start in the defence of their title, with top-of-the-table Manchester City already eight points ahead of them.

Nevertheless, Mourinho, who was sacked by owner Roman Abramovich during his first spell in 2007, says that he is going nowhere.

"Let's be objective. I don't want to leave the club, in any circumstances, and the club doesn't want me to leave," Mourinho is quoted as saying by Sky Sports News.

"I'm not going to walk away. The club is not going to sack me. If somebody, anyone thinks that I walk, or I leave the job, it's somebody that doesn't know.

"Chelsea fans know me for good and for bad and that's not my profile, to run away from problems, in this case to run away from bad results."

The Portuguese, who takes Chelsea to Everton on Saturday, is contracted to the Stamford Bridge club until 2019.
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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: 'I am not happy'

Jose Mourinho has admitted that he is unhappy with Chelsea's early-season struggles but has vowed to inspire the Blues' transformation.

The Premier League champions already sit eight points behind top-of-the-table Manchester City following a testing first four games for Mourinho's men which have yielded two defeats and a draw.

The Portuguese takes Chelsea to Everton on Saturday afternoon as they look to kick-start their season, and the 52-year-old is adamant that he will turn things around.

"I'm not happy — and I'm happy that I'm not happy. The moment I'm happy losing matches, then I've changed a lot," he told a press conference on Friday.

"And I don't want to change. I'm not happy but I work harder than ever. I'm optimistic, I trust the players. The players trust me, I know. We are going to leave this situation behind."

Chelsea sit 13th in the standings.
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Crystal Palace Vs Manchester City Preview

Top-of-the-table Manchester City make the trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday hoping to extend what has proven to be a rip-roaring start to the Premier League season.

Victory is anything but a foregone conclusion, however, as the high-flying Eagles look to topple another English superpower after beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last time out to move second.

Crystal Palace
Given the fact that only Arsenal have taken points off Crystal Palace so far this season, it could be said that Alan Pardew looks on course to build on the solid foundations he laid in the second half of last season.

The Londoners negotiated a tricky visit to newly-promoted Norwich City on the first day of the campaign, emerging with a 3-1 win, before a 2-1 defeat to the Gunners eight days later at Selhurst Park stunted them ever so slightly.

Nevertheless, Pardew's side have come back swinging in a run of form that has lifted them to second in the Premier League table.

First, Bakary Sako marked his debut with a late winner in the 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, with the ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers man scoring again as Palace defied the odds by beating Chelsea by the same scoreline to ride the crest of a wave into the international break.

Their stunning early-season form should come as little surprise, with the 54-year-old manager - who was only appointed in January - masterminding a host of impressive victories during his first six months in charge of the London club. This kind of start was on the cards.

Arguably their flagship win last season was, in fact, a 2-1 win over Manchester City in April - a result that effectively hammered home the final coffin nail in the Citizens' Premier League title chances.

As a result, Palace may be wary of the revenge element, but even still Pardew's men will bring a nothing-to-lose mentality with them on Saturday. They are not expected to win, but few can be surprised if that outcome materialises.

Recent form: WLWW
Recent form (all competitions): WLWWW

Manchester City
Four games, four wins. Ten scored, zero conceded. It has been an immaculate start to the Premier League season for Manchester City and they look to have learnt the harsh lesson taught to them by Chelsea last season.

Even after their first five games of the 2014-15 campaign, Manuel Pellegrini's side already have four more points this time around. A lacklustre start undermined their title defence last term and so far they look a team determined to reclaim their crown.

Having swept aside each and every team that has faced them thus far, Pellegrini and co have strung together a run of form that is certain to have Blues boss Jose Mourinho worried, especially with his own team stuttering.

The Sky Blues already boast an eight-point advantage over the reigning champions, who were thumped 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium last month. It could, and should, have been by a far bigger margin.

Despite already facing Chelsea, though, a visit to in-form Crystal Palace arguably represents their biggest test of the season. There are plenty other grounds aside from Selhurst Park which the Chilean manager would prefer to visit this weekend.

Still, man for man, the Citizens have more than enough quality to extend their high-flying start, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Yaya Toure all enjoying excellent starts to the season - and they needed to.

With just one goal under his belt so far, striker Sergio Aguero is yet to set the 2015-16 season alight. If and when he hits form, coupled with the addition of £55m man Kevin De Bruyne, the worrying thought from their rivals' perspective is that City will only get better.

Recent form: WWWW

Team News
Pardew confirmed that right-back Joel Ward could be out for up to a month after suffering an unspecified injury in training today.

Club-record signing Yohan Cabaye was a half-time substitute in France's 1-0 win over Portugal, but the Palace boss said that the Frenchman trained this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Marouane Chamakh remains sidelined with an abductor problem.

For City, Silva is expected to miss out with an ankle problem, while midfielder Fabian Delph could be absent for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

Right-back Bacary Sagna, who had been deputising for the already-injured Pablo Zabaleta, will sit out the trip to London with an ankle problem.

As a result, Pellegrini will have to decide whether to give new boy Nicolas Otamendi his debut in an unfamiliar position, or promote rookie Pablo Maffeo - named on the bench for the 2-0 win over Watford last time out - to first-team action.

Elsewhere, midfielder Fabian Delph is also expected to miss out after damaging his hamstring in England's 2-0 win over Switzerland, while it remains to be seen if Fernando is fit again.

Crystal Palace possible starting lineup:
McCarthy: Mutch, Dann, Delaney, Souare; Sako, Puncheon, McArthur, Cabaye, Zaha; Wickham

Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Hart; Otamendi, Kompany, Mangala, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva; Aguero

Head To Head
Last season's 2-1 win at Selhurst Park was Crystal Palace's first victory over City in 14 years, with the Citizens enjoying a seven-match winning streak prior to that. This is a fixture that has not been drawn since March 2000, when both sides were in the Championship.
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Arsenal VS Stoke City Preview

Arsenal and Stoke City will both be hoping to improve on their early-season form when they meet at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon.

The Gunners have had a mixed opening to their Premier League campaign and are already five points behind leaders Manchester City, while the Potters have not won any of their four games in the top flight.

It has not been the most prolific of starts to the season for Arsenal, who came into the new campaign full of confidence that they could challenge for a first league title in 12 years.

The summer signing of Petr Cech and the Community Shield victory over Chelsea only served to heighten expectations, but they were dealt a huge blow in their opening Premier League match when they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates to West Ham United.

Although they recovered with a win against Crystal Palace in their next match, a goalless draw against Liverpool on their return to North London did little to appease the home fans.

Another unconvincing display followed in their last outing before the international break, as they laboured to a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United, who had been playing with 10 men from the 16th minute after Aleksandar Mitrovic's dismissal.

The winning strike in that match came courtesy of an unfortunate own goal from Fabricio Coloccini, meaning that two of Arsenal's three goals this season have come from opposition players.

Despite their lack of goal threat, and a long-term injury that looks set to keep Danny Welbeck out until Christmas, Arsene Wenger did not sign any new strikers before the transfer deadline and he has received heavy criticism from fans and pundits alike.

Arsenal were also the only side in Europe's top five leagues not to sign an outfield player over the summer, but Wenger has claimed that there was a shortage of quality personnel available to him, and he has backed Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez to turn his team's fortunes around.

Recent form: WLWDW

Stoke City
While Arsenal may not have made the most ideal start to the season, it has been an even worse opening month for Stoke, who are yet to win a match in the Premier League.

There were high hopes that the Potters could enjoy another top-half finish in the top flight, but a late strike from Philippe Coutinho in their first game of the campaign saw them slip to a 1-0 defeat against Liverpool.

Another defeat looked set to follow in their next outing at White Hart Lane, but they fought back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur, before they played out a 1-1 draw with Norwich City the following weekend.

Mark Hughes would have hoped that his team could finally record their first win against West Bromwich Albion as they returned to the Britannia Stadium in their next match, but by the 31st minute they were down to nine men, after Ibrahim Afellay and Charlie Adam were sent off.

They eventually slipped to a 1-0 defeat, leaving them 18th in the table and with just two points on the board.

However, the Potters won just one of their opening five league matches last season, and finished the campaign in ninth place and with a club-record tally of 54 points.

Although Stoke may not be expecting to pick up all three points at the Emirates this weekend, they will be targeting wins in their upcoming league matches against Leicester City, Bournemouth and Aston Villa in order to help build some momentum.

Recent form: LDDWL

Team News
Giroud was left out of the starting lineup for Arsenal's previous match against Newcastle, but he is expected to return in place of Walcott.

Per Mertesacker has also returned to training after missing the last two games with a virus, and he will be battling it out with Gabriel Paulista for a spot in the back four.

Stoke will have to make do without Afellay and Adam, who are both suspended following their straight red cards against West Brom.

Bojan Krkic and Jonathan Walters will both be pushing for a place in the team, but Ryan Shawcross and Peter Odemwingie are still sidelined.

Head To Head
Stoke have enjoyed a lot of recent success against Arsenal at the Britannia, but they have failed to win in North London against their opponents in 34 years.

The Gunners have won their previous 11 home games against Stoke, and last season they cruised to a 3-0 victory at the Emirates, with Laurent Koscielny opening the scoring and Sanchez adding a double.

This is a match that has become a fierce rivalry in recent seasons, following Aaron Ramsey's leg break in a challenge with Shawcross during a 3-1 win for the Gunners in 2010.

Kick-off Saturday 3pm

Venue Emirates Stadium

Last season Arsenal 3 Stoke City 0

Referee J Moss

This season G3, Y7, R2, 3.0 cards per game

Odds H 7-17 A 11-1 D 5-1

Subs from Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott


Doubtful Mertesacker (illness)

Injured Wilshere (leg, Oct), Welbeck (knee, Feb), Rosicky (knee, Feb)

Suspended None


Discipline Y4 R0

Leading scorer Giroud 1

Stoke City
Subs from Given, Wilson, Wollscheid, Bardsley, Ireland, Sidwell, Krkic, Crouch, Joselu

Doubtful Diouf (groin), Arnautovic (ankle), Johnson (hamstring)

Injured Shawcross (back, unknown), Odemwingie (hamstring, 19 Sept)

Suspended Adam (first of three); Afellay (first of two)

Form LDDL Discipline Y6 R2

Leading scorer Diouf 2
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Everton Vs Chelsea Preview

Two sides that would have been hoping for better starts to the season go head to head at Goodison Park this weekend as defending champions Chelsea travel to Everton.

Both sides have won just one of their first four matches of the 2015-16 campaign, meaning that just one point separates them ahead of this match.

Roberto Martinez's side have picked up five points from their opening four games of the season, beating Southampton at St Mary's, drawing with Watford and Tottenham Hotspur, while their only defeat so far came against Manchester City.

Since their goalless draw at White Hart Lane before the international break, the transfer window has closed, ensuring that defender John Stones, who had been the subject of interest from this weekend's opponents, will remain at Goodison.

There were also a few new arrivals for the Toffees, as Aaron Lennon returned on deadline day on a permanent deal from Spurs, having spent the second half of last season with the club, while Ramiro Funes Mori and Leandro Rodriguez also come in.

The club's fans were not happy with chairman Bill Kenwright and his regime in the opening weeks of the season, displaying banners calling for a change in the club's board room. However, retaining Stones and bringing in new players late in the transfer window may quiet the unrest.

With matches against league leaders Man City and the reigning champions in their first five fixtures, Martinez has admitted that he was expecting a tricky start to the campaign, but with matches against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal all coming up in October, the manager will be keen to get points on the board in their next few matches, with a trip to his old club Swansea City coming up next weekend.

Everton have kept clean sheets in half of their games so far this season, but have not been as prolific as some of their rivals in front of goal, failing to find the back of the net in their last two outings.

Recent form: WLDWLD
Recent form (all competitions): LDWLWD

Jose Mourinho will be hoping that his side are refreshed from the international break after suffering their second defeat of the campaign last time out, losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace.

The result means that the title holders' 3-2 win over West Bromwich Albion remains their only victory so far, with just four points coming from their opening four matches, leaving them 13th in the table after the first month.

The manager has been under increased scrutiny in the opening weeks of the campaign, not only because of his team's results, but through his handling of the situation involving first-team doctor Eva Carneiro, who was banished from the touchline after treating Eden Hazard against the manager's wishes in the opening game of the season.

Chelsea brought in two new players on transfer deadline day, but missed out on Everton's John Stones, with whom they had been heavily linked. The England international did submit a transfer request, but this weekend's hosts insisted that he was not leaving.

Nantes defender Papy Djilobodji completed a £2.7m move just a few hours before the window closed, while Michael Hector of Reading also completed a move to the club, although he instantly returned to the Royals on a season-long loan.

Only one side has conceded more goals than Chelsea so far this season, with Mourinho's team letting in nine goals in their opening four fixtures. Sunderland, who sit bottom in the table, have let it 10.

Recent form: LWDLWL
Recent form (all competitions): LLDLWL

Aaron Lennon will make his second debut for Everton barring a last-minute training injury, with Martinez admitting that his only doubt is regarding how long to give the winger in his first match since rejoining the club.

Ramiro Funes Mori is also expected to be involved, with Bryan Oviedo a doubt after picking up a knee injury before the international break, while Tim Howard will need a late fitness test after returning from international duty later than some of his teammates.

Tom Cleverley will not be involved though, having sustained an ankle ligament injury during a match for England over the international period, ruling him out for around six weeks, while Leighton Baines is still recovering from ankle surgery.

For the visitors, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is a doubt for the match after injuring his ankle in training with the London side on Wednesday. If he cannot play, summer signing Asmir Begovic will step in.

Oscar has not played since the opening week of the season after sustaining a knock in the game against Swansea City, but is expected to be ready to return in this fixture, while John Terry is available again after serving a suspension last time out.

Head To Head
When the two sides met at Goodison Park last season, it was a high-scoring occasion, with the visitors securing a 6-3 victory, largely thanks to a Diego Costa hat-trick.

Chelsea have won their last three matches against Everton, and five of their last six, with this weekend's hosts securing their only win a closely-fought 1-0 game in 2013.

Meetings between these two sides can get heated, with four red cards being handed out in the last 10 meetings between these two, including their most recent meeting at Stamford Bridge in February, where Gareth Barry picked up two yellow cards.

Although Chelsea have the better recent history in this fixture, there has been little to separate the two sides in their 160 previous meetings, with Chelsea securing 61 wins to Everton's 50, while 49 games have been drawn.

Kick-off Saturday 12.45pm

Venue Goodison Park

Last season Everton 3 Chelsea 6

Referee A Marriner

This season G2, Y9, R1, 5.0 cards per game

Odds H 3-1 A Evens D 5-2


Subs from Funes Mori, Lennon, Robles, Browning, Osman, Oviedo, Deulofeu, Naismith, Besic, McGeady, Gibson

Doubtful Oviedo (knee)

Injured Cleverley (ankle, Oct), Baines (ankle, Dec), Hibbert (knee, Dec), Pienaar (hamstring)

Suspended None


Discipline Y4 R0

Leading scorers Barkley, Lukaku 2

Subs from Blackman, Beeney, Rahman, Zouma, Aina, Djilobodji, Mikel, Ramires, Loftus-Cheek, Traoré, Falcao, Kenedy, Rémy

Doubtful Ramires (knee)

Injured Courtois (knee, Dec), Oscar (knee, 16 Sep)

Suspended None


Discipline Y5 R2

Leading scorer Five players 1
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Friday, September 11, 2015

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright: 'John Stones was never going to leave'

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has insisted that John Stones was "never" going to leave Goodison Park in the summer to join Chelsea.

The Premier League champions publicly pursued the England international by lodging a reported four bids, which were all rejected by the Merseyside outfit.

Despite Stones lodging a transfer request, Everton held firm and managed to keep hold of the 21-year-old, who signed for the club from Barnsley in 2013.

"John Stones is hugely important to this club, of course," Kenwright told The Mirror. "He's the best centre-back in England, surely, and he was never going to leave, never. There was never a moment.

"But don't forget. They said Luke Garbutt was definitely leaving, wouldn't sign a new contract, and James McCarthy. We had that where he was definitely going apparently, it wasn't even a question. Kevin Mirallas, too.

"Yet here we are with the window closed, and they all have new long term deals. They're still here and they want to play for Everton. It's an important point."

Everton have recorded two draws, one victory and one defeat so far in the Premier League this season.
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois out for two months with knee injury

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is reportedly facing two months on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury in training.

The Belgium international has already been ruled out of this weekend's Premier League match against Everton.

According to the Daily Mail, while the club's medical staff are yet to determine the full extent of the damage due to swelling, they have warned Courtois that it could be at least two months until he is fit to play again.

The Premier League champions reportedly feared that the 23-year-old had suffered cruciate ligament damage, but doctors have ruled that out.

In the meantime, Asmir Begovic is expected to deputise as Chelsea try to get back to winning ways following just one triumph in their first four league games of the season.
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Neymar to earn £200k-a-week after tax

Barcelona have reportedly decided to open contract talks with Neymar as they look to reward him for his success at the Camp Nou.

The 23-year-old arrived at the club from Santos in the summer of 2013, and he was one of the key men behind last season's treble-winning campaign for Luis Enrique's side.

Reports in the summer suggested that Manchester United had made an enquiry about a possible move for the Brazilian, but both Barcelona and Neymar insisted that an exit was not a possibility.

According to The Mirror, a clause in his deal forces Barcelona to re-negotiate his contract in the third year and Neymar's representatives are believed to be looking for an after-tax salary of £200,000-a-week.

Neymar scored 39 goals in all competitions last season.
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Steven Gerrard: 'I would have snubbed MLS move for Liverpool coaching role'

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard has revealed that he would not have joined Los Angeles Galaxy had the Reds offered him a player-coach role this season.

The 35-year-old midfielder brought the curtain down on his 18-year stint at Anfield at the end of last season, having announced his deal to join the MLS giants in January.

Manager Brendan Rodgers's assistant Colin Pascoe and first-team coach Mike Marsh were both let go by Liverpool over the summer, and Gerrard says that he would have balanced one of those roles with his playing career had he known.

"What would have kept me at Liverpool into this season was the chance of shadowing Brendan Rodgers and his staff as well as playing," he told the Daily Mail. "Those ideas were only mentioned to me after I had announced I was leaving.

"Liverpool replaced coaches Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh in the summer, so they were looking for a new No.2, or No.3 or No.4. I would have been tailor-made to fill one of these roles, as well as making myself available as a squad player.

"I could have been a good squad player, a good sub, as well as getting management experience that money can't buy."

Earlier this week, MLS commissioner Don Garber dismissed the idea of the ex-England captain re-joining the Merseysiders on loan in January.
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Arsene Wenger tells Arsenal fans to "support the team"

Arsene Wenger has told disgruntled Arsenal fans to trust his judgement over refusing to sign a striker during the summer transfer window.

The Gunners were the only club in Europe's top five divisions not to add an outfield player, with goalkeeper Petr Cech their solitary signing for the 2015-16 campaign.

The Frenchman has come under fire for failing to add a forward, in particular, with Olivier Giroud being Arsenal's only established centre-forward.

"To support the club and support the team is to stand behind the players," Wenger told a press conference ahead of Stoke City's visit to the Emirates on Saturday.

"It is not always expecting someone coming down from heaven to sort out all your problems."

Earlier on Thursday, the 65-year-old insisted that he did not lie about the severity of Danny Welbeck's injury, with the winger scheduled to be out for a number of months.

The news of his injury was revealed last Wednesday, one day after the window closed.
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Arsene Wenger: 'Goal-shy Arsenal will start scoring'

Arsene Wenger has claimed that goal-shy Arsenal will begin finding the net at a greater frequency in the coming weeks.

The Gunners have only netted three times in their first four Premier League games - and two of those came through own goals - but the Frenchman is adamant that the floodgates will open soon enough if they continue creating chances.

"We have created the chances and that's what we want to continue to do," he is quoted as saying by Arsenal's official website.

"I believe that the finishing is a bit cyclical, up and down, and we are the team who has created the most chances since the start of the season, so let's just continue to focus on the quality of our game.

"It is about the efficiency and the quality of our game, we can score goals and I am not worried about that. We have Alexis, we have Giroud and we have Walcott. It is a massive opportunity for them of course."

The North Londoners, who have won two, lost one and drawn one, welcome Stoke City to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
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Manchester United to reignite Raphael Varane interest next summer

Manchester United will reportedly put Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane at the top of their transfer wishlist next summer.

The Frenchman has been linked with the Red Devils for some time, while Chelsea were also thought to be interested at one stage.

According to Le10Sport, United are hoping that Varane continues to be a regular on the Madrid bench so that he will be more easily persuaded to move to Old Trafford at the end of this season.

Louis van Gaal's initial defensive target was Sergio Ramos, but the Spaniard opted to sign a new contract at the Bernabeu instead.
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Andre Ayew & Manuel Pellegrini win Barclays Premier League awards

Swansea City striker Andre Ayew has been named August's Barclays Premier League Player of the Month, while Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has won the managers' award.

Ghana captain Ayew, 25, has scored three goals as the unbeaten Swans sit in fourth place with eight points from their opening four games.

Pellegrini's side lead the table with four wins from four games.
They have scored 10 goals and are yet to concede.

Ayew took the award ahead of his team-mate Bafetimbi Gomis as well as Manchester City duo David Silva and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Also nominated were Leicester's Riyad Mahrez and Manchester United's Chris Smalling.

Ayew joined Swansea in June from French club Marseille and scored on his Premier League debut against Chelsea.
He and Gomis have provided all of Swansea's seven league goals so far. They visit Watford on Saturday.

Pellegrini's side visit second-placed Crystal Palace on Saturday and the Chilean said he wanted his team to carry on with their stylish play.

"The highlight was the way we played," he said. "It's important to continue the style of football, the team won the four games in the way I like to play."

Palace boss Alan Pardew was also nominated for the managers' prize, along with Swansea's Garry Monk and Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri.
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