Rival Lines

Match Preview - Burnley v AFCB
Blogger Interview - Up the Clarets
Twitter: @utcdotcom

This week  I sent some questions to Tony Scholes who is the editor of Up the Clarets! While Burnley have not had the greatest of starts I wanted to see if Tony could give any insight into why it had been a slow start for Burnley and whether last season was perhaps a bit of a burden.

CC: Where you disappointed with the small number of summer signings Burnley made?
UTC: I think everyone was, and that certainly includes the manager who has commented on it on several occasions. We were playing in Istanbul on the final day of the deadline, which doesn't help. The chief exec stayed behind to try and complete potential deals but nothing happened.

CC: Why do you think Burnley have had a slow start to the season?

UTC: It's so hard to pinpoint the reasons. We were told constantly from outside that our involvement in the Europa League qualifiers would affect us. It does seem ridiculous that we had to play on six consecutive Thursdays with some of those games intermingled with pre-season friendlies.

I think we had all decided that was the reason and that things would be fine once we'd got over the travelling and had an international break. It's not quite worked out like that yet.

CC: Sean Dyche has spoke of fatigue, do you think the players are as fit as last season having had a short pre-season?

UTC: If they are fatigued then I don't think it is a lack of fitness as such but the games programme we've had. We've played on Thursday nights in Turkey and Greece and flown straight home. That must hit the sleep patterns and unfortunately, because of how the European ties were drawn, we followed those trips with away games at Southampton and Fulham.

CC: What did you make of the team's performance against Wolves in your last game?

UTC:  I was considering not even answering this question. It was as bad as anything I've seen for some considerable time to be honest. We were in disarray and it was only the inept Wolves forwards who helped us keep the score down.

CC: Are there any of the recent results where you felt the team were really unlucky not to have won?

UTC: We should have won the opening game at Southampton. We were better than they were, considerably so, but had to settle for a 0-0 draw. A week later, having conceded an early goal, we were level at half time against Watford and were, again, by far the better side. We then conceded two goals in the opening minutes of the second half and it has been pretty poor stuff ever since.

The only exception was our performance against Olympiacos. We were outstanding that night and really, with any luck, would have gone through and would have been playing in Europe again this week.

CC: Who has been Burnley's best player so far this season?

UTC: I'd say take your pick from Joe Hart, James Tarkowski and Jeff Hendrick. Hart has had a couple of outstanding games, Tarkowski is just a very good Premier League defender and Hendrick, who is often the target when things aren't going well, has been as good as anyone else forward of the defence.

CC: Who has been the most disappointing player?

UTC: It's not just one player. The two full backs have disappointed, so have the wide players, Aaron Lennon and Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, and Chris Wood has looked poor up front.

CC: Which players are injured at the moment and might come back to make an impact soon?
UTC: Steven Defour and Robbie Brady. We've missed them terribly. Defour has been out since January but played nearly an hour for the under-23s this week while Brady, who was brilliant at Bournemouth last season, suffered a serious injury on the following Saturday at Leicester and hasn't played since.

Get those two players back in the reckoning and there is absolutely no doubt we are strengthened.

CC: Do you think Burnley just need one good win to bring the belief back?

UTC: One win would certainly be a good start and I think it would be a great help to get things moving again. We shouldn't be bottom of the league but right now that's exactly where we are and we need to start getting results.

CC: How will Burnley line up against Bournemouth?

UTC: This will be interesting. Given the result and performance at Wolves I'd expect changes but it would be impossible to be honest right now to even think what the line up might be.

CC: What is your score prediction?

UTC:  We need a win, we'll get one sooner or later, so I'll go for us to win this one 2-0.

CC: I never find it easy asking fans of teams that are struggling in the league. We have all been there and it hurts. But I agree with Tony that Burnley shouldn't be there and they will pick up results sooner or later. I do believe the efforts of last season mentally might still be weighing on the team. Joe Hart has come in and been exceptional but he needs those in front of him to show similar need not to want to get beat. Bournemouth's players though are in a great place mentally, and in terms of form and while Burnley are at home, all the pressure is on Burnley's players in this fixture. To be honest it's as a good a time as any to play Burnley and that is said respectfully, as Turf Moor is one of the hardest places to go and win a game usually. What I can assure you is that it will be long odds against on a 0-0 draw. There will be goals at both ends.

Check out more of Tony's views at Up the Clarets! 

Match Preview: Chelsea v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Chelsea Daft
Twitter @Chelseadaft.org

Chelsea have had a great start to the season winning their three Premier League games. The charity Shield defeat to Man City seems a distant memory and while media interest in their owner's troubles, and the will Eden Hazard go or stay saga has kept the tabloids busy, we wanted to know if Maurizio Sarri was the answer to all Chelsea's problems? Chelsea Daft gives some opinions ahead of the match with AFC Bournemouth.

CC: What are the main differences that you have seen in the way the team is playing since Sarri has come in?

CD: Main difference is that we are always looking to play on the front foot and to move the ball forward at pace.

CC: The game against Arsenal was a belter, do you think it set the tone for what could be a great season for Chelsea as you didn't buckle having had a two goal lead wiped out?

CD: It's nerve wracking for Chelsea fans and frustrating. We defend too narrow and allow space on the wings which Arsenal exposed. We are far from the finished article but will take every three points we can get at the moment no matter they come.

CC: Have you been surprised that the team has made this season with all the goings on off the pitch at Chelsea and the defeat to Man City in the Charity Shield?

CD: Chelsea still have the basis of our title winning side from two seasons ago with a couple of additions and let's face it, we are used to all sorts going on away from the pitch. It's no problem.

CC: How do you feel about the possibility that Abramovich might be looking to sell and the new stadium now being in jeopardy?

CD: It's to be seen if there is any real substance in these reports and I would be surprised if there was. In my opinion the press have taken two and two to make five based on the owners visa issues. The stadium is on hold and will be completed at some stage.

CC: Eden Hazard looks like he is enjoying his football again and that has to be good news for Chelsea after all the transfer talk. Is he back to his best?

CD: Keeping hold of Eden Hazard has been the best piece of business for us this summer. The guy looks better than ever and has started the season on fire. There is no one better in this league.

CC: Do you feel that Morata is doing well enough on his own up front or would you like to see Giroud partnering him more often from the start?

CD: Morata has well publicised issues with our teams style last year and hopefully, with Sarri-ball he will get plenty more chances to score. If Giroud starts he gives us a different option but I'd doubt we would see both start together.

CC: Kepa Arrizabalaga has kept one clean sheet against Huddersfield. Do you think he has fitted in well and is going to be another great keeper for Chelsea?

CD: It's far too early to say about our new man but because of the way we play teams will always create chances against us. He needs at least a season under his belt before we can judge.

CC: Nathan Aké will be returning to Stanford Bridge in this game. Do the Chelsea fans still think very highly of him?

CD: One of the ones that got away but at the same time, he was never going to replace our back three so the decision to sell was a good one. He is a good player and still fond of him.

CC: How will Chelsea line up for this game?

CD: I believe it will be the same eleven that started against Newcastle last Sunday.

    1 Arrizabalaga, 28 Azpilicueta, 2 Rüdiger, 30 David Luiz, 3Alonso, 7 Kanté, 5 Jorginho,
    17 Kovacic, 11 Pedro, 29 Morata, 10 E Hazard
13 Caballero, 8 Barkley, 12Loftus-Cheek, 18 Giroud, 21 Zappacosta, 22 Willian, 27 Christensen

CC: If Chelsea lost their unbeaten record in this game would it be a big surprise?

CD: On paper (no disrespect) it would but we have seen you guys turn up and spoil the party before. Should be a good game!

CC: Thanks to Chelsea Daft for being the second Rival Lines of the season. It does puzzle me why Chelsea are not talked about as title contenders when they have set the bar high at the start of the season and can point towards an unbeaten record just like Liverpool, Watford and Spurs. But perhaps Chelsea are not fancied because of all the going's on behind the scenes and a new manager. Chelsea Daft says they are used to it, but Chelsea are good at self-destruction. It may be that AFCB will lend a hand in lighting a few potential fires, if they come away with another away win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Visit Chelsea Daft for more news on Sarri's concerns and their £71.6m keeper.

Match Preview: West Ham v AFCB
Blogger interview: West Ham Till I Die
Twitter: @WestHamTil

Well, Rival Lines is back. Yes, we'll be chatting to fellow bloggers and podcasters about their teams for as many away games as we can for another season. We kick off with a friendly chat with West Ham Til I Die correspondent Jeff who hopefully has already gotten over the first week match that he saw up at Liverpool.

CC: Which summer signing that West Ham made are you most excited about?

WHTID: Felipe Anderson, for sure. Issa Diop in defence looks a good buy for the future.

CC: What do you know about your record signing Felipe Anderson?

WHTID: Well, I know he had a really good season last year in Serie A. He is skilful and hard working and looks to be a great buy.

CC: Was the club right to spend as much as it did on new players this summer and is there any worries about integrating them into the team quickly?

WHTID: Well they obviously had to give Pelligrini some money to spend as part of the terms of him coming to West Ham, so yes. I’m not worried about integrating them into the team, although we appear to be left with a bit of a top heavy squad.

CC: Many pundits have suggested that West Ham could even challenge the top six this season, what are your thoughts on that?

WHTID: No chance!

CC: What do you feel about the striker situation at the club now - who is going to get you the goals?

WHTID: Arnautovic started hitting the back of the net last season, and we’ve always got Chicarito in reserve if required. What we need is for the likes of Antonio and Anderson to score some back-up goals from midfield.

CC: Manuel Pellegrini has had plenty of experience with Man City, are the fans more expectant of Pellegrini to do better than David Moyes?

WHTID: David Moyes did what he was asked to do, which was to keep us up. At the end of the season he had us playing quite well also, so I’ve no problem with him. If our ambition is to do more than just stay up, then expectations have got to be higher.

CC: Are you feeling any more confident about winning games at home?

WHTID: Not really! But I’m hoping we can get off to a good start on Saturday.

CC: What did you make of the team that was selected to play Liverpool?

WHTID: Before the game I thought. It looked a reasonable side, after I had changed my mind. Obviously Noble and Wilshere do not look to be such a great pairing.

CC: Was it a risk to buy Jack Wilshere with his history of injury problems?

WHTID: Yes. Definitely. I hope it pays off, because a really fit Jack Wilshere would be a great addition to our squad, him being a Hammer and all. However I fear that players with a bad injury record over three or four years often never return to earlier heights.

CC: Do you think the bench for West Ham will be much stronger this season with players that can change games?

WHTID: Yes. I can see Antonio/Chicarito being on the bench raring to get on most games. The change being that Antonio is fit this year. Oh, and we’ll probably have ‘Big Andy’ on the bench at least 4 times this season.

CC: How do you expect to line up against AFCB?

WHTID: Fabianski / Ogbonna Diop Cresswell/ Fredericks Noble Rice Wilshere Antonio Masuaka / Arnautovic Anderson

CC: How important do you think a win will be for West Ham in this game?

WHTID: It will be nice if it happens. Too early to put a degree of importance on it.

CC: I felt a bit of lost optimism from Jeff after the first week of games, but trust me West ham and their fans will be another prospect at home to Bournemouth. It's a game they know they can win and will probably think they should win. But Pellegrini has to pick his players up and find a few solutions to the problems they are creating themselves as a team. He then has to set about a Bournemouth side who won't just roll over. With Jack Wilshere among West Ham's ranks, it is really set up to be a fabulous day that could get West Ham off the bottom of the league or could push Bournemouth up to top spot. Now I am dreaming! Read more about what West Ham Til I die thinks about the upcoming game by visiting their website. I also answer some of Jeff's questions on their site about AFCB.

Rival Lines
Match  Preview: Southampton v AFCB
Blogger interview: Georgeweah's cousin
Twitter: @crstig

I managed to have a few words with Chris at the fabulous Southampton website - George Weah's Cousin. I wondered if a Cherries fan was the last person he'd want to talk to with the Saints in big trouble, but massive credit to Chris who was more than willing to give an insight into how the Southampton fans are feeling ahead of Bournemouth's visit to St Mary's. The questions were going to be difficult for any Saints fan but sometimes you have to hit reality head on and I want to know what a Saints fan is most annoyed about from the goings on at St Mary's in 2017/18.

CC: At what point of this season did you feel Southampton might be in a bit of trouble - was there a particular game that stood out?

GC: Pretty early on it looked like Pellegrino wasn’t the right man. He cut a confused looking figure pretty much all of the time. The 4-1 defeat to Leicester at home was the one though, as unacceptable and pathetic a performance as I have seen from a Saints team for a long time, with the added insult of being carved apart by a team managed by ‘boring’ Claude Puel.

CC: Do you think the recent game against Leicester was there to be won or could you tell from early on that Southampton were not looking like a team that would win the match?

GC: Absolutely. By now Puel has instilled his turgid, creativity drained style on the poor foxes and we should have come away with 3 points, sadly our team is bereft of confidence and don’t look like they can win in any situation at the moment.

CC: What do you feel is the general view of Mark Hughes among fans? Would you give him the keys to the City if he keeps you up or were you disappointed with his appointment?

GC: Given the situation we were in, I think he was the only realistic choice. Would we have wanted him during the Summer? No, but horses for courses. Our previous two appointments were foreign experiments that failed, with so few games left someone with Premier League experience was essential. I feel sorry for Hughes, he hasn’t been given enough time to turn it around in my opinion.

CC: Who is most to blame for the Saints situation?

When any club goes through such a poor period I think it is too simplistic to blame one factor, it is usually the perfect storm of many factors. Our board’s recruitment policy that used to work so well has gone to pot. Some of our players gave up far too quickly and require attitude readjustments, but the chairman and the director of football have to take the lion’s share of the blame for leaving it so late sacking Pellegrino. Getting this squad relegated is criminal to be honest, the lowest it should finish is 13th/14th, and had they sacked MP at Xmas, we would be out of danger by now.

CC: You could have a massive game against Swansea right at the end. Do you think Swansea City are the only club the Saints can now catch to stay up?

GC: They are the main target but if we don’t beat you (AFCB) on Saturday then I think that will be it. Win on Saturday the beat Swansea and we give ourselves a chance, but 2 wins on the bounce from a team that as won 1 in 21? Seems unlikely.

CC: What did you make of the Saints' performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup?

GC: Gutless. I think we had a certain gameplan that was working up until half time, but when you’ve got the keystone cops at the back, you are only ever one instant away from turning Olivier Giroud into Lionel Messi!

CC: Should Charlie Austin be selected to play up front with Shane Long rather than using him as a sub?

GC: I’m not sure they work as a pair, but Long can’t be relied upon to score. It’s an odd one. Austin is clearly our best striker, but I’d like to see him supported by Gabbiadini in the hole.

CC: What do you think the mood will be like for the match at St Marys with Bournemouth? After all, Southampton have a good record against the Cherries - is it a game you can look forward to?

GC: The mood will be the same as it has been for some time, quiet resignation to the fact we are in a terrible situation. I don’t look forward to any games at the moment, though I learnt many years ago that you should never let the 90 minutes of football ruin your day out.

CC: Have you got any injury worries for this game?

GC: Yep. Boufal – Lack of backbone, Lemina – Unnecessary stepover disease, Bertrand - Face like a slapped arse syndrome, Hoedt – Calumdavenportitus.

CC: How do you expect Southampton to line up against Bournemouth?

McCarthy, Cedric, Hoedt, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeu, Hoijbjerg, Tadic, Ward-Prowse, Long, Austin

CC: If Southampton are going to have a hero who keeps you up who will it be?

GC: Charlie Austin

CC: What will the score be for the match with Bournemouth?

GC: I’m going to be surprisingly optimistic and go for a 1-1 draw. We will probably miss a host of chances, and you will equalise late. 1 point ultimately won’t be enough.

CC: It seems that the fight might be going out of Saints fans but if they were to win against Bournemouth, I think their mood could yet change. I am so used to seeing Southampton come out on top that I would not be overly surprised if they did miraculously escape the drop even now. But the view of seeing Mark Hughes at St Marys would not inspire me with confidence if I were a Saints fan. I agree with Chris though that everything will be clearer I should think after this weekend if the Saints have a realistic shot at staying up of not. Check out more of Chris' thoughts on the Saints' season at George Weah's Cousin

Match Preview
Blogger Interview: This is Anfield
Twitter: @thisisanfield

I spoke to Henry Jackson at This is Anfield who was no doubt celebrating this last week after Liverpool's progress to the Semi-Final of the Champions League - big congratulations! The Reds are having a great season and a top four finish looks glued on, but is Klopp getting the vey best out of his squad and should we talking about anyone else but Mo Salah?

CC: Do you feel that Liverpool are still a long way behind some of the other top four teams in terms of their defensive abilities?

TIA: Absolutely not. While Liverpool conceded some dreadful goals earlier in the season, them being poor at the back has become a myth since Virgil van Dijk’s arrival.

He has been colossal, getting the best out of those around him, particularly Loris Karius, who has really impressed.

The whole defensive unit has improved so much, as it showed over two legs against Man City. The supposed best attack in Europe had just three shots on target in 180 minutes!

Defending will never be Liverpool’s very strongest point - they are sometimes capable of capitulating - but they are far, far better than they were pre-Van Dijk.

CC: What's so impressive about Andrew Robinson?

TIA: He’s a gem, both on and off pitch.

Fans weren’t exactly overjoyed when Liverpool signed him, but he has been so consistent, and is arguably one of the Reds’ top three players this season, behind Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino.

He is fast, fit, a great crosser of the ball, a tenacious tackler and a very intelligent all-round footballer, in terms of decision making and awareness.

The fact that he seems one of the nicest men in football is an added bonus.

CC: Where do you think you would be in the league without Mo Salah's goals?

TIA: We would obviously be lower down in the table, but then you can say the same about all the top teams.

Imagine Man City without Kevin De Bruyne, Man United with David de Gea and Tottenham without Harry Kane. Most teams have a star man.

Salah has been an astonishing signing, though, and has arguably made a better start to his Liverpool career than any player in the history of the club. That’s saying something!

Our fans will tell you that Firmino is almost just as important, however, even though he has a more subtle way of showing it. He’s unbelievable.

CC: Any chance of Liverpool selling Danny Ings back to Bournemouth for next season?

TIA: I like Danny Ings a lot as a person, but I have my doubts about whether he is good enough for Liverpool, especially after such terrible injury problems.

Klopp thinks highly of him as well, but he must be considering moving him on and bringing in a superior back-up to Firmino.

Ings would do a good job for Bournemouth provided he stays fit - he works hard, is better on the ball than some give him credit for and knows where the goal is.

You would love him. [Ed- Well we did have him before Liverpool and Burnley - so we know him well]

CC: Would winning the European Cup with Klopp raise expectations of a Premier League title dangerously high next season?

TIA: Not dangerously high, no.

This is possibly the best Liverpool side I have seen in my lifetime, and they have beaten an imperious Man City team three times in the first four months of 2018.

Regardless of whether we win the Champions League or not - Real Madrid are strong favourites - the Reds will challenge for the Premier League title next season.

The addition of Naby Keita will transform what can sometimes be a one-dimensional midfield, and I expect a few more top players to come in as well.

Would I make us favourites next season? No. But we have a good chance.

CC: Has Oxlade-Chamberlain shown qualities that we just didn't see at Arsenal?

TIA: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s been great, even though a few poor performances have been thrown in here and there.

He looks a far more confident player than the one we saw at Arsenal, and Jurgen Klopp has benefited from playing him in his preferred central midfield role.

He has chipped in with big goals against City, and adds much-needed pace and drive to the midfield.

At 24, he should only improve in the coming years.

CC: There are rumours that Liverpool have been watching Lewis Cook at Bournemouth. Could you see him fitting into Liverpool's midfield or spending time in the reserves?

TIA: I could lie and say I have watched Lewis Cook loads this season, but I haven’t!

From what I’ve seen he does look like a Klopp player though - technically good, plenty of running and a great attitude.

It was nice to see him get on for England recently, and I certainly wouldn’t be unhappy if he came in as a squad player next season.

His potential is clearly big, and it’s always good to keep a nucleus of English players at the club.

CC: Is Loris Karius a keeper that is getting better?

TIA: He has improved so much - who knew a young lad may take time to settle at such a big club?

He has made some bad mistakes, but he has been almost immaculate since coming back into the team, making big saves a looking so much more authoritative.

We have been linked to Alisson, who plays for Roma and Brazil, which would be a fantastic signing, but Loris Karius is making a strong case to be first-choice moving forward.

If he performs like this until the end of the season, Klopp may hold off on bringing in a big name between the sticks.

CC: What are Liverpool going to do for players if Southampton get relegated? - I'm trying not to laugh - really!

TIA: Haha. I saw a Southampton fan blaming us for their potential relegation. Mate, we’ve given you hundreds of millions to go and spend well - you haven’t!

They’ve tried to create some sort of rivalry with Liverpool because we keep buying their best players, but they’re just a bit of an irrelevance, without sounding arrogant.

I wouldn’t be unhappy to see them go down, because they do seem to raise their game against us.

CC: James Milner seems to be eternal, are his legs starting to go?

TIA: He’s another gem who has been a very good signing. His effort levels are astonishing, but he is a MUCH better technical footballer than many give him credit for.

If we got a penalty in the last minute of the Champions League final, he would be my first pick to take it every time.

There’s a reason why he’s been such a popular individual at both Liverpool and Man City - he rarely lets you down and does the right thing time and time again.

He is 32, and his very best days are behind him, so I see him being more of a squad player moving forward.

CC: Any injury worries for this game?

TIA: The two matches against Man City have really taken their toll on the players, so I would expect to see changes made.

We have a number of injuries, though, so Klopp can’t switch things up too much.

Jordan Henderson is back after missing Tuesday’s game through suspension, but Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Emre Can and Adam Lallana are all out.

CC: How will Liverpool line up against Bournemouth?

TIA: I would expect something like: Karius, Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Salah, Firmino, Ings.

Klopp is really hard to second-guess, so who knows!

CC: We might not get a result in this game, so can you give us a good outside bet for the Grand National?

TIA: I’ll go with The Dutchman at 28/1, mainly because Van Dijk is Dutch, and is a born winner.

Solid logic, right?

CC: Brilliant - at least we can come away from Aintree and can blame a Dutchman if we don't win there and another van Dyke Dutchman at Anfield if we don't win there. Well, AFCB have their own Dutchman in Nathan Aké so maybe This is Anfield is on to something there? AFCB fans love games against Liverpool as we know it will be a goal feast more often than not and while AFCB lost heavily at home it could be a chance for some payback. Jordan Ibe is hopefully raring to go again and I have my fingers crossed that the Champions League match against City has taken a bit out of Liverpool's  fantastic forward three. Thanks to Henry for spending lots of time answering all my questions.

You can relive Liverpool's triumph against Man City on the This is Anfield Blog with a tactical review and you can recall 2.5 Red years under Jurgen Klopp.

Match Preview
Watford v AFCB
Podcast/blogger Interview: From the Rookery End
Twitter: @watfordpodcast

I was pleased to get back in contact with Watford's From the Rookery End lads who were keen to put me straight on a few things about Watford this week. I was unsure if they wanted Troy Deeney to stay, if Marco Silva was the best manager they've had in recent years and whether they were just glad to be playing at home after their recent results in away games. 

CC: Do you think Marco Silva was a good fit for Watford before the Everton approach?

FTRE: He certainly felt right at the time, although anyone would have felt right after the Walter Mazzarri tenure. We needed rejuvenating and the way Silva picked up Hull during their ultimately failed attempt to stay in the Premier League earned him many admirers. We moved fast in the summer to appoint him and that seemed necessary to fight off any competition for his services.

CC: What do you make of Javi Gracia - more than a stop gap manager?

FTRE: After the arrogance of Silva, the early impression of Gracia is that he is much more humble and grateful for being given the chance to manage in the Premier League. And whilst we understand the Pozzo model and are comfortable with it, I'm sure there are many Watford fans who would like to see a Head Coach who can settle into the role, make steady progress and play reasonably entertaining football - we don't ask for much!!!

CC: What's happened to Watford's away form in 2018?

FTRE: It's pretty fair to say it's dropped off a cliff. In fact the poor run started in December, by which time the Silva-Everton shenanigans were in full swing. It included throwing 3 points away at Palace in the dying embers of the game. And whilst Javi has markedly improved the home form, improving away performances has been much tougher. In his defence, having to go to the Emirates and Anfield as part of those travels would be tricky for any manager.

CC: Did you expect André Gray to get more starts at Watford this season?

FTRE: I've been a broken record regards Andre Gray on the From The Rookery End podcast this season. I expected Andre to feature heavily away from home, where defences would be playing a higher line, leaving space behind for him to exploit with his pace. It hasn't quite worked that way and the seemingly bizarre approach of Silva resting strikers immediately after they have found some form\hit the target hasn't helped him. Since Javi's arrival and the beast that is Stefano Okaka getting more game time, Andre's involvement has been minimal.

CC: Do you feel that Watford have under achieved this season after the start the team had?

FTRE: Just like the Cherries, Watford are currently sitting nicely in mid-table and that, at present, is a decent improvement on last season's 17th place. However, with the start we had and the points we've thrown away against the likes of Palace, Everton and Swansea, it's hard not to think about what might have been. Thoughts of having potentially chucked away a shot at a Europa League spot is still niggling at the back of the mind.

CC: Do you think Troy Deeney will still be at Watford next season? 

FTRE: If you'd asked me that question a few months ago I'd have doubted if he'd even be here now. Rumours were abound, as they have been for many transfer windows with our club captain and a move to WBA was high on the agenda. But that never materialised and once again Troy has shown his importance to the club with match winning goals against Everton, and of course, West Brom. You have to wonder at what point will clubs be distracted from chasing Deeney given their lack of success in prising him away from Vicarage Road. So maybe we'll seen him here for a few more seasons yet.

CC: Are there any young players at Watford who could be breaking through to the first team soon?

FTRE: Before the Pozzo era, Watford bringing players through their academy was a necessity as transfer funds were limited. These days, with a combination of the money available and the need to have Premier League ready players in the squad, there has been less focus on the academy. A vast injury list saw a few young graduates make first team appearances in the Premier League last season. Of those, left back Brandon Mason showed signs of promise. However, we are unlikely to see any youngsters challenging the current first team squad at present.

CC: Who do you think has the better deal - Bournemouth with Nathan Akee or Watford with Nathaniel Chalobah?

FTRE: Watford, but of course I'm going to say that! £5m (reportedly) is a lot less than Bournemouth paid for Ake and with the start to the season that Chalobah had, it looked like the Hornets had got themselves a bargain. However, the serious injury he suffered is a setback and there is a risk of course that he doesn't find that form again. I honestly feel Nathaniel would have had a great chance of making England's World Cup squad had he stayed fit and carried on the season is the same vein as he started. And it says a lot that as part of his rehabilitation, he has been training with the Three Lions during the international break. As for Nathan, well he is a player we know well of course and I completely understand the much bigger fee paid for him. He had two years of Premier League experience under his belt, impressed at both clubs and was so important to Bournemouth during his time at the club. All those factors raise the price tag of a player. From the outside looking in, I don't think Ake has let his high value affect him.

CC: Watford's top scorer is midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré on seven goals, so is there a particular striker you'd like to see come to Watford to boost the goal scoring next season?

FTRE: Finding a ready made Premier League goalscorer is a very difficult task and when you do, you're having to part with large sums of cash. So for clubs like Watford and Bournemouth it means taking a gamble. If we do sign a goalscorer in the summer, then in true Pozzo style, I'd expect it to be a bit left field and someone we may not know much about. This season, we've had goals from all over the pitch and had 15 different goalscorers in the Premier League. So we haven't suffered as much as you'd expect from just looking at how many goals our top marksman has.

CC: How do you expect Watford to line up against Bournemouth?

FTRE: Gracia has been fairly consistent at home. Expect him to start with a 4231 formation, but if the game is tight with Watford looking to make something happen then he'll likely switch to a 442 at some point in the second half to push on.

CC: What's you score prediction for this Watford v AFCB?

FTRE: We've been pretty well matched in recent Vicarage Road fixtures and I can't see that changing. A 1-1 draw.

CC: Which three clubs do you expect to go down to the Championship and who do you think will come up through the play-offs?

FTRE: West Brom are doomed. Stoke, whilst making themselves hard to beat have struggled to turn draws into wins when they've needed them most. West Ham must be worried with the state their club is in, however I have a nagging feeling that they'll get away with it and Huddersfield's less experienced squad will battle valiantly but drop into the bottom three. Going up in the play-offs? With Villa suddenly losing form and Derby looking a bit wobbly, I think our old mucker Slav and his Fulham boys will be victorious at Wembley!

CC: Well it's good to hear that From the Rookery End are relatively pleased with how this season has turned out. I tend to agree that a score draw is a safe bet for this game although Watford have only lost one of their last five home games which should really make them favourites I'd suggest. Some Bournemouth fans will probably be more than a bit glad that the club shelled out all that cash for Aké as he has been sensational, but it's good to hear that Watford are starting to get good value in some of their signings like Chalobah. If it is Fulham that come up I'll be among the first to buy tickets for the away game as you can't beat Craven Cottage for a good time. I am also looking forward to visiting Vicarage Road again and hopefully we can knock Harry the Hornet off his game!

Match Preview
Leicester City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Leicester Til I Die
Twitter @Leiestertid

This week Cherry Chimes talked with Chris Forryan who runs the Leicester Till I Die blog for the Foxes. They have had a pretty good season and are till involved in the FA Cup as well as hunting down a Europa League spot, but they have had their dramas too with the Mahrez story. Are things now calm at the Kong Power Stadium under Claude Puel or is there any mid-season complacency that the Cherries can take advantage of?

CC: Have your opinions on Claude Puel changed much since he became Leicester City's manager?

LTID: He started off well and got us out the relegation zone and mid-table security, so he’s done what he was brought into to do.

Some decisions baffle us but what team’s managers don’t. The problem is after what Ranieri did we expect every manager to perform miracles.

CC: Does the FA Cup take on any more importance now for Leicester City that Man City are out or is it all about trying to finish seventh on the league?

LTID: BOTH. We are the team that has been in the final the most times without winning it so after the PL success it would be nice to win it, but with four big teams still in it, it looks a hard task. The battle for seventh and a probable Europa League place seems to be a better route into Europe for next season. I would take losing at some stage in the FA Cup and finishing seventh in the league.

CC: Leicester had good home form in January so what has been the reason for the draws in February against Stoke City and Swansea City?

LTID: Swansea City had come off wins against Liverpool and Arsenal and were on a good run under
a new manager, so a draw against them was a good result.

Don’t mention the Stoke game, as the saying goes "We’re were you when we were sh_t?" I was watching us play Stoke last Saturday!

CC: Has Iheanacho been a disappointment or do you think now is his time having seen Ulloa and Slamni go out on loan in January?

LTID:  Too early to say, not been with us a season yet and has only just started to play regularly due to the injury to Okazaki. Give him time he will come good and an excellent replacement for Vardy.

CC: Will you be pleased if Mahrez and Vardy finally leave this summer and the club can reinvest in more new players?

LTID: Yes to Mahrez just want him to go now. I don’t believe Vardy will, he's coming into the twilight of his career and will see his days out at Leicester as he has come to realise we suit his style of play.

CC: What might your season have been like had you not brought in Harry Maguire last summer?

LTID: We are short at the back with Huth being out all season. He and Morgan are getting past it and Maguire and Dragovic are solid at the back. To be honest, it doesn’t bare thinking about.

CC: Would you like to see Derby County get promoted just so that you had a gritty local derby match?

LTID: Nope. Don’t want any Midland club to get promoted would like to see them all in League 2

CC: What's the injury list looking like for Leicester City coming into this match?

LTID: Okazaki is the main injury worry, Morgan is back (unfortunately) no other major problems.

CC: If you could have your pick of strikers for Leicester from Defoe, Wilson or King which would you pick?

LTID: Defo Defo. As an impact sub late on when to need to pinch a goal he would be perfect.

CC: How do you expect Leicester to line up against Bournemouth?

LTID:  Schmeichel – Fuchs, Maguire, Morgan, Simpson – Albrighton, Ndidi, James, Mahrez – Vardy, Inachio

CC: Thanks for those answers Chris. It is good to see Leicester City doing well and backing up their Premier League win of a couple of year's ago with a changing squad that has some new names that are staring to get known. Whether Leicester are a long way ahead of AFCB we will find out this weekend, but both teams have a shot at finishing well inside the top 10 and recent games between these teams have been draws so I don't see it easy to pick a winner this weekend.

Check out why Leicester City Till I Die was so displeased with the club's last home game by visiting the wesite.

Huddersfield Town v AFCB
Blogger Interview: HTFC-World
Twitter: @htfcworld

It has been some time since the Cherries have gone up to Huddersfield for a match and I have been retracing a few past Huddersfield bloggers to see who I could ask to come on Rival Lines. I then hit upon Daniel Gee again who runs HTFC-World and his fabulous artwork of Huddersfield games which is just a unique website in the football world. Here is what he had to say about the Terriers season.

CC: Do you share David Wagner's continued optimism about Huddersfield being better off as a chaser than being just outside the bottom three?

HTFCW: Not really, I’d sooner be outside of the bottom 3 though it hasn’t really affected my optimism one way or the other as I’ve always felt like we’re in a relegation scrap and still do.

CC: David Wagner seems to say you have to accept the situation Huddersfield are in after every press conference. Is battling enough for the fans or do you want to hear something else from your manager now?

HTFCW: I accept the situation. Many fans don’t – they want to see us having more of a go at other teams and while I fully understand this point of view, it’s much easier said than done. We’ve tried setting up with a seemingly more attacking mindset (2 strikers against Liverpool) but if we can’t get out of our own half then it still looks defensive. Plenty of fans look on teams around us such as yourselves and Watford beating Chelsea and ask ‘why can’t we do that, why aren’t we attacking top 6 teams?’ To be honest, the tactical master-classes from Town fans on social media and online forums are one of the worst things to endure this season, every bit as tedious as some of the defensive performances we’ve put on and I’ve found myself withdrawing more and more from them as the season’s progressed to the point where I hardly look online now after a defeat.

CC: With the performances that the team is putting in at the moment and recognising that Huddersfield not having won in the league since before Christmas, are you being unlucky or is it much worse than that?

HTFCW: I don’t think luck has played a significant part in where we are. We’ve had good luck and bad luck this season. There aren’t many games which I can look back on and think we didn’t get what we deserved, whether it be wins, draws or defeats. Our home form kept our heads above water in the first half of the season and we need to rediscover that form starting with Bournemouth on Sunday if we’re to have any chance of survival. Lose that and many fans may well throw the towel in. Some already seemingly have done after January’s results and will simply jump up and down on it screaming about having a go and going down without a fight. If we lose while playing well then they may be a bit more forgiving but that’s been a rare occurrence this season, once we go a goal behind we never really look like getting back into games.

CC: Huddersfield fans are among the best at home for the atmosphere they create but has there been any grounds in the Premier League where you have been impressed by the home support?

HTFCW: I’ve missed two games this season – Bournemouth and Leicester away, so can’t really comment on those but I’ve found the atmospheres at Premier League games to be woeful. Swansea was about as close to a ‘normal’ atmosphere as I’ve seen despite them having struggled before and after their win against us. Liverpool, West Ham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton didn’t feel like the home fans really cared much. They all beat us by two or more goals but the home fans were the ones leaving with 10 minutes left and most of them looked miserable. I don’t really understand it, I’d be staying at home and watching on TV if I was so disconnected from the game going on in front of me. Burnley at Turf Moor is probably the best atmosphere I’ve experienced this season but it still wouldn’t even get in the top 10 of those from last season.

CC: Has Scott Malone (ex-Bournemouth of course) been a good buy?

HTFCW: No. [Ed- a lot of AFCB fans will agree with you there!] Fans have recently targeted him for ridicule, particularly on Twitter. Twice for Fulham last season he had a field day down our right hand side which not many teams/players did, to be fair. I think we were expecting far more attacking threat from him but that was always going to be difficult with our set up. Our own right back, Tommy Smith, who was contributing goals and assists throughout last season has struggled this term, too, so it may be harsh to judge Malone on that criteria. However, he really has struggled to cope so far. The problem is that we paid several million for him which we never would’ve done previously for a ‘squad’ player and having the price tag on his head hasn’t helped his cause. We’ve rarely paid seven figure fees before this campaign and when we have, they’ve been a cut above the rest of the team – Marcus Stewart and Christopher Schindler. I guess if we do stick around at this level, it’s something we’d have to get our heads around.

CC: Has the FA Cup been a bit of a good breather from the premier League or has it been a hindrance with a replay against Birmingham?

HTFCW: Well, I can answer this one with hindsight thanks to it being just after our extra time 4-1 victory; it’s probably been a help. We played fringe players in the 3rd round against Bolton and the 1st game against Birmingham and looked almost as toothless as we had done in the league. However the team for the replay was almost a full strength line-up and it will probably have done them some good to get some goals (eventually) despite having to play 120 minutes. I can’t say I’m that excited for the 5th round against Manchester United despite having wanted that tie to be drawn every year since I started following Town. I would’ve sooner we played another lower-league team but I’d rather be in the competition than out of it and ‘concentrating on the league’.

CC: You have some massive matches in March and April - are you ready for the intensity and nerves these matches will bring?

HTFCW: It’s odd because I’m really not that nervous. I don’t fear relegation. I’m concerned that I’m not enjoying some of the performances as much as I’d hoped I would and the early season excitement at everything ‘Premier’ has worn off somewhat now. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t swap this season for anything but I said it at the time that last May in Wembley would be as good as it ever got for me watching Town. Beating Palace to go top on the opening day and beating Man Utd at home was special. I hope we get plenty more of those sorts of memories but nothing this season has matched the intensity and nerves of last. I’ve come away from thrashings at Arsenal and Liverpool and just thought ‘meh’. I don’t want to feel like that, I want to be emotionally involved in the games. I was p***ed off with the manner in which we lost to Stoke in a relegation 6 pointer so maybe I’ll rediscover my emotional investment in the upcoming games.

CC: What have you made of Alex Pritchard since his arrival?

HTFCW: He hasn’t featured much on account of him being cup-tied for the Birmingham games and left out against Liverpool and Manchester United as we went on the back foot with 3 central midfielders all looking to tackle and defend rather than create and score goals. Hopefully, he’ll get a chance against yourselves as having seen him previously with other clubs, he’s always impressed me. I do worry that we don’t have the sort of movement that his game benefits from so he may have to score a few goals himself.

CC: Do you expect Terence Kongolo to get a good run of games at centre-back?

HTFCW: Christopher Schindler, who’s been by far our best player this season, went off injured against Manchester United so Kongolo may well fill in for him. He’s looked great so far and has featured on the left side of a back 3 (FIVE). He’s offered some versatility to our set-up so Eddie Howe may be left guessing as to whether Town will go on the defensive with a flat back 5 or a flat back 4. If Schindler’s fit then Kongolo could see himself at left-back as, unlike Malone, he looks like he can defend. And mark. And flatten kids from Manchester United like a pancake.

CC: Are there any major injuries for your team?

HTFCW: Schindler would be the big doubt but other than that we should be ok. He was a big miss for the game at Dean Court though not sure he would’ve made much of a difference to the result.

CC: Is there a player in Bournemouth's team that you could see fitting in well at Huddersfield Town?

HTFCW: Nathan Ake seems to get good write-ups. I’m not really clued up on that many opposition players these days to be honest, and I haven’t watched Match of the Day since the 16th December. Marc Pugh and Harry Arter always looked good against us in the lower leagues, I like that you still have players from that era. But I’d much prefer to take one of your strikers either Defoe or Wilson to give us something different. I like both our strikers but they don’t really complement one another as a partnership or offer much of an alternative from the bench when the other isn’t getting much from the opposition. I would still rather we’d been able to keep hold of Nahki Wells to offer that outlet, given we didn’t replace him like for like when he left for Burnley.

CC: How do you expect Huddersfield to line up against AFC Bournemouth?

HTFCW: I’m hoping it’s four at the back with two defensive midfielders (Hogg/Mooy) then Ince/Van La Parra on the wings, Pritchard in the 10 role and either of our strikers up front would do for me... so long as we give them some service.

CC: A big thank you to Danny Gee who clearly has a great affection for his team and has given us a good glimpse into how Huddersfield fans are feeling at the moment. I wonder if their rollercoaster start led David Wagner into a false sense of security but they have to pick up points now. Whether an inform Bournemouth side is the best kind of opposition for them to be up against we will see and the midday kick off might make it feel a bit of a strange game for both teams. All I can say is I don't fancy a nil-nil for this one.

Do cast your eyes over the HTFC-World website as it will make your day if you have never been on it before. Hopefully, Danny will do a match report after the Bournemouth game as well so don't forget to check back on the site  in a week or so after the game to see what he might have written about AFCB players!

Match Preview: Chelsea v Man City
31 Jan 2018
Blogger Interview: Chelsea Daft

We might have been deprived of football for a bit but it is good to see that Bournemouth have a mid-week game against Chelsea and Chelsea Daft is ready to give us all an update on how the Blues are feeling before this match.

CC: Are you worried if Conté leaves in the summer?

CD:  If it comes to that happening then I believe that to be the biggest mistake of the Abramovich era, more so than hiring Rafa!

He is such a talented manager, one of the top three in the world and would be hard to replace.

CC: Do you think it is good for Chelsea to get more English players in their team having signed Danny Drinkwater and Ross Barkley?

CD: Yes I do. He bedrock/foundation of our success was built on key English players that formed the important core of our side.

CC: What do you think of the design for the new Chelsea stadium?

CD: I like it when we get to sit inside once built, but I do admit that the outside is a bit ropey!

CC: Alvaro Morata didn't play in the Carabao Cup Semi-finals against Arsenal. Has his form become a real problem?

CD: It has become an issue because of the points lost away at Arsenal for example when he should have scored in the last minute.

He has been brilliant since he arrived here but when he doesn’t score we need someone else to step up on a regular basis. Despite his cup goals, Michy Batshuayi doesn’t seem to be that man for Conte.
CC: There's talk about Edin Dzeko joining Chelsea. Would he be a better option than Batshuayi?

CD: Yes he would in my opinion because he suits the profile of he striker this team needs. He is someone who can hold the ball up as well as score goals and for the way we play that is important.

CC: Would it be good for David Luiz to leave the club or is he not the source of much of the discontent?

CD: I’m not too sure as it all seems to have blown over. If he remains unhappy then get rid as we don’t need another Diego Costa situation going on.

CC: Which game in the Premier league did you think Chelsea played best in so far this season?

CD: It would have to be the Manchester United game because of its importance. We’ve had some big wins this season but to get another one over Jose is always good! [Ed- Chelsea won the game 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on 5 November - Morata scored the winner]

CC: What were your feelings about the team after you went out of the Carabao Cup, were the just unlucky?

CD: Deserved it to be fair. Our problem this season is that there have been games when we haven’t turned up for a half here and there and that’s not good enough. We dominated the first half, made the mistake of sitting deep in the second which took the influence of Hazard away and lost the game.

CC: Do you think Nathan Aké should have been given more of a go at Chelsea?

CD: I do but it’s always going to be a difficult situation at the time as Conte found his system that led us to the title by playing the same three defenders. His move was right at the time.

CC: How do you think Chelsea will line up against AFC Bournemouth?

CD: As strong as possible hopefully:

Courtois, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill, Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso, Hazard and Morata

CC: I enjoyed the answers from Chelsea Daft - short and sweet. I do wonder why Chelsea have become a perennial team in one season unstoppable and another self destruction, but when they are all together they are one of the hardest teams to beat. I just hope AFCB catch them on a off day for once and Bournemouth have come close to having more than just the one win against Chelsea since they have been in the Premier League. Thanks to Chelsea Daft - catch up on more thoughts on Chelsea's players on the Chelsea Daft site.

Match Preview
20 January 2018
West Ham v AFCB
Blogger Interview West Ham Till I die
Twitter @WestHamTill

This weekend's match against West Ham is a game that will be a pivotal one for the winning side you'd feel and I wanted to get the opinion of Jeff at West Ham Till I Die on how his team was performing before this big clash at the London Stadium. Was David Moyes actually the Messiah? Could any Bournemouth player improve their side or scratch that - will you take Afobe? And if West Ham aren't going down, which sides are?

CC: Could it have gone much better for David Moyes since he joined West Ham?

WHTID: Well I suppose, he would’ve chosen not to get thrashed 4 – 0 by Everton.

CC: There is a claim that the players are fitter now than they were under Billic, is that the main reason for the better form?

WHTID: I don’t know if that is the case - the players were fit enough the past two seasons, but there is no doubt that he has turned things around. After Bilic’s great first season with West Ham, I was one of those that hoped he would succeed, however given David Gold recent declaration that he should have sacked Slaven at the end of last season, things had obviously soured, and at the end there was an inevitability that he would go. At the moment results have started to turn our way: Arnautovic is in a rich vein of form, Lanzini has started scoring goals, and at the weekend Kouyate had his best game in ages, add to that Ogbonna has started to show why he was capped for Italy. These key players are all starting to show consistency and that will pay dividends for us. David Moyes has definitely identified the best position for Arnautovic, so I will credit him for that at the very least.

CC: What have you made of Javier Hernandez is he right for West Ham?

WHTID: He’s a good player, no doubt about that, but he has not really been given a long run in the team, so we haven’t seen the best of him. The way Arnie is playing that is not going to change in the near future either! I never like to see players sulking when they have been substituted off and he has been guilty of doing that. I of course want every player to be successful at West Ham, but that is never going to happen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move on, this is a World Cup year, and being a key player for Mexico he will want more game time.

CC: How important is it for West Ham to pick up a central midfielder this window with rumours of Scott Arfield and Harry Arter filling the papers?

WHTID:  I like all our central midfielders, but there is no doubt that not one of them will be getting ‘player of the year’ this season, so I would not be surprised to see a bit more competition arriving.
CC: Do you think Joe Hart has a future at West Ham and have the fans written him off?

WHTID: I think of lot of West Ham fans think that Joe Hart was a strange arrival given that goalkeeper was not our weakest position. He has not had a brilliant season, although he has had a few decent games. Joe is another one who will have his eye on the World Cup.

CC: Which West Ham players should we may get the chance to see in Russia this summer?

WHTID: Whether they will be West Ham players or not, the above two, and Diafra Sakho for Senegal. Chiek Kouyate also for Senegal, Manuel Lanzini has broken into the Argentina squad. I don’t know the state of Michail Antonio’s injury, but if fit and on form he will be a good risk. Aaron Cresswell has not had his best season so far but is running into form and may have an outside chance of making the squad.

CC: Have you many major injuries?

WHTID: Apart from Antonio and Winston Reid, Hernandez and surprise surprise Andy Carroll have minor knocks but they should be fit for Saturday.

CC: Who would you say has been player of the season for West Ham so far?

WHTID: Mazuaku was the only bright spark of our poor first half of the season. Over the past few games Arnoutovic has been on top form!

CC: The 3-3 match between the two clubs was a strange one in December with lots of incidents. Do you expect another high scoring game?

WHTID: Well we are scoring quite freely for the first time all season, and I always think Bournemouth are capable of scoring – illegitimately or not! Hopefully we can outscore you this weekend.

CC: How do you think West Ham will line up for the Bournemouth match?


Zabeleta Ogbonna, Rice Cresswell

Kouyate Obaing Noble Mazuaku



CC: Who would you like to see go down out of the teams in the bottom half - and any reasons why?

WHTID: Stoke and West Brom, just because of the style of football they have inflicted on us over the past few years, and given that one of my great mates is a Stoke fan and he had the temerity to say that West Ham would go down last season! I do feel sorry for the poor West Brom fans though, the sheer drudgery that they have had to suffer is almost too much to bear. I think Pards will find it too difficult to turn around their way of playing: so I think those two and Swansea will go down.

CC: It is good to hear that Jeff is feeling positive about his club ahead of this game. While the jury might be out on David Moyes for West Ham fans despite the wins that he has picked up, the Hammers' situation is pretty good to where they were earlier this season. West Ham may have struggled in the FA cup but they got through after extra time against Shrewsbury and some of their main players had to play in that game. Bournemouth chose to rest players and went out, so it will be interesting to see if Eddie Howe will be celebrating after this game or not. In a way, AFCB have already shown a lot of respect for West Ham in not risking some players in the FA Cup but it has been at a high cost for Bournemouth fans who wanted an FA Cup run.

Make sure you take a look at West Ham Till I Die, especially as, at some point today or tomorrow, you'll come across my answer's to Jeff's questions on AFCB.

Match Preview: Man City v AFCB
23 December 2017
Blogger Interview: Onefootball
Twitter: @OnefootballEN

I tried to get in touch with Typical City Blog earlier this week and to my disappointment found out that it had ceased to be. But undeterred I managed to speak with Dan who was one of the writers on the Typical City site and as he now writes for One Football and is still an avid Blue I thought Id ask him what he thought of Man City this season and give you all a chance to get to know Onefootball.

CC: If defeat is going to come in the league for City in which game do you think it is most likely to come?

OF: I'm absolutely certain it will happen at some juncture and the pessimist in me worries it could happen against your lot on Saturday!

I find all the talk of City potentially being "the new Invincibles" utterly baffling personally. Yes, we've played exceptionally well this season, but there's still an awful long way to go between now and May and a lot can happen. We play so many games nowadays that it's bound to take its toll and a bad injury to somebody like Kevin De Bruyne or our goalkeeper Ederson would weaken us significantly.

But it would be nice if Pep Guardiola could match or even surpass the 19-game winning streak he notched up at Bayern Munich. If that were to be the case, we'd have to beat Crystal Palace away in the 19th game and we could easily slip up there given the form they've been in since Roy Hodgson took charge.

CC: Is the Premier League enough for City fans or can you do something in the Champions League and the domestic cups?

OF: I think I speak for a lot of City fans when I say I'd be more than happy if we just won the league this season. It's been three years since we last won it and if we are the become the dominant force in Europe that our level of investment suggests we're aiming for, we need to become the dominant force in our own league first.

I really think we're good enough to go deep into the Champions League this season, though. I know I'm biased but I've watched all of the top teams in Europe this season and none have impressed me quite as much as City have. That doesn't necessarily mean we'll go on to win it, of course, but it feels like we're better equipped to challenge for that competition this season than we've ever been.

A run in one or both of the domestic cups would be great too but they're probably 3rd and 4th on our list of priorities, if I'm being honest.

CC: Man City found it hard going to get the win against Bournemouth earlier in the season so do you think Bournemouth's style gives Pep Guardiola more to think about than some other games?

OF: Possibly, yes. I thought we were poor that day at the Vitality and very lucky to win. If you'd told me then we'd go on to win our next 15 league games I wouldn't have believed you.

It will be interesting to see how Bournemouth approach this one on Saturday. Eddie Howe has been widely praised for trying to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool at the weekend and as genuinely admirable as that is, I'm sure he'll be hoping to avoid another 4-0 defeat at the Etihad.

A few teams have shown this season that defending deep is the best chance you've got of stopping City and though Howe doesn't seem to like football to be played that way, the alternative is to open up and let City tear you apart.

That said, I watched your game at Old Trafford the other week and you had United on the ropes right until the death, so this could be a closer game than many might predict.

CC: Do you think a player like Nathan Aké would improve Man City?

OF: Definitely. He's a player I like a lot and there's always room for a confident, ball-playing centre-half in Guardiola's team.

But I hope for his and your sake that he stays at Bournemouth for a bit longer at least. Regular game-time is going to be crucial to his development over the next few years and he did the right thing by getting away from Chelsea when he did.

Lots of players have shown in the past that making what might look like a step up can be hugely detrimental to your career and I hope Aké doesn't become another one of them.

CC: Is Ederson in goal not getting the credit he deserves playing behind such a strong side?

OF: It's funny you say that because Jamie Carragher and John Terry did an excellent analysis of Ederson's distribution on Monday Night Football this week so if he hasn't been getting a lot of credit so far, people are definitely starting to notice how good is he now.

And his importance to the way City have played this season really can't be understated. His ability with the ball at his feet is as good as a lot of outfielders, he's always an oasis of calm under pressure and unlike the fella we had in between the sticks last season, he's actually making valuable saves too.

I don't think he's quite at David De Gea's level just yet but this is his first season in English football, he's still only 24 and I'm convinced he'll be one of the best in the world one day.

I saw a great stat about him the other day actually. Apparently, if Ederson hadn't made a single save all season, City would still be 7th in the league, four points behind Arsenal and with a better goal difference!

CC: Do you think Raheem Sterling can take his city form into having a great World Cup?

OF: I really hope so. Raheem's form this season has been a great redemption story and a great source of satisfaction to a lot of City fans.

He's been one of our best players and, consequently, one of the best in the league and if he can take that confidence with him to Russia next summer, it can only be a good thing for England.

I'd love to see the people who've bullied him and slagged him off in the media and elsewhere eating their words one day, and I think they will.

CC: Do you want to get Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in January or are there other players you'd rather buy?

OF: Well, despite everything I've just said about Sterling, when there were those rumours of a swap deal involving him and Sanchez knocking around in the summer, if it were up to me I probably would have done it.

I'd always rated Sterling but at that moment in time, I rated Sanchez higher and I really thought he could be the final piece of the puzzle for Pep.

But a few months have passed since then and now I'm not sure we need him at all. He's not been in good form for Arsenal this season and I worry he'd upset the apple-cart and someone like Sterling would end up being unfairly sidelined.

Plus, he's available on a free transfer in the summer so even to a club with City's bottomless pit of money, splashing somewhere in the region of £50 million on him now wouldn't make much sense.

Instead, I'd like us to sign a centre-back and/or a left-back in January. Fabian Delph and Eliaquim Mangala have both done a job for us this season but they're short-term solutions really. I'm not a huge Virgil Van Dijk fan really but he's apparently the club's prime target and would probably be a pretty decent signing if we got him.

CC: How will City line up against Bournemouth?

OF: Pep's teams are always quite tough to guess but at the time of writing, I'd go for:

De Bruyne
Bernardo Silva

CC: I am fearful to ask but what will the score be against Bournemouth?
OF:  I'll go for 3-1 to City.

CC: Well, what a great set of answers from Dan. I don't think anyone has been as thorough and thoughtful in their answers as that this season and it is good to see a Man City fan just enjoying the season for what it is and believing that there is more to come from Pep Guardiola and his Man City side. While Man City have steam rolled just about everyone, I have my fingers crossed that AFCB can leave the Etihad with their heads heads high this weekend. Don't forget to check out the OneFootball website it is full of football news and not just from the Premier League!

Match Preview: Crystal Palace v AFCB
Blogger Interview: The Eagles Beak
Twitter: @Theeaglesbeak

Talking to a Crystal Palace fan is a little easier than it might have been a few weeks ago. They are starting to believe that they are not the worst team in the Premier league and with players coming back and Roy Hodgson getting a tune out of what was a disjointed side. Sam at the Eagles Beak is quietly confident of things turning around.

CC: Did you think that Frank de Boer's ill-fated period in charge says more about the board at Palace, who took a risk with an untried foreign manager in the Premier League and yet didn't have the courage to stick with their convictions?

TEB: There were many more factors to de Boer’s dismissal than were obvious to the naked eye. The results were an obvious stumbling point; they were not good enough but the performances were gradually improving and we were not as bad as many suggested. The players also had a problem with de Boer behind the scenes: apparently he showed off in training and senior members of the squad disliked his approach. While this seems extremely petty on the squadms behalf, if you’re in a predicament such as we were and the relationship between coaches and players ceases to exist, he needs to go.

The board clearly made a mistake in appointing de Boer. They were providing a squad far more familiar to Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew with a very progressive perfectionist whose own mistake was his insistence on an immediate revolution rather than making gradual tweaks. The general consensus is that his time was up.

CC: Were you pleased when Roy Hodgson was made Crystal Palace manager or do you think there were better options out there?

TEB: Hodgson’s appointment was as underwhelming as Allardyce’s and that turned out perfectly. Perhaps from a neutral’s perspective it seems like a risk but the former England manager has gone about his work well, going back to basics and getting the best out of a squad that was previously underperforming. The ‘look how far we’ve come’ narrative is overplayed by Palace fans but Hodgson - being a Palace fan as a kid - ‘gets’ the journey this club has been on and that has come across in his press conferences. He speaks well about the club which bodes well with Palace fans and has made the transition from ‘underwhelming appointment’ to ‘we have the right man at the right time’ far easier.

CC: November was a half decent month for Palace, but do you feel the team is functioning much better now?

TEB: Palace are picking up points where we would not have done under de Boer, such as the victories against Chelsea and Stoke City. There has been frustration that other points have not been picked up under Hodgson, such as the two 2-2 draws against West Ham and Everton in which the side dominated each game and all four goals were very avoidable. It’s a reflection on how poor the rest of the bottom four or five are that we have managed to catch up so quickly, though.

CC: You've scored two goals at home in each of the last two matches at Selhurst Park, so do you feel you have the goal power to get out of trouble?

TEB: This is the only worry with Palace. We relied on Christian Benteke’s goals last season and cannot rely on current top scorer, Wilfried Zaha, who is just going through a period of good form in front of goal. Everton, West Ham and Brighton could easily have been out of sight had good chances been scored and our goal difference could be the difference between survival and relegation.

CC: What have you made of Ruben Loftus-Cheek?

TEB: He’s doing well. His England performances have excessively increased his reputation but he has not quite performed the same for Palace, despite a few good games. He was the best player under de Boer, playing centrally and given license to go from box to box. Under Hodgson, he’s played a wider role and it hasn’t helped.

CC: What was it like when Sakho got that 90+2 minute winner against Stoke City?

TEB: That was a great feeling. It was the first time Palace had scored a 90+ minute winning goal at home since 1998 so it was a sign that the luck at Selhurst might be changing.

CC: Do you think you are getting the best out of Christian Benteke?

TEB: No. He was injured from September until mid-November which hasn’t helped but for him not to score a goal this season, after his heroics last campaign, is disappointing. He didn’t fit de Boer’s style of play and still looks unfit in fairness so we are expecting more from him.

CC: Wayne Hennessy and Scott Dann both missed out against WBA. Are you concerned with all the injuries that Palace seem to get this season?

TEB: Injuries have been a common theme for a few years and it is unclear whether that is pure bad luck or a deeper problem within the medical department. It doesn’t help, particularly when the squad is very thin. Hodgson was only able to name five subs last week.

CC: How will Palace set up against Bournemouth?

TEB: Two banks of four, Zaha playing off Benteke.

CC: Are you optimistic of finishing above at least three sides this season?

TEB: We’re quietly confident. There are some really poor sides this season - a result of the financial divide in the league - which could either play in our favour if we improve or could see us fall into that category ourselves.

CC: So, Crystal Palace are finding their feet and even some goals at Selhurst Park. They have also been looking to the future with a new ground plan announced in the last week. Another win and they'll be out of the bottom three. Things may lean towards this not being a good time to play the Eagles, but AFCB have also had a rough patch and are looking to add to their away wins and compared to the fixtures coming up, Palace doesn't seem such a bad place to visit this Saturday.

Match Preview: Swansea v AFCB
Blogger Interview: SOS Fanzine
Twitter: @StevenSOS1987 @SOSFanzine

I've spoke to Steve at SOS Fanzine a couple of times before and so I knew we'd get a really honest opinion of his team when I invited him to come on Rival Lines. He is no doubt hurting a bit by recent results as all Swansea fans have been, but I wanted to see if he really felt their was a glimmer of light that Paul Clement and the players are about to turn things around and if not what did Swansea need in January to pick up better results?

CC: What is the overriding opinion of Paul Clement with the Swansea fans - has he got what it takes to keep you up? 

SOS: No, I think it’s time for a change again unfortunately. He did really well to keep us up last term and in all fairness he was let down by our bad dealings in the transfer market over the summer. However, he has no idea on his best 11 of formation and we are a third of the way into the season. The football is so negative that people are bored out of their minds and recent performances have been abysmal. He should have gone after the game last week.

CC: I know he has been injured, but can Wilfried Bony still be the player he was a few years ago at Swansea?

SOS: I have my doubts. He was brilliant the first time around and there's no shame no ousting the likes of Sergio Aguero at Man City, but alarm bells were ringing for me when he was behind Berahino and Crouch at Stoke. We should have taken him on loan, not permanently.

CC: Why has the home form been so poor this season?

SOS: Negative tactics, wrong players and formations. Plus the fact that we’re just not very good anymore, it’s be hard for anyone to get this lot to improve to the point where we’re a reasonable side again.

CC: Fabianski has been on the end of a lot of opposition shots. What have you made of his performances?

SOS: He’s been one of the one shining lights. He was brilliant last season and has carried on where he left off. We’d have a much worse goal difference it if wasn’t for him.

CC: Do you feel it was a bad decision to sell Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente in the same transfer window last summer and is that what you are paying for?

SOS: Partly yes, selling Sigurdsson and not buying a direct replacement was insanity. We have no creativity in this team and no one who can’t take a decent set piece which is hurting us big time. Llorente has been a loss as well although he would have struggled with most Sigurdsson’s service. If we’d adequately replaced both then we maybe ok but we didn’t.

CC: How close are Swansea to turning around results? 

SOS: I don’t think we are at all, my main hope is we stay in touch until January and address the imbalances in the squad to try and dig ourselves out of trouble. Performances are getting worse, not better at the moment.

CC: How good is Tammy Abrahams? 

SOS: Excellent, how he has four goals in a team that creates nothing I don’t know. He’s one of the only players who looks especially bothered by our predicament as well. Our fans love him.

CC: Do you expect Swansea to be busy in the January transfer window?

SOS: No idea with our board these days, but we have to be. A number 10 is vital, a right back, and a winger I would say. Need to ship a few out too who aren’t good enough.

CC: If you could swap a Swansea player for a Bournemouth player which players would you move?

SOS: Josh King has given us a few problems in the past, has pace to burn, scores a few and would likely set up a few. He’s the player from you who would make the biggest impact at Swansea. [Ed- And what about players going the other way? - Any but Fabianski and Abrahams I'll guess!]

CC: How do you expect Swansea to set up for this game against Bournemouth?

SOS: Clement loves to change things. Last week it was 4-3-3 but I have a feeling it might be 5-3-2 this week with Abraham and Bony both starting.

CC: Thanks for the answers Steve! The mood in the Swansea camp might not be so encouraging at the moment but a win would very quickly put a different look to the table and to the positions of Bournemouth and Swansea. That is why this game is one that Eddie Howe has been keen to highlight as a very important game. Paul Clement looked like he was running out of ideas in his post-match press conference after the Burnley defeat and by the words of SOS Fanzine it might not be long before the fans want him out if he can't do better, especially at home. So I expect a tense atmosphere at the Liberty and a high-paced first 20 minutes as I think whoever gets ahead in this game will pick up the points. You can read more reports on Swansea City and their players on SOS Fanzine.

Match Preview: Newcastle Utd v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Toon Bano
Twitter: @ToonBano

I had the pleasure of squeezing a few Rival Lines out of Bano at Toon Bano this week. He must be delighted with how Newcastle have started this season and the love for Rafa Beitez seems to know no boundaries up at St James Park.

CC: What has Benitez got right that other Newcastle Utd managers were unable to do?

TB: He has made a true effort to understand the club and its fans. He does something remarkable that not many other managers have done...actually listen to them. Genuis eh? Whenever he meets a fan, or someone from the media with links to the club, he asks them what they think of the team etc and listens. Being Newcastle manager is not as difficult a job as previous managers have made it. Just lock your ego in a drawer somewhere and understand the club properly, instead of making your own mind up through arrogance and ignorance.

CC: While Matt Ritchie has not been in the Scotland squad of late, would you say he is now the complete Premier League player?

TB: I am not sure what the 'complete' Premier League player is, how do you define it?, but he is definitely Premier League standard. I was as surprised as anyone to see him drop into the Championship to join us from yourselves but I am glad he did. He sets the benchmark in our team in terms of hard work and determination [Ed- That sounds like the complete PL player to me!]. He is a players' player and a manager's dream to work with.

CC: Christian Atsu is another former Bournemouth player although we saw little of him at Dean court. What would you say is his best strength?

TB: His pace. Easily. He has a bit of skill and can stick the ball in the net on his day but he can be frustrating at times. He is your typical winger. I remember him going to Bournemouth and was very surprised Eddie didn't use him more often before his injury cut his loan spell short.

CC: Mike Ashley has put Newcastle Utd up for sale which many fans have wanted but is the timing a bit awkward if you need funds in January and things have nit been sorted?

TB: Well, Mike Ashley doesn't do anything unless it's for self-gain. There will be a reason why he has decided to go public putting Newcastle up for sale but only he and his advisors will really know what that is. He did say he will give Rafa money to spend in January if he doesn't find a buyer but I will expect that to be very little.

CC: Jonjo Shelvey had a mad start to the season in the match against Spurs, getting an early red card, but has he calmed down now and started to play better?

TB: He has calmed down but I have said that before, Jonjo is the type of character that needs two, three or maybe more chances before he gets himself right in the head...and even then he still might not be completely right. Just when you think he is past his misdemeanours, he goes and does something ridiculous. He has always played well for us so there are no worries on that front.

CC:  Have you been surprised a how easily the points have come for Newcastle so far this season?

TB: Well, they haven't come easy that's for sure but I am not surprised by our start. I was adamant at the start of the season that we were far better than some relegation fodder, with a team full of Championship players, that many were labelling us as That's is total nonsense. We have a few Championship standard players in and around the first XI but so do many clubs. Bournemouth included. Plus we have a world class manager. Only a handful of teams in the Premier League can say the same. Rafa is the key to everything. How anyone can say he would be relegated given a full season is beyond me.

CC:  Which defender has played best in the team so far?

TB: Most of them have been excellent this season but if you would pick one you would say captain Jamaal Lascelles, 23, has come of age this season. The youngest captain in the league and has been rock solid. He wasn't even in the first team at the start of the season believe it or not such is our strength at centre-back, but he is the first name on the team sheet now.

CC: Have Newcastle got any injuries ahead of this game?

TB: Mikel Merino has a back injury and a doubt for the game which is a blow for us. The young Spaniard has been phenomenal in midfield. He was so good we took the option to make his loan-deal permanent last month! No messing around. Paul Dummett has been out since the first game of the season and apart from that we have a pretty healthy squad.

CC: How do you think Newcastle will set up for the game?

TB: We will set up the same as we always do. 4-4-1-1 with Perez and Joselu defending from the front with two banks of four without the ball. We will look to frustrate your boys by plugging gaps and chasing everything down. This will be a very interesting game on Saturday. In Boxing, styles make fights, and the styles of these two teams is very different and a cracking match up.

CC: What is your score prediction?

TB: I have gone for us to sneak it 1-0 but this game could be anything. If your boys show up and play to their potential it will be a difficult game for us. We are all about staying organised and being very precise with our passing. One thing we definitely have over you though is at set-pieces. This could be the deciding factor as your boys HATE trying to defend them. Trust me, I see it every week!

CC: A great set of answers from Bano and I think he has give AFCB fans a good idea of what Newcastle are all about. This season I would say AFCB have been better at defending set-pieces bar the opening game against WBA, the problem has been in shooting frequently enough and on target. But the match up between these two teams will be fascinating if Bournemouth also line up as a 4-4-1-1 formation As I expect. It could be just like-for-like and individual battles I feel will decide the day. Bournemouth have shown they win games when they score twice but can they do it against a side being led by Rafa Benitez who is a tactical mastermind? Eddie has to be on top of his managerial game if he is to out whit Newcastle and Benitez.

Do check out Toon Bano where the Ginger Pirlo has his say on the Toon Army.

Match Preview
Stoke City v AFCB
21 October 2017
Blogger Interview: Nathan Hildicth ASKFans

I was finding it hard to find a Stoke City Blogger as the site I went to last season seems to have folded. I can't blame that on Stoke's game against Man City last weekend, but I got a few failures to reply to my invitation until I hit upon Nathan who like me writes for ASKFans who do match previews and reports for all the Premier League teams. Luckily Nathan was more than happy to share his views ahead of Bournemouth's visit to the Bet365 stadium, you can also catch his lively match report from the unbelievable 7-2 City game on ASKFans.

CC: Stoke were blown away last weekend by Man City, so I guess you'll be very pleased to be coming back to play a game at the Bet365 stadium?

The Bet365 stadium.
NHAF: Our away form this season has been nothing short of pitiful, so in that sense – yes, I will definitely be glad to be back at the Bet365. Plenty of teams will take a good hiding at the Etihad this season, but with only a point to show for on the road this season, we are reliant on our strong home form at the minute.

CC: Has Mark Hughes delivered enough in his time at the club so far for the fans?

NHAF: No, is the short answer. His first couple of years were a huge success and pushed Stoke forwards to a level beyond what we were capable of prior. In the concurrent two years however, Stoke have stuttered and are now starting to head backwards. We are a million miles away from where we were two years ago, and I think many fans feel like his time should have been up at the end of last season. We are grateful for what he has done for the club, but he is stubborn in the face of change and we can’t stagnate forever.

CC: Has the departure of Marko Arnautovic been a blessing or a loss?

NHAF: I’d love to tell you it was a blessing in disguise but I can’t honestly say that. As West Ham are learning he is a very enigmatic and inconsistent performer, so we definitely got a good price for him. Choupo-Moting has equally showed flashes of brilliance in the early stages so maybe he is not a bad substitution. We haven’t really sufficiently replaced him though, he was our most influential player by far for the last two seasons and we are going to miss that.

CC: You've drawn with Man Utd and beaten Arsenal, so do you expect a stronger season than what was achieved last season?

NHAF: Possibly, we didn’t beat a team that finished above us last season, until the final day of the season. Failing to beat 11 of the top 12 teams was a very poor showing for us, so the results are already an improvement on that. As I said prior though, we are totally lost away from home at the moment, if we don’t arrest the situation it could derail our entire season. We can only hope to achieve Premier League survival at best relying entirely on home form.
Peter Crouch is becoming a bit of a super sub.
CC: Is Peter Crouch proving that he might actually be the best striker at the club?

NHAF: Definitely, he was actually our top scorer last year, despite not featuring heavily and is our top scorer again so far this year. He has a wealth of experience as a striker and continues to do the business for us almost every time we play him. With Saido struggling and neither Jese or Choupo-Moting commanding enough in that role, Crouch is a great solution. Diouf is making a pretty good case for himself of late as well though.

CC: What have you made of Kurt Zouma on loan from Chelsea?

NHAF: I was initially underwhelmed by the signing, especially as we needed attackers at the time, but he’s great. He is one of our best performers every week, he’s quick, disciplined and dedicated, everything you could ask of a defender. It’s a shame we almost certainly won’t get to hold onto him after his loan expires.

CC: Was the signing of Darren Fletcher a masterstroke and were you surprised to get him?

NHAF: No and no. Don’t believe everything you read, unless of course it’s my own Ask Fans match report. Fletcher is not good, I was not happy to sign him at all, given that it spelt the end for die-hard fan favourite Glenn Whelan. Fletcher is getting on a bit now and it shows, he’s been off the pace more than he’s been on it this season. He’s not mobile enough to get around the pitch well these days and he commits far too many errors. Joe Allen has done a spectacular job of picking up the slack in the middle this season but as it showed, when he didn’t play i.e. Bristol City and Manchester City we were way too permeable. Two defeats and nine goals conceded, he’s simply not cutting it at the minute and I’d like to see him dropped for Bournemouth.

Mr Shaqiri the balls right next to you!
CC: Has Xherdan Shaqiri lived up to his big name status in his time at Stoke and do you think he is capable of scoring more goals?

NHAF: He has not yet lived up to his billing, his sporadic brilliance makes it obvious why things never worked out for him at Bayern. On his day, he is unplayable and one of the most tricky wingers in the league, those days are all too rare though. Not only is he capable of more goals he really needs to start delivering those goals, especially in the absence of Arnie.

CC: Is there a Bournemouth player that you think could fit in well at Stoke City?

NHAF: Insert front line hear! We have actually seen signs of an upturn in goals in the early stages of this season but attack continues to be a problem for Stoke. Ricardo Fuller is still our most potent striker in Premier League history with 11 goals in our first season up. Everyone who has come since has failed to beat that fairly achievable bar. I’d happily take Josh King, Callum Wilson or even Jermain Defoe to boost our strike rate this season.

CC: How do you expect Stoke to line up against the Cherries?

NHAF: Business as usual I expect, as I said Hughes has an aversion to change so doubtful he’ll change his plan from our other home games. We’re still in the midst of a defensive crisis so late tests will have to confirm our back line.

Possible Stoke City line up from Natahan. 
CC: I may think Nathan might be a bit optimistic about how good AFCB's front line is looking at Bournemouth's record of goalscoring this year, but it's nice to hear an opposition fan that rates some of our players. Nathan gives some string opinions on who is not at the races in the Stoke City side and it's good to hear about a passionate fan that does not hold back. If you want to read more about Nathan's preview of the game head over to the Stoke City page on ASKFans where you can let him know if you agree with him. Thanks again Nathan - loved every minute of that!

Match Preview: Spurs v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Tottenham Blog
Twitter @DJFitch

Our second of two Rival Lines this weeks comes from Dan at Tottenham Blog. The lack of Premier League football got me a bit anxious this week so that is why we have ended up with a double helping of Rival Lines. It's all been a welcome period though for Spurs blogger Dan who can marvel at Harry Kane being on the short list for the Ball'on Dor and Harry Winks getting an England debut cap after just four Premier League appearances, but perhaps can AFCB bring Spurs back down to earth or should I say Wembley - their unhappy hunting ground.

CC: How did you get started on Tottenham Blog?

TB: I was working as a freelance journalist for lots of websites and figured I could learn a lot from running one myself.

CC: Is the Wembley form going to cost Spurs a crack at the title this season?

TB: Quite possibly. I’d have really fancied us if we were still at White Hart Lane. That said, our away form wasn’t great last season, so that was always an area in which there was potential to improve and so far we’ve done that.

CC: TalkSport's Alan Brazil and David Ginola have been talking about whether Spurs could sell Harry Kane in a swap deal with Gareth Bale and £120m - how would that sit with Tottenham fans?

TB: There is no player that Spurs fans would love to see back more than Bale, but not at the expense of Kane. These stories never explain how we’d pay the wages of someone like Bale, though I guess the £120m would help.

CC: Have you been surprised at how well Ben Davies has played at full back?

TB: Not really. He’s never really had a consistent run in the team until now, which has made it difficult for him to be at his best. We’ve missed Danny Rose’s energy and pace at times, but I’ve always thought that Davies was a better crosser.

CC: Do you think Dele Alli need to have the naughty boy image to be the player he is?

TB: He gets himself in trouble for silly things, often off the ball, which is a habit that he will hopefully grow out of. If that happens, I think he’ll be a better player, not a worse one.

CC: Did Mauricio Pochettino do enough in the last transfer window?

TB: We could have done with an attacking player with real pace and perhaps a playmaker, so we’re not so reliant on Christian Eriksen, but overall it was a pretty successful window.

CC: Does Son Heung-min deserve to be on the subs bench this season?

TB: The fact that we’ve mainly played with wing-backs has reduced his chances, as he played most of his games as a winger last season. He’s started more games in the Champions League, where his pace is vital when breaking against opponents that are likely to have more of the ball than us.

CC: What can you tell us about Harry Winks?

TB: I’ve yet to see him have a poor game, though Pochettino has been very careful in regards to what fixtures he’s picked him in. Winks always wants the ball and has the confidence to get his head up and pass imaginatively. It says much for his intelligence that Pochettino often brings him on as a substitute to see a game out, which is a job that a more mature player would normally be trusted with. I’m hoping that his England debut will lead to us picking him more regularly this season.

CC: Do you think Jermain Defoe is still good enough to go to the World Cup with England and is he the player Spurs fans will most fear in the Bournemouth line up?

TB: With Kane a certain starter, Defoe would be a useful super-sub to bring on if we needed a goal. He’s much loved among Tottenham supporters, though I’ve never been his biggest fan. For me, Defoe never convinced when played on his own up front, yet nor did he ever form a truly effective partnership with any of the strikers he played with at Spurs.

CC: Would Josh King have been a good fit for Tottenham this summer?

TB: A lot of Spurs fans were against this move, but I was all for it. We lack a really fast forward and it would have been great to have landed an adaptable player like King to make the most of the wide spaces at Wembley.

CC: Have spurs got many injuries?

TB: We’re without a number of players that would be contenders to play if fit. Mousa Dembele, Erik Lamela, Danny Rose and Victor Wanyama are all out.

CC: How do you expect Tottenham to line up for the game against Bournemouth?

TB: Lloris in goal, a back three of Alderweireld, Sanchez and Vertonghen, Trippier/Aurier and Davies at wing-back, Dier and Winks in central midfield, with Alli and Eriksen supporting Kane.

Another strong set of answers from our second Spurs blogger. Dan may be worried that Spurs are not yet picking up maximum points in their home games but as an AFCB fan we would just be happy to get a point or two anywhere at the moment. While Spurs have several players out and a big mid-week fixture against Real Madrid, AFCB will have to show something they have not shown yet this season I believe to win at Wembley. Still places can inspire players and the Cherries just may be fancy having a good crack at Spurs with 3000 AFCB fans behind them. Catch up with more of Dan's views on Tottenham Blog including the Pochettino's views on the differences between Spurs Man Utd and Man City and why Spurs may become record breakers this weekend.

Match Preview: Spurs v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Windy Coys
Twitter @WindyCOYS.com
Our first Rival Lines this week from a Spurs fan comes from Chris at Windy COYS who is taking me back to my childhood with Windy Miller! The wind is certainly in Tottenham's sales at present and the Cherries need to find a way of slowing down their goal machine of a side that has been chasing the Manchester clubs with some relish. But they have found it a bit harder going against teams like Swansea City so can AFCB give Windy Miller a fright?

CC: What do you think is the main reasons why Spurs have found it difficult to get wins at Wembley so far?
WC: It's just different. Different pitch, different atmosphere, different changing rooms, different journey, different routines. Plus you've got clubs coming along and upping their games by a certain amount because they're playing at the national stadium. Tactically, our defensive style suits a narrow pitch, and in many ways so does our attacking play (we don't have many touchline huggers), but I think that's the bit we can adapt to more easily. The other stuff will come in time, and we're lucky that our away form has created a momentum which will hopefully translate.

CC: Do you think Eric Dier has not been influencing games as much as he might or is this the system?

WC: He's probably been a bit more low-key this year and it's true that he's not as heralded as Victor Wanyama (who had a sensational first season for us) but I thought he was terrific against Huddersfield, making so many timely interceptions and then putting us on the front-foot quickly with intelligent use of the ball.

CC: Is your biggest fear going to be the prospect of an injury to Harry Kane at some point this season?

WC: Yes, always. He's basically irreplaceable for us. We've got goals in the team elsewhere too, but you can't replace what Kane does. We would just have to adjust. Let's hope it doesn't come to that!

CC: Could we see a weakened side against Bournemouth with Spurs having to play Real Madrid three days later?

WC: I think that's possible. But when I say weakened, maybe a couple of tweaks -- Sissoko may play this one, or Trippier might play one and Aurier the other. That sort of thing.

CC: Do you see October as a crucial month for Spurs with Liverpool and Man Utd fixtures also coming up and are you confident of catching the Manchester teams?

WC: I'm confident of catching United but I think City have another gear to go into and their array of attacking talent is phenomenal. It *is* a big month, though, with Real, Liverpool and United, plus a derby against West Ham in the cup. If we can get positive results in the majority of those it would stand us in excellent stead. A couple of losses could take the gloss off what's been a generally good start.

CC: Which win has given you most satisfaction this season?

WC: Dortmund. It was a cracking team performance – resilient, counter-attacking, vibrant. It felt like a big one.

CC: Ben Davies is playing well, Kieran Trippier is in the England team and Kyle-Walker Peters looks another great prospect - is Spurs becoming a conveyor belt for wing backs?

WC: Pochettino has been referred to as 'The Full-Back Whisperer' in these parts for a while, because look what he did with Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose too. Astonishing, really. Davies has been one of our best players so far this season, and nobody would have predicted that.

CC: Is all the talk about Harry Winks justified?

WC: He's terrific. His injury came at an unfortunate time for him last year as he was just starting to blossom, but Pochettino has brought him back in slowly this year, and now he's fully fit I expect him to take Sissoko's place (with Wanyama still out). He has bags of ability, and he has been training with the first team since he was 16, so though his appearances have been limited, he's more accustmed to the first team than one might think on the surface.

CC: Have you been surprised by Bournemouth's poor start to the season?

WC: Yes, I really thought you'd be flying this year - I predicted 11th for your league finish, which of course is still possible. It seemed as though you'd added well to an already decent squad. Things aren't really clicking, though, and I think Howe needs to tweak things.

CC: I'm going to have to ask for a score prediction? (And at this stage I might have to hide behind the couch!)

WC: I'm feeling really confident at the moment so I'll say 3-0 Spurs. I hope for your sake that your boys turn up at least!

CC: Superb answers from Chris there. I'm confident AFCB will turn up against Spurs as they have to try and pick up points as soon as they can. Whether they can play as well as a team like Dortmund we'll have to see but I'm kind of hoping Pochettino will want to rest a few star names in this one ahead of Real Madrid. Do drop in on Windy Coys - it's one of my favourite Premier League blogs and there's a Spur's podcast too. called the Fighting Cock, which has a zonal marking episode recently recorded.

Everton v AFCB
Match date: 23 September 2017
Blogger Interview: Everton fan
Twitter: @toby_bryant_ 

I made contact with Toby Bryant when we both started writing articles for Shoots' fan blogger columns a couple of seasons ago. Things have moved on a bit since then and Shoot might not offer the platform it once did for writers, but Toby is still an Everton fanatic and he has some words of wisdom on what had been going wrong and how it might be put right at Goodison.

CC: Do you feel that the Europa League is damaging Everton's prospects in the Premier League?

TB: I think it’s too early in the season to decide for sure but a lot of teams do struggle with the extra matches. Sadly, at this point in time, I don’t think it’s fatigue affecting our results. Even without the extra European games our squad would still not be good enough to perform at the level expected by Everton fans. In fact, if anything, wins in the Europa League (if we manage them) could be a positive boost to the low morale.

CC: Did you expect a slow start to Everton's season having spent some £130m in the

TB: Yes and no. I was pleased with some of the signings, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane and Wayne Rooney, in particular. However, some, such as Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez looked dead ringers to be flops from the start. Not replacing the presence Lukaku had up front meant we were never going to challenge for the Top 6 but never did I think we’d be in the relegation zone at all this year.

CC: Does accommodating Rooney in the team have the detrimental effect of slowing Everton's game down?

Not at all. I think Rooney is the last person that can be blamed for the lacklustre performances at the moment. Agreed, he is no longer the quickest, but the creative, attacking mind and reliability was the final thing that needed adding to the side. When we had Lukaku that is...

CC: Is Jordan Pickford the best keeper Everton have had since Neville Southall?

TB: It certainly looks like it could go that way. I’m a huge fan of Tim Howard who was a great servant to us and I think Pickford has a way to go to win over Everton hearts like the American did. He’s started the right way though and is one of very few positives so far this year.

CC: Would you like to see Ross Barkley back in the starting line up?

TB: I think all Everton fans have mixed feelings about Ross. We love a home-grown player and he is a star when in form. For me, at first, the most exciting thing about Rooney arriving at Goodison Park was that Barkley could learn a lot from him and really progress his career, which had flatlined at the time. He then made it quite clear he wanted to leave which was infuriating. At the end of the day, if he doesn’t want to pull on the shirt then we don’t want him too either. Then again, if he’s going to win us some points that is clearly the priority right now.

CC: What have you made of Klaassen since his arrival?

TB: Incredibly average.

CC: You played a lot of the big teams already so is there any need for Everton fans to be

TB: It has been the hardest of starts to the season in terms of fixtures, that is of sure. For me, the worrying thing is that a few years ago under Roberto Martinez we were still losing the games but at least there was a bit of class about our play. It isn’t the results that are infuriating fans now, it’s the performances. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Everton side look like they hate their jobs as much as this season and that’s why this season will be an uphill battle.

CC: Most of the goals in the last game against Man Utd came very late in the game so did you feel the team was playing better?

TB: We did have our moments such as when Rooney broke though and probably should have scored - so that was a relief. As soon as he went off the goals went in which shows just how much he is holding everyone together right now. That’s not healthy for the side so, if anything, the disastrous final 10 minutes was another nail in Koeman’s coffin.

CC: Who would you want if you could buy a £50m striker in the January window?

TB: The problem for us now is that everyone knows how desperate we are for a striker. That combined with this summer’s prices unfortunately means £50 million won’t buy us a lot. We need someone big and proven - no more players from small European leagues we have never heard of. There were mutterings of a Diego Costa loan in the summer which would obviously be fantastic, though I don’t see it happening [Ed- Indeed, he's got his move to Atletico Madrid]. Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud might be looking for ways out of Arsenal and I’d love either of them at Goodison.

CC:  How do you expect Everton to line up against Bournemouth?

TB: Pickford - Jagielka - Keane - Williams - Marina - Schneiderin - Gueye - Baines - Sigurdsson - Rooney - Ramirez

CC: Thanks to Toby who really knows his stuff in Everton and doesn't hide his displeasure of one or two players who have not been at it yet. It maybe a bit early to pass judgement on Ramirez and Klaassen, but Koeman has made the signings and has to live with what he has until at least January. It could go from bad to worse for Everton quickly if they do start dropping points against teams like Bournemouth, who their fans might expect to roll over. But the Cherries will see how disjointed Everton are and, if they are, Koeman really has need to worry. A defeat for Koeman would make his Sunday none to positive with the journalists just waiting to pen to paper on Koeman's painful explanations.

Match Preview: Arsenal v AFCB
Blogger Interview: The Daily Cannon
Twitter @DailyCannon

With Arsenal fans still trying to figure out what is happening with their team, after last weekend, and whether their manager has done in enough over the summer to improve the side, let alone if Alexis Sanchez will be running on empty, we needed to find some answers. Who best to ask? Well we talked to one of the writers writers at the Daily Cannon for their opinion on Arsenal's summer transfers and start to the season. These are Jamie Einchcombe's thoughts.

CC: What did you make of transfer deadline day for Arsenal - do things look as bad as Ian Wright would suggest?
DC: Deadline day was disappointing. I would have liked to see a midfielder arrive more than anything. However, I don't think things are quite as bad as some make out.

We did sign two good players who improve the squad, and whether by design or accident we kept our best player. We could have done more, but it wasn't a disaster, either.

CC: The newspapers had some scary headlines over the big defeat at Liverpool, like 'an embarrassing shambles', but was the reaction a bit overboard just three games into a new season?

DC: I don't think the reaction was overboard. Talk of a crisis will always sound hollow and cliché, but people are right to be concerned about the manner of the defeat. It's not the first big game Arsenal have lost in such a way and unfortunately it probably won't be the last.

Fortunately, there's plenty of time to get our act together. We've got a talented squad and hopefully once things have calmed down everyone can focus on improving. It wasn't that long ago we were beating City and Chelsea in the FA Cup with the same players, so the team is certainly capable of more than what we're seeing.

CC: Has Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made the right choice to leave Arsenal now?

I'd say so. It was clear things were getting a bit stale for him at the club. Arsene Wenger wasn't going to play him as a midfielder like he wanted, nor was he progressing under the manager as much as he would have expected.

DC: Alexis Sanchez is going to be disappointed in not getting his move to Man City, but are you pleased you keep him until at least January even if he might go on a free next summer?

I have mixed feelings about Alexis. A fully committed Alexis is one of the best players around and we need him if we want to get anywhere this season. If that meant turning down £60m then so be it.

However, I have doubts we'll see that Alexis again in an Arsenal shirt, and worry about what effect that might have on the team. At the very least, I'm pleased we didn't sell him without signing a replacement.

CC: Arsenal seem not to worry about selling players to rivals, but is this another failing of their transfer policy?

DC: It's certainly an issue. The club end up forced into that position more times than they should be. Players are being lured by more attractive projects elsewhere and the club isn't doing enough to convince them that this is the place to be.

CC: Who would you like to replace Arsene Wenger when that day eventually comes?

DC: I really like Leonardo Jardim at Monaco. He's proven to be a very adaptable coach, able to change his approach to suit the players he has.

His Monaco side were very defensive when they knocked us out the Champions League in 2015 but last season they were the most prolific team in Europe with some exciting young players. I'd love to see that at Arsenal again.

CC: What player injuries have Arsenal currently got?

DC: There's a doubt over Alexis' ankle, which he damaged on international duty. Alex Iwobi picked up a muscle injury before the Liverpool game and missed Nigeria's game. Santi Cazorla is still out; we don't know when he'll be back.

CC: If Arsenal don't beat Bournemouth would that be a crisis?

DC: Three defeats in a row is awful for Arsenal but never a crisis. However, if Arsenal don't show signs of improvement there'll be plenty to worry about.

CC: How do you expect Arsenal to line up against the Cherries?

DC: I expect Hector Bellerin will return to right back and Sead Kolasinac to come back into the defence. Koscielny will play, but who will partner him is anyone's guess.

Xhaka and Ramsey will probably play in the middle again, with Ozil and Lacazette ahead of them. If Alexis is able to play, Danny Welbeck will likely play.

CC: Well that was a clear insight into how Jamie is feeling about his beloved team going into the match with Bournemouth – a big thanks to him. I can only hope that Sanchez needs more time to reflect on things, as he is undoubtedly one of the best players in the Premier League and Bournemouth could do with him having a rest this weekend. Jamie is right in that Arsenal are packed with star players who have not suddenly forgotten how to play, especially at home.

We could even see Gareth Southgate at this game if he is keen to see Jermain Defoe and Danny Welbeck, as these players are fighting over a place in the England World Cup squad. Defoe needs to get scoring and he'll be disappointed he didn't get a go last week, while Welbeck will want to show he should be in the next England squad.

AFCB can't expect anything less than an Arsenal side that is determined to put their bad results behind them. What I'd like to see though is that AFCB have become a better defensive team and that they can become more resilient against the top sides, like they were against Man City. A clean sheet against Arsenal would be a great day out - UTCIAD!

Match Preview: WBA v AFCB
Blogger Interview
Twitter @albiontillwedie

Okay, we are back on Rival Lines and fully getting to grips with the new season. First up is a chat that I had with Mark Thomas at Albion til we die. West Brom almost astonished everyone with how they played last season, but the way they finished the season was very surprising an Mark has some pointers as to why they may have fallen away and how they may fall a bit short of a top 10 finish this coming season.

CC: How pleased were you to see Jay Rodriguez leaving Southampton to come to WBA and what of the other signings this summer?

ATWD: If we can keep him fit I think Rodriguez could turn out a very good signing. We are desperately lacking quality attacking players and the former Saints man gives us something different to what we have had the last couple of years.

As for the other signings…. even by our recent poor standards our player recruitment has been woeful this summer. Apart from Rodriguez we've only brought in Ahmed Hegazy, an Egyptian defender that has no experience whatsoever of English football. The jury is most definitely out on him at present.

CC: Darren Fletcher left the club to join Stoke City, while Craig Gardner also left for Birmingham City. Are you disappointed to lose these players?

ATWDFletcher was a superb leader, a true captain on and off the pitch. However, his performances over the last 12 months were on the whole poor. All too often he was the man guilty of losing possession of the ball to the opposition.

Craig Gardner meanwhile always gave 100% but in all honesty he simply wasn't good enough for the Premier League although in his defence he was played out of position more often than not.

If we sign a couple of decent midfielders to replace them then they won't be missed. Whether the club do that is a totally different question.

CC: What do you put the reason down for West Brom's sudden drop off in form at the end of last season when they were closing in on Everton, but then found points hard to come by?

ATWDA combination of a couple of things I think. Firstly, because we have such a small and aging squad it was perhaps natural that the players just simply ran out of steam towards the end of the season. The second reason is, I think Pulis has one target and one target only and that is survival. Once that is reached perhaps it's hard for him and the players to be as motivated as they were earlier in the season.

CC: Tony Pulis got WBA to play some pleasing football last season. Is Nacer Chadli, who Pulis seems delighted to have kept hold of, a main reason for that?

ATWDWe played some decent football for a couple of months before Christmas but apart from that and I've got to be honest, we put on some absolutely dismal displays, all too often not even having a meaningful shot on target during 90 minutes.

Nacer Chadli was excellent when he first joined but his performances slipped drastically as the season went on, perhaps in some part due to the way Pulis expects him to play. He really doesn't seem a Pulis-type player.

CC: Do you think Solomon Rondon will prove he is not a one-season wonder?

ATWDI've never been a Rondon fan and I think a growing number are starting to agree with me after giving him the benefit of the doubt during his first season. For a big man he gets knocked off the ball too easily, he doesn't hold the ball up well and his finishing especially with his feet is poor. Pulis playing him as a lone striker with little help probably makes him look worse than he is but I for one am hoping that we replace him during this summer.

CC: Is defence a bit of a worry with Pulis reported to be interested in players like Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vaermalen?

ATWDYep, it's definitely a worry at the moment and I think the club see it that way too with them also reportedly interested in the likes of Chris Smalling, Ben Gibson and Phil Jones. Whilst Craig Dawson and Jonny Evans are two of the first names on the team sheet, question marks remain over the fitness of Gareth McAuley and over whether Ahmed Hegazy will adapt to English football. Add to that our perennial lack of a proper left-back and we most definitely do need reinforcements

CC: Who do you think will be West Brom's player of the season?

ATWDOf the players currently at the club and If he stays at The Hawthorns, and remains fit, Jonny Evans will surely be a contender. A superb defender who could quite easily play for a bigger club than ourselves.

CC: Has the team any major, long-term injuries?

ATWDNo, thankfully although we do seem to have a lot of niggly injuries that have affected the likes of Evans, McAuley, Morrison and Phillips. Not ideal really when some players have had little game-time during pre-season.

CC: Where do you think the Baggies will finish this coming season and where would you expect Bournemouth to finish?

ATID: I think it's going to be a struggle for us this season I really do unless we improve the quality of the team significantly over the next couple of weeks. Tony Pulis has of course got his record of never being relegated and perhaps that record will remain intact come next May but I'm sure that it won't be pretty. Being optimistic I'll say 16th.

As for Bournemouth I think you will probably have a similar season to last with maybe a mid-table finish.

CC: How do you expect WBA to line up against AFCB?

ATWDBarring a glut of new signings and injuries I'd imagine it will be a similar line-up that we've seen over the last couple of seasons - Foster in goal, Dawson, Evans, Hegazy and Nyom across the back, Livermore and Yacob the defensive midfielders with Chadli and Phillips out wide, Rondon up front with Rodriguez behind him.

CC: Thanks to Mark who has opened our eyes to more understanding of the West Bromwich Albion situation leading up to this match. You can read more words about the opposition at Albion til we die.

Match Preview
Leicester City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Leicester Till I Die
Twitter @Leicestertid 

Well we had to get to the last game of the season at some point and as we do we also come to the last Rival Lines of this season. Of course, we have saved one of the best to last and Chris Forryan at Leicester Till I Die website. As current champions, Leicester City is a good place to bow out, but they have had quite a tumultuous season, not least last night when things rather unravelled for them against Tottenham, so let's see has to say about his team's season and his feelings about the campaign which is drawing to a close.

CC: Do you think Leicester City would have been relegated under Claudio Ranieri if had not been sacked, and did he have to go for the Foxes to move on from the heroics of last season?

Defo. I will always love Ranieri for what he did for the club and he is genuinely a nice guy but it was all going wrong, and he should have actually gone earlier in January. Football is a results business and last season he got the results, this season he didn’t – end of.

CC: Was too much emphasis put on doing well in the Champion's League or was the balance about right?

Despite what was being written I do not believe emphasis was being put on the Champions League. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but even when there was no Champions League Action we played badly under Ranieri.

CC: Who would you least like to lose over the summer - Schmeichel, Mahrez or Vardy and why?

Can I answer by saying who would I be least upset to see leave. Mahrez can go. We have seen the best of him and teams have worked him out. We have a much better replacement in Gray and if he stays Mahrez will be no loss. Sometime you have to accept that players have reached their peak with a certain club and I think Mahrez did with us last season.

CC: Without Europe next season are you confident that Leicester City could challenge for a top six finish again?

Yes! The way we have played since Ranieri left leaves me to feel why couldn’t we be top 6 again?

CC: Who have you been most impressed with in the team this season?

Kasper Schmeichel has been a rock and excellent as a stand in Captain since Wes Morgan’s injury. But when he gets on Ben Chilwell has been a revelation. Young and a future England left back. Let's hope we can hold onto him.

CC: Have you been disappointed or pleased with the season as a whole as a Leicester fan?

Both. Champions League quarter finalists and the last British Team in the champions League – not bad for little old Leicester. League though was very disappointing, flirting with relegation at one point as reigning PL Champions was most disappointing.

CC: Is Craig Shakespeare a really top manager or is he a reasonable coach that has taken over a top team that was under performing?

Who cares? He has turned our season round. Only time will tell to be fair but personally I hope he gets the job full time.

CC: Do you have high hopes for Demarai Gray?

If Mahrez goes Gray will step up, the problem we will have is if Mahrez stays I think he will go.

CC: What was the most pleasing result of Leicester's season?

2-0 at home in the second leg of the last 16 game in the Champions League v Sevilla.

CC: What do Leicester have to guard against when playing Bournemouth?

Compliancy, but then I think that could apply to Bournemouth as well. It’s a dead end game and I just hope that two teams turn up and don’t have their minds on the beach.

CC: How do you expect Leicester City to line up against Bournemouth?

4-4-2 and look at the last 2 games as will be the same line up. Why fox it if its not broken. The only change will be if Huth is fit to return but I expect (subject to injuries against Spurs midweek)

Schmeichel / Simpson, Benaloune, Fuchs (Huth), Chilwell (Fuchs) / Mahrez, King, Ndidi, Albrighton / Okazaki, Vardy

CC: Chris certainly knows his stuff on the Foxes and even if Mahrez is seen as 'so last year,' I suspect that Leicester City will still get a good price for him if he does leave for a Champions League side. As for being on the beach, I suppose Bournemouth players don't have far to go but I sense that Sunday's game will be a match where both sides test the opposition and give their best for the fans. A high score draw is my prediction. Thanks again to Chris, and please visit his blog to see what he has said about the Foxes throughout the season.

Match Preview 
Sunderland v AFCB
Blogger Interview: We Are Wearside
Twitter: @WeAreWearside

I needed to talk to a Sunderland blogger this week, knowing that they would be likely to speak about anything else as long as it was not about football. I needn't have feared as Gary at We Are Wearside was more than happy to open up about the season that the Black Hats have been through and it didn't take us long to see who might have been trying to fool the fans on Wearside, but has come up short. This is a story of a brilliant young keeper, a fabulous strike coming to the need of the game and a manager who made more than one mistake. Sunderland never gave out a vibe of being a club that thought they would not be involved in a relegation battle, and without an Allardyce to save them it's been pretty hard going for their faithful fans.

CC: Do Sunderland need to make yet another change in manager for next season or do you need some stability now with David Moyes?

WAW: One thing that David Moyes does not bring is stability. It's true that the annual sacking of our manager was growing tedious, but we've picked the worst one to back in the long term. Moyes has destroyed all the foundations built by Sam Allardyce towards the end of last season, alienated fans, brought in terrible footballers and is the most negative and dour man I've ever seen at Sunderland. The reputation of bringing stability, getting the best out of squads, doing well on a small budget are all untrue the bloke is a fraud. So definitely another change is required!

CC: You had a good win against AFCB back in November and Anichebe and Defoe, who got the goals that day, looked a good pairing, but why have the goals dried up?

WAW: I think Anichebe's injury was untimely, he really did make a big difference when introduced. We went on a decent run after that victory, winning three of four matches, but managed to make our squad worse during the January transfer window. Then we approached each match with the mentality 'let's not get beat', forgot how to score and now we are where we are.

CC: Did you think Sunderland had turned the corner in February when you had a massive 0-4 win against Crystal Palace?

WAW: It was out of the blue and it did feel like perhaps something had clicked. Turns out it was just a mysterious anomaly.

CC: Jordan Pickford has been a bright star for the Black Cats - would you categories him in the top five Premier League keepers - who is he behind?

WAW: I'm biased of course, but Pickford is more than capable of becoming as good as anyone. The only thing he lacks when compared to the likes of Hugo Lloris is experience - and a good defence. We've seen some excellent goal keepers at Sunderland such as Tommy Sorensen and Craig Gordon, but Pickford is the best goalkeeper I've seen on Wearside. He pulls off some tremendous saves, commands his box, has sublime distribution and despite how terrible Sunderland have played he has the self confidence and presence of mind to maintain excellent performances. He'll move on to something bigger and better in the summer and I'll be really pleased for him when he does.

CC: Whabi Khazri has not played a lot of football this season, but is he one to watch in the future having seen how well he played against Watford?

WAW: I'm not sure there are many ones to watch for us this season and it's pretty much certain Khazri will leave in the summer. Only David Moyes will choose to leave his most creative player on the bench for six months. His first start against Watford and he did more in that time than the likes of Fabio Borini and Adnan Januzaj have done all season. Khazri was excellent last season when he first arrived too.

CC: Which have been the players that Sunderland have missed out on most this season because of injury and would you say the Black Cats have been unlucky n terms of injuries compared to last season?

WAW: We've really missed Jan Kirchhoff, he is a very talented football. Lee Cattermole and Victor Anichebe's lengthy lay offs have also had major impacts. I wouldn't say we've been unlucky though, injury crisis follows Moyes around like a dark shadow. I remember a Dutch fella from the Dutch national team describing his injury management as prehistoric.

CC: How much would you hope to get for Jermain Defoe and do you think it's fair he moves on at the end of the season?

WAW: We'll be getting nothing for Defoe as it's in his contract he can leave on a free when we go down. I really do hope a good club comes in and takes him back into the Premier League for a few years, doesn't deserve to be dragged down with us. Would fit in nicely at Bournemouth.

CC: You had a massive game against Middlesbrough mid-week, but did you see it just as a north east a bragging rights game?

WAW: Not at all, last night was another match of going through the motions. To give you an idea of just how miserable this season has been for Sunderland fans - we really can't even bring ourselves to care about matches anymore. I'd quite happily hand Bournemouth three points, if it means I don't have to drag myself to the Stadium of Light on Saturday!

CC: Sunderland have been in the bottom three all season so will it feel like a relief when this season just comes to an end?

WAW: Absolutely, to the extent I'm looking forward to the Championship! That is as long as Moyes leaves, I truly worry for the future of the club otherwise.

CC: What do you make of Borini's comments after the West Ham draw that togetherness has been a problem at Sunderland - are there many bad eggs in the squad and if so who?

WAW: Ironically I'd say Borini is probably one of them. I'm not sure if the squad is full of bad eggs as such, but it's clear that there is zero team spirit. Many of the players here this year were the same as last, where the team spirit was excellent under Allardyce, so it's just another cross to mark on the blame Moyes chart.

CC: How do you expect to line up against AFCB?

WAW: Pickford, Jones, O'Shea, Denayer, Manquillo, Rodwell, Cattermole, Ndong, Khazri, Anichebe, Defoe, an easy three points for the Cherries and perhaps confirmed relegation for us!

CC: Some good honest views from Gary and We Are Wearside. I am not sure how much the Sunderland board also need to look at themselves for the mess they have landed up in, after all they picked David Moyes. Their ability to pick a better fitting manager may not be anymore likely than me winning the lottery. But it's also about the players and some of them don't escape on We Are Wearside which has some interesting comments on Fabio Borini in the West Ham match report. When they get fed up of blaming each other though, it is the fans that will need to breath life back into their club. We Are Wearside is already puffing its cheeks!

Match Preview: Spurs v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Spurs Stat man
Twitter: @SpursStatMan

Spurs have had a terrific season. I just wonder what their aims should be now having pushed in two title chases and failing to inspire when playing in Europe. Is Pocchetino really doing as well as he can or has he made some errors? I thought I'd better speak to Jack Pettiford at Spurs Stat man to find out some answers.

CC: If Spurs don't catch Chelsea, what games will have cost Spurs this season?

SS: The stand out result for me would be the 0-0 draw away at Sunderland in January. A frustrating result considering how poor they've been this poor but apart from that it's hard to be too critical - this from a Spurs fan who has endured years of the likes of Raziak...

CC: Harry Kane is back, but is the team not as reliant on him as they have been in the past? - ie you have still been winning games without him?

SS: Definitely, largely due to the prolific goal scoring from Son, Alli & Eriksen. That's not to say we're not a far better team with Kane in the XI, but we're certainly not a 'one man team' like we were with Bale under AVB.

CC: Do Spurs need to win a trophy this season to make them feel that they have truly progressed?

SS: I think this squad has got one more season where they can go without any silverware before anyone can really criticise a lack of trophies - a NLD FA Cup final this season would be a dream though.

CC: The comeback against Swansea City showed us just how much Spurs want the title but have you got to win every game to win it now?

SS: If I'm honest I can't see us catching Chelsea, they're just not going drop that many points between now and the end of the season regardless of whether or not Spurs win all their games.

CC: Has Mauricio Pochettino made mistakes this season?

SS:  He's often criticised by some for the lateness of some of his substitutions and I think there were some legitimate questions to be asked about a few of his decisions to rest players in the Champions League. Apart from that, signing Sissoko for £30M...

CC: Does the prospect of playing at Wembley next season enthuse you much and what do you think is needed to help the players win games there?

SS: Not particularly, that stadiums meant to be about Cup Finals and England matches, so watching Spurs there every other week will definitely take the edge off any future cup games there, but it makes sense commercially. I think the whole 'Spurs can't play at Wembley' narrative is a red herring, it's more of a case that Spurs can't play in Europe.

CC: Which player has been the best defender for Tottenham?

SS: Our best defender is Toby Alderweireld, but Jan Vertonghen has been our best defender this season (just). What a pairing they are though.

CC: What do you make of Bournemouth's second season in the Premier League?

SS: I haven't watched many Cherries games, but the usual comments about how Eddie Howe has you play still apply. From my perspective, a lovely club playing lovely football. How much would Josh King cost us?

CC: How do you expect Spurs to line up against Bournemouth?

SS: I think we'll be at full strength apart from Rose who looks like he'll be back in another week or two:


Dier Alderweireld Vertonghen

Walker Wanyama Dembélé Davies

Eriksen Alli


CC: What is your score prediction?

SS: 3-1 home win (Kane x2, Alli)

CC: I'd better answer that question about Josh King. Well, I'm not sure he is for sale to be honest. While I'm not surprised that people are starting to look at Josh King in a more favourable light these days having reached scoring double figures in the Premier League, I suspect that Eddie Howe is unlikely to want to cash in on him this summer. If he was for sale, it would have to be offers around the £20m plus mark I'd guess. Mind you if Spurs paid £30m for Sissoko, King is probably worth £35m. I have been impressed by Tottenham and while they were my pre-season favourites to win the Premier League I'd say anyone following them has had a petty enjoyable season - Arsenal have at least been beaten into submission again. But I still believe Tottenham to win something to really put a marker down - I know there's time yet. But would it hurt too much to have one blemish on that 2017 home record, if they could possibly have an off day on Saturday?

Many thanks Jack for your answers. You can read a match preview of the Tottenham v AFCB game on the Sport Stat Man blog.

Liverpool v AFCB
Blogger Interview: The Anfield Wrap
Twitter: @anfieldwrap

I had a promise to keep with the Anfield Wrap as they had asked me to do some work for them last time AFCB played Liverpool and I was unable to take them up on their offer. So getting back in touch with Neil Atkinson was a chance to catch up on his opinions about the season Liverpool are having and wondering if he had got over the 4-3 game at Dean Court earlier in the season. I fear revenge could be on its way!

CC: Can you feel the pressure of the top four finish mounting on Liverpool?

AW: That pressure has been there all season. It's clearly the target on the side. Liverpool showed far more composure than Everton in the Merseyside Derby, but the path to top four becomes clearer and clearer as we get closer to the end of the campaign. I think it's very much in the club's hands at this stage – 17 points from the remaining 8 games should be enough to get what we need.

CC: Adam Lallana is going to miss some games, but do Liverpool fans only value him when they see how the team plays without him?

AW: Not anymore. Lallana has had an excellent season and Liverpool supporters in general value him very highly now. He has had a strange Liverpool career but the hope is that he is now coming into his prime. He doesn't have pace to lose and gets smarter and smarter month by month. He's so good technically. I hope he at least stays on this level for the next 2 seasons, if not even to improve.

CC: Are all the injuries now starting to hinder Liverpool?

AW: Yes. The short answer. Yes. How couldn't they? Injuries hinder every side. Liverpool will face Bournemouth short of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane. That is three of Liverpool's first choice front six. Each will be missed in a different way. Henderson primarily for his ability to set the pace, Lallana for his guile, Mane for his pace and goals.

CC: Has the keeper situation settled down at the club and is Joe Hart a realistic target this summer for Liverpool?

AW: I would be hugely surprised if we went after Joe Hart. I just don't see Jurgen Klopp spending that much – wages and fee – on a goalkeeper. I think the whole situation remains in flux. Had Simon Mignolet been a new signing in December people would be happy with him – one error against Chelsea aside. But he hasn't been and he still has all of that memory (as does everyone else) of not quite being reliable enough. Karius appears to be very much second choice. Danny Ward is doing very well at Huddersfield.

I have no idea what happens next.

CC: Is it fair to criticise Jurgen Klopp seeing how close Liverpool were to Chelsea before Christmas and now looking at the gap to Chelsea?

AW: In general, no. On a game by game basis Liverpool could have been a bit better and overall I think Liverpool could have both planned to be and actually been better in January. However we're talking here about being perfect. He has had a good season.

Instead he found themselves one attacker and possibly one midfielder light while dealing with a lot of games – the manager and club could have addressed that last summer. The gap is 10 points. There is every chance the season ends and it is about seven points given the nature of remaining fixtures; Chelsea have had one great run and been consistent since that run, and sometimes a side is just too good.

CC: Going out of the FA Cup to Wolves was no doubt disappointing but has it given Liverpool a better chance of getting in that top four?

AW: That the FA Cup Semi Finals are all other sides aiming to finish in the top four would suggest not. But the focus could be helpful. I think not getting to the semi-final in the EFL Cup but getting to the semi final in the FA Cup would have been more useful in terms of keeping the league momentum going.

CC: Liverpool have a good run-in with no top six sides to play but are there any fixtures that you see as the most likely to be a banana skin?

AW: All of them and none of them simultaneously. They are all games Liverpool should get three points from. That they won't get 24 points goes without saying, and so they will slip up somewhere. It's hard to know at this stage of this season who is fighting for their lives and who isn't. I thought Bournemouth had done enough to stay up, but Hull's resurgence suggests they still need to find a couple of wins and I expect them to make it extremely difficult at Anfield. Across the last two seasons there has been a massive amount of fight and togetherness about Bournemouth.

CC: Have the fans fallen out of love with Daniel Sturridge?

AW: The extent to which they were in love with him is up for grabs. I very much was. He's a ridiculously talented goalscorer but his fitness has become so difficult to manage. He won't be playing his football at Liverpool next season and that is a massive shame but that is best for him, best for the club and best for whichever club is lucky enough to have him.

CC: Are you at all surprised that Jordan Ibe and Brad Smith have found it hard to get a regular starting places in the Bournemouth team?

AW: Not at all. Brad Smith is very much one of those players who could well end up looking too good for the Championship and not quite good enough for the Premier League.

Ibe is more interesting. He clearly has a lot of the tools to be a good player but can't quite put it together. I wonder if he needs a positional shift. He did well at Anfield at right wingback but may well be worth looking at as a candidate as an attacking right back. He does his best work with space to move into.

CC: Is Jack Wilshere a player that Liverpool should be interested in making a move for over the summer?

AW: Very much not. One tick on Liverpool's criteria for summer signings has to be with reference to fitness record. Liverpool have too many players too prone to injury and before even getting in on the level of the player Liverpool need to make some harsh choices.

I also think Harry Arter is a better player than him and if Liverpool were looking for a squad option in midfield they could do a lot worse, but players where possible should play and Arter would be best served by running Bournemouth's midfield.

Adam Smith seems to have slightly gone off the boil watching from afar. I liked him last season. Josh King has recently been banging the goals in. Again, a player who needs to play though. It's boring but most players should probably stay where they are and especially working with a manager like Eddie Howe.

CC: What are your views about Eddie Howe - some see him as overrated while others see him as a future England manager?

AW: I think he has shown he is clearly very good at coaching, organising and motivating a group of players and that he has his way of playing football. He deserves enormous credit for the job he has done, especially as it is fair to say Bournemouth's recruitment hasn't been great last summer. I think his path is slightly complicated in terms of what job he does next, but I don't think that should be at the forefront of his mind. Bournemouth need a good summer and to aim to break 50 points next season. I think they are capable of that.

CC: Bournemouth have only done the double over one club in the Premier League - Swansea. Do you expect Liverpool to avoid adding to this statistic?

AW: I do but I expect a very hard game for The Reds. Patience will be key. It could well become attritional from here, the top four chase and Liverpool will need to get ahead and see the game out on Wednesday night. I would predict 2-1 Liverpool and a nervy last 10 for The Reds.

CC: There were some excellent points made by Neil there and the thought of breaking 50 points in a season seems like gold to an AFCB fan like me. Still AFCB have to aspire to do even better and while the Cherries are trying to move on from just thinking about staying in the league, Liverpool fans such as Neil are dreaming of a top four finish which I think they can get this season. Whether Liverpool give the chasers such as Man Utd and Arsenal a sniff though is down to games like this one against AFCB and the Cherries have usually performed well at Anfield so I'm also expecting a tight game.

Catch up with The Anfield Wrap which has a good diagnostic of whether redemption for the early season defeat to Bournemouth is on or not. Let's hope NOT!

Match Preview: Southampton v AFCB
Blogger Interview: George Wear's Cousin
Twitter: @gwcdotcom

Playing Southampton is always a game that I find a bit odd. I like to think of it as a derby even if we haven't had many and winning at St Mary's for any team is a good result. But Chris at George Weah's Cousin might have a few things to say on why the Saints will be ready to dash AFCB's hopes come Saturday afternoon. Let's see what he thinks.

CC: What do you make of Southampton's season overall when considering the European games, League Cup final appearance and the current position in the Premier League?

GWC: It's certainly been a 'different' season. League form has been inconsistent, yet monumental trips to the San Siro and Wembley have made it memorable.

I think Claude Puel made some mistakes with the amount of rotation he did when we had a plethora of fixtures early on, and perhaps his original formation was flawed. Of late the rotation has been a lot less and he has reverted to 4-2-3-1 which has allowed players to come out of their shell. He is learning the Premier League, I think people forget that and some criticism of him has been unfair. He seems to be  rectifying some early mistakes.

CC: Claude Puel was within an inch of probably getting legendary status like Lawrie McMenemy had he beaten Man Utd at Wembley in March, but do you see much progression in the way the team is playing than how it was under Ronald Koeman?

GWC: Wembley was as fantastic as it was frustrating. We should have won that game, and Puel and the team came away from it with so much credit. I think he is a more hands on manager than Koeman, especially when it comes to training etc. He is much more prepared to use the club's youth players too when he needs them. Where Koeman opted to loan in the distinctly average Elia and Djuricic from abroad, Puel was happy to use Sims/Hesketh/McQueen and I can tell you now the latter options were much more impressive.

Don't get me wrong, we lost a very good manager in Koeman, but personally I think Puel is a good replacement. I get the feeling he has more long term interests.

CC: Southampton have only let in 36 goals this season, which is commendable but has this meant less attacking football with only 33 goals scored in the Premier League?

GWC: We've not quite managed to get the balance right. We either seem to be great at defending or attacking but never both. This has got elements of bad luck to it though. Charlie Austin was providing the goals and then got injured, while defensively were fine until van Dijk was assaulted by Jamie Vardy [Ed- a bit strong 'assaulted' - well Vardy certainly stood on his ankle, not sure of any intent]. We've not played with a full strength team yet!

CC: Manolo Gabbiadini has been in my mind the bargain of the season, but are Southampton much weaker without him?

GWC: In a word yes. The impetus completely changed when he arrived. He is a 'proper' striker. The runs he makes have caused havoc in defences and the likes of Tadic and Redmond have been able to pick him out. He is always looking to score, and that greediness is something our other forwards seem to lack.

CC: Were you disappointed with the way the José Fonte departure came about?

GWC: Yes I was. There are plenty of rumours about what was going on behind the scenes and I certainly feel he has tainted his legacy as a Saint. He was a fantastic servant though and it is difficult to wish any ill towards him. He won the Euros and it changed him. I'm not sure the 'United' he ended up at was the planned destination though.

CC: Do you think Nathan Redman now needs to find consistency to become not only a Southampton but England regular?

GWC:  I do. I was very keen for us to sign him as I had seen his potential at Norwich and Birmingham but it's fair to say he had a slow start. With the formation change of late though he has flourished. I think Puel saw him as a striker but has realised he is a winger/attacking midfielder. He's got the talent and the attitude to go far.

CC: What would you say has been Southampton's best result of the season?

GWC: Beating Liverpool 1-0 home and away in the EFL cup semi finals. We were much better than them and I don't think you'd find a scouser who would argue that. We beat them tactically, technically and comprehensively.

CC: It could be a bit of a southern Premier League next year, if Palace and Bournemouth avoid relegation and Brighton and Reading are promoted. Do you see the lack of derby games for Southampton as a help, or a hinderance when there are so many Premier League clubs with big rivalries?

GWC:  I see it as a help. Derby games are great, but unpredictable so they present an opportunity to lose points against the grain. In League One and the Championship the rivalry with Brighton was a lot fiercer than it ever has been with you, so it will be interesting to see if that is revisited. I don't count Reading.

CC: Were you worried at all at the end of January when Swansea City beat the Saints that you could be dragged into the relegation battle?

GWC:  Arrogantly, no. We've been inconsistent but we are a top 10 squad. There are some really poor sides in the bottom half (I'm not sure there has ever been worse).

CC: Jay Rodriguez destroyed the Cherries last time the teams met in December, so would you expect him to get the vote to start over Shane Long or Charlie Austin if Gabbiadini remains injured?

GWC:  I think Long will start, mainly because he has more football of late. It's a big blow to us if Gabbiadini hasn't recovered [Ed- Puel confirmed yesterday that Gabbiadni was out for this game] but other players need to take their chance when they get the opportunity. Rodriguez was great in Bournemouth, but it's not a regular occurrence these days. It's a huge shame because he was fantastic before his big injury.

CC: What do you make of AFC Bournemouth's second season in the Premier League and have you been impressed by any of the Bournemouth players?

GWC:  I thought you'd go down this season, but you look comfortable again. On paper your squad looks poor but it's perhaps credit to Eddie Howe that you continue to surpass expectations (mine at least). I'm a big fan of Wilson and King.

CC: I'd better ask you for a score prediction? 

GWC: 2-1 if Gabbiadini plays. 1-1 if he doesn't. [Ed- Well, he doesn't]

CC: Thanks to Chris at George Weah's Cousin. I like the way Chris may have changed his opinion about AFCB in that the Cherries now look more like on of the comfortable teams that are likely to stay up. I still want to see a few more points though before I can say that with confidence. The inconsistent form of the Saints gives me sum hope that the Cherries might get something on Saturday but having had the international break form is virtually thrown out of the window. Southampton have found another manager that can get results though and get to a cup final. I still hope for the day when AFCB might grace Wembley in this century. Such memories of Wembley for Southampton fans will stay with them and it's good to see a good few Southern teams doing well this season.

Don't forget to check out the Rivals at George Weah's Cousin 

Match Preview: Man Utd v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Old Trafford Faithful
Twitter: @OTFaithful

This week I had a good conversation with Jason at the popular Old Trafford Faithful website ahead of AFCB's trip to the theatre of dreams. United are starting to get their act in order and a strong finish to the season could still see them winning three cups and perhaps a top four Premier League position, so the gulf in class to the Cherries seems as immense as ever. But does that make United fans pleased with Jose Mourinho?

CC: If Utd won both domestic cups, but didn't win the Europa League and come fifth in the Premier League, would you still see this as a successful season, having missed out on the Champions league again?

OTF: I think we’ve been so lucky as Manchester United supporters recently, and our hunger for success is huge. The last three years have been a real reality check for us, and winning the FA Cup after going trophy-less for a few years was absolutely superb. The EFL Cup win this weekend was so sweet, and I’d be overjoyed if we win retain our FA Cup title. Surely, that has to be considered a success?

CC: Man Utd have a heavy schedule and Jose Mourinho has not been slow in letting everyone know about it, but are their many Utd players that should be getting more game time who will benefit from this situation?

OTF: Jose has chopped and changed quite a lot recently and everyone is getting plenty of minutes. Sergio Romero has been the biggest benefactor recently and he’s more than taking those chances. I’d love to see Luke Shaw get a look-in, but Jose just doesn’t fancy him...

CC: When do you think the season rally started for Man Utd this season, because it wasn't a great start and why do you think the team were slow starters in the League?

OTF:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic without question. I dread to think where we’d be without his goals in the big moments. He’s been wonderful for us. In terms of someone who has really got things going for us, I’d look firmly in the direction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He’s brought some flair and creativity to the table, and he’s really began chipping in with goals and assists.

BB: Has all the talk about Rooney's record club goal talk and media gossip about China actually taken some of the attention off of how well Mourinho now has the side playing?

OTF: First of all, I’m delighted that Wayne Rooney has broken the record. He’s given his absolute all for this club for well over a decade, and he deserves it. Jose is the master of distraction and taking the eyes of the media off his players and it seems to be working well right now. With that said, I wouldn’t mind Rooney leaving for China as the performance levels haven’t been there.

CC: Has Mourinho fully won over the Man Utd supporters or does he need a couple of good seasons to be considered a special manager for the Red Devils?

OTF: We love him. Since the day the appointment was made I think we all knew he’s the right guy for the job. His track record speaks for itself and he’s already one of the best bosses this country has ever seen. We’re lucky to have him, and I’ve no doubt the glory days will return under his guidance.

CC: If David de Gea leaves this summer would you be in favour of Kasper Schmeichel being signed by Utd?

I like Kasper Schmeichel and I think he’s a proper top quality goalkeeper. The thought of David de Gea leaving is absolutely frightening though. In my eyes, he’s the best in the business and it’d be impossible to replace him. I wouldn’t mind Kasper at United, and he’d surely attract a lot of attention if the unthinkable happens at Leicester.

CC: In the last three Premier League matches for Man Utd you have faced mid-to- lower placed teams in Watford, Leicester and Hull. Clean sheets have followed in these games, so the real test for Utd will come when they play the top five - or do you worry about them slipping up against a side like Bournemouth?

OTF: We’ve dropped plenty of points against those lower placed teams. Look at Stoke City both home and away, and even Burnley at home earlier in the season. There is always a little bit of a worry but that’s just the pessimist in me!

CC: Ibrahimovic never seems to do much running, but the ball comes to him like a magnet in the box, so do you see younger strikers at the club picking up things form him or is he just unique with a very different game to the likes of Rashford and Lingard?

OTF: I think one of the reasons we brought Zlatan in is purely down to the effect he can have on our youngsters. Imagine being a 19-year-old kid like Rashford learning from one of the best in the business? It’s insane.

CC: Who would you say has been Utd's best defender this season and is it an area where you'd like to see changes next season?

OTF:  Eric Bailly. 100%. I didn’t expect much from him when Jose made the move over the summer, but he’s been absolutely sensational. He’s quick, always on the front foot and he just doesn’t give the opponents a sniff. That said, we look rather light in that area with just Bailly, Jones, Smalling and Rojo - particularly when Rojo and Smalling have been playing so poorly recently.

CC: What do you make of AFC Bournemouth's prospects for staying up this season?

OTF: Ask me this a fortnight or so ago and I would’ve said it was a foregone conclusion that you’d stay up. Now, I’d be a little concerned to say the least. Their form has to be alarming for the fans, and they haven’t been good defensively recently. Now I’ve said that, put your money on Bournemouth keeping us quiet this weekend...

CC: I don't think Old Trafford Faithful are alone in not wanting to bet who is going to face the drop this season - hopefully AFCB will put in an inspired performance to get more points on the board soon. I was glad to hear that Kasper Schmeichel is now seen as a worthy keeper to come to Man Utd now, at least in the opinion of Jason at Old Traffod Faithful, but I wonder national papers have not pressed this question a bit more of late - especially seeing how well he has played in the Champions League. AFCB of course are perhaps thinking of a change in the goalkeeper line up next season and we could do with Artur Boruc marking his retirement from the Poland team with a shot stopping master class in front of the Red Devils. Many thanks to Jason and please see what he makes of their League Cup win at Old Trafford Faithful - I get the feeling he fancies Utd beating two south coast teams back to back!

Match Preview: WBA v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Albion Till We Die
Twitter: @albiontillwedie

This week I spoke to Mark who works on the Albion Till We Die website. I imagined that Mark was like many Baggies being very pleased with how things were going at the Hawthorns. But what I didn't know is whether Baggies were really happy with Tony Pulis and the players they have at the club or if there was still some anxiety about things at WBA despite the team doing well.

CC: Do you think that Tony Pulis should be pretty high up on the list for manager of the season?

ATID: Well I suppose that if you take into consideration the resources he's had and the money spent by the vast majority of clubs currently below us, you have to say that Pulis has done a fantastic job in getting us into our current 8th position. Obviously the likes of Conte and Pochettino are bound to walk away with the accolade come the season's end but Pulis and perhaps even Sean Dyche at Burnley do deserve plenty of credit for going head to head with the big boys.

CC: Are Baggies fans more fond of Pulis than the media would suggest?

ATID: Well, he's certainly more popular now than he was a while ago that's for sure but I think the jury is still out for quite a lot of Albion fans. The last few months have been great but the absolute dross we suffered for the previous 12 months or so will take some time to forget. Having said that I'd say the majority of fans are now behind Pulis.

CC: What are the main reasons do you put WBA's good form down to, since that 0-4 home defeat back in October to Man City?

ATID: There's definitely been a change in our style of play, helped in no small part by the form of Matt Phillips and the return of Chris Brunt and James Morrison. Earlier in the season we lacked players that could create chances and cause problems for the opposition but in Phillips, Brunt and Morrison, along with Nacer Chadli, that problem has been solved. I think also that Pulis has released the shackles slightly, especially at home. At one stage it appeared that our sole intention in games was to purely frustrate the opposition and play for a draw.

CC: You signed Marc Wilson on loan until the end of the season in January from AFC Bournemouth, as well as Jake Livermore (Hull), but was the January window disappointing for WBA fans?

ATID: After only a couple of appearances for the Baggies, Jake Livermore is starting to look like a great signing for the club and one that fits perfectly into Tony Pulis' style of play. Apart from the former Hull man however the transfer window was indeed once again disappointing for Baggies' fans. We have desperately needed a quality striker for some time now to take the burden off Salomon Rondon, who to all intents and purposes is the only senior striker at the club. If the big Venezuelan picks up an injury anytime soon then the failure to sign a striker in January could be disastrous.

CC: Has the new ownership of Guochuan Lai made a difference to where the club wants to aim to be?

ATID: Six months on from Lai purchasing the club there seems to have been absolutely no difference in the way the club is run. Whether that's a good or bad thing is open to debate. The majority of Albion fans were hopeful that the club's new ownership would see the shackles lifted on the club's notoriously tight transfer budget but as of yet it seems that the previous regime's modus operandi has been continued by Lai.

CC: How good is Salomon Rondon and do you expect him to stay next season?
ATID: I'll be honest, and I'm probably in the minority here, but I'm really not a fan of Rondon at all. He works hard and puts himself about, and can be dangerous in the air but his finishing with his feet and his hold-up play leaves a lot to be desired.

There was talk of a big money move to China for the player in January and that would probably be the most likely place he would eventually end up. If the player has had his head turned by the reported interest, I think the club will probably be better off selling him in the summer.

CC: Why do you think Matt Phillips has fitted in so well and was he a better buy than Nacer Chadli?

ATID: I think they are both good signings in their own ways. Phillips has added pace and creativity to the side whilst Chadli has added a little bit of unpredictability and class to the team.

Phillips actually started the season quite slowly and supporters were far from convinced that he was a good signing. Chadli on the other hand started the season on fire. As the season has progressed Phillips has got better and better whilst Chadli has struggled to hit his early season form.

CC: Was the FA Cup defeat to Derby a wasted opportunity leaving WBA fans with little to play for? Or is trying to catch Everton for seventh place enough to keep WBA fans happy?
ATID: The cup defeat against Derby is undoubtedly the biggest disappointment of the season so far. With the 50th anniversary of our last cup final appearance fast approaching fans are desperate to see us once again lift the famous old trophy. A seventh place finish in the Premier League is meaningless to the majority of our fans compared to success in the FA Cup.

CC: It was a close game between Bournemouth and WBA at Dean Court earlier this season, but are you at all worried that Pulis has found it hard to get points off of Eddie Howe's teams?

ATID: We do seem to have struggled to pick up results recently against Bournemouth but I feel Saturday's game might be a slightly different affair. There's definitely been a change in the way Pulis approaches home games and whilst the Cherries are a good attacking team you always fancy them to concede goals. I'm more confident going into this game than I have been for any of the previous recent meetings.

CC: How do you expect WBA to set up for this game?
ATID: I'd expect us to line-up as we have done in recent games with Foster in goal, Nyom, McAuley, Dawson and Brunt across the back, Livermore and Fletcher as the holding midfielders, Chadli and Phillips out wide and Morrison playing behind the lone striker Rondon.

CC: Is there anything visiting fans should look out for when coming to the Hawthorns for the first time?

ATID: If any Cherries fans are looking for somewhere to go for a pre-match drink or food then definitely check out The Vine. It's about a 15 minute walk from The Hawthorns and it does get very busy but as pre-match venues go it's up there with the best.

CC:Some great points from Mark. I thank him for his time and for making AFCB fans welcome at the Hawthorns. While a seventh place finish might seem meaningless to some, there are many AFCb fans who would take 17th now if it would mean another season in the top flight - things are getting tight down the bottom. There is no such worries for the Baggies though and I get the feeling this game will be more about which AFCB turns up than the Albion who are becoming a consistent side. Don't forget to checkout the Albion Till I Die site.

Match Preview: Hull City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Booth Ferry to Wembley

This week we had the chance to speak with Booth Ferry to Wembley and to find out what is going on up at Hull City as the Tigers have dispensed with a manager that was not given the January window to put things right, while the club still sits bottom of the table. Will the visit of AFCB rekindle Hull City's fortunes?

CC: Hull City fans have had a rocky ride ever since promotion. Who is the real villain for most of the club's problems?

BRTW: The blame lays squarely with Ehab Allam. His father Assem, the club chairman, has lost interest in Hull City since his name change failed and has left it to his son to run. He’s doing a good job of running it into the ground. He’s managed to alienate the supporters who weren’t already furious about the name change with a new membership scheme that removed concessions for children and seniors. He then fell out with Steve Bruce over his inability to implement the managers plans and left us without a manager and a threadbare squad.

CC: What do you make of the appointment of Marco Silva as the new manager and the sacking of Mike Phelan?

BRTW: Phelan was never given the opportunity to be successful. He had that threadbare squad and his recruitment was done on the last two days of the window with most signings being low-budget. That said, he’s not been able to get results with the squad recently, so the club had to do something if they have any intention of trying to survive. That clearly wasn’t going to be spending money so plumping for a coach with different ideas is the only way to go. I’m more excited by a modern coach who’s been successful than I would have been by a “roundabout” manager like Pardew.

CC: Has the League Cup been a good distraction as you have got to the semi-final or would you have rather had Steve Bruce still in charge and say five more points in the table, but still under the same ownership?

BRTW: We had good cup runs under Steve Bruce, so I don’t know that it would have been all that different. We’ve had good draws and fringe players have done well in all the games. It’s been the highlight of our season – the win over Leicester on the opening day apart.

CC: The FA Cup third round win against Swansea should be a new start, but many Hull fans stayed away in protest, but was it important to make a stand about what has been happening at the club?

BRTW: Our attendances have been embarrassing for most of the league games too. Especially when you consider that when they announce crowds of 16,000, the actual attendance is far less. As fans, I think we had to do something to highlight the problems. Because we’re in the Premier League, there is no sympathy with our plight. Fans of clubs outside the PL would give their right arm to be in it. Things like the name change and the removal of concessions don’t hit home until they happen to your club.

CC: Are you resigned to losing Robert Snodgrass if Hull don't stay up and are there any other players who you think might even leave in this window?

BRTW: Snodgrass will definitely go but it’s vital that we keep him until the summer. He’s not going to sign a new deal with these owners and especially not if we go down so we’ll have to cash in eventually. We’ve got a good squad so I could see interest, but I think the money on offer from staying in the PL trumps anything another club might offer to buy someone.

CC: Are Hull City linked with any strikes in January and do you see the owners willing to invest with Silva now at the helm?

BRTW: I think we’ll just get loans and maybe a cheap right back. There’s no willingness from the owners to gamble on investment. We’ve been linked with Oumar Niasse who’s flopped at Everton, but was hot before he went there.

CC: The match at Dean Court went very wrong, very quickly for Hull City, but do you feel confident that your players have something to prove in this game that they are a better side than they were on that day?

BRTW: We were really poor in that period and the losses at Bournemouth and Middlesbrough were particularly poor. We’ve picked up since and although we’ve only got 2 points from the last 7 games, we’ve played pretty well. With the new manager and some tweaks to the way we line up and press the ball, hopefully we’ll be more competitive.

CC: Dawson went off with a shoulder injury in the FA Cup game against Swansea. How do you think you might set up if you are without him for this game?

BRTW: We’re struggling badly in defence. I’d be surprised if we don’t have Jake Livermore as a makeshift centre-half again and lord knows who’ll play right back!

CC: In your last two league games Hull City have scored first and yet only come away with on point from those games so can you point towards why you have been conceding goals so regularly, i.e. set-pieces, losing possession in wrong areas of the pitch, goalkeeping/defensive errors?

BRTW: We’ve conceded a lot of soft goals from a combination of individual errors, giving away penalties and poor marking at set-pieces. That will be key for the new manager to improve. Some of it you can work on, some of it, you’ve got to rely on players to learn quickly.

CC: Marco Silva says Hull City needs a miracle to stay up, but With the fixtures remaining can you see Hull City surviving?

BRTW:  We’ve got half a chance. The fixtures after Bournemouth are horrendous for a few weeks but then we’ve got 6 of 7 home games against teams in the bottom half. That’s where the miracle will have to occur!

I kind of have a bit of sympathy for Hull City fans more than most in the Premier league as they have seen it all before and every time they win promotion they look like a side that is destined to go straight back down. Their new manager may well prove to be a good appointment given time, but he needs to be given the cash to try and build something up at Hull. AFCB probably play the Tigers at a fairly good time as they are coming back off of a 2-0 defeat in the League Cup Semi-final, but I have seen improvements in their team over the last few weeks. Make sure you have a read up of their recent results on Booth Ferry to Wembley.

Blogger Interview
Swansea v AFCB
28 December 2016
Twitter: @StevenSOS1987

This week, I had the chance to grab a few words with the Swansea Oh Swansea Fanzine ahead of AFCB's game with the Swans who have been wondering if they can get out of the bottom three. It's been a strange last couple of years for the Welsh side and losing some of their big hitters has weakened their squad. With a new American manager and owners I wonder if Swansea City are losing their identity and worse still losing their fans.

CC: Is Bob Bradley the right man for the job at Swansea City? (this question was set pre-Bob Bradley's sacking this week)

SOS: No way is he the man for us, but sadly we’re stuck with him. He doesn’t suit us at all and we’ve got worse since he took over. There’s a lot wrong at the club at the moment and to be fair a lot of it isn’t his fault either. However he’s completely out of his depth and if we want to stay up someone else needs to come in. [Ed- Gary Rowett and Paul Clement are the front runners for the job at the moment.]

CCDo you think the whole American ownership of the club has backfired?

SOS: At this stage there can be no doubt it has. Sadly, the previous regime took their eye of the ball and put their own financial gain above the club’s needs. The transfer window last summer was awful as we lost likes of Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew and didn’t replace them. We needed to improve the squad after a mediocre campaign last time around and they failed to put any money up for transfers so as a result we are struggling.

CCAre Swansea City fans still very optimistic of ending the season outside of the bottom three?

SOS: Most think we’re in real trouble. The one saving grace if we’re not cut out from the pack above us just yet and the transfer window does open shortly so reinforcements could bolster our chances though. Many though don’t believe the board will make enough money available to sort this mess out and even if they do we also don’t trust them to sign the right players either.

CCAre there any targets that you have heard about that could come to Swansea in January and are there any strikers you would personally like to see at the club to help you stay up?

SOS: We’ve been linked to a few, winger Luciano Narsingh from PSV is one and he would probably be an upgrade on what we’ve got. Our wingers are so bad it’s crazy, between them they’ve only had a couple of assists this season. Up front I actually think we’re not bad, Fernando Llorente and Borja Baston as both proven strikers, but without service what can they do? Elsewhere we must improve defensively, we’re an absolute shambles in that area. Ideally, we need a centre back and full back on each side which is asking a lot in one window. I’d like another midfielder too to be honest so there’s a lot of work to do in January.

CCThe Crystal Palace game was a rare highlight but it could have been disastrous. Have you lost the momentum from that win and the win against Sunderland? 

SOS: Palace was just a bonkers game really, the kind that happens about once a decade. At 3-1 up I'm thinking we’ll win comfortably, 3-2 I’m worried, 3-3 convinced we’ll lose, then 3-4 I want to leave as I’m fuming. Then we somehow score twice to win 5-4. I wasn’t convinced it was a turning point, because it was such a bizarre game. I was more hopeful after Sunderland as we actually played well, especially in the second half. But then were awful at West Brom and Middlesbrough so now it looks like a one off sadly.

CCDo you feel the club needs a leader, a big captain like you had with Ashley Williams?

SOS: Yes he’s been missed hugely, not just for the fact he was a great defender but he was a real leader. It was obvious once he left his were huge boots to fill, but as usual we did it on the cheap with Alfie Mawson from Barnsley. I think in the long term he might be good, but we needed someone proven to replace such a huge figure for us.

CCIs there any player that you don't want to see go in January or would the money be good to get some new signings in?

SOS: There should be money there without having to sell anyone we need. We made a profit on transfers this summer in spite of the new bumper TV deal so if anyone goes they need to be because we want them out. If someone like Gylfi Sigurdsson left then we may as well throw in the towel. We’d probably have only single figure points if it wasn’t for him.

CCCan you get something against AFC Bournemouth who have only had one win on the road?

SOS: We have to target games like this to win. It’s a winnable game on paper but I’m not convinced it’ll be won. If you play like you did at the Liberty last year we’ve got no chance. You battered us to be fair and reminded me of when we first came into this division – not many star names on paper, but a clear philosophy which is very easy on the eye and everyone pulling in the same direction for one of the brightest young managers in the game. How I long to go back to those days.

CC: What do you expect to be your starting line up for the game?

SOS: Bradley is notoriously unpredictable, likes to make changes so he may do here. I’ll guess Fabianski, Naughton, Amat, Van Der Hoorn, Taylor, Fulton, Cork, Barrow, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Llorente.

CC: Many thanks for the Swansea Oh Swansea Fanzine. I have also answers a coupe of questions for the fanzine which you may see this weekend. Both teams really need a win to halt their bad runs and this could be quite an open game. The change of manager for Swansea will see a chance for them to change their attitudes to a more positive frame of mind, so AFCB have to try and give Swansea City something to worry about early on - a few shots in the first 10-15 minutes will be what AFCB fans will hope to see and a dominant performance against a bottom three side. UTCIAD! 

Match Preview: Chelsea V AFCB
Blogger Interview: Chelsea Daft
Twitter: @chelseadaft

First things, first - Happy Christmas everyone! The season may just get even more special if AFCB can register their second away win of the season tomorrow, but Chelsea are in fine form. In fact, I have been chatting with Chelsea Daft who has a few words to say about how Chelsea are setting the pace at the top of the table.

CC: Is the title race over for this season?

CD: At this point with half of the season to go I would say no. However, if Chelsea open up a gap of more than 10 points then it will be hard for teams to catch us as I cannot see us losing at the minute. There will be plenty of twists and turns along the way still but as you would have seen in the past, when Chelsea establish a lead of double figures at the top of the League, we are often hard to catch.

CC: Is the FA Cup now a competition that the fans at Chelsea want to win with the club not being in European football this season?

CD: Being honest, the FA Cup would be an added bonus. If you asked any genuine Chelsea fan of the target for this season it would be to get back into the Champions League. I've said in recent weeks that if we managed to beat Tottenham and Manchester City then top four is now almost certain.

Let's see what happens.

CC: What do you most like about Antonio Conte?

CD: Everyone knows his passion for the game and his antics throughout the game on the touchline but what I really like and respect about him is the fact that when he came into Chelsea after such a bad year for us last year, he didn't decide to do what Louis Van Gaal did at Manchester United. He didn't walk in the door and demand that the players at club adapt to the way he wanted to play straight away, to try to fit in to what he wanted.

He came in to have a look at all the players, to watch how they have been used to playing and then at the start of the season decided upon what he believed to be his best team for that formation.

As soon as the nightmare against Liverpool happened followed by even worse at Arsenal, only then did he change the shape of the side to what he wanted and at that point, he knew the players he had here that would fit into the system perfectly. The rest is history eleven games later!

CC: Which game do you think has been the best performance by Chelsea this season?

CD: Everton at home was total football and a display I had never witness before in the 35 years I have been going to watch Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Everything came together that night and we blew Everton out of the water. It was that good that in a pub on the Kings Road after the game, My mates and I stood there looking at each other with a pint in our hands almost lost for words. One even said "What have we just witnessed?" as if it was unbelievable.

CC: How has going three at the back made Chelsea a harder side to beat?

It has coupled with the wing backs. If you think about it, we still have the two holding midfielders and the three players in attacking areas but rather than lose one of your defenders and play him through the middle, we are utilising the wing-backs who play right out on the wing and it gives teams something to think about.

CC: Hazard is playing with much more freedom this season but are you surprised that he did not go last summer?

CD: Being honest, yes I was - but if you remember, Hazard was one of those players who reports stated had fallen out with Jose Mourinho and he took a fair bit of flack from the supporters for it (It was never proven by the way). After being named the best player in the Premier League to then have a season like he did, he obviously felt that he had something to prove here and decided to stay.

If we win the title this season then he may leave to go to Real Madrid but I hope that he stays to tackle the Champions League under Conte next season.

CC: Nathan Aké is playing brilliantly with us at AFC Bournemouth do you expect him to play for Chelsea next season?

CD: I would like to say yes, but I think he has another year out on loan before he comes into the squad. We have a player called Andreas Christensen who has played out in Germany who is ahead of Ake in the pecking order at the moment and he will be in our squad next season for sure.

CC: Who will be the bigger miss in the game against AFC Bournemouth – Costa or Kanté?

CD: It's a hard one but it has to be Diego Costa purely because the guy can win a game for you from nothing as he demonstrated a couple of weeks ago against West Brom. In saying that, look out for Michy Batshuayi who will come in as his replacement. He is young, talented, raw and strong with a good eye for goal. He has all the attributes to be the next Didier Drogba!

CC: What do you think of the form of Fabregas this season?

CD: It's been good when he has been involved but he has become a casualty of the 3-4-3 tactical switch along with Oscar who has just been sold. Fabregas is out and out quality and demonstrated that against Manchester City. He will play tomorrow.

CC: How do you think Chelsea will line up for this game?

Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, 
Alonso, Moses, Matic, Fabregas, Hazard, 
Willian and Batshuayi.

CC: A big thanks to Chelsea Daft as I know they have been very busy and it was kind of them to spare some time to answer the questions for us. It is good to hear a Chelsea fan that sounds quite grounded and not thinking too far ahead as if the job is done. I think Conte is like that is well - very astute and working out how the Premier League works as much as what his own players are capable of. He has had some hard tests in the games against Arsenal and Liverpool, but there has not been too much to trouble Chelsea since, and it's up to AFCB to make it a difficult game for Chelsea, especially when they are missing two of their best players. If you want to read some more views on how Chelsea are shaping up do go over to the Chelsea Daft site to get more on their season so far.

Burnley v AFCB
10 November 2016
Podcaster Interview: No Nay Never
Twitter: @NoNayNever

It's time to catch up with Burnley FC supporters ahead of our game at the weekend and who better to ask about what is happening at the clarets than our old friend Jamie, at the excellent No Nay Never podcast. There is an up to date episode on the No Nay Never podcast that talks about the Bournemouth game so do have a listen. But in the meantime, here are the questions I put to Jamie and his responses.

CC: Have you seen much difference in the side to how it went about games in the Championship?

NNN: The approach is fairly similar I think - we're trying to sit tight in most games and nick a goal somehow. But obviously the quality of opposition is a lot higher, so our defence isn't as strong and our attack isn't as effective. We need to be more flexible.

CC: Is it all about home form for Burnley or have you got the players and know how to get away wins in the Premier League?

NNN: It is so far! But we can't assume that we'll get 35 points or so from home games, which looks like what we'll need if we're to stay up. At the moment it looks like a different team away from home - there's no confidence and as soon as we go behind heads start dropping, the belief just isn't there. It seems to be a mental problem as much as a team selection or tactics issue right now.

CC: Have you been surprised to get good results against Liverpool, Everton and Man Utd?

NNN: Yes and no - we got results against top sides at home in our two previous Premier League seasons. United looks a bit like a fluke now - Tom Heaton had the game of his life and they missed a lot of good chances - but against Everton and Liverpool we played really well. In fact we've played better against good sides than mediocre ones so far this season.

CC: Should Sean Dyche invest in another striker in January?

NNN: Goals are always key so it wouldn't hurt, but I really believe Andre Gray will score goals in the Premier League. For me, it's the supply line that isn't working well enough, not the personnel up front. Sam Vokes is on track to get double figures if he keeps up his form and Gray should be targeting the same. Jordan Rhodes has been linked in the press but that doesn't make a lot of sense to me - he's a one-dimensional player and Gray is better anyway.

CC: What have you made of Berg Gudmundsson?

NNN: I really like him. He had a pretty slow start but that was understandable as he was adapting to a higher league. But he's got a bit of everything. He's direct and a real threat, but also does all the defensive work we need from our wingers. It's a shame we don't have another like him for the other wing and we really missed him at Stoke - hopefully he'll be fit for Saturday but it looks unlikely.

CC: Which player is the one you can't afford to see leave the club in January?

NNN: Michael Keane is a key man and we're likely to have a lot of interest in him. But the club has already made it clear he is not for sale and Keane doesn't seem like the type of player to force a move, so I think we'll probably hold on to him until the summer.

CC: Are there any young players at Burnley that could break into the team in the next 12 months?

NNN: Dyche has no record whatsoever of bringing through youth at Burnley, so it seems unlikely. Teenage midfielder Aiden O'Neill had some game-time earlier in the season and appeared to be a decent prospect, but there's been so sign of him for a while now.

CC: Which side is the worst you have played so far and which three teams do you think will go down?

NNN: Hard to say really as all our wins have been close - we've not dominated anyone. Liverpool were pretty rubbish against us but we stopped them playing expertly and Crystal Palace were extremely poor defensively. I don't see Swansea staying up, Hull are going to find it hard and then anyone of about 6-8 clubs could be the last team to go. I'm going for Leicester though - their focus seems completely on the Champions League.

CC: What did you feel about the way the team played against Stoke City in your last game?

NNN: Pretty terrible really. Lots of fans thought the second half was positive and a big improvement, but Stoke shut the game down and we created almost nothing. It says a lot that a 2-0 loss with zero clear chances is being touted as a decent performance, given our woeful away form. There's a real lack of creativity in the team and nobody seems willing to take responsibility in the final third.

CC: How do you expect Burnley to set up against AFC Bournemouth?

NNN: No idea! Dyche went back to 4-4-2 last weekend and it didn't work, but 4-5-1 has served us quite well at home so it would be no surprise if it was Vokes on his own up front with Gray back on the bench. Whatever system it is, we'll stick a lot of players behind the ball and try and hit Bournemouth on the break.

CC: What is your score prediction for the game?

NNN: Despite being really poor away from home, we've been strong at Turf Moor so, as negative as I've probably come across here, I'm fairly positive for Saturday. Bournemouth can be got at if we press them right and we're due a clean sheet. 2-0 to Burnley.

Thanks Jamie for those answers. It is always fascinating for AFCB fans to see how Burnley are doing following Eddie Howe's association with the club and while it is a long way up to Turf Moor there will be plenty of hardy Cherries who fancy the trip to the northwest. These are three points which I think both teams will feel they can gain if they can play their best game, but it may come down to who can disrupt the other side best and knock them out of their normal game. I expect a close game but not many goals.

Arsenal v AFCB
28 November 2016
Blogger Interview: Daily Cannon

This week I had a great chat with Lee Hurley at the Daily Canon - an Arsenal blog that started back in 2008. I am sure there have been the odd grumblings since then on Arsenal on his site but even this week the mood might have been dampened following recent results. At least Arsenal fans know that Jack Wilshere is not returning to haunt them in his AFCB colours, but what do Arsenal fans think of one of their stars coming to the south coast and are they looking forward to this game?

CC: What did you feel about Jack Wilshere joining AFCB on loan and do you think his time at Arsenal is over?

DC: I was surprised when a loan move was first rumoured but it’s a good move for Jack and I’m glad to see him end up at a club like Bournemouth who play good football. I don’t think his time at Arsenal is over, but I’m a lot less confident about that than I was a few months ago. There is a place for him in the Arsenal midfield, especially with Santi Cazorla’s ongoing injury problems and had he stayed at Arsenal he would have got a lot more game time this season than anyone was expecting. I genuinely couldn’t call it, but if you put a gun against my head, I’d say he will be at Arsenal next season.

CC: Do you think Arsenal will look for an English manager after Wenger or are they more likely to continue to favour the Premier League's trend for foreign managers?

DC: It’s impossible to know what this Arsenal board will do when Wenger goes, mostly because none of them are real football people. There is no clear successor at the club at the minute and that makes me think we will see Wenger sign a new deal. As for nationality, it all depends on if there is an Englishman good enough. Where he comes from won’t play into it at all, but I’d be surprised to see an Englishman take over, solely because I don’t think there are any at that level just now.

CC: Were you pleased with the point at Old Trafford and apart from the point what do you think Wenger got out of that game in his understanding of his side?

DC: We were awful against United (and PSG) so to get a point, you have to be happy. We haven’t played well for a few months now but seem to be still grinding out results. The only thing Wenger learned (or had reinforced) after the game at Old Trafford is that this side still have psychological problems there.

CC: Have you been impressed with Mohammed Elneny and what are his main strengths?

DC: We haven’t seen much of Elneny since he signed in January but what we’ve seen has been decent. He’s not a showstopper, just a solid performer. He won’t ever be a first-team regular unless we have tons of injuries or he makes a massive improvement, however. Very much a squad player.

CC: What's the latest news on Danny Wellbeck's recovery from injury and is the injury to Hector Bellerin a big problem for Arsenal?

DC: Welbeck should be back in the new year. As for Bellerin, he’s a massive miss because Carl Jenkinson is incomparable. Solid enough in defence, Jenkinson isn’t as adept going forward and Bellerin’s absence really blunts one of Arsenal’s three-prongs of attack.

CC: Do you think Jamie Vardy would have been a great buy for Arsenal in the summer?

DC: I have never been so glad to have a player turn down Arsenal as I was when Jamie Vardy said no. He wouldn’t have been a great buy. Giroud offers more from his all-round play and Vardy’s character is, well, let’s just say ‘less than ideal’ for Arsenal.

CC: I was surprised to see Giroud only has five goals this season, despite getting the equaliser against Man Utd. But are Arsenal a weaker side when Giroud does not start?

DC: Arsenal are neither weaker nor stronger with Giroud starting, just different. He has only started two games all season after an extended summer holiday and then a toe injury. He has five goals and two assists in all competitions this season with only 340 minutes played.

CC: Arsenal have drawn their last two home games in the Premier League. If you were to draw this game as well would alarm bells be starting to ring in terms of title aspirations?

DC: On the back of the draws against United, Spurs, PSG as well as the 0-0 against Boro, I think we would hear a lot of boos at the Emirates if they fail to win against Bournemouth. Alarm bells are already tingling, despite being unbeaten in our last 18. We just haven’t been playing well at all.

CC: Arsenal have drawn against Spurs and Man Utd and beaten Chelsea, so you've done okay against the others in the top six, but do you think the Premier League is stronger this season and that Arsenal can slip up against anyone?

DC: Arsenal can always slip up against anyone, regardless of what else is happening around them.

CC: What have you thought of Bournemouth's start to the season?

DC: Bournemouth have done very well so far this season and from what little I have seen have been unlucky not to be at least a few points better off. You’re in tenth place with a slow and steady build. You have to be delighted with that.

CC: How do you think Arsenal will line up against AFCB?

DC: Cech – Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal – Coquelin (though I wish he’d start Xhaka), Ramsey – Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez – Giroud.

CC: Thanks for the comments Lee. It's nice to hear some Arsenal fans who haven't already been eyeing up Eddie Howe as their next manager. The level of depression among fans at Arsenal always surprises me though as most of us would be thrilled to finish in the top four. The ceiling is much higher though for the Gunners and I'm not totally sure their Board wants the same as their fans. Meanwhile, the Daily Cannon is discussing the possibility of Ozil leaving London and Arsene Wenger is still trying to work out what his team is lacking - hop over to the Daily Cannon to read more on these stories and lots more.

Match Preview
Middlesbrough v AFCB
Blogger Interview: For the Love of Boro
Twitter @4TheLoveOfBoro 

I had a bit of a shock when I looked up the For the Love of Boro before the match this week. We have written a few rival lines with James Stevenson who writes for the blog, but there had been no new articles there since February. I wondered if the Love of Boro had been fading, but James was quick to reply and tell me that he has been hard at work in the Northeast and his job has prevented him from being able to report back from games, so the blog has taken a back seat. But fear not, the Love of Boro is still strong and he is tweeting his thoughts after most games.
CC: Home form has been tripping Boro up it seems, is there any reason why it hasn't quite happened for you at home yet?

FTLOB: Personally, I don’t think there is. Currently we have won one game from our first nine and that was against struggling Sunderland. Not ideal and our record so far could, possibly should, be better. First game against Stoke we started brightly and should have seen it out, failing to take our chances. Against Crystal Palace we made defensive errors but apart from their goals we still did enough to get at least a point in my opinion. Spurs we were outclassed until the second half when we realised we shouldn’t be showing them so much respect. By which time it was too late. While our last home game against Watford (which was dreadful) neither team deserved to win. But they nicked a goal with a great strike and went on to win. They didn’t look like hurting us until they scored. Cutting out the mistakes and showing more attacking intent both at home and away is what needs to happen. It’s a shame we haven’t got a victory yet at home considering we have had some winnable games, which makes this weekend even more important for us.

CC: Like Eddie Howe last season, Karanka has come under pressure to change Boro's style, but does Aitor Karanka only know one way of playing?

FTLOB: He has his own philosophy, as most managers do. One that ultimately proved successful in the Championship last season. Even if at times it was still brought into question. But he got us back up into the premier league which was the most important thing. Having a strong base in our defence to build upon from last season I thought, as I’m sure most Boro fans did, that Karanka would look to expand his philosophy to bring a more attacking side to our game. The signings of Alvaro Negredo, Victor Fischer and Adama Traore all hinted at such. So far I am yet to see that. A good defence will only get you so far. Football is about winning games and that means you need to score goals. I think it is clear for all to see why we don’t score many goals. Karanka has a lot to answer for there.

CC: Are Boro fans generally realistic about what Aitor Karanka can do this season and will they stick behind him and the team or are there already some discontented voices?

FTLOB: Before the season started, when we made signings of the calibre of Negredo and Victor Valdes there was a sense of optimism that we could not only stay up but thrive and be a mid-table side as soon as this season. But I think fans are becoming more realistic. To stay in the premier league is the aim, anything more is a bonus. It’s only the stubbornness of Karanka not to grab a game by the scruff of it’s neck that ultimately frustrates. The point at Arsenal last weekend has hopefully boosted everyone. But how long will it last? Who knows…

CC: Middlesbrough lead the stats for tackles last time I looked, but have they got the talent to create enough chances for the forwards, as you were second bottom to Burnley in shots before last weekend's match with Arsenal?

FTLOB: Yes we have quite a few who like a tackle! Antonio Barragan leads the way for tackles this season and has probably been our most impressive summer acquisition so far. As for creating chances. We have talent to create the chances. Whether we have enough is the big question. The other is why do we not take our chances? We’ve been asking that for years! Fischer and Traore are young and while they have potential, can’t be relied upon. Selling Albert Adomah who, while he had never played in the premier league was an experienced player and knew how Karanka likes to play, was disappointing. But his replacement Traore is beginning to impress. Even so creative reinforcements with some top flight experience wouldn’t go a miss in January.

CC: Christian Stuani has been a plus point do you think he needed time to settle on Teesside?

FTLOB: He started really well for us when we signed him last season. But then the goals dried up for a long time mid-season. However, he still finished the season as our top goal scorer in all competitions even with that drought. He is an interesting player because you often don’t see too much of him and then he goes and bags a goal from nowhere. One of those players who is always in the right place at the right time and seems to have a knack for scoring important goals. Has been a shrewd and sometimes undervalued signing by Karanka in my opinion.

CC: Which was the better buy, striker Alvaro Negredo or keeper Victor Valdes?
FTLOB: Good question. Most would say Negredo and I’d say Negredo too. He just needs the service to score goals. As for Valdes I’m concerned that his best days are behind him. But he produced his best display yet for us against Arsenak last week and with it his first clean sheet. So maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

CC: How big a miss has captain Grant Leadbitter been?

FTLOB: If were we still in the Championship I would say a massive miss. But Adam Clayton was arguably our best player last season and new signing Marten De Roon cost us around £12 million so big things are expected from him. However, the emergence of Adam Forshaw has been the big plus for us so far. He has made it almost impossible for Karanka to leave him out. Personally, I feel vindicated because I felt last season he deserved a chance and it was only because Leadbitter was captain that he didn’t get in the team. But he got the opportunity after 15 minutes of the first game of the season when De Roon went off injured against Stoke and hasn’t looked back.

CC: What do you make of how the team played in your last game against Arsenal?
FTLOB: Very impressed. No one expected us to get anything out of the game let alone almost win it! With the chances we had we probably should have won it too. We saw the same defensive solidity that we’d become accustomed to last season for the first time in the premier league and Karanka finally unleashed Traore who had been pushing for a start with his cameos from the bench recently. I hope he starts again on Saturday. His speed is unbelievable!

CC: You play Bournemouth in and amongst probably the hardest run of fixtures you could get, but does that make it a must win game?

FTLOB: Considering we have yet to register a home win this season I think it does. We play Man City away, Chelsea home and Leicester away next month so it is vital we pick up three points on Saturday.

CC: What changes do you hope to see in the Middlesbrough line up to play AFCB?
FTLOB: None. The changes that needed to be made were made for last weekend’s game at Arsenal and it was our best display of the season so far. It’s hard to argue against being unchanged. But Karanka can be unpredictable. Whether of not to give Traore his first home start is the big call. He deserves it after his performance last week. I think fans will be disappointed if he doesn’t start.

CC: Is there a Bournemouth player that you would like to see come to Middlesbrough?
FTLOB: Might seem an obvious choice but can’t see how I can go for anyone else. Callum Wilson is a goal scorer. Something we are missing is a player who will put the ball in the back of the net more often than not. He probably wouldn’t fit our system. Karanka preferring a big strong centre forward. But if I had to choose one player from your side it would be Wilson.

CC: I really enjoyed the chat with James, he really knows his stuff on the Boro and I don't think we;d get a better insight into how the team is playing at the moment. It is a pity that his site is not quite up to date at the moment, but you can still read much about Middlesbrough's last few seasons on the For the Love of Boro website.

Match Preview: Watford v AFCB
Blogger Interview: From the Rookery End
Twitter: @Watfordpodcast

I managed to get hold of Jon from the tremendous Watford podcast and website - From the Rookery End. He can kindly give us an insight into what Watford fans are making to the start of their season and what may be awaiting AFCB when they turn up at Vicarage Road this weekend.
CC: What would be considered progress for Watford this season?

FTRE: You've asked me this after our away lose at Burnley, so it won't be as positive as a week early when we beat Manchester United. Progress is to be a place or two higher than last season. Do we have the potential to push for Europe, yes - but lots of teams could do that with a few great wins.

CC: Troy Deeney said Watford were bullied by Burnley in their last game but is that the whole story?

FTRE: We never found our flow, they were closing us down and a bit more physical, but I wouldn't say bullying. We put on our weakest performance yet, and several players had the worst performance in many weeks.

CC: Which was the more pleasing win - the comeback against West Ham Utd or the home battering of Man Utd?

FTRE: A tough one. Manchester United was the first time we beat them since 1986 and beating teams like that is why you want to be in the Premier League. And the West Ham game showed us a team that we didn't see last season, one with confidence and fight.

CC: Which players are injured and likely to be out of next Saturday's game?

FTRE: Not sure at this point - Janmatt on the right hand side is the only one we are aware of with a few weeks out.

CC: How do you expect to line up against AFC Bournemouth?

FTRE: It won't be much different from how we started against Burnley, however there have been calls for a change up front and dropping Ighalo. Will we see a starting pair of Deeney and Success upfront.

CC: Can you see more goals in the team this season or are Watford still very reliant on Deeney and Ighalo?

FTRE: This is already happening - Capoue has been scoring plenty of goals and the 3-5-2 with a more attacking focus is putting more players in better scoring positions.

CC: Where will Watford and AFC Bournemouth finish in the league?

FTRE:  Not too far away from where we ended last season!

CC:What is you score prediction for the game?

FTRE: 2-1 to the Glory Hornet Boys!

CC: Would you like to see former Watford manager Sean Dyche as the next England manager and do you see Eddie Howe as the front runner for the job?

FTRE: No and No. Both need to step up and manage a different blend of players before getting the England job. Neither has ever brought a lot of players together with a range of backgrounds or have had the pressure you get for the England manager. Each has evolved and built teams. However, they both know how to get Championship players to set up, maybe that is something the England squad needs?

CC: Well I believe From the Rookery End is in good company with AFCB fans who also don't believe that Eddie Howe should yet be in contention for the England manager's job. We have far more important matters to be considering like what kind of mood will Watford's players be in when they face AFCB. I'm expecting a close game and having seen the Hornets under perform at Burnley there should be no complacency from them in this game which will make it tougher for the Cherries. AFCB need to find a way of scoring more regularly now that they have kept the goals against down in their last match, but Watford have been scoring well at home. I'm going 1-1.

Take a look over at the From the Rookery End site to see why Watford fans were not so impressed with their last match.

Match Preview: Man City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Typical City
Facebook: Typical City

CC: Oh well, if Man City still have another 30 per cent to go before they really start playing at their very best, perhaps it is good that the Cherries can get this first game of two out of the way? That's how the half full glass Cherries fan might feel, but talking to Typical City's Dan Burke you get a real insight into how City fans can see the season perhaps panning out and they may not yet think that they have much of an advantage over their neighbours so AFCB had better get their defence sorted out as City look formidable even without Sergio Aguero.

CC: How well has the new Man City crest gone down with the fans?

TC: Very well, actually. The fans were consulted during every stage of the design process and we’ve ended up with a modern nod to our classic crest which the vast majority of people are really pleased with. The circular shape, golden ship and red rose are more synonymous with Manchester City than that stupid griffin and those embarrassing “decorative” stars ever were and I feel a sense of pride every time I look at it.

The only minor complaint I have is that the words “Football Club” have been removed from the new badge but it’s not something that keeps me awake at night.

CC: Man City already sit top of the table, but how much better do you think they can play?

TC: As great as City have been so far this season, I feel like this team has only fulfilled around 70% of its potential and, hopefully, the best is yet to come. City absolutely played Manchester United off the park for 40 minutes last weekend, but it was only 40 minutes and Pep Guardiola will be aiming to get his team exerting that level of dominance more often and for longer in future.

We still have players like İlkay Gündoğan and Vincent Kompany to come into the team, while Claudio Bravo and Leroy Sané have only just made their debuts, not to mention Brazilian wonderkid Gabriel Jesus who will join up with the squad in January. Exciting stuff.

CC: The Manchester derby was a well-hyped game and an important game to win, but do you expect Utd to be the biggest threat for the title this season?

TC: Yes, I think so. The likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Totte
nham will undoubtedly be challengers but I can’t help but feel that City and United will be the ones battling it out for top spot come the end of the season.

The way City played in the win at Old Trafford gives us plenty of encouragement going forward, but there’s a long way to go yet.

CC: Is the goal keeper position the weakest one in your team?

TC: After Claudio Bravo’s hairy debut at Old Trafford I can see why you’d think that, but I don’t agree. Bravo has Champions League, La Liga and Copa America winners medals and has captained his country for a decade so one dropped catch doesn’t make him a mug and I think, in time, he’ll prove to be a very good signing.

It’s a shame his debut is being remembered for that error because those first 40 minutes of City domination would not have been possible had he not been the master of his third of the field and his ability with the ball at his feet makes him integral to the way Guardiola wants his team to play.

I think our full-back positions are probably our weakest but even those players (particularly Aleksandar Kolarov) have come on leaps and bounds this season.

CC: Has Pep Guardiola's arrival filled you with more confidence that City can be a real power in the Champions League this season?

TC: As Pep proved during his time at Bayern Munich, the Champions League is a really tough nut to crack (even the great Sir Alex Ferguson only won it twice in all his years of management) but his main target during the three years he’s expected to be at City will be to win it and I think that’s more realistic than it ever has been.

I’m not convinced it will happen this season but us being a bit more streetwise and possibly even getting a result against a team like Barcelona will represent progress. Manuel Pellegrini took us to the semi-final last season but we were punching above our weight and if we can make it to the last four and look like we belong there this season, I’ll be very happy with that.

CC: With Sergio Aguero out for few games, it has been Kevin de Bruyne that has stepped up his performance. But has Guadiola's presence already made you feel that you are watching more of a team than a group of great individuals?

TC: Very much so, and I made that point to a Manchester United-supporting friend of mine who was convinced City had no chance of winning the derby without Sergio Aguero. Of course, any team would miss a player of Aguero’s quality but it feels more than ever like City are a unit rather than a bunch of names this season and the system is designed to create chances for everyone rather than everything being funnelled towards one main striker.

What’s more, with players like De Bruyne, David Silva, Nolito, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Kelechi Iheanacho, we have so much attacking talent and creativity that we’re still going cause teams a lot of problems with or without Aguero.

If our chances of achieving anything this season lived or died based on one player, I very much doubt Pep would be pinning his hopes on one who is so injury prone.

CC: Do you see John Stones as a future captain of Man City and if he is to be one of England's main centre-backs who should he be partnered with in Sam Allardyce's team?

TC: I’ve been so impressed with Stones so far and he certainly looks like he has what it takes to be a future captain for club and country. He’s great on the ball, so intelligent and a very un-typically English central defender who could be the cornerstone of the national side’s changing football philosophy in the coming years.

I think Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Eric Dier are the best other English centre halves at the moment but I don’t rate any of them particularly highly if the truth be told. We have a young lad in our academy – Tosin Adarabioyo – who is one to keep an eye on.

CC: Why was Sunderland at home a tough game for Man City?

TC: I think it was a combination of the team lacking in a bit of match sharpness (our pre-season was very poorly planned this summer), the match coming very early in Pep’s tenure and the fact that Sunderland, to be fair to them, defended very well and hung in there.

We’ve improved incrementally in each game since then and if we were playing Sunderland this weekend, I’d expect us to win a bit more comfortably.

CC: How do you see AFC Bournemouth now - plucky underdogs, relegation candidates, a high-energy/youthful team or southern softies?

TC: I think you had a great season last year and thoroughly earned your place in the Premier League. This will undoubtedly be a difficult second season for you but although you haven’t made the best of starts, I expect you to turn it around and stay up again.

Eddie Howe is an excellent manager who’s done an amazing job and I hope Callum Wilson fulfils his potential after that nightmare injury he sustained last season. I think you’re a high-energy/youthful team and I’m expecting a tough game on Saturday.

CC: Can you remember how has Jack Wilshire done in the past against Man City and is he a player you rate?

TC: He’s generally done well against us in the past and there’s actually been a bit of beef between him and our fans in the past which could be reignited if he plays at the weekend.

He is a player I rate and it’s a shame his career has stalled, through little fault of his own. Fair play to him for trying to give himself a jump-start by joining Bournemouth on loan and good luck to the lad, I say.

CC: How will Man City set up against AFCB?

TC: I’d expect it will be: Bravo, Sagna, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Silva, De Bruyne, Nolito, Sterling, Iheanacho but Pep may take the opportunity to give Gündoğan and Sané their first starts if they’re ready.

CC: I really liked Dan's answers. It is good to know that Jack Wilshire is likely to be fired up if he gets to play against City even if it sounds a bit ominous that City might only be playing to around 70 per cent of what they might be capable of!! I'll do a quick prayer for AFCB that City don't find an extra 10 per cent somewhere. Maybe with Siva struggling to be fit they might even drop a few per cent from the high standards they have set. Do have a read of the Typical City blog - they have some great ideas that I might pinch like their debate section and historical Halycon Digest - great stuff!

Match Preview: Crystal Palace v AFCB
Blogger Interview: The Eagles Beak
Twitter @TheEaglesBeak

This week we had the chance to chat with Jay Crame who jointly edits the Palace site The Eagles Beak. I have a confession to make in that visiting Selhurst Park is always something I look forward to as it is only about 40 minutes drive from my house or a quick train trip. But even with that convenience, I would rather travel down to Bournemouth most Saturdays to watch the team that means everything to me. But what does Jay think about the club he loves and the start they have made to this season?

CC: Are Palace fans as gutted as AFCB supporters that this is already a bottom of the table clash?

TEB: Perhaps but it is very early days indeed. I think most fans were expecting to win the opening game against the Baggies but lose the trip to Spurs, so I guess we are a win behind where we should be. The start of any season is always quite odd in terms of expectations as you hope new signings gel immediately but they often need time. Puts a little more onus on our clash as we will want to pick up a point or three going into the international break.

CC: How unlucky were Palace in their two games against Spurs and WBA as you seemed to have been victims of late goals in these games?

TEB: Against West Brom we played well in the first half and had we scored I am convinced that we would have gone on to win the game. You know what you are going to get against a Tony Pulis side, more so having seen what he did at Palace. The longer the game went on without us scoring you could just see them scoring from a set piece which is exactly what they did. The performance against Spurs was better but it was the very same result, late set piece proving the difference. One thing is clear, Palace are hard to break down but need to be much more clinical with chances that come our way.

CC: Do you think the side has fully recovered after the defeat to Man Utd in the FA Cup semi-final and the loss of form at the end of last season?

TEB: The league form in 2016 has been absolutely horrendous and there really is little excuse and it is foolish to think that the start of a new season wipes the slate clean. The fact is, these opening two games have continued in similar vein and that is the last thing Alan Pardew would have wanted. It sounds crazy but he is under pressure to get a result now as the fans are becoming restless. You cannot ignore the form that got us to the cup final though which is proof that we can get results against Premier League sides. Maybe we just need to go back to treating every game as a cup tie!

CC: Is the £27m spent on Benteke well spent or would you have preferred a quicker striker like Berahino for that kind of money?

TEB: Having seen Benteke make his debut for Palace against Blackpool in the League Cup the initial signs are good. He showed glimpses of what we can expect - strong in the air, agile and has quick feet. It was only forty-five minutes but it certainly wets the appetite. Is any player worth that kind of money? I don't believe so but football is in a world of its own and being in the top division you just have to try and keep up while trying to keep on the straight and narrow. I would never have said Palace would shell out this amount of money on a player which has smashed our transfer record but I'm hopefully that it will be a very wise addition.

CC: Was Conner Wickham the right striker to keep considering that Palace let Dwight Gayle go to Newcastle in the summer?

TEB: We seem destined to play a formation that will be much more midfield orientated with a lone striker. Dwight Gayle is a natural goalscorer but he struggles to play the loan striker role. He tried but it just did not work out. He will score 20+ goals in the Championship this season, no doubt about it so I will be intrigued to see how he does on a potential return to the Premier League. Connor Wickham plays the loan striker well but he need support from the midfield which he has not had in the two league games so far. Now he has Benteke to compete with which should make him up his game, in fact, he did just that against Blackpool, scored minutes after replacing the Belgian.

CC: Has the departure of Jedinak to leave for Aston Villa left the team more exposed?

TEB: It is telling that Mile did not sign for another Premier League side and facing facts, he would not make our first eleven with everyone fit. He goes with our very best wishes as he been a huge part of where we find ourselves today but however much I do not like saying it, there is always a time for a player to move on and this was his.

CC: Was the Yannick Bolasie move (£28m according to Sky Sports) good for Palace and is Andros Townsend a good enough replacement?

TEB: I am confident that the purchase of Townsend was not to replace Bolasie but it did soften the deal going through as it looked as though we did. The fee was too much to turn down and while many think we should no longer be a selling club, every player has their price. It is a great deal for Palace but while Bolasie is an exciting player, at the same time he is frustrating but that is what you have to put up with from skillful, wide players. He really needs to learn to perform more often as with the price-tag there is no doubt that the Everton fans will not be as patient as the Palace fans have been with him.

CC: Is Pardew the right man to lead Crystal Palace to a top 10 finish?

TEB: That is a hard question to answer at the moment with the possibility of a couple more players expected to come in before the transfer window ends. We are likely to have the personnel to push for a top 10 finish but I would prefer that we put an end to this wretched form we have been on since the start of the year. With Benteke on board now, I am sure he will add a new dimension to the team as well as that boost that we can actually score goals.

CC: Which three clubs do you think will be relegated from the Premier League this season?

TEB: This is a massive season both at the top and bottom of the table. It is likely to be close at both ends too but for me, the three that I think will go down are Hull City, Burnley and Sunderland.

CC: What formation do you expect Pardew to play against AFC Bournemouth and do you expect many changes from the starting line up in the last game?

TEB: The classic one up front formation with Benteke starting in that role while hopefully we will see the return of James McArthur and Yohan Cabaye to the starting line up. Many, including myself want to see Steve Mandanda replace Hennessey in goal but we may have to wait a couple more games for that.

CC: What do you think the score will be between the Eagles and AFCB?

TEB: We owe you one from last season and with the addition of Benteke, Palace will just edge it 2-1

CC: Thank you Jay for your thoughtful answers. I am pleased to hear that there is optimism in your words and the season is as you say two-games young. AFCB and Palace need to improve fast though and I get the feeling this could already be a 'six pointer' or at least steer one of the sides in the right direction and the other one into a more despondent mood. I'm backing AFCb to get a win though for the first time this season having suggested that they would lose their first two games. It's a 1-2 away win for me - same as last season!

Make sure you have a read of The Eagles Beak. There are not so many Crystal Palace sites and this one is a good one with views on Christian Benteke and the departed Jedinek who will be playing his football with Tommy Elphick this season and the Villa.

Match Preview: West Ham Utd v AFCB
Blogger Interview: West Ham Til I die
Twitter: @WestHamTil

There are usually rather a few goals in games between Wet Ham and AFCB and this game is suddenly very important for both sides after the results of their respective first games of this season in the Premier League. I spoke to Sean Whetstone of the West Ham Till I die website to find out how the Hammers were enjoying their new home and what his expectations were for Slaven Bilic's side this season.

CC: What are your expectations for West Ham this season?

WHTID: It is that second tricky season for Bilic, maybe he over achieved in his first season rising as high as third at one stage. Most Hammers fans believe a top ten finish is achievable and expected. The pundits have gone seventh but I hope we can bag a sixth place finish and qualify for Europa league for a three season running, unless we win the Europa League this year and qualify for Champions league instead of course ;-)

CC: What do you make of playing football in the Olympic stadium is it a big help for West Ham's growth and does it feel like home?

WHTID: It was strange walking up to our new stadium for Europa match and the Juventus friendly. Walking to stadium feels like Wembley way and it feels like a day at Wembley. It has an away game or neutral feel about it so far but I am sure we will get used to it soon and it will soon feel like home. Obviously the hope is the extra income and iconic stadium will help drive the club forward and will grow our global brand worldwide.

CC: Aaron Cresswell is out for a few months but the Hammers have signed Arthur Masuaku as a left-back do you know much about him?

WHTID: The 22-year-old arrived at West Ham from Greek Superleague champions Olympiacos on a four-year contract for a transfer fee of £6.2m.The Lille-born defender has won back-to-back domestic titles with the Piraeus club, and has played more than 100 senior games despite his tender age, including 12 in the UEFA Champions League.

CC: Which of your new signings do you think will make the most impact this season?

WHTID: I think Andre Ayew will make the biggest impact this season, he is our record signing at £20.5m and reunites with his old mate Dimitri Payet from his Marseille days. Ayew scored 12 goals last season for Swansea but crucially 6 of those goals from 8 games he started as a striker. For those of you who play the Premier League fantasy game he scored the exact same number of points as Payet on 171 which should say everything on his ability. [ Ed - sadly Andre Ayew was reported to have a thigh injury in mid-week and is expected to be out for four months]

CC: Do you think Andy Carroll is capable of playing a full season and if he does would it be a massive difference on where West Ham could finish?

WHTID: Andy Carroll has had his ankle rebuild and is on a special training programme which should keep him fit, he was in great form at the end of last season scoring 7 goals from 13 appearances and scored two goals in our friendly with Juventus. That said we now have Andre Ayew, Jonathan Calleri on loan who was wanted by Barcelona and Sakho coming back from injury. He won't just be depending on Andy Carroll but it would be great if if survived the whole season.

CC: Should West Ham take the Europa League more seriously this season?

WHTID: 100% Yes, I hope we really overcome the play off two legged matches for qualification for the group stages. The ultimate prize is qualification for the Champions League and something worth playing for. [Ed - West Ham won their first tie against NK Domzale 4-4 on aggregate in the Europa League and they play Astra Giurgiu in their next Europa League match next week].

CC: Sam Allardyce is now England manager so are there any players at West Ham who you think might now make the England squad?

Of course Mark Noble, Andy Carroll and a fit Aaron Cresswell should be shoe in for England with Big Sam in charge but I hope Michail Antonnio would also get a good look from Big Sam in the squad. Time will tell but I would expect at least two West Ham players in a England squad.

CC: It was a bit of a thriller last season when AFC Bournemouth played at Upton Park. Do you expect a high scoring encounter again?

WHTID: It will be nervous start to the Premier League for both sides but we will want to do well in our first game the London Stadium. I estimate between 2 and 3 goals will be scored though. I am hoping for some exciting football to be played and looking forward to taking up my season ticket seat in the new West Stand for the first Premier League game.

CC: Has Bilic already delivered the football that West Ham fans would be happy to watch for several seasons?

WHTID: Life is rarely dull with Slaven Bilic in charge of the Hammers and he knows about the West Ham way. He loves a winger, the football is very attractive and a joy to watch for West Ham fans and neutrals alike. Who can not get excited when Payet gets hold of the ball or takes a free kick within range of the goal. Long may it continue!

CC: What will the score be between West Ham and AFC Bournemouth

WHTID: I will go for a 2-1 Win for West Ham. A debut home goal from Andre Ayew and an Andy Carroll headed goal to win it in the second half of the game. [Ed - well at least Ayew is not a player AFCB need to worry about for this game now.]

CC: Thanks very much for your answers Sean. The memory of the 1-3 drubbing that West Ham gave AFCB in their last meeting still sits very clearly in the mind with Dimitri Payet running the show. Unless AFCB can get on top of him it will be difficult for AFCB to get something out of the game. Both sides attack at any given opportunity and it could be a real thriller.

Check out the  West Ham Till I die  site for more news on West Ham Utd. You will also see my return answers on their sometime this weekend.

Match Preview
Man Utd v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Old Trafford Faithful
Twitter: @OTFiathful

Well we made it to the last game of the season and Man Utd may need to win the game for their hopes to get into the top four but it is a mighty relief that AFCB don't face needing any points to avoid relegation. So when I spoke to Jordan Street, who writes for the Old Trafford Faithful website, having not known the result of the final match at the Boleyn stadium, my thoughts were that things might have turned out rather well for the Red Devils with Bournemouth visiting Old Trafford in the final game of the season.

CC: What has it been like as a Man Utd fan to see your side not playing with the verve and intensity of Man Utd teams of old - has your respect for Fergie gone even higher?

OF: Well it has been a bit of an odd few years for Manchester United. David Moyes never looked good enough, but Louis van Gaal was expected to bring that fear factor back to Old Trafford. That hasn’t happened whatsoever, and it shows just how much of an influence Sir Alex Ferguson was on this group of players. He’ll always be the best ever, there is no question about that.

CC: If a big offer comes in for Wayne Rooney over the summer from China would you be pleased to wish him all the best and buy some new players with the transfer fee?

OF:  Its tough. Wayne Rooney has spearheaded United’s attack for a decade now, and despite that i’ve never seen a player here divide the fans like him. I’m a huge fan of his and I would love to see him at United for a few more years yet. He seems to be thriving in this new midfield role, and without sounding too big-headed, United aren’t short of the money.

CC: If David de Gea is off to Real Madrid will a goalkeeper signing be the most important this summer?

OF: Without doubt. We have some talented keepers on our books, like Sam Johnstone and Joel Pereira, but it’d be cruel to throw them straight in at the deep end. I’d love to see Marc Andre Ter-Stegen at Manchester United. I’d also try and get Keylor Navas in. Perhaps some sort of swap deal with Real Madrid?

CC: Luis van Gaal might have started to get the team playing well enough to win a trophy and even get in the top four but is that enough for him to keep his job?

OF: Again, this is a hard one. If we’re being brutally honest, he should lose his job regardless. United fans have been spoilt for twenty years now, and for 99% of clubs on the planet, a spot in the top four and an FA Cup trophy would be a hugely successful season. Unfortunately for Van Gaal that isn’t the case at Old Trafford, and we could well see him sacked when the season ends.

CC: Are the expectations of the Man Utd fans set too high?

OF: Without question. I’ve been born and raised in Manchester, and grown up with United winning title after title. The expectations here are ridiculously high, and the pressure it puts on the players and coaching staff is immense.

CC: Does the progress of Marcus Rashford and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson make you wonder if there are any other U21 players at United who should be given a go?

OF: I consider myself quite knowledgeable in terms of Manchester United’s youth products. Rashford always had it in him, but Borthwick-Jackson really did come out of nowhere. There are so many academy graduates at the moment at United that have the potential to go an awful long way in this game. The biggest of the bunch is Timothy Fosu-Mensah, but keep an eye out for Callum Gribbin who will certainly come through over the next few years.

CC: Are Man Utd a long way from making a challenge from the title next season and is it as simple as a managerial change?

OF: Yes and no. We have some real gems in our squad. David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Anthony Martial to name a few. Around them we have plenty of solid players. If Manchester United can keep hold of the aforementioned trio, bring in a couple of world class talents and get rid of some deadwood, we’d be more than capable of mounting a serious challenge - even with Louis van Gaal.

CC: Which game disappointed you most this season for Man Utd and why?

OF: Norwich City at home. They beat us 2-1 and we were just awful. Unfortunately for Louis van Gaal situations like that have happened far too often. The 2-1 defeat away at Bournemouth, losses to Swansea and Sunderland and the last minute draw away at Newcastle. Oh what could have been...

CC: How do you expect Man Utd to line up against AFC Bournemouth?

OF: Anthony Martial should be back, so he’ll be raring to go. They’ll be no Marouane Fellaini so we’ll likely see Morgan Schneiderlin grab a start. Putting those couple of players aside, it’ll be pretty much same old same old.

This is the XI we’re likely to see:
De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schneiderlin, Carrick; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Rashford.

Cheers for having me.

CC:  It's been a pleasure chatting to you Jordan and I am sure my readers will enjoy reading the articles that are already looking towards the FA Cup final and the return of Luke Shaw. I admit Man Utd are not my favourite side, but I haven't found it particularly pleasing to see such a great team struggle to hit top form for much of the season. I want such clubs to do well in Europe and it's disappointing when English teams look well below par compared to our continental counterparts. In the Premier League though it almost lessens the win that AFCB had against Man Utd when other teams can manage it too. You need big teams to be almost like granite and with Chelsea and to a lesser extent Man City and Arsenal failing to live up to expectations it has been a season for the teams that don't usually grab the headlines. The one thing I am sure of though is that Man Utd will come back stronger as will several other teams next season, so enjoy the day up at Old Trafford no matter what the score.

Everton v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Shoot Everton blog 

Twitter: @Tobybryant123 

I found it difficult to get hold of an Everton blogger as none of their sites likes to reply to email requests - perhaps they get too many or they have just had enough of this season. Any way, I did track down Toby Bryant who writes on Shoot - the voice of football's blog for Everton fans. You can view all of Toby's articles this season on the Shoot website, where you'll also find some my own articles under the Bournemouth Shoot blog account.

CC: Do you see Roberto Martinez being in charge of Everton next season and if not who do Everton need - and is Eddie Howe a strong candidate when the likes of Klopp are just down the road?

TB: It's hard to tell with Bill Kenwright. The owner is famed for being patient with managers and although all the fans are screaming out for Martinez to go it still might not happen. Hopefully new co-owner Farhard Moshiri will give him the boot. With the squad we have the results are despicable and show no sign of improvement so as far as I am concerned Martinez's position is untenable.

In terms of replacements Manuel Pellegrini is the stand-out option. He is proven at this level and works well with the kind of technical players that the Toffees have. However, whether Everton could realistically attract him is questionable. Frank De Boer and Marco Biesla are two other names being thrown around. I believe that the bigger name manager the better. It's time that Everton take themselves seriously as a big club, not one (that used to be) punching above its weight. Therefore appointing Eddie Howe would surprise me given his lack of top flight experience.

CC: Where should this Everton side be in the table?

TB: The current squad is by far the best in the last decade yet we are set for our worst league finish since 2004. The top five has been very competitive this season so, even playing well, Europe would have been a struggle but the top seven should have been comfortable achievable.

CC: Do you hold out much hope of keeping Lukaku this summer?

TB: Romelu Lukaku has saved our season but I cannot see him staying at the club. He is capable of bigger and better things and it is best for his career if he does move on. I would love the big Belgian to stay with us but I hold out little hope. The best we can hope for is a large wad of cash then the board can spend on a new manager's wages!

CC: Why do you think John Stones's form has dipped so much?

TB: It's difficult to say. He made some high-profile mistakes so his confidence will have been affected. That said, I don't know if it's a bad thing. The centre-back has a tendency to play the risky ball a little too often when a big clearance would be more effective. His form may have dipped but in the long-run it's probably a good thing.

CC: Do you think the side has learnt anything since the match earlier in the season against AFCB?

TB: The 3-3 draw at Bournemouth was the start of the downfall in our season. I would love to be able to say that the side have learnt from conceding those late goals but I'm afraid we haven't. It has happened time after time, even against United in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend. The back-line have a tendency to switch-off at the worst moments which is detrimental for the side. In short, no.

CC: Are there any injuries in the side at the moment and players likely to not play against AFCB?

TB: Seamus Coleman has a hamstring strain and is unlikely to feature. Gareth Barry is also a doubt but could recover from a knock. Ramiro Funes Mori will also be missing as he is suspended which is a shame as he has been one player who has managed to impress this term. 

CC: For many AFCB fans this will be their first visit to Goodison Park so what should they look out for?

TB: I love Goodison Park but Bournemouth fans should be prepared for how old the stadium is! Rickety stands, hard seats and obtrusive white poles are all present. The stadium has a great character and the atmosphere is always good, although it may be a little hostile towards Martinez this weekend! Also keep an eye out for the Toffees' Everton mint girl if you fancy a free sweetie.

CC: Finally, can we have a score prediction?

TB: 1-1

CC: Thanks Toby for stepping in and answering my questions from an Everton fan view. There is some need for AFCB to register a point at least for this game, so I don't think AFCB fans would be too disappointed if your score prediction came right. Like Everton, the Cherries season has run out of steam and while both sides play entertaining football I am hoping that we see some real quality play at Goodison and lots of goals as I am scheduled to be on the fabulous All Departments podcast after the game.

Match Preview: Aston Villa v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Villa Underground
Twitter: @avfc_vilr

I spoke to Dan this week who is the editor of the Villa Underground website - in the current climate underground might be very appropriate, but Villa are not quite buried yet. It was quite a hard conversation as I found it difficult to be optimistic in what I could ask about the Villa. Still, Dan may have given up on this season but he has not given up on his club and neither have the other 35,000 who regularly attend Villa Park!

CC: Villa have been heading down all season so has it been like the inevitable car crash that you could do nothing about or could things have been done differently?

VU: We have been heading down for over 5 years. In previous seasons we have either been saved by good fortune or there being three worse teams than ourselves. We’ve been through a long period of austerity after owner Randy Lerner turned off the taps, but it has been compounded by wasting vast amounts of resources on dross. Despite the cut backs, Villa have spent terribly across a number of transfer windows and been guilty of tying ourselves to huge wages over long durations. Things could and should have been far different!

CC: You still managed to beat AFC Bournemouth on the opening game of the season, so will that give your players any reason for confidence when they take on the Cherries again?

The opening game was a strange affair. We stand to end the season being able to count victories on one hand after-all. Whilst we won the fixture, my memory of the game is how many clear cut chances you missed on the day.  Through rose tinted glasses at the time it was put down to “Premier League class”, but in reality it was perhaps nothing other than first day nerves for your guys. In terms of confidence going into the fixture, our club and it’s players are at rock bottom. As many teams have found, score first against us and you are home and dry, that will likely be your aim Saturday.

CC: Is there a real feeling from the fans that your next manager must have been a former player with true Villa running through his blood?

VU: The club has suffered greatly, in my view at least, for discarding so many “football” men following the Lerner takeover. Executives and commercially minded folk (allegedly) were brought in, but had zero understanding of how football works. They had even less understanding of Aston Villa. Whilst I don’t believe there is great clamour for a “true Villa” man to specifically take the helm, we are desperately in need of a man who “gets” football. This is in part why Nigel Pearson, unthinkable until recently, has gained traction as a potential manager.  We need a “proper” manager who can grab the club by the scruff of the neck and remind it of its potential. The elephant in the room is that in terms of former Villa players in management, it is slim pickings; Southgate? This is why the new Villa board is perhaps seeking familiar faces, such as recently appointed Brian Little, to take on advisory roles at the club.

CC: It is not just this season that has been a problem for Villa, so is the real problem Randy Lerner and the non-sale of the club that has prevented the players' from meeting fans' aspirations?

VU: The drawn out saga of the club being for sale is a big factor. Lerner wants out but expects somewhere in the region of £150/£200million to part with the club. If he achieves this, particularly given our relegation away from financial riches, would be a miracle. The other problem is that Villa have spent unbelievable amounts in both fees and wages on players who haven’t improved the squad. Equally, we have done the same with managers. If these funds had been put to correct use (look at Leicester…) then the fans would have greater sympathy. Signings such as Charles N’Zogbia for £10m (5 years ago) and £17m in wages since, sit as sour, wasteful examples. A player who neither cares, puts in any effort when he played and countless managers have passed over. And don’t even start me on Gabby Agbonlahor! Lerner started brightly, was badly advised, lost a huge amount of money on a dream and has regretted it ever since. His attempts to try and claw something back have destroyed us totally.

CC: Which was the worst defeat of the season for you to watch and why?

VU: Liverpool at home, 6-0. The worst defeat on our own pitch in over 80 years, to a Liverpool side that is as poor as any in living memory. A Villa team that not only gave up, but allowed an opposition to ridicule the club for 90 minutes and on TV. It was probably a fixture that defined the slide for many, embarrassed the Claret and Blue half of the second city and underlines Lerner’s culpability. There wasn’t a single positive and it confirmed what we knew about many who pulled on the shirt (*This was the game where Lescott “accidentally” tweeted the supercar afterwards…

CC: Did the FA Cup run last year put a mask over some of the problems that were deep routed at the club?

VU: Yes and no. Sherwood for all his failings motivated a desperate side into the final and somehow, miraculously I assure you, kept us up. That side has Benteke in unplayable form and Delph commanding it. Grealish was also a key figure in the run in. It was the beginning of the end however. The sale of our two best players and Grealish losing his way exposed the fact that beyond them we have very little indeed. This was a mess of a squad, but we had the resources to improve it in the close season in 2015.

CC: Do you want the new manager to build the side around Jack Grealish or is it best to rebuild from his sale?

VU: Grealish has all of the attributes to be a fine footballer. However, he has already shown traits that undo the best. With the right people around him he will go on to great things, either with or without Villa. If he wants success he has to remember that discipline and professionalism will get him there. Ideally I’d love to see Jack at the centre of a rebuild, but only time will tell. In truth we need more than one man, we need a whole new spine of a team. It would be a sad day when Villa needs to part with largely unproven players such as Grealish to fund a rebuild.

CC: Villa are very loyal and are there are still 33,000 turning up for home games but will they find it at all refreshing to visit grounds like Rotherham Utd or Burton Albion?

VU: Despite our situation this is one of the few silver linings.  Fans I talk to in person and on social media look to new grounds as a welcome change in scenery from identikit Premier League stadiums.  Villa often get singled out in the media for empty seats in recent years, but this is largely because many fans (1 in 4 realistically) refusing to fund Randy Lerner.  The fact that we still get 30000+ most weeks is actually quite unbelievable given the standard of football on offer and the lack of effort from the players.  An increasing number now only attend away games, so ‘new’ grounds will only fuel this until there is a change in ownership.

CC: Can going down to the Championship be the making of Villa or do you see it as a spiral to further problems?

VU: This will go one of two ways. The club has to make the right managerial appointment and use its size to orchestrate an immediate return to the top flight. I worry greatly if we conduct ourselves in the manner of recent years. That could see us in absolute disarray, ending...who knows where?

Bournemouth are probably one of the sides Villa fans would have expected to have done better than this season but do you think the newly promoted sides have had more ambition than some of those that find themselves down the bottom?

Looking at our downfall and having listened to former CEO Tom Fox, it is down to organisation. Bournemouth (and similar promoted teams in recent years) have made good solid plans and executed them well. Villa completely relied upon its size and perceived stature in the game to guarantee Premier League survival. This is why we became perennial 6th place finishers. Our lack of ambition inevitably translated into flirting season after season with relegation until we have finally been found wanting. Our revenue, despite the huge growth in terms of TV money has stayed relatively static. In short, despite being within the English domestic elite in terms of honours and fanbase, we were left behind. It is astonishing how poorly run we have been.

CC: How important is it that Villa win a few games at the end of this season for sanity and is it best to throw some of the youngsters in now in preparation for next season?

VU: I think the importance of winning is lesser than actually blooding the younger fringe players now. In truth, we have had very few players break through and make the grade for far too long. However, consecutive managers have been reluctant to use academy players, despite the clubs successes in both the FA Youth Cup and Youth Champions League equivalent. Most fans would welcome their inclusion, but there has been a baffling and frustrating perseverance with senior players that don’t try, hurl abuse at fans at games, misbehave in public and post crap to social media. We have become so accustomed to defeat that even a side that tried but lost would be a welcome change.

CC: What is your score prediction for the game?

VU: 1-0 to Bournemouth.

All the best for next season.

CC: Well I don't think we have ever had a more frank and honest Rival Lines from a fan who loves his club than this one. I sounds desperate to hear such mismanagement but we all know it happens at clubs at at Villa their has been a rotten core their for some time which is no help to the fans but fellow fans of other clubs can sympathise with people that get hold of their club and run it down even if they started with the best intentions. Now Aston Villa as a club needs to give its fans something back in the way of belief and direction and rebuild the trust. It's a huge job for someone but the Championship is a hard league and t takes hard work to get out of it. In some ways though if it was not for some big clubs losing their way there would never be room for some success stories like AFCB to find their way up the football pyramid so to Villa fans I say stick with your club and hope for the right people to come in, It's all about the future.

To read more of Dan's writings please visit his website at Villa Underground where he looks at possible  new manager choices for the Villa such as David Moyes and Nigel Pearson. 

Match Preview: Spurs v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Spurs Stats Man 
Twitter: @SpursStatMan

It has been a strange week with AFCB having to wait until Sunday to play their next Premier League game because they are playing Tottenham who were still involved in European competition. I don't think the match a against AFCB for Spurs Stats Man Jack Pettiford has any less meaning though as the Tottenham fans gear up for one more go at trying to close the gap on Leicester. The only problem is that an in-form Cherries team stand in their way.

CC: Do you think Spurs have lost a bit to much ground on Leicester especially after that amazing north London derby draw with Arsenal and defeat against West Ham?

SSM: Obviously the past two league results have slightly knocked our chances of winning the title, but there is still 27 points to play for so I wouldn't say our chances are over yet. Poch's decision to rest some of our key players vs. Dortmund shows he still believes we can do it and I tend to agree with him.

CC: Which league fixture of the remaining games are you most fearful of perhaps because of your record against a certain team or their current level of performance?

SSM: I think with the form Chelsea are our game against them away in May will probably be the toughest, but I still fancy our chances.

CC: Do you expect bids to come in for Harry Kane this summer and will you keep hold of him now that you'll have the extra TV money?

I'm sure the rumour mill will churn out its usual garbage, even if a bid does come in I genuinely can't see him leaving any time soon. He's one of our own after all.

CC: How good a player is Deli Ali - are we over hyping him?

SSM: It's easy to forget that he's still just 19. He's clearly got an abundance of talent and a fiery side that will only help him succeed in the Premier League. We've become so used to hyping up young English players for them to inevitably fail to reach their potential but I genuinely believe Alli is something special.

CC: How do you feel about probably going to Wembley for home games the season after next and are you looking forward to having a new ground?

SSM: There's a fair amount of upset from Spurs fans about the potential of us moving to Milton Keynes for the season rather than Wembley, so I think I can speak for most Spurs fans when I say I'd be fine with Wembley.

The new ground looks great and hopefully the increased revenue it will bring can help sustain our competitiveness in the long term.

CC: Did Pochettino make his first big mistake of the season by picking the side he did to play against Borussia Dortmund (first leg) or can Spurs regain momentum?

The win at Villa suggests otherwise, but it's important to remember that they are a very poor side this season. We'll likely field another weakened side for the home leg vs. Dortmund but I can't see that impacting on our momentum in the league.

CC: What has Pochettino learnt from last season that has improved Spurs so much?

SSM: I think last season allowed Pochettino to figure out exactly who had a future at Spurs. He got rid of the dead wood, bought in key players in weakened positions (Alderweireld) and from there we've been able to push on.

CC: Is there one Leicester City player that you could see fitting in well at Spurs?

SSM: Kanté would probably be the one that I would take. His work rate would make him an excellent addition to the squad and work, but I can't see us making an approach let alone Leicester letting him leave.

CC: Are you already thinking about Champions League football next season?

SSM: Of course, with the form of the teams below us I think it's almost certain that we'll be there. If we can repeat what we achieved the last time we were in the competitions (reaching the QF's) it would be fantastic.

CC: How do you think Spurs will line up against AFC Bournemouth?

SSM: I think it will be a very similar side to XI we played against Aston Villa, but with Trippier & Davies coming in for Walker & Rose. [Ed - Davies suffered concussion bumping into Hugo Lloris in the Dortmund game on Thursday so may miss out now.]

CC: AFC Bournemouth kind of gifted Spurs a few goals in the earlier meeting between the teams in October, but do you think there is extra pressure on Spurs for this game that will make it a tighter match - let's have a score prediction?

SSM: It's a must win for us if we want to keep up with Leicester, and Bournemouth are in great form, but I still fancy Spurs to win 3-1.

CC: Do you think Danny Rose has a better chance of making Roy Hodgson's team for the Euros than AFCB's Charlie Daniels?

SSM: I have to admit I haven't seen many Bournemouth games this season, but I think Daniels as well as Rose both deserve a spot in the Euro squad. However, I have a feeling Hodgson will take Baines and Rose rather than Daniels. [Ed- sadly Charlie Daniels was left out of Roy Hodgson's squad for friendlies against Germany and Holland, but Danny Rose was named].

CC: In what order do you think the teams will finish in the top four this season?

SSM: I just can't shake the feeling that Leicester will win it:
1. Leicester
2. Spurs
3. Arsenal
4. Man City

CC: There were some great views from Jack there although he may find that AFCB prove to be just as hard a game as when the Spurs line up against Chelsea. As long as Tottenham finish in the top four though I think most of their fans will have little to complain about this season. Pochettino must have one eye on where the fifth paced team is as well as falling out of the top four would be catastrophic now with so few games to play. It is up to the Cherries though to try and take some points off of Spurs in the next game, and to try and make some of those White Hart Lane fans sit a little less comfortably in their seats. Do check out the Spurs Stats Man site for all things Tottenham, including a story on why Danny Rose deserves his England call up.

Match Preview: Newcastle Utd v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Toon Bano
Twitter: @ToonBano

Toon Bano is a Newcastle Utd fan blog written by Ginger Pirlo as he likes to be called. He is not afraid to shout out about his beloved team and this Toon Army man is a bit closer to home than you might think!

CC: From what I understand you are a Toon fan and blogger that lives in Bournemouth. Is that an easy situation and if you had a second team would it be AFCB?

Yeah, I haven't lived in Newcastle for a long while so I'm more then used to being away from the Toon. Bournemouth are without doubt my second team. Ever since I moved here a few years ago I went to go watch them and the way Eddie Howe has them play is phenomenal. I have been hooked ever since. The girlfriend is a Cherries fan also which helps. We were there on promotion night last season and have been at every home game this season. I am lucky enough to have a job as a Football Stats Operator for all Bournemouth and Southampton home game, so I get to see how the Cherries play week in week out. [Ed - hope he does not feed Mr McClaren with too much info on the Cherries!]

CC: Steve McClaren wanted the fans to wait 10 games before they judged him, so are you surprised or disappointed that he is still at Newcastle after 27 games?

Surprised? No. Lee Charnley our chief exec won't sack him, even if we go down. Him and Mike Ashley have this 'stability' mentality to keep the manager no matter what. [Ed - Others might disagree] Pardew should have been sacked a long time ago, but even head butting a player still didn't get him sacked. Disappointed? I'm not disappointed he is still here, but I am disappointed in what he has done with the team this season. I fully expected us to be a well coached team with a strong philosophy and strategy towards the way we play. I haven't seen anything like that from McClaren. No Toon fan could tell you what 'kind of team' we are. Apart from probably a poor one.

CC: While the £21m offer for Saido Berahino did not entice WBA this January, do you feel that it is money saved when you consider the Saints picked up Charlie Austin for £4m?

Well it's too early to say if it was money saved. If we go down, then obviously it wasn't. If we stay up, then I think paying that amount of money for a player like Berahino is way too much. Charlie Austin is an absolute steal. Eddie has to explain to us all why he didn't at least try to bring him in. He is head and shoulders above Glenn Murray for example. [Ed- It was not through a lack of trying.]

CC: What is the best thing about being a Newcastle blogger?

Getting to say whatever I want, about whatever I want and having even the smallest influence on a fellow fans outlook on the team. I get plenty of stick from some quarters which always makes me laugh but lots of agreements as well. Whenever I get time to do it, which isn't much these days having two jobs and coaching a team, I do love it.

CC: Jonjo Shelvey has made a good start at Newcastle. Is he a better player than you expected having seen him for a few games now in a white and black shirt?

He is to be honest. When you look at the Liverpool team he left a couple of years ago, he is exactly what they are missing. His passing is very good but he needs to watch his attitude. He can spit his dummy out and go missing in games. Hopefully he will grow up in a black and white shirt for years to come.

CC: Newcastle have not lost at St James' Park this year so is there more hope now about the possibility of staying up?

Not really. I don't look at little stats like that to judge whether we will or won't stay up, it's all about the performances. Which overall have been pretty dire apart from the one game against West Brom. Even in that game we scraped over the line, which sums our team up to be honest. We just don't score enough goals. How we didn't sign a striker (Doumbia doesn't exactly count given his lack of fitness) is beyond me and all Toon fans.

CC: If the Cherries score against Newcastle on Saturday that will be 51 goals that the Toon Army has let in this season so has McClaren done anything to improve the defensive side of the team that you can see?

Not that I can see. We signed Mbemba in the summer who is a good signing for us but much like the way the team play overall, I can't tell you 'how' we defend as a team. We don't really press nor drop off. We don't necessarily play a high line, our full backs tend to get forward but so does every team. McClaren will always have doubts over his ability as a manager, but I am even doubting him as a coach now from what I've seen this year.

CC: Is Georginhio Wijnaldum an exceptional player playing in an average (I'm trying to be kind) Newcastle Utd side?

Most definetly. Well at home he is exceptional. Away from home he may as well be on the bench for the impact he makes. All I can hope for is we stay up, sign a decent striker and defender in the summer and have a much better campaign next season. Otherwise he will do what Cabaye, Demba Ba etc did and find a much better team to play for. Thank you for being kind by the way. I'll take average...

CC: Which three sides are going down? I imagine you might have a Black Cat in there!

Villa are doomed. Hopefully Sunderland won't pull off an escape act again. Then I think Norwich. My worst nightmare is Newcastle and Bournemouth in a head to head fight for survival on the last day of the season. I'm hoping both will be safe and sound by then. Watch out for Palace being dragged into mind you...Pardew loves a winless run end a season.

CC: How important is this game against the Cherries for Newcastle's season and your score prediction please?

Huge. If we lose against the Cherries we will struggle to pick up the points we need to survive given
our fixtures. I think Bournemouth will get enough even if they lose. I'm going for a draw though, 2-2.

Thanks ToonBano. I really hope that the Cherries are not sweating on Newcastle's result on the last day of the season when we are away at Old Trafford! I kind of agree that Villa and Norwich will find it had to escape the drop but I am glad I don't live in the Northeast as Newcastle and Sunderland have a lot of work to do. I know a lot of our fans are making the trip up to the Toon to not only see the game but to experience the atmosphere and stadium. This one will be like a cup final!

ToonBano has some great articles on it including a battering of Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville and Co, plus some strikers who they could have looked at to improve their standing in the table - And yes Mario Balotelli is among them.

Match Preview: Watford v AFCB
Blogger Interview: From the Rookery End

Twitter: @watfordpodcast
Twitter: @jordiconnor

What a season Watford FC is having. It only seems a while back that we were chasing the Hornets in the Championship and they are at it again in the Premier League. Here to explain why Watford are having such a great season is Jordi Connor from the fab Watford podcast From the Rookery End.

CC: It was no easy challenge for him when Quique Sanchez Flores came to Vicarage Road, but he has moulded a great team. Are you surprised at just how well he has done?

FTRR: In hindsight, no, not really. The Pozzo's chose to bring him in when they didn’t keep Jokanovic, so there must have been an expectation that he could and would achieve what he has.

Fans associations with their team are formed over many years and these can taint your view of reality. If you are a Liverpool, Newcastle or Leeds fan this is bad news as the dissonance between your belief that you are a footballing giant clashes terribly with the reality of a lack of success. [Ed- That's a bit deep thinking, but I think we get where you are coming from!]

For Watford fans and dare I say it Bournemouth fans, we are currently punching above where we'd traditionally expect to be. At the start of the season fourth bottom would have been taken in a flash.

But six or so months in and seeing the quality of the players we have, I'm not surprised that Quique is doing such a great job.

CC: What do you think is capable in terms of a league finish this season?

FTRR: We're capable of a top ten finish for sure. But the middle of the table can be tight and a couple of bad results can see you drop a few places. Anywhere around the middle will be mission accomplished. It would be a shame to tail off with a whimper after the start we made.

CC: What win has given you most pleasure over the season and why?

FTRR: Unlike previous visits to the Premier League, we've have a few to choose from!

Obviously the first one against Swansea was important to ease the pressure, but the stand out performance was when he bossed Liverpool off the park in December and won 3-0.

It was supposed to be part of a tricky December but for ninety minutes we showed what we could do. It was a lovely early Christmas present.

CC: What needs to happen at Watford to go up yet another level and challenge for the top six?

FTRR: Lots of things, but if you look at our recent history we've improved a lot but we can't get complacent or assume that we will break into the top six.

To do so, we'd need to strengthen in depth and bring more quality into the squad. Our average age is quite high so we'll see a fair bit of turnover over the next few seasons.

I'm sure the management have a plan!

CC: Ighalo's and Deeney's goals have been a major factor in Watford's success, but would you have expected your midfielders to come up with more goals?

FTRR: The success of our front two is in part down to the way the team is set up. That and the way Etienne Capoue manages to switch his boots onto the wrong foot moments before he shoots.

Ighalo is a born goalscorer and Deeney has been consistent for the past few years. To be honest, I'm so happy with them that I haven't worried about who isn't scoring.

CC: Has the FA Cup become a nice distraction and would Europe come too soon if you won it?

FTRR: Yes, we're into the Quarter Finals on the back of the 1-0 wins. It's been fun and if we can win the Cup it would be great. Clubs like Watford and Bournemouth can't turn their noses up at that kind of success.

Europe would come too early for us to expect to win the trophy, but Quique knows what it takes to do well and I'm sure we'd strengthen appropriately if we did make it.

Let's cross that bridge when we come to it though.

CC: Which player has been the best signing at Watford since last May, ie last two windows?

FTRR: The inconvenient truth is that much of our spine came up from the Championship. Gomes, Cathcart, Watson, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo have all been mainstays this season.

Of the additions, Miguel Britos has been excellent, but for sheer control and calmness, I'd say Etienne Capoue (except when he shoots).

CC: There are only four teams that have let in fewer goals than Watford in the Premier League so what is so good about your defence?

FTRR: The best thing about our defence is that there are eleven of them on the pitch. Our miserliness is down to a team ethic that starts from the front.

We also play with the vastly underrated Ben Watson protecting the back four with Behrami or Suarez. The full backs do well and of course Gomes is one of the best keepers in the league. Given how tight the Premier League is, he is as important as the two up front.

CC: Which three teams are you expecting to be relegated?

FTRR: I’m delighted that we are in February and Watford aren’t in my list. However, having been relegated a few times I don’t take any pleasure in calling out anyone else’s team.

Let’s start with the obvious one - Villa. That they didn’t strengthen in January suggests they’ve accepted their fate.

Norwich are on an awful run and I wonder whether they’ll be able to turn it around. The adrenaline of being a newly promoted team can get you points early in the season, but they’ll do well to stay up.

It would be rude to suggest Bournemouth, but you guys really need to sort out how many you concede! You got away with it early in the season against West Ham, but you don’t really do clean sheets do you?

So the third spot will have to go to an established Premier League team.

West Brom have probably got enough points in the bag to stumble to safety and Swansea are capable of picking up points here and there if Guidolin sorts them out. Newcastle invested heavily and will probably do enough too.

Sorry Sunderland. [Ed- that was a close one!]

CC: AFC Bournemouth and Watford always have great battles in recent seasons. Do you look forward to the AFC Bournemouth matches more than some others?

FTRR: Not really. Maybe at the start of the season because you assume that the promoted teams will offer you the best chance of picking up points for survival and you look out for them. But this season every game is against a quality opponent we haven’t played in a while and to be enjoyed in its own right.

That said, a bit of a rivalry has built up over the past few seasons.

Journalists can be lazy and there were easy narratives around both clubs that probably didn’t help. We were held up as all that was wrong with football, while Bournemouth were painted as the perfect club achieving success on a shoestring. Neither were accurate. Add in some very dubious decisions, whether Marc Pugh diving or some ridiculous red cards and the rags to riches, fighting adversity story started to grate.

No doubt Bournemouth have their own reasons for not liking us too. Obviously the fear that one would rob the other of promotion meant that we were praying for each other to lose pretty much every week. That will have played a part too.

CC: Do you expect a tight game against the Cherries this time?

FTRR: Yes, pretty much all of our games are tight. The first goal will be important. Don’t worry, it won’t be 6-1. :)

CC: Well I really enjoyed hearing what Jordi had to say - thank you. I think he is probably the most level-headed fan we have yet featured on Cherry Chimes. While I believe there has been a bit of rivalry between the two sides as an AFCB fan I rather like that about Watford as the Cherries don't really have that many rivals and yet in another respect I am really chuffed with how Quique has got his team playing and it tells me that there is optimism for other teams like Bournemouth to hold their own in this division. Hats off to Watford they have been a credit to the Premier League, but I'd still like to see a less than smug Harry Hornet come the final whistle on Saturday.

Please listen into the latest Podcast from the From the Rookery End - it's always a good listen.

Match Preview: Crystal Palace v AFCB
Blogger Interview: PalaceFanTV
Twitter: @PalaceFanTV 

I decided that we would have a bit of a change for this blogger interview in that rather than asking a traditional writer to sill the beans on Palace's season and the forthcoming game against the Cherries, I'd ask one of the new media video Fanzine craze to get involved by talking to Dave the man behind the camera at PalaceFanTV who started it off and who works with Jim Daly – the guy you'll find always asking the questions on PalaceFanTV videos.

CC: Connor Wickham will have to sit out this game by the look of it (question asked before his right to appeal) - will he be a big miss for Palace on recent performances?

PFT:I feel like it’s a blow for us to be without Conor Wickham, certainly. Despite a lack of goals, we have performed best this season when he has been on the pitch.

Emanuel Adebayor has just recently joined, but my guess is that he won’t be deemed match fit to start this game – leaving it likely we could see either Fraizer Campbell or Marouanne Chamakh start up front.

Physically Campbell is far less suited to our style of play, and Chamakh has struggled to regain form since his lengthy injury, plus he tends to be better suited in a slightly deeper, attacking midfield role.

Without Wickham we could even see Pardew decide to not start a striker, just like he did away to Villa in December. However, it’s fair to say it was a complete failure which he was forced to change at half time in that game. So I would be surprised to see him try that again.

No Wickham is certainly a negative, but my fingers are crossed that Adebayor will start and put in a great performance on his league debut.

CC: What do you think about Alan Pardew's signing of Emmanuel Adebayor?

PFT: Being honest, when the rumours started I was against this move.

A big part of Palace’s success in recent times that you regularly hear from the players is the team spirit and togetherness of the dressing room to work hard for each other.

I think many people have a perception with Adebayor that he isn’t that team player, and my concerns were that he could harm that togetherness of the squad.

Also the fact he hasn’t been playing and this is a time when we need someone to come in and start scoring goals!

But saying that, if he does come in with the right attitude, I can’t really see how this won’t be a success.

He is clearly a high calibre player with a fantastic goal scoring record. Physically he is a perfect match for our style as well, so if we can get the best out of him he could end up scoring and making a lot of goals between now and the end of the season.

CC: Do you think Pardew was right in saying Charlie Austin was not a good fit for Palace?

PFT: Like I said about Adebayor, physically he is the perfect fit. We need our number 9 to be a catalyst to bring our talented midfield into play, and I am not sure how well Charlie Austin does that part of the game.

But saying that, we need goals at the moment. We have just one goal in our previous 6 league games, which was an own goal, so in that sense, with a proven goal scorer like Charlie Austin it’s hard to see how we wouldn’t have benefited by having him in our squad.

But I trust in Pards – so if he said that, for whatever reason I’m sure he’s right!

CC: Goals have been a bit of a problem of late but you got one against Spurs and could not hold on to the lead - that sounds similar to AFC Bournemouth. So is the first goal vitally important in this game?

PFT: I wouldn’t say ‘vital’ as in whoever scores first will win the game, but yes I think it will be important. As fans we are really looking at this game to get ourselves back on track in the league, so an early goal for Bournemouth and it could mean a nervy night for Palace. But even if you guys score first, I saw enough in the Spurs game to think we can definitely cause you problems and get ourselves back into it.

CC: Is a top six finish still on for Palace?

PFT: Of course. Do I think it will happen – no. I don’t think our squad quite has the depth to push for that type of league position just yet.

CC: How important is it for the team to get Bolasie and Sako back playing soon?

PFT: Bolasie has been a huge miss for us. He is so important to our counter attacking style and this season he started contributing with goals as well. In my opinion, getting him back and fit will be vital for us if we are going to finish in the top 10.

Sako is not quite as influential for us, but if he can start getting a few goals when he gets his chance, just like he was doing at the start of the season, that should push the competition for places which is always healthy.

CC: Palace have only had a return of one point since the Boxing Day draw against Bournemouth (sorry to remind you), but did you think there was much difference between Bournemouth, Swansea and Aston Villa in terms of quality?

PFT: I think from those 3 fixtures, only vs. Swansea were Palace the better side.

Away to Villa was the worst I have seen Palace play in a long time – it was really disappointing to see against a team who had only won once all season.

But based on the games against those sides, Bournemouth caused us the most problems and looked the best equipped to move away from the bottom end of table.

CC: Are you hoping Glenn Murray gets a cold?

PFT: I would never wish anything bad on Glenn Murray. I love the guy.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say as I hope he scores on Tuesday, but I hope he either gets subbed on or off towards the end of the game so that the Palace fans can get on their feet and show appreciation for a legend of our club.

CC: Who is the most underrated player in Crystal Palace's squad and what qualities does this player have?

PFT: I would say James McArthur. Last season was his first at Palace and he almost won player of the year. He has gone up another level this season since he has been paired in midfield with Yohan Cabaye.

McArthur is your typical all action box to box midfielder, tough in the challenge and quality on the ball. When he signed from Wigan I thought a reported transfer fee in the region of £7m was a lot, but he has been worth every single penny.

CC: I always think it must be great to be a Palace fan because even if your team loses at least you get to enjoy seeing the Crystals do one of their cheer-leading routines, but do they wrap up warm and cut their dancing short on cold February evenings?

PFT: Come rain or shine, they are there. I think I am right in saying the majority of them are Palace fans, so they probably love a mid-week game as much as the rest of us, so expect them to be there on Tuesday.

CC: What is your score prediction for this game?

PFT: I am going for a 2-1 home win.

CC: Thanks to Dave and PalaceFanTV for giving Cherry Chimes readers such detailed answers. The question of who does Alan Pardew play up front for this game is one that I looked at and I guess I come to the same decision that Adebayor has to play some part in the game and it's probably best to start him and see how long he lasts as far as Palace are concerned – ring rusty or not. I also hope Glenn Murray does get on and gets a good reception. This game really is about two strikers so we'll probably find a defender comes away with all the glory.

Match Preview: FA Cup 4th Round
Portsmouth v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Pompey-Fans.com
Twitter: @Pompey_Fans

This week I tried to find my old friend at Pompey-Fans,com only to find he had taken a job at the club itself and so he kindly put me in contact with Steve Bone who writes for the matchday programme and the Sports Mail as well contributing to pompey-fans.com.

CC: Pompey beat Ipswich Town in the last round of the FA Cup after a replay. Did you always feel that you could beat them and just about any team at Fratton Park and in an evening game?

PF: I think many in the Pompey camp were confident, because we'd beaten Derby and run Reading close in early-season League Cup games under the Fratton lights. I must admit, I thought Ipswich would win the replay – we'd outplayed them at Portman Road and I felt they'd strengthen their team. But they didn't, and they paid the price – we deserved the win and it was a great occasion.

CC: Is it slightly more appealing to face AFC Bournemouth these days – even though we are not the Saints or the Seagulls – you have not had a result against us for a little while?

PF: No we owe you one – though it is not that long since we were doing battle with you in League One; now here we are three divisions apart. Pompey fans were delighted to draw Bournemouth – it's a Premier League team at home and, no disrespect meant to the Cherries, but it's one we feel we can give a run for their money. And I'm still smarting from the 2-0 home defeat you inflicted on us in front of the TVS cameras in October 1982!

CC: The season Pompey are having indicates that the P word may start getting whispered, but are you worried about having to catch up in games with the FA Cup run taking up some playing time?

PF: Some are worried an extended cup run will hit our league hopes, but I don't think it has yet, or would even if we got through this round. Any further (which is unlikely anyway) and it probably would. Promotion is the big hope for all Pompey fans this season – some say anything less will be a failure – but Paul Cook has enough decent players to rest two or three when he needs to, though he has played a virtually-full-strength side in the Cup so far.

CC: What main changes has Paul Cook made to the team since becoming manager?

PF: Just the goalkeeper, defence, midfield and attack! He has basically ripped up last season's squad and started again. Apart from a couple of players, the likes of Adam Webster and Danny Hollands [Ed- an AFCB legend!], last season's lot have either been released, sold or left to play for the reserves. Even Matt Tubbs [Ed- oh no, nothing he would like better than to score against an Eddie Howe team that he could not get into!], a prolific scorer at L2 level, has not played much as he does not seem to fit into Cook's preferred system. The squad needed a big overhaul and Cook has got on with it in a no-nonsense way.

CC: We have seen how good League Two is of late with teams like Pompey and Exeter playing well against higher opposition, but do you feel there are many players in each League Two team that could be playing at a higher level?

PF: It's a funny league. There are a lot of teams who are simply not very good and rely on the physical side of the game, while the teams pushing for promotion are all, I would say, similar in terms of quality. And I'd expect more and more Premier and Championship clubs to take a punt on L2 players because of the 'Vardy factor'. Even last week, we saw a couple of very good Oxford players – Liam Sercombe and Kemar Roofe – and they're the sort you'd expect to see play at a higher level. As for Pompey's better players, hopefully their higher-division chances will come with us.

CC: Who is Portsmouth's most dangerous player as it seems the goals are getting spread around the team this season?

PF: You're right – we don't have an outstanding goalscorer. Marc McNulty looked like he might soar to the top of the goal charts after arriving on loan from Sheffield United but his have dried up a little. Conor Chaplin has scored a good number for a player who very rarely starts. I'd say our most dangerous player in attack at the moment is Kyle Bennett, a skillful winger who has grown in confidence in the past couple of months and has racked up plenty of assists – though he'd probably admit he'd like to score more himself.

CC: What signings have Pompey made this January?

PF: All we've done at the time of writing is extended a couple of loans – McNulty and Ipswich defender Matt Clarke – while also recruiting 18-year-old goalie Ryan Fulton on loan from Liverpool. I understand we've been trying to get striker Caolan Lavery back for another loan from Sheffield Wednesday -–we had him from October 'til the start of 2016 and he's done really well, but he's currently back with the Owls. We have also recruited Sheff Utd full-back Kieron freeman on loan – it's popped up today. He can't play Saturday – appeared for Blades in R1.

CC: Do you think Pompey have still under achieved so far this season?

PF: I don't think we've under-achieved, or over-achieved. You can't expect to run away with a division when 80 per cent of your team have not played alongside one another. I still think a top-three spot is achievable, but if the play-offs end up being our route forward, we'll have to cover our eyes and hope for the best. Finishing outside the top seven probably would be rightfully called failure, given the size of the operation we are running.

CC: AFC Bournemouth are unlikely to play too many of their first team in this game and Pompey may rest some players too, but have you some good young players that deserve a go in such a match?

PF: You may well see any of the following either starting or, more likely coming on - left-back Brandon Haunstrup, calm and cultured midfielder Ben Close, winger Ben Tollitt, or pint-sized poacher Conor Chaplin. And Pompey fans won't mind at all if Eddie Howe rests a few – though they would like to see Sylvain Distin and Matt Ritchie, both of whom are much admired by Fratton fans and should get a great reception (along with Howe, who incidentally I've written fondly about in the matchday programme – yours for £3!)

CC: How do you see Portsmouth lining up for the game?

PF: At a guess – Fulton in goal, Davies and Stevens the full-backs, Burgess and Webster centre-halves; Close and Doyle deep midfield; Evans, Bennett, Roberts the three attacking midfielders, McNulty up front. But Cook may have a surprise or two in store for us at 2.20pm!

Score prediction? 2-1 Pompey with a late Tollitt winner.

CC: Thanks very much Steve. It is good to hear a confident Pompey fan. It sounds like the season has been pretty enjoyable down at Fratton Park so far and if promotion is gained there should be quite a party there. It's down to Cup business this weekend though and I admit that Pompey have a chance of an upset if AFCB's select 11 do not play with a cutting-edge. AFCB have had a bit of a run out though in midweek and some of the first team will be involved, so I think the Cherries in the away stand are also looking forward to this one – let battle commence! A fifth round draw would be very exciting for either club. Check out Pompey-Fans.com and their lead up to the south coast Cup tie this weekend.

Sunderland v AFCB
Blogger Interview: A Love Supreme

Twitter: @ALS_Fanzine

This week I had a chat with David Drewett who writes on the independent Sunderland website called A Love Supreme. The importance of this game is not lost o either set of supporters and it comes at a time when it can definitely be called a 'big game', but I can't help but keep asking the question how come Sunderland are yet again in this position of fighting relegation, like last season and every season I can almost remember? Let's get some answers.

CC: Sam Allardyce seems to have found a way to score goals - give the ball to Jermain Defoe - but can one man score the goals to keep you up?

ALS: In our past few relegation scraps we’ve managed to stay up without having that ‘one man’ at all; Connor Wickham was our top goal scorer last year with just five. It’s great to have a proper striker again, and his goals will inevitably be crucial were we to survive, but other players are pitching in with goals this season, too. Patrick van Aanholt has 3 in 3, Steven Fletcher has 4, and young Duncan Watmore has netted two in the league this term. This, coupled with the arrival of Senegal international Dame N’Doye, means that scoring goals isn’t the problem in this Sunderland side.

CC: Sam has been in the transfer market and has brought in Jan Kirchhoff as a centre half from Bayern Munich but what did you make of his debut at Spurs?

ALS: Kirchhoff’s debut was a disaster, there’s no shying away from that. Without wanting to sound too protective of him he was thrown into the deep end for his debut; coming on whilst our backs were against the wall against a very good Spurs side. It was frustrating to watch mind you, especially the half-hearted attempt at a block for Eriksen’s goal, but there’s been worse debuts in a Sunderland shirt from people who’ve went on to become club legends. You don’t play for a team like Bayern Munich without having some quality, so I’d like to think his debut was an unfortunate one-off and he goes on to be a decent defensive addition.

CC: Duncan Watmore has only been used as a sub in the last couple of games but should he be a starter?

ALS: Personally, I think Big Sam has it bang on with the way he’s using Watmore at this moment in time. The lad has undoubted talent, and you can clearly see his potential when he plays, but he’s still very raw and is prone to the odd error of judgment or lapse in concentration. In games where he’s started, such as the Southampton game a few months ago, he’s usually began very brightly, but faded as the game went on, becoming more and more ineffectual. The winger is at his most effective when unleashed as a substitute, coming on and providing that crucial burst of energy against tired legs, which in itself is a very good weapon to have.

CC: Has Adam Johnson done enough for your team this season or has he gone missing?

ALS: This is a question that never fails to split the fanbase; you get the ones who feel Johnson hasn’t done enough to justify his price tag and has only shown his brilliance in flashes, and then you get the ones who believe he’s one of our only ‘quality’ players and is invaluable to us on his day.

Johnson is a very frustrating player it must be said, quality, but frustrating. He began the season with a lengthy injury setback and was pretty sub-standard upon his return, but has shown flashes of growing back into that player we bought from Man City three-and-a-half years ago. He’s picked up a couple of assists in recent games against Aston Villa and Spurs without playing brilliantly in either game, which adequately sums him up. He’ll do nothing for the majority of a game before knocking an inch-perfect ball through for Defoe to score, or smashing a 90th minute winner in against Newcastle at St. James’ Park.

It’s worth mentioning too that Johnson scored a 4th goal in 6 games against Newcastle in October, a very good way to net his only goal of the season so far…

CC: Why do you think the Black Cats have found it a perennial struggle in the Premier League - who is to blame?

ALS: This is another question that our fans have debated massively over the last couple of seasons, and much like with Adam Johnson, we can’t seem to come to an agreement. In the past we’ve put it down to a simple lack of quality; with the likes of Ignacio Scocco and Jozy Altidore up front coupled with Carlos Cuellar and Santiago Vergini at the back you can’t expect much more than a relegation struggle. Fingers have been pointed at owner Ellis Short for this, he simply isn’t spending money and when he does, its on duds like Jack Rodwell or Emanuele Giaccherini.

It is however, hard to blame Short for being reluctant to part with his money when you see what it’s been spent on in the past couple of years. Now Sam Allardyce is gaffer and has complete control of transfers though, Short needs to realise money has to be spent in order to grow as a club, a line of argument he seems to be listening to with the recent bids for Swansea’s Andre Ayew.

CC: Jordan Pickford had a strong debut in the last match for you, but is it helpful for his development to be playing behind a defence that has conceded 45 goals so far this campaign?

ALS: It’s obviously not going to do wonders for his confidence if we are to continue conceding like we are, but we can’t really afford not to play him. Vito Mannone simply isn’t good enough in my opinion, and big Costel Pantilimon looks like he’s off this month [Ed- Indeed since writing this Pontilimon has transferred to Watford]. Pickford’s a very good keeper, and having a very good keeper in nets may give our defenders a slight confidence boost they need to pick up their performances.

Without wanting to sound too clichéd, Pickford is also a massive Sunderland fan, and has stated himself it’s a dream come true to play for his boyhood club. Having passion like this in the starting 11 can surely only be a benefit, showing some of the lads in the dressing room exactly what it’s all about.

CC: Dame N'Doye is a new loan signing from Trabzonspor but do you think he will have the quality to get you many goals?

ALS: As Allardyce has said, N’Doye gives us another option up front besides Defoe, halving the latter’s goalscoring burden and hopefully taking some pressure off. He had a goal ratio of 1 in 3 for relegated Hull City last season, and it’s this knack for scoring in average-to-poor squads that could really benefit us in these next few months. Don’t get me wrong, the signing hasn’t got anyone off their seats, but he was brought in as a replacement for Danny Graham, so that’s got to be seen as an improvement?

CC: Sunderland have played well against other bottom six sides beating Swansea, Villa and Newcastle so do the players perform better in these pressurised so-called six pointers?

ALS: We have done this season, which is surprising as it’s never been something we normally do. Sunderland normally do things the opposite way, with 2013/14 being a prime example. We lost to the likes of Norwich and QPR whilst getting wins away against Chelsea and Man Utd, so to actually beat the beatable teams is a breath of fresh air. This is what Allardyce brings to the club, he’s made a living out of scrappy wins against teams of similar quality, and this makes the game between our sides on Saturday massively important.

CC: Which three teams do you expect to be relegated this season?

ALS: Being optimistic? Aston Villa, Swansea and Newcastle. Villa are as good as down already, Swansea are losing all their best players and something seems wrong within the club, and Newcastle, because they’re Newcastle.

But it’s a toss up between yous, us, Swansea, Newcastle and Norwich for those last two relegation spots. Any two of those could drop, and with the way this season’s panning out, I’d be brave to make a proper prediction.

CC: How do you expect Sunderland to line up for the game against AFC Bournemouth?

ALS: As you are one of the more beatable sides in the league, and because we’re at home, I expect Sam to have us set up to attack right from the get go. His philosophy in the past few weeks seems to amount to ‘score more than the opposition’ and this will probably be no different against yous. I’d expect us to have a 4-2-3-1 set up, with Defoe up top and Johnson, Lens and Borini rotating around behind him. I’d expect N’Doye to feature off the bench to give us another dimension to our attack, and hopefully prove a lot of his doubters wrong. Cattermole’s suspended so unfortunately it’ll probably be Jack Rodwell alongside M’Vila, with a back four + keeper unchanged from the Spurs defeat.

All the best for the rest of the season and I hope you stay up, so long as it isn’t at the expense of Sunderland!

CC: Some great comments from David there and I thank him for his time and for giving such detailed answers from A Love Supreme. I think there are quite a few fans of other clubs who have AFCB down as their next favourite club to stay up, but there will be no friendliness on the pitch come Saturday and a draw won't do either side a lot of good. With some 82 goals being scored against these two sides so far this season there is a better than fair chance that it won't be a nil-nil encounter.

Match Preview: FA Cup Third Round
Birmingham City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Often Partisan

It has been a while since I spoke to the Often Partisan blog and it was good to catch up on Birmingham City's season. They are on a good run of late and are just outside the play-off places in the Championship so meeting them in the cup is going to be a potential banana skin, especially after the results against them last season. Gary Rowett's team need little motivation for a match with the Cherries but how does Often Partisan feel about the two sides meeting again?

CC: The FA Cup is something of a welcome break for many teams in a hectic season but what has Birmingham's record been like in recent seasons?

OP: The last couple of years we've gone out in the fourth round to Premier League opposition. Last year hurt; we came back what could have been an absolute shocker to beat Blyth 3-2; in the fourth round Gary Rowett rested Clayton Donaldson and we were stuck without him, losing 2-1.

CC: Birmingham are challenging for at least a play-off place in the Championship this season so would a run in the FA Cup be welcome or a bit of a distraction with the amount of games?

OP: The way I see it, winning is a habit - and while having a ton of games to play in a few weeks isn't great I'd rather we went into the run in with a run of wins under our belt. So it's a chance for a little bit of rotation but a distraction? Nah.

CC: Has the team many injuries at the moment?

OP: Clayton Donaldson came off at half time in the win over Brentford and looked a bit sore; Jacques Maghoma had a tight hamstring and Jon Toral wasn't fully fit. However, we should have Neal Eardley, Koby Arthur and David Cotterill back so there will be competition for places.

CC: How has the team been in terms of form at St Andrews of late and how has the Championship been for you in terms of excitement this season?

OP: Three wins on the spin at home going into this one, and looking better for it. We're a counter attacking team which isn't great for playing at home but we've been doing better of late and we're showing much more directness of late which has helped.

CC: Do you think the heavy defeats to AFC Bournemouth last season will give your players extra motivation for the game?

OP: Dunno what you're talking about, I have blocked all memory of previous games with Bournemouth from my mind. ;)

I'm not sure. Some of those players have gone and if I'm honest I think the rest will treat it as another game - same as the rest.

CC: Gary Rowett has been a real hit at St Andrews so what has he done with the team that is bringing results?

OP: Organisation. The team knows it's roles; players understand each other and what they're supposed to do. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.

CC: Who has been your best player so far this season?

OP: Probably Clayton Donaldson again, although I do like Maikel Kieftenbeld and I think we're starting to see the best of Jon Toral now.

CC: Do you expect Birmingham to field a full strength side in the FA Cup?

OP: No. Probably Adam Legzdins in goal, probably a couple of other changes

CC: Is there any player that you hope AFC Bournemouth rest for this game?

OP: Sadly for you guys, the ones I feared are all injured...

CC: What did you honestly think when you were drawn against the Cherries in the draw - great a chance for revenge, not them again, let's see how far we have come, if we beat them it will really give us confidence to get promotion?

OP: What did I honestly think? Kinda "meh" really - I always want us to get either someone odd away or the Villa at home - the former because it's a good trip for our fans (everyone loved Blyth) - the latter because a) I think we owe them after the League Cup and b) I think it would be hilarious to play them right now. We've moved on from the mauling of last year, we've got a better keeper - it's not as exciting as you'd think.

That being said, I will be crossing my fingers we don't have a man sent off early doors again.

CC: Thank you Often Partisan. It is a shame you have lost some memory of the match on 25 October 2015, I don't blame you. This season though the Blues have certainly impressed and if Rowett can add a striker in January a tilt at the top six has to be a good bet. No doubt Birmingham fans would like to take the place of Villa in the Premier League. Knocking a side like AFC Bournemouth out of the cup would give the Blues a lot of belief so Eddie will have to give a good motivation speech if the Cherries are not to be the victims of another Birmingham resurgence. Catch up with how Birmingham have been doing this season by visiting the Often Partisan website - winning mentality talks about the 0-8 defeat, so it's not entirely forgotten.

Leicester City v AFCB Preview
Blogger Interview: Leicester Till I Die
Twitter: @

Over the Christmas period I asked Chris Forryan, who writes on the Leicester Till I Die website, what he thought about Leicester's chances of grabbing the title or at least finishing in the top four and whether he reckons that the Foxes will hold on to Vardy and Mahrez.

CC: Do you think the difficult times that Leicester City in the first half of last season is something that has made you a better team today?

LTID: Defiantly. We appeared, come April to have learnt by our mistakes and improved. The main thing I believe going through that difficult period did was to bring the team closer together. It is an overused phrase but I honestly think it helped develop a siege mentality at Leicester and that can only be a good thing.

CC: Do you think the atmosphere that Claudio Reniera creates around the players has been not only better for the team but more positive for the fans than when Nigel Pearson was at the club - nevermind the results?

LTID: Not an Ostrich in sight any more!! He's like everyone's favourite uncle isn't he? He has brought the Italian flair & style to a good old fashioned team. Pearson had the team behind him, he never lost them, but I think Ranieri has the team with him, and there is a difference.

CC: Which game has given you most pleasure so far this season?

LTID: From a personal point of view the Bournemouth away game when Vardy started his 11 match record breaking goal scoring run. Not just saying that but living in Poole I had to sit in the away end and you could see my face on Match of the Day and Vardy runs past to celebrate, with me not lol. But that game showed out fighting spirit.

CC: Do you hope that Jamie Vardy's record is never broken and do you believe it helped the team keep winning matches with his team mates knowing he wanted to beat the consecutive Premier League goal record?

LTID: The team were 100% behind Vardy but it wasn't all about Vardy, The Swansea match which followed the Man Utd game where he'd achieved his 11 in 11 would have beaten an even older record, But he failed to score as he passed by a chance to shoot and pas to Mahrez to get his hat trick. That shows the team ethic of LCFC at the moment. Do I hope its never broken, Of course but records are there to be broken so it will one day, but lets live the dream for now.

CC: Riyad Mahrez has been sensational on the right wing as well but if one next summer you had to sell wither him or Vardy who do you think the club would fight harder to keep?

LTID: Mahrez. Vardy is good the last question highlights that point, but Mahrez is a creator, Some games he doesn't turn up but when he does watch out. Vardy can get us goals but just as, if not more so, are the player who help create the opportunities for him to score. Mahrez does that, and oh yes, chips in with a few goals of his own.

If Leicester finish in the top six and play European football next year do you expect the team to change significantly with the money that will come into the club?

LTID: We did spend last summer and have got quite a strong squad, but yes we would have to buy as though the squad is strong it is not big, This season we have not had Europe to distract us like the other clubs around us. I think it would be good to get in some players who have actually played in the Champions League or Europa League as now is and have that experience we would need.

CC: Every club has a dip in form they say so are Leicester fans biting their nails wondering when that might happen?

LTID: One word YES. But its not happened yet so fingers crossed even with bitten nails.

CC: Leicester drew against the Cherries down at Dean Court but do you expect a similar tight game at the King Power Stadium?

LTID:  Leicester are now on amazing run and Bournemouth have had a few good wins recently. A month ago to be honest I though this would be a sure 3 points, but with your current good form I am not so confident now.

CC: How do you think Leicester will line up for this game?

LTID:  The same as the last 18. If its not broken why fix it, and only two losses means it ain't broken and Ranieri refuses to tinker which is good. Rumours are circulating regarding illness's to Vardy & Mahrez after the Liverpool performance. Let's hope Vardy's party was the reason.

CC: How do you think the top four will look at the end of the season and who are the three teams going down?

LTID: Difficult this season, its so open at the top. In no particular order I think the top 4 will consist of Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and yes I am going to say it Leicester City.

Going down? Well one has to be Aston Villa. Bottom with less points than even Leicester had this time last year. They are not playing with the team spirit that Leicester were either.

The other two? Swansea are in free fall and Sunderland are still struggling despite Big Sam's arrival.

I would like to see Newcastle go down though. They have flirted with relegation for a few years and are the new Wigan, Its nice to see the big boys struggle and the so called little teams do well. Would love Bournemouth to stay up I really do. Not because I like in Poole either but there’s is a true rags to riches story. The modern day Wimbledon and I think they are vying for first place with Leicester for everybody’s favourite second team this season.

CC: It is good to hear that Leicester City fans are enjoying themselves. May be AFCB can pick a brief moment when the Foxes might slowdown a little with their points accumulation, but going to the King Power stadium is probably the last place any Premier League team is expecting an easy game. There is such a great atmosphere at the ground and it is always a great day out so if you are going up have a good day. There are more previews on the Leicester Till I Die site and before the game there should be my answers to the questions I was given about Eddie Mitchell and Peak 6 among others.

Match Preview: Arsenal v AFCB
Blogger Interview: You are my Arsenal
Twitter: @YouAreMyArsenal

I wanted to give you readers some idea of how the Premier League is spreading its wings across the Atlantic, especially following AFCB's tie-up with Peak6. So when it came to contacting an Arsenal blogger I got in touch with Michael Price on the You Are My Arsenal site that operates out of the USA. If you did not think the game was big over there check out the You Are My Arsenal website's twitter account - 70.6k followers!

CC: How did You are my Arsenal get started over in the USA?

YAMA: We started in 2008 when the US supporters club made substantial changes to it's posting policy on what was then really the only place online for US Gooners to congregate. We originally started out as a place for a few of us to discuss matches and the team in general. I'm based in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, East coast, USA.

CC: How do you see the games in the USA - do you go to a favourite local drinking hole or do you live stream at home - and do you miss not seeing Arsenal games live?

YAMA: Most of the games I watch either from the comfort of my own home or live in one of two Gooner-based pubs local to me. Yes, not seeing them live is difficult. Prior to 2000 I was over at least twice a year to see them.

CC: What is the amount of support for Arsenal over on the States and are they a team that many US fans have really taken to for any particular reason?

YAMA: I don't have any concrete numbers but we are one of the largest clubs supported in the US. When they were over in New York two summers ago - they had to cancel events because they completely underestimated the response and the venues were too small. The New York and Philadelphia supporters clubs are two of the largest in the US have been recognised by the club as their own stand-alone official clubs. If you didn't come to Arsenal a long time ago, I'd say recent converts like the way the team plays, likes its a challenger and probably one of the clubs that is on US TV all the time.

CC: I picked Arsenal pre-season to win the Premier League in 2015-16 - was it the right team to back?

YAMA: Hard to say after getting drubbed 4-0 to Southampton on boxing day. But I had them pegged on to win and I am going to stick by that. Even with the loss on Boxing Day, it's not the end of the world. Especially given the uncertainty in the league this season.

CC: Are the number of London derby matches the biggest worry to Arsenal fans when it come to making a viable title challenge every season?

YAMA: I don't think so. I actually think it lends to the strengthening of the side. Any derby is always a big match. London derbies are for the king of the capital. Obviously though, the North London Derby is the biggest and most meaningful.

CC: Who do you believe has been Arsenal's best player this season so far and what Premier League game has been most memorable?

YAMA: Mesut Özil bar none. And 3-0 win against United sticks out so far. We completely annihilated a team that we've not beaten with any regularity in the last few years.

CC: Olivier Giroud has been banging in the goals but are you convinced about Theo Wallcott being a number 9?

YAMA: I think the tandem gives us two different options up front. We've got Giroud with strength and hold up play (And that near post diagonal run) and we've got Theo who is looking to exploit the gaps between the back 4. I do think Theo is making a strong case for himself as a number 9.

CC: The Gooner's midfield has been tremendous with Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey so can you see Wilshere being injured as a big loss this season?

YAMA: It's a big loss because it hurt our ability to rotate and rest someone like Cazorla who is now injured until March. Wilshere would've made it easier to rotate and likely gotten Cazorla rested throughout the first half of the season.

CC: Joel Campbell has been finding his feet in the team, but do you think he is better than Oxlade-Chamberlain?

YAMA: I think it's a toss up between the two. Joel Campbell seems better in keeping the ball than Oxlade-Chamberlain but the Ox offers more hunger going forward. Both need improvement in their decision making in the final third.

CC: Do you think Alexis Sanchez will want to move on if he does not win silverware this season?

YAMA: No. I think Sanchez wants to be the main man and at Arsenal he is that. In all of his moves he moved for playing time. I think he at a minimum sees out his contract then decides.

CC: Does Arsene Wenger need to buy players in January and who would you suggest he buys?

YAMA: I do think he has to buy. I'd like a DM and Winger for cover.

CC: What have you made of AFC Bournemouth's start to the season?

YAMA: I've been impressed with the run of late. They've not given in and really took chances when they had to and had some good wins against the likes of United and Chelsea.

CC: Are there any AFC Bournemouth players that you think Arsenal need to be particularly wary of?

YAMA: I like the looks of Junior Stanislas. He clearly has bought into what Howe is doing and I think he can cause problems for a team that is going to be smarting after the Boxing Day massacre.

CC: What is your score prediction for the match?

YAMA: Head says 0-0 draw
Heart says 1-0 bounce back win for the Arsenal

CC: Many thanks for You Are My Arsenal taking some time out over the busy Christmas period to answer Cherry Chimes' questions. Please do take a look at the You Are My Arsenal site which asks Is it Arsenal's year? There's also a match report on the Man City top of the table clash and I expect a preview of the AFC Bournemouth game will soon be up on the site.   

Match Preview: WBA v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Albion Till We Die

This week's Rival Lines is with Albion Till We Die blogger Mark Thomas. I was surprised that there are not too many sites that follow the Baggies and I always wonder whether their fans get as much column inches as many other teams. Mark seems to have plenty to say about WBA though and his site has a good festive feel about at the moment. I feel WBA are becoming seasoned masters of how to establish a side in mid-table in the Premier League and perhaps AFCB would be happy to swap for a quieter life at times if they can keep the points coming like WBA seem able to do.

CC: West Brom seem to go quietly about their business picking up points but is it enough for the fans to have a mid-table side and do you see enough ambition at the club to go higher in the league?

ATID: I think the majority of Albion fans would probably like to see the club's owner Jeremy Peace push the boat out a little and aim to become a regular top ten placed club but in all reality it's not going to happen. For Peace, avoiding relegation each season has always been his aim, and in some ways that's understandable given the money clubs get for staying in the Premier League nowadays, but it is frustrating for supporters especially when you see similar sized clubs like Southampton and Leicester having success. With Peace still looking to offload the club I don't see him splashing the cash anytime soon.

CC: Have critics been unfair in their description of how Tony Pulis sets up his side to defend and to stay in games or do you feel the team should play with more flair?

ATID: There has been some fair and unfair criticism of Pulis recently. A number of games earlier in the season saw us play some really dour defensive stuff. Not only was it awful to watch but we weren’t really picking up many points either. It led to the first real signs of discontent amongst theAlbion support towards Pulis, and rightly so, it really was that bad. The last month or so has seen an improvement and whilst it's still not always great to watch there seems to be a bit more intent to win games than there was. I thought the criticism of us by Jurgen Klopp after Sunday's game was unfair and smacked of sour grapes. We'd all love to see the team play fast-flowing attacking football but with Pulis in charge and with the players he has at his disposal it's simply not going to happen.

CC: Rondon looks big and powerful but is his finishing too suspect at times?

ATID:  Personally I think he's been a poor signing so far, especially given we spent £12million on him. He's a willing runner and covers plenty of ground but that's about all we've seen him do so far. His finishing is extremely poor and his hold-up play is hardly any better. Hopefully the more he settles into the English game the better he will become but so far he has been disappointing to say the least.

CC: The home form has been very strong of late but are the lack of many clean sheets something that surprises you?

ATID:  I think if you look at the majority of teams that have played at The Hawthorns so far this season they would have all gone into the game as favourites against us - the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester and Everton. Given the firepower those teams have got I don't think it's a surprise we haven't kept many clean sheets at home. Looking at both home and away games and again, given that our last six games were against teams all in the top nine, I think it was to be expected that we would concede a few goals. Overall our defence has remained pretty solid and against sides that are below and around us we've recorded six clean sheets which for me is pretty decent.

CC: Would you worry about staying up if Saido Berahino was sold in January?

ATID:  If you would have asked me the same question 12 months ago I'd have definitely been worried for our survival prospects but this time around I'm quite relaxed about it. Not particularly because we have better options than him - we don't - but because he's simply making no contribution to the team or squad at present. It's clear that Tony Pulis wants him gone if only to open up funds for him to use himself in the January window.

CC: Does the Premier League seem closer between teams than last season to you with the top teams dropping points?

ATID:  I'm not sure to be honest. If you look at the top end of the table, it's once again the usual suspects, apart from Leicester and the absence of Chelsea of course. It remains to be seen whether Leicester can stay the course but I'd be surprised if any of the 'other' clubs regularly manage to push into a top four or five spot.

CC: Who has been WBA's best player so far this season and what has been most pleasing about WBA performances?

ATID: Jonny Evans has been head and shoulders above anyone else this season, he's been a super signing. I like many others were a bit sceptical when we signed him, especially given the money he cost. Thankfully though he's proved all the doubters wrong and has hardly put a foot wrong, whether in his natural position of centre-half or when he's filling in at left-back or midfield. When you look at some of United's performances this season it does make you wonder why Evans couldn't get into their team.

As for what's been most pleasing about our performances, it probably has to be the commitment shown in each and every game. Whilst as mentioned above it's not been the best to watch at times it's impossible to criticise the effort and desire of the players.

CC: What have you thought of the three teams that were promoted from the Championship last season and what three teams do you think will be relegated?

ATID:  I think Watford and yourselves have been pretty impressive, especially in terms of the way you go into games, often showing no fear against far superior opposition. The same can't be said of Norwich who have looked poor whenever I've seen them - I expect them to be one of the teams to drop.

As for the other two, I think, (or should that be hope?), that Aston Villa go. Having struggled now for a number of seasons and with a squad that gets worse by the season it really will be a surprise if they manage to stay up, especially given their terrible start. It really couldn't happen to a nicer club, apart from perhaps Wolves!

As for the other side to drop I feel it will be between yourselves, Sunderland and Swansea. You're certainly giving it a go and the last two results have been fantastic but I just wonder what will happen if you lose any more key players. Sunderland look a poor side but with Sam Allardyce now in charge you expect them to scrape enough points to maybe see them through. As for Swansea, they are pretty much in freefall at the moment and a lot depends on who replaces Garry Monk, that decision is huge for the Swans' hierarchy.

CC: Are the next three games season defining for you against AFCB, Swansea and Newcastle?

ATID: I don't think they are season-defining as such but they certainly offer us an opportunity to get some points on the board. The last half-dozen or so games have seen us go into them as underdogs and on the whole we've done well. The next few games will see us as favourites so it'll be interesting how we react. Five or six points from the aforementioned games would be a good return and would see us go into the new year in a good position.

CC: Thanks to Mark who has a good grasp of  all things Albion so do take a look at his site - Albion Till We Die - you should also see my interview answers on AFCB when you visit the site this weekend.

While the Cherries manages a last minute 2-1 win over WBA at Dean Court last season in the Capital One Cup it will be a difficult result to try and get up at the Hawthorns. Tony Pulis would have been looking forward to this fixture and AFCB's players have to know that the hard work is not over having beaten Chelsea and Man Utd as they will be tested in every respect by WBA. Three points would of course pull the Cherries much close to WBA so there is a lot to play for in this game.

Match Preview: Chelsea v AFCB

Blogger Interview: Chelsea Daft
Twitter: @Chelseadaft

Well Chelsea have probably had a season to forget already as far as the Premier League is concerned. You'd be forgiven for thinking that some of the Jose brigade might bee feeling down in the dumps. Rather than skirt the issue though I was keen enough to ask Chelsea Daft what has gone wrong and whether Jose had rather lost the plot in recent weeks. We get right into it talking Jose, Petr Chec and the uncompromising Diego Costa.

CC: What has it been like to be at Stamford Bridge this season watching your side play so uncharacteristically unlike Chelsea?

CD: It's been frustrating to say the least. Normally, you can pinpoint one or two players who are out of form and not playing well. This season barring Willian, it's been everyone!

CC: Do you believe that Chelsea are now back on track in terms of the players being back to their normal levels of performance now or do you worry about some of the players in particular?

CD: I personally believe that 75% of the players are getting back to where they should be and the levels we are looking for. Eden Hazard in particular looks back on his game and re-focused. Others still need to raise their game if we are to have any chance of climbing the table and making a realistic challenge for the top four.

CC: Was the Bradford City game in the FA Cup last season an early sign that Chelsea needed to add to its defensive strength in the summer and why John Stones was chased so hard?

CD: Being honest, I don't think you can read much into the Bradford defeat on a lack of squad depth. If anything, the players thought that being at the top of the Premier League and cursing at that point; all they had to do was turn up to win it and they were turned over. Bradford were excellent that day and deserved the win.

As for John Stones? It's clear that Jose believes that it's important to have a core of English players in his side and especially in his defence. Stones would be the natural replacement for John Terry and that's why I believe he tried to sign him.

CC: Do you want Jose Mourinho to change and be bit more humble or do you like him being himself even if the club and results can suffer sometimes? (He does seem to like to think the world is always against him)

CD: Jose Mourinho is one of the most successful managers in the game and he is never going to change. Think back to when he left the first time and how people spoke to missing him. When he speaks, people listen whether they like him or not and let's face it, he tells it how it is. Would you prefer someone like that with personality or someone who is dull?

CC: Was the sale of Petr Cech to Arsenal more damaging than Chelsea fans really appreciated in the summer?

CD: Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it. Petr Cech was sold and it was a deal that suited everyone. However, no one would have predicted Thibaut Courtois' injury that has plagued his season. To be fair, Asmir Begovic has been outstanding despite our poor results.

CC: Have you been disappointed with Diego Costa's form this season and can you put any reason on why it has not been going so well for him?

CD: Diego Costa should be sold as quickly as possible in my opinion with his petulance on the bench against Tottenham towards Jose Mourinho as the final straw. No one is bigger than the team or the club and for someone who promotes team work and working hard for his team mates in the quotations he gives now and again, it's ridiculous.

His movement compared to last season is non-existent and he is beginning to wind the Chelsea fans up.

Someone like Cesc Fabregas has suffered because of Costa this season. Last season you would remember that Fabregas would pick the ball up in midfield, look up and Costa would be off on his bike. That combination was key for us last term. This year, he lifts his head and the movement isn't there and we are stuck passing the ball sideways.

Sell him!

CC: Willian has probably been Chelsea's best player this season but do you think he would get more star status if he was at a different Premier League club?

CD: I believe that Willian is getting the credit he deserves in the media now. All the Chelsea fans know just how effective he has been for us. His work rate, his quality on the ball and his skills are immense. Finally, he is getting the goals to add gloss to his performances. He is out player of the season no matter what happens.

CC: Can Chelsea put all their troubles behind them and win the Champions League this season or is the team short of a couple of players to really challenge the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich?

CD: Chelsea can beat anyone on their day as we proved in 2012. Lionel Messi has never scored against us and we beat Bayern in their own backyard. It would be typical Chelsea to struggle in the Premier League but to go and make a real challenge for the CL. I do admit that Barcelona right now would be a tough ask!

CC: Jose said Max Gradel was good enough to play for Chelsea but are there any other AFC Bournemouth players that give you concern from what you have seen of them?

CD: I really, really like Matt Ritchie. He is quality on the ball and is a real danger. I have watched Bournemouth a few times and really like the way they go about their business. As you have seen this season, anyone can beat anyone on their day and Bournemouth are the same on Saturday.

CC: Would defeat to AFC Bournemouth be a new low for Chelsea or would it simply be an unthinkable result?

CD: No disrespect here but Chelsea are the Premier League Champions and to play a side that has just been promoted - you expect to beat them. Right now as we are slowly picking ourselves up and putting a run of results together, a defeat would be unthinkable not because its Bournemouth but because of our situation.

Make no mistake. Chelsea need to be at their best week in, week out now and nothing less.

CC: I really enjoyed putting those questions to  Chelsea Daft as there is so much to talk about regarding the Stamford Bridge brigade. While Chelsea Daft was very honourable and respectful of some of the antics that have been going on at his club, I get the feeling that it would not take much for things to go out of control and that is kind of amazing seeing where Chelsea were in May this year. But clubs go through bad periods and like Man Utd, Chelsea will battle to try and get back to the top four this season. It is up to clubs like AFCB to put a proverbial spanner in the works and the game this weekend is a great opportunity for AFCB players to test themselves against the very best. Many thanks to Chelsea Daft, make sure you check out the site to see how their fans are viewing the build up to this clash.

Match Preview: Swansea v AFCB

Blogger Interview: Swansea Oh Swansea
Twitter: @StevenSOS1987

I had a real struggle to get hold of a Swansea blogger this time for Rival Lines. It seemed that perhaps a few sites were running scared of talking about their team facing the Cherries. Luckily though, I came across a Fanzine site called Swansea Oh Swansea and Steven Carroll duly obliged to take on my questions. It is a really important game for both clubs and being the first game after the international break I think it could define where the Cherries and the Swans need to strengthen, as both teams play a similar passing game and are both lacking that cutting-edge at the moment. Here's what Steven had to say on the matter.

CC: How does Garry Monk get more out of his team this season?

SOS: Hard one to answer really. The fans are a bit baffled as to why our form has dipped since the first month of the campaign. Ultimately though, he needs to make a couple of changes to the starting eleven as there's a few players not pulling their weight. Goal scoring is our biggest problem at the moment - only 5 in the last 8 games which is not good enough and it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

CC: Do you think Monk needs some more support as has been suggested with someone like John Toshack?

SOS: Something does need to changed but I'm not sure that would be the answer. It appears that the board would like to see someone more experienced join the backroom team but if Monk doesn't want it then we can't undermine him in my opinion. If someone does come in then I don't think Toshack would be the answer. He's a club legend but his time has come and gone. He hasn't managed domestically in this country since he left us over thirty years ago and the game has moved on a lot since then.

CC: Are more international call ups this year affecting the Swansea performances or is that a poor excuse for form?

SOS: It's easy to use that as an excuse, most of our players who represent their countries were doing so before this campaign, the only one who is new to it on a regular basis this term is Jonjo Shelvey. It's not something that washes with me, I can understand how after each international break if a player has travelled outside of Europe to represent his country that he may not be at the top of his game but the rest of them have no excuse. With the way the break works now, very often you will play your final international game on a Sunday or Monday so you get nearly a whole week to prepare for the next club game

CC: Were you pleased with the summer signings or do you think a couple of more first team signings would have helped?

SOS: Andre Ayew has been an excellent signing and is our top scorer with five goals - he's also the only player to score from open play since August if you don't include Harry Kane's own goal! The rest were more back up players which was on the whole what we needed but we should have signed another striker really. The fact that we didn't has been a mistake and it's cost us in recent games. [Ed- we know all about that at AFCB, sounds familiar].

CC: Have Swansea fans' expectations grown a bit bigger than perhaps they should have after last season?

SOS: I don't think so. Most of the fans realise that last year was pretty much as high as we can go without major investment. The expectation for this term was just to try and finish in the top ten again from my point of view, even if it was in a lower position than last season which I felt was well within our capabilities. At the moment you would have to say that is unlikely which is disappointing as I believe our players are capable of guiding us into the top half but are not showing it at the moment.

CC: Do you feel that Swansea have needed someone fresh up front like Eder who might be back for this match (I'll be pleased not to see the Gomis' Big Cat celebration this next weekend, even if he is in my fantasy league team)?

SOS: Yes, definitely. Gomis has no goal since August and not just that he's been very lacklustre and hasn't caused the opposition many problems. He is also offside an embarrassing amount. At the last count I think it's 26 times already this season, he's wasted so many attacks it's unreal. When playing well he's a handful and he's got more ability than Eder, but he's not showing it so it's time for him to be benched and the Portuguese international given a chance to start.

CC: Do you think Bournemouth passing game will be easier to play against than some of the teams you have played recently?

SOS: We hate teams who come to the Liberty and look to keep everyone behind the ball to frustrate us so playing Bournemouth should suit us better as I feel you won't do that and will look to have a go at us. However they could be famous last words as I'd be amazed if you didn't score, if you play as well as you did against Newcastle and as I've already alluded to we are struggling for goals ourselves. We will see but hopefully it will suit us.

CC: Are you sad to see the departure of Michu?

SOS: Not really, realistically he left 18 months ago. I remember on his last appearance for us at Hull in April 2014 all he was doing was berating team mates while not trying as hard as her should have been himself. I knew after that game that he didn't want to be here and thought it was best if he went elsewhere. It's a shame how things have turned out, he could have been a legend and he gave us some great memories but they seem like a lifetime ago now.

CC: Which player do you feel is playing best in your team at the moment?

SOS: Tough one to answer as the standards have dipped. However I'll say Ayew as he's the most likely to score at the weekend.

CC: How do you think Swansea will line up against the Cherries?

SOS: There could be changes but Monk has been fairly loyal to his main men so far so I think he's more likely to stick with them so I'll go for, Fabianski, Naughton, Williams, Fernandez, Taylor, Ki, Shelvey, Ayew, Sigurdsson, Montero, Gomis

CC: Is it easy to park near the Liberty stadium and is there anything AFC Bournemouth fans should look out for on their visit?

SOS: It's not great, there is some street parking but it's limited. There's a retail park but you'd be taking a risk parking there as you may get clamped. Things to look out for would be Coopers Arms which isn't too far from the away end if anyone wants a pint and for food Rossi's chip shop which is opposite the ground. The other thing would be my fanzine which I'll be selling by the lights opposite Rossis'!

CC: Thanks Steven for your comments on Swansea. It is good to know that some of my questions were tough to answer. I think we can safely say that both teams have lost their way a bit this season after reasonable starts. AFCB's problems are well documented with the injury list but I am struggling to see why Swansea have been lacking a bit of confidence of late. I hope AFCB fans make a beeline for the SOS fanzine which Steven will have crafted with a lot of care. In the meantime, do have a look at the Swansea Oh Swansea website.

Derby day Interview

Cherry Chimes chats with The Sunday Observer
Twitter @alansmith90

I spoke to Alan Smith at the Sunday Observer last week about the supposed rivalry or perhaps lack of it between southampton and AFC Bournemouth fans. The article that Alan has written is posted on the Guardian website today, but as my piece only made one part of his research for his article I thought it might be of interest for AFCB and Southampton fans to see what I was asked and my replies in full. So here you go

SO: Would you consider Southampton rivals at all considering that your only recent meetings were in League One in 10/11?

CC: While Southampton would not be at the top of my list for clubs I want AFC Bournemouth to beat out of the 92 clubs in the football league they would probably rank two or three. So I guess there is a derby feeling to ties against Southampton when they occasionally happen. It does not matter how often we play each other, they are the nearest professional club to AFC Bournemouth. The distance between the two clubs is only about 24 miles and while I'll admit Southampton are the bigger club with their history and fan base numbers, AFC Bournemouth fans want to beat them for local pride." We often sing the south coast is ours!" It's bragging rights I suppose. You don't want to go into work the next morning and have a Southampton fan rubbing your nose in it. AFC Bournemouth have always been the underdog but now we are playing at the same level and while some Southampton fans think of Bournemouth as a small club near to them that pleases some of them when they do well, I think it can come across as patronising at times to our fans. I have to also say some Saints fans are genuine in having AFC Bournemouth as their second club. I suppose we are like big brother and little brother - they tend to annoy each other now and again.

SO: Or historically were they considered more like neighbours and nothing more?

CC: Historically there has been a good deal of friendship I would say between the clubs. Players have been loaned between the two clubs and I am sure there were Southampton supporters who did not want to see the Cherries disappear completely when we fell on hard times and the same may have been felt by our fans about Southampton when they were in financial trouble.

In the past, if you wanted to see top-flight football you'd probably choose to go and watch at The Dell, as their ground was then. In the 1970s though the Cherries had big crowds of over 20,000 which people forget. In recent years with AFC Bournemouth being in the same league, as the Saints as recently as in 2010-11 in League One, I think the choice for some might have become more distinct now as to which club they want to follow. If loyalties were split in the past I don't see the next generation being the same way. Eddie Howe has generated a following that is very special for Junior and senior Cherries alike.

SO: Do you have any memories from those League One meetings?

CC: Oh yes, those League One beatings more like! AFC Bournemouth were ahead of Southampton in the league in 2010-11 as the Saints had started poorly and Alan Pardew had been sacked in August. They had still beaten us at their place in that month 2-0. But they came with a real rush at the end under Nigel Adkins. AFC Bournemouth also lost Eddie Howe to Burnley in January 2011 and under Lee Bradbury we were trying to hang on to a play-off place when the Saints visited Dean Court in March. I remember we scored first with Fulham loanee Lauri Della Valla, but then succumbed to a Saint's comeback and went down 1-3. Rickie Lambert made one of their goals and scored the third - I still dislike him today! They went on to get promoted and we lost in the play-offs to Huddersfield Town. Another brotherly "know your place" thumping given out to us!

SO: What's your take on Southampton loaning players to you in the past … and now being level with them?

CC: It has been quite a rise that AFC Bournemouth have had up the leagues and even as recently as our first season in the Championship we had southampton's Lee Barnard on loan. The deal going the other way recently was the deal with Adam Lallana, when he signed for Liverpool and kindly remembered his time as an academy player at Bournemouth in his contract, before his time at the Saints. We duly got a nice slice of the cake when the transfer went through, and yet some of our fans were still calling him our less friendly term for a Saints' man when he came on for Liverpool against Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup this last week.

Artur Boruc is our latest ex-Saints player and when he came there were a few typical fans who were less than overjoyed, but as soon as they saw the confidence and clean sheets he brought to the team he was accepted as seeing the light. That's why nearly all Southampton players come to Bournemouth eventually, isn't it? There have been lots of others, including Andrew Surman in our team now and goalkeeping coach Neil Moss.

Being level with Southampton is perhaps not quite true yet. We are in the same league, but we have a long way to go before battling for European competition places. We don't mind being the small brother at the moment, as long as we can give our sibling a bloody nose on Sunday!

Premier League

Match Preview: Southampton v AFCB
Blogger Interview: George Weah's Cousin
Twitter @gwcdotcom

After some heavy defeats I have been rather apprehensive about talking about Southampton who we play next. If there is a team I really don't want to lose to it is the Saints, but it is about pride for our beloved Cherries. So when I asked Chris Ryan the author of the famous George Weah's Cousin blog a few questions about the Saints, I hoped he would not feel too confident of a big score for the Saints at the weekend. Pleasingly, even some Saint fans are just happy to see AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League.

CC: I'd better ask what is the story behind the unusual name of your blog?

GWC: I wanted a different name for my blog, and one that might reflect the fact that I never wanted it to be taken too seriously. So I decided to make it a tribute to one of the silliest moments in Saints history; when Graeme Souness signed Ali Dia purely on the basis that he said he was 'George Weah's cousin'. The rest is history!

CC: What do you think is characteristic about the Saints under Ronald Koeman that perhaps was not there under Pochettino?

GWC: The ability to adapt and change tactics dependent on the situation. Pochettino never did that. The football under him was great, but became predictable and several teams worked it out. Koeman will happily go against his philosophies for the good of a result.

CC: Pelle has been brilliant for you but do you think he is an unfashionable kind of striker?

GWC: Yes and No. Someone described him as the perfect mix of 'Old fashioned English style centre forward' and 'Fancy Dan foreigner' which I think sums him up well. He can often look a little awkward, but his hold up play is so important to us and his goal record speaks for itself. If Harry Kane scored some of the goals Pelle has you'd never hear the end of it....

CC: How do you feel about the Saint's home form - inconsistent?

GWC: I think so. It's strange because we've not been beaten on the road yet. I think last season's success brought a new level of expectation and perhaps the home crowd is resonating that. We're still gelling though and I think the best is yet to come this season.

CC: Do Saint's fans still get a rough deal when it comes to knowing what is going on at your club? (I'm thinking about your rather irregular fan forums here)

GWC: Not at all. I think we have one of the most open managers and both the technical director (Les Reed) and Chairman (Ralph Krueger) are often making statements on strategy etc. Personally I find the idea of the 'fans forum' a little outdated, and dare I say it.... 'Small time.'

In our recent one, the panel were asked why someone who has a season ticket doesn't get any sort of discount scheme for merchandise etc? The next question was, why we don't tie players to longer term deals to prevent them leaving? Most football fans don't understand business and economics unfortunately. Maybe I'm harsh. but a guaranteed seat for less than the total of the asking price for all games is incentive enough for a Season Ticket isn't it?

CC: Jose Fonte continues to impress but are you surprised that other clubs did not come in for him last summer?

GWC: Not really. There was talk of Villa being interested but he's 31 now and I don't think he'd want to go to be honest. He's made a very good captain and doesn't get half the credit he should have in comparison to the mercenaries Lovren and Alderweireld.

CC: Has Virgil van Dijk impressed since his move from Celtic in the summer?

GWC: I had high expectations of him to be honest, but I've still been surprised. He is brilliant in the air, and also very good with the ball at his feet. I think he has a massive future and no doubt Saints will make a huge profit on him at some point.

CC: I expect you have seen the Cherries recent performances, but do you think Artur Boruc is still one of the best keepers you have had at the Saints?

GWC: He was very good for us (with the occasional meltdown thrown in) but I'm not sure I'd go as far as on the best. After a shaky start we looked far steadier at the back with Forster in goal. The great thing about Boruc is, his mistakes don't seem to knock his confidence at all.

CC: Mahrez of Leicester cause you a lot of problem down the left side in the second half of that match and AFC Bournemouth has Matt Ritchie coming at you in that position - a cause for concern?

GWC: He's your dangerman of that I have no doubt. My biggest concern is that we have a bad habit of backing off players with a good record of scoring from distance, and Ritchie certainly comes into that category. I'd wager Sadio Mane will cause your back four more problems than Ritchie does ours though.

CC: Is it strange to think of AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League and is it good for Southampton to have a local derby even if it isn't Pompey?

GWC: Considering I went to watch Luton v Bournemouth at Kenilworth Road only 7 years ago when both sides were in danger of losing their league status it certainly makes it strange. In terms of having a local 'derby', there is no denying that there will be interest in the game, that's natural, and yes with Pompey looking far from getting their act together it will be a refreshing change. It is a really boring subject to talk about a 'rivalry' between the two clubs though as historically it has never been the case. There are three types of Saints fan I think, the majority who see Bournemouth as a pseudo second club (a lot of these are from Dorset), the minority who are embracing this as a chance to generate something to fill the Pompey void and then those like me who are indifferent. At the moment you are just one of 19 teams in our way. Who knows though, if you can maintain your status in the Premier League for a few years it might heat up, I certainly like the idea of Pompey being sacked as rivals.

CC: Thanks Chris for some good memories and some better understanding for us AFCB fans on how the Saints are feeling ahead of the game. The Cherries record is not too good at St Mary's but I am hoping for a close game as that way you are unlikely to put five past us. Do check out the Saints take on Bournemouth on George Weah's Cousin as it talks about how many goals the Saints might get!! And it's a competition so at least we can nab some prizes off the Saint's fans.

An unashamed plug from me as well 

By the way, I have written some lines about the Southampton and AFC Bournemouth derby, rivalry or is it just brotherly love? It should be published in the Sunday Observer this weekend ahead of the game.

Match Preview: Liverpool v AFCB
Capital One Cup Fourth Round
Blogger Interview: Empire of the Kop

I caught up with Antoine who writes on the Empire of the Kop blog for Liverpool fans and hoped he would give us a bit of information on how the Klopp factor was going at Anfield. I think some of my questions were longer than his answers, but I don't think Liverpool fans are expecting their team to suddenly play sensational football with the way things have been going for them. Sadly for us, AFCB have a habit of revitalising Liverpool's season and if they are in need of improving their shooting practise it could be a difficult night. We always seem to play them just when they need a boost!

CC: What has Jurgen Klopp got to do to improve this Liverpool side?

EOK: Make them believe again.

CC: What have you made of Klopp's start?


0-0 Spurs
1-1 Rubin Kazan
1-1 Saints
Good so far but he does have a lot of work to do, we are still shaky at the back and don't have any strikers who are 100% fit. [Ed- if Liverpool are shaky at the back what can the Cherries' defencive qualities be called at the moment? porous?]

CC: How much of a loss are Danny Ings and Joe Gomez to you and re you worried about Daniel Sturridge lasting the season?

EOK: Sturridge is injured again, yes very worried about Ings we are lacking up front. [Ed - they still have Christian Benteke - Oh, no he's out as well now knee injury!]

CC: Will the Capital One Cup (League Cup) always have a special importance to Liverpool and their fans or do you want more than that these days?

EOK: At this point anything will do, we need to win to restore the belief.

CC: Did you feel really lucky to get through the last round of the cup against Carlisle Utd and do you blame the struggle that night on Brendan Rodgers?

EOK: Yes, we were lucky and yes Brendan was the chief culprit however the players were responsible too.

CC: How do you expect Liverpool to line up for this game?

EOK: I think that Klopp will go with a strong squad, will not be surprised if he starts with the same line up that played on Sunday against Southampton.

Liverpool team v Southampton

22 Mignolet
02 Clyne
37 Skrtel
17 Sakho
18 Moreno
07 Milner Booked
21 Lucas
23 Can
20 Lallana (Firmino 67)
10 Coutinho (Ibe 83)
27 Origi (Benteke 45)

CC: Thanks for Antoine for sending in some answers for Bournemouth fans. You can read more of his words on Empire of the Kop, including Jurgen Klopp's press interview. Whether Liverpool are shaky at the back or not, the Cherries have to find themselves again in this game. A solid performance is what I'd like to see whether AFCB progress or not. If Liverpool's quality is too much then we can't quibble, but I think all of us don't want to see anymore gifted goals on the part of AFCB. I'm making my way up to Anfield today and am looking forward to the match. I shall enjoy seeing what I can around the city and will hopefully bump into a few red scoucers before the game.

Match Preview

Man City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Typical City
Twitter: @TypicalCity

I was wondering if I would have to contact a sultan to get some information out of a Man City fan blog, but it appears that the wealth might not yet have trickled down to many of the Sky Blue fans who have followed their team through the good times and the bad. Who better to ask then for a verdict on how Man City are playing than to get in touch with Typical City. Alex Timperley was happy enough to explain that the Etihad is a place where football is a bit special these days.

CC: Tell us about how the Typical City blog got going?

TCB: Typical City was started at the beginning of the 2012/13 season by Rob Pollard and Rob Toole. There weren't really any good City blogs around at the time which seemed a bit strange for the newly minted Premier league champions and so Typical City was started to fill that hole. Even today the number of City blogs - especially ones which are actually good - is a lot lower than that of the other top teams. Since then the blog has expanded a lot and continues to grow.

CC: Pellegrini knows what it takes to win the Premier League, but even if he wins it with Man City this season will it be enough to save his job without success in Europe?

TCB: This is one of those questions where no one could honestly give you a definite answer. My gut says that unless he wins the Champion's League it will probably be the end of the road for him despite the contract extension this summer. It all depends on what Pep Guardiola does next summer. The people in charge at City have made no secret that he is their number one target and if Guardiola indicates he is available they will move heaven and earth to get him to City.

If Pellegrini does leave then he will do so with the good wishes of most of the fans. He has taken City to another level and kept his head (and won trophies) whilst a lot has changed around him. I will miss him when he goes. He's not been perfect, but he has done a fine job at what is surely one of the strangest places to be a manager in the modern game.

CC: When Man City lost to West Ham at home Pellegrini said the team was not aggressive enough and they also had a slow start against Newcastle, so do City need a spark to get going in games?

TCB: I'm wary of taking those two games and creating a larger narrative out of them but it is true that City have started slowly in a few games this season which is obviously not a good thing. There isn't specific cause for this but I would point to our current injury situation which has definitely had an effect on the team. We have only been able to field our first choice front four twice and the injuries to Kompany and Mangala have ensured that once again we have not been able to field a consistent central defensive pair.

On the other hand, those are the ropes in the Premier League and City need to be able to adapt to adverse conditions. Mostly we're fine but there have been one or two very frustrating lapses.

CC: Was the Spurs game a wake up call that came at a good time, if there can be a good time to have a defeat?

TCB: There isn't a good time to have a defeat really, is there! Spurs outplayed us in the second half and deservedly came away with the three points but who knows what would have happened if the linesmen hadn't missed the two offside Spurs goals? I'm hesitant to go into counter factual history but the timing of the two goals was important.

We have since won away at Gladbach and hammered Newcastle at home so the Spurs result is behind us now.

CC: Nasri has been out of the team for a while, but is his creativity something that the team really needs now with the latest batch of injuries?

TCB: Samir Nasri is a very important player in our side. He gets something of a bad rap from the press and football fans in general but in reality he works hard, never hides and is City's best player when it comes to keeping hold of the ball. He doesn't quite dictate things like David Silva does, but then neither does anyone else in football.

The idea that Nasri was set to warm the bench all season has arisen from somewhere but that was never going to be the case. I'd expect him to start this weekend and to give a good account of himself.

CC: We have seen players go to Man City and almost disappear so how important will it be for Wilfred Bony to get games now and to make a good impression?

TCB: Some players have "disappeared" as you put it but there has always been a reason for it. City isn't the graveyard for players it is made out to be. The only player who really was a mistake was Scott Sinclair. Both Sinclair and City made a mistake there. Apart from that there has always been a good reason why a player hasn't played very much beyond these tired old cliches about City not caring about English players/youth players etc etc. Not much is ever made of the players who have come to City and succeeded such as James Milner. If a player is consistently good enough they will always play.

And on that note, Wilfried Bony now has a chance to prove that he is good enough to be a Manchester City striker. Sergio Aguero picked up an injury playing for Argentina in the week and Bony will be getting a lot of playing time over the next few months. His start at City was curtailed by the African Cup of Nations and a few injuries but it's fair to say that he hasn't taken the chances he has had - quite often literally. He needs to to start scoring regularly over the next few weeks as otherwise it is easy to see him playing second fiddle his entire City career. He is not a young developing player like Kelechi Iheanacho. His time is right now and he needs to take it, starting with the game against Bournemouth this weekend.

CC: With Aguero, Silva and Kompany injured how do you see Man City lining up for the match against AFC Bournemouth?


Sagna - Otamendi - Mangala - Clichy
Fernando - Fernandinho - Nasri
De Bruyne - Bony - Sterling

(The midfield might be slightly different depending on Toure's fitness).

CC: Who have you been more impressed by Sterling or De Bruyne and why?

TCB: Can I be impressed with both of them? De Bruyne has made the flashier start to his City career. The Belgian already looks the real deal and you should take any bets above evens you can find for him scoring this weekend. He is in red hot form and looks deadly every time he gets the ball. His passing can go a little awry but that will improve as he gets onto the same wavelength as his new colleagues over time. His shooting is direct and powerful and his creative brain looks to be second to none. We have a real player here.

Raheem Sterling has also made a pretty good start at City. Despite the deeply unpleasant lust in the press to see him fail, Sterling has shown that he will be a part of this team for a long time to come. Not everything has worked out for him yet but he's 20-years-old and has suddenly been catapulted up a few levels and is finding his way. Opposition teams are rightly terrified of his pace and incision, but his most important attribute is that he drags defenders way out of position, freeing up our other forwards. It cannot be understated how much that ruins defensive game plans.

There is a lot more to come from Sterling and I cannot wait to see it.

CC: Do you see games like Bournemouth as a potential banana skin or just a regular Premier league fixture?

TCB: I see every game as a potential banana skin - whether that says more about me or City is open to debate...

Seriously though, I think we should win comfortably. Bournemouth are probably the only team with a worse selection of injuries to key players than City and I think that will be the difference. I expect to see the Bournemouth players to give a good account of themselves, but I feel our strength in depth will tell over 90 minutes. We can absorb important injuries much more than you can. I do not think you will embarrass yourselves like Newcastle did and I look forward to having Bournemouth visit.

CC: What do you think AFCB fans will enjoy most about visiting the Etihad stadium?

TCB: Well if you're like all the other Premier League teams you'll enjoy singing "Where were you when you were s_ _t?" in some abortive attempt at the dreaded Football Banter.

Other than the inevitable musical banter I hope you will like the stadium. Your fans will be in the newly expanded South Stand and it really is lovely. There's also entertainment beforehand in City Square which is normally extremely weird so have a look at that. Also, the football. I hope you enjoy the football and Kevin De Bruyne.

CC: It is great to get such a clear indication of a City fans feelings about their team and while I might have avoided antagonising Alex with a question about the other half of the city it seems that the Sky Blues will be the team to beat this season. For AFCB fans though that makes this game even more exciting as there is no doubt that the Cherries are the underdogs here and it will be fabulous to watch so many great players in front of us. We will be doing everything we can though to put the de Bruyne's of this world off their game though and just perhaps we can give Mr Pellegrini a bad day for once. Make sure you have a good look at A Typical City Blog to read more about the amazing talent at the Etihad and to see what Man City fans have been thinking in the build up to this game. I have also written some return answers for them so you can find out what I was asked about AFCB before the match.

Match Preview

Stoke City v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Four, Two,Three, One Stoke

Twitter @4231Stoke

This week I had a talk with Four, Two, Three, One Stoke blog, ahead of the Cherries next match. While Stoke have not managed to win at home yet and Mark Hughes is still looking to get the best from his new summer signings, I was wondering if the mood of the Potters was still optimistic for the season. Sam was kind enough to give AFCB fans a detailed insight into what is going on at the Britannia.

CC: How much are you enjoying the Mark Hughes style of play after the Pulis years?

4321S: We get asked this question a lot, the style under Hughes has much more fluidity but lacks that enjoyable comfort that we used to get from knowing that we could hold onto a lead if needed. If we could blend the two you'd probably have the perfect manager. One of the most refreshing aspects under Hughes is that we can clearly see how the players can be improved to take the club further and really challenge for those European fringe places.

CC: Stoke City have made some amazing signings this summer, especially Xherdan Shaqiri, so have your expectations higher this season despite the slow start?

4321S: We've started off slowly but that's no real surprise. It's been a theme under Hughes in all of his seasons here and also at previous clubs. Expectations are currently rock bottom among many fans (we must have the most bi-polar fans in the league). A few wins and people will be putting forwards as candidates to break into the top six again though, at 4231 we like to think we're fairly level-headed and as long as we keep ourselves within that mid-table mini-league we're fairly happy.

CC: How much has the team missed Ryan Shawcross and Bojan Krkic?

4321S:  We've missed Shawcross massively, purely on the fact that the team has barely trained without him being the centrepiece of the defence for at least five years. He's an irreplaceable player for us, and far more valuable than anyone could -or would- pay for him. Bojan has also been a miss, as shown by his almost immediate impact against Leicester. While we do have a lot of adequate replacements in the attacking areas of the pitch it's very hard to replace his almost psychic ability to find space in a tight game.

CC: With Begovic moving on in the summer, have you been impressed with Jack Butland?

4321S: Good lord yes! There were concerns from a lot of fans after his previous performances that he'd struggle to command his box but he's been exceptional. It's hard to think of a goalkeeper in Europe, let alone England who's in better form than him right now.

CC: Is it important for Stoke City to sort out this new contract with Jon Walters or do you expect him to be off in January?

4321S: For me it's a very important thing but I really wouldn't be surprised if he were to move on in January or the summer. I love the bloke, but everything will depend on how much playing time he can get between now and January 1st. He started last season off in a similar position behind a few players but after scoring against Swansea he never looked back and saw off all comers to be one of our most important players. Him and Bojan are telepathic and just one of those strike partnerships that work (think Quinn & Phillips, Bergkamp & Henry, Crouch & Defoe).

CC: Why do you think haven't Stoke City had a win yet - too many mistakes or unlucky?

4321S: A mixture of both really. We were unfortunate not to win against Liverpool we were by far the better team and against Spurs and Norwich we could've run out winners with the right stroke of luck. West Brom was a catastrophe and Arsenal away is a given thumping for us, we never perform there. We've lost a solid spine in N'Zonzi and Shawcross that would've made up for a lot, but without them our midfield is practically useless defensively and we don't really have the players in the squad to fix it. It's certainly making people appreciate the defensive work that N'Zonzi did alongside Whelan.

CC: Has Stoke City got many young players that could play in the cup competitions this season and who are very near to getting in the first team?

4321S: Ollie Shenton is the major starlet in the youth teams. He's 17 and made his league debut as a sub against Manchester City last season, he's also played in a few cup fixtures last year. There are strong rumours that he might be heading out on loan to the Championship so it will be a good opportunity to gauge his ability. He was very impressive in preseason. Other than that we recruited heavily for our U21's with Moha from Barca B, Sergi Molina - the Real Madrid C team captain and two Blackpool youngsters (Telford & Waddington) both of who impressed in the first team there. The real area of talent though is our U18's group, there are a number of very good players there.

CC: What can we look forward to seeing on our visit to the Britannia stadium?

4321S: The incinerator? It's not the greatest area for a stadium, there's very little surrounding it. Sorry. There's a couple of nice pubs nearby and all are pretty friendly for away fans.

CC: What do you make of AFC Bournemouth and their rise up the leagues?

4321S: We've enjoyed it and to join the media love-in we have loved watching Eddie Howe's progress. The recent run of 'surprise' teams to get promoted is far more fun to watch than a stale boring repeat of the same two sets of teams each year when relegated teams get straight back up. I guess in a way we kind of started that trend. It's also good to see a club like Bournemouth fight back to success from the financial ruins left by Redknapp (once again). That said, I don't like Harry Arter, had a disagreement with him on twitter over Scott Parker and he doesn't seem the brightest.

CC: What is your score prediction for the match?

4321S: I've got to go with a home win. Feeling a 2-1, a close game. We'll probably start fast and take a two goal lead again, we'll concede around the 70 minute mark and it'll be a nervy finish.

CC: Superb Sam! I really enjoyed that - especially the Harry Arter comment! He is very close to his brother-in-law so I am not surprised if he defended him, but we love Harry at AFCB as he always gives 100%. Sadly he had a bit of a setback this week but we hope to see him play again soon as he will add something to the Premier League. As an England fan I am keen to know that you rate Jack Butland so highly. I just hope that he is kept extremely busy on Saturday against a team that sure likes to attack. I can understand that you you predict a home win - good to see Stoke fans in good cheer. I am hoping that Peter Crouch does get a game, perhaps from the subs bench and am just glad none of our players have ponytails that he can pull on! 

AFCB fans make sure you wrap up warm when visiting the Britannia - I've heard it can get chilly up there. You can always warm up on local knowledge though about Stoke City FC and you'll find that at Four, Two,Three, One Stoke  

Match Preview
Preston NE v AFCB
Capital One Cup
Blogger Interview: Preston NE MAD

Twitter @PNEMAD

It's always great to find out what is happening with historic teams and you don't get much bigger than Preston North End. So ahead of the capital One fixture between Preston and AFCB I had a quick chat with Simon Ostiadal who writes on Preston North End MAD. Let's find out how strong the opposition are for this game.

CC: Last season Middlesbrough put Preston out in the second round of the Capital One Cup (sorry to remind you of that) but you got to the fifth round of the FA Cup going out to Man Utd - so Preston take cup competitions pretty seriously would you say?

PNEM: In league one a cup run meant more revenue whether league cup or FA Cup. In fine margins, with fair play, the additional revenue from cup games was a bonus. It also complemented our league form. Whilst changes will be made the match will be taken seriously.

CC: The match against Watford in the second round of the Capital One Cup was a big result as Watford played a strong side, but did you feel confident the way the team was playing before that match?

PNEM: Defensively we have been strong against the better teams being difficult to break down. It means we are always in the game and rarely take a beating. Watford couldn't break us down and we managed to hold on to an early goal lead.

CC: Strikers seem to have been in short supply by Simon Grayson has brought in Steve May and Eoin Doyle with Kevin Davies leaving, but are some of the low goal counts in matches a bit of a worry for Preston?

PNEM: Scoring has been our problem this season against championship and higher sides. We are set up not to lose meaning our goals mainly come on the counter. It hasn't helped with injuries and suspensions meaning we have had to play one up front at times. Hopefully the new boys will assist.

CC: Joe Garner is the striker that was in great form last season with 25 goals - I'm surprised that other teams did not look at him or perhaps they tried last summer. Can he do it again in the Championship? 

PNEM: Garner will find it harder simply because the defences are tougher and more streetwise. He gets frustrated too easily and whilst I think he will score goals when with a partner his tally will be a lot less than last season.

CC: Who are the wingers in the team and do they have a big impact in the way Preston play?

PNEM: We tend to play wing backs at the moment. New boys Vermijl and Cunningham play whilst the out and out wingers Humphrey and Reid only get limited game time. Unfortunately there's no Present day Tom Finney!

CC: What sort of team would you expect Simon Grayson to play against AFC Bournemouth - will he rest many for the Wolves match the following weekend?

PNEM: He will rotate but still at a strong side. September is a busy month with the league programme. The squad is fairly strong.

CC: Kris Kirkland seems to be being kept out of the side so how well is Jordan Pickford playing in goal since his signing from Sunderland - best loan signing of the summer?

PNEM:  The last few seasons we have picked up young keepers on loan - Rudd from Norwich, Johnstone from United and now Pickford. He seems strong on crosses good shot stopper and high on confidence at the moment.

CC: What do you think Preston fans expect from their team after such a big season in 2014/15 - is Championship survival enough in 2015/16 and a good cup run - perhaps Preston are finally getting the hang of play-off having won 1 in 10?

PNEM:  I think a stable season is in order and anything in mid-table to build on for the future would be ideal. There are games we should win but also many tough games in this league.

CC: Thank you for those comments Simon. Please visit Preston North End MAD for more information on how Preston North End have been doing this season. Well, Preston will be looking to bounce back from their weekend defeat at Brentford in the league, but the Cherries can make quite a few changes for this game. I don't think the Cherries will be able to ease up on this game as it would be easy for them to slip up at Deepdale.

Over on the Premier Talk tab we ask - Can the shock results keep coming?

Match Preview

Norwich v AFCB
Interview: The Pink' Un
Twitter: @pinkun

Some of you may remember that last year we spoke to a reporter from the Pink' Un which does match reports and covers the news on Norwich City FC. Well I got back in contact with Paddy Davitt who is the local correspondent for the Pink' Un with Norwich City FC, so he's up on all the news on the Canaries and very knowledgeable on the players and the mood at Carrow Road. That being the case I dug quite deep to see what he could tell us - so there are lots of questions to be answered. Let's press on.

CC: Norwich had a great 2014/15 season but do you think going up by the play-offs put you at much of a disadvantage to Bournemouth and Watford who also came up?

PD: Normally you would say it does, given the play-off winning club have less time to plan and to prepare for the task of going into the Premier League. However, when Norwich went down 12 months earlier they made a conscious decision to retain the majority of that squad who had operated in the Premier League for the previous three seasons. That meant they still had the core of a set of players who know what the top flight was all about, in contrast perhaps to the two clubs who went up automatically who had little or no Premier League experience and had to address that over the summer.

CC: Neither Bournemouth or Norwich have kept a clean sheet yet but are you happy with your keeper and back four?

PD: John Ruddy’s season so far sums up how hit and miss the Canaries have been in terms of their defensive solidity. He really had little or nothing to do against Sunderland and Stoke City yet in both games Norwich were punished for slackness on set pieces. Against Crystal Palace and Southampton, prior to the international break, he was kept very busy and despite a string of saves was beaten three times in each of those games. Norwich’s vulnerability on set pieces reflects badly perhaps on the whole side rather than just the back four and against the Saints they had to play with 10 for an hour after an early sending off, so its probably hard to offer a definitive judgement at this early stage. That said, I think most fans would have expected a central defender to arrive in the transfer window and City were of course heavily touted with Steve Cook on deadline day.

CC: Alex Neil has said that Norwich is not a good proposition for some players to come to, but are you disappointed not to have landed Benik Afobe and Jon Walters in this last window?

PD: Neil made it clear he wanted to attract a striker and while City were knocked back with enquiries for both of those mentioned, plus the likes of Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray, who ended up at the Cherries, they did seal a move for Dynamo Kiev frontman Dieurmerci Mbokani. The Congo international has played for Anderlecht, Wolfsburgand Monaco so clearly has the pedigree and looks to have the physical prowess that should suit the Premier League. I think the point Neil was making about the likes of Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford is trying to attract the level of top player who doesn’t fear in 12 months time they could be back in the Championship. That’s even before you get into the financial aspect of competing with clubs with much deeper resources.

CC: Do you think Cameron Jerome will be City's top scorer this season?

PD: Given the arrival of Mbokani he might struggle to get as much game time to repeat last season’s feat of finishing top scorer. Neil favours the one up top option and Jerome has already illustrated this season he can offer that threat from the bench. He should already have one Premier League goal to his name, but for a bizarre refereeing decision on the opening weekend when his bicycle kick ‘goal’ from close range against Palace was deemed to be dangerous play.

CC: Is the signing of Dieumerci Mbokami a big gamble in that respect or does his record at Dynamo Kiev make you think he will do fine at Norwich?

PD: Touched on it earlier and of course any time you bring a new player into English football there is going to be an element of calculated risk as to how well and how quickly they can adapt. Mbokani certainly fits the profile of the type of striker Neil wants in his side. You wouldn’t say he has a prolific goalscoring record if you look at his career to this point but if he can offer that presence in the penalty box Norwich lack then it could be good business.

CC: Are you surprised that Bradley Johnson moved to Derby in this latest transfer window?

PD: The timing of Johnson’s departure in the closing hour of deadline day was a huge surprise as there had been little or no speculation on his future. Allied to that, he was one of the key factors in the club’s return to the Premier League last season, which was recognised by the supporters who voted him their player-of-the-year after a career-best 15 goals in a season. But this time around he found himself out of the side in the opening weeks of the Premier League season and given the money Derby County offered you could say it was a win, win for both parties. First-choice left-back Martin Olsson is close to a return to the side after summer shoulder surgery, which in all probability will push big-money signing Robbie Brady further forward down the left flank and that would have limited Johnson’s game time even further.

CC: Alex Neil took a strong line with Lewis Grabban's recent AWOL incident and Lewis also found himself in trouble at the end of last season at Rotherham so have Norwich fans been disappointed with his actions?

PD: Given Bournemouth head to Carrow Road this weekend the crowd reaction towards him could be one of the most interesting sub-plots. That’s if Neil opts to bring him straight back in after his suspension. Personally, I think he might keep him out of the squad to avoid a circus, given Bournemouth’s public interest in the transfer market and Grabban’s actions around that Rotherham League Cup tie and the fallout since. As always with these types of episode, the full facts are unlikely ever to come out into the public domain but certainly it is fair to state Grabban has never really won over the majority of Norwich fans since his arrival from the Cherries in 2014.

CC: Who do you think are the best Premier League opponents that you have played in the four games and what player has impressed you most from one of those teams?

PD: Southampton were very good prior to the international break, albeit the man advantage made the result almost inevitable. Sadio Mane showed why he was touted with a move to Manchester United with his drive and willingness to cut inside from the right flank and cause Norwich all sorts of problems.

CC: Which of Norwich's summer signings have you been most pleased with?

PD: Robbie Brady was the stand out arrival Norwich made over the summer and that should prove shrewd business. Still only 23, Brady has already underlined his versatility deputising for Martin Olsson at left-back. By the Irishman’s own admission, he prefers to operate further forward and should get his wish when Olsson returns to first team action. Norwich fans have already seen glimpses of his quality on set pieces and there is no doubt he looks a top drawer operator.

CC: Alex Neil like Eddie Howe has a steep learning curve in the Premier League but Neil has proved to be a strong and determined manager - is that what Norwich have lacked for a while?

PD: The comparisons with Paul Lambert’s era are inevitable, given not only their Scottish roots, but that galvanising effect they both had on Norwich. Chris Hughton and Neil Adams were in charge between Lambert’s departure and Neil’s arrival and both were much more measured operators – certainly in how they carried themselves publicly. Neil showed again most recently in dealing with Grabban’s absence at Rotherham, both in his actions behind closed doors and what he said to the media, that there is only one man in charge. But if you speak to his players they have so much respect for his methods and the way he fostered a common sense of purpose which carried them to promotion barely five months after his arrival, so it would be wrong to assume Neil is a manager who operates with just the stick and not the carrot.

CC: Which three teams do you feel will be relegated from the Premier League in 2015/16?

PD: Having played Sunderland on Wearside and won 3-1, they have a huge job ahead in pulling off another escape act. If you look at it one, if not two, of the promoted clubs always historically find it tough to survive so Watford perhaps under new a manager and with a huge turnover of players may struggle. Aston Villa have found it tough going in recent seasons and despite an influx of new players they must be in the mix given the loss of some key players in the summer; notably Christian Benteke.

CC: Thank you Paddy for such in depth answers. I hope readers on Cherry Chimes learnt a few things about Norwich from that. I think most of us know we will have a hard game against the Saints in a few weeks time, so it not so surprising that Paddy was impressed with our near neighbours. But it's Norwich that we have to worry about for the moment. My feelings are that we might not see Lewis Grabban on Saturday. Still, I believe it will be a fiercely contested match and one that both sides will feel than can win.  Please check out the Pink' Un for the latest stories on Norwich FC.

Match Preview
West Ham Utd v AFCB
Blogger Interview: West Ham Till I Die
Twitter: @westhamfootball

It's hard for the Cherries to keep under the radar these days and us fans seem to be equally in high demand so when Sean Whetstone of The West Ham Til I Die blog asked me to share my views with his readers on the fortunes of AFCB so far it was a good opportunity to get a little more information on West Ham's preparations for the match against AFC Bournemouth and to see what another Hammer fan thought about how Slaven Bilic would do this season. So here you go - some more Rival Lines.

CC: Were you pleased to have a change of manager over the summer?

WHTID: I think it was time for a change for both parties, Sam Allardyce did what he was asked (just) for the seasons he was in charge but we lost our passion and he never bonded with the fans really. His arrogance finally cost him his job but I don't wish ill as long as he keeps his mouth shut about his time at West Ham and saying we were ungrateful.

CC: What do you make of the disciplinary start you have had this season - unlucky or deserved?

WHTID: Slightly ironic that we win the fair play league last season and get a Europa league place then get three players sent off plus a manager. On top of that we lost Adrian at the weekend for three games. I think we have been slightly unlucky, we are not a dirty team.

CC: The Cherries stuck eight past Darren Randolph when he was last in a Birmingham shirt at St Andrews so I guess he might not feel overly confident going into this game?

WHTID: Actually you have put 16 goals past Randolph over the past three matches against him when in goal for Birmingham [Ed- don't worry it was only 12 he let in against the Cherries last season in total but whose counting?]. I think you will find our defence slightly more robust that Birmingham's. A few fans are worried about him after watching him in the Europa league. This is his one chance to shine. If he fails on Saturday he is unlikely to get another chance. He has big shoes to fill in the shape of Adrian but I wish him well.

CC: Your start against Arsenal was terrific what did Bilic get so right in that game?

WHTID: Bilic took a gamble and played Reece Oxford, everyone had Arsenal to win and we surprised them. Great team performance and worthy of the two nil win. Mauro Zarate has an excellent game too and showed his talent to his new manager.

CC: Do you think there is more pressure at home on the West Ham players as they started slowly against Leicester or is there another reason for that first half performance?

WHTID: Leicester City put 10 men behind the ball and made it very difficult for us to play our game, far play to them that's their job. The damage was down in the first half. We had a good second half but couldn't make up the ground. Yes the Ref had a part to play but no use moaning about it, swings and roundabouts, some decisions go your way and some don't. It usually evens itself out over the season.

CC: West Ham have brought in some quality players but which player will give AFC Bournemouth the most problems on Saturday?

WHTID: Dimtri Payet is amazing with one assist and one goal already, hoping he creates a fantastic partnership with Diafra Sakho who has yet score in the first two games. Lanizini is due to replace Zarate who is injured and both new boys Obiang and Ogbonna are likely to feature.

CC: What kind of view do fans get from the Trevor Brooking stand?

WHTID: My season ticket is the Sir Trevor Brooking lower stand so I bias, the atmosphere is amazing and it's the best place in the stadium for noise. Obviously it's behind the goal so the view is not the best but you can be guaranteed lots of banter with West Ham fans in the away section.

CC: Are you looking forward to moving to the Olympic stadium or are you apprehensive about it?

WHTID: I am very much pro stadium move and can't wait to move in. It is a real opportunity for us to move up a gear in the Premier League and it is a shame our move is dominated by talks of state aid and tax payers money. It would have been a white elephant had West Ham not bid to move in and people forget we only rent it for 25 days per year, so we have to get up our permanent home in a way. I recently visited the Stadium during the Athletics weekend and it still has that WOW factor!

CC: West Ham pinched Harry Redknapp from us in the past and there were whispers that you were chasing Eddie Howe this, but would you say most of the Hammers' fans want a manager that has played for the club?

WHTID: Well you have to remember, Harry is East end boy and West Ham through and through having played for us more than the Cherries. He joined us from Tottenham in 1962 as a boy and played for us between 1965 and 1972 before joining Bournemouth. So you pinched him from us first! As for Eddie Howe, I know our board greatly admire him and it was on a B list of candidates but I don't think they would take the gamble a year before the Olympic Stadium and I don't think Howe would leave you either in his moment of glory. I like Eddie Howe and hope it will became a great English manager.

CC: What is your score prediction for the game?

WHTID: Well you showed you can handle yourself with Liverpool and mix it with the big boys. I think you will stop us playing our game like Leicester City did and it is likely to be a low scoring game. I predict a 1-0 narrow win for the Hammers. From set play from a Payet corner and Sakho getting his first goal of the season.

CC: A pretty good set of answers there from Sean. I'm not sure about Eddie Howe ever being on a B list but I liked Sean's recovery! As for the Olympic stadium it looks like that story will run and run with eight London teams now deciding that they don't like the idea. I wonder where those clubs were when Leyton Orient were trying to make a stand a couple of years ago. Personally I'll be please that the stadium is being used and not being knocked down. West Ham are all about legacy with their great history and may be the Cherries can make some of their own history at Upton Park this weekend by getting their first win in the Premier League.

Please check out more of Sean's great words on the West Ham Till I Die Blog. Bianca Westwood has a good piece on Slaven Bilic and thoughts after their Arsenal and Leicester City games - From ecstasy to agony - well worth a read.

Match Preview: West Ham v AFCB

22 August 2015
Blogger Interview: Iron Views
Twitter: @ironviews 

It is Rival Lines time. I had tried to get hold of our old friend Liam Spencer who writes on Iron Views last week and found that he was on his travels which left me stumped for a bit, but then I was lucky enough to come across his good friend Stuart Plant, who also writes on Iron Views! So with the visit to the Hammers quickly coming up, let's find out how confident they are of adding to their points tally this weekend.

CC: It was a great start to for you against Arsenal but was that result a surprise even for Irons fans?

IV: Before the game, any fan who said we'd beat Arsenal was either talking in jest, or, perhaps already had too much to drink During the game though, it was more than comfortable, never did I fear we'd lose the match - especially after the second goal. That, in itself was a surprise - as under Sam even at 2-0 up all our fans would've thought "when's their comeback going to start then!"

CC: Who in particular do you feel wasn't so great last season and needs to have a big season for the Hammers this time around?

IV: Nolan, Zarate, Jarvis.

Nolan delivered in his early stages at the club, and, on the whole was a brilliant purchase and solid captain. Now though, he just doesn't have the legs, Bilic has given Noble the captaincy, so, seems there's no chance of redemption for Nolan.

Zarate and Jarvis are two who were given chances in our Europa stint, Jarvis was very impressive and actually ran at opposing players for the first time in years! Zarate has proven that he is capable, but, is awfully greedy. He'll be the main player to benefit from Bilic coming in though for a second chance.

CC: If you sign anyone else before the transfer window shuts where do you think you need strengthening?

IV: Feels like déjà vu again. We desperately need another out and out striker, and, a defensive midfielder too ala Song (injury permitting) would be perfect.With only Sakho as our fit senior striker, we can't rely on him and Zarate for goals.

CC: Would you have liked more of a run in the Europa League?

IV: Would it have impacted our PL campaign? Yes. Is our squad to thin for giving four competitions an equal go? Yes.

Would it have made the last season at Upton Park more magical with those night games? Of course. That's the sticking point for many fans as they wanted that. Realistically, it's probably for the best though.

Saying that, AZ Alkmaar (who we'd have played if got through to play-off) are no pushovers.

CC: How pleased are you that Slaven Bilic has given 16-year-old Reece Oxford

IV: Massively.

Seen him for the U21's and England U17's who he captains, and he is genuinely an exciting prospect. Saying that, I didn't expect him to play as he did up against Cazorla and Ozil given he is predominantly a CB, just with the technique and ability to play further forward.

Against Leicester his inexperience showed though, which is fine, he's 16 and just picked up his GCSE results so you can't berate the boy too much.

The club have handled it well, anyone who didn't feel chuffed for him after hearing his interview post-Arsenal game has no heart. Came across so well, and, level-headed. If he carries on his development steadily, well, the talk of Rio comparisons will be a thing of the past.

CC: Bilic has brought in quite a few midfield players like Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Poyet and Peitro Obiang, do you think that was where West Ham were weak last season?

IV: Yes and no.

Payet was his main target, the club got him. I know it's early doors, but he looks like he could well be one of, if not, THE best transfers this Summer In The PL.

Obiang comes with a lesser reputation outside of Italy where he was playing, but, was highly regarded by their fans. You can see why after his 45mins debut last week too. Lanzini is young and raw, if we build him up though, he could be something special.

CC: What did you feel about how west Ham played in the first half against Leicester - not at the races?

IV: I wrote in a preview piece that it'd be won and lost on the wings. Leicester have proven how strong they are there, and, did so again! Bilic was naive to think he'd get away with the thin formation used against Arsenal against a team who optimise the wings.

CC: Are you worried about Darren Randolph coming into goal? [Ed - AFC Bournemouth put 12 goals past him last season!]

IV: In his matches in Europa and Pre-season, he has looked rather suspect to put it mildly. He did have a good reputation amongst Brum fans I believe, so we've got no choice but to support him. He's a West Ham player, so he'll get my utmost respect and support...as long as he doesn't let in any(!) or at least anywhere near that many at the weekend!

When you take a punt on a free transfer, of a back up keeper, from a lower league, it's always a gamble. Talk of us looking for another keeper purely on Adrian's red card are beyond ridiculous. [Ed- West Ham appealed against Adrian's red card against Leicester City but failed so Randolph looks like he's in for West Ham's next three matches unless he gets injured or sent off himself]

CC: Who do you hope is in the side to play AFC Bournemouth?

IV: After his influence in the second half, I really want to see Obiang start in place of Oxford. Other than that, our long term injuries remain the same meaning it'll most probably be Zarate and Sakho up top, the midfield picks itself now that Obiang is back too.

CC: Do you expect to win easily against the Cherries?

IV: It doesn't matter if we had Messi, Suarez and Carroll (ha!) starting upfront, you cannot EXPECT anything from games in this league. We've already witnessed that across the league this year. So, no, in a nutshell! I hope we do, if our players play to their potential we 'should', but, these are all based on if, buts, and maybes.

Something, the Premier League doesn't take into account!!!

CC: Any advice for first time visiting fans coming to Upton Park - anything they should make sure they get to see in or around the ground?

IV: Just try and soak it up id say, I guess? It's not a dazzling area, or a state-of-the-art ground, but, there's magic around the place when it's match day.

The WC statue is an obvious one to see, as it should be something all fans of Football, and, history should see. The fans love an away section who have some good banter/chants too, so hopefully there's some of that too-and-fro.

CC: Many thanks to Stuart for putting his views across and for giving us such a good insight as to what it feels like to be a West ham fan at the moment. You can follow Stuart @ironviewsStu and please catch up with what he and Liam have been writing Iron Views - Bullet point breakdown, Payet deal suggests a new era and west Ham's European cowardice (their headlines not mine) are well worth a read and there are lots of other features and news on the site.

If you enjoyed that run in with a West Ham look out for Rival Lines again before the weekend as we have west ham Til I Die blogger Sean Whetstone also taking part in a Rival Lines - Hammer fans just love the banter don't they.

Match Preview: Liverpool FC v AFCB

17 August 2015
Blogger Interview: This is Anfield
Twitter @MattLawson 

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Matt Ladson, who writes for the This is Anfield site, and he was happy to give me the full low down on what had been happening at Liverpool over the summer and what we can expect in terms of the players that might give the Cherries a rather tough evening at Anfield on Monday night.

CC: What is the general feeling like with Anfield fans for the new season having seen Gerrard and Sterling depart?

TIA: It's less about those two departures and more about the seven who have arrived. If we'd signed these 7 last summer, we'd have been a hell of a lot better off last season.

The general feeling though is that optimism is pretty low. I myself get optimistic when thinking about a new attack built around Coutinho and Firmino, but there are doubts over Benteke and we can only hope Sturridge returns and stays fit. Then there's the feeling that Rodgers doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes, and has started with Lovren ahead of Sakho, and playing 4231 - a formation that hasn't worked for us since 2009.

CC: How well did pre-season games go for Liverpool?

TIA:As well as pre-season games can go. Not sure why anybody even takes notice of them to be honest, 20 years ago I doubt we even knew the results of most of them. We played pretty crap teams in every game.

CC: Is James Milner the best bit of incoming business that Liverpool have done this summer or does he not excite you?

TIA: Best business, time will only tell. Firmino could be that if he provides the spark and unpredictability we need, even if we have paid a lot for him. Milner though is more efficient business and is definitely a good signing given our squad make-up at present.

CC: How highly do you rate Danny Ings and do you expect him to get more of a chance than Rickie Lambert did in a Liverpool shirt?

TIA: I think he's a good player, but he'll probably end up like Lambert, yes. Which is a shame. I don't understand why we keep signing players who clearly need to be playing regularly to get anywhere near their best form

CC: Christian Benteke reportedly cost £32.5 million. It is expensive to buy from another Premier league club, but would you have preferred a striker from a foreign league?

TIA: Possibly, but then Rodgers has made it clear his desire to sign Premier League proven players - which is a complete myth that this will somehow help the transition. Torres and Suarez are the best two forwards we've signed in the last decade, both came from abroad and didn't need time to find their feet.

CC: Liverpool have had some goalkeeping problems in recent seasons so wa it not much of a surprise to see a young keeper like Adam Bogdan sign for the reds?

TIA: Bogdan's 27, he isn't young. [Ed - not a bad age for a keeper surely?] I can't understand the signing. It's pretty unambitious. If Mignolet gets injured or loses form again, we're not much better off than last season.

CC: You had a win at Stoke last weekend so does that take the pressure off in any way for Liverpool's first home game or would you expect a lot of criticism if you did not get a result against a newly promoted side?

TIA: Somewhat but there will huge expectation to win this game - especially knowing the fixtures that follow these opening two. Getting six points from these two opening games will be essential to keep the pressure off during that run.

CC: A lot has been said about Liverpool's difficult opening fixtures but are you particularly worried about the first 10 games?

TIA: Yes and no, there's that whole idea that the 'top' teams aren't usually in top form early in the season so arguably it's a good time to play them. But then Rodgers should be worried because a poor run in those 10 games will see huge pressure on him.

CC: Brendan Rodgers has brought in Sean O'Driscoll to his coaching staff who is another champion of the 'play from the back game' - had Liverpool been drifting away from their famous passing game?

TIA: Not at all. In Rodgers' first season we passed too much. In his second season we were quicker to get it forward but not long ball, more quick counter attack. Last season we had no identity at all. More concerning is the signing of Benteke and if that will lead to that; Mignolet to Benteke must have been one of our highest pass combinations vs. Stoke, hopefully this isn't a trend.

CC: How do you think AFC Bournemouth will get on in the Premier League?

TIA: I think your opening game will pretty much sum up your season; do well, earn respect, but ultimately not score enough goals. If Eddie Howe can find a system that ensures goals, then your chances will be much better. I think you'll get a few surprise upsets against big sides, but equally struggle when the squad is thin.

CC: Are Liverpool going to make the top four this season?

TIA: Probably not, but much may depend on how the transfer window ends. If United lose de Gea and fail to sign a centre-back, I can easily see us finishing above them. They have huge weaknesses. It will be a close run.

CC: How do you expect Liverpool to line up against the Cherries?

TIA: Either the team that started vs. Stoke, or the team that finished vs. Stoke. My (and most fans') preference would be for the latter.

Mignolet - Clyne - Skrtel - Lovren - Gomez - Can - Milner - Henderson - Firmino - Coutinho - Benteke

CC: Any players that are definitely out of the game?

TIA: Sturridge, Flanagan, Allen, plus the unwanted trio of Balotelli, Borini and Enrique

CC: What is your score prediction for Liverpool v AFC Bournemouth?

TIA: Liverpool 3-1 Bournemouth

CC: Thanks for coming on Cherry Chimes Matt. You can see more about how Liverpool fancy their chances against the Cherries at This is AnfieldI don't think there is a good time to play Liverpool but if they are not quite in full swing yet we might hope that AFCB can get something on Merseyside, but it would probably be AFCB's biggest result ever. Philippe Coutinho has already shown the kind of form he is in last week at Stoke. Let's see if the Cherries become a bit better known themselves after this 90 minutes, perhaps they can give Brendan Rodgers just a bit of a headache.

Please also see my return interview with This is Anfield, where I answer Matt's questions to me on AFC Bournemouth ahead of the match.

Rival Lines

Match Preview
Exeter City v AFCB friendly
Blogger Interview: North Devon Grecians
Twitter @ndgrecians

It didn't take me long to find a West country contact for an inside view on what Exeter City's preparations have been like this summer. If you remember we had a word with Philip Sanders about a year ago and he is still fanatical about Exeter City as he is chairman of the North Devon Grecians. So how are matters down at St James Park?

CC: Are you happy to see Paul Tisdale stay at Exeter City for such a long time?

NDG: Great question and one which I feel splits the City supporters. There is no doubt Paul is a very intelligent person held in high regard by his peers. However he fails to endear himself to the supporters with what at times appears to be an arrogant facade overhaul I am pleased he is still the Manager of Exeter City Football Club.

CC: What has been the best news so far about the summer signing news for Exeter fans?

NDG: We signed an experienced goalkeeper in Olejnik who I feel will give us stability at the back and give our two young keepers time to develops. Holmes showed last season when on loan to us he is a strong positive left sided player with the ability to cross the ball accurately. Brown and Oyeleke I haven't seen as yet but the right age to establish them in the game.

CC: Midfielder Matt Grimes was snapped up by Swansea last January so is it a real struggle to keep hold of your good young players?

NDG: Yes on two fronts. Finance will always be a challenge for a club like the City. We are a Supporters Trust Club and therefore no benefactor in the background to plough money in regardless. Secondly players with such ability must be allowed to progress their careers.

CC: What do you feel about the other pre-season friendlies Exeter have and the teams you'll be playing?

NDG: I consider this year we have a good split of friendlies which should lead us into the season 'up and running'.

CC: You start your league campaign against Yeovil - that must be a full house for you surely?

NDG: Great opening match which I would love to think will give us full house.

CC: Can you get out of League Two in the right direction this coming season or do you think League Two is much harder this coming season than last?

NDG: I think the standard of league two will be similar to the last season. In July I am always confident of promotion!

CC: What is the pitch like at St James Park at the moment - any re-turfing been done - is it lush and green?

NDG: Over the last few seasons our playing surface as been excellent. Something I believe Paul insist on. I think during the close season it has been reseeded.

CC: I hear there are development plans for the ground - do you need more capacity?

NDG: There are plans to develop the ground but very much in the early stages. Don't feel capacity is the problem rather the old grandstand and away supporters end which for the 21st century are not acceptable.

CC: How do you expect the Exeter team to set up against AFC Bournemouth? - Pick the team if you can

NDG: Impossible to predict but sure the majority of the squad will be give a run out and perhaps a couple of players still on trail.

CC: Are there any AFC Bournemouth players that you look forward to seeing play?

NDG: I saw the cherries play a couple of seasons ago and was very impressed with Matt Richie. Now tell me he no longer at the club.

CC: Is it annoying for Exeter fans to see the Cherries in the Premier League or does it inspire the fans and the players to know that a team can rise through the leagues? I hope it's the latter.

NDG: Oh, I like this question. Bournemouth reaching the Premier League was one of the highlights of last season for me. If proves the pyramid system works. No words can express my admiration for your manager Eddie Howe and the set up he has put in place.

Finally following on from the last question I wish everyone connected to the AFC Bournemouth a successful season and make no mistake you deserve your Premiership status.

CC: Well it was great to hear from Philip again and very pleasing to know that at least one Exeter City fan wishes AFCB all the best in the Premier League. If you visit the North Devon Grecians' site you'll see that they are already checking on Exeter City's form with their Scottish tour.

Transfer gossip: AFCB have been linked with Jordan Rhodes of Blackburn Rovers, reports Shoot Magazine

Meanwhile AFCB's first home match against Aston Villa is to be shown on Setanta TV. The match time though remains unchanged.

Match Preview: Philadelphia Union v AFCB
15 July 2015
Blogger Interview: The Brotherly Game
Twitter @BrotherlyGame

It has been a little while since we have had a Rival Lines feature on Cherry Chimes so I thought it was time to start the new season of these features with an interview with the Brotherly Game which is worked on by Eugene Rupinski. Eugene is certainly looking forward to seeing the Cherries play Philadelphia Union at the PPL stadium and he's even a big fan of a fellow Polish player who signed for the Cherries this summer.

CC: Who are the owners of Philadelphia Union and how big is the home support?

BU: The Philadelphia Union are owned by a consortium of local businessmen. Jay Sugarman is the primary owner of the club, having made his money with iStar Financial – a real estate investment trust. His partner and the guy driving the organisation is Nick Sakiewicz. Sakiewicz is a very polarising figure here, as a lot of the blame for the club's poor player acquisition decisions often falls on him. He does himself no favours by getting into verbal spats with fans, who have had numerous protests regarding his involvement with the club. There are other investment groups that are stakeholders, but Sugarman and Sakiewicz are the main men.

CC: Is it exciting to be in a young league that is still developing and with Philadelphia Union only being founded in 2007 - you are making history all the time?

BU: It is exciting, and sometimes it's easy for the fans here to forget that the club and the league are so young. While founded in 2007, the club didn't take the pitch until 2010 - so there are only six seasons of experiences to draw from. The Union (and Major League Soccer as well) are building a culture around the game. Some of it gets its roots from England and the rest of Europe, some of it gets its roots from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and some of it is uniquely American.

PPL Park with bridge in the background.
CC: What is the Lamar Hunt Us Open Cup and how important was it for Philadelphia to win it?

BU: The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the American equivalent of the English FA Cup. It's an open tournament, and for the past 102 years teams have fought to hoist it. There have been amateur clubs from the Philadelphia area that have won it in the past - Bethlehem Steel FC won it a record five times in the 1910's and 1920's, and the Philadelphia Ukrainians won it four times in the 1960's. The Union wanted to take their place among those legendary clubs and got within inches of winning it last season, hitting the woodwork tied 1-1 late in regulation and losing 3-1 in an overtime heartbreak to the Seattle Sounders. The Union are back in the quarterfinals this season, and we are all hopeful to witness the club lift its first ever major trophy later this year.

CC: What can you tell us about Jim Curtin your current manager at the club and how do his teams like to play?

BU: Jim is a Philadelphia area native and spent eight seasons in MLS as a defender with the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA. He became interim manager last season when former manager John Hackworth was sacked, and Curtin was formally brought in as manager in November of 2014.

The fans here love and respect Jim. He doesn't sugarcoat things, he doesn't dodge questions, and he has worked hard to get the Union headed in the right direction on as well as off of the field. There's a belief in his abilities to lead this club, which isn't something the fans have had much of it n seasons past.

The Union are still finding their identity a bit, but Curtin being a former centre back emphasises defense first, so you'll see the midfielders and forwards often tracking back to cover when dispossessed. That's not to say it's all bunkering and grinding out bore draws – the Union do have creative midfielders in Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira that can carve open a defense when given a chance.

CC: How has the team been doing this season are you still hopeful of making the play-offs?

BU: The team got off to a terrible start, going 1-7-3 over their first eleven matches. They have since turned it around, going 4-3-1 and giving the fans hope of making the playoffs. Since six out of ten teams in each conference go to the playoffs, the Union are still very much in the thick of the playoff race. That being said, it's an uphill battle and one the club has won only once in its history. Cautious optimism seems to be the attitude lately.

CC: Which players are the best in the team and the ones we should look out for?

BU: It all depends on who is healthy. Venezuelan striker Fernando Aristeguieta has shown flashes of brilliance but has also missed a significant amount of the season injured. Sebastien Le Toux is a speedy winger with a nose for goal, however he's also missed some time lately as well. Ex-Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu is now playing centre back, and can quickly turn a defensive situation into an offensive one.

CC: How good do you think the MLS Eastern division is now in terms of the talent that is in the league?

BU: In terms of talent I think the Eastern Conference is weaker than the Western Conference. There are more recognisable names in the Eastern Conference, but those are a small fraction of the players and I think the teams with quality top to bottom are mostly Western Conference teams. If you look at a team like the Seattle Sounders, they don't have real weaknesses. They recently lost Clint Dempsey to suspension and Obafemi Martins to injury, and they still find ways to be competitive and win. Not many Eastern teams have that depth.

CC: Would you like to see more British players in the MLS or have they not been that good?

BU: I think most people here recognise British players since the English Premier League has been and still is the best soccer viewing in English here in the United States. When David Beckham came, it helped push MLS and soccer into the forefront of the American sports conscience. Guys like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are also names that Americans know and will go to see and also help improve the quality of the league. I also think of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dom Dwyer who weren't exactly huge names when they came but have made their mark on the league.

All that said, I think Americans are less concerned with where a player comes from and more with how well he plays. We could care less if you're English or Eritrean – as long as you help our team win we're fans.

CC: How surprised were you when you found out that AFC Bournemouth from the Premier League were to play Philadelphia Union this summer?

BU: It was a bit of a shock, but we had an idea when during the Bournemouth versus Charlton Athletic match we spotted Nick Sakiewicz with Jeff Mostyn in the owner's box during the television replays here. Once we saw that, we figured Bournemouth would be our summer friendly.

CC: Which players in the AFC Bournemouth team have you heard most about?

BU: Personally I have followed Artur Boruc since I'm Polish and he is on the Polish National Team, and I think a lot of Americans know him from his time with Celtic in Scotland. Other names we know are Christian Atsu, Matt Ritchie, and Sylvain Distin.

PPL Park under floodlights.
CC: How much do you think Bournemouth fans will enjoy PPL Park?

BU: PPL Park is a wonderful venue. The stadium is small and intimate, and there isn't a bad seat to be had. The Commodore Barry Bridge serves as a beautiful backdrop to the six year old stadium, and there are plenty of vendors inside the stadium selling beer and food (yes, even cheesesteaks). Union fans are generally friendly and tailgate out in the parking lots before and after the matches. That being said, don't go too far from the stadium. Chester has some very bad areas, and it's easy if you're unfamiliar with the area to wind up in a bad part of town. Stay close to the park, hang out, and have a great time!

CC: Thanks for your comments Eugene. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about Philadelphia Union now. I'm not sure about the cheesesteaks, but I have heard they are legendary and some AFCB players tried them out the other day. To read up further about our new friends in Philadelphia visit the Brotherly Game website. I have also written some AFC Bournemouth club history and an insight to the team for the Brotherly Game which should be posted on their site at some point today.

Finally, it's great to see the new AFCB home kit. Have the queues started for it already? It should sell like hot cakes! We've also put up an interview between Richard Hughes and new Development squad signing Filippo Costa on the right side panel of the blog.

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