Comparing The Bench Strength Of the Top 6 Premier League Clubs

As the Premier League heads into the busy festive period, all the teams in the league are scheduled to play almost twice every week. Although this can be a treat for the fans, it is more often than not, a headache for most managers due to injury and exhaustion concerns. Couple this busy festive period with the impending African Cup of Nations, and the need for a strong squad is felt more than ever. A good bench can save the managers of this dilemma, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

As six teams: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, battle it out for the League title and Champions League spots, let’s take a look at the bench strength of these teams.

Manchester City
Manchester City

Bench: Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson/Nigel De Jong, Alexander Kolarov, Kolo Toure, James Milner

Manchester City, the firm favourites for the title, boasts of a bench which has players which can walk into the starting 11 of any other Premier League team. Such has been the amount of investment in the squad that City will have no problems heading into the tight fixture list. Strong competition for places can be a double edged sword as, though it can bring the best out of players to push their claim for a starting 11 spot, it can also lead to dissatisfaction due to lack of playing time. However, with the success that City is enjoying, it will be foolish to jump ships at this juncture.

Manchester United
Manchester United

Bench: Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji Sung/Ashley Young, Fabio/Rafael

Pretty much like Manchester City, Manchester United also boasts of a world class bench. However, lack of playing time is not a concern for these players as Sir Alex has been rampant this season with his rotation policy, even rotating his goalkeepers at times. United also won’t have problems with the African Cup of Nations as they will only lose Antonio Valencia from their starting 11. United traditionally have always performed better after the Christmas interval, and with the bench strength that they have, it is hard to argue against the idea of them not doing it again.

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur

Bench: Niko Krankjar, Steven Piennar, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Sebastian Bassong, Sandro/Tom Huddlestone

Tottenham have arguably the weakest bench among the top four at the moment, but with the motivation of pushing for a third place, the players coming off the bench are also putting in better than decent performances. Spurs have effective backups for all the positions on the pitch, but lack a game changer in their ranks, unlike City and United.

Chelsea
Chelsea

Bench: Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz/Paulo Ferreira, John Obi Mikel

Similar to United, Chelsea also have a strong rotation policy but that seems to have been dumped at the moment due to the tough times that the club faced in the recent weeks. Chelsea have a host of top class players to choose from the bench, capable of making an impact whenever they are on the pitch. They are lucky not to be facing an injury crisis at present and are only poised to lose Mikel to the African Cup of Nations.

Arsenal
Arsenal

Bench: Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun, Ignasi Miquel, Tomas Rosicky/Emmanuel Frimpong/Francis Coquelin

Arsenal are currently serving their customary defensive injury crisis that hits them at this point of time every season. With all four full backs out, Arsene Wenger is having to field four central defenders at the back four. They are also likely to be hit hard by the AFCON as they will lose Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho during this period. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park Chu Young and Ryo Miyaichi are most likely to be introduced to the bench in the coming weeks.

Liverpool
Liverpool

Bench: Andy Carroll, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey/Jay Spearing, Dirk Kuyt/Maxi Rodriguez, Martin Kelly

Liverpool too have a strong enough bench but are a little inexperienced when compared to their rivals in this regard. With Lucas Leiva injured for the rest of the season and Luis Suarez set to serve his 8 match ban, Kenny Dalglish will be forced to rotate his central midfielders and strikers, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as Dalglish would most probably use Jordan Henderson and Craig Bellamy in these positions.

P.S. – The list above does not take into consideration the goalkeepers of respective teams and lists only the most probable bench line-ups.

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Why David Villa’s Injury Can Be A Blessing In Disguise For Spanish Strikers

David Villa and Barcelona suffered a major setback at the Club World Cup in Japan this week when the striker suffered a broken leg that can keep him out of action for a minimum of five months. Although the striker is expected to recover before Euro 2012, but doubts will still remain regarding his match fitness.

Any injury is sad, but this one can prove to be a blessing in disguise for the other Spanish strikers who now have to force themselves into Vincent Del Bosque’s reckoning for a starting place at the Euros. Before Fernando Torres’ woeful loss of form, the front of Spain’s 4-4-1-1 would usually be made up of Villa and Torres. However, because of Torres’ failure to recapture his goalscoring mojo, Del Bosque has made changes to his plans by moving Villa in the middle, flanked by two attacking midfielders or wingers.  Now with David Villa seemingly out of the equation, the central striking position is up for grabs. Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente, Roberto Soldado and Pedro are the players who will be licking their lips at this chance.

Torres-Llorente-Soldado-Pedro
Torres-Llorente-Soldado-Pedro

Amongst the four names mentioned above, Fernando Torres remains the most high profile name and will probably make the cut, but seriously needs to start putting in more effort to get over his lack of confidence. The Chelsea striker has struggled to get going at Stamford Bridge since his mega money move from Liverpool, and has now fallen down the pecking order under Didier Drogba. If Torres wants the starting spot at the Euros he needs to make the most of the chances that come his way at Chelsea.

Fernando Llorente is not a player in the typical Spanish tiki-taka mould, but adds a different sort of attacking threat to Spain’s play when “Plan A” fails. Llorente is more like a typical English centre forward, able to bully the defenders with his height and strength advantage. The Athletic Bilbao striker will definitely be on the flight to Polkraine, but is more likely to appear as a substitute rather than a starter.

Roberto Soldado has been banging in the goals this season at Valencia, but has failed to reproduce that form at the international level whenever he has had the chances. If Del Bosque picks players based on form, Soldado has to be the first player on the list. Meanwhile, Pedro has also been going on quietly at Barcelona. He has seen his playing time reduced due to the arrivals of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas. Pedro would certainly like to have that changed if he wants to go to the Euros and is certainly a handy option to have because of his work rate and technical ability.

All these players will probably make the cut along with David Villa himself, but have a mountain to climb if they want to nail down the starting berth at the Euros. If Villa regains his fitness and form before the tournament, their chances get reduced considerably, but his injury has also opened a window of hope that they will exploit to the maximum.

Premier League : Top Ten Unsung Heroes

10.) Ramires – All stories surrounding Chelsea’s season so far have been around Villas Boas, their defense, Daniel Sturridge, Torres v/s Drogba and Frank Lampard. Amongst all this, the contributions of Ramires have rather gone unnoticed. Ramires is the epitome of a Box-To-Box midfielder as his athletic forward runs have caused problems for all Premier League defenders, creating space for Juan Mata to flourish.

09.) Charlie Adam – Luis Suarez continues to be Liverpool’s most charismatic player both on and off the pitch. So much has been said about the Uruguayan, that it has completely lifted the spotlight off Charlie Adam. Goals may have dried up recently for the Scotsman, but it is his intelligent distribution in midfield that keeps Liverpool’s play ticking through the 90 minutes.

08.) Yohan Cabaye – Cabaye covered 10.3 kms during his match against Chelsea, and this is a common feature if you happen to follow Newcastle’s statistics. His distribution and set play deliveries have started many a Newcastle attacks this season and his partnership with Cheikh Tiote in the middle lays the platform for a solid midfield. Too bad though, Tiote gets all the credit.

07.) Aaron Lennon – Tottenham are the best counter attacking unit in the Premier League at the moment owing to their lightning fast wingers: Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. Bale’s performance against Inter Milan in last season’s Champions League still hovers in the minds of the fans and media alike, and this results in him getting all the attention. Lennon’s surging forward runs however, are still struggling to find suitors.

06.) Chris Smalling – Phil Jones is Manchester United’s darling at the moment, as Sir Alex continues on his mission to make a John O’Shea out of him. Jones’ attack mindedness shifts the focus from Chris Smalling who continues to be quietly efficient in his defensive roles. Aside from the horror show against Basel, the 21 year old has put in solid, if unspectacular, performances so far this season.

05.) Wes Brown – Sunderland’s season hasn’t so far picked up pace as expected. Seb Larrson’s world class set plays have been the only source of respite for the Sunderland fans but if an observer shifts focus to their defense it isn’t very difficult to pick out the best player of the lot. Wes Brown was shown the exit door from United as he fell down the pecking order, but his performances this season have given enough evidence that he is at least better than Johnny Evans.

04.) Laurent Koscielny – There is a sea of difference between what a player Lauren Koscielny was and what he is now, in his first two seasons at Arsenal. The Frenchman was perhaps the only defender who could have held his head high, especially after the treatment Arsenal received in the early part of the season. Thomas Vermaelen is unequivocally regarded as Arsenal’s best defender, but Koscielny certainly isn’t too far off.

03.) Danny Murphy – Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele have been Fulham’s goal scoring outlets this season, but Danny Murphy’s unerring passing routine hasn’t got the credit it deserves. The former Liverpool player has put up delightful displays of long passing against Liverpool and Arsenal this season, matches in which neutrals didn’t give Fulham a chance. Like Charlie Adam and Yohan Cabaye, his performances are only spoken of when people are tired of speaking about their goal scoring heroes.

02.) Joe Allen – Till the match against Liverpool, Joe Allen had a pass success rate of 90%. Ninety percent. Agreed that Swansea’s midfield play Barcelona-esque short passes but to achieve that sort of pass completion rate is staggering. Michel Vorm has been garnering praises for Swansea this season for his goal saving heroics, but in Joe Allen, they have a player, about whom they should really be talking about.

01.) Alex Song – To summarize Alex Song’s importance to Arsenal, let’s just take a quick look at the matches that he didn’t feature in this season: Liverpool, Manchester United, Swansea and Olympiakos. Arsenal lost 3 out of these four matches. So much of the spotlight is on Robin Van Persie this season, that almost the entire Arsenal first team could have been put on this list, but it is the Cameroonian who is the most vital cog in Arsenal’s midfield, but still goes unnoticed.

Crisis Averted For Chelsea, But Sterner Tests Await Villas-Boas

Chelsea somehow managed to come out unharmed from a suicidal pit that they dug for themselves. If there were doubts being raised over Chelsea’s qualification in the Champions League, they answered their critics in some fashion. Andre Villas Boas finally seems to have found a stable and working solution for his striking problems, as Didier Drogba put in a vintage performance to make sure that the fans miss him when he finally leaves at the end of the season.

  Drogs & Boas
Drogs & Boas

As relieving as the victory might have been, and Villas Boas’ post match interview clearly indicated relief, there are still some issues that need to be addressed to make sure that a stylish victory to ensure qualification is not a false bliss. Chelsea managed an extremely lucky victory this weekend against Newcastle, and although the scoreline read 3-0, it could have been very different had David Luiz been sent off in the 4th minute and Newcastle’s three shots that hit the post would have gone in. But, since no sport derives points from a case of Ifs and Buts, Chelsea’s victory can not be taken away from them. There are some definite positives and some glaring negatives that can be derived from these two victories.

Among the positives, Villas Boas has finally learnt from his mistakes and realised that the high backline that worked so well at Porto isn’t going to cut in at Chelsea, at least with the players that he has at his disposal. In both the matches Chelsea played with a deeper backline, so even though there were defensive lapses, the players did not have to make up ground to cover the attacking player. Secondly, Villas Boas finally seems to have found out the striking combination that works. Didier Drogba might leave next summer, but there is no lack of commitment from his part. Daniel Sturridge was absolutely frightening against Newcastle at the weekend, wrecking havoc every time he cut inside from the right hand side. He is definitely the future of the English national team, with the only thing that needs to be adjusted – his attitude.

For the negatives, David Luiz still plays like he is being controlled using a playstation controller by a 10-year-old kid (Gary Neville said so). Frank Lampard and Mr. Chelsea – John Terry, still control the Chelsea locker room, with the latter deemed almost untouchable, however poor the performance may be. For example, against Newcastle, John Terry made a goal line clearance. As heroic as it may sound, a point can be made that his lack of positioning in the first place forced him to make the goal line clearance. A misfiring Fernando Torres is a concern as well, as Abramovich certainly did not spend 50 million pounds to keep him on the bench. Villas Boas needs to feed him some confidence and get him up, running and scoring to keep the Boss happy.

As delighted as Chelsea fans may be, because of these twin victories, they need to look no further than the weekend. Manchester City. A victory against the Citizens can certainly spur the Blues to push for the title but a defeat can be equally demoralising, especially after such a monumental week. Villas Boas and Chelsea are safe for now, but one wrong turn at this juncture can steer the club towards a downhill spiral and as everyone including Villas Boas knows, Roman doesn’t tolerate that.