By Sulaiman Alao:
MIKEL PRIMED FOR STOKE CLASH
All roads lead to the 41,841-capacity Stamford Bridge Stadium on Saturday where Chelsea will play host to Stoke City in a tie that will see two Nigerian internationals, Mikel Obi and Osaze Odemwingie, on opposing sides. Mikel was in action Tuesday after coming on as a 60th minute substitute for Oscar in a game Chelsea ran away 2-1 winners against hosts Norwich City.
Mikel and Chelsea are currently enjoying a resurgence in form and fortunes under interim manager Guus Hiddink who has managed to steer the Blues to their highest standing in the league table since the start of the season. After posting three straight wins in the EPL, Chelsea are now 10th on the log with 39 points and the Blues will be looking to continue on that fine form when they welcome the Potters in today’s clash.
Stoke, without Odemwingie on Wednesday, beat visiting Newcastle United 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium completing their own three-match unbeaten run which currently see them move to the 7th position on the table with 42 points. With just 3 points separating the two sides now, Chelsea will be looking to make the home advantage count against Stoke, knowing full well that a win will catapult them above their visitors on the log as the Blues have a superior goals difference against the Potters if they tie on points. Stoke won the reverse fixture 1-0 and it remains to be seen if they can do a double against the Blues.
Mikel looks more certain to feature for Chelsea in this cracker while back-to-fitness Odemwingie remains a huge doubt for Stoke.
IGHALO EYES RESURGENCE AGAINST LEICESTER CITY
After missing a couple of scoring chances in Watford’s 1-0 loss away against Manchester United in a midweek fixture on Wednesday, Super Eagles striker Odion Ighalo will be looking to end his goals drought when the Hornets play host to league leaders, Leicester City, today at the 21,577-capacity Vicarage Road Stadium. Watford battled courageously at the Old Trafford but eventually succumbed to a Juan Mata goal via a superb free-kick in the 83rd minutes.
Watford have currently dropped to the 12th position on the league table with 37 points after 28 games and they will face a herculean task against a Leicester City who surprisingly played out a 2-2 draw at home against West Bromwich Albion Tuesday but still managed to retain a 3-point gap on top of the league table with 57 points following the midweek losses suffered by title rivals, Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Leicester City claimed the maximum points in their first meeting beating Watford 2-1 and the coach Claudio Ranieri side will be looking to secure a double over the Hornets to further their title aspirations. League hotshot, Jarmie Vardy currently with 19 goals to his credit will be leading the attack for the visitors while coach Quique Sanchez Flores will be hoping 14-goal Ighalo can rediscover his scoring touch alongside 8-goal Troy Deeney in Watford’s attack to checkmate the opponents.
The Nigerian international’s dry run of goals has extended to 5 league games, having last found the back of the net in Watford’s 2-1 win over Newcastle United on January 23, a situation which could be a cause for concern ahead Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations double-header qualifiers against Egypt later in the month.
MOSES, EMENIKE SET FOR EVERTON CRACKER
Nigerian stars, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike will be looking to extend West Ham United’s winning runs to three when they travel to the 40,569-capacity Goodison Park today to take on host Everton, in what promises to be an interesting encounter. Moses was missing while Emenike was in action Wednesday night as West Ham made home advantage count against title contenders, Tottenham Hotspurs, whom they beat 1-0, while Everton had earlier on Tuesday recorded a 3-1 victory away against struggling Aston Villa.
The victory over Spurs have seen West Ham move to their current 6th position on the league table with 46 points and having a clear 8 points lead over Everton who are sitting in the 11th position with 38 points but having a game at hand. But while the Hammers boast of a slightly better form going into this tie, the Toffees on their part boast of having a higher goals ratio than their opponents. While West Ham have scored a cumulative 42 goals in 28 games, Everton have scored 49 goals in 27 matches with Romelo Lukaku accounting for 17 of their goals.
Moses who is on loan at West Ham from Chelsea has featured in 16 league games for the Hammers and has a goal to his credit alongside a couple of assists. Emenike recently signed-up with West Ham during the January transfer window following a move from United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain and has featured in 4 games while still targeting his debut goal in the EPL.
On the home front, Moses looks set to stage a return to the Super Eagles ahead of the double-header ANC qualifier against Egypt later this month while Emenike who voluntarily called it quits with international football late last year, has reportedly turned down an offer to return to the Nigerian squad.
NWAKAEME, OGU CONTINUE TITLE PUSH WITH BEER SHEVA
Top performing Nigerian stars in the Israeli league, Anthony Nwakaeme and John Ogu will again be in the starting line-up for Hapoel Beer Sheva when they play host to Bnei Sakhnin in a late kick-off Ligat Ha’al game scheduled for Monday at the Turner Stadium.
Striker Nwakaeme and midfielder Ogu have been instrumental in Beer Sheva’s bid for the title this season and both players were the heroes last weekend, scoring in the 31st and 43rd minutes respectively as Negev’s Pride secured a crucial 2-1 away win against Hapoel Kfar Saba. Hapoel Beer Sheva also beat host Beitar Tel Aviv 2-0 in a State Cup game played on Wednesday to extend their unbeaten run since the start of the year to 13 games in all competitions.
Nwakaeme currently has 8 goals to his credit while Ogu has bagged 3 goals for Hapoel Beer Sheva who currently lead the 14-team Ligat Ha’al table with 63 points after 25 games to move 5-points clear of second-placed rivals, Maccabi Tel Aviv who also has another Nigerian international, Nosa Igiebor in their ranks.
Beer Sheva’s Monday’s opponent, Bnei Sakhnin are 5th on the log with 35 points having made home advantage count against Ironi Kiryat Shmona last weekend by beating them 3-0. They however, lost 2-0 to host Hapoel Ashkelon on Tuesday in the State Cup which ended their 8 games unbeaten run in all competitions.
MUSA RESUMES LEAGUE ACTION IN RUSSIA
League action resumes this weekend in Russia with new Super Eagles skipper, Ahmed Musa set to lead CSKA Moscow’s attacking line when they play host to Spartak Moscow tomorrow at the 18,636-capacity Arena Khimki. The Russian Premier League had gone on mid-season break since December last year but all the clubs have kept their players busy during the interim by engaging in club friendlies.
CSKA Moscow currently lead the league table with 37 points after 18 round of matches and they will be looking to improve on their performances which greatly nosedived before the break with the team recording 1 win, 1 draw and 3 losses in their last 5 games. The poor form cut their points lead on the league table with 2nd placed Rostov now close on their heels with 34 points. Spartak Moscow fared only slightly better recording 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses in their last five matches to move to their current 4th position on the log with 30 points.
Musa remains CSKA’s leading scorer and currently has 6 goals to his credit and the 23-year old pacy forward has been joined at the club by compatriot Aaron Samuel who switched to Russia from Chinese Super League side, Guangzhou R&F. Interestingly, Musa and Samuel will also be returning to international action for Nigeria after both players were handed call-ups by Super Eagles interim coach, Samson Siasia ahead the crucial ANC double-header qualifier clash against Egypt later this month. Samuel had previously scored 7 goals for Guangzhou R&F and will be looking to make his debut for CSKA tomorrow.
Other Nigerian stars in the Russia topflight include Fengor Ogude and Bright Dike with Amkar Perm and Sylvester Igboun who plies his trade with Ufa.
OLISEH, BYE FOR NOW, WELCOME BACK SIASIA
Though much has been said and written regarding the sudden resignation of Sunday Oliseh as Super Eagles coach last weekend, I can’t help but make a little remark on the issue that has been generating heated debates and arguments in Nigerian football circles.
While I did feel Oliseh was lucky to get the Eagles top job in July last year on account of his little previous coaching experience, I had expected the coach to last longer on the job on the premise that he would have learnt some lessons from the experiences of his predecessors. Also with his obvious passion and knowledge of the game as well as being a former national team captain for several years, I had hoped Oliseh would be able to play the ‘politics’ of the game better in dealing with the NFF, the players and the Nigerian soccer-loving public. I guess I was disappointed as Oliseh seems to have grown ‘soft’ over the years while residing in Belgium and simply refused to come to terms with the realities and obvious lack of change in Nigerian football administration. While I wish Oliseh the very best in his future endeavours, I do expect the coach to stage a return to manage the Eagles someday. Impossible is nothing as the saying goes in football.
Meanwhile, Samson Siasia who has been appointed in an interim capacity to handle the crucial double-header ANC qualifier against Egypt needs no introduction. The former Eagles skipper is no stranger to the job and has indeed seen it all, as regards managing any national side. And having experienced both the good and the bad pertaining to the job, he stands well equipped for the task at hand.
The claims and counterclaims regarding the NFF/Oliseh saga need to take the back stage now while all our attention should now be focused on how to ensure Nigeria’s flag is hoisted in Gabon next year.