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Monday, October 31, 2005

Board control breaking the fans' Hearts

Hearts began to take on the monopoly enjoyed by Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, with an unbeaten record from 12 leagues games so far. George Burley came to Tynecastle from Derby County in the summer and the side took on form from the start of the season. Their one defeat under Burley came in the CIS Insurance Cup to Livingston, whom they had beaten in the league previously. Then suddenly, after 10 games in charge, unbeaten, top of the league, Burley leaves Hearts over "irreconcilable differences" with Lithuanian major shareholder Vladimir Romanov.

Today the chief executive Phil Anderton was sacked, allegedly after a board decision, and the chairman George Foulkes resigned in protest to the sacking. Romanov's son, Roman Romanov, is to take over the position of chairman, and that of chief executive "on a temporary basis... pending a further appointment".

Foulkes stated "I'm devastated at the way in which some of my colleagues on the board took a decision against my advice to sack Phil Anderton as chief executive. I was unhappy last week about the sacking of George Burley but we got bounced into it and we had to go along with it. And this weekend we get another situation where all weekend we've had the Lithuanians trying to twist my arm into going along with the sacking of Phil Anderton. I just don't want to be part of that. I just find the ruthlessness unacceptable."

Hearts suffered their first league defeat against Hibernian on Saturday, the third game in charge for caretaker John McGlynn. Romanov stated he didn't think the chairman and chief executive had performed well enough in the interest of the club. "They've had over one year and not been able to do the things I've wanted to do for Hearts. They've had the funds and all my energy but I've not had the response I've wanted."

"I have no intention of walking away from Hearts at this time."

I'm not aware anyone has suggested to Romanov if he would. He is said to have offered to buy out the other shareholders. Romanov mentioned "they", though the initial board decision only concerned Anderton's position, not Foulkes'. Foulkes would still be chairman right now, unless he also resigned because he felt his position was under threat constructively from Romanov's influence, as well as in protest to Anderton's sacking. In other words, Foulkes would still be chairman, contradicting Romanov's opinion of him, for if the chairman was performing in contrast to the interests of the club, why keep him on? Any board decision would concern both positions.

When Burley departed, Foulkes said: "It is important that we look to the future. The club is greater than any individual. We want to compete with Celtic and Rangers for a Champions League place and we will take the time necessary to find a top class manager. Naturally, I'm not happy at having to make this statement but there is no point looking to the past.

"We are determined to go from strength to strength."

It seems bizarre, for want of a better word. Burley has turned the fortunes of the club instantly, they topped the league, held Celtic to a draw, beaten Rangers. One league defeat isn't an instant catastrophe but the writing is emerging on the wall with the backroom fiasco. The manager, chief executive, the chairman, gone not in 60 seconds but 9 days. No doubt a change in management staff if or when a new manager comes in, and the no.1 spot has been claimed by Celtic over the weekend. It's sounding messy. And if results begin to go negative, the fans will launch blame at the board, who will then want to turn to Mr Romanov to complain and then realise they can't.

After Burley's exit was announced, one fan is quoted to have said "Let's just hope Romanov knows what he is doing."

After the announcement of the chief executive and chairman having left too, another is quoted: "Do you honestly think Hearts have to be successful for Romanov to be successful? He has another agenda."

I have to say it sounds very suspicious to me.

Man Utd divided as Wigan chase Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Van Persie is best option to replace Henry

Thierry Henry has been out of Arsenal's three previous Premiership away games. Two of these games saw Reyes start with Bergkamp and quite simply there was no clinical edge as none are lead-the-line strikers. Reyes is a left-winger who can do a good job supporting an-out-and-out striker like Henry. Bergkamp is a legend but he has always been a half-striker who supplies a finisher.

Robin Van Persie is a Finisher. When he was bought to the club 18 months ago there was talk that he was the next Bergkamp. I watched RVP and expected to see killer passes and creativity outside the box. This didn’t happen, and for a time I couldn't see what RVP's strength was.

This changed last spring when TH was injured and RVP started as the main striker. His goals against Blackburn at Ewood and then, sensationally, in the FA cup-semi showed everyone what he brought to the team: a penalty-box finisher with amazing-looking technique.

Clinical penalty-box goals soon after at West Brom and at home against Everton confirmed to me that RVP is a finisher- and a potentially awesome one at that. His technique is simply incredible. Note the penalties taken in the Cup Final and at Sunderland: unstoppable top corner swerving rockets either side with the best-looking technique I think I've ever seen in an Arsenal shirt (1988 onwards).

A super-sub goal against Birmingham and the brace at the Stadium of Light will have lifted his confidence and sharpened his focus for match-winning performances. So today Van Persie must start. He is the only pure finisher available so must play alongside either Dennis or Reyes.

Freddie and Sol's return will also boost the team today: Freddie is tenacious, experienced, and a goal-scorer; while Sol's presence and experience lifts the whole team as well as strengthening the defence. 1pm is kick-off time.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

FA clampdown: A growing concern

"Grimsby Town Football Club have reviewed last night's clash between Justin Whittle and Alan Shearer. We feel that there was no deliberate intent on behalf of Justin to catch Alan with his arm. The referee (Mark Halsey) on the evening was very close to the incident and no action was taken. We hope that this does not overshadow what was a pulsating cup-tie between Grimsby Town and Newcastle United."

The above is a statement on the Grimbsy Town FC web-site. During the game, Shearer went up for a high ball and caught Whittle, Grimsby captain, on the face with his right elbow. Whittle was haf-bowed as a result, Shearer came up to him, placed a hand on his head as if to say 'Sorry, not intentional, it's part of how I challenge for the ball.' Whittle turned away and turned back with a sly smile on his face. Later on they both steadied to challenge another high ball but Whittle caught Shearer on the lip with his right elbow. Shearer was incensed, blood visible from a gash on his lip, as Halsey, who was mere yards away from the incident, considered taking no action.

To Shearer's elbow on Whittle, perhaps a stern word or a caution would have sufficed. To Whittle's elbow, clearly intentional, dangerous play, should have been sent off. Things depend on what Halsey sees and he may not have seen the actual contact in both incidents. Yet the FA have shown they are ready to intervene into decisions, practically contrary to FIFA rules, which dictate that referees' decisions are final and cannot be changed by the respective football association.

Recently Scott Parker appealed his booking during the match on Sunday against Sunderland, which he alleged was a case of mistaken identity where Stephen Carr was the actual offender, regarding an incident with Sunderland's Andy Welsh. Rob Styles' report indicated he booked Parker for unsporting behaviour and considered Carr hadn't committed an offence at all. An independent 3-man FA commission decided in favour of Parker, passing his booking instead to Carr's record, without even calling or consulting with Styles. It has been suggested the commission do not necessarily have officiating experience as a requirement for being a commission member. Former referee Ketih Hackett, head of the Premier League Referees' Association, considered the commission are undermining the referees' authority and are 're-refereeing games'.

When you also consider David Beckham was cautioned for a somewhat innocuous arm across Andreas Ibertsberger, leading up to his dismissal, and Spurs' Ahmed Mido was sent off for an arm across Chelsea's Asier del Horno, Whittle's elbow (and, to a less serious extent, Shearer's)clearly warranted disciplinary action on the field, and, where the FA's inherent powers are concerned, is alternatively open to their disciplinary panel to review. Once you use your arms to elevate yourself up into the air and they make contact with a player's face, then some action has to be taken. Otherwise players like Shearer could have a more serious injury. Don't forget when Mikel Arteta was horrendously barged from behind by Dinamo Bucharest midfielder Mihaita Plesan in the UEFA cup tie at Goodison Park, the Spaniard feared to have swallowed his tongue and suffered a fit on the pitch.

Footage of Whittle exchanging what seemed to be harsh words with Shearer at the end was not sporting to see. Having injured the former England skipper already, he should have left it alone but chose to instead approach Shearer clearly to stir him up. Of course Shearer had the last laugh by scoring the only decisive goal, which is the best way to get back at an annoying opponent.

According to FIFIA rules, the referee's decision is to remain final. A referee can change a booking on the field of play if it was issued to the wrong player, provided play has not yet restarted. Otherwise it is too late, so the FA are in violation of FIFA rules. The emphasis, therefore, that should be emulating from Lancaster Gate is for the officials at a match to spot the discrepancies and clamp on them immediately. Halsey surely could not have missed Whittle's elbow, and clearly Shearer had made contact on Whittle earlier. Had there been a stern word to Shearer, maybe Whittle would not have retaliated. I said 'maybe'. But for the officials to enhance their reputation, there needs to be a complete overhaul and a new look at what is clearly acceptable and what is not. As a beginning, or a catalyst, a number of recent offside decisions have been shown in replay to be wrong, the most recent being Chelsea's Didier Drogba's disallowed goal against Everton on Sunday, where it was actually Drogba's team-mate Eidur Gudjohnsen in an offside position but not interfering with play.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

At a Breaking Point: Peter Crouch of Liverpool FC?

At a Breaking Point

I don’t know what the headline makers are saying this morning about Crystal Palace dumping the European champions out of the cup this morning. I don’t think it will make good reading for Rafa.

I focused on Liverpool’s lack of fire power upfront in my previous article and this was evident last night. As I predicted, Liverpool fielded a strong side, at least on paper anyway.

Peter Crouch was devoid of any ideas last night, he looked like he was at a breaking point. Every ball he tried to control went astray, every ball he headed went in the wrong direction. When he tried to run on to his own flick the ball run away because he was too slow to catch up. His display was not helped with the crescendo of constant booing ringing around his ears.

I really felt sorry for Crouch last night, playing for Liverpool is not doing him any favour whatsoever. He is simly not good enough for Liverpool FC, I hope I am wrong.

T raised the question about Kirkland, Chris is a great goalkeeper, and if it wasn’t for his injuries, Rafa would not have purchased Jose. Now that Jose is here, Rafa cannot justify not selecting him, especially given how much he cost.

Danny Murphy or Garcia?
Heskey or Crouch ?
Owen or Morientes ?
Kirkland or Reina

I know that if I was the Liverpool coach, I would be looking carefully at my transfer policy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Liverpool’s lack of fire power is costing them in the Premiership

Five Goals in 8 matches, this is simply not good enough for Liverpool Football Club.

Why is it that the team can score in Europe and not in the Premiership?
In Europe, teams give you much more time on the ball, and this allows the midfielder’s to support the attackers more readily. I also think that the Liverpool players have real self belief when it comes to playing in Europe, who wouldn’t after what they achieved last season.

In the premiership, the teams battle so much harder, you must win the physical battle before you can start applying your skills. If you are not up for the fight, then you will lose. Added to this, Liverpool have mediocre strikers who pose little threat to the opposition defence.

Morienets: He is very weak on the ball, doesn’t win many headers, cannot hold the ball up. You are probably thinking that I am talking about a different striker. No, I can assure you that since joining Liverpool, Nando has had one good game, and that, ironically came against Fullham last season at Anfield. For a striker of his “quality” he has been a huge disappointment.

Peter Crouch: What is the deal with him? The man spends so much time with his back against the opposition goal, I am not entirely sure that he knows where the goal is when it comes to shooting. He is so weak on the ball, gets bullied off the ball far too easily and his heading ability is suspect at best. Neil Mellor is a better striker than Crouch. I don’t know what Rafa saw in Crouch.

Cisse: He is the only striker who carries any real goal threat. Rafa should not play him wide on the right, Rafa should play him down the middle along with another striker.

I was amazed, when Rafa decided to sell Milan Baros, he is far better than Nando and Crouch. Milan did have a slight temperament, and not the best scoring records but he was a real threat running with the ball at the opposition defence. By stark contrast, Crouch and Nando pose absolutely no thereat what so ever.

So where do Liverpool go from here? I am afraid Rafa must make up his mind and sell Nando and Crouch in January and by a decent striker. This may sound controversial, but I honestly believe that Mellor and Pongollle would do a better job up front than Nando and Crouch. Liverpool also need to by a decent winger, and never play Josemi, unless it is for the reserves. I will leave Harry Kewell for another article.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Arsenal taking the Pires??

Firstly, why is Match Of The Day scheduled on a Sunday morning so early at 7.45am?? Imagine socialising on a Saturday night, and wishing to catch up on the football highlights the next day, to find that you will not wake up for 7.45am unless:

a) You have to go to work.
b) You have to make breakfast
c) You are in the mood.
d) There is an emergency
e) You have unexpected visitors ( who better be family)
f) All of the above

A typical Sunday requires a lie-in for most, and 7.45am isn't a lie-in even if it is fine for those at the BBC. Match Of The Day 2 is scheduled for later on at night and the Saturday highlights should be shown then. Yes, if you have a recorder you can set it to tape Saturday's highlights but the likelihood during a occupying Saturday is you will not remember to do so, even in advance on a weekday.

No, I didn't miss Match Of The Day. I recorded it!

Something else I didn't miss this morning was Andy Townsend on TalkSport Radio, discussing the 2nd penalty taken by Arsenal's Robert Pires and suggesting it was an insult to Man City. Having taken one earlier and scored (the decision preceding which I thought was wrong from watching the replay but I will come back to that), Arsenal were granted another when Dennis Bergkamp twisted between Kiki Musampa and Stephen Jordan and Jordan's leg caught the Dutchman. Pires stepped up to take it and then scuffed the ball across the top with his studs to roll it for Thierry Henry to strike. Which is legal, providing the ball turns a full circumstance and the penalty taker does not touch the ball a 2nd time before another player does. MOTD showed a clip of Johan Cruyff and Jesper Olsen exchanging passes when playing for Ajax in 1982, and scoring. But yesterday, Henry wasn't fast enough to react and City got the ball away with David Sommeil taking it down the wing in a promising counter-attack only for Mike Riley to stop play for an in-direct freekick to City! It seemed very bizarre. Darius Vassell equalised with 10mins to go but had the effort ruled out for offside, which was a good decision albeit marginally.

For me, why is such a rule existing in the first place? What is wrong with the conventional placing on the spot and one kick, score or miss (unless rebound)? Does this now mean that teams will consider fooling the keeper by having someone ready to charge in once the ball is tapped by the taker? This is why defending players rush in as the taker kicks the ball, not only to clear any rebounds but to thwart a 'penalty one-two'?? And is it the rule that the ball not turning a full circumference from a penalty kick (or scuff) results in an in-direct freekick to the other side? Or had Henry fouled someone in trying to reach the ball (though I didn't see if he had)?

For Arsenal fans, had Vassell's effort counted, much less City scored another, would you have still applauded the 'penalty one-two', laughed at its attempt or seethed with frustration that what could have possibly sealed a home win turned out to have left your team open to an unnecessary defeat?

For anyone, do you think Pires, or better still Arsenal, had ridiculed Man City by taking the 'penalty one-two', as if they felt they could squander a penalty because they were likely to win or were showing-off? Or does anyone believe Pires and Henry, taken up with the day's presentation of a cannon trophy to Henry for his overall goalscoring achievement that broke Ian Wright's record, wanted to add amusement to the moment that was also significant for being Arsene Wenger's 57th birthday?

As for the first penalty decision, a number of critics are convinced it was, while I am not. I have the comfort of a replay as opposed to Mr Riley's speed of play, and saw Henry sprint and reach the ball, and then his back leg didn't come forward as you would expect of a player looking to go further, instead it stopped half way beside the other leg and then just buckled. It seemed to me Henry went for the drop as James came across for the ball. But in the speed of play it is easily given and James could have not dived but, knowing Henry's speed, just stood tall enough and pressure him away from goal.

After the match, Henry stated that he and Pires wanted to put some entertainment on for the crowd. For me, I want to win and prefer my player kicked the ball straight towards goal from the spot, BUT if it is legal to alternatively kick the ball and it goes in, good enough. While it may look to some as show boating, just as Cryuff and Olsen showed, it can work and no one would complain on the Arsenal side if it had yesterday. The team lead by Henry will have that flamboyant edge, that flair to dare to excite. From the controversial direct freekicks that Henry has taken without the referee's whistle blown to the penalty one-two, I don't doubt that the Frenchman, well Frenchmen, had a little of dare, flair and care added to the need to score. I don't think it was an insult to City, for they could have still won the game. I think it was another unorthodox way of scoring from the Gunners talismen.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ferguson must scrap the miserable Manchester United 4-5-1

Right Fergie, you’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. It looks terrible. Get rid.Like an ill-fitting garment 4-5-1 isn’t fit for outdoor wear. It betrays my generation of Manchester United fans, brought up on a diet of glorious, counter-attacking 4-4-2.

While there is a certainly inevitability to the Chelski colossus, we certainly won’t catch them by drawing games. So Fergie, liberate your best assets, the peerless three R’s, by playing them in position. Ronaldo on the by-line, so he can one-on-one with the full-back, Rooney just off the front man, so he can either pick up the ball if Ronaldo is out-manned, or create space for Ruud, often successfully marked out as a lone front man, but devastating when he has a little space to work with.

Manchester United won the Champions League playing 4-4-2. Subsequent failures were put down to being found out and 4-5-1 was born to counter this and make United less predictable. I blame lazy sports journalists. The real reason for United’s subsequent failure was the simultaneous decline of Dwight Yorke, lest you forget an absolute star, during the treble season and gorgeous Teddy Sheringham. The former was doing cocaine and lots of pretty young women; the latter was slow to start off with and looked like he was on prozac during his final season with us. These two performed the vital function, in a successful 4-4-2 formation, of bridging the gap between mid-field and attack. If you doubt the importance of this position, consider the difference between Rooney-less England against and Rooney-ful England against Poland.

Everyone used to wish England played like Man Utd. Having watched Tuesday night's game, I now wish Man Und played like England (even though I still consider Eriksson to be a tactical clot).


Thursday, October 20, 2005

English football benefitting from CL participation

As European football for British clubs draws to a close tonight, reflection over the Champions League matches conjures images of some fine playwork and ability from those taking part. Arsenal and Man Utd went first on Tuesday and we remember the Gunners were coming over with an injury list that could fill up their subs bench, and a hurting from The Hawthorns, aptly named for the feeling West Brom left Arsenal with. Man Utd are practically equal to Arsenal's injuries' demise, and they too could have slipped up away against lower opposition but instead held good against Sunderland.

Much was made of Thierry Henry's inclusion in the squad and I predicted Arsene Wenger would recall the iconic Frenchman and club skipper into play later on into the game, but such has the luck been for Arsenal that Jose Antonio Reyes suffered an injury and had to be replaced, by none other than. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, goeth the all-time scoring record. It was 6mins before Henry came on, taking the armband from he who is equal to it in his absence (and that of Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell), Gilberto Silva, picked up the ball sent by Kolo Toure upon his right heel, pause and add hesitency into the Prague defence, allowing him to pick his spot and aim. The goal was clinically executed, superb, Henry. And there was surprise expressed at his inclusion??? The second goal was well worked too, Robert Pires, helping out mainly the central midfield at times, sending a curled through ball for Henry to typically pick up and dispose of. Before his appearance, the Gunners were seeking but not applying and they needed some guidance with experience. There you are.

Man Utd were said to have a decent testing side in Lille between them and three points but for me the Red Devils didn't have enough application going forward as one would expect. Wayne Rooney an absentee, yes, but Ruud Van Nistelrooy can finish off teams on his own. Christiano Ronaldo has the talent to raise expectations that something will happen, but last night it kept failing to occur. He can run and cut up players with speed but someone like VNR wants to have regular service and it wasn't coming often enough. Rio Ferdinand is having a fluctuating season and is currently unsteady, his mistake allowed Peter Odemwingie a chance on Edwin Van Der Sar to no avail. The dive by the Lille forward was cringing to see replayed. Keeper Tony Sylva was equal to two good efforts and was stationary for Ryan Giggs' freekick. Otherwise it was something near to a lacklustre performance, notably made worse by Paul Scholes being sent off. I saw a 4-5-1 but with Scholes banned, injuries and Rooney returning, Sir Alex should consider the old 4-4-2, Darron Fletcher and Alan Smith between Ronaldo and Park Ji-Sung.

Liverpool did the job yesteday and it was well needed, coming from a decent Blackburn win. To remain within top spot nothing else would do and Anderlecht were aiming to stop the defeating run in the competition that ran over 9 games. Nice goal from Djibril Cisse, volleying straight from a corner, which should emphasise the importance of his selection, and though Anderlecht were close early on through Bart Goor, Pepe Reina's right foot kept his effort out. Reina was called again to thwart Anthony Vanden Borre's shot, and the Champions had to respond. From then John Arne Riise made a number of chances, Luis Garcia guilty of an awful touch over the bar from close range, Riise himself went close with an effort just past the far post. But the applause goes to Xabi Alonso, who constantly retreated to help out the defence on occasions and sprayed the ball left and right as if distributing business cards on the high street. In contrast Mohammed Sissoko had an off game but overall his form can allow for it for he will return to correct it.

But I write this article mainly with the thoughts of Chelsea and Michael Essien. The villian on Saturday, he was the main bolt in midfield that kept the machinery turning and moving, Frank Lampard had a nice lie-back for once. I can see how Jose Mourinho envisioned Steven Gerrard and Lampard together, because Essien looked a very good alternative last night. Tackling, passing and overall participation was much better than before. If no one saw the match, I believe highlights will be on Football Focus on BBC1 Saturday noon. Otherwise, there's little to be said. I have to say that Chelsea have enjoyed 'home' matches so far, with Anderlecht, Liverpool (held in the UK, so for me counts as much as home as Stamford Bridge), and Real Betis. The Spanish side are 12th in La Liga with 2 wins, 2 defeats, 3 draws, and a goal difference of -2 and it showed. On paper, it's the equivalent of Liverpool playing at the Bernabeu, only that we have a -1 gd and one more draw, but I think we would stand a better chance there than Betis had at Chelsea. Betis conceded poorly and defended lamely. Mourinho said "After 13 goals in games against Liverpool, Bolton and Betis, people can see it is our intention to win, play well and score goals."

You think?? It's not proof of intention, rather it's proof of being in contention. The interesting thing is all sides meet again in a fortnight, and for Liverpool we'll hopefully enjoy the home status (practially) in our remaining games. It was good to see Harry Kewell back again and I should think he needs a few matches to get into the fitness to play well again. With a decent run up to when Anderlecht visit, Rafael Benitez could deploy Cisse with one out of Crouch, Morientes or Kewell now, Garcia on the right and Riise on the left, Warnock at left-back. Josemi had a decent game last night and could hold on to right-back with Steve Finnan currently injured. These final CL games could make for a rise in performances domestically and in Europe.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

If Henry was Brazilian, he'd be the current world footballer of the year too

The stats now confirm it: Thierry Henry is Arsenal's best ever attacking player. An improvised back flick control of a long pass by Toure, followed by a deliberately caressed banana shot volley from 20 yards that swerved into the far corner saw him equal Ian Wright's Arsenal goal-scoring record on 21 minutes. Then, 74 minutes into the match in Prague, he latched onto a perfect Pires through ball (really appropriate), took one touch towards goal, and placed it pass the keeper: 186 goals in 303 games.

Record goal-scorer, prolific assist-maker, total team-player, complete sportsmanship with the opposition, winning attitude, sprinting prowess reminiscent of Frankie Fredericks, masterful ball skills at pace, thunderbolt shot potential, clutch shooter; Thierry is a credit to himself because with all this he is ever humble to his teammates, 'the boss', the fans, and the club for giving him a hand when he was down back in the summer of 1999.

I remember first seeing him play for Monaco on Eurosport and being impressed with the enormous passion he had when he scored (he screamed). I later saw him in World Cup 1998 where he was used as a winger and it was clear he was as fast as Anelka. So when we bought him I was delighted: an 'Anelka (who I liked, and hoped a couple of seasons ago would return to Highbury) with fantastic attitude' was my impression of what Henry would bring. He has lived up to this- and then some!

Henry also proved yesterday why he is a worthy Arsenal captain. His arrival lifted his younger teammates who looked more energised and confident with his presence. It also lifted the fans. His first touch was to bring down a long pass onto his chest, and in the same movement pinged a volley that struck a defender for a corner. He then ran towards the corner while urging the fans to really get behind the team- who, just like me, were only too happy to see his determination for the cause, and oblige.

More than ever he did his trademark applauding to teammates for their efforts. During his injury he must have noticed how the likes of Flamini, Fabregas, Clichy, Toure are looking for leadership and encouragement from the more experienced players in the team. As Captain he knows he is the best man to provide this, and he did so last night... long may it last.

I was generally impressed with all the team yesterday. Cygan and Clichy has some rocky moments- but they also had good moments. It was good to see RVP start up front, I feel he is on the verge of exploding as a dangerous striker. His technique is amazing, and his spikiness can be a useful asset against a team that looks to get into a fight, i.e. Man Utd.

Next-up is a thriving Man City: hopefully Sol will be back to further bolster the team.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fit to be Captain of England?

Who is fit to be captain of England? David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Robinson, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Michael Owen, John Terry, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole?

These players are the most senior in the squad. We saw Beckham sent off against Austria, Owen taking the band, then he came off with Gerrard taking it. On Wednesday Owen came off and gave the armband to Terry, who was reported to have said he kept the band and sneaked it out all the way home, to frame it with his shirt.

I was hesitant when Sven Goran Eriksson picked Beckham, who had been lambasted for his sending off in WC1998, but he was the darling of the public and his football had turned for the much better. Right now Beckham is doing a good job, though I wish he would get at the players much more to boost them. Owen is just right as vice-captain with Sol Campbell as deputy vice-captain. Terry has stated he is fit and ready to captain England, a call that could well be heeded. Do you think Beckham is still fit enough to lead England, or maybe any other person mentioned above are believed to be better suited right now?

I also found this report:

"John Terry is better equipped to captain England than David Beckham, according to a company which measures leadership qualities. The 24-year-old Chelsea defender, who is captain of his club, scores more highly in the study by leadership measurement consultancy SFL than the Real Madrid star. Terry outshines Beckham in the four key study areas - the ability to inspire as a role model, motivator, ideas generator and coach.

John Fay, SFL's managing director, said: "We measured the players' leadership abilities by assigning scores to their individual behaviours and attributes. "These are categorised into four key areas. In the role model criteria, Terry scored 3.9, double Beckham's score of 1.8. We believe this is because Beckham's celebrity lifestyle has a damaging effect on the players' respect for him in the dressing room. By contrast, John Terry's no-nonsense, tough approach makes him an ideal role model for international football leadership."

But while Terry is a fair way down Sven-Goran Eriksson's pecking order, SFL rank him higher than his more experienced team-mate. "In the criteria of motivator, Beckham scored 2.8 in recognition of his ability to motivate through his actions, but is roundly beaten by Terry with a full-house 4.0 points, who not only plays with unbridled conviction, but whose vocal presence encourages his team-mates throughout the game," Fay added. "As ideas generators, both players achieve broadly similar scores, 2.8 to Beckham and 3.0 to Terry. As a 'coach', Terry is more able to win the respect of all members of the team.

"It is unlikely that Wayne Rooney would have shown a similar dissenting attitude to Terry as he did to Beckham in the Northern Ireland match."

Fay concluded: "Leadership is the deciding factor for England to win the World Cup. On the basis of our study, it is clear that Sven needs to make a bold leadership decision and address the issue of captaincy. And that means appointing John Terry now."

According to the above, Terry is statistically better equipped to lead than Beckham. Pick three players, captain, vice-captain and deputy vice-captain, they can be from the above players or elsewhere in the English league. You may know or sense someone else not included who could be a better skipper, or at least be included in the England squad.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Have Chelsea Got the ‘Luck’ of Champions?

Watching Liverpool in the 80’s often left me feeling frustrated as they seemingly always got the benefit of the doubt regarding any refereeing decision. Getting spurious penalties (particularly in front of the Kop), avoiding yellow cards and getting marginal offside decisions in their favour.

In the 90’s the focus of my frustration moved from Liverpool to Man Utd as the marginal decisions seemed to fall their way, in particular the frequent extra minutes of injury time if not holding the lead. In the late 90’s and early 00’s Arsenal seemed to again be picking up the benefit of the doubt with a number of key decisions rolling in their favour.

The common feature between the three was that they were periods where the teams were regularly champions or serious contenders for the title.

All teams have luck (deflected goals, defenders mistakes which gift goals etc) and who ever ends up champions usually have more of this often self made luck than their rivals. But the refereeing type of lucky breaks were more frustrating because if felt like the benefiting team were being given a helping hand which they didn’t really need.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that refs cheat but maybe, unconsciously, they get seduced by the glamour of a championship team.

If this theory holds true then we should start to see Chelsea consistently getting the kind of decisions in their favour that the above mentioned three have previously received and benefited from. In fact could it have started already?

There is no denying that Michael Essien should have been red carded for his reckless tackle that could have caused Ben Haim serious injury but, for whatever reason, the ref decided that a yellow card would suffice.

There is no way of telling if going down to 10 men would have materially affected the result (i.e. Chelsea getting all 3 points) but Chelsea would not have been able to switch to a 3-4-3 in the second half and not have got the 9 minute 4 goal blitz they did.

That’s not to take away from the excellent hard work and ability of any of the mentioned teams nor the tactics of their respective managers but it can’t hurt to have an extra bit of help can it?

Only time will tell if this is an isolated incident of benevolence on behalf of the ref or if there is more to come to further aid Chelsea’s quest for back to back titles.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Post Vieira Arsenal can't also do without Henry and Campbell when on the road (AND please can Arsene buy a CM in January)

This is the fact. Four Premiership away games have returned just one point. Henry was out against Boro, West Ham, and West Brom. Campbell was out for Chelsea, Boro, and West Brom. And of course Vieira is in Italy.

For the last five years, Vieira, Campbell and Henry have been Arsenal's core spinal players: each of them have supreme presence down the centre of the pitch. Play West Brom away with these three players and you can bet on three points. Play without them, plus three other world class, experienced Arsenal players in Gilberto, Freddie Ljungberg, Ashley Cole, and you have a shadow Arsenal team.

This is not to put down Clichy, Reyes, Flamini, Fabregas, Eboue and Senderos. These six are among the best young players in world football. But to field all of them away from home is not going to guarantee maximum points at this time in their careers.

In particular, I am surprised Arsene has allowed a situation to repeat itself from last year: that Fabregas and Flamini is the CM partnership. As mentioned a couple of days ago on EFT, I feel this partnership is not a great one for Arsenal. They lack physical size and experience in what is arguably the most important area of the pitch.

Saying this they played well, as did generally the whole team, at West Brom yesterday. But without experience in core areas they couldn't kill the game; didn't have the ruthless edge.

Sell Vieira and Edu, and factor in Gilberto missing some games because of travelling to South America, and the CM position was always going to test Arsene this season. He has gambled on Flamini and Fabregas being ready to play together. But with Chelsea embarrassing the Premiership this is not a season for gambles- especially if they don't pay off.

When Arsenal have Campbell and Henry back, we will be a lot more confident and efficient. And with Chelsea unstoppable there is one positive that I can see: for the first season in five we can fully concentrate on the Champs League. Arsene must draft in a CM with physical presence and experience to bolster the squad in the transfer window, and go all guns for European success which this team is still well capable of achieving.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It must be Senderos over Cygan every time

Phillipe Senderos is Arsenal's answer to Roger Federer. A young Swiss world class talent, he was courted by the top teams in Europe before opting for the opportunity to be trained under Arsene Wenger.

After 18 months training at London Colney, he came into the team last February when it was at its lowest ebb: just coming off the back of a 4-2 defeat to Man Utd and a 3-1 travesty in icy Munich. Crucially he came in to replace the hapless Pascal Cygan (who in turn had replaced the injured Sol Campbell).

Drafting in a world class young talent over someone who triggers nerves among teammates and fans- or at least this fan- alike was the catalyst for the positive turn around last season.

Arsenal started to collect clean sheets with Phillipe Senderos playing like a veteran alongside the rejuvenated Kolo Toure- who had suffered a crisis of confidence next to Cygan. By the end of the season it was definitely a case that Senderos had made the absence of Campbell a forgotten concern. This was summed up by the absence of dissent when Senderos was preferred to Sol for the FA Cup final: an incredible scenario just a few months earlier.

This season Senderos has quickly been forgotten. Drogba's virtuoso show in the Shield match followed by that shinner at Stamford Bridge led to Senderos being excluded from the first team. I certainly never felt that Cygan should replace him-which resulted in three goals conceded in two games, including a calamitous Maccarone goal at the Riverside.

Sol Campbell's commanding return (replacing Cygan) from three months out has been the best story about Arsenal this season. But a second successive injury in an England shirt for the now sadly injury prone defender means that a vacancy has again arisen alongside the excellent Kolo Toure.

Against this context, its great news that Senderos has recovered from a brief back injury and is at the centre of the Swiss defence that just played out a score draw with France and is now travelling to Dublin for a World Cup showdown.

He must come back into the team in front of Cygan for Saturday's match at West Brom. After this fixture last season, Senderos spoke on television and gave an interview as impressive as his fully-focused defending. He spoke like a future captain and confirmed to me the impression that he creates confidence in his teammates with his attitude and focus on top of his precise defending.

You will see these attributes tonight when he stays cool under Irish fireworks and guides Switzerland into either automatic qualification or the play-offs: the perfect warm-up for his return to the Arsenal first-team.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

England receive "Het winst van hulp" for qualification

After Windsor Park's debacle, which showed a dispiriting right to claim a position for Germany 2006, England once again seeked to answer their critics, and perhaps themselves. Losing to a Danish side you expect to beat was one thing, the Danes were not 116th in the FIFA rankings. Players criticised, tactics criticised, formation criticised, positioning criticised, coach criticised, so yesterday's match was quite significant.

Thought the first threat went to Austria when Markus Kiesenebner hit a crisp shot palmed 'up, up and away' by Supergoalie Paul Robinson, England settled into a better pass-and-move game around Austria's defensive area. Individual performances were much better and the defence felt stronger with two stalwarts in John Terry and Sol Campbell, with Luke Young increasingly pleasing his addition and Jamie Carragher covering at left-back. Michael Owen's penalty claim was justified, bizarre how Paul Scharner held onto Owen at such a risk. Frank Lampard duly took over from David Beckham to the glee of the nation. The cheers must go further to Peter Crouch, who also justified his selection with some passing and head-ons, Young and Owen could have increased our lead and Crouch himself possibly scoring with a header that went straight to Jurgen Macho. Owen clearly should have had a second penalty when Andreas Dober blatantly obstructed the Newcastle man but ref Luis Cantalejo, the zealous ref who sent off Patrick Vieira in Juventus's CL match against Club Brugge, bizarrely waved claims aside.

The first half had been slightly uneventful other than the penalty claims and the goal, but in reaction the second half was uninspiring. Austria came out to press on us and we yet again allowed them to, Roland Linz almost capitalising on a Terry mis-head to bounce a lob off the crossbar. Then David Beckham jumped with a flailing arm onto Andreas Ibertsberger and was booked, which ruled him out of Wednesday's game, then he made contact with the same player moments later, which I assume the ref saw as a deliberate act and issued a second booking.

We were scraping along with 11, so with 10 the enthusiasm went further down. Ledley King has played in central midfield before why Sven Goran Eriksson swapped him immediately for Joe Cole, and held the holding position behind Lampard and Steven Gerrard. He then swapped with Campbell as the Arsenal man pulled on a hamstring, later to come off for Rio Ferdinand. Eriksson then swapped Owen for Kieran Richardson and set the defensive formation.

So with that (and I didn't think we would concede, even with 10 men), we held out to the end. Wednesday's game would have needed a win to cement qualification but then later on in the evening we had the 'het winst van hulp' from the Dutch. With the ruling that teams in the groups of 7 will not prosper from games with the bottom team, to ensure fairness to those in groups of six teams, that meant Czech Republic needed to win to heighten their claim for Germany. They almost got ahead with a penalty but Edwin Van der Sar saved well from Tomas Rosicky, and the Dutch took the game with goals from Rafael Van der Vaart and Barry Opdem.

At the moment, while I'm content that we have done what we should have done some time ago, that is qualify, we did so with a little help from elsewhere when we have the talent and potential to have wrapped it up earlier.

The critics wasted no time. Alan Shearer said "Right from the start there was an opportunity to really get at Austria and get some goals and make a point. But in the 65 minutes England had with 11 men they did not really do that. And they never looked like doing it either."

Alan Hansen: "At times it was a bit like a schoolboy game, with everybody chasing the ball and there was no shape....They can't go to Germany and play anything like that and expect to win the World Cup. In the last 10 minutes England were hanging on against a team that had really shown nothing up until then. Peter Crouch is 6 feet 7 inches tall and there would be something wrong if he wasn't good in the air, but for me he isn't mobile enough for international level."

I agree that Crouch isn't mobile enough but mobility has little to do with his game, or with the aim of those who play him. He did well in a home debut but Wayne Rooney and Owen will always start. One fan after the game said, while being interviewed on the spot by Sky Sports, that Crouch was 6ft 5in and didn't win a header all game!

A holding role is relevant in discussions of a five-men midfield, and I have said previously about a 4-4-2 with a defender dropping down to sweep behind the midfield to make an ad hoc 3-5-2, something I think Ferdinand would be comfortable to do, for he likes to get forward on occasion. My EFT colleague T suggested that a 3-5-2 could become a cropper against good wingers, but my visualisation of 3-5-2 would have Beckham and J Cole on the wings, Lampard between them, Gerrard positioned diagonal to Lampard behind the forwards. If our wingers lose possession, Gerrard could have a loose rein from left to right to help. But such discussions may seem academic, for Eriksson favours to use four across the back.

Between now and Germany I don't suppose there is much that Eriksson can do to align the features that seem to dog the performances of late. I think it is a time for other players to be given a chance, not a fleeting glance but a good duration. Darren Bent seems eager to score, more so than Crouch and Owen accordng to Danny Murphy, who may now have talked himself out of selection. I still feel Jermaine Defoe can help add flair to the team and we have still to find a left-sided midfielder, with one option in Stuart Downing currently injured and another in Gareth Barry questionable. The question is do we really want to win the World Cup, or do we feel content enough to be participants?


Friday, October 07, 2005

Can Gerrard and Lampard function well in a two man central midfield?

I pose the question because I am not convinced they can. Both are primarily attacking central midfielders. Both are playing for club coaches who prefer a three man central midfield with a specialist holding midfielder. And I can't recall- in recent memory- these two players consistently linking up well together in the England team.

If you look at all the best teams in domestic and international football, you will notice that every one of them has a primarily defensive midfield player. The core role of this player is to protect the back four by staying tight to them, and break up opposition play.

I believe that if England want to win the World Cup, they must find a specialist so-called 'holding midfield' player to fulfil this job. However, if Eriksson is to stick to a 4-4-2 and play both Lampard and Gerrard in the centre as anticipated, one of them is going to have to choose to be an auxillary 'holding' player. Which one is willing to do this? And is either sufficently practised to do this? I'm not sure either are.

Eriksson has said that his preferred system is a diamond midfield. Presumably, this would see Gerrard at the head of the diamond, Beckham on the right, Lampard on the left, and a specialist holding player at the back of the diamond. Yet, in this squad he has not picked my preferred candidate for this last job: Scott Parker. Why not? Does he think the unconvincing Hargreaves is better at this job? Or does he see Ledley King as suited to this position?

Anyway, Eriksson- as is often the case- poses more questions than answers. England must win both upcoming games to automatically qualify. Lampard and Gerrard look as if they will play together in a two man central midfield. Attacking wise it looks a good combination. But ball interception and ball retention wise, I have big doubts.

Austria is in disarray so I'd expect a comfortable England win irrespective of how well this combination works. The real test should come next week against an organised Poland team. This is when the Lampard and Gerrard combination will need to step up and control the game for a famous win. I hope they can do it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

BBC's Hansen goes down in my estimation.

Alan Hansen is the voice-over on a Tesco's advert saying that Frank Lampard is a '£40million football genius'.

These are not the only dubious words that Alan Hansen have come out with recently.

Today, Hansen has written on the BBC website that Chelsea detractors are, in effect, either 'crazy' or 'jealous'. This is both insulting and incorrect.

I am not someone who says Chelsea play boring football, but they did play in a boring match against Liverpool last Wednesday and the defensive nature of their set-up does not always make for entertaining viewing. This is not a 'crazy' judgement- this is how it is. I don't mind being in the same company as 'total football' Johan Cruyff with this opinion.

Hansen is also blind to context. Chelsea is a club who refused to admit they tapped up Ashley Cole after a guilty verdict delivered by an FA inquiry; a club who poached Frank Arnesen from Spurs; a club whose manager publicly questioned the integrity of Anders Frisk and the Barcelona coach on the back of sketchy evidence; a club who have a coach and a leading player who have the grace to shoosh Liverpool fans; a coach who said- live on ITV- after defeat to Liverpool last season that the 'best team lost'; and who have the offensive Peter Kenyon proclaiming that the championship will be won by a 'small group of one'.

In other words, they are their own worst enemy in the field of public relations. They might as well just come out on the pitch flashing wads of cash for all the class they have shown since their rise to the top. Football fans aren't stupid. Over the past twelve months they have taken in this accumulation of events and the result for some is a sour taste. Its got little to do with jealousy.

Chelsea is a really effective football team. In John Terry they have a magnificent captain and centre-back. Jose Mourinho has found a winning system of play that others have tried to emulate- but none have been as successful with. I respect all these things.

But I also can see the whole picture of events, unlike Alan Hansen. My approach is more balanced and sensible. Alan Hansen should reserve his dubious observations to Tesco's adverts.

Rafael and Liverpool, please take note of the fans

We lost yesterday, and comprehensively, firstly because we had individual errors from the likely suspects. They happen from time to time and always the usual players. Traore aimed to clear without vision and then hastily aimed to make amends, when a simple thought would have enabled him to shadow Drogba away from danger. It's professional and Traore wasn't. Reina was very unlucky as Lampard was, the ball going under. Lampard should never have done what he did after.

Secondly, while we came at Chelsea and gained the equaliser, we had not picked up defensively on key players and their passing was accurate throughout, Drogba skilling Hyypia with embarassing ease and Duff finishing off. Even Joe Cole was by the far post, a Liverpool player failing to keep with him. That was not so bad at 1-2.

Then thirdly, another lapse, this time by Finnan, as he allowed the space for Drogba to run into, with Hyypia then stupidly allowing the ball to roll behind him for Cole to score.

Fourthly, as Cisse came on, a quick Del Horno throw into Finnan's area found the Irishman again caught out with Carragher having to come over. Where was Hyypia? Riise came across and as Robben miss the pass across goal, so did Riise, and Geremi was free to score. This move started with five Liverpool players and the three Chelsea ones.

Chelsea didn't play us off the pitch, we allowed these poor mistakes and lapses to filter and open us up, and Chelsea duly thanked us with goals. They did yesterday that which we failed to do on Wednesday. It is such a contrasting show of form from Wednesday that it would take such lapses to concede.

I mentioned Cisse previously. I was annoyed to see he was coming on with 10mins of normal time. He should have been starting the game with Crouch, both upfront in a 4-4-2, that is so crystal clear. RB now has two choices: continue with 4-5-1 in the hope the defence will not switch off again, and at the same time risk not scoring as highly as we would like; or changed to the 4-4-2, with two upfront adding twice the possibility of scoring than before, stabilising a four-man midfield that is solid in the centre. Yesterday, we had a 4-2-3-1 and, as Andy Gray showed after the game, Alonso and Hamannn were positioned too far back from attack.

I urge for LFC to be looking on the internet for some insight from their fans, for the club is very welcomed here. It is now time for some insight to come from us fans, as practically most, if not all, have hailed for a change in formation and selection. Now at least hear us out and go for a change. Additionally, though I feel this could already be the case, a new CB is needed not as back-up, but to replace Hyypia. Finnan is not good enough at RB, neither is Josemi so we had little alternative there today. As for Traore, I have such a big case prepared to advocate for his release from Anfield, much less the first 11, they'd bring back the death penalty.Finally, Riise and Garcia could have been excellent for us in their positions but with Riise he is usually reliable, he had an off day today. Garcia is unpreditable.

Yesterday, Liverpool lost a battle, but we have not given up on the war. I hope it is enough to push us to get better. As for respect for Chelsea and Mourinho, that was always there, it is just that people do not take kindly to public statements preceived as boasts or innuendo quips at other clubs and players. However, there were two things evidently deserving and clear today: Chelsea earned the points, and their fans chanting of "that's why we're champions."

Indubitably, that is why they are.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Rafa’s tactical blunder contributes to Liverpool’s biggest home defeat in the Premiership

Rafa talked after the game on Wednesday how small details make the difference in big matches. I thought his tactic of playing Crouch upfront by himself cost Liverpool the game today. I know the Liverpool players made a lot of individual mistakes for the Chelsea goals.

There is a lot of talk about systems in the premiership at the moment. The trouble with playing with one up front is that when you go a goal down, you have to chase the game, and you leave gaps behind, which the opposition can exploit. The system can be effective if you have outstanding wingers who push forward to support the loan striker. I am afraid Garcia and Riise are simply not good enough to play in a 4-5-1 formation.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Time to take Charlton seriously if they beat Spurs

So Charlton are in second place with less than a fifth of the season gone. They have started the season with five wins and a loss at home to Chelsea. In their five wins they have only conceded two goals. However, the five wins have been against teams who Chartlon are expected to beat: Wigan, Sunderland, West Brom, an injury-hit Birmingham, and an inconsistent Middlesborough.

If they can beat investment-heavy Spurs today at the Valley it will be time to take serious notice of Curbishley's Charlton. Too many times they have gone on good runs in the Premiership for it all to end in a run of defeats. But with new acquisitions Smertin and Bent earning excellent reviews, Rommedahl and Thomas performing effectively on the wings, and Murphy displaying England form, Charlton look to have more about them this season.

Davids and Co have conceded only three goals in their first seven games- and just like Charlton two of these were against Chelsea. Spurs also have a feel-good factor: aside from the purchase of a world class player like Davids, they have bought in a clutch of young promising players in the past two years, have acquired the very likeable Martin Jol as a progressive coach, and of course have the excellent Ledley King and Paul Robinson within their defence. I tipped Spurs to grab fourth place at the start of the season and this is where they are as I write.

I doubt Charlton when up against opposition with such high class players. A defeat at home to Chelsea this season, a complete walloping at home to Man Utd last season, and seven goals conceded against Arsenal in their past two encounters are some examples to back-up my doubts. They did achieve the double over Spurs last season, but Spurs look to have a more confident mentality this season and will be keen for a win that will bring them level with Charlton.

If Charlton are to win today then surely the player who has to perform is EFT player of the month for September: Danny Murphy. His form has been superb, revelling in a three man central midfield which gives him more freedom to concentrate on his attacking game. This season he already has three goals to his name, his all-round passing has been outstanding, and he has been deadly at set-pieces. A continuation of this form today aginst Davids, Carrick, and Jenas will surely net him a deserved England squad place.

And if he features in a victory against 'feel-good' Spurs, it will definitely be time to start considering Charlton as a team with high-standard, Premiership aspirations.


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