Monday, 30 August 2010

Another weird weekend

The bank holiday weekend at the end of August brought about the first anomalies of the 2010/11 season; Chelsea didn’t score 6, Wigan actually won a game, Wayne Rooney scored a goal and England’s brightest young prospect was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The weekend began with an impressive away win at Ewood Park for Arsenal; having lost there at the end of last season this was always going to be a tricky game. Wenger brought back the big guns for this in Van Persie and Fabregas, but it was Walcott who broke the dead lock with quite literally a net busting finish! The 2nd half did was not as action packed as the 1st but Wenger will have been delighted that his team picked up the 3 points.

What made Arsenal fans even happier on Saturday afternoon was the shock Wigan win at White Hart lane. They were thrashed there last year and nobody would have anticipated this result. Redknapp was quick to negate the impact their Champions League game had in the week but it is an early indication of how Spurs may struggle with the loaded fixture list they progress this season. He is not the most astute tactician the game has ever known and he will hope this was merely a one off.

Meanwhile in the evening kick off the Old Trafford faithful were finally shown the sight they had been missing since March; a Wayne Rooney goal. It was a comfortable victory for United but Rooney’s goal will mean more to the manager and squad than the 3 points.

The low point of the weekend was the news that Jack Wilshire was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning and later released. One hopes that this is not the sign of things to come; he has massive potential and could be one of the great England players if he can get his attitude correct. Sources within the Arsenal camp have revealed previously it is the one attribute he must learn to control if he is to reach his full potential; let us hope this was a one-off!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

City are finally underway

Roberto Mancini will be the most relieved man in the football world this morning. Following their below par performance against Tottenham on the opening day of the season they beat Liverpool comfortably at the City of Manchester Stadium last night. Many of his new signings are beginning to look a little more settled but they are still short of creativity.

Almost everything that City did well started with Adam Johnson, he continually ran at Agger and beat him almost every time. James Milner (making his City debut) had a lively game but kept drifting more central as the game went on. With the abundance of defensive midfielders Mancini must at some stage reduce the number to 2 to make the side more creative; Yaya Toure was often the most advanced midfielder and he is still short of games. With Adebayor, Balotelli and Tevez fighting for the lone strikers’ role more emphasis must be placed on the link between midfield and attack.

They have added David Silva who is exactly that type of player but he will need some time to adjust to the speed and physical requirements of the Premiership. It is worth noting that when Mourinho replaced Mancini at Inter the first player he bought was Sneijder to link everything together, perhaps this is something Mancini does not deem necessary?

One thing that I did notice last night is that City will certainly compete with Chelsea in terms of the physical stature of the players. They are an imposing side to come up against with the likes of Toure (Kolo and Yaya), Richards, Kompany, Lescott etc. It is still very early to call but they are starting to take shape and the fixture list slightly more straightforward; on the evidence of last night City certainly have enough to become a top 4 side.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Surely it is inevitable

Another late kick off on Saturday, another 6 goals and surely nobody is going to be able to stop Chelsea this season. The ease to which they have brushed past their opponents in successive weeks is surely going to result in them retaining their Premiership crown.

The 1st half performance was far from convincing but the inevitability of the result was in no doubt. Malouda’s goal came against the run of play but nobody was surprised to see Chelsea in front at the break. The 2nd half was over almost as quickly as it had begun; Anelka scoring 2 goals in 3 minutes which ended Wigan’s hopes of repeating last years success against the champions.

It is now 12 goals in 2 games, albeit against weak opposition but it the ruthless manner in which they destroy sides that would be concerning to their rivals. Having had a poor pre season teams would have hoped that their form would continue, it certainly is not looking that way at the moment. There will be much tougher tests to come, (they play Man City and Arsenal at the end of September/beginning of October) but unless Man United can raise their performance considerably the league title should be a formality. The only concern would be injuries but the strength in depth is beginning to appear and Ancelotti may well add another striker before the end of this transfer window.

Pundits and fans alike used to moan about the Scottish league being won by either Celtic or Rangers before it had started; surely the same can now be applied to the English league!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Scholes delivers a Master class

Last night Paul Scholes embarked on his 17th season at Old Trafford and yet again he delivered an absolute master class in midfield. His touch, passing and positional play was simply outstanding. The weighted pass he chipped to Ryan Giggs for the 3rd goal oozed quality. Surely the biggest question in football at the current time is ‘how on earth can United ever replace him?’

To play at the highest level for that period of time will separate Scholes (and Giggs) from almost every other player. What is so exceptional about him is the awareness he possesses all over the pitch; he knows when to keep it simple but also when to be more adventurous –things you just cannot teach! When you consider how many spectacular goals he has scored and how much he has contributed to United it is astounding that he has never picked up a player of the year award – surely he deserves it?

The thing that really stands out for me is the way that Scholes has conducted himself off the pitch for his entire career. I can only recall ever seeing him pictured in the tabloids once and that was with his wife and children out shopping; he is a man who lives and breathes football and simply wants to play! If only United could spend their money on a time machine and make him 21 again.

‘The greatest midfielder of his generation’ – Zidane when asked about Paul Scholes

I don’t think there is anything more to say!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Verdict on the 1st weekend

The opening weekend brought 23 goals and possibly the biggest shock of them all with Blackpool scoring 4 against Wigan. Elsewhere Chelsea resumed where they left off by scoring 6 against relegation threatened West Brom, Blackburn edged passed Everton and Liverpool surrendered all 3 points at the death against Arsenal. The early kick off on Saturday started brightly but failed to come to life in the 2nd half with Spurs probably dropping 2 points with a draw with Man City. Goal of the weekend came courtesy of David Jones who volleyed in a lovely free kick from the edge of the penalty area

It is very hard to judge teams on one performance but Chelsea have certainly laid down their title credentials at an early stage. Manchester United play this evening and they will be keen to respond to the 6 goals scored at Stamford Bridge. The power, pace and precision on display from Ancelotti’s men was impressive and it’s hard to see anyone wrestling the title back from their grasp.

The most impressive performance in my opinion over the weekend was from Liverpool. Written off by many before the season had even kicked off, they responded brilliantly and were incredibly unlucky to drop 2 points to a distinctly average Arsenal side. Although the London side bossed the first half they never created enough chances to reflect their dominance. Their 2 debutants – Chamakh and Koscielny made decent starts, I still feel Chamakh is going to have minimal impact on the season, the young centre half looks a good prospect but will be found out against the more physical sides this season.

Liverpool have always been well organised at the back and with Hodgson’s input as well they will be even better, especially if Agger can remain fit all season. Joe Cole was unfortunate on his Anfield debut but by the letter of the law it was a red card offence and he had to go. It was good to see Torres introduced in the 2nd half, he is still not quite at his explosive best but it was good to see him get some valuable minutes. Let’s see what United have to offer this evening??

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Best of the rest

The English Premier League allows 4 teams to progress to the Champions League and as discussed yesterday the top 2 places will be filled by Chelsea and Manchester United so the 3rd and 4th places should be between Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham.

In north London Arsene Wenger is surely living on borrowed time, one more year without a trophy (excluding the Emirates cup of course) and his stint at the gunners will surely be over. He has managed to retain the services of Cesc Fabregas out of sheer bloody mindedness but his captain’s statement said all it needed to. He has added Chamakh from Bordeaux who looks a shrewd acquisition but with a meagre goal record over his career he will not turn them into champions. There are still too many average players in Wenger’s squad who will be found out against the top sides. If he can add a Goalkeeper, a centre back, a world class defensive midfielder and a proven striker they would compete, unfortunately for the loyal Arsenal fans it looks like another disappointing season ahead.

So far this summer Spurs have only added one player which is almost unbelievable considering Harry Redknapp is their manager. There is no doubt that they will venture into the transfer market before the end of August, if they can add a couple of world class performers to their squad they will have a good chance of maintaining their champions league place. They possess a top keeper, a blend of youth and experience (although unfortunately always injured) at the back, a solid, yet creative and quick midfield and have some good strikers. If Redknapp can bring in a striker to compete with Defoe and Pavlyuchenko as well as another top class midfielder they can look forward to their first season in Europe’s elite competition.

Finally there is Manchester City, the new super power in terms of spending power in modern football. Roberto Mancini has assembled a squad that should compete for the title but there is one problem in this formula; they are not yet a team capable of challenging. It is the hardest prediction to make of them all this season as nobody is quite sure what team and formation he will settle on. Considering he has Barry, De Jong, Kompany, Toure and Vieira competing for the DMC role he will probably play 2 out of the 5. The addition of Silva along with Adam Johnson will certainly make them a creative team but much will depend on how quickly they can settle. With Tevez up front they will also score plenty. The question is whether they can win enough games on the bounce to create momentum to propel them to the top of the league. Having said that, I have a feeling they could be the best of the rest.

My top 5:

Manchester United
Manchester City

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Contenders

The 2010/11 Premiership season will commence this weekend and in my view there are only 2 sides that are capable of lifting the title next May; (it will shock you to know) Chelsea and Manchester United. While competition for the Champions League places is intensifying the 2 established sides are too far ahead at the moment for anyone to catch them.

Chelsea as the reigning Champions will be the side that everyone wants to beat and Ancelotti will need to improve their consistency if they are to triumph again. They have added Benayoun at the expense of Joe Cole which is a big loss in my opinion, whilst the imminent arrival of Ramires will certainly strengthen their midfield after Ballack’s exit over the summer. The champions took maximum points from their games against their nearest rivals but dropped silly points against sides they should be beating convincingly. The easy excuse it to blame it on Ancelotti’s lack of experience in the league but it was actually the result of poor performances. The return of Essien in midfield is massive for them and if he can stay fit they have a very good chance of retaining their title.

It has been a quiet summer at Old Trafford in terms of signings. There has been no marquee signing for the 2nd season in a row which indicates that Ferguson’s spending power has significantly decreased. He has added Smalling from Fulham who looked poor last year but will no doubt grow into his role as he becomes more experienced. His best bit of business was picking up Hernandez from Guadalajara, a young striker who has pace and a great eye for goal; although he may not figure too prominently at the start of the season Chicharito is certainly one to watch.

Both these teams have the ability and tactical attributes to win the league but it is the ‘know how’ they possess that continues to separate them from the rest.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Will the 25 man squad change the Premiership dramatically??

At the start of the coming season Uefa’s new rule which states that each Premiership club has to submit a squad of 25 will commence. This is a measure which is supposed to help the English game and bring through young talent. However, as we will find out in the coming weeks there are ways around this problem. The rule states that each side must name at least 5 players who have been registered to English or Welsh clubs for 3 years prior to turning 21; Uefa’s ideology is to place more emphasis on producing young players. However, this will surely encourage Ancelotti, Ferguson etc to bring in young European players at an early age and then let them develop.

The most intriguing example of this rule could be at Spurs where they have Jonathan Woodgate. He is eligible to be one of the 5 home grown players but is a major injury doubt for some of the season. Harry Redknapp must decide whether it is worth including him so he can spend money elsewhere and not be tied into buying English players. Similarly at Arsenal will it encourage Wenger to carry on gambling by investing in teenagers rather than proven quality?

Uefa clearly want to ensure that more emphasis is placed on English clubs producing their own talent rather than purchasing players from overseas. It appears that they have put in a rule with loop holes to avoid upsetting the bigger clubs. If the intention is to reduce the number of foreign players in the English Premier League they should just introduce a restriction. Unfortunately this is yet another example of governing bodies succumbing to the power the elite clubs possess. The new ruling is going to have little or no effect on the longevity and prospects on the league as a whole.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The monotony of transfer rumours and friendly matches

The World Cup ended 22 days ago and the continued will he won’t he, involving Cesc Fabregas’ potential transfer to Barcelona finally appears to be subsiding. The way the English media have twisted comments and paraphrased Spanish player’s comments has been yet another example of the sensationalism synonymous with the tabloids in this country. With a month to go before the window closes these fictitious comments will continue to appear but hopefully with the start of the season on 12 days away they can focus on the football instead.

We are also now in the middle of pre-season friendly fever. Yesterday was the end of the Emirates Cup, Arsenal’s pre-season tournament they host and usually win. The level of football displayed in the 4 games over the weekend was not the highest but it was interesting to see the younger players getting a game. Jack Wilshire shone in the game yesterday and one can only hope that Capello will involve him in future England games. However, these games can prove fruitless and do have a habit of providing false hope for sides; as we have seen at the Emirates for the last 4 years. They still look short of quality and I expect them to have another frustrating season.

Elsewhere most Premiership teams have been travelling the globe for TV revenue, merchandising and promoting their own brand name. Manchester United and Chelsea have been playing most of their pre-season in America and earning over £1Million a game; although none of the top stars usually turn out. Surely there was a time when pre-season was about preparing your side for the season ahead and experimenting with different tactics, formations etc. It is now simply about self promotion, which is exactly what the English Premiership is solely concerned about. Hopefully we can soon leave this behind and concentrate on real football issues.