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.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bolton win will see Liverpool closer to Istanbul

A Bolton win over Chelsea will significantly boost Liverpool's chances of overturning the Blues next Tuesday.

The parallel to Arsenal's demise in Europe last season is the basis for this statement. Let me run you through this.

On the Saturday morning before a second leg quarters tie against Chelsea, Arsenal were unbeaten and clear ahead in the league, in the semis of the FA Cup, and had an away goal after an awesome game of football in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

This was proving to be an exceptional season by any standards. Arsenal were not only playing scintillating football, but had forgotten how to lose. They had earned a crucial mental edge over the opposition.

At lunchtime Arsenal faced Man Utd in the cup. Henry was rested among others with an eye on the second leg. Man Utd played their typical over-physical game, grabbed a lead, kicked Pires and Reyes all over the pitch, and reduced Arsenal to an uncharacteristic long ball game in the second half that got the Gunners nowhere.

Result: out of the cup; a mental shock and consequent loss of momentum after losing their first game of the season to domestic oppostion (sorry Boro fans but a Carling cup semi with a youth team doesn't count); and only a three day physical recovery before taking on a fresh and in-form Chelsea team.

Arsenal went into the first half against Chelsea on adrenaline. Henry blew a couple of chances before Reyes put Arsenal deservedly ahead on the half-time whistle. But if a goal against you could ever come at a good time, this was one for Chelsea. Ranieri regrouped his team in the half-time break, and they came out with strength.

Lehmann spilled a long range effort and Lampard raced in to snap up the rebound. Arsenal deflated mentally for the second time in a few days. Their away goal advantage had gone, the adrenaline drained, and they lacked physical strength relative to Chelsea with the Man Utd defeat taking its toll.

This combination of factors inhibited the Gunners flowing game, and to put it simply Arsenal didn't look like scoring again. Henry was subbed before Bridge surged forward to grab a late winner. A deserved Chelsea victory and Arsenal out of two cups in the space of four days.

Similar conditions are coming into play right now that can benefit Liverpool this year just as Chelsea benefited last year (for Arsenal fans this will be nicely ironic!).

Chelsea have not lost in the league since last October. They have forgotten how to lose and consequently are playing with a mental edge. They are level after the first leg of a champs league tie. And they are going to be playing an over-physical team just three days before the next leg.

Sounds familiar?

A Chelsea loss to Bolton will come as a mental shock. And there will not be much physical recovery time for a team that are now showing signs of strain which is natural for a side that has played high-intensity football all season. Mourinho would have to earn his wages in the three days before the game at Anfield to counter-act these negatives. It will be a great test for the self-appointed 'special one'.

Benitez will want these potential problems to strike Chelsea's players and management. And it is a Bolton win that will put these factors directly into play.

So its quite simple: Liverpool should get right behind the team in sixth come this teatime. The Reebok can get them half way to Istanbul. A rocking Anfield can then complete the job.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Xabi- Alonso is the key to Liverpool reaching the final of the Champion’s league

Readers cast your minds back to 1st January 2005 that was the day when Chelsea came to Anfield and were outplayed, outfight and got a helping hand from the referee, which helped them win a game that they should have lost.

Liverpool were fantastic that day, and had Xabi Alonso not got injured from that crude tackle by Lampard then I am convinced that they would have got at least a point from the match.

Since coming back from that injury, Xabi has been in superb form, and I firmly believe that he holds the key to Liverpool beating Chelsea.

The so called experts will not give Liverpool a chance in this match, and I don’t blame them given Liverpool’s performances in the league. But they have been different class in the Champion’s league and away from home they have yet to concede more than 1 goal.

If Liverpool can score at the Bridge, then I trust them to do well defensively. I am predicting Liverpool to go through.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Liverpool won't play in Champions League next season

UEFA have decided that no more than 4 English clubs will play in next season's Champions League. This means that the FA have a very tough choice to make should Liverpool end up winning the competition this season. It's seems pretty clear to me however that the mere fact the FA asked UEFA to allow another team into next season's competition speels doom for Liverpool. I agree it would be extremely tough on Everton, presuming they end up 4th, if they were told they had to compete in the UEFA Cup instead. But then again how wrong does it seem not to allow the holders to defend the trophy?

As a Liverpool fan I personally wouldn't care if didn't finish 4th so long as we won the Champions League. 4th place might be out of Liverpool's hands now but winning the Champions League is still very much in our hands.

The new Cantona: Wayne Rooney

Cast your mind back - November 1992. Manchester United were a good side, a talented group of individuals, promising much – but delivering very little. United had young players - facing the most crucial time in their formative development – looking for inspiration and leadership. In short, United were missing the fundamental ingredient that sets the truly great teams apart from the merely good teams: a footballing genius.

Alex Ferguson signed Eric Cantona* that winter and the rest, as they say, is history. Cantona’s vision, guile, panache, and yes arrogance was the catalyst for an unprecedented era of success for United – making the side of the mid 90’s, one of the best English football has ever seen. Cantona’s performances on the pitch altered not only Manchester United’s fortunes, but along with Dennis Bergkamp – changed the face of English football – bringing a new sophistication to the game in England that had previously been reliant on jurassic “lets lump it long and see what happens” tactics.

United are now in need of a new genius – someone to raise the bar at Old Trafford and bring United’s play to another level. Someone to bring together the young talents and established players. Someone who can bring a new dimension to their play. Wayne Rooney is that genius.

Rooney is the most complete young player this country has seen in years. His crisp passing, penetrative dribbling, and deadly finishing make him a truly remarkable talent. Yesterday’s goal against Newcastle United was the final piece of evidence that I needed to cement my view that Rooney is the new Cantona. United were labouring and I could not see where a goal would be coming to rescue United from yet another limp performance. But then came Rooney’s moment of brilliance. Yesterday, Old Trafford was a dark, dark place until Rooney provided the light.

It is Rooney’s ability to conjure something from nothing, to inspire when at first there was only despair - that reminds me so much of Cantona.

Yes, Rooney has problems with his temperament – but Cantona had the same (and more), Over the past couple of games I have even noted a conscious effort on the part of Rooney to curb his anger. But all geniuses have a degree of unpredictability, and Rooney’s fiery passion is something most United fans would argue they are willing to live with if his talent shines through.

It has taken a while to find an heir to Cantona’s throne – but Old Trafford has a new King.

* Alex Ferguson only turned to Cantona after his bid for Sheffield Wednesday’s David Hirst was rejected – phew!

Bergkamp and Reyes will turn it on tonight/Arsenal Ladies

With Thierry Henry out for a few more weeks the onus is on Jose Antonio Reyes and Dennis Bergkamp to turn from primary providers to primary scorers.

By my reckoning neither have got on the scoresheet since the demolition of Palace on February 14. They are both overdue.

As our closest neighbours visit I sense that this evening is the time when Jose and Dennis will respond to the need for goals by putting on big performances.

Jose has endured a bleak winter that followed a promising start to the season. The cold has got him down; persistent fouling has got him down; and spoof radio hosts have got him down.

Jose is young and is a confidence player. He needs the fans behind him and his team behind him. He smiles when Thierry applauds an attempted pass, but puts his head down when Thierry asks for better. In the cold mid-season his head has been down quite often.

However, as the spring warm air touches London, I sense from the last few matches that Jose is picking up. He is warm weather player; the sun reminds him of Seville and he likes this. His banter in the Chelsea tunnel prior to kick-off with his Spanish speaking contempories Senderos and Fabregas was followed by an enthusiastic performance. He is looking happier and is on the up.

Now what Jose needs to complete his positivity is goals. A sunset evening kick-off in mild temperatures against Spurs are the perfect conditions for Jose to do this. With TH out he will know that the team will look to him to score and I believe he will be completely determined to achieve this.

The momentum he has recently been building is timing nicely for the game tonight.

Dennis Bergkamp is an Arsenal legend. He is the father on the pitch and simply is irreplaceable.

But his future is uncertain. The recent emergence of Van Persie and recent talk by Arsene Wenger that suggests his number one transfer priority is an established striker to replace Dennis means that this may be the last time Dennis starts in a match against Spurs.

Dennis should be thinking: I deserve a big match and some goals as the curtain comes down on my career. With TH out I will give everything to get my name on the scoscoresheet and leave my fans with one more special performance to remember.

There will be nothing more special for Arsenal fans than to see Dennis claim a vital matchwinner in the big games coming up. His exceptional performance and goal against Man Utd at Highbury was forgotten amongst the Man Utd goal blitz in the second half.

This performance had me on the edge of my seat. It was the legend putting on what he and everyone knew would be one of his last big shows and it was moving to see. But it was overshadowed.

Now I want one more classic Bergkamp performance that is not overshadowed. One opportunity is tonight. Another will be in Cardiff next month.

Can Dennis delight and do it in both matches?

I would be happy with just one, and tonight at Highbury would be fantastic. I sense Dennis Bergkamp will be thinking about achieving this potential. And with a resurgent Jose Reyes looking for a similar impact, expect big games from the two of them tonight as they seek to take on the goal-scoring role of Thierry Henry.

EFT wishes to congratulate the Arsenal ladies team on yet another title success. They are a credit to football and the Arsenal name.

Chelsea nearer as Redknapp endures baptism

In midweek we were treated to a potentially explosive derby between Chelsea and Arsenal which bore little fruit for the neutrals but must have been pleasing to the Gunners' fans as Chelsea failed to dominate Arsenal again for the second time, despite their emergence in the league. Obviously they saved their derby best for the West London meeting on Saturday. Joe Cole scored a good goal and played another good game, and it was slightly concerning to see him make way for the recovered Arjen Robben, who had a hand in Frank Lampard's goal so soon after his arrival. Eidur Gudjohnsen has been excellent for Chelsea, having come from Bolton as a little known player. The Icelander has skill, control, vision and gets into tackles as well as any other Chelsea player and where he and Didier Drogba to feature regularly, I think it would be a dangerous partnership for any team.

Collins John scored a good goal to equalise, Ricardo Carvalho caught out napping and failing to thwart the Dutchman. Jose Mourinho hopes for an Arsenal win tonight to ensure his Blues side don't let up on their onslaught until the end, and the Gunners have no choice but to, not even a draw is sufficient. Tempting fate, I sense a draw is what will happen tonight, just to finally put to rest the chase at the top. that being that, there is no chance of Chelsea letting up on Wednesday, that's another trophy.

Speaking of Wednesday, Chelsea's opponents Liverpool went away again in a week to find they had little stamina to gain victory over relegation-threatened Crystal Palace. When Wayne Routledge returned back a clearance with a shot, only Andy Johnson reacted. Liverpool in the Champs League but defending from a chumps League. The ideology is that once a ball is incoming, it is reverted to outgoing. Simple. But Liverpool will not grasp that concept for an entire game, instead allowing for such moments as they did on Saturday to concede. We were lacklustre and formed an effort nearer towards half time. Baros had to come off and if he isn't ready for Wednesday, we will have yet another selection difficulty. I'm not happy with 4-5-1 and if Wednesday in mind perhaps Benitez should have played Morientes first under that formation. For me, Morientes can play better with another, while Baros can play better when he is alone with support from two wingers, similar to Drogba/Gudjohnsen at Chelsea.

Sami Hyypia stated that the time was not up for the match, possibly with Wednesday in mind. Having had to defeat bogey team Portsmouth in midweek, to have to come to Palace rather than host them is something I would have preferred to have avoided, our home support would have lifted the team like a send-off before Stamford Bridge. Who knows, Chelsea could feel too happy after beating Fulham and then finding Arsenal draw, to concentrate on Wednesday. Liverpool could find Baros is fit and ready, and having this defeat could be the wake up alarm they need. Coming this close, it is now rather than at any other time that the Reds must focus and perform out of their hearts, win or lose.

However, the main game for me this weekend was the South Coast derby. Harry Redknapp endured 'Judas' chants from the home fans as he took his seat in the away dug out and stayed there, in accordance with security instructions and common sense. Judas carried Jesus and then exposed him to the Roman soldiers in return for silver. Redknapp hadn't sold out Portsmouth but left them when his authority there was put under doubt. A reputable manager or coach must have his way if he is to succeed, with little or no interference. Had he arrived elsewhere, his name wouldn't be mud at Fratton Park, not so much. He brought Portsmouth into the Premiership after other managers couldn't even bring themselves to the club. Under his management they defeated Liverpool and Man Utd, and held off Arsenal. All of Portsmouth's players were Redknapp signings. They are what they are, positively, because of Redknapp. Perhaps what I see as Portsmouth's only substantial gripe with Redknapp is that had he stayed, they wouldn't be in relegation fear.

Nonetheless, Southampton weren't in standard form. They lost influential and former Pompey man Peter Crounch in pre-warm up, as an injury he was carrying wouldn't let up. Yet they had hitman Kevin Phillips and pacey Henri Camara to form a strike force from. I can't think of any way Redknapp could play all three simultaneously, as that would be his best way of getting goals. But goals do not necessarily gain victories, Southampton's effort previously before their draw at Bolton was being 2-0 up against Aston Villa, only to concede 3. The whole team needs an injection of steel for the remaining 3 fixtures, with Man Utd their last game.

But what a way to to shrink in a crucial match. Against bitter rivals, in their ground, needing 3 points and losing an influential player, Antii Niemi had to act as his defenders didn't, bringing down Lomana LuaLua for Yakubu Aiyegbeni's cool high penalty. A needless freekick later as Nigel Quashie was too rash on Steve Stone, Patrik Berger delivered from the right for skipper Arjan De Zeeuw to head in. This was 17 minutes into the game. Camara chased a high ball and snapped a low drive past the keeper to give hope, and there should have been more for the Senegalese, he has the capability to punish given the chance. But 3 minutes later Berger sent a high ball that saw LuaLua chase with Jakobsson and Telfer, neither of whom could match his pace. Niemi decided to come right out of his box and misjudged the bounce, LuaLua reacted first and hooked the ball into an empty net.

Five minutes later O'Neill hooked a high ball forward which found LuaLua, who passed to Yakubu, who then unselfishly passed sideways to Stone, who lost control only for LuaLua to aim a shot from 30 yards. Niemi couldn't see it until it went past him and in. This was 27mins. LuaLua had practically single-handed destroyed Southampton, along with Berger, Stone and Yakubu. Southampton face Norwich and Crystal Palace next but already seemed doomed to go down. In a position as they are, going ahead then losing 2-3, then losing bitterly 4-1, and having to face Man Utd in your last game, it spells nothing else other than relegation for a side who had rights in the top flight for 27 years. Ironically Pompey will stay up as Southampton sink, but Redknapp is the type of manager who picks up the reins no one else bothers with, and converts negativity into positivity.


Rooney lets fly as the Souness 'castle crumble

Having had a terrible response from midweek against Everton, I was looking for Man Utd to really bounce back at Old Trafford yesterday. Ryan Giggs, Alan Smith, Darren Fletcher and Phil Neville were included at the expense of Christian Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes. But for me United were still not functioning at full expectancy, and all the while as they looked to install some dominance, they allowed Newcastle the time and space to form confidence within themselves, which was quite good for the Magpies considering they were playing with Alan Shearer as the lone frontman in front of a 4-1-4 set up, Ameobi playing wide and allowed to drift forward when the opportunity arose.

An overhead ball bounced towards Tim Howard's goal that Wes Brown allowed Shearer to get to, heading it over the advancing Howard but it was comfortably gathered by Ferdinand and cleared. A sign that the Man U back four were susceptible to hesitancy. Howard again cleared feebly from a Phil Neville back pass and between Quinten Fortune, Brown and Gabriel Heinze, no defender was alert enough to block Darren Ambrose coming through. Good finish from the former Ipswich man. Heinze subsequently went for a high ball with Shola Ameobi and came down horribly onto his right leg, seeming to jar the knee and ankle joints but thankfully not breaking the leg, initial reports have suggested. Stretched off, I wish all the best for the Argentinian in his recovery.

One can only imagine what was said by sir Alex at half time but I don't feel it was teacup-against-the-wall stuff, or football boot even. Utd seemed promising going forward and slightly edgy when under pressure, otherwise Newcastle hadn't formed enough dominance to control the game for the next half. From the re-start Utd went forward and they hardly looked back. To cap off the pressure, another long ball was headed back by Newcastle and then those watching witnessed yet another Rooney super volley. Everything about it was superb, impact, curve, despairing dive, and it bringing Utd back into the game. Looking on Rooney's slightly muted celebrations, it seemed he hit the ball out of anger more than technique, he had a mediocre 1st half and made up for it with this strike.

After that Newcastle went forward and almost regained the lead, Ambrose again surging through but couldn't capitalise. Ameobi was OK but had a quieter than usual match, not so much of his close control, knocking pass players and skills that enables him to create much out of little. Graeme Souness had Stephen Carr holding between defence and midfield as a result of injuries and suspensions, with Patrick Kluivert and Lauren Robert were on the bench. Newcastle could have perhaps done with the Dutchman and the Frenchman being on sooner, as Newcastle's creativity waned after a few attempts towards Utd's goal.

As Utd pushed forward themselves, Given tipped over well from a Utd player to concede what was a second corner in a minute. From that second corner, Newcastle marking went haywire. Elliott lost out on Rooney but crucially was Ameobi with Brown, Ameobi is some inches taller but didn't jump, allowing Brown to jump and aim a header past Given. Souness and the now substituted Shearer were grimaced.

Newcastle had a very good chance of upsetting Utd in their home ground since 1972 and now that was lost. From a team who looked prospective here and in Europe, the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, bringing the captain and talisman to sign another extension, to one decimated by injuries, suspensions, on-field fighting between two of their better players, criticism from one player, petulance from another, the wagon has slowed and reversed. The players now need to get up, get out and push, put in the effort as they near to approaching the end of their Premiership travels.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Ferguson v Ferguson

Hoping for away wins at the parks of Goodison and Fratton, 50% of my wishes came true. The other 50%, well, couldn't believe the performance of the side who came out against Everton, pertaining to be Man Utd. The thing is in that match, Everton expected Man Utd to come at them, so did fans and punters alike. So Everton held ground and waited and received and sucked up and ejected back towards Utd's goal. The Red Devils looked to have very little in their tank to drive themselves to create, much less score. When I look on the Everton defence that night, of Hibbert, Weir, Yobo and Watson, missing were Pistone and Stubbs, and to think they combined to give Ronaldo, VNR and anyone one emerging from midfield little change out of their chances, it is testament to their courage Wednesday night. There's the question again: were Everton too good or Man Utd too slack?

VNR maybe considered match rusty but he'd come from the Millenium stadium having tormented the Newcastle defence with his movement and two goals. Ronaldo was the same, yet while he tried to create openings, they were equal to those he fluffed. It must have been frustrating to be waiting in the box for his ball over and then find after 2-3 stepovers the ball's gone off in favour of the opposition. In contrast, Ferguson was putting himself about Ferdinand and Brown, and to some degree the ex-West Ham and Leeds defender was enjoying the monopoly of balls coming their direction. So for some reason in the second half Ferdinand switched off when Everton crossed from their freekick, because Ferguson scored practically a free header. If you're man-marking, you're marking the man, so why leave him?? Was there a man on the post?

As for the sending-offs, well. Gary Neville is getting stick from the nearest fans as he waits for a substitution to commence. How many times has he got stick? Talk about being professional, he forgot when Jamie Carragher was sent off against Arsenal in a FA Cup tie at highbury for throwing something back at a fan. Pires was reprimanded when he went to take a throw against Spurs and decided to feign thrusting the ball at a fan. Fans who give stick should get a 100mph ball on the face or keep to opening their mouths to cheer, not tointimidate players. Our FA lets them get away with it, but for the time being, and in the name of professionalism, players must keep cool and continue with the game. Man Utd were 17 mins away from defeat a goal down, the England right-back should have focused better than that.

Paul Scholes, looking to react like a rash on Arteta, is booked. So in the final stages of the match Kilbane goes past him and is too quick, Scholes hacks him down. Sir Alex saw fit to have a harsh word or eight hundred with David Moyes, I can't imagine why but the Everton gaffer retorted and had the final smile at the final whistle. There was no good reason to debate the sending-off, as clear as crystal. Sir Alex said Phil Dowd was a weak referee, who was exploited by Everton particularly because they had the home advantage. You didn't need a strong referee or home soil to send those two off. Sir Alex also said Scholes was sent off for a late challenge, several of which occured throughout the game and were not punished. Were they all Everton? And if there were other late challenges in the game, then Scholes was the best of them as his was so late it came via Royal Mail.

There were a number of chances, Martyn saved well from Scholes at close range, quite good for a 38 yr old keeper, and from shots from Ronaldo and Rooney, and there was a Hibbert clearance off the line from a corner. But Utd weren't dominating at all. I don't know why. With Ronaldo on one line maybe they needed Giggs on the other. With Yobo and Weir, two tall defenders, one aged but experience, the other fast, both head strong and have strength. Alan Stubbs is no better, a stubborn defender ready to put his head or feet in first for the cause. He was missing but his apprentices were hardly troubled. The difference was in the control on the break, Everton could pass it around and on the ball they were good enough to sometimes dance past players. MOTM for me was David Weir, good leadership.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Champion league?

Yesterday we were treated to two matches of importance. Well, they all are to respective teams but yesterday's matches formed more than mere entertainment. I was hoping for Southampton to upset Bolton, and to a degree they did, albeit Bolton got something out of the game. The surprising thing was so did Southampton. The cliche 'a game of two halves' applies. Southampton were swamped in the first, and then decided to fight back in the second, and credit to the South Coast side, they equalised. Bolton were very close, Davies clipped a spinning effort wide of Niemi that clipped the far post, Gary Speed came in with a close-range header that Niemi stopped, Diouf missing the rebound by skying the ball from some 7-8 yards from goal. I can imagine Mr Allardyce's frustration, and that of the Bolton following.

But that's only one out of three for me. Everton host Man Utd, on Sky Sport. I'm not sure if Rooney will start or is fit, I imagine he is and if so the crowd will get behind him again as they did so willingly in the cup tie between the two. No ball sponsors pitchside, please. If Man Utd beat Everton, then it will be up to Liverpool to beat Portsmouth, and we haven't enjoyed much joy at Fratton Park since they were promoted, so this is another crucial game for the Merseyside Reds. Having been granted the draw last night, Liverpool need to do their work again and hit Portsmouth hard from the kick-off, there is no space for slacking this evening. Either they have the will, the desire to beat teams or give up on 4th place. Portsmouth are a decent side, I believe Yakubu will not feature tonight, yet LuaLua, Fuller or even Camara have the annoying knack of carving chances from little, so focus and accurate finishing is key tonight.

And if that wasn't enticing enough, Chelsea and Arsenal - Part II. They have met in the league, FA Cup and Champs League previously, now Wenger will seek to at the least put some kind of a dent in Chelsea's title race. I understand Henry will not feature, as well as Ljungberg, yet Campbell should be making a return.

Europe has the Champions League, the Premiership is the Champion League.

Some titbits about past football.....last night, Rob Styles made a mistake in awarding Boro their penalty and I don't know if you can put the decision down to the speed of play. I always felt that the linesman is best placed to judge, were the ref not up with the incident at the time, and therefore if the linesman makes a decision, the ref follows it, regardless. Mr Styles was adamant about his decision, and it seemed hasty. Again, some you win, some you don't.

I don't think Andy Todd had intention of aiming an elbow towards Van Persie initially, yet he aimed one almost immediately after contact, and that is what has resulted in his charge at the F.A. For me, he is guilty.

Spurs' Edman unleashed a serious effort from all 35-40 yards that left Dudek in utter submission, it was a superb effort, and it had to happen to Dudek. Liverpool didn't falter, and credit to them in getting back, Garcia placed almost a similar effort in terms of finish. Liverpool need shoring up at the back, someone who will Roy-Keane them to keep the back line alert. Carragher went to sleep and didn't noticed Keane, and was very unfortunate with the deflected goal. The header shouldn't have happened in the first place. What was Gerrard thinking of when he took that penalty, other than to prompt the groundsman to change the nets? And we had chances to go ahead and perhaps add to a lead but again it is the misses which rued the day.

Rio Ferdinand coincidentally in the same eaterie as Peter Kenyon, twice? Another illegal approach? Ferdinand with a secret desire to return to London with Chelsea? Everybody wants to go to Chelsea?? Ferdinand's agent is Pini Zahavi, who allegedly orchestrated the meeting between Kenyon, Mourinho, Ashley Cole and Ashley's agent, Jonathan Barnett? No, I don't see anything in it. Only that Ferdinand has yet to sign an extension, while Chelsea could be considering his services to replace Gallas......?

Anyway, here's to a Liverpool win, a Man Utd win (both comprehensively), and a cracking entertaining match at the Bridge, tonight.


Warning to Arsenal: avoid the Mourinho handshake!

Arsenal's first key test will come in the final minutes LEADING UP TO KICK-OFF.

Because there is a good chance that Mourinho will look to mentally affect Arsenal's XI.

Does Mourinho look to manipulate the minds of others without the other realising it?

I believe he tries to, and furthemore, on key occasions been successful.

He has the intelligence to realise that the mind is supremely powerful and can prove to be the decisive factor in determining if a sportsman is to win or lose.

He also realises that a lot of football coaches aren't aware enough to realise this. So when he took his football coaching badges he introduced his own textbook into the syllabus: a psychology manual.

Mourinho thought: Everyone talks about tactics and fitness. But I will add psychological training as part of a footballer's life. This will give me a massive advantage.

Listen to some Chelsea players or Steve Clarke and I get the sense that they are brainwashed. Their individuals personalities have merged into one that imitates their manager: Mourinho.

Mourinho has succcessfully trained his players and backroom staff to think like him. And he had trained himself to think that he was the best; that he was the 'special one'.

Psychology is Mourinho's best asset.

Not only does he know how to psychologically affect himself and his own team. He knows how to affect players in the opposition team.

Never forget the moment before the league cup final where Mourinho staked out Steve Gerrard in the tunnel, and ignoring all other Liverpool players, shook him by the hand.

The look on Gerrard's face was one of semi-horror. Gerrard knew that this would not look good to Liverpool fans watching at home, given the vast speculation regarding his future relationship with Chelsea.

Mourinho gambled that Gerrard would be troubled and this would affect his game. And boy did he gamble well.

Gerrard went on to play the most lifeless game I have ever seen from him. But more than this, he went onto score the crucial equaliser for CHELSEA.

He started the match as Stevie G, and ended the match as Stevie OG!

Think also how Mourinho targeted Steve Gerrard's best mate, Jamie Carragher, for abuse. I have very rarely seen a coach of a side get into such a visible verbal slanging match DURING a match. Was it in the heat of the moment? Or was it a deliberate targeting of Gerrard's best friend in order to further affect Gerrard's mental state.

Do not doubt that Mourinho knew what he was doing.

The handshake experiment was first on view before the second leg of the semi versus Man Utd. This time he made it his brief to shake the hands of all Man Utd players. Was it simply a very kind gesture on his behalf?

Or did Mourinho think: Get them on your side and it will sub-conciously make it more difficult for them to attack my players like they had against Arsenal.

Man Utd went onto lose their first domestic semi for decades. With a full team they lacked the killer spirit that they had previously showed against Arsenal, and most recently against Newcastle.

It was this success that prompted Mourinho to try it out on Stevie G.

I write this now because I believe that Mourinho might try such tactics tonight to get at Ashley Cole (given his similarity to the Gerrard situation re transfer speculation), or, alternatively, the whole Arsenal team.

I warn Ashley Cole and the other Arsenal players, watch out for Mourinho if he comes your way. Reject his advances and his psychological trickery.

Overcome this test and you can look forward to 90 minutes of fully-focused playability.

In the meanwhile I ask all you football-watchers to monitor Mourinho and expose his subtle psychological methods.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Liverpool have better chance of winning the Champion’s league than finishing fourth?

Liverpool fans have had to endure a roller-coaster of a season thus far, and with every game there seems to be a new ride, so how will it all end?

They stand three points behind Everton, who have a game in hand, Bolton have also overtaken them and now face a home game against the struggling Saints. You don’t have to be a mathematician to work out that qualifying for the next year’s champion’s league is no longer in Liverpool's hands.

Liverpool played some sensational football against Tottenham in the second half on Saturday and were really unlucky not to get the three points. However, at this stage of the season it is all about winning matches, and playing good football and not taking your chances is not a recipe for success.

I also thought that Rafa made a tactical blunder by playing three centre-backs, Paellegreno is not a left back in my view and he struggled to cope with the little threat, which Tottenham posed in the match.

Liverpool now have two potential tough away games in space of four days, nothing short of six points will be good enough to have a hope of putting pressure on Everton and Bolton.

By contrast, Liverpool are only three games away from winning the champion’s league. They just need to put in three solid performances, and they will achieve, what some would view as being impossible. I however believe that Liverpool have a better chance of winning the champion’s league than finishing fourth.

Blackburn lose semi, friends, and self-respect; Van Persie wins the lot.

Blackburn played on the big stage on Saturday.

As the underdogs they will have had a lot of neutrals behind them in their quest for FA cup glory.

Then in a speed that the Bush administration would have admired, they squandered this goodwill through increasingly belligerent tactics that culminated in a full-on assault by the Blackburn captain on Van Persie.

The ironic point is that Blackburn had the better of the first half-hour by playing strong-but-fair football. They showed they could match the Gunners without resorting to the despicable.

Blackburn started to play loser's football after going a goal down. When a team has to resort to assaulting the opposition the ref should blow the whistle and award the match to the other team.

The Savage knee high tackle on 17 year old Fabregas has no place in a football match. The referee, Steve Dunn, did not even caution him- which represents gross negligence on his behalf.

The Todd deliberate elbow while looking the other way in feigned innocence deserves as much press attention as the Lee Bowyer/Kieron Dyer punch-up. An absolute disgraceful attack which requires the authorities to impose severe sanctions.

If a Reyes light-slap can gain a three match suspension, the FA should be looking to give at least five matches to Todd.

Blackburn lost the semi. But they lost much more than just this.

They lost friends.

And they will have lost their self-respect.

One player who grew in stature on Saturday was Robin Van Persie.

A couple of months ago he ridiculously got himself sent-off against Southampton and at that moment he had few supporters.

His football on the pitch up to that point had been ineffective.

And to acquire a second-booking with a bad tackle in a match that Arsenal had in their control led many to question his temperament.

But he returned at Ewood last month, cut out the aggression, and scored a stunning slalom goal.

Then in eight minutes on Saturday he showed everyone, not least himself, that he is a player with exceptional quality who can do it on the biggest stage.

Another slalom turn followed by a technically perfect pass into the net put Arsenal two goals up.

Then in injury time he again displayed technical excellence in swivelling to convert a Pires pull back into the far top corner.

Rightfully he was turning away in joy only to be met by the ugliness of football.

He got up and managed a painful smile after the match. He was happy because he has now earned friends and self-respect for his performances since his sending-off at St Marys.

Blackburn will need to follow Van Persie's example if they too are to regain friends and self-respect.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Make or break time for Manchester United

Today's comfortable win for Manchester United over a very average Newcastle United team signalled the start of the most crucial 12 months the club has faced in the past two decades.

First of all, the win has set up a fantastic FA Cup final with rivals Arsenal. The FA Cup has kept United’s season alive and the final should add a spring to the step of all the players for the remaining league games. The six remaining fixtures would have been unbearable for United had they gone out today, and personally, if I were a betting man, I would have been straight down to the bookies to place a wager on Arsenal easing to second place. However, today’s win should provide a welcome spur for the team to battle on until the last kick of the season.

Secondly, unless United sell one of their big names, they will have a very, very modest transfer budget this summer. Ferguson absolutely must buy Paul Robinson this summer, and work with the existing squad to provide a better challenge to Arsenal/Chelsea next season. Next season will be the most important one for Alex Ferguson in his time at United, because I don’t believe he will still be in the Old Trafford hot seat in 2006-07 if United are not either Premier League champions or Champions League winners.

Lastly, and most importantly, the United board and shareholders must, at all costs, reject the advances of Malcolm Glazer. If the Glazer bid, which relies so much on debt finance, is successful it would see United hundreds of millions of pounds in debt. If United continue to be successful on and off the pitch this does not pose a problem. But we all know that football is not a normal commercial business where it is possible to accurately predict and foresee profits two or three years in advance. It would take perhaps just a couple of seasons where United did not qualify for the Champions League to see them in financial ruin.

You may have noted the crowd singing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s name today, that’s because he is a United legend in every sense – he is the Patron of Shareholders United – a supporters group which is vehemently against the Glazer bid. I think it’s vital that more of United’s current playing squad come out and publicly state their opposition to Glazer and follow Ole’s lead. I’m not shareholder – but if any readers are – please say NO to Glazer!!!!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Vieira will excel with Gilberto alongside him

Vieira is a midfield gladiator who has to roam to be at his best. But it is apparent to Vieira watchers that he is only at his roaming best when the quiet Brazilian interceptor named Gilberto is alongside him.

Last week's game against Boro saw the reunion of Gilberto and Vieira for the first time this season. No one picked up on this. But this was the day Vieira had dreamed all season.

Vieira has been burdened looking after the youngsters Francesc and Mathieu in the tough world of premiership and champs league football. He has inhibited his game so to cover for any rookie mistakes from his young midfield companions.

Vieira is much more comfortable when not given the job of primary defence protector. He revelled when Manu Petit was alongside him. Ditto the underrated Gilles Grimandi. Now he longs to play next to Gilberto.

Gilberto has powerful body-language, his mere presence reassuring all of Arsenal's players- and Vieira in particular- by saying: I'll take care of you if you lose the ball.

Henry is out today. So look for Patrick Vieira to put on his most attacking performance of the season against the hard-men of Blackburn. The marauder will be at his marauding best because he will know that Gilberto has his back should he lose the ball far up the pitch.

Gilberto has an afro these days. Give him a headband and he will be the coolest looking player in football.

When he was signed by Arsene I heard a Brazilian journalist talk about Gilberto's character. He said that Gilberto was from a humble region in Brazil who favoured action over talk. He said that Gilberto was the only member of the Brazilian squad who did not talk about winning the competition.

He then said that Gilberto had a selfless heart.

I listened to this character reference and I knew that Arsene had signed someone special. Someone who not only has high-quality talent, but also high-quality character.

In his two and a half seasons at Arsenal I have not seen him commit a bad tackle; not seen him square up to an opposition player; not seen him snarl nor swear.

Gilberto is a true role-model.

His absence this season has shown all Arsenal staff and supporters that he is a core component of the Arsenal machine. And now he is back, that machine will function with greater stability; in particular the rolls royce engine belonging to Vieira.

Watch-out for a full-on Vieira show this lunchtime.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Rooney: Representation and Reality

Ok, let's cut to the chase. If England are to have any chance of winning the forthcoming World Cup, we will need Wayne Rooney firing on all cylinders. While Beckham, Owen, Lampard et al, are all fine players, Rooney adds that little bit of je ne se qua to the equation.

And yet, the nation, or at least the popular press seem hell bent on his destruction.

Wayne Rooney is headline news. Rather like his United predecessor, Beckham, it would seem Rooney only has to fart to attract the attention of the rabid tabloids. However, coverage of the two men is very different. Beckham is the wide boy turned glamourpuss, Rooney still very much the wide boy.

This divergence certainly isn't founded upon tabloid writers exercising an informed assessment of the duos varying characters. No, the real reason is the fact tabloid editors encourage their writers to express themselves in straight lines. Elaboration and over-complication are the strictly forbidden tools of the nancy-boy set. When I was working at the now defunct 'Sportfirst' weekly, my editor stormed into the office one evening to object to my use of the word 'superfluous'. If I may quote his rant in full:

"F****** superfluous!!!!! I'll show you f****** superfluous, you f****** superfluous twat!!!!!Do you really think Barry, Gary and Kevin know what the f*** superfluous means!?!"

I'm sure you get the message. Anyway, the point of this particular elaboration, is to illustrate that such journalists are prone to paint a simple picture. After all, why bother analysing Rooney's character, when your editor/ readership would prefer him to be cast as little more stereotypical pantomime villain.

Now, even I, the most ardent of Reds, can't deny that this representation has some basis in reality. Rooney certainly is a very hot-headed young chap. His overwhelming competitive spirit drives him to acts, which, outside the context of competitive sport, can only be regarded as thuggish. However, I've seen much worse and I'd say there are dozens currently plying their trade in the Premiership, who'd have Rooney for breakfast.

Answer this question: How many times has Wayne Rooney been sent off this season? I'll tell you at the end of the post.

Back to the post: How does this representation affect Rooney? The clash between Rooney and Tal Ben Haim, the Bolton Wanderers player: Rooney’s intemperate hand-off, Ben Haim’s melodramatic reaction, provides a case in point. Rooney received a three match ban for what was little more than a trivial incident. In fact, in my opinion, Haim's crime was morally graver. The travesty of it all so moved me, that several weeks later, I even managed to alienate myself from my fellow Man Unt fans down the local, when, upon witnessing Drogba grab Fortune by the throat, Immediately and repeatedly shouted: "Three match ban, three match ban!!!"

Before I launch into a tirade about the injustices served out to United, (unless you have hours to spare, don't ever mention the Ferdinand fiasco in my presence), I wish to conclude by imploring all sensible people to get behind Rooney and ignore the tabloid tosh. He is, after all, our only hope.

Alistair Maiden

P.S. Rooney hasn't been sent off this season.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

If Liverpool win, Gerrard will stay

I firmly believe Gerrard's future will be decided by the end of the semi-final. On each occasion Liverpool have played Chelsea this season I have been disappointed with Gerrard's performances. It has been clear in my mind that he has been thinking about what it would be like wearing a blue shirt. If Liverpool do win I cannot see Gerrard leaving, not for Chelsea anyway. After all, Gerrard has time and time again said he wants to be playing for a club that wins trophies and competes in the Champions League every season. How ironic that the team he currently plays for can now win the Champions League itself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Do Liverpool deserve their place in the quarter-finals of the Champ League?

No. At least that’s what some Arsenal and ManU fans seem to think. And the reasons: Liverpool have not won the league for 15 years and they finished fourth in the league last season. One can understand the bitter rivalry between clubs often leads to some fans wanting their rival team to fail in the Europe (or in domestic competitions). This is common in any football league. However, to suggest a team is not worthy of their place in the competition, let alone in the quarter-finals is utterly absurd. Liverpool’s chance of winning of Champ League is very slim. Even the most optimist Liverpool fan would not have thought Liverpool would get as far as they have, with one boot in the semi-finals. However, should Liverpool defy the odds and do something spectacular, it would only be met with ‘laughter’ (in disapproval) by some Arsenal and ManU fans because Liverpool don’t deserve to be there.
The Champ League is an elite competition. I agree it should be the top teams who should be allowed to compete in the competition but it should also allow the chance for other teams join the elite group. Finishing third or fourth place gives them that chance. If they can achieve some success, fair play to them. They will gain experience and extra revenue to build a better squad. They will come back the following season stronger. Success builds success. And they will make the competition even better. We all want to see more quality teams in Europe so we can enjoy the game even more. If the team is not good enough and are not worthy of their place in the competition, they will get find out before the real competition begins. Third and fourth place finishers must go through the qualifiers (three rounds for some teams) to reach the group stages. Then, teams are drawn according to their seeding for the group stages, with group winners playing runner-ups in the last 16 to ensure the cream always rises to the top. The system is fair to everyone. If you are good enough, you are small enough to challenge the best. (People say finishing top in the group does not mean you get a good draw. This means there are more quality teams.) But at some stage you will have to allow teams to compete on the same playing field, on the merit that they have come through the qualifiers, group stages and have qualified past teams that have been put in front of them. If Bolton or Everton finish fourth, Liverpool should have no qualm about being in the UEFA Cup next season. Liverpool fans should have no right to feel they have been robbed of their place among Europe’s elite. Over a season of 38 games you have the opportunity to prove yourself you are a top four team in the country. No excuses. The team has to be consistent, grind out results when they have to and do their best with they have. (Injuries, bad decisions by referees and bad lucks ‘evened out’ over the season.) Whether Everton or Bolton are Champ League quality is one thing (and we would find out in the qualifiers) but they should be rewarded for the hard work they put in the nine months without the negative comments of them being in the Champ League. ManU felt they were hard done by when the draw for the last 16 put them against AC Milan. They demanded an easier passage to the next round. Why? Because they won the Champ League (once) and they are ManU! History does not guarantee you a place in the final. Otherwise, we may as well have the same teams competing every year. If you are good enough, you should beat a good team (whether it is in the last 16 or the semi-finals). Arsenal may feel frustrated with their lack of progress in Europe and may be jealous of another English side which had some sort of success. To reduce the number of teams (whether to just have Champions or to include second place finishers) would be wrong. There are more quality teams outside the top two. It would not do the competition justice. (They are certainly too good for the UEFA Cup.) As for Liverpool, the fans have already witness something special on the night they beat olympicos in the Champ League. They won’t be expecting fans outside Liverpool to give them support (they already have the best fans in the country) but should they progress to the semi-finals though, give them credit. Credit where it is due.

Over-complication hinders Man Utd as Chelsea soar into the distance

For more then a decade Manchester United have been at the summit of English football. Though others have mounted, and in the case of Arsenal, sustained, a domestic challenge, no one has approached United's consistency at the pinnacle of club competition, the Champions League.

United's success was based on a simple formula. The team was organised in a traditional 4-4-2 formation. At its' root was a solid, if unspectacular, defence/ goalkeeper combination. It's trunk was composed of a dynamic central midfield combination, augumented by wingers, free to roam, but who would 'tuck in' when necessary. At its head were two strikers, one of whom could drop deeper, to create , if necessary.

The success of this system was its' simplicity. Everyone knew their role, even if they were new to the team. Players could come of the bench and simply fit into their designated position. This can be seen in the smooth transition from Ince to Keane, Kanchelskis to Beckham, Cole to Van Nistelroy, and the successes enjoyed by 'supersubs' Ole and Teddy. Consequently United's play was direct, fluent and entrancingly incisive.

In the past three years these attributes have dissipated. They remain a good side, and a force in Europe, but have begun to resemble a kind of bastardised version of the Italian greats Juve and Milan. As the limbs of Giggs, Scholes and Keane have aged, so United have slowed their game down to suit. Their loss of capacity has forced the addition of an extra player in the centre of midfield to do the dog work, often at the expense of a striker or winger. Consequently at least two players play out of position, throwing up a whole range of selectorial idiosyncracies. Take, for example, last season and a must win game against a desperately poor Leeds side, Ferguson selected Neville, Fortune and O'Shea in central/ defensive midfield, Scholes on the left and Giggs in the centre!?! The score- 1-1, and a very long drive back down south.

It comes as no surprise to read that United are on course for their lowest goals tally in 15 years. Moreover it pains me to watch Arsenal and Chelsea and be reminded of our fomer beauty. So here is my five point to galvanise United.

1- Play 4-4-2. The players are comfortable with this formation. It prevents them wandering around aimlessly, out of position.

2- Spend some cash on or introduce from the academy long term replacements for Keane, Scholes and Giggs. Do not buy unproven foreign crap, i.e. Kleberson, Djemba, Forlan.

3- Do not sell Keane, Scholes, Giggs until their replacements have surpased them. In the meantime the young players can learn from the old masters, while giving them a rocket up the backside.

4- Purchase a good crosser of the ball. There are several reasons for this. Firstly United haven't been the same force since they let Beckham go. Secondly they possess four of the sharpest aerial threats in the Premier League in Van, Rooney, Saha and Smith. Thirdly, Mediterranean defences are poor at coping with crosses. In 99' Cole and Yorke, supplied by Beckham, caused havoc in the air. I believe the German emphasis on crosses can go some way to explaining their clubs' over-achievement in European and world football club's. Finally, Giggs and Ronaldo can't and never have been able to cross a football.

5- Appoint me as manager. I could be the English Mourinho.

Alistair Maiden

Monday, April 11, 2005

'Champions League' terms and conditions: need not be champions, and there is no league

The Champions League is not a champions league.

The vast majority of the teams featuring in the competition aren't champions.

And it is not a league in the traditional sense where all the teams play each other and whoever finishes top of the table at the end of it are declared champions.

A tournament that is close to allowing dire teams like Everton or Bolton the possibilty of entry should never be named the 'champions' league.

They do not merit to be associated with the term 'champions'.

Last year Chelsea reached the semis of the 'champions league'. To qualify they had narrowly finished in fourth place above Liverpool. They had not been champions of England since 1955. And yet they were on the verge of winning the 'champions' league.

I could not accept this logic. This was a main reason why I was totally against them winning the trophy and was subsequently delighted when they were knocked out.

This year Liverpool are holding a first leg advantage in the quarter-finals of the 'champions' league. They finished in fourth place to qualify for the competition. They have not won the championship for 15 years. They are 30 points behind first-placed Chelsea this year. And yet they are on the verge of winning the 'champions' league.

Yet again, I can't accept this logic.

The greedy money-men at UEFA, presumably encouraged by the greedy money-men chairmen at Europe's top clubs, allowed this potential illogical situation to occur when hyper-inflating the competition formerly known as the European cup. They also changed the name of the competition. But they chose the wrong name.

The Champions League must be renamed to reflect what it actually is. It must be renamed to remove the logic behind its name, a logic that is compromised by what it now is.

I propose: The European Semi-All-Comers Mini-League and Cup.

It may not be a stylish name, but it is far better than the current name because it is accurate. In other words, it does not deceive; it is honest.

A preference to changing the name is to change the entrant criteria. I like the concept of a 'champions cup' as the premier club competition in Europe once was. I could even accept this concept being inflated to accept runners-up of the domestic leagues, because there is merit in coming so close to domestic glory.

Teams who at no time have looked like viable contenders of their domestic league should never be allowed to play in the top competition in Europe. Yet the champions league as it is currently conceived allows Everton or Bolton of circa 2004-05 a realistic hope of actually achieving this. This is a disgrace to what the European cup once was.

I would restore the honour of the top club competition in Europe by reducing the number of teams that are allowed to enter it.

But as this is unlikely to happen, I would at least like the deception to end, and have the competition renamed to reflect what it actually is.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Owen/Gerrard swap deal?

I am a bit disturbed by some of the latest transfer talk. Michael Owen has once again reiterated his frustration at being left on the bench for Real so often this season and has suggested that he wouldn't rule out a return to Liverpool. Rafael Benitez has also had his thoughts saying he would welcome Owen's return. When Owen was sold to Real at the start of the season rumours were flying about that Liverpool had given Real first option on Gerrard. With Everton once again moving four points ahead of Liverpool in the league today it is becoming increasingly likely that Liverpool will not grab that fourth spot. If so, clubs like Real and Chelsea are likely to tempt Gerrard who will certainly be on his way if Liverpool do not qualify for the Champions League. We all know Real will do anything to get the player they want and so it would not surprise me if they tempted Lverpool into a cash+player deal to get Gerrard, with that player being Owen.

Liverpool step back (again) as Man Utd step off......

A Saturday afternoon and evening that contained two demonstrations of capitulation, the source of displays being the City of Manchester and Carrow Road football grounds, the capitulation shown by the respective away sides, sides who have history of red in their colours but not enough, it seems, in their own blood vessels. These are the very same vessels Ron Atkinson spoke of when he formed the opinion of how a player should look when he is seeking, with full commitment, to be in the right place at the right time to help score, or indeed score himself. Mr Atkinson would say 'he should be bursting blood vessels to get there.'

If only that kind of commitment could have been shown yesterday by Liverpool.

Harsh, some may say, as they had endured a Tuesday match where one half they'd entertained the home fans with a striking display and then allowed Juventus to come at them in the other, conceding a possibly troubling away goal. However, that was some three days ago from their meeting with Manchester City. Liverpool still had a strong enough side to beat Man City but again sat back and allowed themselves to be dominated. City deserved the win, they put in the more effort, though that alone never grants one a win. It is something like the puzzling enigma, like the question 'which came first, the egg or the chicken?'. My question is 'a goal is scored, is it because one team are too good or the other team are too poor?' Liverpool had their moments coming forward, Biscan and Gerrard could have scored, Le Tallec deciding to stretch a flailing leg after the ball rather than the better option of going in with a header.

But City seemed to have more urgency in their play, and with Stuart Pearce preparing to bellow from the vicinity of his technical area at his players, they needed to. Their need was more than Liverpool's, and fittingly City scored. Four Liverpool players, three City players, one of the City players is free running with the ball, leaving effectively 4 Reds to defend 2 Blues. The ball comes across and no Red player picks up either of the 2 Blues players emerging into the box. One of them is Musampa and his first contact scores. Finnan turns in disgust but he is one out of four guilty of ball watching and not being aware. The additional point about Liverpool is they failed to score. If they wish to stand a chance to win, much less gain points to hold down 4th place, they need to score or attempt to far more than they did yesterday. It takes a minimum of one goal more to win. I hope not to rue those words come Wednesday night/Thursday morning coming.

Why is it Everton get to play their game against WBA and today with Crystal Palace the day after Liverpool play theirs, at a time when points are crucial for 4th place? Now Everton have an incentive to aid them seek a win.

On paper, Utd should have beaten Norwich. What happened? No Rooney Ronaldo (both on bench), VNR, Keane, Giggs not picked at all. Ferdinand was skipper, which is wrong in my opinion as Gary Neville holds the armband behind Giggs when Keane is absent. Saha and Smith were upfront but the Frenchman had to leave through injury, replaced by Ronaldo. Rooney grabs the headlines for giving away the freekick from which Norwich scored, and giving away possession that lead to Norwich's attack and subsequent second goal. Again, like Liverpool, four Utd players defending, two Norwich forwards, the ball is played through for Ashton and he turns to pass to McKenzie, who scores a simple tap in. Very poor defending.

To have to concede to finally not being in a position anymore to win the title is one ting, but so badly to the bottom team? Again, were Utd poor or Norwich too good? Norwich fans don't care and the score is what counts, regardless of how teams play.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Liverpool take one step into the semi-finals

The display was tremendous. The respect paid by both, superb. Both sides came together to make one, and the match hadn't even begun. Scarves with Juventus and Liverpool together, black, white and red. A banner carrying the message 'Memoria e amicizia' (in memory and friendship), by both Liverpool and Juve fans, the Kop displayed a mosaic 'Amicizia'. However, the banner and the minute's silence before kick-off was met with the turning of the back of some Juve fans in the front rows of the Anfield Road End. Time can heal wounds, provided you can stop bleeding. 39 family members and/or friends were remembered, and in the case of those who turned their backs, were clearly not forgotten. A cauldron that may boil over in the second leg in Turin.

Liverpool's display in the first half emanated their desire, so quick it was that Emerson was caught slipping and Baros took advantage, gaining a shot and corner within the first seconds. Hyypia took his goal as well as a striker should do, being a defender and on his weaker foot. Le Tallec looped a ball that seemed intended for Baros but was overhit, and fortuitously bounced into Garcia's path for the Spaniard to hit a delicious volley over, who many regard as the best keeper in the world, Buffon. In reply, Ibrahimovic hit the post and Nedved missed the follow-up, so Juve were, at the most, momentarily stunned. Del Piero linked up to emerge into the box and produced an effort that was equalled by Carson's save. The young keeper also claimed a ball in the box that could have gone haywire.

2-0 lead looked very supple enough to go into with, the only thing was that Liverpool needed to do exactly the same thing again, easier said than done. But realistically, if they'd attacked from the kick-off again, they could have levied the pressure onto Juve again and pinned them back, weaken their psychology. The Italian side had held their belief, and those in the know already sensed that. Del Piero, Nedved, Ibrahimovic, Cannavaro, Thuram, Buffon....let's stop there. The side that is joint top in Serie A with AC Milan, separated by a single goal difference, with talent and pedigree in abundance, Liverpool needed to steady themselves for an inevitable onslaught. Something which they weathered for almost 20mins, until Cannavaro got a head to a cross which bounced the ball awkwardly in front of Carson and in. The kind of mistake that allowed Bayer some belief for the return in the BayArena, which Liverpool thankfully turned to a non-advantage for the German side.

Moments before Juve's goal, Carson had come for a cross that was put out by Carragher, the defender couldn't blindly leave it for a Juve player to touch in. Carson could have then been over eager and looking to show more confidence. When the telling header happened, it's as if Carson got down too early in eagerness and mistimed the bounce. Such a mistake against a suspension and injury hit side as Bayer, with a two-goal cushion, was comfortable enough. A slender goal advantage, an away goal, against Juventus, with their squad of available players, in Turin....well, that can be a lot more difficult. Especially if the majority of their fans wish to make Liverpool's arrival after 20 years unwelcoming. Juve need to score only once and keep a clean sheet. They did so with Real Madrid, who didn't play as Real Madrid.

Liverpool will need a healthy availability list and then 90mins+ of focus, determination, stamina and tenacity to either hold Juve to 0-0, or go heroically and score. If the former, we have sat back before, looking for teams to come at us and then eventually conceded in big games. If the latter, then we need to score first. Very crucial as Juve would need to score 3 to win. I believe we can score, but our focus must be to shut down Juve at every moment, practically our first half last night.

Importantly, the likes of Traore came through with better report, Biscan once again added to enhancing his reputation in the side. But more importantly was Benitez's reaction after both Liverpool's goals. Cool and ever thinking while others around him celebrated, against a side like Juventus, one cannot switch off until the game has ended. If only Liverpool can have a guarantee of the forementioned availability of players for Turin, I feel Benitez could pull a victory in Turin. Not necessarily on the night, but overall.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Remember Heysel

Today is the first time Liverpool and Juventus have met in competition since the Heysel disaster in 1985.

39 innocent football fans died that day as the result of a combination of rioting, inadequate policing, and weak stadium structures. Please read the moving Guardian special report on Heysel at its website.

Let Liverpool and Juventus compete with sportsmanship in honour of those lost at Heysel.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Had a laugh about it!

"They've spoken over the weekend and have had a laugh about it"

I cannot believe Souness said this about the Bowyer/Dyer bust up. As if everyone else is laughing about it? This reaction by Souness coupled with a misely fine for Bowyer is truly disgusting. Newcastle Utd are a disgrace to football - look at how they treated Sir Bobby, look at the frequent outbursts of Bellamy, look at Dyer's refusal to play down the right, the list is endless.

Alan Shearer seems to be the only one from Newcastle appalled by what happened. He said,

"Once again the good name of Newcastle United is being dragged through the dirt. What happened was a disgrace, there is no defence for it and I made my feelings known in the dressing room. I'm very angry still and very frustrated by it all, especially when things had been going so well and the spirit within the camp has been so good over the last few month. Our dirty linen has been hung out for the country to witness yet again."

Respect for Shearer for saying so and nothing but contempt for Bowyer and that idiot Souness.

The weekend

Well, the football was interesting enough. As devastating as Newcastle's fortunes were, Arsenal were equal in terms of delivering. Henry came in to the game in a foul mood and let Norwich feel the force. Devastating, like a hurricane to a barnyard, and as the Frenchman huffed and puffed, carrying the armband, he blew Norwich's house down. One-man show once again, and could be the difference between 2nd and 3rd place. Typically he scored with a classic shot from the left side, coming onto his right foot. Didn't Norwich do their homework, see Henry do it to Palace at Highbury? Huckerby scored a similar goal, good one too.

Bolton would be a hard game, they attack well in numbers, the likes of Speed and Giannakopoulos add pace, Gardner as back-up, Davies adds strength upfront plus Jaaskelainen is in good form in goal, while N'Gotty and Haim can be stubborn die-hard defenders. They pressured Liverpool in the first half for some 10-15mins, then the Reds began to settle after weathering the attacks. Finnan was great on the line twice with crucial intercepting headers. But the Liverpool side was patchy, Hyypia, Dudek and Morientes on the bench meant John Welsh and Traore came in with scott Carson in goal. I wish to take credit where Bolton fail to score, it is unusual for them not to.

Yet without someone leading like Gerrard, who knows what will happen. We had a glimpse of it against Bayer at Anfield but continuously in the league could be a different matter. He linked with Traore, who still looks out of sorts, who sent over a good cross for another anti-hero in Biscan to nod down and in. Fittingly for me was that the header went through the legs of Nolan and was retribution for when he scored the equaliser against us at Anfield in Jan 2002 and seemed delighted in doing so. The crucial thing was three points to pressurise Everton until Sunday.

Thankful to WBA for beating Everton. From when WBA played at the Valley, I felt they could upset Everton at the Hawthorns. Only Marcus Bent showed any energy to fight WBA, and they in turn had Horsfield, Campbell, Greening and Gera leading the fight for them. In Bent, Everton had pace, an eye for goal but lacking the precision, on three occasions he came close, particularly his shot after West Brom's goal. Good deep cross from Greening and Gera came in to nod home, similarly to Biscan. The injury time was 5mins and I feared it would be too much, but West Brom kept command while Everton showed little urgency in seeking their equaliser. WBA clearly deserved their win.


Sunday, April 03, 2005

And just when all was going well.....

'Amazing' is the only superlative I can think of, perhaps 'astounding', 'unbelievable', or even 'bizarre'. 'Disgraceful' sounds more appropriate, 'humiliating' summarises the game for the home fans. I speak on Newcastle v Aston Villa. Already 0-1 down, the Magpies entered the second half slightly better yet still some way from overcoming Villa. They did show some glimpses of getting a goal back, until Steven Taylor's dismissal for inexplicably handballing. Or it may have been for the theatrical body movement showing a man in extreme pain, and then recovering fully to acknowledge the red card and walk off. Nicky Butt awfully gazed and then caught out by Vassell.

The decision to award a penalty for Steven Carr bouncing into Vassell was wrong, replays showed the contact happened outside the box but such decisions are given at the speed of play, though if there is doubt, it shouldn't be given. And if that was worthy of a penalty, then the contact on Taylor for a corner and the push on butt by Samuel in the Villa box should have both been given.

But the above superlatives apply to Bowyer and Dyer. Players on the same side may not agree with the decision of another, but professionally they must get on with the game for the benefit of the team, not persist in arguing. Here we need to apply the school of thought in such matters to these two, as Bowyer possibly disagreed with Dyer's decision to pass elsewhere not for the first time in the game, with Dyer retorting back. Souness poured the blame Bowyer's way, which was wrong for me. Dyer aimed a punch himself and missed, and he added to the incident by standing up to Bowyer instead of moving away and getting on with the game.

Watching Shearer speaking to Bowyer immediately after the incident gave me the impression he was Bowyer's side, he didn't speak to Dyer, and this is pure speculation on my part. but he seemed more concerned with Bowyer than Dyer. Is there a particular dislike towards Dyer from Shearer? Perhaps I should read no further into that. The main thing is these two behaved like thugs and they were equal to that, equal to dismissal and should therefore be equal to internal punishment as well as that from the F.A.

From recent improvement in the League, quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, Shearer signing for another year was a big boost for ticket sales and club morale, and then the back four went out of sync, Villa even had firm defender Mellberg coming off and still Newcastle couldn't thread out a goal. Decisions clearly didn't go their way in open play and finally two hot-heads, on and off the pitch in my opinion, decide to have fisticuffs during play. It took the gloss of an otherwise promising form for Newcastle.


Friday, April 01, 2005

We have a penalty spot, need we have crosshairs too?

Well, the job had to be done and it was. 2-0 on Wednesday and I feel as if we were cheated, as if the England team gave little than they know they can. Harsh. It seemed they made effort to score but their misses would be on par with a Sunday pub team. Gerrard's and Beckham's goals were decent, particularly Lampard's ball to Beckham and Beckham's position, timing and finish. Rooney played more than a goalgetter, he fought and linked and created, got himself about often and without temperament. Had Azerbaijan scored through Gurbanov in the first half, what would have been England's playability then? So watertight our defence, yet the Azeris' were thought to contain little until Nabiyev broke through on goal to be thwarted by Robinson, somewhat comfortably.

Owen and Rooney were carrying yellow cards into the game, and it was Owen who was booked for handballing a chance in front of goal that he clearly should have touched with his head instead. Why he did it, only he knows, as a result he misses England's next game.

Where could Alberto Carlos have comprehended Owen's supposed pre-match comments about scoring several in the game? Does he not know Owen? Doesn't he think it better to hear from Eriksson before passing comments in return? Isn't he of the old school where the feet do the talking, coaches do the walking, instead of retorting to that which may not have been said in the first place? Owen has never blown his own trumpet to that degree, ever. He scored a hat-trick against Germany, that's as far as it has gotten. The Brazilian should have had a cool drink of water before entering the post-match conference, his words were smacking of hurt right through. Once again, Owen is faced with comments regarding his position in the Real team, but he is immune to that, he knows he has to knuckle down, take it on the chin, and work through.

Briefly. Moan-rinho is banned from the touchline for the QF Champs League fixture, both legs, and fined by UEFA. Chelsea will appeal unless they go through comfortably, in which case they can still turn around to UEFA and be rude. I don't think his ban will make a difference, but Steve Clarke and one other were reprimanded. UEFA made an example of Moan-rinho, not Chelsea. The Portuguese coach can take that.

Jermaine Pennant released after 31 days, on a electronic tag I believe for 15 days and then he will be on licence for the next 90 days. It seemed a waste of time to have imprisoned him if he were to be released so early. Should have served 90 days and then released, served his punishment, that is currently the legal rule, but at the least he has tasted prison and should be deterred from doing anything to warrant being put back in. Signing for Birmingham is a good starter to return to porridge. Scoring against Liverpool in future is an absolute no-no.



Locations of visitors to this page