x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Weekly wrap: English Premier League

A look at the performance on and off the field of the English teams.

Arsenal Cesc Fabregas reaped praise after helping the Gunners earn the nickname "Barcenal" following their 6-0 demolition of Braga on Wednesday night, while Arsene Wenger, their coach, claimed his captain has added another dimension since being linked with a summer move to Barcelona. But, it was Wenger who drew praise from Steve Bruce, the Sunderland coach handed the task of derailing the Londoners' charge tomorrow at the Stadium of Light. "Arsene borders on a genius, for me," Bruce, the former Wigan Athletic and Birmingham City manager, said. Aston Villa Gerard Houllier will take the reins at Aston Villa after tomorrow's home match with Bolton Wanderers and the former Liverpool manager has already moved to try to secure an experienced backroom staff. Kevin MacDonald and Phil Thompson have ruled themselves out of the running so Houllier has opened talks with Robert Duverne, the fitness coach who clashed with Patrice Evra, the France captain, while on national duty at the World Cup in the aftermath of Nicolas Anelka being sent home from the tournament. "He is competent, and we are in contact," said Houllier.

Birmingham City One member of the Birmingham squad has played down his international chances while another has played his up. Scott Dann, the defender who has excelled so far this season at centre-half, has been linked with an England call-up following his composed display against Liverpool in Sunday's 0-0 draw. Dann said, however, he is not thinking about international duty. Barry Ferguson, the former Scotland captain, on the other hand, having been blackballed after his role in the Boozegate scandal of 2008, said when asked about a possible return: "You can never say never."

Blackburn Rovers An Indian businessman says he remains committed to buying Rovers after being granted more time to investigate the club's finances. Ahasan Ali Syed's investment firm Western Gulf Advisory (WGA) was given exclusive negotiating rights by Blackburn earlier this month. WGA says that the "process is taking longer than originally envisaged [but] WGA remains committed to pursuing the opportunity to acquire such a prestigious club". The Bahrain-based company says the period of exclusivity to conduct due diligence has been extended. Syed has pledged to pay off the club's £20 million (Dh113m) of debt and invest £300m. Blackpool Following two away wins in the Premier League already this season, the Seasiders travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea tomorrow with no fear. Despite the gulf between the two clubs, Dekel Keinan, Blackpool's Israeli defender, claims his side, who were promoted from the Championship last season, can realistically think about causing an upset. "Everybody knows that there are big differences between us and Chelsea, but I'm sure if we work hard and fight for each other we can do something," he said. Ian Evatt echoed his teammate's sentiments, adding: "I don't think there is any fear at all. There is just determination."

Bolton Wanderers Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, has criticised the criteria for the appeals process of yellow cards and dismissals. Coyle watched last week as Gary Cahill, his centre-half, saw red against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium as his team lost 4-1. Coyle appealed and was hopeful of having it overturned, but the appeals committee turned it down. Coyle said: "Maybe the criteria needs to be looked at. I spoke to Mike Riley, the head of referees, over the weekend who also felt it was a yellow card. When you've got somebody of that calibre saying that, it reinforced my belief there was a chance it would be overturned."

Chelsea Nicolas Anelka has explained that his handcuff gesture following his goal in the Champions League against MSK Zilina on Wednesday night was aimed at the French Football Federation. Anelka, who was labelled as "key" by Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea coach, after his side's 4-1 win, was banned from the national team for 18 games for his part in his country's World Cup disaster. Following the comfortable win, Florent Malouda is already dreaming of European success at Wembley come the end of the season. "Of course every competition is different, but maybe it is our destiny to be there in May," he said. Everton David Moyes is bracing himself for a bid from Crystal Palace to turn James Vaughan's three-month loan deal into a permanent signing. The striker, 22, netted a hat-trick against Portsmouth in the English Championship in midweek and George Burley, the Palace manager, has been impressed with his attitude. Vaughan has said he would be keen to stay in London. Meanwhile, Steven Pienaar says he is back to full fitness after the South African's exhausting World Cup and is ready to shine. The midfielder scored the first goal in the 3-3 draw against Manchester United last week and is determined to pull Everton up the table.

Fulham Bobby Zamora, the England striker, will be out for five months, Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, confirmed yesterday. Zamora underwent surgery on Sunday to correct the broken fibula sustained in last weekend's 2-1 victory over Wolves, but additional ankle ligament damage was also discovered. It was initially thought the 29-year-old would be sidelined for three months, but he must now wait until February at the earliest for his return. Hughes said: "Bobby's had his operation. He will now be in bed with his leg elevated for two weeks. The operation showed ligament damage so we're probably now looking at five months." Liverpool Kenny Dalglish, the club legend who earlier this week said he was disappointed not to land the Liverpool job when Rafa Benitez left in the summer, has urged his old club's fans to get behind Roy Hodgson. The former Fulham manager has come in for some criticism following some poor displays - most notably in the 0-0 draw with Birmingham last Sunday - and with Fernando Torres failing to fire, the Anfield club have looked toothless in attack. Manchester United await on Sunday and Hodgson, having experimented with squad rotation, will be hoping for a morale-boosting victory over their long-time rivals.

Manchester City Roberto Mancini, the City manager, has backed David Silva, the Spain forward, to shine in English football. Silva, a European and world champion with Spain, has been conspicuous by his absence from the field for much of the time since his summer move from Valencia, but his manager believes he is ready to perform. "I have no doubts he'll be able to cope with the English game," Mancini said. "When you arrive in the Premier League it is normal to have a few problems at first. "But when David has played a few games you will start to see the best of him." City make the short trip to Wigan on Sunday looking for a first away win. Manchester United Michael Owen, the former England striker, could be reunited with Gerard Houllier, his former Liverpool manager, if the Frenchman gets his way. After arriving at Aston Villa this week, Houllier admitted he would like to take Owen to Birmingham to lead the attack for his new club. "He is always in my thoughts," Houllier said of the United striker. "I like him as a player and a man." Owen recently intimated he would consider his future if he did not get more game time at Old Trafford. Owen, sat on the bench on Tuesday night against Rangers as Javier Hernandez, the Mexican striker, started up front with Wayne Rooney.

Newcastle United Former England international Sol Campbell is nearing full fitness and could make his debut against Everton at Goodison Park tomorrow. The former Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal centre-back stepped up his bid for first-team action with a third run-out for Newcastle's reserves against Chelsea last night. Campbell, who will celebrate his 35th birthday tomorrow, has played 45 minutes for the second string against Sunderland and an hour against Liverpool. He will need to dislodge the centre-back pairing of Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson who have conceded just three goals in four games this season. Stoke City Peter Coates, the chairman, paid tribute to Tony Pulis after the grieving manager inspired the Potters to their win over Aston Villa on Monday. Stoke were 1-0 down when Pulis, who was expected to miss the game following the death of his mother earlier in the day, arrived back from Wales in time to deliver a stirring half-time team talk, and ended up winning 2-1, with two goals in the final ten minutes. Pulis has been at the club's Clayton Wood training ground every day since. "I am sure he had an influence on what happened," Coates said. "He got a very warm reception and I thought there was a lot of feeling in the crowd for him." Sunderland Steve Bruce, the manager, thinks Lee Cattermole, his captain, has reached a "defining moment" in his career, and has ordered him to cut out his on-field indiscipline. Cattermole, the former Wigan midfielder, picked up his second red card of the season in a 1-1 Premier League draw at Wigan on Saturday in only his third match of the campaign. "I think Lee has reached a defining moment in his career and it's up to him now to make sure he responds the right way," Bruce said. "You simply can't go around picking up the number of yellow cards he has in the last few seasons and be an effective force at this level."

Tottenham Hotspur Gareth Bale's outstanding form continued on his debut in the Champions League proper this week, and it seems a certain 'Special One' believes he belongs at the top of the game. Reports claimed Jose Mourinho, who is wanted as caretaker manager for Portugal's national team, attempted to lure the prodigious left-back away from Spurs to Real Madrid before the transfer window shut earlier this month. It was a tentative approach, but the Real manager is said to have his heart set on taking Bale to Spain. To add to the concerns of the White Hart Lane faithful, he is said to want Aaron Lennon, another Spurs wide-man, as well. West Bromwich Albion Roberto Di Matteo, the elegant Italian in charge of West Brom, said he has struck up an unlikely friendship with Alex McLeish, the manager of their opponents tomorrow, Birmingham City. Now he wants to echo his new friend's success in the Premier League. "We went to see the Champions League final in Madrid on a corporate package so we got to know each other then," Di Matteo said. "He's a nice guy, we talked about football - he did a great job last year in the Premier League. We don't really share the same football philosophies but we got on well." West Brom are aiming to maintain their undefeated home record. West Ham United Tal Ben Haim, the Israeli defender, said his side need to start picking up points quickly if they are to stay away from trouble this season. He said he thought it would take time for a new-look Hammers side to gel, "but in football we need to take the points very quick".The Hammers are bottom of the Premier League, and will have to do without Ben Haim, a summer signing from Portsmouth, when they take on Stoke City. In his absence Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Danny Gabbidon and Manuel da Costa are all vying to play tomorrow at the Britannia Stadium. Wigan Tom Cleverley, the on-loan midfielder, hopes to assist Manchester United, his parent club, by helping Wigan beat their big rivals Manchester City this weekend. "It's games like this that I came to Wigan to play, and hopefully we can do something against them," the highly-rated England Under 21 international midfielder said. "Obviously I'd love to get one over United's rivals on Sunday, if selected. I only got 20 minutes against Sunderland [in his debut last week in the 1-1 draw] but it was nice to get out there on the pitch." Cleverly set up Wigan's equaliser in that game. Wolves Dave Edwards wants to celebrate signing a new three-year deal with the club by forcing his way back into the starting line-up after a "frustrating" injury-hit start to the season. Wolves head to Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow, where Edwards sustained the ankle injury that prompted his long spell on the sidelines. "I'm over that now but then had a little niggle at the start of the season which held me back," the Wales international said. * Compiled by Paul Radley and Gary Meenaghan