Monday, 24 May 2010

An exciting summer ahead

When the final whistle sounded in the Bernabeu on Saturday night the 2009/10 season was effectively over (playoffs apart). It was not the most entertaining game of this season Champions League but the best side prevailed and were worthy winners for the first time in 45 years. In his post match interview Jose Mourinho finally gave us an indication of where he intends to be at the start of next season – at Real Madrid. The world cup commences in just less than 3 weeks and even without the excitement of that it promises to be a fascinating summer.

With the revelations coming from Arsenal last week of Fabregas’ decision to leave Arsenal some of the big money moves could be completed in the next couple of weeks. Even before this news broke Barcelona had already completed the £34.2 million signing of David Villa from Valencia. The thought of Villa and Messi playing in the same side and being assisted by Iniesta, Xavi and maybe Fabregas is one that any football fan is already relishing. There are also strong rumours suggesting they may well swoop for Torres as well which would surely make them untouchable next season?!

In England it looks like the big spenders are going to be Manchester City and Spurs which will certainly make the battle for the top 4 very interesting next year. Chelsea and United will surely spend some money on players but it will be a couple of players to improve existing squads rather than the major overhauls there could be elsewhere. Those 2 clubs will occupy the top 2 positions in the league table next year as the gap between them and the chasing pack gets ever greater. What happens at Liverpool this summer is anyone’s guess and one that few would predict this early in the summer; with the future of Benitez, Gerrard and Torres in doubt as well as the financial crisis they are facing leaves many questions unanswered.

The fall from grace that the Italian league has endured over the last 4-5 years looks as if it is coming to an end. Ranieri has guided Roma to 2nd and put more pressure on Inter than they have had in the last few years. With the re-emergence of Sampdoria and Fiorentina the league is getting stronger and the players they can attract is steadily improving as well.

The summer has the potential to be very entertaining and there will still be money spent after the World Cup has reached its conclusion on 11th July. Although the football season is almost over this summer already feels like one of genuine excitement and endless possibilities. Hopefully it will not fail to disappoint……

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

England's World Cup Team

The England squad will be announced on 1st June which will mean that 7 of the provisional 30 man squad will be left out. It is up to some of those players to convince the manager in 2 games that they should be retained for a finals place in South Africa when they play Mexico and Japan in the coming weeks.

There are several bones of contention already that have seriously questioned Capello’s previous comments regarding selection. He announced in one of his first few press conferences that players would only be selected if they were in form and playing for their clubs week in week out. The selection of Green, James, Upson, Ferdinand, Carrick, Wright-Philips, Walcott and Heskey demonstrates this is no longer the case. It has been revealed that he made last ditch attempts to talk Paul Scholes out of retirement and who would blame him for that but why wasn’t this done months ago. It reeks of desperation which is something that has not been evident during Capello’s reign.

He is backing 2 keepers who have played for struggling sides and one who has never played European, let alone international football. All the while Paul Robinson has been turning in outstanding performances every week for Blackburn Rovers. He has kept more clean sheets than any other English keeper but is still deemed surplus to requirements. In defence Upson and Warnock should drop out of the squad when it is announced. Upson has been playing for a struggling side and is not good enough to get into a squad on merit. Warnock has had a good season but has looked out of his depth when up against top class players.

At the moment there are 12 midfielders in the provisional squad which would indicate 4 are going to make way. The England midfield is something that has not worked as efficiently or as effectively as they should have done for a long time. The fact that Capello has gone to Scholes shows he has concerns over the personnel in that position. The 4 to go should be Huddlestone, Carrick, Walcott and Wright-Philips. Although Spurs have had a great season the central midfield is an area they must look to strengthen next season, Huddlestone’s range of passing is excellent but his mobility will always limit him reaching the top. Carrick has clearly fallen out of favour at United and is rumoured to be one of the ones sold on this summer, he has been exposed at the highest level against the best midfields. Walcott and Wright-Philips could be taken as impact players but in truth neither is good enough to play at the highest level as both have demonstrated on countless occasions for their clubs.

The striking option is probably the most straightforward for Capello. Although Heskey hasn’t been playing regularly for Villa he has proved himself time and again at International level partnering England’s best striker. Crouch is not overly blessed in natural ability but his record against the poorer nations will ensure he is retained. It will be a straight shoot out between Defoe and Bent for the final place and Defoe has done just enough to keep his place. He is a limited player who seems to disappear against the better sides but should expose the weaker teams.

The team possess a squad that is capable of getting to the final stages of the tournament but Capello must stick to his original ideology. He should pick form players and have options of players who can make the difference in tight situations like Joe Cole and Adam Johnson. The team for the finals should be:


Johnson G. King Terry Cole A


Lennon Milner Lampard Gerrard


Monday, 10 May 2010

The Champions

The emphatic result at Stamford Bridge yesterday ensured that Chelsea were crowned champions of the Premier League. Few neutrals could really deny the fact that the best side in the league went onto win it. They scored 7 or more for the 4th time at home this season and there was something almost inevitable about the result before the game had even kicked off. The new manager Carlo Ancelotti has guided the side to their first title in 4 years.

At the start of the season there was some apprehension about Ancelotti’s arrival, he had been successful in the Champions League with AC Milan but had only won 1 scudetto in his 7 year stint at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium. Whether he could settle into his new environment effectively and quickly was the main concern for Chelsea fans and pundits going into the season. With the spine of the team consisting of Cech, Terry, Essien, Lampard and Drogba Chelsea boast talent that very few can compete with. However, for the last couple of seasons they have taken their foot of the gas at crucial times and with the continual managerial merry-go-round they have lacked the stability seen at their main rivals Manchester United.

The surprising thing for Chelsea this season is that it took until the final game of the season before they were confirmed as the Premier League Champions. They won all 6 games against last season’s top 4 which should have been enough to guarantee them the title. They have dropped points against sides they should have beaten comfortably away from home, often looking very lacklustre as they appeared against Blackburn 6 weeks ago. Their home form has become what everyone had been accustomed to under the stewardship of Mourinho, where they remained undefeated throughout his tenure.

All the top sides have endured injury plagued seasons, Chelsea losing Bosingwa, Carvalho, Essien and both Coles at various stages of this campaign. The sudden transformation of Malouda has been like a new signing whilst the emergence of Alex and Ivanovic in the back 4 has been nothing short of spectacular. They are a huge side (Ashley Cole excluded), the back 4 at the end of the season are all 6 foot plus which is tremendous for defending set pieces against lower league opposition as well as creating danger when in attacking positions. Whilst John Terry has been endearing himself yet again to the English public his performances during the season have been that of a true leader.

Without the irreplaceable Essien protecting the back 4 Ballack and Mikel have deputised in his absence. Mikel is the one player in danger of being off loaded in the summer as he has not just lived up the hype surrounding his transfer from Norwegian side Lyn Oslo in 2006, he lacks the range of passing that Ballack has or the sheer class of Essien. Joe Cole, Malouda and Kalou have all contributed much from midfield as well. Up front Didier Drogba has won the Golden Boot whilst Anelka has been simply breath taking at points. He seems to have developed the ability to slow the game down so well which compliments his pace perfectly, he should get more goals but his movement and touch is up there with the best the game has to offer.

The biggest bone of contention in recent weeks has been how Frank Lampard could have been omitted from the PFA team of the season having scored 22 league goals. Admittedly he has scored quite a few in the final weeks of the season but his all round contribution has been outstanding. He should be the first midfielder on the team sheet for England in the summer but still seems to play second fiddle to Steven Gerrard which is beginning to seem more bizarre as the years go by. Be it left foot, right foot, header or volley his technique is fantastic and what he gives the Chelsea side in terms of goals and assists is truly irreplaceable. The best side in the league has won the Premiership this season and Rooney excluded they have had the top 2 players in the league in Drogba and Lampard. European Glory will again be talked up all summer but it was the Premiership title that the side wanted more than anything this season, whether this will be the start of something bigger only time will tell.....

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The battle for 4th spot

With Liverpool’s appalling season almost over 4th place in the Premiership is up for grabs tonight at the City of Manchester stadium. It is not quite winner takes all but not far from it. Tottenham go into the game 1 point ahead of their rivals Manchester City with one game to go after tonight. Clinching 4th spot would mean so much to both teams but to differing degrees.

If City can win tonight they will go into Sunday’s game with West Ham 2 points ahead with a better goal difference. All the clubs around them are concerned that if they can guarantee Champions League football they will finally be in a position to attract the best players in the world with their vast finances. The players they have brought in so far seem swayed more by the money than the opportunity to play for the club. If they are playing in the best tournaments the game has to offer they will suddenly have the chance to bring in truly world class performers. This would really open up the top of the league which is not what any of the existing teams in this exclusive group wants.

Tottenham meanwhile have never had a better chance of qualifying for the competition every fan, player and manager has aspired to be part of since its revamped format commenced in 1992. Whilst Spurs have always had money to spend their ability to attract world class players has not been the same as their city neighbours Arsenal and Chelsea. Qualifying for next seasons Champions League would enable spurs to bring in some real quality to add to their youthful squad.

The game should be full of attacking flair with players such as Modric, Lennon, Tevez and Johnson on display. Spurs are not a side capable of going away to play for a draw so it should be an open attacking game from their perspective. The only concern would be Mancini’s Italian influence; City have become a more solid side since Hughes’ departure but they have lost that attacking edge sometimes. They know they cannot afford to lose the game but surely going into it with an intention to win is more advisable.

For the last few years the top 4 have been getting more and more complacent, whilst also getting richer by feeding on the Champions League trough. The fact that there are 2 sides competing for this position for the first time in their histories is a great endorsement for the Premier League. Tottenham have the history after being the first English team to win a trophy in Europe whilst City could be the emerging power to rival Chelsea and Manchester United in the years to come. It is almost a shame that Arsenal have managed to cling onto 3rd place as two new faces representing the Premiership in Europe would be very refreshing. Win or lose City will spend a fortune this summer so for purely football reasons purists should be hoping for a spurs win tonight.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

With or without Rafa

The end of season lap of honour must have provoked mixed feelings from the Anfield faithful. Currently they share the position jointly with their arch rivals Manchester United of being English football’s most successful club but in reality they are slipping further behind with every passing year. They are currently 21 points behind the leaders and in truth should be further behind. The inadequacies shown by Manchester City and Tottenham in chasing for the 4th Champions League position is worrying for those who maintain the belief that the Premiership is the best in the world.

It is now 20 years since Liverpool lifted the title and were regarded as the best team in the land. They haven’t really even competed for the title until last season and they have followed that up by falling further behind. The questions facing the club’s ownership, the manager’s control over the dressing room and even the form of their top players has been blamed on their sub-standard form this season.

The speculation surrounding Benitez is approaching fever pitch as the season reaches its climax. Rumours of a move to the Italian giants Juventus first appeared in January and we are now hearing of speculation about a return to Spain with Real Madrid. He has looked like a beaten man at various stages this season with no idea how to get the club out of crisis; certainly key injuries have not helped but his squad has been left exposed due to lack of quality. At the end of his 6th season in charge he must wonder if he can take the club any further; it shouldn’t take him too long to come to the conclusion that he can’t!

Liverpool look like a side that has run out of ideas and the senior players look like they need some fresh blood injected into the side, both on the playing and coaching side of things. The look on Gerrard’s face when Torres was taken off a couple of weeks ago was one of shock and utter disbelief. When they have played attacking, fluid football they have looked a decent side who could challenge for the title but Benitez’s instinct is always one of caution. For too long this season they have operated with 2 defensive midfield players at home which would be unthinkable at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. The ineffective use of Ryan Babel since his arrival at the club has come as a real disappointment to supporters who thought they had snatched one of the hot young talents in European Football.

At the start of the season speculation was that Liverpool would struggle due to the loss of Alonso to Real Madrid for £30 million. The acquisition of Aquilani did ease some of the fans but news of a fresh injury broke shortly afterwards which has curtailed his first season in English football. Alonso was the link man between defence and attack, something which Liverpool have really struggled to find since his departure. The fee to Madrid was too high in my opinion but losing such a key player would have hurt the top players at the club.

The best thing for both parties would be for Benitez to leave. It is said that whilst they may have struggled for success he has revolutionised the training facilities and infrastructure of the club which will stand Liverpool in good stead going forward. The key for the club is who replaces the American investors in terms of finances but whoever succeeds Benitez will need time, money and patience. Players must be sold and fans should face the prospect of losing one or two top players again this summer. It is not going to be an overnight success story for Liverpool but strengthening the squad and battling to regain Champions League status is a must for next season. My suggestion would be Martin O’Neill who would sort out the egos at the club and get a will to win installed in them that they have missed this season.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The end is nigh

The 2009/10 title should be decided by the time the final whistle blows at Anfield tomorrow afternoon. If Chelsea win at Liverpool in the big lunch time clash they will surely be crowned champions for the first time in 3 years. With hindsight Ancelotti could rue the fact that it has taken until the penultimate game to determine who will be Premier League Champions.

If Chelsea win tomorrows game they will have taken maximum points from the 6 games against last year’s top 4. The end of their season should not have been quite so delicately poised. They have thrown away points this season when it simply seemed impossible to do so, with the defeat at Wigan along with draws against Birmingham, Blackburn, Hull and West Ham. Admittedly it is Ancelotti’s first season but the players at Chelsea’s disposal have enough experience and ability to have come through these games.

The League this season has been more exciting because of unlikely results but the top teams have been poorer and less consistent than in recent years. The fact that there is still a battle for 4th when Liverpool have been so poor indicates that the teams closing on Chelsea and United are worse off than anyone thought. United have been going through a transition after the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez in the summer but they have easily picked off the competition around them in the big games but have lost to Chelsea twice. The top 2 sides are the strongest sides in the league by quite some way at this moment and only a serious spending spree by any of their rivals can bridge the gap.

Both sides however do face issues of their own in order to counteract the inconsistencies shown this season. Chelsea must start bringing in or developing the next generation of players and must somehow find a way of keeping the awesome Michael Essien fit for a whole season. United meanwhile face the tasks of taking some responsibility from Wayne Rooney in scoring their goals and must continue to seek for a replacement for Paul Scholes; the 2nd one continues to be Ferguson’s hardest job before retiring.

Chelsea should become Champions this season if they can win at Anfield tomorrow. They have been the best side in the league this season and in beating all their rivals in the manner they have done demonstrates Championship winning attributes. The true test of Champions though will be coming back bigger, better and stronger next season as United have demonstrated time and again. Ferguson’s side have had a disappointing season but not as bad as many pundits had predicted before it started. Ancelotti’s men should be deserved champions this season but anyone who writes Fergie off should be prepared for a backlash, everyone is eagerly awaiting next season already...