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.