THREE FOR THE WEEKEND
Player exodus could cost Houllier his job and club’s EPL place
WITH the final international break of the season behind us, it is now non-stop English Premier League action all the way from now until the champions are crowned on May 22.
1. Mutiny at Villa
EYEBROWS were raised when Aston Villa opted for Gerard Houllier to replace Martin O'Neill just after the start of the season.
The scepticism now looks well-founded with Villa just a point off the drop zone and with no superior goal difference to act as an extra-point buffer.
This week, goalkeeper Brad Friedel rubbished stories suggesting a "players' revolt" inside Villa Park, insisting that the tales of turmoil inside the club were just people "trying to stir things up".
He's right, although unfortunately for Houllier, the ones telling the tales are Friedel's very own teammates.
When you break down the squad at Villa, their league position is not where they should be and the long-term damage done to the football club could be far worse than a one-off season when they flirted with relegation, assuming they manage to stay up.
Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stewart Downing all look like they could be heading for the exit door in the summer, unhappy with their French manager's way of doing things.
In the current transfer climate, they will be virtually impossible to replace, like-for-like.
The reality of modern football is that, to a certain extent, the players need to be pandered to.
It's not right, but that's the way it is. And Houllier's response to the trouble has been to dig his heels in rather than attempt to reconcile with a group of players whose poor performances in recent weeks make it impossible to see the manager surviving past this season.
Unsurprisingly, names are already been bandied about to take over the reigns – some look promising, such as David Moyes, and others look frankly disturbing, step forward Rafael Benitez.
If they appoint the Spaniard who destroyed Liverpool over two years and Inter Milan over two months, owner Randy Lerner is asking for even more trouble.
2. Wanted Wilshere
JACK Wilshere and Gareth Bale look certain to end the season as the two break-out stars of the season, regardless of what happens over the final two months.
Bale has the luxury of being Welsh, which means he will always have the summer off.
Wilshere is English and is now receiving the inevitable attention as someone hailed as the national side's saviour.
At 19, Wilshere could prove to be the mainstay of the English midfield for the next decade, but a club-versus-country row between the FA and Arsenal is already looming.
England want Wilshere for this summer's Under-21 European Championship in Denmark, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, unsurprisingly, isn't so keen.
Assuming he plays all of Arsenal's remaining games and lines up for England's senior team in their next game against Switzerland on June 4, Wilshere will end up playing 53 games this season.
That's too many for Wenger, but it seems, not for the player who has expressed his desire to play.
It is an issue that should concern not just Arsenal fans, but Liverpool's too, as Andy Carroll also qualifies for U-21 football and the row that is brewing will become even more intense if England decide to take one, but not the other.
3. Earlier kick-off
THE START of the British summer is good news for fans in Singapore because it means the matches start sooner.
The clocks went back in the UK last Saturday night, which dictates that all the kick-off times are now an hour earlier.
West Ham v Manchester United gets us started on Saturday at 7.45pm, with six more games beginning at 10pm.
Arsenal's crucial clash with Blackburn rounds off the night's action (12.30am on Sunday).
And the benefit of the clock change will not just be felt in the EPL – it is a massive boost for Champions League followers as well.
For Tottenham's trip to Real Madrid on Wednesday morning (Singapore time), the match will be played at 2.45am.
The quarter-final stage is when the Champions League action moves up a gear, and with the path to the Wembley final mapped out for the eight teams, it is providing a fantastic tandem to the EPL for the rest of the season.