Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Messi vs Maradona

Over the festive period I have been reading Messi by Luca Caioli and the inevitable comparisons were mentioned almost every other page. I was too young to see Diego Maradona at his best but have read, seen and heard enough to know he was one if not the greatest talent the world has ever seen. It struck me that we are so pre-occupied with comparing new greats to players of the past; any young, diminutive, left footed Argentine will always be compared to the great Diego – is this fair? More importantly is it even something you can compare?

In every sport there are modern players who are likened to players we have seen in the past but is it possible to ever establish whether they are as good. I don’t think it is possible to compare them. Things are so different in modern sport to how they were even 2 decades ago. The players need to adhere to the correct diets, fitness regimes and exposure that many didn’t experience in previous generations. When comparing the 2 great Argentines it is almost impossible to ignore the goals they scored against England and Getafe. Both beat 5-6 players before beating the keeper and scoring but was it easier to accelerate from Fenwick and Reid or the Getafe defence. There is no way of ever proving one over the other which surely makes the comparisons pointless.

Maradona guided Argentina to World Cup glory and Messi is yet to do so. It is said that unless Messi can deliver a World Cup trophy he will not be considered as good as the former Argentina coach. This is rubbish! Messi represents everything that is good about football and just watching him play for Barcelona or Argentina is enough to demonstrate that he is one of the most exceptional players to have ever played the game.

We do not need to be so obsessed about finding the next Cruyff, Maradona or Pele when at the moment we have players to watch like Iniesta, Messi and Xavi. Great players will always be remembered but do not need to be duplicated. Sport is about innovation and should not merely be about imitation.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

What is the meaning of football?

It strikes me how some people eulogise about football "it's all about the winning, taking part means nothing!!". It suddenly occurred to me that actually for the large part this statement is completely untrue. To the majority of players the "winning" - and by winning I mean actually lifting a trophy - doesn't come into it. Perhaps as much as 95% of all professional players hang their boots up at the end of their careers without a single winners medal in their trophy cabinet. It's a made up statistic, maybe it's less maybe more but the point is still valid. Do footballers go into their careers aiming to win every trophy or are they quite happy to be also-rans whilst earning more money than they could doing anything else? As an anomaly there are players like Ryan Giggs, whose hunger for his 24th trophy is as great as it was for his 1st, but for every Ryan Giggs there are 100's, maybe even 1000's, of Stan Collymore's, undoubtedly talented players but lacking in drive and hunger, those who will ultimately end their careers known as under-achievers. Alan Shearer, arguably the best centre forward this country has produced for the last two decades, shunted the silverware on offer at Old Trafford for an emotional, but trophy-less, return home.

What about fans? Is the most important thing to have a clean sweep of trophies come the end of the season? Unless you support one of the (now more or less defunct) "Big 4" in England or one of the "Big 2" in Spain, most fans are quite happy with a season that has a decent cup run, a few ups and downs in the league (ensure's a bit of squeeky bum action) and a win over your local rivals. Glory rarely comes to those outside the bookies pre-season favorites - with the exception of Portsmouth, but, hey, look where their moment of glory got them! So for every Chelsea there are dozens of Yeovil Town's, for every Manchester Utd - numerous Accrington Stanley's....you get the idea. In fact, if football is all about winning trophies then 78 of the 82 professional clubs fans in England may as well go and shoot themselves because you've got no hope.

Maybe I tell myself this because I support a team outside of the "Big 4" but it all just seems a bit soulless: Sacking your manager if you lose two on the trot, having your best players complaining that the clubs offer of £150k a week wages was insulting and demanding silly investment in the team as soon as the smallest sign of weakness is shown. It's not real, it's fantasy football and shows how much the game has lost touch with it's roots. As much as any footballer loves to watch the likes of Messi and Barcelona playing their imperious "games console" football we must not lose touch with the not so beautiful side of the game.

This is the first contribution from guest blogger Eddy Lascelles who is a huge Leeds fan first and foremost and a true football lover.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

City fluff their lines again

Manchester City suffered mixed fortunes yesterday; Carlos Tevez withdrew his transfer request and then they lost to Everton at home. Yesterday presented City with a chance to top the league at Christmas for the first time in 81 years and they fluffed their lines. It could be a key moment in the race for the title which now sees City’s nearest and most fierce rivals United 2 points clear with 2 games in hand.

It will have come as a huge relief to Mancini that Tevez revoked his transfer request; he is the stand out player in the team and has almost single-handedly guided City into the top 4 this season. It still remains to be seen whether he will actually remain at City or depart to his beloved Argentina to be with his children.

This season has been incredibly strange already and although City remained outsiders last night should effectively end their title hopes. Only Birmingham and Wigan have scored fewer goals at home which is a sad indictment of how they have played this season. In order to win this league you must make your home ground a fortress and you cannot lose to your rivals there; City have already lost to Arsenal and Everton which is simply not good enough.

The squad is strong and should be capable of competing on all fronts but they have bought too many average players in key positions. Vincent Kompany has been a revelation this season but Toure has gone back to the form he showed at Arsenal before he moved and Lescott simply isn’t good enough at the top level. They have bought far too many defensive midfielders and lack creativity at home. I am truly flabbergasted that Gareth Barry is still in their first team, people question what Mikel does for Chelsea but what has Barry ever done. It just seems to me that he is the drinking leader for many of the younger English players.

If Mancini is to take City to the top and remain there they must qualify for the Champions League so they can attract the next level of player. Until then they will remain outsiders.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Venky group could ruin Blackburn

When Blackburn Rovers were taken over less than a month ago I was relatively optimistic. Having seen the debacle at Liverpool and Manchester United I was confident that John Williams would never have entered into an agreement with anyone he was less than 110% sure about. The Jack Walker legacy would be maintained and the club would continue to be run efficiently.

Suddenly on Monday afternoon my mobile goes off and a friend had text me to inform me of Sam Allardyce’s sacking; this cannot be true I thought. Although the 7-1 defeat to United was embarrassing it is not unusual for Rovers to get thrashed away from home against the top clubs. Although the current position of 13th is nothing to get excited about this month presented us with winnable fixtures that could have moved us further up the league.

All of a sudden the game at Ewood Park against West Ham on Saturday is crucial, a loss and there could be a rapid descent down the league table. Ryan Nelson the former club captain has already spoken of his frustration at losing Allardyce and one has to wonder how it will affect many of the other players. In situations like this it is always difficult to predict but these players are professional and should act in that capacity.

Steve Kean will be looking after the managerial duties over the coming weeks with the news that it could be a couple of months until a successor to Allardyce is found. The appointment will be a clear indication of the Venky Group’s plans for Blackburn. If we can attract a good European manager with some top pedigree it may bode well for the future. The arrival of a Hughton or Curbishley would not be an improvement on Big Sam and would be a worrying sign for the club.

The coming weeks will be incredibly tense for Blackburn fans and the fact that we still do not really know the intentions of our owners is a massive concern. Although for the first time we may be able to empathise with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and United fans; who knows, maybe in the not too distant futures we may be mentioned aside such illustrious clubs.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Wenger shows lack of ideas again

Yesterdays defeat at Old Trafford for Arsenal will come as huge blow to everyone associated with the club. They arrived in Manchester top of the Premier League and were hoping to demonstrate their title credentials against their old foes. Unfortunately for them they came up short again to a United side who know exactly how to exploit the Arsenal weaknesses.

It is getting incredibly boring being told by everyone from Wenger to the average Arsenal fan how the club is building and how people need to be more patient and loyal but surely enough is enough. While I agree that managers need time it is also incredibly important to realise when its time for a change. United have devised the ideal blueprint to stifle Wenger’s side year in year out and he is not changing anything; stubbornness can often be the biggest downfall for people who strive to reach the top.

People have been blaming Arsenal’s injuries and how Ferguson packs his midfield with players who can all play box to box. It can surely be no coincidence that Park has scored more goals against Wenger’s men than anyone other side; he is exactly what is required when playing Arsenal.

It may well be 6 year without a trophy if Arsenal do not win the Carling Cup this season; which is highly improbable given some of the unusual exits this year. Any club who goes this length of time without winning major trophies should no longer be considered a good side and changes should be made. It is also Wenger’s inability to adapt his tactics in certain situations that show his errors on a larger scale. We are all told as youngsters that we need to learn from out mistakes and this applies more to the Frenchman than most at this time; I just don’t think he will which leaves Arsenal with a big decision.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Drogba could rue penalty miss

Yesterday’s London derby will be remembered for Didier Drogba’s missed penalty more than anything else. Chelsea had the chance to beat Spurs at White Hart Lane and send a message to their rivals that they were back. Instead Manchester United go into this evenings game with Arsenal knowing a victory would put them 3 points clear of Chelsea with a game in hand.

It was a much improved performance from the Blues who will have been incredibly relieved to have seen Frank Lampard return after 3 months out. He will give them a much needed boost and goal threat coming into the hectic Christmas schedule. Ancelotti will be boosted by the performance following an unsettled spell at Stamford Bridge since Ray Wilkins sudden departure.

We have seen the effects of Abramovich’s meddling before and if he did not learn his lesson after Mourinho left then there is clearly no hope for anyone. His latest top class manager won the double for the first time in Chelsea’s history at the first attempt but still finds himself in an uneasy position. The Russian billionaire clearly understands the game but seems incapable of acknowledging that what Barcelona produced against Real Madrid is not possible to replicate over night.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Ballon d'Or shortlist announced...

The 2010 Ballon D’Or shortlist has been announced this morning and it comes as no surprise to learn that it involves 3 Barcelona players; Iniesta, Messi and Xavi. All 3 were fantastic in the calendar year with Iniesta and Xavi both heavily involved in Spain’s World Cup triumph.

Lionel Messi was last year’s winner and has had an outstanding season. He has scored well over 50 goals in a calendar year which is simply phenomenal and continues to wreak havoc against defences all over Europe. The fact that Argentina failed to progress further in the World Cup would suggest that he is unlikely to regain his crown however.

Xavi Hernandez has been the stand out central midfielder in the world for the last few years. His passing range and success rate is staggering and he continues to make both Barcelona and Spain the team they are. He is now in his 12 full season for Barcelona and the superlatives just keep coming; last week against Real Madrid he broke a Spanish League record for the most completed passes – 110.

Andres Iniesta scored the winning goal in the World Cup final and would be my vote for the award. He missed both semi finals against Inter Milan in the Champions League and was sorely missed; one wonders whether the game would have been different if he had played. In a tight game his ability to manoeuvre the ball passed defenders would have been crucial.

In summary:

1st: Andres Iniesta
2nd: Xavi Hernandez
3rd: Lionel Messi

Coach of the Year:

Jose Mourinho

Friday, 3 December 2010

Why do British Exports not succeed

For some reason British football exports do not seem to succeed; many high profile players have tried but very few have succeeded. There have been many varied opinions offered as to the reasons but it remains somewhat of a mystery. Whether it is the ability to pick up the language, adapt to the culture or the simply the change in football style every case has been different.

Over the recent years Steve McManaman had the most success at Real Madrid where he lifted the La Liga title and the Champions League trophy twice each during a 4 year spell. He attributed his success to adapting very quickly to the different lifestyle and more importantly settled into the Madrid style of football very quickly. McManaman was at Real during the Galacticos years and every season was on the verge of leaving before turning it round in his favour. He learnt Spanish very quickly and became a huge favourite with the Madrid faithful.

The most recent high profile export has been David Beckham. He is somewhat unique in this debate as wherever he goes he appears to settle very quickly without really immersing himself in the culture. Whilst he was a success for most of his time at Madrid he never had an incredible understanding of the language and a similar thing happened when he was in Italy with AC Milan.

There have of course been some real flops in recent times. Jonathan Woodgate joined Real Madrid in 2004 and spent the majority of his time there injured. By the time he finally made his debut he made an impact, but not the one he was looking for; he scored an own goal and got sent off. In 2007 he was voted the worst signing Madrid had made in the 21st century.

Of course many of the players who leave Britain do not always end up at such high profile clubs. There isn’t one British player representing a side in the top flight in Germany, Holland, Italy or Spain which is a concerning fact. Almost all of the top European Nations have players playing in the Premier League and nearly all are represented in all of the major leagues in Europe. Playing in other top leagues enables you to learn how to adapt to different styles of football which helps the national side and improves you as a player.

However, this is not by any means a compulsory measure to ensure National success. The Italian’s are very similar to British players in that they don’t travel abroad as much and they won the World Cup in 2006. I really think it goes further into the society and culture here. Football is more physical in this country than in Europe where the importance is placed on technique.

I feel that the main reason for players not adapting to different European leagues is their inability to adjust their playing style. The coaching in this country is clearly very good but we need to produce more players like Jack Wilshire who you feel could play in any league across Europe because of his technical prowess. There is still the issue of settling in new surroundings but you can only do that effectively if you have the ability to succeed in your new environment first.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Barcelona are simply the best

Last nights game at the Camp Nou was simply breathtaking. The standard of football shown by Barcelona in particular was magnificent and at the final whistle Real Madrid would have been hoping to get out of Catalonia as quickly as possible. Even Jose Mourinho was powerless to stop Iniesta, Messi, Xavi and Villa tearing his new team apart.

The game started at an incredible pace and Barcelona just oozed quality. This team has been compared to some of the great club sides in the past but as far as I am concerned this is the greatest side the world has ever seen. Last night there were 10 Ballon d’Or nominees and 15 World Cup winners on the pitch which is astonishing. The way Barcelona moved the ball and retained possession was an example to anyone who has ever played the game; one or two touches in almost every instance and all impeccable. Last night Xavi completed 110 successful passes which is a Spanish League record; Barca also completed 684 passes to Madrid’s 331.

This defeat was incredibly significant for Mourinho; it was the first time in his managerial career that his team have conceded more than 4 goals. The Madrid side is still relatively inexperienced and will recover from this but the gulf in class was easy to see last night and remedying this could be Jose’s biggest challenge.

The night belonged to Barcelona though and the way they destroyed their biggest rivals will be etched on many memories for a long time. The poise, balance and expertise demonstrated last night was at a higher level than any other club side can come close to and they will now be even more feared across Europe.

Monday, 29 November 2010

United hit 7 and top the table

At Old Trafford on Saturday Manchester United finally demonstrated their title credentials with a 7 goal demolition of Blackburn Rovers. United remain undefeated this season but this was their first really outstanding performance of the 2010/11 season.

The much maligned Dimitar Berbatov helped himself to 5 goals but it was his link up play with Nani and Rooney that really caught the eye. The worrying thing for the remainder of the league is that United are now top of the league having stuttered through the opening couple of months. It is unusual for the Red Devils to come out firing in August but there are usually a few more hiccups on the way than this season.

Considering the fact that they have been missing most of their first choice back four, a couple of first choice midfielders and of course the Rooney gate saga it is yet another remarkable feat from Ferguson. If they can maintain their usual run through Christmas and the New Year it could be United’s 4th title in 5 years.

There is certainly still room for improvement and the need for a natural replacement for Paul Scholes will be top of Ferguson’s priority list in the transfer window. There are already rumours about bringing in Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich or Steven Defour of Standard Liege. However, for now Ferguson will be quite content knowing his side are 2 points clear before the start of December; things are looking extremely ominous for the rest of the league.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Barcelona vs Real Madrid Preview

This coming Monday will see the first El Clasico of the season at the Camp Nou; more importantly it will be Jose Mourinho’s first visit as the Real Madrid manager. Last seasons corresponding fixtures resulted in wins for Barcelona which proved pivotal in deciding the title; the Catalan giants ending up lifting the league trophy for the 22 time by 3 points. This season both sides are already dominating and these games will have a crucial role in deciding the eventual winners.

The season is only 12 games old and Real Madrid are setting the early pace having dropped 4 points. Mourinho has already instilled his confidence and belief on a squad who have struggled domestically and in European competition over the last few years. Add to that players such as Carvalho, Di Maria, Khedira and Ozil and you have a very strong and technically gifted side. It is not a typical Mourinho side though; they are far more attacking and possess more flair players than he has had at previous clubs.

Madrid however are yet to face a real test domestically whilst a win and an away draw against Milan suggest that Los Blancos are ready to compete again in Europe. This game will come as a real test of the squad and will provide an insight into how their season may develop.

Barcelona meanwhile lie 1 point behind but have won the last 5 Clasicos which should certainly give them a mental edge; although Mourinho wasn’t present for any of these. The Catalan giants have had a steady start to the season but have become a little too reliant on Messi’s goals. The wonderful Argentine is currently the best player in the World and an integral part of Barcelona’s hopes for the remainder of the season.

The real problem Guardiola is facing this season is maintaining Xavi. Most of the top Spanish players have not had a significant period of time off for 3 years; European Championships, the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. Barcelona currently have 7 players who started in the World Cup final last summer and this is starting to take its toll. Xavi Hernandez pulls the strings and makes Barcelona tick, his incredible range of passing separates his from any other midfielder in the world and his pass success rate is astonishing.

Whatever the outcome of this game the title cannot be won in November, but it can be lost. Neither side can afford to lose the game but I do not expect a negative game; Barca only know one way to play at home and Madrid are a new beast under Mourinho. Let us hope the game lives up to the hype.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Its a funny old game

Does anyone actually want to win the 2010/11 Premiership title? It may sound like a rather foolish question but at the moment the top sides are all in disarray to varying degrees. Chelsea lost again amidst reports about Ancelotti’s unrest, Arsenal lost at home for the 3rd time in 5 attempts and United, who were considered outsiders after Rooney gate regained top spot (although 2nd on goal difference to Chelsea).

The problems going on at Chelsea appear to be Abramovich driven again. Ancelotti appears to be unhappy about the departure of Ray Wilkins last week and according to sources had no input in the selection of his new assistant. This is not the way to run a football club and the Russian should have learnt after Mourinho left that the manager needs full control. The players are certainly good enough, although with Lampard missing it has exposed their lack of goal scorers from midfield.

Last months Rooney saga had the press yet again convinced that Ferguson was losing his grip on management and that the end was nigh; after 24 years at the club and 30 odd trophies you would assume people would stop writing him off! United are certainly not as good as they were a few seasons ago but this is another side in transition. The fact that United are joint top and have had an average season so far should be worrying for the other contenders.

They will be the top 2 in May but it is the chasing pack that will be interesting. Arsenal proved that they are not strong enough to compete for the highest honours at the weekend with an appalling 2nd half display. There are too many average players in their team and the fault must lie at Wenger’s door for not strengthening the defence and buying a new keeper. Spurs were very good in the 2nd half but are far too inconsistent at the moment to maintain a challenge for the league. This season they must ensure they finish in the top or they may lose some of their top players. Manchester City had a fine win at the weekend but remain incredibly unpredictable; there are also too many problem players and I would expect to see some more on field brawls before the end of the season.

It is good for the league that this season has been so inconsistent; however, I do feel that the standard is worse than in previous seasons. But, it certainly makes it exciting for the fans.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A game of two halves

Spurs triumphed in the North London derby this afternoon in an incredible game that may well be the start of a shift in power between Spurs and Arsenal. This was Arsenal’s third defeat at home in 5 games and that just simply is not good enough if you are to be title contenders.

Arsenal were far more positive than Spurs in the opening stages and they scored after 10mins when the impressive Nasri bundled the ball over the line after a mistake from Gomes. The game then seemed over when Arshavin played in Chamakh for a 2nd. Tottenham were slow to the ball and positionally poor in the 1st half although Arsenal’s dominance was not entirely reflected in the score line.

At half-time Redknapp brought on Defoe and told Jenas to sit in front of the back 4 and protect the defence. They pulled one back through Bale and suddenly the game had been turned on its head; Arsenal looked shell shocked and their defence could not stand up to the onslaught.

At the back William Gallas who was booed throughout was fantastic at the back. They were playing as a team finally and the 2nd came shortly afterwards when Fabregas foolishly put his arm up at a free kick. Van der Vaart casually stroked the ball into the net from the resulting penalty and there was only one team that was going to win from there.

With 5 minutes to go Van der Vaart turned provider and Kaboul glanced in a header at the far post. This win is massive for Spurs; they must now go and build on this and cement their place in the top 4.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Nasri shines

Last nights International at Wembley produced very few positives for England but Samir Nasri’s performance was further evidence of a player at the peak of his powers. Since arriving at Arsenal 2 years ago his form has certainly fluctuated but his prodigious talent is now beginning to flourish on a consistent basis. His ability to manoeuvre the ball past opponents at ease demonstrates his sublime technical ability.

I first saw Nasri playing for Marseille in 2005 and was struck by his composure; that ability is not something you can teach, look at Theo Walcott for example. Last seasons injury to Cesc Fabregas saw Wenger move Nasri in field where he has more scope to really hurt the opposition. He thrived in the central position although he remained somewhat inconsistent.

In his early career he was likened to Zinedine Zidane; both of Algerian descent and both at their best when played as a playmaker behind the strikers. This comparison had some detrimental effect at the time but he now seems to be becoming that type of player; everything looks so easy and he moves the ball from left to right with consummate ease.

Wenger faces a tough decision in the summer when Barcelona will surely come calling for Fabregas. However, in Nasri and his young protégé Wilshire he has more than able replacements. The questions for Samir, as with the whole Arsenal squad is can the club achieve the success the player’s desire. The jury remains out but if he were to become available most of Europe will be lining up for his signature.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Benitez struggling in mission impossible

Last night was yet another example of Rafa Benitez’s struggle to maintain Inter Milan’s domination of the Italian league. A 1-0 loss at the San Siro (in their home fixture) will do little to raise confidence and unfortunately for Benitez the result seemed inevitable after Ibrahimovic’s penalty.

The squad is still blessed with talent, although the loss of Walter Samuel for the season will have been a big blow to Benitez. The body language is different to last season though; yesterday’s game reminded me of watching Inter before the Calciopoli scandal that saw them become the top side in Italy – good players but lacking direction and motivation. That maybe incredibly harsh on one performance but they looked lethargic against Spurs a couple of weeks ago.

It was always going to be an impossible task for Benitez and it looks like he will need to rebuild sooner rather than later. Too many of those players responded brilliantly to Mourinho and unfortunately do not look quite the same under the Spaniard. He does need time and support if he is to achieve anything close to last season but it seems unlikely.

On a positive note he has revitalised Samuel Eto’o by playing him through the middle rather than on the wing as Mourinho did. Although he had a quite game last night he has been fantastic when I have seen him earlier in the season. He is surely the most in form striker in Europe at the moment?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Modric master class

For the first time in a few months it will not be Rafael Van der Vaart’s or Gareth Bale’s names echoing around White Hart lane at the full time whistle; it will be Luka Modric’s. He delivered an absolute master class this afternoon against a woeful Blackburn side. Modric has been deployed in a slightly deeper position this season where he has been able to pull the strings for Spurs.

It is his 3rd season in north London and he is starting to look every inch the player he was expected to be when he was signed from Dinamo Zagreb. He took some time to get used to the physical side of the English game which took slightly longer than anticipated. However, now sitting behind Van der Vaart he is able to pull the strings and dictate the pace with which Spurs attack. This afternoon he was everywhere, he broke up attacks and then distributed with immaculate accuracy and precision.

In this deeper role he is more protected (by either Huddlestone or Jenas) and is able to break forward with more freedom. In previous seasons he has played further forward which meant he was always confronted by the defensive midfielder or centre back almost immediately. Now that they have outlets on both wings he has more options and is even capable of advancing with the ball and threatening the goal himself.

At a time when Manchester United are desperately seeking a replacement for Paul Scholes it maybe dangerous for Spurs if Modric continues to excel in this position but they will be more than happy if he does.

Lampard’s presence is sorely missed

The news that Frank Lampard has suffered another injury will not have been welcome news for Carlo Ancelotti. He has already missed the last 2 months and looks set to miss a further 3 weeks. It is not only his goals that Chelsea are missing; it is his extra presence in attack that is really noticeable. His late forays into the box are a vital part of Chelsea’s offensive tactics and none of his replacements have been able to do this.

Last weeks second half display at Anfield demonstrated exactly why he is so missed by Chelsea. The number of times the ball fell to the edge of the box and was met by red shirts first was a worrying feature for Ancelotti. Whilst Essien has been contributing with goals it seems the burden on Anelka, Drogba and Malouda has become too great. Any side would miss a player who has contributed over 20 goals a season from midfield for 5 seasons but it is Lampard’s overall game they are really missing.

It must be said however that Chelsea remain top of the league and have a superior goal difference to every other team but with the busy Christmas schedule only round the corner they will need Lampard fully fit if they are to retain their Premiership crown.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Carroll for England?

Fabio Capello will shortly announce his England squad for the upcoming friendly with France on November 17th. Having watched Andy Carroll’s display against Arsenal on Sunday I think it would be incredibly difficult for him to be left out. With so many of England’s strikers not available it is surely an opportune moment to see how he handles international football.

Currently Bent, Defoe and Rooney are all out injured and Peter Crouch is not good enough to play at this level. Although his record is good for England the highest ranking team he has ever scored against is Croatia; whilst the others have been the minnows of international football. Carroll offers pace, strength and an eye for goal which should guarantee his place in the squad; he is also in a rich vein of form.

When Capello took the job he insisted he would only pick players who were in form; whilst this has not been the case during his reign he has little choice for this game. It is a great opportunity to play a few of the Under 21s and get them used to playing for the senior team. Wilshire will almost certainly figure whilst I also feel Phil Jones at Blackburn should be in the squad. Having been ever present for Rovers this season he has shown more than enough quality to step up to the next level.

Whilst many of these friendlies are ultimately pointless Capello has a real chance to blood some of the youngsters. Hopefully we will see a few new faces in the squad who maybe hungrier for success than some of their counterparts.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Torres returns with a brace

What a great sight it was at Anfield yesterday to see Fernando Torres almost back to his best. Liverpool have taken a bashing from critics this season and Torres has wrongly been blamed for some below par performances. The true test of great players is to perform in the big games and Torres did exactly that yesterday. The first goal was typical of him and the 2nd was simply outstanding.

It has been a difficult year for El Nino, he has been plagued by injuries and was overplayed by Rafa Benitez last year. His form in the World Cup was way off what he is capable of doing but because he is such a good player Spain persisted with him. Torres, like many of his Spanish team mates are really struggling for fitness after 3 summers without a break. It is even more relevant because someone like Torres is explosive and if the muscles are not at their optimum ruptures, sprains and tears become more likely.

It has been a very peculiar start to the season and with their 3 points yesterday Liverpool now find themselves 5 points off a Champions League spot. They looked far more convincing than they have done and Hodgson’s tactics finally seem to be paying dividends; although it is still too early to get carried away. Wherever Liverpool do end up much will be down to Torres; he is a world class player who can win games on his own and those players are few and far between in the Premiership.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Arsenal come up short again

In the afternoon's early kick off Newcastle stunned Arsenal by beating them comfortably at the Emirates to make it a dreadful week for Arsene Wenger's side. They just never got going and offered nothing offensively; although a lot of credit must go to Hughton's men who were well organised and worked very hard.

The game was settled just before half-time when Andy Carroll rose above Fabianski to head the ball into an empty net. The Arsenal keeper had been experiencing a decent run of form but this error again highlights the fact that until they sign a top class goalkeeper the trophy cabinet at the Emirates will continue to gather dust for a while longer. There was no creativity from the side who offered nothing in the final third apart from the odd moment where Newcastle switched off.

Newcastle were oustanding and fully deserved the 3 points. Joey Barton had an outstanding game in the centre of midfield where he dealt with everything thrown at him. This was Newcastle's 3rd win on the trot and they now find themselves sitting in 4th place in the table which is a remarkable effort.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Bale strikes again

It seems like longer than a fortnight ago that Gareth Bale announced himself to the rest of Europe with a virtuoso performance; tonight he has done it again at White Hart Lane. Spurs started the game adventurously and took the game to Inter. On 18 minutes Modric teased and probed the Italian defence before sliding the ball through to Van der Vaart who finished with ease.

As the half wore on Inter began to gain a foothold in the game but failed to really test Cudicini in the Spurs goal. The 2nd half began rather poorly but sprung to life when Bale went on one of his marauding runs and provided a sublime cross that even Crouch could not miss. The game seemed over but suddenly Eto'o created some space in the box and found the bottom corner with a fine curling shot.

Spurs then showed their composure and Bale yet again proved his class with a dynamic run from midfield before providing Pavlyuchenko with another tap in. It was a fantastic game that was decided by Bale and the outstanding work ethic from Spurs as a team. A win in the next round at home to Werder will ensure qualification to the last 16 which surely now looks likely. Where the team goes from there nobody can predict but much will depend on the form of the outstanding Gareth Bale.

Holloway for manager of the year

Even though we are only just into November I would like to start the ball rolling for the Premier League Manager of the Year to be Ian Holloway. Whatever happens over the coming months he has been incredible value already and has demonstrated that he can manage at the highest level. Blackpool currently occupy 9th in the table which is a remarkable achievement.

It is not only humour he offers in press conferences, he provides an insight into how to run clubs efficiently and without the resources the top clubs take for granted which is unbelievably refreshing. His response when questioned about the Rooney saga was exemplary, he not only took issue with Rooney’s behaviour but also spoke up about the state of the game; "I've got big problems with the people running football. They are so wrong it's frightening," Holloway said.

His tirade continued against the entire situation and although some of his points veered away from his main issues he expressed his concerns about how the game is being run. Having managed in League football for the last 13 years he is getting his chance against the big teams and appears to be relishing it. Blackpool were written off by every pundit, fan and blogger before the season started and he has clearly used this to his advantage.

Holloway has set his team up to attack these supposed top teams in the league and has already made some of them look distinctly average. There is a very long way to go this season but for the sake of the game it would be an incredible achievement if he keeps Blackpool in the Premier League this year.

I want to leave this with my favourite quote from Holloway – absolute genius!

"If you're a burglar, it's no good poncing about outside somebody's house, looking good with your swag bag ready. Just get in there, burgle them and come out. I don't advocate that obviously, it's just an analogy."

Sunday, 31 October 2010

How strong is the Premier League?

With a late goal at the Emirates and a debatable 2nd goal for United at Old Trafford one really has to ask how strong the current Premier League is? United have been roundly criticised at every turn this season but remain undefeated in all competitions this season. Arsenal meanwhile have been hailed yet again as a great footballing example but are still level on points with United.

There is no doubt that Chelsea are the strongest and best team in the league this year and should retain their title before the end of the season. What is becoming rather concerning is those in the chasing pack appear to becoming weaker rather than stronger. City lost to Wolves, Spurs just seem incapable of getting a result against any of the top clubs and Liverpool are in a serious decline.

A commonly used parameter is how successful the EPL sides are in Europe; last year none of the English sides progressed past the Quarter Finals (albeit for the first time in a number of seasons). Football usually works in cycles like anything else and having dominated for so long the English game is now riddled with debt, falling attendances and risks losing it's top players to European Leagues. If the likes of Fabregas, Rooney and Torres were to leave for Spain in the summer it could spell the end of the league's dominance.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

A big week ahead for Spurs

Although we are only 3 months into the season this next week will provide us with the clearest indication of how good Spurs actually are. There has been a lot of noises from Redknapp already this year about whether they are serious title contenders and there is no better opportunity to prove this than to play United at Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon. Following this they play Inter Milan at White Hart Lane on Tuesday which could prove pivitol in their hopes to progress in the Champions League.

The addition of Van der Vaart seems to have given Spurs a new lease of life; they are scoring goals and playing some really good attacking football. They are still without 3 top class defernders in Dawson, King and Woodgate and have been missing Defoe for a while now; once back there is a good chance that Spurs can retain their Champions League place.

There have been a number of positives to take from their European adventure already but they will face their toughest test yet at home to Inter on Tuesday. Although Bale's late goals made the scoreline look respectable they must improve on every aspect of their first half performance. Spurs must learn to retain possession for sustained periods of time against the top sides; they do not have the ability as yet to do this but the experience they are gaining will only aid their development.

I do not feel Spurs are quite at the level to be considered title challengers as yet but are getting closer, they need to add some real quality in a couple of areas to be able to compete with Chelsea. However, in order to achieve this they must guarantee Champions League football and a result away at Old Trafford would be a great start.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Hernandez starting to look the real deal

With all the trials and tribulations at Manchester United over the last fortnight it was nice for yesterday evenings cup tie to be settled by their next future star. Javier Hernandez was brought in by United this summer before he starred for Mexico in the World Cup. Although he is rather slight he has great pace as well as a lethal finish which could prove vital for his side in Rooney’s absence.

Chicharito or Little Pea as he is known affectionately by his fans has scored 6 goals in 11 appearances this season which is a great return in your first season in a foreign league. He has scored goals throughout his young career thus far and looks set to continue. For someone so young he already possesses an incredible understanding of the game. The great strikers have always said they had an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time; it is not something you can teach, you either have it or you don’t.

He has had a tremendous start to his United career and early indications suggest he is going to be a folk hero among those in the Stretford End for a long time.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Inter show class but Bale fights back

Last night was what the Champions League is all about. The standard of football played by Inter Milan in the Giuseppe Meazza in the first half was outstanding; although aided by some woeful play from Spurs. The reigning Champions of Europe set the tone for the night in the first minute when after 14 passes the ball broke to Javier Zanetti who dinked the ball over Gomez for a 1 nil lead.

The sending off effectively ended the game as a contest (or so we thought) but it was the correct decision and Inter were then running riot. Many of the Spurs players were found wanting and were desperate for the full time whistle, let alone the half-time break. However, they had not banked on Gareth Bale who lit up the stadium in the 2nd half with a virtuoso performance. His hat-trick of goals were taken brilliantly but Inter could and maybe should have done more to close him down on every occasion.

The comeback has taken the gloss off Inter’s display but Bale has certainly announced himself on the European stage. Spurs should not be complacent though, they have been a little fortunate so far in the competition not to be taught a lesson and last night they were. However, they are still well in the hunt for a place in the next round and should take a lot on board from yesterday. The defending simply cannot be that bad again and they desperately need a top striker as Crouch yet again proved his inadequacies against the best sides.

Inter proved that losing Mourinho will not effect them deeply at this stage, although one wonders whether Bale would have had as much joy against his organisation. The class of Eto’o, Sneijder and Coutinho was there for everyone to see and the later looks unbelievably good! I for one am really looking forward to the return game at White Hart Lane in 2 weeks.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Ozil just gets better and better

With all the dull ties in the first stage of the Champions League it was refreshing last night to watch 2 European greats clash at the Santiago Bernabeu. The 2 sides between them have won the trophy 16 times and the pedigree of players on display last night was sublime; World Cup Winners, multiple Champions League winners, Ballon d’Or winners, I could go on.

There was however, a 22 year old playing last night who cannot compete with some player’s individual or club honours but can certainly compete in terms of technical ability. Mesut Ozil was one of the great discoveries of the World Cup for me; I had heard him mentioned but had never seen him until then. I am now an avid fan of his and he is one of the most enjoyable players to watch; he doesn’t play act, plays the game simply and seems to really enjoy it which is rare to see these days.

The goal he scored last night was rather fortunate but was deserved for some of his magnificent interplay on the edge of the Milan area. He was almost playing one-twos for fun last night with Ronaldo, with whom he has already struck up a great understanding. He has never had an outstanding goal record but he does exactly what Mourinho asks him to do; link the midfield and attack, which he does effortlessly. Whatever happens at Madrid this season ‘los Blancos’ can be extremely happy that Ozil will be around for many years to come.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ferguson puts end to speculation

This afternoons press conference was truly remarkable. Alex Ferguson appeared in front of the media to discuss his club's forthcoming Champions League fixture but nobody was concerned; everyone was there to hear what he had to say about Wayne Rooney. The rumours have been flying around since it broke on Sunday evening and it was nice to finally hear some truth.

Rooney will not sign a new contract and wants out of United.

Ferguson clearly feels let down by Rooney but stated he has had not fallen out with him. This whole situation is exactly why football agents are loathed by managers and fans alike. It certainly seems to me that someone has been whispering in Rooney's ear saying 'lets get one more big deal in before you retire'. Now as much as it seems crazy to be talking about his retirement his agent will already have calculated how much the pair could earn from such a lucrative move.

Football as a whole has been dominated by financial issues for the last few weeks with Liverpool's issues and United's debt levels. Now it has arisen again simply because of greed. Rooney is a superb player but he is not bigger or better than any club; if he goes to Manchester City he will deserve everything he gets!

Jones impresses again

Phil Jones of Blackburn Rovers is going to be a top player. Having watched him at the end of last season against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United there was certainly much promise; he is starting to prove his quality this season. Last night he was easily Man of the Match in a dire game at Ewood Park where his quality shone through the torrential rain.

He has started the season playing as defensive midfield which is not his specialist position; he has however kept last season’s player of the season Steven Nzonzi out of the side. Stuart Pearce has been playing him alongside Chris Smalling for the England Under 21s and his performances have been outstanding. It will not be long before a top club comes a calling.

It is always difficult to assess how good promising young players will become. Occasionally though you see a player who just stands out from the rest and Jones is certainly one of these. At only 18 he has the physical stature to cope with the likes of Drogba and Tevez and also seems very competent on the ball. He dribbled the ball out of defence a couple of times last night with assurance. Jones also appeared on Football Focus a month or so and came across as a very level headed young man; hopefully he will not be corrupted in the same way other promising young players have over the years.

It will be an interesting season for Jones if he continues to develop at this rate. A full international call up is unlikely this year but Capello would be foolish not to take a closer look at him in the coming months.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Real Madrid must capitalise

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid team are top of La Liga and pose a real threat to Barcelona’s recent dominance. His team are still taking shape but are beginning to offer the threat Mourinho had predicted a few weeks ago. Whilst Cristiano Ronaldo spent the first few weeks shooting on sight and missing he remained patient and finally the goals have started to come.

The summer was spent adding to the midfield (bringing in Di Maria, Khedira and Ozil) and strengthening the defence by bringing in Carvalho. This has given Madrid the base for their lethal attacking players Higuain and Ronaldo who scored a brace each in Saturday’s victory over Malaga. Last season both Barcelona and Madrid broke records for their total points score at the end of the season and this season will be as close. The weekend also saw Xavi pick up another injury which may keep him sidelined for a while; he is instrumental in everything Barca do well and Guardiola is only too well aware of how crucial he will be in the coming months.

Whether Mourinho can replicate this form in the Champions League remains to be seen; the double header against Milan should give us an indication. They have not reached the quarter finals for the last 6 years and this will be one of Mourinho’s key objectives this season. Few however would doubt his ability to put Real Madrid back among Europe’s elite where they belong.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Cesc calls for a winning mentality

The latest rumbling from the Arsenal camp has been revealed today with their captain Cesc Fabregas insisting they have the quality but lack the winning mentality. Few could argue that they possess the style to compete with the best but there is still a significant gulf in class between themselves and the top clubs. The recent defeat to Chelsea demonstrated this again; they are several players short of being a top side.

The goalkeeping situation has been discussed to death and is a glaring error on Wenger’s part. The defence has been bolstered this season but is still miles behind Chelsea’s and United’s (if all fit), they have good left backs but that is unfortunately it. Vermaelen has been injured for weeks now and there is no news on when he will return; he looks a decent prospect but is still making too many errors at the top level.

The defence is of utmost importance for Arsenal as Song just is not good enough at this level. There were indications last season that he maybe able to step up but he has no discipline or positional sense and is generally a liability to the team. Whilst they do have some significant injuries one feels we have been here to many times in the past. They play Birmingham at home this weekend and will win comfortably which will paper over the cracks.

The captain and manager have both called for a winning mentality but how exactly are they supposed to get one? Cesc wanted out this summer and the only reason he remains is because negotiations stalled between the 2 clubs. There are some promising players coming through but until they can achieve some decent results against the top teams a winning mentality is impossible.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Scotland show heart

Yesterdays defeat at Hampden was predictable; the manner of the defeat however was not. After the shambles last Friday where Levein opted to play without a striker in the 1-0 loss in Sparta the Scotland team battled bravely against the best International side in the World. What a contrast when compared to England’s shocking display against the minnows of Montenegro.

Scottish sides have always had to show grit and determination against more able nations and this has been missing for the last couple of campaigns. The run in 2007 that saw them beat France home and away gave the fans real hope that this generation of players may get to a finals tournament for the first time since 1998. Although this is still rather unlikely this time the come back (albeit a very brief one) will give the team much needed confidence.

The financial problems affecting Scottish clubs has created real concern about the future of the game. Celtic and Rangers used to be able to challenge some of the top English teams but the gap is widening by the year. Scottish football needs some positive football results to revive the passion in the game; hopefully this display will lift the fans and players.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Van der Sar's replacement

With Edwin Van der Sar turning 40 later this month Alex Ferguson’s attention must be turning to who can replace the giant Dutchman. Rumours were rife at the start of the week that this would be his final season in Manchester; he has since come out and said he has no intention of retiring at the end of this season.

Having sold Ben Foster in the summer United will need to invest in a top class keeper who can maintain the high standards set by VDS. There are a number of possibilities being mentioned at the moment but the choice should be between 2; Buffon and De Gea.

Buffon has been arguably the best goalkeeper in the world for the last decade. Having made his debut at Parma aged 17 he signed for Juventus for a record £32.6 million in 2001 and has continued to impress throughout the Old Lady’s Calciopoli scandal. Although injuries have sidelined him for much of the last year he is still 32 and would be an ideal replacement when VDS retires.

In 1999 as young keeper came to prominence at Real Madrid; his name was Iker Casillas who has know been number one there for 10 years and is still only 29. Across the city in 2010 Athletico Madrid have unearthed their own goalkeeping gem in David de Gea who at 19 appears to be following in Casillas’ steps. It remains to be seen whether this young keeper continues to develop but early indications suggest he is going to be a world class keeper in the coming years and a move to one of Europe’s elite appears likely.

Whatever the financial situation is at United (they revealed yesterday they made a loss of £83.6 million in the last year), a new goalkeeper is something they can ill afford to not bring in. Ferguson has gone on record before stating it is an incredibly crucial position in the side and one that requires the best if United are to maintain their place among Europe’s elite.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Lineker finds more problems than solutions Part III

Ever since the Premiership was formed it has branded itself as the most exciting league in the world. It is watched by more people than any other league and generates more money than the rest of the top European leagues put together. However, the speed and physicality of the league means that technically gifted players find it harder to succeed than those in Germany and Spain.

When you watch the top Spanish sides play their ability to retain possession is very noticeable, whether they play the ball forward or backwards the key is ball retention. This is generally frowned upon in England and is usually met with
a chorus of boos; even at Arsenal who usually retain the ball better than any other side. Since Capello took the England job he has attempted to make this a vital part of their play; he is finding though that many of the players simply cannot play this style of football.

Klinsmann was interviewed on this programme and he made the point that England need to decide exactly how they are going to play and stick with it. Teams need to be flexible but the players need to know what to expect when they turn up for international games. England's style is fast and direct with plenty of pressure put on the opposition; when they play like this they can beat almost anyone. The key to this is encouraging players and fans to learn more about differing football styles and cultures so that they can vary things quickly and efficiently.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Lineker finds more problems than solutions Part II

The relationship between the FA and the Premier League is one that concerns me and I believe has a major influence on the national team. The fact that the top clubs in this country report to both rather than having one centralised organisation is wrong.

The FA is there to protect, promote and govern the game in this country. How can an entirely separate entity that appears to be predominantly concerned with their bank balance be allowed to have a significant measure of control? The Premier League has revolutionised football in this country, not only on the pitch but off it as well. There is much to be thankful for but one wonders whether more efforts should and could have been made to safe guard the vast sums of money given to English clubs.

The shambles that is Liverpool football club is not the fault of the Premiership; but can it be entirely blameless? What exactly happened at Portsmouth? Money was being spent when it didn’t exist; it was on the assumption they would get these big payouts for the Premier League. Teenagers are no longer responsible for cleaning the 1st team squad’s boots; they are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds when they haven’t even made it yet. How can this be right?

If England’s nation team is to progress it needs to be alongside the FA taking responsibility for football in this country. Money does talk but the Premier League has now been around for the best part of 2 decades whilst the gap between England and its rivals is simply getting bigger and bigger.

Lineker finds more problems than solutions...Part I

As I sat there watching Sunday nights ‘Can England win the next World Cup’ it struck me that the problems are more systematic of England’s psychological make-up than merely their ability to play football. For some reason there seems to be a reluctance to change the methods and adhere to the German or Spanish methods of producing young, technically gifted players; Martin Samuel stated that he feels England are trying to buy success rather than develop it.

The template Spain have used to achieve their recent success appears to be the most coveted; although it really isn’t as simple as it looks. Mourinho added towards the end that English children are encouraged to win first and play well 2nd; this is the polar opposite to how young players are taught across Spain. This cannot be remedied over night and is something that will take time to change. What is so disappointing is that none of the changes we hoped would be implemented appear to be taking place; Kevin Davies selection yesterday proving the point.

A more logical approach is needed from the FA and Premier League to promote a different brand of football than we see on a weekly basis. There are any number of factors that have contributed to England’s lack of success over recent generations; attitude, climate, expectation, the influence of the Premier League, money, national identity and many more. I will look to discuss these at further length over the coming days.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ramires shines but Champions still miss Lampard

Chelsea brushed Arsenal aside at Stamford Bridge this afternoon and stretched their lead at the summit of the Premiership to 4 points. Whilst Arsenal controlled the majority of the game they could not transmit their pressure into goals; whilst their nemisis Didier Drogba scored his 13th goal in 13 games against Arsenal. The game was played predominantly in the middle third of the pitch where Essien, Mikel and Ramires dominated their opponents.

The newest member of this trio is Ramires, a summer signing from Benfica who had an impressive game. He looked rather lightweight in their defeat to Man City last week but was snapping at Arsenal's midfield all afternoon today and played a major role in Chelsea's attacking threat. Even with these 3 it is becoming increasingly noticeable that they are missing Frank Lampard.

It is not only Lampard's goals that they miss; they miss his overall presence. They have not had anyone arriving late in the box which not only creates scoring opportunites for Lampard himself but also many of his players. Any midfielder who scores over 20 goals a season would be missed by any side but for Chelsea to get back to their impenetrable best they need a fully fit Lampard; although having said that they are not doing a bad job without him.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Hodgson must get a response at Anfield

Liverpool football club are a shambles off the pitch and are starting to resemble one on the pitch as well. This is the view held by the majority of the football media. There is no argument whatsoever about their finances, they are in a perilous position thanks to their American owners and one hopes they can resolve this in the near future.

The choice to bring in Roy Hodgson was a wise one; he will not suffer fools and will simply get on with the job in hand. What little transfer funds he has had his disposal he has spent wisely and thoughtfully. The addition of Konchesky is a stop gap but having managed him at Fulham Hodgson will know how to get the best out of him. The 2 Bosman signings of Cole and Jovanovic was shrewd financial business and the addition of Meireles could prove to be one of the buys of the season. The biggest problems confronting the manager is getting the best out of Torres and giving confidence to the other players.

Fernando Torres is an exceptional player and one of the best strikers in world football. Liverpool became too reliant on him last year and Benitez must take the brunt of the blame as he continued to play him when he wasn’t fit. He has played almost 3 years of constant football (including Confederations Cup) and the man simply needs a break. However, Liverpool just do not have the strength in depth up front that they should have.

Their start to the season has not been easy; at home to Arsenal and Sunderland whilst travelling away to Old Trafford and the stadium of Manchester. The pressure on the squad is mounting at the moment and they need a good home win to restore some of the faith in themselves and their loyal fans. This weekend they face Blackpool at home and they must win to ensure the pressure does not continue to mount.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Simply the best

Last nights early kick off in the Champions League saw Barcelona pick up an away point at Rubin Kazan. The game was entirely dominated by Barca but with all that possession they simply could not break the Russian side down. Amidst all of this was the shining light of Andres Iniesta; in my opinion the best midfielder currently playing the game. He possesses the passing range of Xavi and the guile of Messi. The fact that he scored the winning goal in the World Cup Final and dedicated it to Dani Jarque (a close friend who died tragically in 2009) shows the humility of the man. Last night he did not score but was at the centre of everything Barca did well.

There was a moment in the game with Athletic Bilbao at the weekend where he chased an overhit pass to the bye line; he controlled the ball instantly after it dropped over his head and then simply back healed it in the same moment with his other foot to Maxwell. There are only a handful of players who could have done that in the world and make it look so easy; many of them being his club and international team mates.

Much is made of the physical fitness and strength of players in the modern game and Iniesta demonstrates how with a good technique you can outmanoeuvre anyone.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Goalkeeping mistakes but Wenger’s fault

It is becoming increasingly difficult to remember a time when Arsenal goalkeepers were not being blamed or criticised by all in the media. Ever since David Seaman left Arsenal in 2003 it has been a problem area for Wenger’s teams. All summer there were rumours and speculation about who would be brought in to be the number 1 this season.

Yet again no transfer materialised and Manuel Almunia was firmly backed by Wenger at the start of the season. We are only 2 months into the season already and Almunia and his understudy Fabianski have already made countless blunders which have cost the side sloppy goals. As much as these are individual errors the blame must lie solely at the manager’s door. For all his wonderful work done in spotting gifted technical players this is a fundamental floor in his management. Ferguson identified the keeper as a vital cog in the team after making a few mistakes; many Arsenal fans, pundits and players have commented on this for a long time now but still nothing is done.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to compete at the top and remain there but one thing has been proved time and time again; money must be spent on quality to remain there. For all Arsenals good attacking displays they are short at the back and have 2 inept Goalkeepers who should have been replaced. Surely January cannot pass without Arsenal purchasing a keeper who will enable them to challenge for the major honours.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

City expose Chelsea fragilities

So Chelsea arent quite the destructive force we all thought after their 2nd defeat in a week away to Manchester City. Whilst they didn't play badly, they didnt control the game as much as they have done in their Premier League encounters earlier this season. Ancelotti's team are still missing Frank Lampard, whose late runs into the box would have been invaluable yesterday.

Roberto Mancini set his side up as he has done all season with 3 holding players who controlled the midfield and didnt allow Essien or Ramires the room they have become accustomed to this season. Ramires looks like a good acquisition but is still adapting to his new surroundings and was caught in possession several times. There was a moment in the 2nd half when the Chelsea capatin John Terry could be seen encouraging his players to speed up their passing; they were unusually quiet yesterday and this was most evident in Drogba who had a poor game. This highlighted another issue Chelsea will face this season; their bench is not as good as some of their rivals. With Drogba struggling yesterday the only other option they had up front was Sturridge who is still to convince at the highest level.

It was an important win for City who should gain considerable confidence from this performance. With other results yesterday it could prove to be a crucial result at the end of the season. It remains to be seen whether Mancini will make the team a little bit more expansive as the season continues but he has ensured their solidity at the back.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wilshire stars in derby romp

Last night gave us the strongest indication yet that Jack Wilshire is going to be one of the stars of the future. He dictated play in the first half and again came to prominence in the first period of extra time. Arsenal’s comfortable victory was predominately down to the maturity and expertise of an 18 year old with only 7 league games under his belt.

The evening had started rather shockingly with Arsene Wenger actually putting out a strong team in the Carling Cup; only time will tell whether this was due to the opposition or him taking the competition seriously. The away side soon got into their stride and dominated the first half with Spurs barely able to string 3 passes together. Redknapp changed things at half time and the game was all square after Fabianski let Keane’s shot go through him; this must surely be the last time he is seen in an Arsenal shirt.

Once again Wilshire began to stamp his authority on the midfield and the result became inevitable early in extra time. It is quite remarkable that an 18 year old can dictate play so efficiently and effortlessly; he even remained calm after Spurs decided the only way to stop him was by fouling him. The ability to find space and move effectively into it is something that is innate and will only improve with age. I for one hope he ends up playing further up the pitch where his creativity will come to the fore. Arsenal spent the entire summer waiting for Fabregas to make a decision on his future, from last nights evidence there seems little reason to worry.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Does Wenger have a point?

Over the last few days it has been almost impossible to miss Arsene Wenger’s latest comments about how strong tackling needs to be outlawed from the game and how his players have no protection. The tackle from Paul Robinson the weekend before last was horrendous and Abou Diaby was incredibly lucky to walk away relatively unscathed. If you speak to any Arsenal fans it is something they are generally more concerned about than any other club; this is because they play more possession football than most.

The Arsenal style that Wenger has employed is to play neat triangles and retain possession at all costs. It is build around having good technical players in the midfield that can pass through defences; the problem arises when defenders are making desperate lunges to tackle the player in possession. There is no master plan by sides such as Stoke or West Brom to hurt Arsenal players; they are simply over zealous on occasions. The other problem is the speed that the Premier League is played at; it is unbelievably fast and an errant lunge always has the capability of injuring someone.

No football fan wants to see Eduardo or Ramsey sidelined for months at a time but it is something that has always happened and will continue to happen. There have been no clamours by Ferguson for tackling to be outlawed so why should Arsenal get preferential treatment? The physical part of the game is essential and something that the fans and players alike should relish and enjoy. It is incredibly unfortunate that some Arsenal players seem to come off worse than others but maybe Wenger should start focusing his players and staff on winning trophies rather than moaning about all the injustices he has to cope with.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Berbatov looking the real deal

The season may only be 4 games old but Dimitar Berbatov has looked like an entirely different beast already. The hat-trick he scored this afternoon against United's biggest rivals could be the start of the something truly special.

There is no doubt the languid Bulgarian has tremendous talent but it has been his consistency that has been questioned since his arrival at Old Trafford. Something seems to have clicked into place over the summer which has resulted in this significant improvement. It is strage though that we talk about improvement, Berbatov has now scored 27 league goals for Spurs and United, scoring them at a faster rate for the later.

It is not only the work rate which has improved, his whole demeanour has changed, he looks happy and settled at the Theatre of Dreams whereas previously the striker has looked uncomfortable in his surroundings. The way he took the ball down before unleashing an unstoppable overhead kick for the 2nd goal was simply outstanding and a skill that very few could replicate at the highest level. The expectancy at United is higher than any other club in Britain which is why he has been criticised more than most, hopefully this will be a thing of the past and we can look forward to seeing Berbatov continue the outstanding form he has shown today.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Was it 2 points dropped or a good start for Spurs?

Spur’s long awaited Champions League debut got underway in Bremen last night and they secured a point with a lively 2-2 draw. Having been 2 nil up they may well have been a little disappointed in the eventual outcome but with Inter and FC Twente drawing as well they have got off to a solid start.

The German side looked distinctly nervous in the initial stages and Spurs rightly took the game to them and were rewarded with 2 goals in the opening 18 minutes; the 2nd a great header from Crouch. Werder looked bemused and could barely pass the ball 5 yards without getting it wrong; it seemed it was going to be a rout. Unfortunately for Spurs followers they were only to well aware of what was going to happen next.

As they dropped deeper and deeper Marin began to dictate the pace of the game and they scored either side of half time. I am informed that this is a common Spurs trait and has been for years but lessons must be learned if they are to venture further in this tournament. The ability to defend leads is a prerequisite at the highest level and they must overcome this quickly.

Overall it was a good point away from home but fans, players and management alike will know it was an opportunity missed. They play FC Twente at White Hart Lane next and a win is essential.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Is the Group Stage of the Champions League merely a money spinner?

The 2010/11 Uefa Champions League will get underway tonight and but for a couple of groups it all looks rather predictable. Groups A and G appear to be the only ones that should sustain interest throughout. The re-vamping of the tournament to knock out a few years ago has made the later stages incredibly exciting and those fixtures have made this competition the most prestigious in world football.

For many of the clubs involved the group stage offers them the chance to balance the books and dream of ties against Barcelona, Inter Milan or Manchester United. However, in reality the big teams almost always qualify and earn a small fortune in the process. Manchester United have earned around £180 million in the last 7 years from playing in Europe’s elite competition, even if you lose every game in the group you earn £8.6 million. This is vital for some of the smaller clubs across Europe but surely this ensures that the top clubs get richer and thus secure their futures in the competition.

One concerning feature of the new Champions League is that there is no real incentive for winning your own Domestic League. It is a shame when clubs such as Arsenal and Valencia commence the season not aiming to win the title but merely to finish in the top 4; surely sport is about winning, not aiming to be the 3rd best loser?

It is without doubt the most exciting competition in world football after Christmas when the knock out stages commence but Uefa need to find a way of livening up the initial phase. Would it be possible for the league winners of the top ranked countries to enter the tournament after Christmas? It would be an incentive but many of these teams would complain about the loss of revenue.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Can spurs cope with the Champions League?

On Tuesday evening Tottenham will make their Champions League debut against Werder Bremen at the Weserstadion. The sides ability is not in doubt; the real question is whether they can cope with the fixture pile up which has not been aided by recent injuries to a few key players.

The squad is certainly good enough to compete on all fronts this season but Redknapp's ability to rotate his squad will be key. With Defoe out for the next couple of months much of the goal scoring responsibility will lie with Pavlyuchenko. The addition of van der Vaart will compensate for Modric's possible absence but they will need to ensure the fitness of Lennon, Bale and Kranjcar. For the next 2 months they will have 2 games a week, they will need to ensure their Premiership form does not suffer.

The Champions League draw could certainly have been more favourable for them, but if they can perform at home the crucial games will be on Tuesday and on December 7th (when they travel to Holland to play FC Twente). Redknapp traditionally prefers the 4-4-2 formation but he will need to be more flexible; the 4-5-1 formation they employed yesterday will be required more frequently without Defoe. If they can utilise Palacios and Huddlestone as holding players they should be suited to hit sides on the counter attack, especially away from home.

It is important that Spurs' progress to the knock out stages but it must not get in the way of their development in the league. Ensuring a top 4 finish again will be the biggest challenge of Redknapp's career.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The witch hunt for Capello continues

England’s return to winning ways on Friday night has been met with a measured response by pundits and fans alike. The consensus seems to be that although people are happy with the victory many feel like Capello is still hanging on by his coat tails. Once again the English media have turned on the manager rather than the players; even with the revelations about Wayne Rooney in the News of the World on Sunday.

The build up to the World Cup in England was more subdued than it has been in recent tournaments. There seemed to be a feeling of ‘we are just happy to be here’ rather than the normal overblown rubbish about being favourites and ‘we have the best league in the world’ that we normally get force fed. However, once England were out everybody turned immediately on the manager; he cannot be defended entirely but the realisation that England’s players’ are distinctly average has still not sunk in.

Capello is an immensely stubborn man who rarely changes his mind once a decision has been made. He has been an incredibly successful club manager who has won titles wherever he has been, falling out with many high profile players on the way. He boasts a win percentage over his career of 56.99% which is excellent when compared to many of his rivals; Ferguson – 57.54%, Louis van Gaal – 57%, Jose Mourinho – 67.1%.

The problem with the England national side can be attributed to the mentality of their player’s. There are certainly players in the squad who are blessed with the ability to compete with the best in the world but the mentality is completely missing. Wayne Rooney has ability but continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, Jack Wilshire who is England’s most promising young player goes out after games and starts fights. These traits are innate in most of Britain’s young footballers and will take years to remove, it is almost unthinkable that Cesc Fabregas would be caught up in either story – he is a consummate professional who simply wants to play the game at the highest level he can. The British players assume they should be the best because they are ridiculously overpaid by their club sides.

The only way England can hope to improve is to learn from managers’ such as Capello, Ferguson, Lippi and Mourinho. It is a real shame that England cannot produce any truly exceptional managers; Allardyce and Redknapp have both been linked with the post in recent years but neither is astute enough to manage at the highest level. The whole game in this country needs an overhaul, the Spanish and the Germans have done it, why does England refuse to accept it?

The English national side should qualify for the European Championships in 2012 but they will go into the tournament far behind Germany, Holland and Spain. If Lampard and Terry had been fit England would have had 9 of the 11 that started against Germany 2 months ago; lessons have been learned but the changes do not appear to be taking place as quickly as required. To blame Capello continually will get England nowhere, they need to heed his advice and learn…quickly.