Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Anelka presents his case to Ancelotti

The victory in Denmark will have been a huge relief to everyone concerned with Chelsea football club, and in particular Nicolas Anelka. The arrival of Fernando Torres in the January transfer window indicated that his time at Chelsea may have been coming to an end.

This is the longest period he has remained at any club during his career and his 2 goals last night takes his tally in the Champions League to 7 in 6 games this season. He is a wonderfully gifted individual who has remarkable technique and is blessed with blistering pace (although his pace is not what it was). However, like everything in life there is a good and a bad side; he has often been labelled disruptive and played for 9 clubs in 15 years during his professional career.

It is quite remarkable looking at his career; he has played for some of the biggest clubs on the continent and is still only 31 years old. One wonders how much of an influence his family had on him after moving from Arsenal to Real Madrid for £22.3 million in 1999 as he always looked disinterested when playing. The move to Chelsea seemed to revitalise him which was probably down to him realising that this was his last chance at a top club – and he has grasped the opportunity.

It appears that wholesale changes will be made to the Chelsea squad over the summer but it seems that Anelka maybe preferred to Drogba which I would agree with. The prospect of playing against a side that had Anelka, Torres and another in a front 3 would be very scary. The mercurial Frenchman often seems very languid but is then suddenly 5 yards past you before you have noticed. It is a shame his international days are over but it could be a blessing as he can focus on what remains of his club career.

It is vital for Chelsea that they maintain the momentum from last night into the remainder of their domestic season. Whilst they are now unlikely to retain the Premiership they still have to play United twice and could have a real bearing on where the trophy ends up. For players such as Anelka this is the time to prove that you are behind the club and will strive to ensure this season’s slump remains a distant memory.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Arsenal vs Barcelona – a review

What a spectacle we saw on Wednesday night at the Emirates in possibly the best game of the season thus far. The level of football displayed by both sides was something to behold and in all honesty it was simply exceptional. I am not the biggest fan of Arsenal’s but to deny them praise for the way they played against Barcelona would be criminal.

The opening few minutes were breathtaking as the ball travelled from one end of the pitch to the other at tremendous speed and under impeccable control. The way the Catalan’s pass and move around the ball is staggering at points and one wonders how any team can deal with it. However, in this game they ran into a side capable of producing a similar style of football and were not afraid to produce it at the highest level.

It was hard to believe that when Villa ran onto Messi’s through ball to finish calmly that 26 minutes had elapsed before the deadlock was broken. There had been significant chances at either end with Messi and Van Persie guilty of squandering good openings. The game was scintillating and at half time I for one still thought both sides were capable of more.

The second half will forever live long in the memory of Arsenal fans who saw their side continue to compete and begin to get have a stronger influence on proceedings. The away side made changes with half an hour to go which placed less emphasis on attack and the home side took advantage. Firstly Van Persie (who had been very wasteful previously) finished from an acute angle to level the game and then after a fabulous move started by Wilshire equalised through the much maligned Arshavin.

It was a thrilling game to watch and sets the tie up perfectly for the 2nd leg in the Camp Nou in 2 weeks time. Some of the individual performances were outstanding; Busquets, Koscielny, Messi, Xavi – who had a 93% pass completion rate and the man of the match Wilshire. The young English midfielder surpassed all expectations in this game and really announced himself to the world with an incredible display.

The tie is evenly balanced although Arsenal hold the lead at the half way stage. It will be another extraordinary game in 2 weeks time and it will be fascinating to see how both sides approach it. I still think Barcelona remain favourites but the gap has certainly closed since last season.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Milan a disgrace

Last night officially saw the end of Italian football as we know it; the performance from Milan in the San Siro was quite simply a disgrace. I really do not want to take anything away from Tottenham as they played well enough to deserve their victory but the game was a non-event.

Expectations for the weeks Champions League ties were high going into last night; Spurs have been very entertaining in their debut season in Europe’s elite competition and Milan had been playing open, attacking football under their new manager Massimiliano Allegri. Unfortunately for many neutrals the game was terrible; it resembled a Europa Cup game not a last 16 encounter in the best competition in the world.

The Milan team is still full of ageing players who simply cannot compete with any of their fitter, stronger counterparts throughout Europe; this is also a sad indictment of most of the Italian teams at the moment. The only players who still looked able to play at the top level on last night’s evidence were Nesta and Pato. In all honesty I felt sorry for both of them with some of the dross they had to play with. The incredible thing about top defenders is that they always have time to play the ball out from the back and although Nesta does not possess the speed of old his reading of the game and technical ability remains higher than most defenders in Europe.

It is strange how cycles exist in football; I grew up without a Sky box and watched Serie A when it was the best and most entertaining league in the world. On current evidence it remains well short of what it was and it is hard to see how it can recapture the glory days again. Many of the stadiums remain from Italia 90 and they are decrepit and rarely reach capacity. I find it a real shame that Italian football has sunk to these depths and really hope they can rise again – but it is getting harder and harder to see.

I have not touched on the Gattuso – Jordon incident as it was plain for everyone to see what a disgrace he was; UEFA should punish him to the full extent of their powers, there is no place in football for that behaviour!

Let us hope that tonight’s game at the Emirates is better than the garbage on display last night.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Arsenal vs Barcelona - a preview

The game at the Emirates tomorrow night epitomises the term ‘mouth watering’. It will see possibly the greatest club side in history against the most attractive English side around. Last season we were treated to 180 minutes of utterly spell binding football that left everyone who watched open mouthed. There will be no defensive tactics employed – this will simply be a matter of who is the best attacking side.

For me it really is no contest; Barcelona sit at the top of La Liga and are currently the best side in the world. Their side boasts all 3 of the final Ballon d’Or nominees, the best striker in the world and one of the best up and coming coaches in world football. The style of football the Catalans play makes everyone envious and of the many imitations around Arsenal are the closest.

The game at the Emirates last season was the definition of a game of 2 halves. The first half hour was one of the best periods of football in a game I have witnessed in my entire life and the biggest irony of it all was that the much maligned Manuel Almunia kept Arsenal in the game (it could have been ten by half time without him). A rare tactical master stroke from Wenger then saw Arsenal score one and then a 2nd after the introduction of Walcott; Arsenal could even have won the game at the end which simply did not seem possible after 30 minutes.

This season’s encounter should see Barcelona advance to the quarter finals but Arsenal are such underdogs that I really believe anything is possible. There is always a worry for me when teams are such overwhelming favourites and the team from north London are capable of shocking the entire world. Having said this not one player in the Arsenal squad would get into the Barcelona team although Fabregas and Nasri would certainly come into contention but in reality their counterparts are just better players.

We should see plenty of goals on Wednesday night as neither side would say they are defensively sound. The loss of Puyol for the first leg could prove crucial as Abidal is certainly suspect and Arsenal should look to isolate him at every opportunity. The problem is how you stop Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Xavi and Villa from playing it round you. In truth I just cannot see how Arsenal can win over 2 legs; they may win tomorrow night but I think it will be a question of how many Barcelona score in the Camp Nou.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Ronaldo – El Fenomeno

Whilst weighing up which topic to pick for my hundredth blog something occurred to make any other options futile; the announcement that Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima was retiring from the game. Ronaldo was the best striker of my generation; he had everything – great technical ability, was two footed and was blessed with great strength and speed.

He first caught the eye in an incredible season for Barcelona when he scored 47 goals in 49 games in the 96/97 season. The man was simply unstoppable and completed a move to Inter Milan for £19 million where he enjoyed a successful first season. In the summer of 1998 Ronaldo became known world wide after some incredible performances at the World Cup which saw Brazil progress to the final against France in Paris.

What follows was to remain one of the most debated things in football history, for whatever reason (and there are many varied theories) his performance in the final was non existent; he was there in body but not in mind. On his return to Italy following the defeat to France he picked up an injury against Lecce which saw the beginning of his injury nightmare. He did not feature again regularly again until 2002.

The summer of 2002 saw the World Cup played in Japan and South Korea where a Ronaldo inspired Brazil went on to win their fifth title. El Fenomeno scored 8 goals including 2 in the final to win the Golden boot. The memory of those goals will remain etched in my memory for many years; it was an incredibly fitting way for such a genius to triumph in the face of adversity. Following the tournament he then sealed a move to Real Madrid for €39 million. He enjoyed considerable success but the last memory in this writer’s mind was off him being given a standing ovation at Old Trafford following his hat-trick in 2004; it was an incredible occasion.

Whilst his talent remained his body began to betray him more and more frequently which saw the later stage of his career fade away. In 2009 he returned to Brazil where he played for Corinthians who aided by Ronaldo qualified for the Copa Libertadores. Following elimination from the same competition this year he announced his retirement. It was the end of an incredible career that saw many high points and Ronaldo will be remembered and idolised by many for being one of the true football greats.

Some of Ronaldo’s achievements:

2 time World Cup and Copa America winner

2 time Ballon d’Or winner

3 time World Player of the Year winner

European Golden Boot winner

La Liga top scorer

Serie A player of the season

A career record of 352 goals in 515 games

Clubs represented:

Cruzeiro, PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Corinthians

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Wilshire impresses as holding midfielder

The news that Fabio Capello would play Jack Wilshire as a defensive midfielder appeared to affect people far more than I thought. Surely it was a logical decision for him to play there as he has spent the majority of the season in that position at Arsenal. However, the uproar from the English media, added with Nicklas Bendtner’s comments certainly made this a tough test for the 19 year old.

It has been a hard season already for Wilshire who has been written and talked about more than any other English player in terms of future ability. He appears to be a very grounded individual who simply enjoys playing the game as it should be played and is very assured at doing so.

I really cannot understand the surprise at playing him in that position as previous players in that role have been hopeless (Owen Hargreaves excluded). The much admired Gareth Barry is a distinctly average player who offers nothing but a screening in front of the back four. Whilst this would be a requirement for a lower ranked team England should surely be trying to replicate the top nations by having a slightly more creative player in that position. The midfield looked far better equipped when going forward but will take time to gel defensively with so many changes being enforced.

If England are to improve the standard of football must get better (surely it cannot get any worse?!) and players like Wilshire must be playing at the top level at a young age to reach their potential. Although it was only a friendly last night I would not be surprised to see him continue in this role in the qualifiers; he has everything needed to become a world class player for Arsenal and England.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fabregas row continues

Whilst the transfer window has been grabbing the headlines the controversy surrounding Cesc Fabregas’ behaviour on Tuesday night has been rolling on. The Everton manager David Moyes accused Cesc of questioning the integrity of the referee at half-time during the game at the Emirates. His manager Arsene Wenger has been quick to defend his captain and also state that there is an unwritten rule that players do not discuss what is said during battle.

Unfortunately for Fabregas he certainly has previous; spitting at players, exchanging words with opposition managers and aggressive behaviour towards referees. Of course this is not what he is synonymous with; he is one of the truly outstanding players in the Premier League and is Arsenal’s talisman. It is often the case in these situations that the sheer will to win results in the player boiling over but it is also brought about by frustration.

It has been a stop start season for Fabregas and in recent weeks he has continually had to make substitute appearances when his colleagues have not delivered against lower league opposition. He is currently producing his best form of the season and with Arsenal still chasing four trophies it is essential he maintains his composure.

We have seen a more ruthless side to Arsenal this year and it has certainly helped this season. Whatever was said on Tuesday night it clearly should not have happened but this saga has dragged on long enough. Quite what Moyes is expecting to happen by letting this role on is beyond me; Everton have enough on their plate as it is without further distraction. It is a real shame that someone so talented should have a nasty streak but he is not the first and will not be the last. Lets just get on with the game.

The transfer window

This week Eddy Lascellles takes a look at the impact the January Transfer
Window can have on the remainder of a season.

The transfer window - love it or loathe it can have a profound impact on a

season. This weeks rounds of games has highlighted that more than ever
before with no less than 3 debutants scoring in victories for their new
clubs. John Terry also spoke this week of the "buzz" that Torres and
David Luiz signing have created in the dressing room. Cue a very
impressive victory at the tricky Stadium of Light where, perhaps now
concerned for his place, Nicolas Anelka, gave a master class up front.
Chelsea's two new superstars haven't even kicked a ball yet and they've
already made an impact!

Up to this point Liverpool have had what can only be described as a
season horribilis, however after last nights win against stoke they're
7th in the table and only 2 points off a European place. Luis Suarez had
a dream debut and should add an extra dimension to their attack. How
successful his partnership with Andy Carroll will be only time will
tell. On paper it looks great - the speed, skill and guile of Suarez
with the strength, power and finishing of Carroll. Premiership defenders
won't expect an easy ride from them and in Carroll Liverpool have by far
the best young English striker, and they always cost a premium!

Similarly to Liverpool, West Ham have had a shocker of a season to date.
A board intent on sacking their manager, the diabolical and
embarrassing public courting of Martin O'Neill and a series of abject
performances which saw them bottom at Christmas. They became the latest
club to hear the oft-used phrase of "the team bottom at Xmas always goes
down". However a good win at Bloomfield road on Wednesday has lifted
them off the bottom and only a point from safety. The addition and
impact of Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge should be enough to kick stat
their season and steer them clear of a season back in the championship.

We have also seen the impact that Darren Bent has already had at Villa
(2 goals in 2 games) and a debut goal for Daniel Sturridge at Bolton.
The transfer window makes for a more unpredictable and exciting league.
A season is a long hard marathon where very few teams remain consistent
throughout (Notable exceptions would be the Arsenal invincibles,
Mourinho’s Chelsea, and Derby in 2008 - who were consistently awful).

A clubs activity in January can often define their season and be the
difference between safety and relegation, mid table and European places
or in Chelsea's case Europa league and a potential treble. We watch
this game for the twists and turns, the surprises and the upsets. As
fans of our clubs if nothing else we have hope. For many this hope comes
in the form of the January transfer window!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A victory for the Premier League?

Monday saw the most dramatic transfer deadline day since its introduction in the 2002-2003 season. Could it also be said that this transfer window was a victory for English football and the Premier League? The past two seasons have seen a dramatic shift in power from the Premier League to Spain’s Primera Liga to become the leading European league. The emergence of Messi at Barcelona and Real Madrid’s ability to buy pretty much anyone – with the exception of Messi – has cemented the Spanish League as the strongest in world football.

It has also coincided with the rise and rise of Spain’s international team and has led to a (justifiable) smugness from the Spanish in their league and national team - they play the best football and have the best players!

So Chelsea’s record smashing signing of Feranando Torres has got to be seen as a victory for the Premier League. It shows that English clubs can still compete with Barca and Real for the games biggest names and shows that the biggest names still want to play in the Premier League. Torres, who is one of the only genuine world class players the right side of thirty left in the Premier League, could easily have made flirtatious glances towards a return to Madrid with Real, or to Inter Milan who appear to be ready to get their cheque book out, or indeed to be re-united with his Spanish striking partner David Villa at Barcelona. Real Madrid are the interesting one here, they are clearly desperate for a new striker as Benzema continues to misfire and Higuain is injured, he would have more than fit the bill and would have lessened their dependence on Christiano Ronaldo.

The last 3 seasons have seen the leading stars from around the world moving to the "Big two" clubs in Spain: Kaka, Ronaldo, Henry, David Villa, Alonso, Benzema etc, whilst the Premiership's clubs have generally bought potential (with the excpetion of Man City) at a reduced price rather than established stars at their peak. The emergence of Man City and their pots of golds distort the picture here slightly, but if we look at the two premiership clubs with the biggest spending power and gravitas over the last ten years it puts it into perspective: Man Utd have only bought "Chicorita" Hernandez & Chris Smalling over the past two years and have not paid more than £10m on a player since Berbatov in 2008, and Chelsea only bought Ramires last season and have (by theior standards) been modest in the transfer market since their acquisition of Andrei Shevchenko in 2006, in fact they haven't spent more than £18m on a player since then.

These figures show that English clubs have not been competing for the best players in the world.
People will baulk at the fantasy money which was being thrown around on Monday night, but surely this is a sign that Premier League clubs still have the ambition and resources to compete for the very best?

This post has been written by Eddy Lascelles specifically for HuntersWorldOfFootball

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Chelsea and Liverpool dominate

The transfer window slammed shut last night on one of the most extravagant days in recent memory. Some realistic figures were paid and received but most of the talk has surrounded Andy Carroll’s £35 million plus transfer from Newcastle to Liverpool. The Merseyside club’s hand was forced the day before when Fernando Torres submitted a transfer request to ease his move to Chelsea. This development coupled with the arrival of Luis Suarez will give Liverpool a new look strike force that should do well in the Premier League.

Although many people complain about the money involved in football I think the purchases Chelsea made yesterday were the most notable and needed. The addition of Torres is the clearest indication yet that Abramovich is not finished building his empire in West London. The price tag of £50 million is staggering but they have gone out and brought proven quality at a time when the side has struggled for the first time in years. The term World Class is banded around far too often for in my opinion El Nino is class; it will be fascinating to see him playing with quality players again after a torrid year at Anfield.

Their other addition was David Luiz who has attracted interest from Europe’s elite since joining Benfica in 2007. He is a big strong defender who also has considerable pace which has been severely lacking in the Chelsea back four for a while now. At 23 years old he is also someone they can build the team around for years to come. Again the price tag is hefty but this looks to be a very sound investment.

The biggest shock of the window was certainly Liverpool’s acquisition of Carroll, not so much the player himself but the amount of money he ended up going for. There is no doubting that the player has potential but to pay that much reeks a little of desperation. Having said that though who else is about? There seems to be a shortage of top level strikers around at the moment. His new strike partner will be Luis Suarez who arrived from Ajax for £22.7 million. English clubs have been a little wary of purchasing prolific strikers from Holland after Kezman and Kuyt proved to be goal shy but it looks a shrewd investment. He has scored goals for fun for Ajax and looked to be a good player in the world cup last year.

All in all everyone from player to manager to fan will be relieved this window is now closed. It will be very interesting to see if Chelsea’s and Liverpool’s fortunes can be turned round with just under half the season remaining. Chelsea have to play the undefeated Manchester United twice which will probably decide the title. They are certainly back in the title chase and sides have made up larger points differences before. As for Liverpool a European finish should be achievable now but much will depend on their two new strikers. Only time will tell……