I was surprised to discover that the next round of the Capital One Cup will be played this week, largely because once Aston Villa are eliminated from a cup competition, I forget that it exists until the final. After scanning the fixtures, the obvious standout is today's match between two teams that will be looking to finish at the top of the table at the end of the season:
Birmingham and Stoke Arsenal and Chelsea. I won't go so far as to make a prediction, because we all know where that gets me. I'd also keep an eye on Burnley vs. West Ham, as the Lancashire club flying atop the Championship looks to spring a surprise on Villa's next opponents.
We'll start the links with a nod to Chris Nee's excellent companion to the essential podcast that he hosts alongside Steven Green. He's dug up some stats on Villa's home record that are frankly shocking. Many of the upwardly mobile clubs in the Premier League are able to rely on solid home form, but it turns out that Villa Park has not exactly been friendly confines for some time now.
Ted Knutson continues to bring the knowledge, with particularly edifying takes on two managers that have struggled to get the best out of their clubs thus far. As you'll have guessed, one is David Moyes. Somewhat surprisingly, the other is André Villas-Boas. Rather frighteningly, that means that Spurs could be even better than they already are. Ted also does a great job of quelling my early-onset fears of relegation by suggesting that there are at least five iron-clad relegation candidates and Villa are not among them.
Carson Cistulli is an incredibly talented writer who is perhaps best known for his work at Fangraphs, the popular baseball blog. However, he's currently stationed in Paris and has started up a blog in order to chronicle his sporting experiences there. He and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are perfect for each other. Also, as an aside: Ray Hudson is possibly the most polarizing football commentator outside of Jack Woodward. Feel free to leave your opinions on both, and anyone else you can think of, in the comments.
In the years that I've spent following English football fans online, I've managed to come to the realization that the only thing they enjoy more than building up a promising young star is tearing them apart when they go through a rough patch. I don't really see any reason why Joe Hart is doomed, he just happens to have the misfortune of playing one of the most scrutinized positions in sports for a club that's expected to win the league every year and a national team that would be best described as "psychically tortured" in every conceivable way. But sure, he "has it easy."