Bachelor of Arts with Honours, First Class

Congratulations, you have now completed your studies and the Award Board agreed that you be awarded: Bachelor of Arts with Honours Professional Sports Writing And Broadcasting, First Class.

After a hard couple of years of long distance and intensive study, I was proud to receive my final marks from Staffordshire University and was delighted to be awarded a First (or Geoff Hurst!).

Congratulations to all my fellow students on their grades, great work.

Broadcasting

Ajax score a stunning goal to beat a FC Utrecht side who possibly deserved more but were left to rue their poor finishing in a game I covered for Sky Sports.

 

Watch as Ajax’s Lasse Schone scores an incredible goal against Feyenoord in a game I covered for Sky Sports but where was the wall?

 

 

What do you think?  was this unsporting or just clever from Ajax’s Joel Veltman?

It took me by surprise but I think I called it right whilst covering this game for Sky Sports.

West Ham v Chelsea Preview

West Ham welcome Chelsea to the London Stadium tonight aiming to maintain their excellent recent record against the league leaders.

The 2-1 victory over Antonio Conte’s side in the EFL Cup earlier in the season was fully deserved, although overcoming Chelsea this evening will be a far sterner test than the one they faced in October by Slaven Bilic’s men.

Not only will the Blues field their strongest team, the Hammers also appear slightly weaker with Michail Antonio banned and Andy Carroll a doubt.

It would have been great to see Antonio test this Chelsea system, as he is one of the few players physically able to push the Chelsea defence back.

The loss of Antonio could be compensated, somewhat, if Carroll is available, as he has the tools to dismantle the Chelsea defence who have struggled defending crosses of late.

Cross with quality

What do the goals scored against Chelsea by Hammers’ Cheikhou Kouyate, Spurs’ Dele Alli and Swansea’s Fernando Llorente have in common?

They were all headers.

Against a back three the spaces can be huge when delivering into the box and with the quality that Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass have at their disposal, I expect the ball to be aimed between the spaces that inevitably open up once the Chelsea defence has shifted.

Noble here has one thought in his mind and that is to put the Chelsea defence under pressure.

With no one taking responsibility to pick up Kouyate, he was able to make the first contact and score with a fabulous header.

Cross with quality

When Chelsea were comprehensively beaten by Spurs 2-0 at the turn of the year, Dele Alli grabbed the headlines with two brilliant headers.

Both goals came via crosses from deep positions, and although West Ham lack the speed to get behind this Chelsea side, they do have the quality to cross from deep as Spurs did.

Chelsea Confused.com

Chelsea appear poorly organised at set plays as witnessed here against Swansea on Saturday.

As you can see from the image above, with Swansea sending up their big guns, Gary Cahill and David Luiz were in total disarray over who was marking who.

Chelsea still hadn’t organised the marking by the time Gylfi Sigurdsson swung the ball in and Fernando Llorente headed home.

Hopeful for the Hammers

It will take an enormous effort to get a positive result tonight, against a Chelsea side full of confidence, however, there is plenty of optimism to be had if the Hammers nail down their delivery into the box.

However, Chelsea will be expecting Carroll to start and won’t make the same mistakes as they did against Spurs.

I think the Blues defence will be much more aggressive in their box and mark Carroll very closely, which will create space elsewhere, so it is then up to West Ham to find the right option.

EFL Cup Final Preview

Claude Puel is aiming to win his first trophy as a manager and bring Southampton only its second piece of silverware in 40 years, as his side take on Manchester United in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

In 2010, I was fortunate to play a part in what was then Saints’ first trophy win since 1976, as I helped a resurgent Southampton side defeat Carlisle in another three lettered cup, the JPT or Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Little did I know this Cup win would be the beginning of an incredible rise through the divisions that saw Southampton return to The Premier League and with it, launch the careers of the likes of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, and EURO 2016 winner Jose Fonte.

Southampton are now an established Premier League side, and with these players now gone and replaced with new heroes such as Manolo Gabbiadini, Dusan Tadic and Virgil Van Dijk, the Saints continue to march on, regardless of who dons the red and white stripes.

Gabbiadini has scored three goals since joining from Napoli for £14m and the 25- year-old was outstanding against Sunderland in the Saints recent 0-4 win, which saw Puel’s men cement their place just outside the top 10.

His arrival though, came at an important point in the Saints season as the effects of competing on so many fronts saw the Saints form slump.

After being knocked out of the Europa League by Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva, a heavy loss to Arsenal in The FA Cup followed.

Successive league defeats against Swansea and West Ham saw the Saints slide down the table as they started to look nervously over their shoulder.

However, their convincing victory over Sunderland will have given them a much needed boost, ahead of a far stronger opponent than the Carlisle United side the Saints faced the last time they went to Wembley.

With Virgil Van Dijk missing through injury, Martin Caceres looks set to provide cover after signing as a free agent.

However, Cecares hasn’t made a competitive start since last February after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, whilst playing for Juventus, therefore Saints look vulnerable in the centre of defence.

Mourinho to rain on Puel parade

After Manchester City’s victory over Liverpool in last year’s final, United will be desperate to keep the trophy in Manchester.

To do so, they will look to in-form forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored four goals in the four domestic cup finals he played with previous club Paris Saint Germain.

After scoring a hat-trick against Saint Etienne in the first leg of the last 32 in the Europa League, the Swede is assured of a place in the starting line up, however, Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks doubtful after limping off in their 0-1 second leg victory, in which he scored the winner.

His injury may open the door for Wayne Rooney, who could feature after confirming he is staying at the Red Devils following reported interest from China.

If a victory would be a personal boost for Saints manager Puel, then for United it would also provide Jose Mourinho with a trophy in his first season in the famous Old Trafford  dugout, a feat no other United  manager has achieved.

I feel he will do so, thus adding to the three League Cup wins he enjoyed at Chelsea, which will leave Puel still searching for that first elusive trophy.

 

West Ham v West Brom

 

West Brom enter this game in 8th position, a magnificent achievement considering they have only taken 7 points from a possible 36 away from home.

A fine win last weekend against Stoke will see the Baggies in bullish mood, although they are stretched in terms of squad depth and quality.

Tony Pulis, the West Brom manager, has been vocal in his concern over the need for signings.

The sale of Saido Berhino saw Jake Livermore arrive, in a one-in, one-out move, but it is goalscorers he needs, not midfielders.

They are too reliant on the likes of James Morrison, who seems in the form of his life, and their lack of possession away from home, typically around the 30-40% mark, is one possible reason for their tendency to concede late goals as the players tire from chasing the ball.

Solomon Rondon is their top scorer but hasn’t scored since netting a hat-trick against Swansea in mid December and despite his quality, I feel Pulis may freshen things up and bring Hal Robson Kanu in to spearhead the attack.

They did beat Southampton away on New Years Eve, and in Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips have two terrific footballers who will have to be well shackled and this West Brom side has enough quality that they could cause West Ham problems.

Nyom nowhere

Allan Nyom recently declared he was happy to have missed the Cameroon national team’s African Cup of Nations victory, and I feel they may have been pleased too.

Defensively, I feel he is one of the Baggies weakest links; he is slow to close the ball down, he cannot change direction when defending due to the nature of how he defends with his arms behind his back, and he rarely blocks any balls into the box.

Against Stoke, the Potters had a field day down the Baggies right flank as Nyom and Matt Phillips struggled to stem the tide of attacks, and only desperate defending inside the box prevented a goal against.

For West Ham, I would expect them to throw the ball continuously down the weaker West Brom side, away from the likes of Chris Brunt and Nacer Chadli on the left, and then its up to Carroll et al to get on the end of the ball in the box.

Blunt Brunt

Chadli attracts two players which means his full back is often free for a set back

To prevent the likes of Robson-Kanu and Rondon scoring, you have to cut the supply, and despite playing as a left back since Nacer Chadli’s arrival, Chris Brunt has the quality to hurt teams if he is given time and space.

The Northern Irishman scored a cracker against Sunderland, picking up a second ball that fell outside the box, and he has been in fine form since his return from a serious knee injury which saw him miss EURO 2016.

In the Baggies formation, the attacking threat comes from the midfield getting up to support the front man or from getting the ball wide and delivering into the box for the likes of Rondon.

If you sit off Brunt he can punish you and Rondon’s three goals against Swansea could serve as a warning to West Ham that they will need to be full of energy to close the ball down when their more technical players are in possession.

With Brunt supporting the play from behind in his new deeper role as a full back, the danger for West Ham is they double up on Chadli as he is such a handful, which leaves Brunt free and he cannot be afforded the same time and space as Swansea did earlier in the season.

Southampton v West Ham

Saints Struggles

With Virgil Van Dijk injured and Jose Fonte now at the Hammers, the heart of the West Ham defence has been ripped out and in its place a young Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida have struggled badly.

Against Arsenal in the FA Cup, Stephens was at fault in some part for nearly every goal,with the Arsenal play around the box far too quick for him to deal with.

 

West Ham need to Watch Out Wide

The main danger for me is how well Southampton attack wide. The relationship between the full back and winger on both sides is fantastic.

At times when a winger moves infield this is the trigger for the full back to overlap, as you can see blow.

 

Carroll to do a Deeney

Against Arsenal on Tuesday night Troy Deeney put himself up against the weak link in the Arsenal back line, Shkodran Mustafi, who just could not deal with him.

I expect Andy Carroll to go up against Stephens although Yoshida is also vulnerable, I believe Carroll could expose either equally well and my guess is he will seek out Stephens.

Then it’s a question of winning the second ball. This is not careless long ball tactics, this is utilising the strengths you have against the opponents weakness’ and in the Saints centre of defence, there is a big weakness to expose.

I would imagine Southampton may be better organised than Arsenal against Carroll and sit Romeu in front.

If they do, that will create more space for the West Ham midfield to get on the ball and if they don’t, I expect Carroll to have a field day.

However, if the winger keeps his width, both full backs intelligently recognise to attack on the inside as Saints right back Cedric Soares does here, against a Leicester City side that were run ragged at Saints last league home game.