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Monday, October 31, 2005

Man Utd divided as Wigan chase Chelsea

The Riverside Stadium 4-1 defeat was an eye-opener, not astounding or shocking but certainly a surprise. Boro's performances have been slightly mediocre, they were unconvincing against Portsmouth yet did well to beat Arsenal. Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw considering we (or perhaps Gerrard) came at them heavily. They recorded a decent away win against Birmingham, and came off a good performance at Goodison Park to deny Everton. Having Southgathe and Ehiogu missing seemed to me to be an opening for Utd to carve.

Utd were not Utd. They were divided. Paul Scholes and Alan Smith in the centre should have been more secure, Rooney and VNR equally as strong while Ferdinand and Silvestre contains pace and strength. Van der Sar is the icing on the cake, he as been their best player this season. But they played so woeful it was as if they were charged 40%. They contained a 4-4-2 but Boro held with a 3-2-3-2 which looked solid. MOTM Gaizka Mendieta revelled in a central role shared with George Boateng and Fabio Rochemback behind J F Hasselbaink and Aiyegbeni Yakubu. It was as if Utd were outnumbered in the centre allowing Boateng and Rochemback to face Scholes and Smith. leaving attacking support to the Spaniard. Van der Sar uncharacteristically allowed a usually save shot to go off his hands. It's easy to say it wasn't Utd's day but they did very little to deserve anything. Utd used the 4-5-1 and then 4-4-2 but if their energy is to be of that sort, then the formation is immaterial when players have a poor day at the office. They needed a Keane-esque wake up call but Scholes was too quiet. Ferdinand is looking all the more shaky at the back.

I wrote an article on the need for referees to stamp down on incidents with the full weight of the laws of the game. Mark Halsey was cited as a good example why this is needed so much more now, having not taken action in the Grimsby v Newcastle cup-tie. He came under such scrutiny yet again, and again it involved Sol Campbell. Having jumped up for a high ball, Campbell's right arm caught Spurs' Teemu Tainio on the side of the head, causing a gash and a stream of blood across the Finn's face. Replays suggest that again Campbell was reckless, as I opiniated he was on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Ref Halsey decided no action to be taken, which I thought was wrong. There is the point that players use their arms for further elevation but the move of the elbows are kept down towards the body, rather than out away from the body. Luis Garcia tried to wriggle away from Nigel Reo-Coker and managed to tip the ball away to another Liverpool player. He aimed a hand in Reo-Coker's direction to fend him off and the West Ham man retaliated with a flailing arm across Garcia's head, all in full view of Uriah Rennie yet no decision was made.

I want to extend congratulations to Wigan Athletic and Paul Jewell. Ten games into the season in which they were wagered as one of the favourites to struggle and drop down, they have lost twice, drawn once and sit 2nd to Chelsea. They are almost doing an Everton from last season, in winning games by the one goal (albeit they won at Villa 0-2), and it seems a rollercoaster of a ride for chairman Dave Whelan, first time in the top league and you're in the heights alongside Chelsea, it's looking a superb beginning. Next they face about as tough a challenge as they've had, where they face Portsmouth next at Fratton Park, and then it's a gauntlet of Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd respectively.

As for Portsmouth, they were facing a huge challenge themselves at The Stadium of Light, and it turned a little tougher before kick-off. Facing up to another need for a win following 5 defeats and 4 draws, Allan Perrin needed his players well focused and listening intently to his words, only to have informed Laurent Robert of his position on the bench and then witness the Frenchman walk out of the dressing room, allegedly out of the ground. The players seeing that could have been psychologically hampered and they went behind early through a penalty. The second half was Champions League 2005 again, where the losing side came out a changed team, with Sunderland in stark contrast. Alan Stubbs must have been attempting to head back but didn't manage it, then went to defend the ball only to have keeper Kelvin Davis inexplicably come out when unwarranted and become entangled with Stubbs, leading to Matt Taylor's first. Taylor then went better with a high effort from 45 yards over Davis for his second, Dario Silva scoring his first with a nicely palced firm header.

When Newcastle bought Michael Owen, it seemed too much money to outsiders but not a problem to the Geordie faithful. After having a quiet first half this afternoon, Owen showed why he is reputable as his experience came through to hit West Brom hard defensively. He stole ahead of Darren Moore with a little flick for his first and then went to the goal unmarked to spin in a second off Kieron Dyer's cutback, West Brom's Curtis Davis guilty of poor tracking. Alan Shearer came off the bench to score again, getting a leg ahead of Moore to guide in his 2nd in 4 days. Newcastle couldn't score before but Owen has brought new hope and with players fit, Newcastle look more a side contending for European place.



Anonymous Nturtle said...

Good commentary on the games and nice pictures! I'll be bookmarking this!

10/31/2005 2:27 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elitefootballtalk - yes


Elite Football talk
Elite Football talk

10/31/2005 5:27 am

Blogger T said...

Thanx Nturtle for fine praise- and in my other role as the Picture Editor I also say thanx for the compliment!

As for second-anon, we are EliteFootballTalk, but we are also not pedantic so take your pick! Please leave a comment about football next time.

Redsman, excellent summary of the football. I must correct you re ref for the Spurs game: it was Steve Bennett not Halsey. I also cannot see Sol Campbell's challenge being anything other than fair and without malicious intent or recklessness.

Would also like to say why don't teams who take on Chelsea work on defending set-pieces and man-marking Frank Lampard. The amount of Chelsea goals stemming from these avenues is staggering- and moreover, is preventable through thorough training ground preparation and full focus during match-time.

10/31/2005 9:30 am

Blogger BlindJak said...

T, at the moment I don't really think man marking Frank would be a great help to teams when playing Chelsea because of the other quality around him. A couple of months back it was thought that a man marker should be assigned to Mekalele but that only gave Frank more space. Marking Frank would only give the superb Essien just such space (although his shooting isn’t half so good as Lampard's). Even if teams marked all three that would give space to the wingers to attack freely and negate any ability of their own to attack.

The thing they should be doing is closing Lampard down the second he picks up the ball with in shooting range, He seems to be afforded too much time and space to line up shots which is just asking for trouble.

As for set pieces, Chelsea have scored a number of these kind of far post goals in the last season or so as it’s a deliberate tactic to confuse the keeper. If the keeper moves towards the flight of the ball only the slightest contact is required from a player to nod into an empty net. If the keeper waits for contact and none is then made the ball will drift into the net as it did Saturday.

If I was an oppo manager I would instruct my keeper to follow the flight of the ball as this is his job. If contact is made and a goal scored this is down to the defenders not making the ball theirs as is their job.

10/31/2005 1:49 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

T - Thanks, and apologies, it was Steve Bennent (sorry to Mark Halsey too).

nturtle - seeing your comments thus far, I hope you do come back many times and drop many comments. Thanks.

Anon (6.27AM) - Drop a comment, it is what makes for great debate on this site.

Blindjak - Defending those type of delivered freekicks seems to be a thorn to most keepers. It think it is down to the defenders and their positioning. There has to be, as I believed to have seen with Arsenal, one player who will deal with the high balls, possibly remaining free to do so and presumably a tall player. Sol Campbell is usually the main player to defend against high balls, tall, strong and difficult to outmuscle. Chelsea employed Robert Huth for this same reason, keeping an eye out for Duncan Ferguson against Everton, Peter Crouch for Liverpool. If no one is designated to deal with the ball, then it's a possible panic as everyone may leave it to someone, but eventually it is dealt with by no-one. A designated player for high balls at set-pieces is key.

As for marking Lampard, I would say that goes for the other players. The main thing is everyone chases the ball, everyone wants the ball. Chelsea currently have the players in the positions where they are most effective, but if they are deprived of the ball often they cannot play. It's the same with any side, straightforward logics. Also managers insist on closing down on players practically as they receive the ball, giving them little to no room to play or move. Perhaps someone could enlighten us with the names of players who play so fluently but have become frustrated when not allowed the space and time to move, I can't think of any at the moment but there have been a few.


10/31/2005 5:27 pm

Blogger polyclinic records said...

I was hoping blackburn keeping their defensive shape in the second half against chelskis, but alas they went they way bolton did. Self-destruction. Poor passing. Poor defending. Almost everyone on blackburn earned themselves uneccessary yellow cards. Sheesh. Just showing too much respect and lack of communication btween the goalie and defence. Like the inswing goal from the left by lampard for the third goal. It is possible to be saved if there was a left/right post man so the golaie can pay more attention to the lampard either attempt at goal or a cross into the box. Everyone's giving away cheap goals to chelsea. That's so lame. The goals tt came chelsea's way were all due to defensive lapses. even the one drogba scored against arsenal earlier in the season. Can't deny they are having a good run outscoring opponents, but somehow I feel they are not quality goals. You win some you lose some. Chelsea's 4-5-1 can be penetrated.

there's 28 more games to go in EPL. \m/

10/31/2005 5:49 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanx Blindjak. I agree with the recommendation for keepers when defending those cross/shot free-kicks. The defence must ensure an attacker doesn't get a header and they should do this by not defending too deep and- as Redsman said- get your big-men to mark the danger-zone.

I agree also with someone charging down Lampard when he gets the ball! But I still think its better to have him man-marked so Chelsea do look to go through the wings or Essien. Personally, I'd rather take my chance with these players than Lampard- who is dangerously elusive and productive in his midfielder/half-striker role.

The concept of the designated man-marker is not in fashion these days. But in the mid-nineties George Graham revitalised Martin Keown's career by giving him this role in front of the defence. It was reassuring to see the oppositions star performer shacked by the tenacious Keown!

I'll get back to you later with your last question Redsman.

10/31/2005 6:14 pm

Blogger T said...

Msg to Polyclinic- I feel where you're coming from!

Check out an article written a few weeks ago by EFT's Chelsea correspondent BlindJak- where the non-Chelsea fans among us all agreed that despite some lucky deflections and fortuitous bounces they are top on merit. We can't take this away from Chelsea despite the annoying habit of their unbeaten run.

10/31/2005 6:30 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

polyclinic records - it's a good point but those happen to be the breaks. I said before that against Liverpool Chelsea simply kept in position, we opened up too easily and they exploited us. I agree in that Blackburn had pegged them to level terms, which was great for Blackburn considering Chelsea were 2-0 up, but the difference tells when Chelsea are primed to go another 45mins, and the other team aren't. Blackburn hardly got a look-in in the second half.

And to think that when you add a touch on a fast ball, it can go anywhere. Some players can make that touch count most of the time, otherwise it is a lottery. Like Drogba's goal against Bolton, where he touched it from a corner, and it spun up and in. Or Matt Taylor's 2nd against Sunderland, which he said himself it would usually go into the crowd. Another view on such goals is that as long as you make the contact, always position your foot, prior to contact, in such a way that the ball goes on target, then the chances are increased on it going in. From a Chelsea point of view, they go in, and in, and in, and in, and in, and it makes for great reading the next day. They are the team of the moment and we have to follow suit. Hopefully, quickly.

Seeing as this article is on the Premiership points of the weekend, I've just seen Man City bt Aston Villa 3-1, where Man City were the more industrious, creative and threatening. Andy Cole still has the knack for goals-on-sight and Darius Vassell took his goals well, albeit his and City's first came from a calamitous mis-communication between JLLoyd Samuel and former Gunner keeper Stuart Taylor, in for Thomas Sorensen after the Dane injured his ankle in the warm-up.

What has Stuart Pearce developed in his time at the City of Manchester? He is very positive with his players and seems to discipline them with a firm but fair hand, otherwise is behind his side as if he himself is still playing out there. It's tremendous. The rivalry this season between local sides has suddenly taken a reverse stance. Usually Man Utd and Arsenal are dominant over City and Spurs, positions-wise, but the fortunes of the latter teams have excelled very well and threaten to dismantle the former teams from their bragging rights.

It is, as polyclinic records pointed out, still early in the season and around the Christmas break there could still be a substantial change in fortune for most teams. I remember when Sheff Wed were top of the Premiership and were then relegated in the same season. Amazing. But if the likes of Charlton, Wigan, Man City, West Ham are to continue to bring more competition at the top, every season, it is what we have been asking for. More competitiveness to reduce the chances of the top three being the predominant sides, and hopefully less of a prediction on the eventual title winners.


10/31/2005 11:12 pm

Blogger Abdul said...

Good summary of the weekend football Redsman. I agree that the Boro win over United was not shocking. 3 years ago maybe it would have been - but United are not the same team anymore. Teams now believe they can beat United whereas before it was all about keeping the score respectable. More to follow on this...

Its nice to see Wigan up there. But Redsman you are right, their true test will be in the next few weeks when they play the big boys in consecutive weeks.

Re the debate of how you defend against Chelsea, I see Blindjak's point about concentrating on one player giving more room to others - but Lampard has become so crucial to Chelsea that I really do think that marking him out of a game would limit their options. Lampard is the key cog in the Chelsea armoury, so nullifiying him is absolutely crucial - we'll then see what Essien & Co are really made of.

11/01/2005 9:41 am


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