Based in London and writing for a global audience our aim is to produce EliteFootballTalk. Enjoy the site and feel welcome to join in our discussion on the beautiful game.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Arsenal's very own doppelganger: Cole/Clichy

I don't read the back pages of tabloids (nor the front and middle pages for that matter).

They blur fiction with reality so often that they simply cannot be trusted to be delivering facts.

An article posted by Redsman and ensuing comments focused on the Ashley Cole/ Chelsea situation. This story had broken in the tabloids and for once they were spot-on. However, it has led to much speculation on Ashley Cole's true intentions and one comment states with confidence that Cole will leave Arsenal by the end of this summer.

I don't believe this will happen.

What is clear from the inquiry into the Cole affair is that Cole did meet Chelsea. However, it is not clear that Cole knew they would be present.

Even if Cole was aware, I believe there is a big difference in listening to suitors and the next step of accepting their offer.

I believe Cole met them so to gage what he could get from them, and factor this is into his negotiations with Arsenal. I also believe his agent has a personal interest in Cole moving to Chelsea- and may have been the driving-force behind influencing Cole to at least think about a move and meeting the top men at Chelsea.

Personally I'll be very surprised if Ashley Cole does go. He is Arsenal through and through, plays in a successful team that suit his attacking style, is well paid, and Arsenal are moving to a stunning new stadium the season after next.

Arsenal players have it very good. They are looked after very well. And they play for a coach that is dedicated to total football- the best football (in my opinion) there is. This is why Thierry repeatedly says 'I shall never go'. This is why Vieira didn't say goodbye when it came to the crunch. And this is why people shouldn't think that Cole leaving Highbury is a done deal.

Whatever the outcome of the Cole contract talks Arsenal always have their joker up their sleeve. He is Ashley Cole's doppelganger: Gael Clichy.

Quite aside from sharing the physical characteristics and the same high defensive and attacking qualities as Ashley Cole, he has really impressed me with his excellent temperament on the pitch (Wayne Rooney take note).

Arsene has a dilemma in that he has two fantastic young left-full backs who will be desired by other clubs. He won't want to let either go. Hence the solution tried by Arsene in the past month against Blackburn and Sheff Utd:

Gael Clichy at left back; Ashley Cole on left midfield.

And this solution worked very well. Both have the stamina to play all the way up and down the left side, so in effect Arsenal have two left defenders and two left midfielders on the pitch AT THE SAME TIME.

In terms of defensive cover and attacking speed on the left side, combining Clichy and Cole promises to be a winning medium-term combination.

I hope to see Arsenal's doppelganger combo at the start of next season.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

England warming up

Ok so Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan aren't the most toughest opponents England could have faced these last few days, but I honestly feel Sven's men are capable of winning the world cup next year. There is no doubt that Sven has an awesome squad at his disposal, one of the best in world football. In fact I would say that England have always had strength in depth. But for the first time since god knows when, our best eleven look fantastic. Robinson has solved the problem of having a decent goalkeeper, Lampard is the new Paul Scholes, Rooney is just sublime in that role behind the striker, and now finally we have someone who can do a decent job on the left - Joe Cole. Add to this the quality of centre halves and strikers we have, there is no doubt England will be one of the favourites to lift the trophy next summer.

I honestly think there is only one thing that can defeat England - injuries!

A job still to do

The qualifier on Saturday served to warm up England for tonight. Already I have heard members of the media state it is a match of not if England win, but by how much. Didnt we say the same thing about San Marino in 1993 and we didnt qualify despite a 1-7 win? San Marino scored in the first opening seconds in a game we were meant to win without conceding, Gaultieri waltzed through our supposed strong defence. We ended up 2pts behind group runners-up Holland.

Gareth Southgate has spoken that up-n-coming players are hungry and waiting in case the likes of Beckham falter, so Beckham has to be on his game. I find this unusual for Southgate to say this, they could be words taken out of context, it wouldn't be the first nor the last. Nonetheless, the first teamers should be professional and focused, it would be typical for England to lose shape and allow a goal through before waking up.

As for Rooney, assault allegations against him were withdrawn by the person who made them. The chap in question makes light of the comments he said which originated the incident, and speaks on about Rooney asking him to repeat his words and then allegedly striking the chap three times. No condoning assault, or any other offence, yet approaching someone like Rooney and saying comments that are, in all probability, to cause offence is risking being assaulted. I can't understand why one would want to do that and risk being hurt, except for bragging about it later to those who have a low esteem to want to listen. That is no disrespect intended to The Sun newspaper, who bought the rights to publish the chap's version. Pitiful.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Good football is...?

England v Northern Ireland. Not a first half of high impression, Rooney's header onto the far post the only highlight, but they stepped up a gear, or N Ireland were one down, for Joe Cole to score. He has been much better and, although he didn't really hit it off in the first half with some lapses of passing, he made up for it with his shot and he is a strong contender for the left wing role. He can come with pace, skill, passing, cut back to cross right foot or even go on to cross on his left, cut inside to shoot on either foot too, so a good prospect at the moment. The last goal for me isn't Lampard's, it looked as if Maik Taylor had the shot covered until it was deflected. Three points and on we go to the Azerbaijan game. Nothing more, nothing much to report.

We've all noted Steven Gerrard has publicly announced he is committed to Liverpool, no deal has been done with Chelsea (and I imagine any other club), and he has yet to sit down with Rafael and discuss issues, not until the end of the season. Perhaps the 201st Merseyside derby could have put a different panorama to Gerrard. A second half with all three subs used and two men injured yet playing on in Garcia and Riise, then down to ten men, showed that the team can get tough when the going is calling. The match was very important to win, and dogged Liverpool did that under the circumstances to a better formed Everton, with big Ferguson and Beattie up front to boot.

This being the case, then either Ashley Cole is lying or he was lied to. What are the chances on either? More likely lied to? I trust the impromptu meeting happened and he was lied to by Moan-rinho and Kenyon. But after being charged by the FA for the event, Cole has stated he will leave Arsenal as a result. Doesn't anyone find this statement bizarre? Cole is intending to allow his contract to run down and then leave in June 2007? That is bizarre. One thing is certain, so excuse me if I say something obvious, Moan-rinho will not be signing him, for if he does, he'd be Public Enemy no.1, which he may not lose sleep over. If Chelsea loves him, good enough. Cole is not making the right headlines for Arsenal, and now that he is in a commanding position to receive interest from abroad, it could be he makes waves at the end of season. Arsenal will give permission for talks to commence, accepting a generous offer. Clichy takes over the left-back slot.

One former player I feel would have been ideal for Arsenal had he managed to remain there is Moritz Volz. I think he has pace and good defending that would have been enhanced under Wenger, where he could have given Lauren stiff competition. Rumour has it that Wenger is looking at another former player he released, Steve Sidwell at Reading.

Jeremie Aliadiere said to be disgruntled with his situation at Highbury and hoping for interest from PSG, Reyes is said to have spoken to Spanish reporters, saying he has told Arsenal he isn't happy and cannot adapt here, hoping that his words will move Florentino Perez to come in for him. A new era emerging on Arsenal? Henry remains, Pires remains, Ljungberg keen to sign, Vieira to again ponder his future elsewhere for more honours, Lauren considering he may possibly be forced out if summer buys, building process to occur around Van Persie, Senderos and Fabregas.

Chelsea possibly in the market with tempting offers for SWP and Juventus's Gianluca Zambrotta? Now that Keegan has moved on, Stuart Pearce could see one of the club's rising players walk in the summer to the tune of £15-£20m. That kind of money is certainly to be from Chelsea, unless you wish to spend your entire budget. But Zambrotta is a favourite defender of mine, have watched him under Juve and he gives plenty of commitment and a vital link between defence and attack, with key contributions aplenty. Good defender, would hate for him to join Chelsea, but again they would have the money. The question is the usual one: Why buy so many when you can only satisfy few? David Beckham buys a fleet of prestige vehicles and sports cars, does he actually drive them or they're mere tax exemptions?

Ranieri brought in Geremi, Ambrosio, Duff, Veron, Crespo, Bridge, and Johnson. Moan-rinho has added Cech, Carvalho, Ferreira, Robben, Kezman, Jarosik, Smertin and Drogba. Geremi remains, playing a bit-part, Veron has left , Ambrosio and Crespo loaned out, Bridge and Johnson are still there, albeit playing bit-parts themselves. Adding Zambrotta must mean either Johnson or Bridge leaving, I would bet on Johnson. I don't think SWP will be on Chelsea's hunting list, I cannot see him being on the bench as Robben and Duff play out and having to wait for either of them to be injured.

Finally, it has been reported in the papers this weekend that Raul has told Owen he should leave if he is not happy at Real. Raul called for Owen to leave as the club needs players desperate to play for it. If that is the case, then no one there is aware of their performances since Del Bosque left. That is what is desperate at the Bernabeu. And Raul is certainly in no position to speak after Owen has scored goals practically as he comes on off the bench. Were it not for politics, the forward would have been one of two potentially relegated to the bench in favour of Owen. The crowd have warmed to the Cheshire man already.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Heskey for England, not if he can help it.

Last week saw the recall of the forgotten striker, Emile Heskey to the England squad. The recall came at no surprise, with Sven facing a striker problem. Vassell has been out injured. Smith has yet to set Old Trafford on fire (I always hope someone literally will one day). Owen does not start games at Real. Andy Johnson has pulled out of the squad with an injury. Defoe had a tough game on his last international outing, and was left out the last two internationals. And we all know about Rooney’s temperament.
Heskey’s inclusion to international squad was welcomed by his club manager, who has been raving about his performance for Birmingham. And obviously, Sven knows he offers something different to Owen, Rooney and Defoe. Good height, holds the ball and he is experienced at the international level.
The irony is the reason Heskey is doing well is because he is not playing for England. He is at the moment playing at level where there is no great pressure for him to perform, something he had to endure when playing for Liverpool and England. At Birmingham, he is at his comfort level and can play his game without the worry of what the press will say. He is content playing mid-table football and no one can blame him for that. He is happy and Birmingham are happy with his service. And he gets paid what he is worth.
Any other player who is given a chance to play international football would grab the opportunity with both hands. They would have started voicing their desire to represent their country or to be given another chance in the run up to the international games (Savage, Carragher, and Defoe, for example). They certainly would not let their manager do all the talking for them. Players relish playing football at the highest level. They ‘live’ for the big games. They want to walk out in front of thousands, to be watched by millions, knowing they have reached the pinnacle of football. You don’t have to look any further than Steven G. Without the pressure, it just another game for him. Heskey makes the exception.
He is not going to start in the qualifiers against Northern Ireland, with Owen, Rooney and Defoe ahead of him but he will be the next one in line and can expect to be called up on should Sven sees the need to use him.
Unlikely it may seem, if the game is tied at 1-1 after 70 minutes, Sven may choose to bring on Heskey to change the game. Even more likely is if Owen or Rooney are booked in the game (which would mean they would be suspended for the next game), Sven will be forced to start with Heskey in the Azerbaijan game. Of course, Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan are not hard games for Heskey and England. They will be expected to win the two games with or without him. But they are still international games and with that come the pressure, the responsibility and the expectation to perform. And in this case, they will be expected to win comfortably.
The question is how will Heskey cope with that baggage again. He may score a goal, but the press will have a go at him for the other misses and the hat trick he should have had. He will come back to his club, demoralized and his confidence taken away from him which could affect his club form.
Next time, Steve Bruce may wish to keep his mouth shut.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Mourinho is: 'The convention breaker'.

Mourinho has bought things to football that I've rarely seen- if at all- from a manager.

For good reason, I will commence from this moment on to call him: 'the convention breaker'.

Aside from making apparently false accusations about the intergrity of football referees and opposing football managers, and aside from an openness about his confidence that is novel, just think about these other lesser-talked about incidents:

- A verbal slanging-match with an opposing player during a football match: 'the Carragher episode'. I cannot recall a manager so enragingly shouting at a player from the other team during a game (the Carling Cup final). Where was the fourth official? Where was the reprimand after the match by the authorities? He should have been thrown the book- not 'the book', but an important book nonetheless- for bringing the game into disrepute.

- Gestures to deliberately taunt fans during a match: 'the shoosh episode'. I am not from Liverpool and I am not a Liverpool fan. But I've been to Liverpool and I know- without wishing to cast sterotypes- that Liverpool people show hospitality to outsiders that is rarely seen in London. In sum they are great people. So to taunt Liverpool fans was, for me, not just an insult to them, but an insult to all who respect good people.

- Refusing to shake hands with an opposing manager after a match: the Hughes incident. After the match at Ewood Park, Mourinho deliberately blanked Mark Hughes and instead ran like a wildman onto the pitch and promptly asked his players to strip off and distribute their kits to the Chelsea fans. Was I the only one who thought this wierd?

- Running like a wildman onto the pitch: the Mourinho-style celebration. I thought the Old Trafford incident whilst manager at Porto was a one-off thing that would not be repeated because managers just don't do that sort of thing- presumably because it shows a disrespect for the opposing manager and may be seen as bringing lesser dignity to their managerial status. But he has gone on to repeat it at Ewood Park, and then again after Barcelona match. Where will it happen next?

- Shaking hands with opposing players before a match: the Man Utd and Gerrard incidents. Before the semi final second leg of the Carling Cup match with Man Utd, Mourinho made a point of shaking the hands of all the Man Utd players. Was this sportsmanship or something more calculated? He did the same thing before the final- but this time targeted only one player: the captain and much-talked about transfer target, Stevie G. Stevie reciprocated because he is a gentleman- but he looked uneasy as he did it. He then played a bad game- his energy levels looking really muted. Has Mourinho read a psychology article which suggests that it is in his advantage to make a point of shaking hands with unsuspecting opposing players before a match? It wouldn't surprise me if he has. (Note to Arsenal players- stay well away from Mourinho before football matches against his team!)

Mourinho has only been in this country for ten months. However, in that short space of time, he has indulged in tactics that show him to be serial convention breaker. The cumulative effect has been to make initial supporters of his style think again whether he is worthy of their support.

Does he care? A conventional person probably would care about his public persona. On this basis then, Mourinho presumably doesn't care at all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

UEFA Roars and the Premier League Whimpers to a Finish

Yesterday's statement by UEFA lambasting Chelsea was brilliant in its ferocity and directness. UEFA, so often the bearer of little more than the ruler to slap the wrist of the European elite, finally rose up to the challenge set by those who think they are beyond reproach. It reminded me of that great novel - Animal Farm - where the animals realise their strength and power and run the corrupt and cruel human farmers off the farm.

Chelsea, Jose Mourinho and the Chelsea staff behaved reprehensibly during the Bacrcelona tie and I firmly hope that the proverbial book is thrown their way. Their is a possibility, or so UEFA say, that Chelsea could be thrown out of the Champions League. Unlikely that this is, it would be the kick in the teeth that Mourinho and his minnions have been asking for for some time.

Some of you may be thinking that, in writing the above words, I am retreating from my view that Mourinho has been beneficial for English football this year. This is not the case. I want to thank Mourinho for at least bringing some form of excitement to this season. At times during the past six months I have been exasperated by the aching dullness, the mediocracy, the sheer tedium that the Premier League has served up this year.

Chelsea have been consistently good, not excellent, the top three teams have been light years ahead of all the other teams in the league, Liverpool have (as per the past four seasons) battled for the fourth spot, and the three promoted teams find themselves at the foot of the table. How very predicatable. Aside from four or five teams, there is dearth of quality in the league and this undoubtedly effects the performance of English teams in Europe (few would disagree that Chelsea were lucky to beat Barcelona).

In these dark times - where quality is at a premium - (and at this moment I now type one handed) I feel it only appropriate to raise a glass to Mourinho, who has at least stirred emotions in an otherwise passionless and forgettable season.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Is this Tiannamen Square?

Why? Because someone needs to be brave to step in front of the bustling Chelsea tank that comes through. Good heaven, it is devastating. How Palace could have deserved a 1-1 draw, perhaps even scored to be ahead 2-1. Yet the difference on Saturday was Joe Cole. Far, far better than before, no time taken to showboat, no wasted passing or loose balls due to lapse of concentration, he got on with the game and passed, created space and ran pass players. Much better and no surprise being called for the national side. Chelsea were different come the second half.

Man Utd and Arsenal were different themselves. Not much to add to that, they won by a single goal when they should have had at least two, but it was enough for the win. Their wins were not on par with that of Real, who unconvincingly beat Malaga yesterday 1-0 after being held 0-0 at half time. Giannakopoulos struck a superb, what turned out to be, winning goal for Bolton. Similar to Henry against Palace at Highbury. Norwich help to defeat themselves, and it is hard to motivate this rock bottom team, as Delia Smith found out during the home match against Man City. Speaking of which, Pearce was unlucky not to have started his tenure with a win, though Spurs made enough of the game to earn it. Atouba must be punished before the FA for what appears to have been a nasty intended elbow that left Joey Barton with a gash above his right eye, which required stitching. Atouba has skill and strength to be better than that.

The talking point for me was Charlton v WBA. Where were Charlton? Did they go off, thinking it was an away match? For Horsfield's goal, Mark Fish marked him then strolled away, leaving the striker with a free header. Kiely saved excellently from Gera's freekick, despite a deflection, and WBA waltzed at the back enough to allow Johannson to tuck away the equaliser. Why had El Karkouri jumped in as he did? Two footed. Curbishley said afterwards that in other eyes it was a bad challenge. I recommend he remains using his glasses. He cited the early contact between Luke Young and Paul Robinson as a similar challenge that Robinson wasn't booked for. No it wasn't. Andy Gray again, makes the point. Two players who come together, two forces, Robinson won, their tangle was a result of those forces coming together. We expect no less. The Moroccan had to go.

So when Earnshaw comes on, for Richardson, he seemed eager to get on and he paid off. Superbly, exposing Mark Fish at the back again, he waited for Horsfield to head across goal and then moved in between Charlton players to head yet another free header. he was onside for his second, Konchesky played him, and then put away the third from the spot, after Bryan Hughes decided to swipe recent Burnley acquisition Richard Chaplow in the box, I don't know why the ex-Brum player felt he had to.

It's rare for Bryan Robson to celebrate publicly but he had to Saturday. they shouldn't have won at The Valley on paper, but then paper can burn, luck runs out, while desire is earned and kepted. Charlton lost some of theirs, WBA ensured on taking advantage.


The battle over, the war continues....

To add to Skippy's words, Liverpool won the most crucial derby they've ever faced. The difference was that if they'd lost, we would have been 10 points adrift with little hope of catching them, much less overhauling. It showed in the first half how much the game meant to them. But there are other, as Skippy stated, crucial 'derby' games to approach between now and end of season. That includes the Champs League.

And like a real strike of bad luck Liverpool have continuously endured this season, injuries have accrued. Four of them in the first half when we completely snuffed out Everton's light. Garcia bravely played on and can now rest, if he decides not to feature in Spain's friendly with China. good thig Morientes wasn't chosen. Can you imagine if Pellegrino, Gerrard or Carragher had fallen, along with Riise, and Riise had to play on?? Why these injuries????

Well, now it's a reality check and Liverpool have to deal with it. While Warnock has swelling and hopefully will go down, Hamann and Morientes have knee and thigh strain respectively. The Spaniard is said to need three weeks. It could be sooner than that, I hope. And to suggest the side for Bolton is premature, rather wait until nearer the time to discuss. Fortunately there are two weeks break.

Baros went off for a bad tackle that there are no complaints about. Rafael turned to the bench and then gestured with his hands and body language as if to say 'Why did this have to happen, now?!' Liverpool fans point out Everton's tackling but the Toffees were being their usual physical self. Yet Gerrard and Hamann smartly plotted the freekick, as Carsley, Osman and Cahill turned like frightened mice rather than face the ball. That way, they may have seen it to block it. Morientes struck a sweet volley for Garcia's goal, Martyn caught out in two minds to catch or palm it. Weir and Stubbs are two oldheads who usually hold a strong defence but were it not for Baros' ineptness to finish, one chance coming from Stubb's slip, Everton would have been out of reckoning for any comeback.

Amusingly, Moyes came on and replied that no criticism could be aimed at Martyn for the second goal, yet then went on to contradict himself by saying Martyn could have done better for both goals, particularly the first one. Alan Stubbs has said that continental players are always dropping to the ground and referees still cannot see it, in reference to Garcia's reaction when fouled by Hibbert. Perhaps Mr Stubbs would care to view the replay of the incident, and witness Hibbert make contact, stubs up, with Garcia's shin, completely missing the ball. The only complaint is that Hibbert wasn't booked then, he would have been off later on. I viewed it over and over again on Andy Gray's 'The Last Word', after the match. Also, Mikael Arteta, continental?? Hasn't he dropped to the ground before??

Another thing Andy Gray mentioned during TLW. Rafael should have a recording of the match and play it for the players to watch, see how they should be playing with urgency and passion that has been missing mostly this season. Mr Gray was, as he is mostly, spot on. Everton had to wait until three Liverpool injuries in the first half and a sending-off to gain anything, and it came immediately after Baros left, while Liverpool were recovering from reeling further under their player misfortunes. Cahill finished very well.

Then the moaning. While Rafael refused to comment on Rob Styles' officiating, David Moyes did nothing of the kind. He blamed Styles for not adding more than 3 mins, a Liverpool and Dudek for timewasting for holding onto the ball and taking a goalkick respectively. As if Everton and their fans wouldn't have and haven't done the same themselves.

The battle commenced and was won. Now the war continues and casualties currently seem to want to undermine the effort. But bravery and heart should pull the others through, as the hard work doesn't relent, and neither will the enemy....


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Liverpool come out victorious in the 201 mersyside derby, but at what Cost?

At Anfield earlier today Liverpool and Everton met for the “£10 million” pound game, Liverpool came out victorious so does this guarantee them a 4th spot finish? Of course it doesn’t there is still another 8 “£10 million” pound games left so anything is possible.

I was impressed with the way Liverpool played in the first half, they played at a high tempo and were a far better side. If any one doubts Stevie G’s commitment to the Liverpool cause they should have seen the way he celebrated at the final whistle and after scoring the opening goal of the game.

You will all read about this game in tomorrow’s papers, so I will focus on the naïve Milan Baros. I rate this player highly, and he has the potential to become one of the best in the business

Milan has been playing in the shadow of Michael Owen ever since he joined Liverpool. With Owen’s departure we should be seeing Milan scoring 20 goals per season and not missing chances the way he did against Everton, Byer Leverkusen, Blackburn Rovers I could go on. Unfortunately, he lacks the killer instinct in front of goal and his decision making is also questionable at times. These are areas of his game that he must improve if he wants to become a great player.

Milan was rightly sent off against Everton and he will now miss 3 crucial games for Liverpool. Milan’s club may pay the price for his stupidity, as they are already without so many first team players. The expression on Rafa’s face as Milan trotted towards the dressing room head down summed up how the Liverpool fans must have felt about the sending off.
There is no doubt that Liverpool will miss Milan in the next 3 premiership matches, he offers something different up front he can run at defenders, hold the ball up and has a lot of strength. He must pray that his team mates do well in his absence, otherwise his sending off may cost Liverpool a place in next year’s champion’s league.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Senderos is Arsenal's answer to Federer.

Arsenal's young players are maturing at a rapid pace.

This is the positive theme in Arsenal's story of 2004/05.

Ewood Park is not an easy place to gain a result. Yet Flamini, Toure, Senderos, Clichy, Van Persie, Reyes, and 17 year old Fabregas demonstrated a collective maturity beyond their young years in containing a hungry Blackburn team and achieving a one-nil victory.

This maturity has developed far quicker than expected through consistently having being thrown in at the deep end this season.

That a team who has featured so many inexperienced players are lying level with money-bags Man Utd is a big marker of Arsene Wenger's coaching ability.

In the past five games the team has stabilised. Five clean sheets on the bounce is to be respected after a run of matches where defensive weaknesses were badly costing Arsenal.

The tipping point for this resurgent stability is a player I first talked up 20 months ago.

His name is Phillipe Senderos.

Or as I like to refer to him: Arsenal's Federer.

This Swiss youngster captained his unfancied Swiss under 19 team to European championship victory, upsetting sides like Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal.

The European giants targeted Phillipe. They all wanted him. They all saw that Switzerland has produced another sport's sensation. They all wanted Swiss football's answer to Roger Federer.

So Arsene made a coup when he convinced Senderos that his footballing education would be best under his tutelage.

It is not only that Phillipe has a good physical presence that impresses. And it is not only that he defends with no-nonsense and is not easily knocked around- a'la the hapless Cygan- that heartens Gunner's fans.

A key indicator of Phillipe's potential is the determination in his eyes. This determination, this focus on the pitch, is reminiscent of the Arsenal legend Tony Adams.

Kolo sees it and it gives him confidence. Kolo got the shakes playing next to Cygan. His game has picked up eighty percent since he's had Phillipe as a partner.

And with the centre of the defence strong, the rest of the team has picked up. Jens Lehmann is visibly enjoying a fatherly role in encouraging and applauding his young centre-backs.

The introduction of Phillipe Senderos has therefore been a huge plus for the Gunners. And he shows Arsenal supporters that despite the relative disappointment of season 2004.05, at least their team look assured for a bright future.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Where are we going?

Having come from a home game with Blackburn which we should have won but instead played quite woefully to earn a goalless draw, Liverpool enter the weekend with the knowledge that:

1) they face Everton on Sunday needing DESPERATELY three points, which would put them four points behind the Toffees and make 4th place more interesting to monitor.

2) it is the 201st Merseyside derby, as opposed to it being the 199th, as stated during John Barnes' Football Night last night on ch5. Great production and research team there.

3) they face Juventus for the first time since Heysel 1985 in the same competition, and so they have to work on a strategy to face that QF.

4) To lose the derby on Sunday would make Evertonians scoff after 'Pool fans and continuously barrack and banter us throughout the remainder of this season and pre-season.

5) Harry Kewell has voiced his rebuttal to Benitez's opinion of the Australian's current injury situation, instead of speaking to the manager directly to iron out any discrepancies and keeping any exchanges behind Anfield doors, when in all due respect Mr Kewell has delivered very, very little to believe he warrants the right to say anything publicly. This goes on to disrupt the atmosphere at the club towards a big moment in their season.

6) To allow Everton to emerge into the Champs League, even if it is the qualifying stage, is to allow the memory of Merseyside to be stained and distorted forever in Europe, especially as Liverpool wouldn't be there.

7) Losing on Sunday would also mean Bolton will be above us if they win, and not only goodbye to Champs League, particularly making way for Everton, but also it would put us in the UEFA Cup mold, which we do not want if we aim to be amongst Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea.

8) Statistically, Everton supersede Liverpool overall, something that the table already shows, but in the last 10 games Liverpool have won one more, lost the same and drawn one less, which could read that we are getting slightly better while the Toffees are coming to a dip.

Facing all of the above and still drawing against Blackburn, where are the Liverpool players going mentally? Are they focusing on what is at hand or are they waiting for pre-season to see if the manager is breaking up the team? Because when you face the above and Blackburn comes to Anfield, after playing Everton themselves and Leicester in the Cup quarter-finals, and Liverpool play with little conviction or desire, you have to ask the question....

"Do you feel lucky?"

"Well, do you.....punk?!!"


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

And they all rolled over and one fell out....

Robbie Savage. Some find him irritating, others find him impossible to leave out. Some find him unpickable, others wouldn't do without his presence in their side. For Leicester, Birmingham and now Blackburn, he is a regular selection, he runs, tackles, can take freekicks and aids the attack fervently. So how is it that new Wales manager John Toshack decides to exclude him from the qualifiers against Austria?

I listened to TalkSport and caught Savage speaking via telephone to presenters Mike Parry and Rodney Marsh. Mike Parry tried to constantly ask Savage if he would go back on his decision if Toshack were to leave the coach's position, but Marsh stated at the third attempt that the question had been asked and answered. Rodney Marsh, rely on him to be blunt and to the point.

Yet Savage states his allegiance to the Welsh jersey, how he wants to play for his country, that rumour had it he would be the next captain, and he allows this decision to put him off. Toshack said the pairing of Carl Robinson and Carl Fletcher against Hungary is something he wishes to work on again. I think this is OK, Savage has shown he can play, Toshack may want to see if anyone else can do it if Savage isn't available, which he wasn't due to injury for the Hungary game.

If I was Savage, I'd train and wait until after the qualifiers and see how things go from there. After all, he was to be omitted from the Austria games only, not from Wales altogether, and if Savage really wanted to play for Wales so much, this is what he should have done. I wouldn't give up playing for any team so easily, much less my club and/or country. Besides, if my exclusion is seen as the blame for any defeats or poor play, then it's Toshack who takes the blame. There seems a hint of personal grudge in this decision but Toshack is boss and Savage should learn to abide and see how things happen.

Saying that he has a young family to think off isn't cutting it. Many players have young families and they juggle their career with family commitments. This has nothing to do with anything other than Savage speaking out about comments made by Toshack in criticism of Savage and other Wales players. Gary Speed, Andy Melville, Nathan Blake, Mark Pembridge, Mark Crossley and Andy Johnson of WBA have retired from international duty. Add Savage and that is a fair chunk of the winning side who took on the Italians at Cardiff Park and won. It's not an indication that any or all of those players left as a result of Toshack's appointment but the timing is suspicious.

Names of good players I can recall from memory are John Hartson, Craig Bellamy, Mark Delaney, Ryan Giggs, Robert Earnshaw and Simon Davies. The pieces of this puzzle have fallen, can John Toshack use the remaining pieces and add others to formulate another whole?


50 years in the making . . .

If Chelsea win the Premiership it will be 50 years since they last won it. If Newcastle win the FA Cup it will too be 50 years since they last won it.

What are the odds on this!

Arsenal, balance, Vieira and the 'Three Midfielders Theory'.

A successful team needs perfect balance between attacking ability and defensive ability. The central midfield of a team is a key area for achieving the outcome of perfect balance. For it is not only the zone that links defence and attack together, it is also the zone that can amplify both these elements.

Last season Arsenal had perfect balance between attack and defense. Gilberto, Edu or Parlour sat next to Vieira and these partnerships in the centre of the pitch would support the defence and attack with equal high ability. In other words, the team had perfect balance.

This season Gilberto, Parlour and Edu have been unavailable for almost all of the season. Pat has fatigued in effectively doing the work of one and a half midfielders to support the inexperienced Flamini and Fabregas: Fabregas is not an able defender, and Flamini is not an able attacker. With the centre of the pitch weakened, the team accordingly has not had perfect balance.

Result: the team has not achieved the consistency of last year.

This result has arisen because of the absence of Edu, Parlour, and Gilberto. I call this the 'Three Midfielders Theory'.

Each of these absentees are high class, primarily defensive midfield players, who not only gives Vieira a physical licence to maraud, but more importantly allows Pat a psychological license to maraud.

Pat is at his best as a marauder. A warrior marauder. This is how he played when he had the excellent Manu Petit anchoring the midfield. And when he plays like this the team achieves great balance between defensive and attacking ability.

With the burden of having to support, sit-back, and look after the young, 'development in progress' Fabregas or Flamini, Vieira places a psychological restriction on his license to maraud. This is a responsible choice, but it also means that we don't see Pat at this best.

Pat has had criticism directed at him from many quarters this season. These observers have not taken into account the different context Pat has found himself in this season. He is often coming across three man opposing central midfields with only a youngster to support him. Vieira is only human and he needs more effective support in increasingly congested central midfields.

When Pat has good support and therefore removes his self-imposed restrictions, his own game excels. Just look at the difference in Pat's game when Edu briefly came back last month.

If Arsene Wenger comes across this article (some hope!), I would ask him to make sure that Arsenal are well covered in central midfield next season. I would suggest Van Bommel of PSV or Essien of Lyon.

Vieira will appreciate this support, the team will regain its balance, and success can comeback.

Essien scored two excellent goals against Bremen last week. I was impressed by his power surges into the box and finishing ability for someone who is regarded primarily as a defensive midfield player. He seems to have a good balance between defensive and attacking ability. And as noted above, this is the type of central midfielder Arsenal needs to regain perfect balance.

So priority number one in the summer for Arsene is clear: buy an experienced, primarily defensive, central midfielder. The benefits for Pat and the rest of the team will be significant. And it will also allow me to gladly accord 'non-applicable status' to the currently active 'Three Midfielders Theory'.

Out of the frying pan,......

Reports indicate Ashley Cole stated to Premier League lawyer Nick Fitzpatrick he was tricked into meeting with Jose Moan-rinho and Peter Kenyon, that he was surprised and aimed to leave the room until Moan-rinho persuaded him to stay and listen. Then the Chelsea man suggested to Cole that he can join Chelsea and earn £110,000 a week, double that offered by Arsenal. Moan-rinho is said to have said Steven Gerrard is already secured in coming to the Bridge, and the only other player they want is a left back. Cole is said to have said he will not play for another English club if not Arsenal, and only a move abroad would appease him. Cole is then to have left the room, presumably with his agent.

Cole and his agent Jonathan Barnett initially came to the Royal Park Hotel to meet agent Pina Zahavi to discuss a possible move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The version from Stamford Bridge is that Mr Barnett phoned Chelsea to initiate a meeting, Chelsea made no offer, and then Mr Kenyon phoned Mr Barnett to say there is no interest in Cole.


Well, to say I'm confused is something in the line of my understanding of this issue. Clearly the two versions contradict each other and I sense a Premier League inquiry in full will be ensuing. Cole went to the hotel, that's not in doubt. He felt he was being set up when Moan-rinho and Kenyon entered the room, as he and his agent understood they were meeting Zahavi. I assume Zahavi didn't turn up. I can believe this much, though I would like to know who got in touch first to initiate the meeting, as Cole wanted to discuss moving to Real or Barca.

Moan-rinho and Kenyon are said to have not been at the hotel, though affidavits state they were. Full of flair, quality players and finance Chelsea have in some quantity, but to make yourself appear and then convince others you didn't is something that only Sinbad could conjure up with his genie, and we are not talking about a Middle Eastern setting. So someone is lying, or, as sly people would rather put it, are not forthcoming entirely with the truth.

Personally, it sounds more probable that Cole was encouraged to meet at the hotel and was set up. I can believe Moan-rinho and Kenyon are that ruthless that they will pull out all or any stops to get what they want, backed by Abramovich's millions. With that kind of financial backing, there are many, many who would do exactly the same thing.

Yet there are further implications from these reports. Cole stated that he was told Gerrard's move out of Liverpool to Chelsea is a foregone conclusion. This has let the cat out the bag even further, Gerrard cannot now hide behind a smokescreen in regard to his future interests. One could say that it is too early to be believing anything, but a sixth sense can pick up that which hardly any other can. Cole has implicated Gerrard's next move. He didn't have to say it if he needn't to so saying it is to give a full account of what happened and what was said. I was slightly convinced that Gerrard would move abroad, but that was wishful thinking.

Then again, it may have been said to convince Cole to come to Chelsea. Would Moan-rinho lie? Kenyon? In order to tempt a player their way? Has their current success at Chelsea changed them to that?? Also, this comes as Liverpool prepare to host Blackburn tomorrow. Forget about Chelsea v West Brom tonight, Moan-rinho and Kenyon sleep tight at night without a care. Moan-rinho said he cannot be pressured. That's because when he is, against Newcastle and Barcelona in the Nou Camp, at crucial stages of the respective competition, he isn't nice to hear, hence his monicker Moan-rinho. Football is a passionate sport globally, and Moan-rinho has passion equal to that of anyone in the game. If one is defeated, it spreads to all of those connected with the losing side, and it hurts, vibrating like an ultrasonic sound wave.

Zahavi isn't likely to be called to give evidence as he isn't a UK registered agent. Well for me, being head of the FA, I would implement a rule that would forbid any agent or employee of English football from further participation in their capacity within the sport until they have given full and corroborated evidence in any football-related inquiry when requested. Otherwise, what is our football administration if it is powerless to act fully in the name of integrity?


Monday, March 14, 2005

Attack vs Defence

With Porto winning the Champions league and Greece winning Euro 2004 we have seen how teams with “lesser ability” triumph in major competitions. We all want to see great attacking football, but it seems that if you cannot defend you can no longer succeed in major competitions. We saw a treat example of this in the Chelsea v Barcelona game. Barcelona were excellent going forward but they were poor at the back and that is the reason why Barcelona are not in the last eight of the champion’s league.

We have two English teams left in the champion’s league, for me, this is the greatest cup competition in the world. No so called “expert” will give Liverpool a chance, whilst they perhaps right tip Chelsea to go all the way. Both teams have done really well in Europe this season, and this is not surprising given how well they have defended throughout.

If Liverpool and Chelsea mange to avoid each other in the next round I would fancy both teams to progress in to the semi-finals because they can both defend, and defend well.

In summary, the winner of the champion’s league will be the team who can defend and not simply attack.

Madrid tumbling as Europe's best

Watched Getafe v Real Madrid yesterday, and once again the Galacticos didn't impress. The score suggests that but that's not always the case. Teams have played overwhelmingly yet lose to sucker goals or to a simply crafted goal. Barcelona were like this against Chelsea and it was Chelsea who had the fewest chances, fewer attacks even, in the second half yet scored and qualified. But yesterday's La Liga match was different.

Getafe were 16th before the game, so the equivalent in the Premiership is Fulham beating Man Utd. Not impossible but on paper, with current form, you'd probably look at an away win. However, Real are not in the Copa Del Ray, are also, like Utd, out of the Champs League, a campaign both are renowned for doing well in. And another similar fact is they both occupy 2nd place with a margin between that and top position, Madrid were facing 8pts like Utd now, but this morning stare out at 11pts. Luxemburgo had a face as if to say to asst. Marcos Teixeira 'where are we going wrong?' In charge of a team full of influential internationals like Madrid, if that is the question one is asking as a coach, then the position is untenable.

But indeed, what has happened at the Bernabeu, named after former chairman of the Board of Directors, Santiago Bernabeu? Honour is in the stadium's name alone, Mr Bernabeu borrowed finance to buy the very plot of land which is foundation to Real. But it's not the stadium. Is it the coach? Possibly, but football fans are on the thinking line of not so much that the problem lies with the coach or manager solely, but spreads to the players. In bringing players to the club, the manager would want to have the overall say on who comes and who doesn't, he is the one who manages and trains the players to play how he wants them to.

Harry Redknapp. Fretted about a director of football coming into Fratton Park and left. Mandaric wouldn't change his mind. Would Zejec have overall say in the management of the players and transfers? Redknapp didn't sit around to find out. Football through and through, he stood stubborn on this point. He manages the team, he is criticised if it goes wrong, he is sacked if it goes horribly wrong, under that responsibility he should be allowed to dictate such matters.

At the Bernabeu, is Vanderlei Luxemburgo allowed to do the same thing? Already they had Morientes and Solari (technically midfielder), Portillo, Raul and Ronaldo but they bought Owen. Guti, Figo, Zidane, Makelele, again the option of Solari, but bought Beckham and Gravesen. Woodgate hasn't looked at a Spanish ball much less kicked one in La Liga. Four purchases from the Premiership. Owen at the expense of Morientes, different class but which one would most people pick? Makelele out for Beckham, Gravesen in to help add bite to the midfield. The purchases are great, that is when Woodgate is fully fit, but to what avail? Did they really need Owen?

Real had Casillas, Raul Bravo, Helguera, Samuel, Carlos, Figo, Guti, Gravesen, Zidane, Raul and Ronaldo starting. Getafe took the game to them and hardly came off the pedal. Helguera flapped in the box and the ball spun in the air for a low volley by Raul Albiol. Going in at half time, you'd have thought Madrid would get together and vow to not only equalise, but increase their playability tenfold as Getafe had too much possession. Then former Madrid man Riki emerged one-on-one to beat Casillas two mins into the second half, Bravo playing him on. Zidane and Figo came off for Solari and Owen respectively, so three top class international strikers and still Madrid looked vulnerable to a third.

Luxemburgo said when he came to Real that "[t]here are four fundamental factors which the team needs to function as required. Discipline, unity, hard work and professionalism,......what we need to form a team to win competitions." Hard Work has dwindled, it's at half peak, shall we say. Unity forms from hard work, as hard work cultivates chances and goals, thus the team have formed unity to create. Discipline has negatively propped up, while Getafe had two yellows via Albiol and Yordi (Albiol tooked off his shirt in celebration, so that was for regulation), Samuel, Gravesen and Helguera went into the book too easily.

Yet discipline is also key to keeping a cool head and aiming on target. Professionalism. The players behave off the field, they behave on it enough, I cant see this factor being questioned. Except for when Ronaldo decided to go to Paris to host a Valentine's Day party and injure his toe with a falling object. Not professional to return to Real Madrid with, especially late. Under Luxemburgo, Owen cannot get a regular start, though a section of the crowd call for this to occur. When Owen came on yesterday, it could have been for any of the 10 outfield players, none of them played particularly well.

If Raul and Ronaldo wish to play about with the possibility of either of them being dropped, it will be to their peril. Perez has spoken out in support of current football matters regarding Real's performance. If Luxemburgo has his and the board's support, then the coach should face axing one of those two strikers and make way for a regular appearance from Owen. Owen came on in the 64th min but couldn't receive any service to make any threat on the goal. Out of Guti, Gravesen and Solari, the Spaniard and the Dane can find passes and tackle, only Solari can be seen to make runs from midfield into the box. This he did well when the ball came to him in injury time and he hooked a mid-air volley past Aragones, which came as Getafe began to relax too much, thinking it was game over at 2-0.

The problem with Real is that a number of players are not performing with effort. It's the same at Liverpool, good players with pedigree yet the passing, movement, possession and effort on goal are dismal at times, or have been. There isn't enough determination and drive to ensure that any and every ball passed, shot or repossessed is kepted that way for the majority of the game until final whistle. Arsenal are class at keeping the ball, passing and movement sublime that by the time reality hits you they've scored. Watch as Drogba or Lampard or Gudjohsen, Robben, Duff even, as they aim at goal, more times than not it's on target. Moan-rinho asks of nothing less.

The spark has gone out at Real, and either the players will train harder to improve or the coach should drop the axe and install Owen, as he has shown his keenness to score. The only other option is to change the coach. Yes, I know.......again.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Man Utd in FA Cup pedigree

Out of the four FA Cup matches over this weekend, only Utd came out the most scorers, which I believe emphasises further how much they were allowed to play by a very poor Southampton. Even on their best day one can hold Utd to a defeat and Southampton were having a good run of results.

Leicester gave Blackburn some hard competition at Ewood Park and looked more likely to score until Dickov scored the penalty. I felt the award was slightly fortunate, Pedersen seemed to go down some time after the initial contact from Darren Kenton. But the penalty was well taken, Dickov thumped it down the middle. I hope this has taken some sting out of Blackburn for Wednesday's game.

Newcastle started very well against Spurs, another quarter-final early goal within five minutes. Dyer had roasted Atouba on the right which led to two fouls and a booking so Atouba was on very edgy waters. Spurs responded by having another as back-up whenever Dyer faced Atouba, but after the booking Dyer hardly used the right again. Nice worked goal by Shearer and Kluivert.

Newcastle sat back and allowed Spurs to come at them and eventually rode out the storm. Spurs were mediocre, Defoe tried once or twice to huff and puff, Kanoute put in some effort but little conviction applied. I had a little feeling that after Newcastle had beaten Spurs before in the semis, they would do it again. However, with Newcatle having three bookings to Spurs' six, how a second yellow never followed for any of those 9 is amazing.

Man Utd, Arsenal, Newcastle, Blackburn, it's the Red Devils who seem to have the most pedigree for the cup. I'll guess that Man Utd v Blackburn will happen. A Utd v Arsenal final....Part III of the season. Anyone injured between now and then will play with crutches if necessary.


FA Cup Semi's

Yet again we see Arsenal and Man Utd reach this stage. Are we yet again to see the two face each other at this stage? What a fitting finale it would be if the Millenium Stadium, in its last season as the FA Cup's temporary home, would see the two teams that have dominated the Premiership and FA Cup for so many years clash in the final. And yet how ironic that the team that has not won the cup for 50 years has reached the semi's as well. Will Alan Shearer in his last season fulfil his dream by lifting a trophy for Newcastle Utd? And what of Blackburn Rovers under the management of numerous FA Cup winner Mark Hughes?

The stage is set for two terriffic semi-finals whatever the draw.

The stage is set for what I'm sure will be a memorable FA Cup final.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Saints stopped marching in...

Southampton v Man Utd. Quite disappointing. the match was good but Southampton seemed to lack enough drive to go forward. When they defended, it seemed out-of-sorts, distorted, panicky?? Alan Hansen said Utd had the time, space and the ball to play and after the San Siro, a reply was to happen. Carlos Queiroz said the Saints will face a backlash and I thought he would be disproven but there it was. Possession, application, drive, accuracy, passing and moving, Utd had it given to them because Southampton didn't want it.

The second of two matches shown live on BBC1, it brought another early goal for the better away side. The corner is not dealt with properly at all and only one out of several Saints faced Keane, the others stood still. Why did Crouch aimed to flick when he should have used his height to block the shot? After then, VNR and Rooney twisted and threatened and almost making it pay, Ronaldo was quieter than usual. If Southampton broke on the counter, the ball is passed from defence to midfield and it is either dispossessed or aimed over to Crouch, who couldn't control it or hold it up long enough to get assistance. One moment it happened, he was left with five Utd players, and Camara comes jogging in to view as Crouch loses possession.

If Southampton aimed to break forward, they should have been doing it in numbers, not ages. Missing was Redknapp tenacity to get struck in the middle and aim good passes to move the play along. No Telfer or Prutton runs (we know about the latter), no runs at all. I singled ballwasting in Anders Svensson. For Utd's second, Rooney is on a run, left with youth captain Martin Cranie, Svensson takes up position behind them but isn't up with them good enough. Rooney stumbles by the by-line and still gets hold of the ball, manoeuvers round Cranie, pass Svensson and cuts back for VNR, who founded Ronaldo. There were five Saints players in the box and they were lethargic.

The second half was relatively the same. Saints players looked around as Scholes scored his first with a neat finish and then VNR is facing Higgingbottom, gets pass him and aims a cross to the far post, which eludes three other Saints players and Paul Smith and falls for 5ft 8in Scholes to aim his header in, unopposed. Harry Redknapp wont get at the players much but he knows that they did not play at all this evening, not the side who finished Spurs and Liverpool, outfought their rivals Portsmouth and held off Arsenal. They are good enough to offer better opposition and to get out of the relegation spot. If Everton can do it, Southampton should, especially under Redknapp.


An orchestra, but no conductor.....?

Bolton v Arsenal. Who would have thought what happened would happen? No Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp, Reyes, Pires, Ljungberg were there, but no Henry. Would Arsenal falter? Would there be a repeat of the league game, 2-2, or is another defeat looming for Wenger's boys? After Highbury on Wednesday, this was make-or-break, season over if the Gunners failed. And what happens? Bergkamp and Ben Haim, possible foul for Bolton, play on, Pires knocks it down to the running Ljungberg, the Swede knocks it past the keeper. Within 3 mins.

Then, some 6mins later, Toure jumps with Davies, one of many aerial tussles between the two, Bolton faintly wait for a foul, nothing given, the ball enters the box by Diouf, Senderos challenges him, he goes down, nothing given, Diouf incensed, then Davies goes in on Flamini and the whistle goes. Diouf is remonstrating and edging towards Steve Bennett, Lehmann trots over to Diouf, Diouf raises his right hand or forearm, it connects on Lehmann's face, the German is down clutching his face, Mr Bennett sees nothing but is informed by the linesman, and the Senegalese striker is off straight away. That's 9 mins.

Diouf meant it but it wasn't enough to fell someone of Lehmann's stature, 6ft plus (where are these goalkeepers grown, Dudek, Lehmann, Cech, Almunia, Paul Smith, Tim Howard???), but the raising of hands and/or arms is a straight red card, regardless of the impact. It may seem OK for Diouf if he is content at that point to take it on the chin and jog off as if that's the maximum effect on him. But it hampers the plans Sam Allardyce had conspired with Phil Brown to hopefully achieve a win. How much? Well, Bolton with 10 men and Arsenal with 11, it isn't fair even when it's even, at times.

I listened to TalkSport afterwards and presenter Adrian Durham castigated Bolton for fouling, dropping to the floor, hopeless passing, missed woeful shooting and physical confrontation that marred the game. That's his opinion. Mine is that within 10 mins Bolton were one man less against Arsenal, the current league champions. That will take some contingency effort to get a win now. Bolton made the game look like even sides. They hassled and harried after Arsenal, at times they were open but coped, while at the other end they constantly threatened Arsenal with close efforts in getting towards goal. Davies tussled with Senderos and Toure, Vieira kept cool in midfield though I still feel he is inclined to go down easier than expected. Reyes had his odd glimpses but looked to carry the fight to Jaaskelainen on his own.

Two moments of great one touch play by Arsenal, the set up for Reyes as he was stopped by Jaaskelainen and Ljungberg, who was equally denied. On both occasions Bolton's central defence leaked like an outside tap in winter. Second half found Bolton still hungry for that equaliser, while Reyes had his chances, Bergkamp had a nice freekick effort saved, and in injury time the Dutchman found Pires with a back heel, the Frenchman jiggled round N'Gotty and placed the usual parallel pass that always eludes keeper and defence for an Arsenal man to simply sidefoot in. Ljungberg skied it from so close, he could have scored blindfolded.

Nonetheless the win have been achieved. Arsenal, even without Henry, should have upped their play with a one-man advantage but Bolton pushed for every inch of the pitch that Arsenal could seldom settle into an easier passing-around routine. A mention for Gael Clichy, small, quick, sturdy, filling in for Cole, he was physically challenged by Bolton but didnt whine, whinge or fall over constantly, stayed on his feet, got on with the game and played very well.

The Gunners were in concerto enough to book a semi-final place for the 5th consecutive year, but another game like this, against eleven instead of ten, could find them facing the music. Without their conductor, their play seemed fair but lacking enough innovation. That could be trouble when the fat lady comes off......


Forget Champ League, There is a bigger League to fight for.

Liverpool quietly made it to the last eight, with great ease than Pool fans expected. Credit to the boys, they done the team pround. Helped by Dudek’s mistake and boasting a great home record in Europe, Leverkusen went into the second leg looking to give Liverpool a tough game. But the Leverkusen onslaught never materialised. Liverpool started positively and pressed forward at every opportunity. Leverkusen’s defence did not look solid, Baros and Garcia were allowed time and space far too often throughout the game. On another day, they may have got a hat-trick each. They never really threaten the Liverpool defence, the midfield also doing a great job. And when they did get a chance, the shots did not trouble even the comical Dudek. It just was not going to be their day. The Pools fans could sit back and relax, knowing this is one they can enjoy. They don’t know when it’s going to come around again …it could be some time.
It would nice to get a good draw, but as we all know there no easy games at this stage. Well, some games will be easier than others so I will be happy with PSV. Rafa is talking about doing a ‘Porto’ and win the tournament. Forget the Champ League, there is a bigger fish to fry. Rafa needs get the team 100% focused on the League. Talk of winning the Champ League will distract the team from the main objective, and that’s securing Champ League football next season so Rafa can have the funds the build his team. No more talk of winning the Champ League. Let’s focus on the League. Liverpool cannot afford another performance like the ones against Southampton and Birmingham. No more excuses. It’s Rafa’s first season and Liverpool fans will be happy with fourth in the League, Semi-finalist in the Champ League, League Cup finalist, FA Cup…(I think someone told Rafa the League Cup was more important than the FA Cup. Never mind). However, the Pool fans will be looking for progress. They will expect no less and ask for no more.
When Scholes, Keane and Giggs finally hang their boots and leave Old Trafford (some of them in crunches, we hope), the new generation of players that Ferguson has brought in will find it difficult fill their boots. The goalkeeper dilemma is one that Arsenal and Liverpool also face. It seems that a decent goalkeeper come as rare as a Tony Blair apology. Southampton, who look destined to go down, have two good goal keepers, Antti Niemi and the impressive young Paul Smith. No doubt Niemi will be snapped up by one of the big teams.
For Arsenal, it’s another season of Euro failure. It’s seven years since Arsene took over at Highbury and while domestically they have done great, they just never looked to master Europe. It took ManU years of hard work and experience, getting kicked in the backside before they got back on their feet and applied their experience the following season. However, with ManU they made important progress every season. And then cometh the day, cometh the men, with lady luck on their side. It brought joy to thousands. (It also brought misery to millions). Arsenal seem to be stuck in second gear and losing their way around in Europe. At least, Arsenal fans can look forward to another Eurotrip next season, rest assured that Arsene’s soul won’t rest until he brings the Holy Grail to Highbury. Arsene may feel that injuries have restricted his team’s potential and I just heard Jonathan Pierce in MOTD say Arsene never had an opportunity to play his first eleven this season. The first eleven may win you a game but it’s the squad that wins you the League and Champ League. Spend. Spend. Spend. If not now, when?

Friday, March 11, 2005


Last season we saw two outsiders reach the final of the Champions League and I have no doubt that we could go the same way again this year. So many of Europe's best have fallen - Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd, Arsenal and yet the likes of Lyon, PSV, Porto/Inter and Liverpool are left. That is not to say that some big hitters are not left. Milan, Juventus, Bayern and Chelsea must all fancy their chances but if I were you I would look out for the so-called underdogs because like Porto and Monaco last season, we could be in for a big upset again.

Death at the San Siro: A post mortem

When the shrill cry of the final whistle was blown on Tuesday in the cauldron that is the San Siro, for Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Alex Ferguson it must have sounded like the hammering of nails in their footballing coffins. Too long have they gone without European success and with each year that passes since that night in Barcelona, greater credence can be given to the argument that Manchester United were lucky in 1999, and lady luck never hangs around for long.

So where has it gone wrong and what can be done?

Personally, this writer agrees with Ferguson in that the present United side is a better team than that in 1999. Player for player, the 2005 side has more skill, adaptability and pace than the 1999 side. But what the 1999 side had in abundance was the belief that they would not be beaten. It is this belief that needs to be instilled into the present side - which is easier said than done. The point goes to the heart of sports psychology and how one goes about altering the the psychological profile of players is beyond this writer. However, there are some areas where I do feel that I have a learned opinion on.

The failure to ever replace Peter Schmeichel has been hanging over Ferguson for some time now. To fail to find an heir after a couple of seasons is unfortunate, but to still be at square one six years after Schmeichel's departure smacks of negligence. Paul Robinson is not the greatest goalkeeper in the world, but he is solid, young and, most importantly, reliable. He must be purchased this summer at any cost.

Mikael Silvestre is not good enough to be a first choice centreback at Old Trafford. Rio Ferdinand has been carrying Silvestre for some time now and he has become a libility. Wes Brown is a more accomplished player and should be trusted to form a partnership with Ferdinand, who was imperious against Milan.

Gennaro Gattuso, is a player I have been following since his cracking goal against England a few years ago. Although Roy Keane has had his best season for years, we need to replace him sooner rather than later and I can see no player more suited to this monumental task than Gattuso. His tenacity, tackling, skill and sheer will-to-win are qualities which are perfectly suited to the English game and to be treasured in European football. Allied to this is the fact that he is comfortable in British conditions having spent a couple of years at Rangers and has made some interesting noises about joining United.

A miracle happened last night. I saw a player that reminded me of Giggs at his brilliant best on the most unlikey of platforms - Channel Five. Douala of Sporting Lisbon was simply electric, a joy to behold. Now I am not saying that United need to sign him right now, but Ferguson should take note. Douala is a gem and will surely be a player to watch out for in the future. Readers - you heard it here first.

There is not a great deal seperating this United side from greatness, but the tiny details become chasms when you are faced with the very best sides in Europe. United, like Arsenal, have found that out yet again this season.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Who versus Who?

Liverpool, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSV Eindhoven, Lyon, AC Milan, Inter or Porto. Firstly I think Inter will use home advantage to defeat Porto, who have to rely on perhaps McCarthy. Also, I would prefer PSV for Liverpool. PSV have had their talents stripped (Robben, Kezman, Rommedahl) and are building again. Van Bommel seems a captain ready to take charge and surge for the European final. Few may consider their potential progress, as they would with Liverpool. Both teams can defend well and can deliver good attacks on their best days. Chelsea need to face another formidable opponent to prove their worth further, nothing else will suffice. They'll need to face a side who attacks strongly, fervently, and can defend well in numbers, almost like themselves. I think Chelsea v AC Milan should do. Crespo relishes showing his current employers they shouldn't have loaned him out. Stam got his revenge on Sir Alex, now it's Crespo's turn.

Juventus seem agile enough in attack, Del Piero, Ibrahimovic, Trezeguet, Zalayeta, Nedved, Camoranesi to name a few. Likewise, Lyon have shown they can punish a near comatose side as in Werder Bremen, their attacking flair seemed like pirahnas. If Lyon wish to approach with such playability, they should test themselves at the Stadio Delle Alpi, Juventus v Lyon. That leaves Inter v Bayern Munich. Believing the Italian side can use experience to knock out Porto, their attack of Davids, Karagounis, Martins, Vieri and Adriano can come up against a Bayern back four with experience and a rugged determination to hold ground and absorb pressure, as they showed against Arsenal.

Liverpool v PSV Eindhoven, Bayern Munich v Internazionale, AC Milan v Chelsea, Lyon v Juventus.


No more Armada

Tuesday found Spain's current top side against England's current one. Spain lost. Last night found Italy's number 2 against the Spanish equivalent, and again the Spanish side lost. Barcelona had majority of possession but failed to do anything with it. Real were second best in both halves and paid the penalty. Losing after trying hard to win is acceptable. Losing without isn't. Real's threats came via Ronaldo, who went close on one occasion I can remember. Other than that, if he went on a run, it looked dangerous for Juve. Raul wasn't as good as he is renowned. Zidane rarely featured and came off for Guti, Beckham picked up a twinge in his back and departed for Solari, Owen came on for Raul.

Juve started with Ibrahimovic, Zalayeta and Del Piero, three strikers to pressurise the Madrid defence. In his substitutions, Luxemburgo went likewise, bringing on Solari, which left the Argentinian with Owen and Ronaldo. Juve enjoyed the possession and applying the pressure, Ibrahimovic constantly using his pace, height and strength to twist and twine between Samuel and Helguera, but what let down Juve was the final finishing touch. It wasn't until flu-victim David Trezeguet came on for Del Piero on 57mins that Juve found the break they needed.

On 75mins, another wasp to the Real Defence, Camoranesi, sent a back over to the far post which looked to go out, yet Ibrahimovic used his height to nodded it back across goal. It came off Helguera slightly and bounced to Trezeguet, who aimed an overhead effort to goal. Comeback. This took the game into extra time as Real failed to muster any form of chance in return while Juve pressed for a winner.

Then a turning point. Solari is away on the left, charging, Ronaldo is aiming to be in the box and is running, Tacchinardi is running with him and could have been blocking him as it was indicated he used an elbow on the Brazilian. Ronaldo responded in turn by swinging a wild leg after the Italian midfielder. As play stopped due to the ball going out, ref Markus Merk consulted with the linesman as Guti gestured Tacchinardi had used an elbow three times. The end decision was that both were culpable and they both left the field. For Juve, one man down meant little, they were vibrant and they had enough to cover Tacchinardi's absence.

Madrid had created little throughout the match and this was via Ronaldo, their best chance of scoring, especially as Raul was off. Zidane and Beckham off too, the time was for Owen to step up and further his cause for first-team selection. But Real didn't have enough reserve, and Ronaldo off must have hit them further down. Solari tried to make something but mostly ended up on the floor in vain attempts for a freekick. Juve had more firepower to carry the fight than Real, and it showed. A high ball into the Madrid box was poorly met by a defender, possibly Raul Bravo, who had been very good, and the ball trickled to Zalayeta, who aimed a low shot pass Casillas's right corner.

On the night, Real were second best and it showed. Having played very well enough in the 1st leg, I don't know what their plan was but without Ronaldo, it faltered. The other players didn't play well enough to warrant a win, the defence played the best out of the three sectors, Samuel coped and Bravo fought every time Ibrahimovic threatened. He came in for Salgado, Samuel and Helguera in central, Carlos; Figo, Gravesen, Zidane, Beckham; Ronaldo and Raul. This side should have played way, way better than they did. Zidane/Guti happened just before Trezeguet's goal, Solari followed some minutes after and Owen came on for the first half of extra-time. It felt as if Figo was doing the work himself. Solari was to no avail and Owen was being shadowed by Cannavaro. The sending off played a part in Real's reduced playability.

Now, out of the Copa Del Ray and the Champs League, its the La Liga title they must focus on. If Barcelona pushes it to the wire, Luxemburgo could go empty-handed and out the door. They are away to Getafe on Sunday, while Barca are hosts to Athletico Bilbao on Saturday. Both meet on 10th April at the Bernabeu.


Not vengeance, respect for a team of humility

Bayer Leverkusen last night missed a significant number of players, Juan, Ponte, Freier, Roque Junior and Nowotny. They had the home crowd but they seemed slightly despondent, and Liverpool managed to capitalise on it. Teams have managed to do that to Liverpool, with our injuries and the odd suspension. Morientes and Pellegrino cup-tied, Alonso, Cisse, Pongolle recovering. Traore recovering....from his own goal at Burnley. Liverpool have endured a rollercoaster of a season, particularly when one notices that Liverpool and Everton fail to take advantage when the other side loses in the Premiership.

So it was a weakened Bayer side last night, but Liverpool have had to play likewise themselves, and its a majority opinion that we have suffered results wise because particular players are missing, the gel of the team is disrupted. However, despite the current availability of players at any club, a match is to be played and 11 players including a goalkeeper must be selected to start. To conclude on this point, Bayer were weakened but we had to win to progress, and while they have my sympathy, we needed to take advantage and win.

And so it begun. Bayer started to hold possession in the beginning stages of the game but then Liverpool kicked into gear. Baros was the ever-running player, causing contention and concern when he ran with the ball. The German side seemed to settle into stride, since they need a 2-0 win, but as they did, Liverpool struck. Gerrard crosses from the right and the running Garcia gets a slight touch as he is followed by a defender, Butt beaten. Then to make worse of their plight, Bayer had to see Berbatov come off through injury, Voronin coming on having initially made way for the Brazilian Franca for the kick-off.

Seconds after that, Liverpool gained a corner, Gerrard took, very well, Biscan used his height to head down and Garcia wandered across to touch the ball in. 5-1 aggregate, we needed at least 1 goal to help our nerves and settle, we had 2 around the half hour mark. Looking superb. A sweet ball from Baros found Garcia and the Spaniard's left foot effort was well saved by Butt.

Yet second half Bayer aimed for the throat. They needed 5 to win and they had one half to do it in. Bierofka managed to evade the Reds' defence and found Franca but the Brazilian shot over the bar. Bierofka found Franca again and his second effort was stopped by Dudek. As Bayer pressed forward, Liverpool held firm and their reward came. The ball deflected fortuitously into the path of Baros, and with time and space to tee up his shot, he found Butt's bottom right corner, something he deserved for his efforts all night.

And to cap it off, having begun a minute's silence prior to kick-off in memory of former Bayer coach Rinus Michels, who died on Thursday, the BayArena played the Liverpool anthem. Both teams deserved to be applauded, Liverpool for their performance, Bayer for their humility in defeat and ceremony. Both sets of fans deserved reciprocation.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Terry's all gold

Well, Ronaldinho stated that no English side would progress into the QF, when in fact the one he faced did. Chelsea v Barcelona was the match to watch, being on ITV and following the comments from both camps in regard to the 2nd leg. Why is it that adults know better on how to behave yet, despite being people of good stature and maturity, still fail to do so, sometimes to their own peril.

The same cannot be said of Jose Moan-rinho. Complaining of Frank Rijkaard's presence in Anders Frisk's dressing room at half time in the Nou Camp, there was little complaining before the 2nd leg began. Good reason too. Barcelona are holding La Liga toransom yet played so defensively out of shape that a team like Chelsea, with attackers who think so quickly and move likewise, found it too simple to infiltrate. Chelsea's best player was the captain, but Joe Cole comes in for a mention of having played his best so far in a Blues top. Much better improvement by someone I criticise on occasion.

Chelsea displayed to Barcelona how Barcelona use to play. Lampard found Kezman on the right, Kezman passed a great pass across to Gudjohnsen, the Icelander controlled, like Henry tonight, left foot away from Gerard then the right to execute. And like a executioner, he did, nice finish. Then Cole goes on a run and shoots, it deflects and Valdez gets a palm to it but that smothers the sting out of the ball and places it in the path of Lampard, with no Barcelona player reacting even on instinct. But if that wasn't enough for the watching public, although it certainly was to carry Chelsea through, they added a third. Loe Cole again, on the run, half-volley pass finds the running Duff, Duff runs on and hits first time under Valdez. Where was Gerard? 3-0 in under 19mins, Barcelona should have pressed the self-destruct before Chelsea eventually blew them away themselves.

But then steps up World Player of the Year. Belletti crosses from their right, Ferreira jumps with Eto'o but isn't looking, his hand is out and the ball touches it. Penalty. Ronaldinho steps up like a peacock and just about scores, Cech agonisingly going the right way and getting a slight touch with both hands. And then Chelsea are embarassingly caught out by Ronaldinho. The ball is touched to him, he stands there, outside the box, twisting his right leg left and right as if he's about to do some breakdancing, Carvalho is between him and the goal, Cech waits, about three other Chelsea players wait surrounding him, a couple of Barcelona players making movements around him, and the Brazilian is still in one spot. Then before anyone could muster a move, he aims a shot with minimal backlift that finds the goal, Cech is rooted. Barcelona reduce the deficit to one, and they are currently going through, making Chelsea's 3 goals seem immaterial.

But come the second half, while Barcelona played as if they needed a goal, their defence was still not organised. They enjoyed the possession throughout the second half, but whenever Chelsea broke in attack, Chelsea came closer with 5 or 6 chances than Barcelona with their majority possession. Juliano Belletti forced a good save from Cech that saw the ball skimmer off the post, then Puyol rose to head what seemed a goal, only for the Czech keeper to stop on the line. Iniesta shot but it was tipped onto the post, Glen Johnson watched the ball go by him and Eto'o should have put the rebound on target but skied it.

With Chelsea progressing the better with their few breaks, they forced a corner with some 12-15mins to go, and had the Spanish side did their homework, they should have picked up on John Terry's knack for headers. They didn't, he headed and the goal was made near the far post. There seemed a case for Carvalho impeding Valdez but it was to no avail. Also, Barcelona defended the corner with no one on the far post.

Terry was my MOTM as he hardly put a foot wrong, whenever a ball came high and in, he would make it mostly and it was cleared. At one time, he was allowed to react to a high ball near his goal, Barcelona players waited for him to make a mistake but he simply watched the high ball and jumped to meet it towards Cech, simple defending and tidying up. Barcelona could have done with some of that via Marquez. He is in a different class to Terry but he is their best defender to rely on for tidying up.

Chelsea have shown they can defend well and stubbornly. As Arsenal lead in that deprtment through Campbell, Terry does as well for Chelsea, and whoever partners with him learns from him, likewise with Toure from Campbell. At the end, the camera turned to Ronaldinho, his face sternly focused somewhere off camera, and then we managed to see tension as Rijkaard is held by one steward, Ronaldinho is held by another, some Barcelona staff having their say. Eto'o alleged he was racially abused but it is suggested that one of Moan-rinho's management staff may have teased Rijkaard after the whistle. If so, again, there is little humility shown. Despite what has happened, they are professional, they are grown-up and they must show responsibility.

Teasing after the whistle is absurd, immature and unsporting. In the match, Chelsea showed they can defend well and attack with almost acute precision. They needed little from their few attacks while Barcelona could muster little from the majority of theirs. Where Moan-rinho is concerned, he is brazen to show his side play with passion, something he has clear confidence in. For Ronaldinho, the best place for dialogue in retort is on the pitch. He almost spoke twice but then allowed his emotions at the end to speak further. For the home fans, they were jubilant. Barcelon's showed their emotion after the commotion with their players and Chelsea's stewards. They rained bottles of water towards Moan-rinho and Abramovich as they walked off the pitch.


Arsenal tag-teams: the components of hope

To recognise the importance of the Arsenal tag teams is to recognise why Arsenal can perform at a sublime level on most days, and look insipid on other rarer days.

In Munich, Thierry badly missed Dennis; Pat badly missed Edu after the latter's injury on twenty five minutes; and Kolo made uncharcteristic mistakes because instead of having Sol alongside him he had to contend with having Cygan as a defensive partner.

With Dennis, Edu, and Sol off the pitch, their regular tag-team partners effectively also vacated the pitch. They were physically present, but mentally they had already conceded the match.

Dennis is a legend. He is the ultimate link-man between midfield and the back of the net. He is the father on the pitch. He is the only player that Thierry and Pat looks up to. Without Dennis to look up, Theirry and Pat feel the burden of being the elder statesmen and they don't perform as they could. They need Dennis as much becasue of this as for his undoubted ability on the ball.

Thierry looked like he was lost in a Siberian desert in Munich. His face said this: I'm lost without Dennis. I'm half the player when Dennis is not around, and I don't like being half-Thierry. I like being the complete-Thierry. But he won't turn up tonight because Dennis is not here.

On big match days, Thierry needs Dennis.

Edu is a roll-royce player. His passing is ultra-smooth and he gets the team playing at a high tempo. And most importantly, his anchor play allows Pat to play at his maruding best. Pat trusts Edu. And with this trust his game moves up to top gears.

Pat doesn't fully trust Fabregas or Flamini because of their youth and inexperience. Consequently Pat feels the burden of thinking he is effectively a one-man central midfield and this stifles his play and his mindset. He doesn't just play at a lesser level without Edu or Gilberto, he looks different too. His face on the pitch says: I'm burdened.

On big match days, Pat needs either Edu or Gilberto.

Kolo will benefit from not playing next too Pascal. Kolo knows that Pascal is a liability, and Kolo does not revel playing with this feeling. With Phillipe alongside, Kolo will play more confidently. Phillipe has determination in his eyes and Kolo would have recognised this.

On big match days, Kolo needs Sol or someone he can trust.

In Munich, the spine of the team was ripped out of the Gunners. Not only was Dennis, Edu and Sol missing, but their regular tag-partners also effectively went missing. With Freddie playing in an unfamiliar front role and Asher C out though illness, it is no wonder that the real Arsenal did not turn up.

At Highbury tonight, Dennis will be back, Edu should be back, and Pascal will be out. With their tag-team partners on the pitch, Thierry, Pat, and Kolo will also return to their best. And with Freddie back in midfield and Asher C back in defence, the return of the Arsenal 49ers should be on show.

Whether or not this will be enough to overturn the first-leg deficit is another question.

The important thing is that Arsenal regain their European pride by playing with the old Arsenal power-playability for the whole 90 minutes.

With the return of the Arsenal tag-teams there is every hope this can happen. And then everything is possible.


Locations of visitors to this page