Thursday, 20 October 2011

Song must be more disciplined

Last night Arsenal celebrated a famous victory in the Stade Velodrome over Marseille but both sides will go away feeling there is considerable room for improvement. The game was lethargic to say the least and it took the introduction of Aaron Ramsay to change it.

The one glaring improvement that must be made on Arsenal’s behalf is the performance of Alex Song. The Cameroonian international is a good player but lacks the discipline to play as a defensive midfielder against the very best sides. In the second half I lost count of the times he was out of position which resulted in Arteta covering as defensive midfielder too many times.

It is a position that has now become an integral part of modern day football. The finest exponent of it in recent times was Claude Makelele and it is now often referred to as the Makelele role. The idea is to be the last line of midfield before you get to the centre backs; they are there as a screen/shield to bolster the defence. It is a role that requires very good positional discipline and concentration as one error can result in serious ramifications. This is the problem with Alex Song.

He is a very good player and I do not want to be over critical but as someone who admires the position and the attributes required it is frustrating so watch. On numerous occasions when Arsenal went forward Song was the furthest player forward besides Van Persie. Whilst the energy and commitment shown is admirable he is forgetting his sole purpose; to protect his defence. The game was very scrappy and attacks were broken up frequently with Marseille counter attacking almost at will. If the French side had more about them this space could have been exploited more efficiently but Arsenal escaped.

It also resulted in Arteta (Arsenal’s most creative player on display last night) having to fill in for his team-mate. This in turn then meant that Arsenal lacked the penetration in the final third to really hurt their opponents. I have continually stated to Arsenal fans for a long time that Song is not good enough to play that role at the highest level and it appears they are finally beginning to take note.

The best example in world football at the moment is Sergio Busquets of Barcelona who is an incredible defensive midfielder. In my opinion the DM should never stray too far from the centre backs and at all times the three of them should form a neat triangle. When Song plays there are triangles but some of them stretch 50 yards which is simply not good enough.

At a time when Arsenal are not at their fluid best they need to ensure they are disciplined and hard to beat. The result last night should increase their confidence but they will not face many easier games this season. If they are too improve Arsene Wenger must ensure Song remains disciplined, he is a good player but must focus on his own job rather than getting involved all over the pitch.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Vidic proves to be irreplaceable

There are very few players who have proved to be irreplaceable at Manchester United over the years but Nemanja Vidic is certainly one. Since getting injured in his club’s opening Premier League game of the season his presence has been sorely missed and it was again highlighted at Anfield this weekend.

The colossal Serbian defender has established himself as the best defender in the country and has been instrumental in United’s recent success. His no nonsense style of defending has earned plaudits from every corner of the football world over the last few years. Although United certainly have strength in depth at centre back it is their captain who gives them the assuredness at the back that is required of a side competing for major honours.

With the increasingly unreliable Rio Ferdinand seemingly destined for a premature retirement due to continual injury the manager Sir Alex Ferguson has added Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to bolster his options. With these two England internationals learning from Ferdinand and Vidic the belief is that they will develop into top class centre backs. However, both are still someway short of being able to look after United’s defensive duties against some of the best sides in Europe. The return to form of Jonny Evans has certainly helped but the absence of Vidic is very noticeable.

Although we are still at an early stage in the season it has been alarming to see the amount of pressure United have had to endure against inferior opposition. The doubts surrounding their new goalkeeper David de Gea have certainly added to the surprising stat that they have conceded the most shots in the entire league thus far this season. However, it is the lack of pressure being applied by the centre backs that have contributed hugely to this. Rio Ferdinand is no longer able to move effectively round the pitch on a consistent basis. Jonny Evans, the mainstay so far, needs continuity in a partner to help him develop into a commanding presence. Jones and Smalling have both impressed in some games but need more time to hone their defensive qualities.

During the Champions League final last May Barcelona exposed the fact that United desperately need a solid defensive midfielder to shield their back four and this has still not been properly addressed. It is an essential position in the modern game and when playing against sides who can retain possession in the final third it is essential. On Saturday Liverpool were able to keep the ball in dangerous places far too easily and it should have cost them the game. A run from Charlie Adam took him straight through the middle of the United midfield and then straight at Ferdinand. The England defender brought him down for the free kick which lead to the goal; the reigning champions had not learnt from the first half when Adam had done exactly the same before Suarez was denied by De Gea.

Most centre backs are not fantastically quick and rely on good positioning rather than speed. Vidic is a prime example of this; it is his blocking and physical attributes that make him such a good defender. Similar to many of the top defenders over the last few decades, Cannavaro, Nesta, Puyol, Thuram etc he does live on the edge of the law. Most top defenders always skirt on the line of foul play; tugging shirts, holding shirts and sometimes even out right fouling to stop their opponent; the black arts of defending basically.

There have been rumblings for a couple of years now that Mrs Vidic is not happy in Manchester and would like to relocate. Whilst Ferguson has strengthened his defensive options it is something he can ill afford to do on current evidence. The Serb was integral in United’s success last season and has been sorely missed already this season. It seems foolhardy to use the term irreplaceable for a side as successful as United but Vidic is as close as they come.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Welbeck can benefit from Rooney’s ill-discipline

The fact that England have qualified for the European Championship 2012 has been completely overshadowed by Wayne Rooney’s ill-discipline. The 25 year old got himself sent off against Montenegro on Friday and now faces a ban which will impact massively on England’s chances.

However you wish to put it England now face an uphill struggle without easily their most talented player. The national manager Fabio Capello has already confirmed that he will not feature in the coming friendly against Spain as he now has to find a suitable replacement, and fast. This however, is the real dilemma – who is good enough to lead the line successfully? Darren Bent, Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck or Bobby Zamora, none of whom would strike fear into a top side in Europe at present.

In all fairness Crouch and Defoe have had enough chances at this level and have failed almost every time. And yes, although Crouch boasts an impressive scoring rate at International level (22 goals in 42 appearances) he has scored almost all of them against second rate opposition. Meanwhile Defoe has 15 goals in 46 appearances but lacks the ability to test the best defences. He has been a good Premier League player but has always seemed out of his depth at the highest level.

The other important factor is that Rooney contributes so much more to the side than simply holding the line and scoring goals. His work rate and teamwork is fantastic when he is on form and in modern day football it is essential to defend from the front. With Manchester United re-affirming their status as the best club side in the country his confidence and experience will also be missed.

This surely then leaves a straight shootout between Bent, Carroll, Sturridge, Welbeck and Zamora. It is thought that Capello is a big fan of Zamora but he would need to be integrated quickly and although he has definitely improved in recent years he remains a decent player, but nothing special. Darren Bent would certainly fit some of the requirements; he is probably the best natural finisher of all the options available and has the pace to worry International defenders. However, he has only scored four times in 11 appearances in a career that began five years ago. He appears to be one of those players that struggles to make the step up, although if he got more minutes his confidence may increase.

It comes down now to the remaining three, all of whom are relatively inexperienced at this level; although this can be beneficial in major tournaments on occasions. All would need to have impressive seasons to force their way into the team and in Carroll’s case he would need to improve his overall game for Capello to trust him. I certainly feel that Sturridge looked impressive in the Under 21s and if he can get more games for Chelsea he could certainly do a job. However, in the recent trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United he looked a little out of his depth, but more exposure would help to eradicate that.

It certainly seems at the moment that Capello’s best option could be Danny Welbeck. Although I am not entirely convinced by the United forward he certainly seems to have the self-belief and confidence to fill Rooney’s shoes. He has been spoken about very highly by Sir Alex Ferguson for years and there aren’t many players he has been wrong about over the years. He is good in the air and has good technique; but the most important thing is that he is playing at Manchester United. Here he will have been exposed to big games, difficult atmospheres and will have a winning mentality which are pre-requisites in my opinion to succeed at the highest level.

Much will depend on how this season pans out for Welbeck but at the moment he would be my tip for the Euros. A good, and successful season for United maybe exactly what England need.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Chelsea evolving under Villas-Boas

It looks like being the start of an exciting new era at Chelsea this season under new manager Andre Villas-Boas. Although the team has by no means been unsuccessful they finally appear to be breaking away from the Mourinho mould that has remained, four years after he departed.

The spine of the side still remains from Mourinho’s days; Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba are all still there and remain part of the club’s furniture. However, the new Portuguese manager has come in with the intention of changing their style of play and making them a more progressive side. He has moved well thus far in the transfer window by adding good, technically gifted players such as Juan Mata who has been one of the buys of the season so far.

It is not as if Chelsea were failing with the old style but previous managers had certainly failed to move away from Mourinho’s tried and trusted methods. The previous manager Carlo Ancelotti attempted to do so last season and it was not a successful move. One issue that remains is that there are still several members of the squad who carry far too much sway within the dressing room and within the media. It is no coincidence that these players were the ‘Special Ones’ most trusted lieutenants.

By adding Mata, Meireles and Romeu, Villas-Boas has made his intentions relatively clear; he wants Chelsea to become a more possession based side rather than the direct style that has suited them over recent years. It is also a move necessary to get the best out of Fernando Torres who is already looking like a £50 million striker since Mata has been added to the side. Finally, there is a player who has the vision to find him on a regular basis and aid the Spaniard in his rehabilitation. The Chelsea performance in the second half at Old Trafford against Manchester United confirmed that it is a three way battle for the Premier League title this season.

Speculation has been rife recently regarding Frank Lampard’s Chelsea future and he has responded in emphatic style by scoring four goals in a week. It is not that Lampard is surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge; it is simply that he cannot play every game at his age and also the side are more efficient and pacey without him. A midfield three that boasts Malouda, Meireles and Ramires is a dynamic and athletic trio which allows AVB to play the style he desires more frequently. Once Romeu is adjusted to the league he will play in front of the back four and will begin play faster than the current options; he is a good and tidy player who has come through the infamous La Masia training academy.

With Torres looking almost back to his best this Chelsea side will push both Manchester clubs close this season. With Ferguson blooding a lot of youngsters and with Mancini looking incapable of having a Plan B it is Chelsea who could emerge as winners this season. Villas-Boas has already shown he is capable of changing the system and looks to have good plans in place for certain opposition. He is an incredibly impressive young manager and considering his recent success it would be foolish to back against him.