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.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Wembley Stadium: Multiplex to be called Multi-vex, or Multi-what's-next??!

This is Wembley Stadium, Wembley, North West London. It was constructed in the 20's and first opened in 1923. On the 11th September 2000, The English FA agree a contract with an Australian company called Multiplex to practically build a new Wembley at the cost of some £300m. So eighty years on, it is closed to the public for the immense refurbishment, with a completion date of being ready for 31st Janaury 2005. The events that have occurred since have been well documented.

Since the agreement, the FA had taken a loan with German bank WestLB to cover final costs that meant Multiplex could start work on the stadium sooner, finally beginning in September 2002. Then tragedy happened in January 2004 when a pipe of scaffolding collapsed and resulted in the death of one worker, another seriously injured. Then on the 22nd March a safety cage that was carrying two workers fell 45m to the ground. The workers were not seriously hurt. On the 23rd August 200 builders are sacked over a dispute involving working hours and break times, a strike ensues.

August 2005, Multiplex report considerable losses for the financial year of £26.1m, as opposed to the previous year's profit of £30.4m. On 8th December, the Football League chairman, Brian Mawhinney, states that the league play-off finals will possibly not feature at the stadium and instead are scheduled as a precaution to be held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Multiplex state the stadium will unlikely be finished by the time the 2006 FA Cup final approaches, and are facing up to a higher loss of £70m.

From the beginning of this year, 2006, work begins on the main walkway for pedestrians to the stadium, however Multiplex have stated the wrong type of concrete have been used within the foundations, which inevitably leads to an inspection and further delay. The company's marketing director says there is a 70% chance the stadium will be finished in time for the FA Cup final. It is confirmed by the FA that the national football friendlies against Hungary and Jamaica are scheduled to now take place at Old Trafford, and the FA Cup final and the league play-off finals are scheduled to occur at the Millennium Stadium, because of delays and uncertainties.

A 50-tonne steel rafter, being temporarily supported while being welded in place, slips and causes a loud bang, missing builders standing nearby. Three thousand, five hundred workers are sent home as a precaution. Shortly after, sewer pipes laid underneath the stadium site are discovered to have given way due to the movement above on ground level. The initial picture is this will not lead to further delays, yet another view is the pipes will need to be dug up and repaired, as a result of not properly being laid in the first place, potentially leading to months of further work. This week, a number of workers have been laid off for good because sub-contractors have not been paid up-to-date.

The original completion date for the Wembley stadium project was January 31st 2005, then it was moved back to January 2006 and then March 31st, in time for this year's FA Cup final. Today, it was announced by the FA the stadium will not be completed this year to accommodate any booked venues, the likelihood is it will be finished by early next year.

A dispute appears to have arisen between the subsidiary of the FA, Wembley National Stadium Ltd, representing the FA's interests, and Multiplex. Multiplex state the delays are quite a normal occurrence of a project the size and stature of the stadium, fixed prices within the contract are adjustable in accordance to these occurrences and Multiplex have anticipated there will be "no further adjustments to the project's financial position." However, WNSL insist there exists a penalty in the contract for every day, over the completion date given, that the stadium is not complete, a penalty estimated to be in the region of six figures.

SO what is the big deal? We can use the national stadium for Wales for our venues, friendlies, FA Cup final, again, even though a project for our own national stadium has had three completion dates overrun, a number of mishaps and near deaths, one fatality, disputes, lay-offs and not forgetting initially in its opening workings alleged death threats against Multiplex. This is a sign? A £362.5m project in the beginning of the agreement five and a half years ago as more than doubled in 2006 and still we are unsure of whether it will be completed by March 2007. World famous, a national monument for England, broken down and being rebuilt under uncompromising circumstances. My condolences to the family and friends of the worker who died, it could have been more.

Had this been a firm of builders at a residential home, I believe legal remedy would be to cease and desist them of their duties, install another firm to complete the task, and then sue for the further efforts one had to endure to have the task completed, if it was more than that expected with the previous firm. But in applying that legal view to Wembley Stadium and Multiplex, it would seem too much to now instruct another company to complete the stadium and sue Multiplex, and this financial daily penalty may be adequate recompense for WNSL. The thing is it is not adequate for myself as a national fan to continuously hear our famous stadium is being delayed. In fact, I feel the whole project is being led into an absolute debacle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Big-match-player Fabregas is setting right tone across the whole team

The reigning Italian champions and runaway league leaders came to Highbury last night, and ended up losing their cool as Arsenal's next-generation side again put on a team performance of total spirit combined with total football to deservedly earn a two goals to nil win.

To not concede an away goal is a big bonus, and for this we must primarily thank our young back four led superbly by the magnificent Kolo Toure - who more and more is making good my prediction three years ago that he is going to be Arsenal's version of Thuram - plus the hugely underrated Gilberto whose ability to play as a virtual fifth defender is so important to the balance of the side.

Just as I did after the Madrid matches, I feel the need to give massive credit to each individual who wore the Arsenal shirt last night against the experienced world-class players of Juventus.

Flamini's tigerishness as a utility left-back is brilliantly reminiscent of a young Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn, and this quality really helped set the great tempo and determination in the side last night.

Eboue - as I continue to say -is a superstar in the making (and I'm going to write a big article on him soon!) because he has every quality you can possibly dream of in a full back!

Senderos is developing superbly and rapidly having just made his league debut fourteen months ago.

Pires' seasoned ingenuity set up the two goals- and THAT tackle on Vieira has the potential to long be etched on the memory.

Hleb is thriving with full confidence and looks to be a fantastic combination of a young Pires and magic-man Merson with his driving and mazy dribbles. The measured pass to put through Fabregas for the second goal is the best pass I've seen him play and is evidence of why he was known as the assists-master in the Bundesliga.

Reyes is an ever-present threat that scares the opposition into rash fouls (Vieira, Camonerese, and Zebina all received costly bookings last night after meeting tricky young Jose);

And, as my friend who was at the match last night told me in a text: 'the Skipper was a real Skipper!'

But I want to single out 18 year old Fabregas for special attention. After the Madrid match I wrote that he is a big match player- and this is a superb asset for Arsenal to have. In big matches its great to have in the centre of midfield a player, who, with fluid passing, enormous composure on the ball, and an automatic instinct to attack, can set the right tone across the whole team to play in the same 'total football' manner. He has played a major role in leading Arsenal to wins against Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus in the last month alone- and teams don’t get much bigger than these three.

To score the crucial first goal with a great run forward to support Thierry followed by a controlled finish, plus -in a great example of the special Wenger method - wisely assist the second for the Captain to put into an open goal when he could have gone for goal himself, says it all about Cesc's magnificent contribution last night.

The day Pat left I wrote an article on EFT headed: 'Fabregas is the reason why Arsenal can afford to let Vieira go.' In this article, dated 14 July 2005, I highlighted this sentence: The emergence of Fabregas is the reason why there is no need to fear the departing of Vieira.

The essence of my point of view was that although Pat was obviously a massively key player for our success, £13.7 million for a 29 year old who increasingly suffered from niggling injuries was a correct decision in light of the evident quality of Fabregas and the need to integrate him into the side as quickly as possible.

Pat is great and I loved his smile and handshake after the match with Arsene Wenger- mutual respect shined through. But it was also great to see that this new Arsenal proved to themselves against a side containing Pat that they are over the expected short-term shock of losing such a talismanic player. More than that they showed that the loss of Vieira no longer needs to be seen as a big negative… and on the contrary should be viewed positively because it has accelerated the progression of the young midfield playmaker who can step-up in the big matches: Francesc Fabregas.

Update: For scintillating writing on the Arsenal performance by the best writer on football in the UK check out this link:

Monday, March 27, 2006

Drogba controversy; Blackburn pressure; Birmingham rocky as Bolton fail to climb


Chelsea 2 Man City 0

Man City were said to be without 10 first teamers, which then pales Birmingham's side in midweek and emphasised my previous article where I stated Birmingham, despite their handicap, could have provided more resistance than they did. They shifted David Sommeil, Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne in a three, Danny Mills and Ben Thatcher as wing backs, pushing Micah Richards into midfield with Willo Flood, Kiki Musampa and Stephen Ireland, something like a 3-3-3-1 which seems bizarre as Richards is meant to be holding. That fact is Stuart Pearce had to change the side around and it boded little in the first half. Didier Drogba found space and time a luxury and missed on occasion until he was fed a ball from Eidur Gudjohnsen, twisted Sommeil left and right and then shot past David James. A Chelsea corner was to follow, James saved excellently from a John Terry header, Joe Cole passed across, Asier Del Horno headed back and Drogba was seen to handle the ball before finishing off into the net.

Man City players were incensed, Distin and Musampa booked for their protestations. At the half-time whistle Distin picked up the ball and at the most remonstrated with ref Rob Styles, though the official was more interested, if not solely, in retrieving the ball. Despite a number of requests for the ball, Distin ignored and continued to protest, presumably about the second Drogba goal. Styles is then seen to ask Distin if he is going to give the ball, acknowledged a denial from the non-reply and proceeded to reach for his pocket. Distin then reaches the ball towards Styles but by then it was too late, the second booking, a red, the ball dropped, Distin walks off in disbelief. Some viewed this as the official being petulant, I disagree. The referee was right, Distin could have behaved much better and still got a word in on the way to the tunnel, and as captain should have more responsible. Two goals down, away to Chelsea, and now the captain off makes no further progress of your side's plight.

To City's big credit, not only did Chelsea fail to score in the second half but City held out with the 10-men, 11 first teamers not available for the second half. In a post-match interview, Drogba stated he dived, then went on to say he didn't. In all honesty, to say he dives, in my opinion, is controversial. I would say he makes more of a situation than it actually is, or was. Which, er, effectively says he dives. Certainly he is not the only one, in the side, this week, or in the Premiership. The woes of this is well documented. But I believe, when he said he dives, he was referring to the opinions of those who spoke about him, which would explain why he denied diving afterwards.

Sunderland 0 Blackburn 1

Out of their games so far, Sunderland have drawn four times, all four coming at The Stadium of Light against West Brom, West Ham, Bolton and Spurs, which is impressive, considering. This could have been another draw, instead it turned into another single goal defeat to which the side have become accustomed, with the odd two or three goal defeats here and there. Stephen Reid put paid to this fixture, picking up the ball on the run from his own half, and despite being tracked by at least four players, was allowed to enter the box and shoot right-footed past Kelvin Davies. Three more points for Blackburn meant they overtook Arsenal and went level on points with 4th placed Spurs. Eleven defeats and four draws out of thirty-one, The Lancashire side are taking advantage right now to strengthen their campaign home and away.

Portsmouth v Arsenal (postponed)

Due to the rainy weather down the South Coast region, Fratton Park had developed a waterlogged pitch too soggy for Mike Riley's contentment to be appeased. In failing to play, the chance to grab back 5th place from Blackburn will have to come at a later date for Arsenal as Portsmouth can reflect on how their relegation rivals will be doing. The rest for Arsenal can be of dividend or deficit going into Tuesday's game, but some training in between can resemble a 90-minute Premiership fixture and there will be none claiming any niggles or doubts ahead of Juventus' arrival tomorrow. The Gunners will look for Bryan Robson's Midlands side to stifle their rivals at the Lane, in contrast to Pompey, who are level with Birmingham and look for Spurs to not only boost their 4th place spot for themselves but at the same time deny West Brom any leeway away from the zone. If you have or can access Sky, tune in tonight*, otherwise set back and prepare for Tuesday's Anglo-Italian meeting.

*I'm not a Sky employee, no plug intended!

Aston Villa 0 Fulham 0

Not an eventful afternoon at Villa Park. More excitement came from the banners depicting support for David O'Leary to leave the managerial post. Fulham came into the game from their famous victory against Chelsea, yet still seeking their first away win all season. Lee Hendrie went close with an effort, as close as Villa got, that went upwards. Steed Malbranque had two efforts come to nothing. I have stated previously that O'Leary's time at Villa Park will come to an end were results to not improve. They have Arsenal away, West Brom then Birmingham at home. Things can change between now and then so West Brom and Birmingham are not foregone conclusions. West Brom, Birmingham and Portsmouth have a game in hand (West Brom play tonight) and it would take 9 points dropped by Villa, 9 points gained by others below them, for Villa to be dragged down. Fulham are similar, above Villa with a point advantage, but they have shown good spirit to believe they can gain results from Portsmouth at home, Sunderland away then Charlton at home.

Wigan 1 West Ham 2

Good game at the JJB Stadium. Lee McCulloch finished off the ball with a long range effort that Shaka Hislop could see until it went past him. Wigan had piled on pressure on the visitors but a poor header by Paul Scharner to keeper Mike Pollitt allowed Marlon Harewood to capitalise and round the keeper for West Ham's equaliser. Heading for a draw, Teddy Sheringham squared across for Nigel Reo-Coker in injury time, the captain scooping the ball over Pollitt for the winner. This was Wigan's eighth defeat at home with two draws out of sixteen.


Middlesbrough 4 Bolton 3

Exciting match, with goals and controversy. Bolton got ahead when a scramble in the Boro box allowed Stelios Giannakopoulos to evade two players and score. Boro equalised through a penalty granted when Joey O'Brien quite stupidly handled the ball. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink just managed to squeeze the ball under a superb effort to stop by Jussi Jasskelainen. Mark Viduka was instrumental in Bolton's play, and as Fabio Rochemback paused slightly then delivered a chip, it was chested by Hasselbaink into Viduka's path and he obliged to put Boro ahead before half time.

Bolton haven't been renowned for their away ability, though they came to The Riverside with a win as Boro came to battle following their Ewood Park defeat. So when Hasselbaink went to chase a hopeful ball forward, it looked comfortable for O'Brien to deal with but Hasselbaink's speed was underestimated, he reached the ball before the keeper and lobbed him for 3-1. Sam Allardyce brought on Mexican Jared Borgetti for Henrik Pedersen, and Borgetti earned a penalty for Ugo Ehiogu's holding in the area. Viduka passed words to taker Jay Jay Okocha and Mark Schwarzer saved, only to see the rebound scored. Viduka and the Nigerian had a laugh briefly about it afterwards.

With Arsenal not playing and Blackburn in 5th place, Bolton had the pressure of scraping out a win that I couldn't foresee happening, as they came forward and then broke down on occasion so much it looked as if they wouldn't hold enough to gain an equaliser. I was wrong. A Ricardo Gardner cross was met firmly by an unchallenged Rahdi Jaidi header. But a challenge for a high ball between Kevin Davies and Emmanuel Pogatetz turned ugly as the Austrian claimed an elbow was used. The two had words as Pogtatez was incensed with the lack of action from the officials, remonstrated to the linesman and was booked, blood streaming from a gash on his head. However, Boro got to deliver the final bloody, or body, blow when Viduka linked up with Aiyegbeni Yakubu for a Yakubu ball that curled behind a slow Bolton defence, met by the incoming Stuart Parnaby just ahead of George Boateng.

Charlton 3 Newcastle 1

Newcastle had to endure a tough test at Old Trafford, were hit last week by Liverpool at home, went to Chelsea to be denied by John Terry's goal, had their FA Cup dreams shattered by a Robbie Elliott dismissal amidst cries of diving in the direction of Chelsea players, and then arrived again in the capital to be killed off in poor defensive style, something they were staying away from since Glenn Roeder's managerial start until the OT defeat. Charlton put pressure on the Newcastle goal but the visitors were keeping shape, until Peter Ramage, playing at left-back due to injuries, poorly cleared to Jerome Thomas, who jinked past Craig Moore and was equally poorly tackled in the box. Darren Bent obliged the penalty for 1-0.

Newcastle led mainly through the running of Emre and Scott Parker, as Alan Shearer provided link-up support and Shola Ameobi made a nuisance up front. Parker picked up the ball some 30 yards out and, having to endure boos from the home fans, let fly completely over Thomas Myhre for the equaliser. Superb effort and still short from the man who held Charlton fans in awe. However, that was ironically short-lived. With one former player equalising, another put Newcastle back as Moore aimed to clear the ball and instead hit Lee Bowyer as he ran diagonally in the box, the ball cannoning in without any chance of being stopped.

In the second half, Chris Perry cleared from danger that almost ended in an OG. Marcus Bent sprung the offside trap superbly and with Shay given to beat chose to snap at the chance near the edge of the box, which went terribly wide of goal. Charlton attacked but had little cohesion to make further of their lead, and it took a minute from normal time for the lead to be extended, Jay Bothroyd linked with Dennis Rommedahl to head in the Dane's cross with some embarrassing ease.

With Michael Owen still some way from joining the first team before the end of April, Newcastle are in big danger of throwing away their superb start under Roeder.

Manchester United 3 Birmingham City 0

Big game for both sides. Utd need the win to reclaim 2nd spot, Birmingham need the win for a number of reasons. Jiri Jarosik, Emile Heskey, Martin Latka, DJ Campbell all started as well as Stan Lazaridis, yet the game became deja vu as Utd opened early in the 3rd minute from a Ryan Giggs freekick. Christiano Ronaldo fooled all as he geared up, Giggs to the right of the ball with equal anticipation, the Welshman took the kick and curled sweetly for Maik Taylor to actually touch onto the post, only for the ball to go in off Taylor's body for the second time in a week. Then to ensue was great play involving Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic. Vidic passed from defence to Giggs wide on the left, Giggs nutmegged Damian Johnson to cut inside and square to Rooney, Giggs continued to run as Rooney held then released a through ball to him, Birmingham players simply ballwatching, Giggs collected and deposited the ball for 2-0. Rooney wasn't to be outdone in the impression stakes and went close to score a brace himself.

Birmingham were far better in the second half, were they threw caution to the wind and came at the home side, who made more of their defending than their attacking, but Birmingham lacked any true grit to make Utd pay, with Edwin Van Der Sar twice denying them with his skills. Rooney is never done with a game and he picked up Van Der Sar's kick to past Latka with ease and round Taylor for 3-0.


Liverpool v Everton: the 203rd clash

Liverpool 3 Everton 1

Saturday's first kick-off, the 203rd Merseyside derby, both sides in good form, it should have been on terrestrial TV, not Sky PPV. Liverpool had well publicised their recent form of fifteen goals in the past three games, with the Birmingham win being headline news. Everton had not lost a game since 2006 except for the away defeat to Newcastle a month ago, their last defeat actually coming against Liverpool at home in late December before then, some eleven games ago. Their eight wins and two draws out of eleven made for a confident Toffees side coming to Anfield.

This fixture last season ended 2-1 with Milan Baros sent off, so when Steven Gerrard, of all Liverpool players, went off it was as stunning to the home fans as it was jubilant to the away ones, understandably with Gerrard touted many times as the main player that boosts Liverpool's play. Xabl Alonso was penalised for a foul on Kevin Kilbane, and as Steve Finnan touched the ball in the direction of the spot of the offence, Gerrard aimed a foot and chipped the ball away. Ref PhilDowd is more or less on the ball (excuse the pun) and exclaimed to Gerrard why he had to do it. The ball was delivered in, head out, came to Kilbane, who evaded one challenge and was then brought down by another from Gerrard, which looked quite scything. No doubt it was bookable and the captain was sent off. Rafael Benitez was on the touchline, hands in trouser pockets, looking down as he made Gerrard know his feelings on the conduct of it all. I wondered if Gerrard had been riled by comments nearer to home when he said after the Birmingham game Everton players were coming to Anfield with confidence. While it's not unusual for him to be booked, it is unusual in the matter in which he obtained the sending off, not one known for kicking the ball away after the whistle. Now Liverpool will have to show good character and strength in the remaining three-quarters of the game.

Everton had been threatening up to that point. Tim Cahill turned in the box but his shot lacked power so comfortably gathered by Pepe Reina, and then he gained down the right towards goal and aimed a wide shot that made the side netting. He was booked for a challenge on Gerrard before the sending-off, Alonso was booked for a high tackle on Phil Neville, Alan Stubbs and Harry Kewell were jostling in the Everton box as Liverpool steadied for a free kick and were both booked. But Everton failed to make significant breakthrough against the 10-men and fortunes turned as Alonso's corner came off Neville's head for an OG little before the half time break. Two minutes into the second half, Reina pumped the ball to the right, Peter Crouch headed on, Luis Garcia nodded forward ahead of Gary Naysmith and then ran on to lob the advancing Richard Wright. 2-0 up with 10-men, the celebrating players included Reina.

Some 10 minutes on, David Moyes considered a triple substitution of Simon Davies, Duncan Ferguson and Andy Van Der Mayde and waited as Everton pressed forward. Cahill had a mediocre start to the season but since Xmas has been my player for Everton, just over Mikael Arteta, who injured himself in the morning why he never played. Everton's pressure paid off when Leo Osman's corner was glanced down by Cahill to make it 2-1. Then the subs came on, Ferguson for James McFadden, Van Der Meyde for Kilbane. Liverpool went close from then, Mohamed Sissoko was fouled by David Weir near the edge of the box for another booking, Alonso glancing the freekick just off the crossbar. Garcia was in the box and received the ball but Alan Stubbs came in with a superb intervention that thwarted the Spaniard. Later, Kewell's shot as he broke down the left and past Weir was saved well by Wright.

However, Everton's advantage of an extra man was dminished as Van Der Meyde lasted five minutes from coming on. Challenging a high ball with Alonso, the Dutchman's elbow flailed towards Alonso's face, and amongst the little melee, ref Dowd took away Van Der Meyde by the forearm, away from all, and brandished the straight red, making for another Merseyside derby this season to bring a double dismissal. Moyes was stunned as the advantage Everton held was now level. From there on, an Alonso freekick was glanced in by Sami Hyypia but disallowed as Crouch was offside, which for me was dubious, again regarding the offside rule. We are informed the linesman will wait to see if the player reaches the ball or vice versa or gains an advantage, but Hyypia headed in with no other intervention or touch from anyone else, Crouch isn't interfering with play. Nonetheless, a third goal eventually materialised for the home side as Steve Finnan played across to Kewell, and the Australian looked to spread the ball wide, Tony Hibbert moved to block, and instead Kewell looked at goal and aimed a sweet drive that went wide of Wright and inside the post.

Liverpool are grateful for the win, particularly in a fiercely contested derby that produced 11 bookings, two for Gerrard, one for Kewell, Alonso, Hibbert, Weir, Ferguson, Stubbs, Cahill, Kilbane and Neville. With Gerrard off, we had to show that we can play well without him, which was quite crucial for the team and the fans, and importantly the manager. Moyes will rue that Everton had 55 minutes to make their advantage count and only made something of it in Cahill's goal, and also that Van Der Meyde is not available for three matches. Phil Dowd had a good game, albeit the Kewell-Stubbs coochy-coo in the box could have been handled with a stern word.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Middlesbrough are underrated

Today, less than 72 hours after gaining a quarter final cup-tie draw at The Valley, Middlebrough took on Champs league chasing Bolton at the Riverside and defeated them in an entertaining match by four goals to three. After going a goal down inside three minutes, Boro found themselves 3-1 up just after half-time by playing with good spirit and good passing- especially in the final third. Up against it, Bolton then went all out with their long ball game and with typical determination managed to level the game with ten minutes left.

But not to be denied, Boro - with the sort of battling spirit that shows why they are still going strong in the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup - launched an injury time attack that saw Yakubu get the ball in space on the left wing. The Nigerian striker then curled in a tempting left-footed cross for the onrushing right wing-back Parnaby to side foot home. It was a fitting end to a compelling match.

While watching the game I thought that it was about time Boro got more recognition for their form and quality of the last couple of months. In the last two months they have defeated Champions-elect Chelsea by three goals to nil; stabilised their Premiership position with three other wins in the last five weeks; knocked Stuttgart followed by Serie A consecutive-win-record-breaking Roma out of the UEFA Cup; and have earned an FA quarter-final home replay.

Steve McClaren has showed good tactical ingenuity in certain games this season: like the 5-3-2 employed today against Bolton which meant they had three good defensive headers of the ball waiting for the inevitable Bolton aerial assault; and the five midfielders option that helped to overwhelm Man Utd by four goals to one last October.

Plus, McClaren should be getting a lot of credit for his willingness to blend a lot of the talented youngsters from the Boro academy into the first team. Downing, Davies, Cattermole, and Morrison all featured in today's 4-3 win; and there are other youngsters like Johnson, Bates, and McMahon who also look to have a bright future. This youth integration policy is going to gain Boro big rewards in the next few seasons, and the example they should try to follow is that of the excellent young Leeds side of some five years ago managed by David O'Leary.

Finally, the rotating strike force of Yakubu, Hasselbaink, and Viduka is on fire at the moment- with goals and assists flowing on a very regular basis. The fact that Boro have three on-form quality strikers to rotate - plus the fantastic George Boateng back-fit to stabilise the midfield - is the reason why they should continue to be confident of progress in the UEFA Cup and FA Cup this season.

Such progression will be deserved reward for McClaren and his team after bouncing back well from a rocky mid-season. I hope they do the business against Basle on Thursday.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Birmingham 0 Liverpool 7 - A Birmingham City story

It's an amazing scoreline. Arsenal did it against Middlesbrough at Highbury in the league. This recent result came in the FA Cup tie last night. The BBC opted to leave this one out of their schedule and how they must have rued that decision last night. But the scoreline not only gives the impression of a one-sided game, it came from a Birmingham performance that made Steve Bruce practically a fractured man. This manager, this team are fighting to get themselves out of relegation, to evade dropping into the Championship from where they had emerged in 2001-02 to enter the Premiership by beating Norwich City in the play-offs. Bruce did that for them, and now the fans feel the utter anguish of seeing their side play as if they had not the conviction and desire required to compete at the top. I share that anguish for the fans because they have the manager and the players to do just that, and have been doing so for the past three seasons, four including the current one.

Liverpool played very well, passing and movement, better control of the ball, and more execution in front of goal, plus we were glad to see Mohamed Sissoko play after excellent treatment by hospital staff in Portugal and that in Liverpool, and response from our own medical staff and that of Benfica, whose own club doctor acted as translator in hospital and who made initial contact on occasion to monitor Sissoko's progress. Yet I was concerned the wretched league fixtures would pay to hinder Liverpool, as recent history has swayed mostly in favour of the home side at St Andrews. Yes, Birmingham played later on against Spurs and held very well, only conceding to two moments where Mario Melchiot's involvement was something to be desired. Unfortunately his involvement, or lack of, was key in yesterday's game, and he wasn't the only one.

Bruce had to field a team without Matthew Upson, Muzzy Izzet, Emile Heskey, Jiri Jarosik, Chris Sutton, players who can be influential. Stan Lazaridis is one who worried me when we played Birmingham, he likes to run down the wings quite skillfully, but he was to remain on the bench throughout the match. The Birmingham player for me who stood out was Jermaine Pennant, and I was worried his pace and crossing would ease past the somewhat hapless Djimi Traore, and Pennant did threaten well on the wings, sometimes crossing, sometimes cutting in, the only thing is he found Liverpool in numbers behind the ball. Maik Taylor is a keeper I've admired for his agility, many times keeping goal excellently, somewhere on par with Newcastle's Shay Given, but he was left horribly exposed. Those are the only two of credit last night. When you view six of the goals, they were six occasions out of many where Birmingham defended poorly.

Goal no.1 - Sissoko nodded on freely, young Marcus Painter, approximately 6ft, at left-back, was left with Peter Crouch behind and Sami Hyypia in front as Martin Taylor had Hyypia in sight and then ballwatched.

Goal no.2 - Gerrard played in a cross that bounced by the penalty spot, Crouch stealing in without challenge between Martin Taylor and Kenny Cunningham to nod down, Maik Taylor almost denying it but it crept underneath him and in.

Goal no.3 - Crouch controls a throw, touches it to Gerrard, he knocks it down the wing for Luis Garcia, Garcia cuts inside Martin Taylor and outmuscles him and Kenny Cunningham then threads a touch to the advancing Crouch to score. Melchiot was right near the edge of the box and made no movement whatsoever towards either Liverpool player. He should have come across once Garcia had beaten off Taylor.

Goal no.4 - Xabi Alonso touched to Steve Finnan, Finnan passed towards Garcia, Garcia dragged Oliver Tebily (on at half-time for Martin Taylor) and dummied, Gerrard ran inside Painter to collect the loose ball, a hole in the defence, Cunningham has to then come across, Fernando Morientes (on for Crouch) waiting between Cunningham and Melchiot, Gerrard passes across to Morientes, Melchiot hasn't sensed Morientes' position therefore has STILL not moved, Morientes taps in easily.

Goal no.5 - This was unfortunate for Birmingham while at the same time ferocious to have seen. John Arne Riise was back too, and how, unleashing a fierce trademark hammer of a shot from 20-25 yards that Maik Taylor did well to get a hand to. The Birmingham fans applauded the effort.

Goal no.6 - Throw in over by the left, Harry Kewell collects and turns his marker well, dummies Melchiot then cuts down to send a low ball across that Tebily should have moved to and dealt with, but instead he remained on the spot, therefore, having misjudged the ball's path, aimed a toe rather than a foot at it and it came off into the goal.

Goal no.7 - Tebily's OG was penultimate, this compounded the evening for the home side. Djibril Cisse, on for Gerrard, threatened Painter then cut to his right to fire a low shot that had a minute deflection off Painter's boot and squirmed under Taylor's body.

Birmingham did threaten Liverpool. Pennant's ball across almost met Mikael Forssell but for Jamie Carragher's intervention. Forssell had a shot on goal but was at a good hand level for Pepe Reina to beat away. David Dunn made attempts to dribble through and shoot. But with a 4-5-1 formation that left Forssell against a reputable defence, said to be the best at the moment, wasn't right, he needed another with him. Pennant, Stephen Clemence, Dunn, Damien Johnson and Jamie Clapham made some progress getting forward and gaining corners but other than that Forssell received little service. I would have looked for Clapham at left-back with Lazaridis at left wing to start with, unless he isn't fully fit. Bruce had to use Neil Kilkenny for Dunn then his son Alex for Johnson, as Johnson looked to be heading for a dismissal after being booked previously, otherwise I imagine he would have stayed on.

I felt the whole team, other than Forssell up front, Pennant and Taylor, were out of sorts from the beginning. I felt the fans were behind the team and Bruce for this tie, perhaps push their side for an incredible voyage into the semi-finals, even when they were 0-2 down. Even at half-time I felt we would face a rejuvenated Birmingham side with little to lose, perhaps gain a goal back to boost confidence. But they lacked urgency, almost as if they had given up when the actual breakthrough for that needed goal wouldn't materialise realistically or quickly enough. Morientes' goal made way for damaged spirits.

To be a fly in the Birmingham dressing room at half time to hear how Bruce would aim to encourage the players to turn the game. He walked off towards the tunnel like a man who had to ponder that unknown £125,000 answer with all life lines depleted. His facial and body stillness as goals went in in the second half made a louder message than words could. At full time, he walked amongst a gauntlet of stewards and police officers towards the tunnel as nearby fans beckoned to him and called for him to resign. Bruce pondered over it all in the post-match interview:

"Sometimes football kicks you in the teeth and certainly that is the biggest one I have taken. I'm shell-shocked, disappointed and humiliated. It was men against boys, a result possibly waiting to happen with the patched up side we have got. It's possibly the worst night I have ever experienced certainly in management, and with the players there are a lot of dented egos in the dressing room, and my ego is dented as well. There is very little you can say to them. They are absolutely humiliated."

As I said, there are two or three who can possibly be exempted from blame. When you do not have available certain players who have the playability to move or play others in, then there is potentially a drop in confidence and someone somehow has to restore it for the interim. Birmingham City are out of the cup, to play for next season. What is now key is their focus in the league, the one that really counts, and on paper it's daunting. Away to Man Utd, home to Chelsea and Bolton after. They are three points from safety and Midlands rival West Brom, just three points. West Brom face Spurs away, Liverpool at home then another Midlands rival in Aston Villa at Villa Park. But over Birmingham's shoulder are Portsmouth on equal points, who face Arsenal at home, Fulham away then home against Blackburn.

If I was Steve Bruce, I would bring the players in today for a big discussion, review the game and point out what went wrong and ensure it is not repeated. Such a game like that of last night must hit very deep, for a team to take in, bond and remember to hold a tighter structure when playing next. Be it Man Utd or Mackton Utd.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Fulham v Chelsea; Newcastle v Liverpool; West Ham v Portsmouth; Arsenal v Charlton

Another weekend of goals, dismissals, controversy and increasing pressure on the European places. I must say the FA is yet again questionable in their administration when they arrange for the squeezing of league games and FA Cup ties. There are those who believe Premiership players, particularly, earn a substantial wage and develop a substantial level of fitness to be able to play in a match and then another practically 48hrs later. Conventionally a gap of 72hrs is realised before another match, for instance a Sunday fixture is followed by one the following Wednesday. Wretched administration, regardless which team it involves, and quite possibly effected the team selection of those involved to their deficit. Anyhow, without further delay.....


West Brom 1 Manchester United 2

The big talking point was the potential exclusion of Ruud Van Nistelrooy from the line-up, though the Dutchman has, since the FA Cup tie at Anfield, had an illness after international duty and recently had to attend a family funeral so it seemed very appropriate to continue with the pairing of Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha, both in sharp form. Ryan Giggs is finding more and more play in central midfield, his corner led to Saha being marked by Ronnie Wallwork and then the Frenchman gingerly stepped away from his marker to plant a crisp free header. Holding the one goal lead for the break, Utd were two up in 64mins as Giggs and Christiano Ronaldo set up Saha to control and poke in. Nathan Ellington came on 4mins before then and again made his contribution off the bench by heading in a consolation with some 10mins or so to go.

This is a swansong for Utd, going two up and then conceding one but remaining too solid to be in threat of throwing a lead away. West Brom had to block out Rooney on at least three occasions, and went close themselves before Ellington's goal.

Arsenal 3 Charlton 0

Arsenal back to their battling form? The confidence is there to see. You have a flowing Arsenal behind an even faster flowing Thierry Henry, at Highbury, then be prepared. The ten intermittent defeats this season had spoiled their confidence, coupled with the injuries, and now with a third consecutive win after emerging into the Champions League quarter-finals, amidst the Henry speculations, the good fortune continues. Emmanuel Adebayor picked up on Jonathan Spector's slip, jogged one-on-one onto goal, Henry to his far left, bizarrely unmarked and unnoticed by the Charlton defence, indicating his presence, only for Adebayor to take too long and allow Spector to recover with a tackle, evidently to Henry's disgust, which I felt was justifiable. What arose to make recompense for the Togo man was his touch after Henry passed to him, he played Henry through behind Luke Young and he squared for Robert Pires for the lead.

Herman Hreidarsson stepped on the ball and stumbled, allowing Adebayor to steal in again for Arsenal's second, before half-time. Then to cement their superiority, Alexander Hleb, looking impressive as Arsenal grow in confidence, ran from inside his half to feed Adebayor, whose shot was blocked into Hleb's path, the Belarussian finishing off Charlton's quite cumbersome defence and lacklustre forward line.

Arsene Wenger said "We dominated the game...we scored early on and sometimes it became too easy for us....but the confidence is back in the team and we have found the way we want to play the game." Sorry, Addicks fans, he wasn't wrong.

West Ham 2 Portsmouth 3

Anton Ferdinand was quoted as saying Harry Redknapp would receive a hot reception at Upton Park in his first return since May 2001 but contrary to that Redknapp was well received, and rightly so. Alan Pardew has had his ferocious critics as a result of taking over the managerial role but he remained tight-lipped and armour protected to bring the Hammers into the Premiership, and how. The only hot reception came in the half-time break from the meat pies, mine is steak and kidney if anyone's buying. Six changes were made with the FA Cup clash with Man City away in mind, but the side seemed comfortable enough to hold a suitable challenge to Pompey. Yet West Ham had defensive frailties when Gary O'Neil crossed low for Lomano LuaLua to score from close range unmarked. Practically from the same spot Sean Davis tucked away Brian Priske's cross unmarked. And for the second consecutive weekend Pedro Mendes made the opposition taste his shooting ability as Andres D'Alessandro teed up the Portuguese midfielder to unleash another 25 yarder past replacement keeper James Walker.

All of that before half time made for an astonishing scoreline hardly any would have wagered on. West Ham came back through Teddy Sheringham as Paul Konchesky's effort came back to the ex-Pompey player to score. But knowing Harry Redknapp, Portsmouth are not encouraged to dwell on their 1-3 lead to think the game is over. LuaLua jigged about by the touchline and then eased pass the mesmerised Konchesky to square across goal for ex-West Ham striker Svetoslav Todorov to tidy away. Yossi Benayoun converted well Bobby Zamora's ball for another consolation, but West Ham seemed battle weary after their midweek FA Cup game and now have to reassemble for Man City.

Bolton 2 Sunderland 0

The difference for Sunderland was keeper Kelvin Davies as he made a number of saves to thwart the home side, who have not been unbeaten at home since the opening game against Everton, some 13 games before Saturday. But it was the other K Davies who made the first breakthrough, after his effort from point blank earlier on was superbly saved by the Sunderland keeper. Stelios Giannakopoulos sent over a corner to which Kevin Davies got ahead of Danny Collins for the lead and this was soon after the start of second half, so the Black Cats were holding very well until then. After that, more pressure from the home side as chance after chance they failed to convert with less impetus emerging from their guests. I felt this would be another single goal defeat for Sunderland until Kevin Nolan picked up on a loose ball and used the outside of his right boot to dip the ball in for no.2. This win keeps Bolton in the close hunt for a European place, a point behind Arsenal and one away from Blackburn.

Blackburn 3 Middlesbrough 2

Blackburn need to balance their home record with their away one. At home it's two defeats, two draws out of fifteen, impressive. Away it's again two draws and nine defeats. Both the Lancashire sides have become quite formidable at home, and the home side here started just as formidable. Craig Bellamy is becoming a one-man force, picking up the ball by their right, three Boro players in close vicinity, he then moved into the box and evaded a challenge before aiming a low left foot effort curling that Mark Schwarzer couldn't see to even react to. Boro came back through Mark Viduka, who was found in space on the right before he let fly a drive that beat Brad Friedel's near post. However Morten Gamst Pedersen aimed another left foot driven freekick pass Schwarzer for restoration before half time.

Then the game's first controversial decision. George Boateng was on the ball when Robbie Savage came in with a heavy tackle that caught the Dutchman's foot, for which he was booked. Some minutes later Boateng aimed a ball forward that touched Savage's left hand, something which Chris Foy judged as deliberate handball, a second booking and Savage's first Premiership dismissal. I think both bookings were correct, particularly the second where Savage seemed to deliberately move his hand in the way rather than innocently being caught. The one-man disadvantage came before Boro's second equaliser, and probably boosted them as James Morrison went down the right and then squared back for Fabio Rochemback to score. Game to end on a stalemate, it would seem, but not for Bellamy. Finding space on the right he came forward and then decided to use his better foot to let fly a crisp drive that curled in at the far post.

Everton 4 Aston Villa 1

Aston Villa have better players to be churning out the results they have had so far this season. Twelve defeats, ten draws, eight wins, they have been losing at home equally as they have away. Yet at one stage they went on from an away defeat to Manchester City on 31st October to record no away losses until they met Blackburn Rovers on the 11th March, almost four and a half months of games. So at times they can be impressive, hitting Boro for four at the Riverside and holding Chelsea to a draw at home, and at other times lapsidaisal, recently Saturday where they were outplayed and ran through by an inspired Everton home display. Fans were calling for David O'Leary to be sacked, and on this evidence I think it will happen at the end of the season if it continues, Villa are two places away from the relegation zone. Talk is not of their plight but on this performance, with eight games left, another two defeats will put the Villains precariously on thin ice.

With Juan Pablo Angel, Kevin Phillips and Milan Baros out of selection, Luke Moore and youngster Gabriel Agbonlahor lead the charge. James Beattie nodded down for James McFadden to aim a low right foot drive past Thomas Sorensen, who for me is a suitable keeper to chase for Arsenal if they are still looking for one. Agbonlahor and Steve Davis had efforts kept off the line by Gary Naysmith and Tim Cahill clearing and Everton made it two when McFadden followed a Phil Neville throw to rifle the crossbar, Cahill first to the ball to score. Mikael Arteta ran down the left to square for Leo Osman to complete a first half rout. After the break, Agbonlahor was found on the right to aim a low shot under Richard Wright for Villa's comeback to begin with some 25mins remaining, however McFadden and Cahill kept their inspirational form going, the Scotsman setting up Cahill for Everton's fourth. Everton popping up into the top half of the table in 9th.

Manchester City 0 Wigan 1

Like West Ham, their FA Cup opponents today, Man City pondered about the selection and Stuart Pearce made no bones about it, a strong side will feature in both games, no prioritising, both games are important. But City's usual driving play in attack wasn't there on Saturday, with Darius Vassell and Georgios Samaras not playing from the start, in fact only David James, Sun Jihai and Trevor Sinclair remained from the side that beat Aston Villa in the week. Didn't therefore look as if City were not prioritising. Antoine Sibierski came off to be replaced by Samaras.

Wigan made all the pressing in the first half and then into the second half James made the difference for the wrong reasons, yet again. He came out to clear a bouncing ball and completely miskicked it high, David Sommeil came to clear up with a back pass and James then miskicked it again to slice it out for a corner. Jimmy Bullard delivered, Lee McCullouch headed in without a challenge.

Samaras could be a doubt for today's game after limping off shortly after the goal. Pearce said "We brought our club captain and two international full-backs the main the performance was responsible for the result rather than the team selection.". Danny Mills is not an international.

Birmingham 0 Spurs 2

Starting last in the Saturday fixture, Birmingham knew of West Brom and Portsmouth so pressure was on the home side to get the vital win at the same time that Spurs knew Arsenal, Bolton and Blackburn had won their respective games. Birmingham started very well, coming forward and pressurising the Spurs defence through Emile Heskey, Nicky Butt and DJ Campbell (why is his first name not used??), but not quite having the finishing required. Spurs themselves attacked well, with Michael Carrick's freekick saved well by Maik Taylor, Robbie Keane just being denied by a Mario Melchiot intervention on two occasions.

Jermaine Defoe took the starting opportunity to put on a tenacious display, and in the second half it was he who capitalised on Melchiot's slowness to clear, keeping the ball in play, Melchiot fouling Defoe by pretending to fall down behind him, Uriah Rennie waved advantage, Defoe evaded Kenny Cunningham's tackle and pulled across for Aaron Lennon to finish off. The home fans, unfairly, booed Melchiot and any redemption was made impossible when his lack of positioning at right-back allowed Keane to collect a diagonal ball across goal to score no.2.


Newcastle 1 Liverpool 3

I viewed this game as a difficult one following on from the Fulham win. We scored five but the one score doesn't make for anything if not followed, and Newcastle are not looking to surrender their home start under Glenn Roeder. Two losses and five draws out of fourteen at home up until yesterday, one draw and one defeat out of six under Roeder meant Liverpool needed to continue their playability. Rafael Benitez employed an unusual 3-4-3 with Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger, Jan Kromkamp and Stephen Warnock effective wing-backs either side of Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse and Harry Kewell assisting Peter Crouch. Interesting with tomorrow's FA match in mind.

Newcastle were allowed room to pass around at the back but were met in midfield may times to be forced to turn back, so seldom did Newcastle get to deliver forward. When they did, the linesman flag went up to thwart Shola Ameobi getting ahead. Kromkamp was passed across to from Gerrard and he teed up a deep cross for Crouch to head down and in above Jean-Alain Boumsong and Peter Ramage. Alan Shearer and Charles N'Zogbia sent shots at Pepe Reina, who made me nervous with his handling over one of them but the keeper kept composure. Warnock ran down the left and sent a low curling ball across goal that Crouch just missed, Cisse came to it and just needed to square it simple, instead sending it skywards.

Then the goal of the match was to follow, Cisse picked up on the right and sent over a cross that Gerrard nodded down to Crouch, Crouch touched it back and Gerrard aimed a low grasscutter into the far corner. This gave Newcastle more determination to make more of their emergence, Emre and Scott Parker making waves in midfield, Nolberto Solano making good moves on the wing, the only thing was Ameobi was being caught offside. Yet Liverpool felt they had Ameobi when Parker sent another ball over the defence, but it was Shearer who was offside and not interfering, Ameobi heading a sweet ball past the stuck Reina.

Newcastle could have had an equaliser when a Solano freekick came over and Boumsong jumped up with Ramage and both missing the ball unchallenged, the Liverpool defence not focused. However, come the second half, Boumsong came to clear the ball but missed it, Crouch latched onto the chance on goal, Boumsong behind him and then bringing him down as a result in the box. Mike Riley made no bones about the decision, the Frenchman remaining on the spot flabbergasted and then begrudgingly making his way off the pitch and around the Newcastle goal, the referee asking him a second time to make haste as Cisse poised to take the penalty. Penalty scored, Cisse then lifted his shirt to reveal a vest underneath with a message, his actions seemed aimed towards the Newcastle fans, and Mr Riley either booked him for the shirt or the gestures. Minutes later, as the home fans booed Cisse's touch, he got a corner off Robbie Elliott and then gloated the same fans. Fortunately Mr Riley gave him a little word as various Liverpool colleagues gave him the rest. He settled down after and it may have saved him that the ref saw it and had a word to avoid the FA.

With the one-man advantage Liverpool settled into a more better mode of football, making chances that should have killed the game. Luis Garcia came on for Crouch, Cisse collected from Kromkamp, played a sweet one-two with Garcia and then ran onto goal with Elliott dragged in, Kewell in more space than the solar system and unmarked, only for Cisse to aim a shot at goal that went wide and up. We needed this win to keep up on Man Utd, also with those behind winning, and to take into tomorrow's match.

Fulham 1 Chelsea 0

I envisaged a home win at 2-1, for some reason, and made a point of this to T. For Fulham, who had lost four in a row, they had the home advantage and being that they held Liverpool at 2-1 for some 25mins encouraged Chris Coleman his side can produce a harder performance. Chelsea have seen off Spurs, but with their relentless knocking at the door of the Spurs defence, only to eventually come through via William Gallas' last gasp goal. So it was a bold prediction, Zat Knight and Ian Pearce do not fill me with confidence for Fulham, though Pearce is more reliable. With Antii Niemi out and Papa Dioup, Mark Crossley brought his experience and big frame to cover in goal. From the start, Fulham aimed to harass Chelsea in particularly the midfield, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele had little time to make telling passes, while Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole struggled to come into the game.

Fulham claimed for a penalty when Morice Volz stepped past Gallas and ran on to evade a John Terry challenge in the box but for me the decision to deny was correct, Volz made more of a case as he dropped rather than continue his run, which he could have done. However, Fulham took the lead a third into the half as Steed Malbranque aimed a shot at goal that was blocked but spilled further into the box, Paulo Ferreira came to clear but the ball came off Luis Boa Morte's leg past Petr Cech. Jose Mourinho made two changes after and Chelsea's attacking still failed to make good progress. In the second half, Fulham made sure of being in numbers when Chelsea came forward, but a number of lame touches, lack of control and failure to look for those in better positions allowed Chelsea a stronger grip on the game, and they came forward with more vigour. Frank Lampard missed from seven yards, Didier Drogba had an effort off the line, John Terry's header was nicely touched away by Crossley.

The weekend's controversial moment no.2 came as Ricardo Carvalho cleared the ball and it bounced for Drogba to run onto, followed by Knight. As they both ran on, Crossley inexplicably came out and Drogba had enough angle to touch the ball in. Referee Mike Dean didn't indicate for goal, as one Chelsea fan stated, instead he jogged up to and spoke with the incensed Fulham players. The claim was that Drogba handled on his way to scoring. Mr Dean then consulted the linesman and afterwards indicated the offence, the goal therefore not standing. Replays showed the decision was 100% correct but it was suggested the consulted linesman could not have seen the offence as his vision would have been hampered by the backs of Drogba and Knight.

Chelsea huffed and puffed but Fulham relented, kept numbers around Chelsea and on occasion broke out on attack and frustrated the defence. Such frustration then reared up to a danger level near stoppage time when Damien Duff was challenged by Heidur Helguson and Brian McBride, Helguson seem to kick firmly at the ball as it remained under Duff's legs, but then Gallas ran in and aimed a high studs-showing boot at Helguson's leg, similar to the Essien - Hamann incident. As Helguson got up in anger, Gallas then shoved the Icelander to the ground, and then a number of players became involved in a potential ugly scene. Mike Dean consulted the nearest linesman again and then gave Gallas the red card. Gallas then proceeded to leave the pitch to the chorus of sarcastic gestures and calling from the nearby Fulham fans, to which Gallas replied by a Julius Caesar thumbs-up thumbs-down gesture of his own.

At the final whistle, Fulham fans came onto the pitch in jubilation of their first victory over Chelsea for twenty-seven years and then it began to mar over. Separate incidents of assault as both fans met each other, police made at least one arrest, though it seemed there would be more to follow. But little doubts that the FA will investigate, possibly Gallas' gestures and the pitch invasion.

Ref Dean said afterwards that prior to Drogba's goal, he received a buzz on a mechanism strapped to his arm or hand from the linesman in question to indicate something awry, which answered those who said the linesman never flagged for anything wrong at the time. I didn't know about this mechanism but it is an alternative to flagging in regard to specific incidents, but not for offsides and fouls and what-have-you. Sky cameras couldn't show a frameshot with Drogba and Knight and the linesman together, and though Mourinho and Andy Gray said the linesman couldn't have seen it, it is still possible he did. Sky tried to give a virtual reality scope on the moment but it couldn't be accurate enough without good knowledge of the linesman's position at the time, which the VR scope could not provide.

Sky cameras did pick up, prior to the moment, Mourinho approaching the linesman and then the linesman starts off to keep up with the action, something which Andy Gray said he couldn't have done. Yet bizarrely, what else can explain how the linesman saw enough to get such a decision correct? It isn't down to player pressure as Mr Dean said the buzz he received came before then. Mourinho pointed out that player pressure had got his team into trouble with the FA and not Fulham, it would seem. The difference here is Mark Halsey reported Chelsea for their pressurising and Ref Dean has not with the Fulham players. There is a difference with normal debate amongst players and referee, and player pressure and practical harassment.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Big questions for Matt Hughes of the Times to answer about his Henry story

The Times is a world's respected newspaper which, it should be assumed, is more interested in scrupulous journalism than their tabloid counterparts. But this assumption appears to be blown out of the water if you check out today's article written by a Matt Hughes titled "Henry is ours, says Barcelona". This report has led to Sky,, etc. predictably jumping on the recurring 'Henry will leave' bandwagon this morning.

The opening paragraph of Hughes story says: "BARCELONA have raised the stakes in the battle for Thierry Henry by claiming to have secured the services of the Arsenal striker. Sources close to Joan Laporta, the Barcelona president, have told Spanish journalists that the club have reached a verbal agreement with the Frenchman to join them in the summer."

A journalist's primary responsibility should be to inform the public on the truth of things. So why did Matt Hughes tell the Times readers that the allegations made originated from 'journalists', when in fact it appears to have been from Barcelona supporting bloggers of an unofficial blog on Barcelona - FC - who published a post on Tuesday, 14 March making the 'verbal agreement' allegations.

The FC Barcelonablog is different from EFT in that it looks to be heavily commercial orientated, as indicated by the mass of adverts on their site. They are part of, whose stated desire is to create as much visitor traffic as possible to gain revenue. Further, the writer of the 14 March post is the director of their Spanish department.

Who are Are they more interested in attracting as many visitors as possible to their site with unsubstatiated rumours so to increase revenues as they are in telling the truth? Can we really believe what they have to say? Is their stated 'inside source' fiction or fact? If he is real, is he reliable?

Did Matt Hughes investigate for himself the answers to any of these questions? If he didn't, which is my fear, is it right to write a report in a respected national newspaper based on such dubious foundations, and to start the report by saying 'Barcelona have claimed'?

My fear is that Matt Hughes conveniently ignored all these doubts so to please his boss by getting a highly dubious yet sensational sounding story into the paper that can bolster sales during a slow football-news week. Such blatant disregard for giving reliable and credible information to the public is, if my doubts are true, completely woeful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A viable replacement for the farce of the penalty shoot-out?

If you are a supporter of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, Newcastle, Everton, Manchester City, Leeds, etc. you have suffered by it. If you are an England supporter you would have seen your national team depart five times out of the last seven major tournaments because of it. And if you are a supporter of any other international side it is highly likely that you have also seen disappointing exits due to it. Maybe only Liverpool fans have been untouched by its fickle fate. Of course I'm talking about the contentious lottery of the penalty shoot-out.

Gunnerpete recently emailed EFT with a proposal for replacing the penalty shoot-out, and which has had support from a good professional footballer of the past. He would like to open up his proposal for debate among football supporters. Here it is….

Way back in 1980, I had the worst of all weeks when recovering from an operation, I lay there listening to AFC lose a European Cup Winner Cup Final by penalties. I vowed to help get rid of this farce, and set out to design a new answer. When I had a new answer ready, I contacted the FA ( is there better initials for a know nothing group) the League, FIFA, & of course my Arsenal.

Only one replied, the great Bob Wilson. He supported my plan and passed a copy to Jimmy Hill, who also liked it but had reservations. They both suggested that I get in touch with, Guess who?, The FA, FIFA etc. etc. etc. You know the rest.

A few years later, I tried again, but through the press. I know its like selling my soul, but it seemed the only way ahead. It wasn't! I sent a short copy of my plan to The Mirror, The Express, The Guardian, for a trial run. I never received one reply. I assumed it was my plan that was at fault, so I decided, enough is enough. BUT, here comes the Good / Bad part. 18 months after my letters to the press an article appears in the Express to say that one of the lower cups was to be experimenting with a 'NEW' idea of THEIRS ! It was 99% identical to my plan.

Naturally I called them immediately, and was told "the journalist responsible was away". I left my complaint with them. I called again a week later, to be told the journalist had left for another paper in the USA. Once again I was being shown how powerless we have all become. The outcome of their little test was failure, because they altered my plan just enough to call it their own, but that change ruined the whole idea.

My Replacement for the Penalty Shootout Farce

In 1980, I called it the 'Player Reduction Method'. A very reduced version is as follows.


1) Before commencing extra time, the manager / coach, HAS to take off 3 players. Who and why is his problem. There are 2 periods of extra time ( 20 minutes each way).

2) After the first period of extra time, the manager / coach, has to reduce the team by another two players.

3) If after the second period of extra time is played, it is still a draw, the manager / coach, has to take off his goalkeeper, and the first team to score is the winner.

Very Simple, and I know its works because my brother is Australia coaches a small local side and it worked every time he tried it. He also said it is fun to watch!

My theory & aim was one to rid us of this non football end to important competitions. Also to get rid of the appalling stigma that is attached to the poor devil who misses the penalty that sends his team into despair. This has always disgusted me, that one person is help responsible for failure. The supporters never forget this one moment, or the poor bloke who was the patsy.

The other benefits of my plan were ( a) The manager has the responsibility, that's what he is paid for ( b) You can only imagine the planning needed when making that decision, who comes off.......' do I go for a strong defence and one forward ( as George Graham would have)' or ' do I go for broke before the sudden death comes in after extra time 40 minutes ( this time can vary if required ). My feeling is that certain teams ( like AFC) would go for broke, and take off defenders? Who knows?

I think the subs bench would be involved in a big way too.......speed and lung power would be the order of the day. AND, if after extra normal time it was still a draw ( and my brother's games never came to this point) I can only imagine the fantastic amount of shots raining on the Goal from any angle by both teams. It is important to note that I feel that the players left on the field after the goalie has been taken off, should be allowed to use their hands to stop shots in the penalty area only. Just a thought!

Anyway there it is.......what do you think?


Monday, March 13, 2006

Portsmouth revival; Chelsea last gasp; Hammers trashed

The weekend of Premiership football produced a day to forget in back passes and one to remember in splendid goals.


Portsmouth 2 Manchester City 1

This game had an away win written all over it, Portsmouth have had one win and one draw out of the last ten, with two home defeats; Man City had five defeats and four wins out of ten, with four away defeats. Form wise, these were expected to be City's points, but Pedro Mendes had other plans. Two shots from outside the box, both of them flying in past David James, the last of which came in injury time to beat the clock. City miss the vision and movement of Andy Cole up front as they lacked a cutting edge in front of Portsmouth's goal. Portsmouth remain in 19th place but now one win away from reaching Birmingham, two wins away from outjumping West Bromwich Albion in 17th.

Birmingham 1 West Bromwich Albion 1

How this remained as a draw is down to the misses of Diomansy Kamara and Kevin Campbell. West Brom's Curtis Davis gave away a penalty in the 2nd half by clinging onto Mikael Forssell in the box, who coolly deposited the spot kick, but Jonathan Greening ran down the right to square superbly for Kamara at the far post to put into an empty net, only to miss from 4-5 yards. Campbell was through on Maik Taylor but amazingly hit the outside of the post. Junichi Inamoto and Campbell came off for Nwankwo Kanu and Nathan Ellington, to great effect. Acting skipper Mario Melchiot slipped up with a mis-kicked clearance, Kamara found Kanu who set up Ellington for a sharp left-foot shot past Taylor. In injury time Ellington picked up on a high ball and ran on to goal, only to strike the crossbar.

Chelsea 2 Spurs 1

Following on from midweek European football, the Blues of London wanted a firm response at home. Chelsea were in dominating control of the first half leading to Michael Essien missing wide from 10-12 yards but Michael Carrick gifted them their opportunity when he squared across the defence for Shaun Wright-Phillips to pick up on, his pass in the direction of Hernan Crespo was dummied by the Argentinian, and Essien stepped up to finish off. But in 1st half injury time, a freekick on Spurs left was delivered over by Carrick, Michael Dawson outjumped Robert Huth to nod down and Jermaine Jenas got ahead of anyone to steal a touch past Petr Cech. Impressively in the 2nd half was the attacking of William Gallas, who showed lovely touches to sway Paul Stalteri left and right before attempting a left-foot shot near goal. And as Chelsea pressed for a winner that didn't seem to thwart Spurs' defensive four, Gallas came forward again and this time let fly a right-foot effort that sailed wide and in off the post.

Blackburn Rovers 2 Aston Villa 0

This one was said to be the one that got away from the visitors as Villa started very brightly. Gareth Barry was through one-on-one with Brad Friedel but the American's rush made Barry miss. Kevin Phillips was onto a sure goal but for the superb intervention of Ryan Nelson's tackle, Milan Baros had a great chance but fluffed his shot that was nicely stopped by Friedel. Rovers' 1st goal came early after the break, Thomas Sorensen spilled the ball from a corner and Andy Todd poked it in, and their 2nd came courtesy of another mistake by the Villa keeper which allowed Craig Bellamy, who is running on good form recently, to side foot in.

Everton 3 Fulham 1

In their last ten games before Saturday, Everton held two losses and two draws out of 10 as Fulham had four wins and one draw out of ten, and being at Goodison Park meant the London side were against it to turn this into an away win. Zat Knight is not an accomplished defender for me and hasn't been for some while and to see him practically all over James Beattie meant a sure penalty, which Beattie converted. Some ten minutes before half time, Tim Cahill was on the edge of the Fulham box and laid off a little ball to Beattie, who then chipped Tony Warner delightfully from just outside the area. Then to compound the win, James McFadden used a chance from 25-30 yards to unleash a dipping shot over Warner for Everton's third. Fulham started to pick up their attack which led to Collins John being bundled down by Tony Hibbert for Fulham's consolation penalty by Johns.

Bolton 4 West Ham 1

Alan Pardew may have bitten off more than he can chew when he accused Arsene Wenger of attributing to the football development of English up-and-coming players by fielding a team of foreign players, so what he would have made of Sam Allardyce's side featuring only two Englishmen in Kevins', Nolan and Davies. Pardew of missing two of his own Englishmen who have made a great influence on West Ham's progress, Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood. Gambling on the Ferdinand trait of playing Anton in midfield, it failed. Bolton were rampant. Ferdinand would have been better in defence, as Ricardo Vaz Te headed off the post and Stelios Giannakopolous scored the rebound. The Greek added another when Nolan's shot fortuitously went in off him. Gary Speed sent a superb overhead kick past Shaka Hislop for Bolton's third, before half time. Yossi Benayoun's shot was parried by Jussi Jasskelainen in the path of Teddy Sheringham and he easily scored, but Bolton sent on Hendrik Pedersen and he rounded the rout with the outside of his right foot.

Sunderland 0 Wigan 1

Sunderland hoped to revive a slight change in fortune with a new man in charge. Mick McCarthy, for me, was very unlucky, after masterminding their rise and promotion as Championship champions. But The Black Cats' fortune seem to stem from the single goal defeats and it hasn't been their season, not for clear obvious reasons like being bottom of the league and losing, but losing and not scoring as in this defeat, or scoring but losing 2-1 or 3-2. They get a goal, the opposition get one more and it's that one more goal that makes the difference. Teams have played less than their opponents but one chance, one goal and there's a win, against the run of play, and it is rotten luck. This is where Sunderland seem to come in. Wigan's winner came via Henri Camara, as Nyron Nosworthy missed clearing the ball and it spilled to Camara, who spun and hit a shot that flew high, wide and in. Sunderland laid an onslaught on Wigan's goal, John Filan denied Stephen Elliot and Kevin Kyle, and John Stead missed a gilt-edge chance after Dean Whitehead's header was only parried, Stead putting the ball wide.


Manchester Utd 2 Newcastle 0

Newcastle were on an impressive run of games since Graeme Souness' departure, and what they needed was to face a strong Man Utd side with the same composure they held during that run. However they were made to be spectators as Utd warmed up and then, through Wayne Rooney, set off to let rip. Yesterday was the day of bad back passes. Peter Ramage passed back to Shay Given, not taking into account the lurking of Rooney at the back, and as the former Everton man picked up the ball he coolly chipped the ball wide past Given for Utd's 1st. Not being content with that, Utd picked up in midfield through John O'Shea, a one-two with Louis Saha and a little pass to Rooney and Utd saw their 2nd as Rooney dinked it over Given, despite Jean-Alain Boumsong's desperate efforts to distract him. Newcastle came much the better in the 2nd half but Utd up front were always threatening. Ruud Van Nistelrooy came on for Christiano Ronaldo as Rooney took a midfield role and should have scored when he outmuscled Boumsong but missed wide of the post.

Charlton 2 Middlesbrough 1

Alan Curbishley was hailed in a back page exclusive to have been caught having discussions with FA representatives about the England coaching role. I didn't know he was even being considered, so many thanks to that publication for a fantastic coup of an exclusive. Meanwhile, Mr Curbishley settled down to business against Steve McClaren, and saw Darren Bent score two more for the club and his prospects of making the squad for Germany. After a first half that found Middlesbrough the better in overwhelming Charlton, in the 2nd half Chris Powell crossed excellently for Bent to outjumped the unaware Emanuel Pogatetz for Charlton's opener, which was cancelled out by Mark Viduka's excellent dipping volley over Thomas Myhre. Not learning their lesson, Boro's defence went to sleep again, Luke Young running onto a ball near the touchline to square across for Bent to step up sneakily to tap in the winner.

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1

I sensed this would be a testing game for Liverpool. Our playability has been let down by woeful finishing and a lack of goals ensuing. While Arsenal enjoyed a routing at Craven Cottage and disposing of Spain's talented Real Madrid out of the Champions League, Liverpool's midweek Benfica defeat that followed a disappointing draw against Charlton made for a major raise in spirits for yesterday. Arsenal on a high and Thierry Henry playing makes for a difficult challenge when needing to bolster your confidence. Cesc Fabregas had the run of midfield on most occasions and found the repeatedly lurking Henry on the edge of defence with a through ball that beat both Steve Finnan and Jamie Carragher, Henry running on to score wide and curling round Pepe Reina. Liverpool made up their chances and again failed to make them materialise into better chances, Peter Crouch missing wide with a free header. In the 2nd half, Liverpool came out with much more determination, closing down Arsenal and taking the opportunity early to pressurise the home defence but then Arsenal took control and made a number of chances that just missed the target.

The home side claimed for a foul on Fabregas by Xabi Alonso but Steve Bennett waved it aside, Alonso found Steven Gerrard, who let fly a shot that Jens Lehmann chose to punch rather than smoulder, the high ball was then met by poacher Luis Garcia's head for the equaliser. Then two moments which may led to Liverpool's spirit broken. Alonso went in on Fabregas for his first booking and then seemed to slip and, through momentum, fell into Mathieu Flamini. Mr Bennett waited for play to stop and sent off Alonso for his 2nd booking. Looking to calm the play and kill time, Gerrard picked up the ball near Liverpool's goal and passed it back to Reina but he too, like Newcastle's Ramage, failed to sight the lurking Henry and the Frenchman went on to round Reina for Arsenal's winner. To have ended 1-1 would have been fortunate for Liverpool, as we played at times with low self-esteem and found it very challenging to keep up with Arsenal's pacy pass-and-move game, and count a number of chances against us not going in.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Extraterrestrial is in danger of a rapid demise

Ronaldo is a three times FIFA world player of the year. He is still only 29 years old and should be at the height of his career. So it came as a real shame to The Extraterrestial - fantastic nickname! - look so out of it in both performances against Arsenal.

His performances were so sluggish, and his physique so out of good conditioning, that it is hard to think that he is the same player who regularly made phenomenal slalom dribbles for Barcelona in the late nineties and was the figurehead for a Brazilian team that eased to World Cup glory in 2002.

Before the first leg he publicly said that he feels unappreciated by the Madrid fans despite a fantastic goal-scoring record of 93 goals in 146 matches. This massive indication of his general despondency was reflected in his demeanour on the pitch, and of course his disturbingly overweight physical appearance.

Ronaldo's ability - that has been so fantastic to watch since his arrival on the football scene - does not deserve to go to waste. He is, however, in danger of turning into a joke figure, and that would be a poor way for such a great footballing talent to finish his career. The World Cup should be used as an incentive to for him to turn things around; I hope he does.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Next generation Arsenal prove they are the real deal

Last night Arsenal completed the job of knocking the famous Real Madrid out of the Champions League by competing in a thrilling - and yes its an oxymoron! - nil-nil draw at Highbury. The enormous sprit, the attacking style of play, and the visible growth in confidence across the team that was evident in both matches are all so heartening for this Gunner - and I'm sure all other Gunners' - to see.

Every Arsenal player - just as in the first leg - played their hearts out, knew and looked confident in their assigned roles, and played the Wenger vision of total football that must be close to anyone's definition of beautiful football. Arsene Wenger's next generation team is - as already said last Saturday by the Fulham manager Chris Coleman - ready now.

Eboue and Hleb have showed in the last fortnight that Arsene Wenger may have found a right-hand side combination that can be the offensive equal of our excellent left-hand side. Eboue is a superstar in the making. He has absolutely everything: heart, pace, strength, excellent defensive awareness, strong tackling ability, thrilling attacking drive, confidence, composure, good passing range… as I said he has everything! And Hleb came out of the shadows yesterday to show everyone his massive potential: his attacking dribbling and ability to beat a player in tight situations is fantastic. Once he gets a bit more composure when playing his final pass, plus loses his reluctance to shoot when in good positions, he could become REALLY good.

Fabregas was outstanding in a packed midfield and looked to relish the challenge of taking on the superstars of Madrid. His passing, running effort and intelligence on the ball was simply superb; and he has shown over both legs that he has the special character to raise his game in the biggest matches.

Toure and Senderos are only 24 years old and 22 years old respectively. Yet they faced up to the attacking pressure inflicted by Madrid with a concentration, application and reading of the game that belies their young years. This is a partnership with massive potential.

And a note for young Flamini who typifies what the Arsenal spirit should be all about. He put in a huge effort in an unfamiliar left back position, and proved to be a huge inspiration for the team because of his visible huge determination to fight hard for the cause.

The experienced heads of Captain Henry, Ljungberg, Gilberto and Lehmann brilliantly led by example, and I really liked to see how each one seemed to be constantly talking to and guiding their younger teammates.

But my biggest mention is for Arsene Wenger. Coming up to his tenth year at Highbury, he has bought Arsenal two doubles, an unbeaten league season, a record breaking league run, a scintillating brand of total football that is a joy to watch, and now he has blended youth with experience to knock out the famous Galacticos of Madrid.

He may not always get every decision right (but who does?), but his principles and practice of playing total football are unbeatable and I will always consider him as being simply fantastic. For me, he deserves to have seen his vision of play vindicated on the biggest stage in the last fortnight. Well done Arsene, and well done Arsenal!

P.S. I would like to add that EFT is one year old today! So, on behalf of everyone at EFT, I'll briefly take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has supported our site in its first year. Long may it continue…!!

UK Champions' League Round-Up

And then there was one......

Well, what started as a potentially enthralling week of European League football for the UK has turned rather like the weather. Out of three English teams, four British ones, only one remains going into the quarter-finals of the Champions League. So with the Middlesbrough vs. Roma UEFA Cup tie tonight aside, our hopes now hang on one team.

Villarreal 1 vs. Rangers 1 (3-3 on agg., Villarreal through on away goals)

I watched Villarreal vs. Rangers. While there had been something of 18,000 Rangers fans in attendance at the El Madrigal Stadium, allegedly a number of them attacked Villarreal's team bus causing criminal damage, as it went en route to the ground. Some were said to have rocked it as it arrived, which questions the security arrangements of the police and in-house security if true. But Rangers gave an excellent account of themselves on the pitch and took a shock lead when Barry Ferguson's shot was not gathered by Sebastian Viera and Peter Lovrenkrands tucked away. The Spanish side's Juan Roman Riquelme is a quiet yet astute playmaker and his ability to send out passes pushed the home side further on attack. Villarreal have yet to lose a match in the competition, they seem to have an uncanny knack of pulling a goal from nowhere. Diego Forlan made progress tot he line to square, the ball went through to acting skipper Rodolfo Arruabarrena to side foot home. Rangers came close to scoring but luck wasn't allowing another goal and sadly they made an exit from being that close of going through. Big hearts played out there but the cutting edge wasn't sharp enough.

Barcelona 1 vs. Chelsea 1 (3-2 on agg.)

There doesn't seem to be much more to add to Barcelona vs. Chelsea that hasn't been said, perhaps with more analysis on the match itself. The welcome given to particularly Jose Mourinho was unsavoury though a natural reaction to his comments after the 1st leg. Both sides are current respective domestic champions and as such have excellent players. Chelsea had more the strength, Barcelona the flair and the English side came at Barca with great passing movement and chances on goal. Unsurprisingly, then, that it took until the 78th minute for someone to score, who had to be Ronaldinho, as he collected the ball outside the box, came at the Chelsea defence, bounced off John Terry and fired a fierce low drive past Petr Cech. Chelsea's persistent attacks brought Terry into the box and Giovanni Van Bronckhurst's challenge gave away a penalty in dying injury time. Rightly or wrongly, it was academic as Frank Lampard sent Victor Valdes the wrong way.

Mourinho's attitude and that of his players have led to a FA charge from the West Brom match, the least serious is the lateness in coming out for the second half, the more serious one of when the players went up to ref Mark Halsey when Ronnie Wallwork went in on Claude Makelele and when Arjen Robben was dismissed. If the side go on to win titles and trophies, it won't matter financially or otherwise, unless action taken meant players would be suspended from playing. But after this match, Mourinho diverted attention away from the match and onto the dismissal of Asier Del Horno as a focal point why Chelsea went out. I disagree. Chelsea still could have won this match, as they did last season, and it is partly their sharpness in front of goal that led to their exit. Having conceded twice at home, the pressure was on them to impress and it could have been too much.

Liverpool 0 vs. Benfica 2 (0-3 on agg.)

Speaking of sharpness, Liverpool have raised their game in the Premiership to reach third, temporarily second, but it is on borrowed time now. Whereas we were making the performances to warrant winning and did so by the single goal, we are now playing well but not scoring at all as well as enough A Liverpool side in such form and not regularly scoring is very bewildering indeed. Consider we have Fernando Morientes with an established form record from Spain and France, particularly in the Champions League, Djibril Cisse touted to be of Thierry Henry pace and an eye for goal from Marseille, Peter Crouch with height advantage and some good ball control to lay off and pass through, and Robbie Fowler with his experience and coming to appropriate fitness. Add to that the attacking of Steven Gerrard and John Arne Riise, the playability of Xabi Alonso, the sturdiness and composure offered by Dietmar Hamann and Mohammed Sissoko, and the partnership of Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher, and Liverpool are very much capable of achieving greater football and greater results.

This is an excellent Liverpool side that is not pushing its qualities further than it should be. Pepe Reina looks a great keeper and for his first season he is party to impressively cleaning clean sheets. Daniel Agger looks a great addition in an area where cover is needed and hopefully Gabriel Paletta can come through in the same mold all the way from South America to Merseyside. But we are not scoring, and when we do it is not enough. That kind of form from the talents of those above is a big worry and it has cost us our Champions League place. Losing some stability when Hyypia then Riise pulled out was an instant worry, which increased when Djimi Traore was one replacement. We came at Benfica with all the determination to overturn their advantage, chance after chance, and then allowed a shot from Sambrosa Simao from outside the box take off and watched it go in, rather than close him down. Great effort that cleanly went over Reina. The same in the second half, and then we were caught on the counter and still failed to shut down on the sub Fabrizio Miccoli scissor-kicked the killing blow.

I don't blame the defenders last night, our attacking prowess lacks sharpness to finish, as simple as that. We need finishing in the box or outside of it with more accuracy, more foresight to keep the ball on target. A number of players were below par some way into the second half. Morientes' touch and positioning let him down, Cisse was once again on the wing instead of upfront and became predictable in going for the by-line when looking to cross. Luis Garcia was key for me but his touches were lacking on occasion. In general, in the second half, we created the type of balls that Benfica were well positioned to defend or lacked the quality of being of the right pace or accuracy, with hardly a shot on target to trouble keeper Moretto de Souza, with the exception of Alonso's effort. I think it turned somewhat desperate for us as the time ticked but at the end it was thoroughly accepted it wasn't to be.

Arsenal 0 vs. Real Madrid 0 (1-0 on agg.)

Incredibly, this tie seemed over from when Henry scored in the Bernabeu. While Arsenal emptied guns on a Fulham side with a 4-blast entourage, Madrid just about gained their win against Athletico Madrid by tumbling the ball into the net in their first time under the new president Fernando Martin. Last night, as Madrid played forward they looked a struggling side on the counter or attack. Arsenal have come back to better form, their movement and passing clearly up in class as they almost stunned their guests. Madrid took to desperate tackling, jumping in from almost behind as Arsenal played around them, and in Zinedine Zidane, a player now plays with less pace and less thought in his movements. Thomas Gravesen gave the ball away on occasion, the back four seemed so doubtful in getting the ball forward that Arsenal aimed to capitalise on it by shutting them down early. Henry was the lone striker but sometimes midfielders pushed up to snap at any hesitancy. Impressive for me was Alexander Hleb, who ran and pinpointed passes to keep the pressure on Real.

Arsenal seemed to show they could go on to raise their game to match Real's and in the second half they had to when Raul went close with an effort of the post and David Beckham was denied by some emergency defending. The main thing was Arsenal did what they had to do in shutting out Real, while Real failed to do what should have done, which was to play with sharpness. I've used that word often as it describes well what is missing when teams attack well but fail to score. Something is troubling Ronaldo and he is either not fit nor not focused and I'm surprised he remained until full-time, when the introduction of someone like Robinho much earlier could have made better progress for Real. Nonetheless they are not playing as the champions of Europe they once were, and at their expense we have a British side in the quarter-finals. Well done the Gunners.

For the quarter-finals, my guess is:

Inter Milan/Ajax vs. AC Milan
Barcelona vs. Villarreal
Benfica vs. Arsenal
Juventus vs. Lyon


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lack of goals could destroy Liverpool's season

Liverpool only have themselves to blame for getting beaten by Benfica - they could have scored 5 goals before Simao's stunner in the 36th minute. Liverpool did not play well for the rest of the match and, to be honest, the writing was on the wall very early on in the second half.

What really worries me is that Liverpool have only scored 5 goals in the last 10 games and none of their strikers look like scoring. Fowler has now had 3 goals disallowed and to be fair he still needs time to get fitter. Cisse just doesn't seem interested and Morientes is severly lacking in confidence. With a tough FA Cup game away at Birmingham approaching and 3rd place not yet secured in the Premiership, Liverpool must start finding the net or else their season could end in tatters.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dennis and Thierry: still the perfect match

Lack of goal-scoring away from home has been a fundamental feature of Arsenal's season. And its not just the lack of goals that is concerning; the lack of overall chances being created by Arsenal's attacking game away from home is also a major worry.

The loss of our left-side attacking game because of the injuries to Cole and Clichy has contributed to this situation. The loss of the attacking drive of Vieira from the centre of midfield is another factor. And the loss to injury of van Persie as he was threatening to combine an explosive partnership with Thierry Henry can also be added to this sorry mix.

On top of all this, there is the absence of Dennis Bergkamp to consider.

Bergkamp is undoubtedly an Arsenal legend. For me he is still the ultimate link-man between the Arsenal midfield and the back of the net. I reckon that Henry is at his best when he has Bergkamp as a forward partner. And although Thierry is the captain, it is clear that he - as well as all the other Arsenal players - still looks up to Bergkamp as the number-one inspirational professional at the club.

All these positive reasons for playing Bergkamp need to be considered by Wenger when making his next team selection.

Henry's admiration for Bergkamp is obvious and has been stated many times throughout the seasons. And it is clear to me that Thierry thrives most when he has Bergkamp on the pitch directing Arsenal's attacking moves and offering a constant supply of dangerous attacking passing. Of course not every pass comes off, but he still brings a balance, composure and cohesion to the Arsenal attacking game that is unbeatable and has been sorely missed.

Bergkamp's return to the squad for the Fulham game is a big plus. I hope Wenger selects him up front with the aim of lifting - which he is capable of doing through his presence and skill - the attacking performance of the Arsenal team in what is virtually a must-win game.

Chelsea - Peter Osgood 1947 - 2006

[This article has been re-introduced again for those who may have missed a moment to pay respects, particularly Chelsea fans, old and new]

Football legends are becoming, for me, a reducing category the further football continues. A number of traits has crept into our game where one now seems less honourable and more disrespectful, so history still manages to depict the days of old, where some players had socks rolling down, goalkeepers saved with bare hands, managers turned to lower divisions for inspirations rather than airports and ferries across borders.

Chelsea had a great they cultivated in Peter Osgood. He played in days before my introduction into the game, but he made headlines for what he gave to the clubs he joined in the initial finings of his career, Chelsea and Southampton. He was at Chelsea in 1964, under Tommy Docherty, until 1974, having played 380 games, scoring 150 goals. He won the FA Cup with them in 1970, scoring in every tie, and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1971 against Real Madrid.

He joined Southampton from there until 1978, with 157 appearances and 36 goals, following them into relegation and, whilst the South Coast side were a Second Division side, inspired in a sensational win over top flight Manchester United in another FA Cup Final in 1976. Southampton then regained promotion in 1978.

Peter then moved on to Norwich City and from there Philadelphia Fury in the United States before making a short-lived return to Stamford Bridge, who christened him 'The King of Stamford Bridge' after his performances there previously. He had made four England appearances, which some have said was a travesty of talent when he had the flair and determination to represent his country much more.

Yesterday, he was attending a family funeral when he collapsed from a suspected heart attack and was taken to hospital, where he sadly died. To happen yesterday, when England were playing with another Chelsea star in Joe Cole, seemed fitting, as Cole went on to produce a superb performance and scored a goal that wouldn't be out of place amongst that of Osgood's own repertoire. Seeing as Shaun Wright-Phillips set up Cole's goal, and John Terry nearly scored his first England goal himself after a solo run, and the excellent tribute from the minute's silence, yesterday now seemed to have been as much a Chelsea day as an international one to end on.

Known behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge for helping in hospitality on match days, outside of Stamford Bridge due to his appearances as a pundit and other football connected media work, and for after-dinner speeches, Peter was a firm favourite and a legend. I believe it was only something of a fortnight ago or more that he was seen on the Stamford Bridge pitch itself, may have been during the tie with Barcelona or a recent Premiership match like that against Liverpool, waving to all as he made his way. Suddenly, as he attended the passing of another, he was taken himself.

Thank you very much, Peter.

Peter Osgood
20th February 1947 - 1st March 2006


Locations of visitors to this page