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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Villa continue good form as Boro are hit for four

Aston Villa 2 v Newcastle 0

Aston Villa continued their good form with another win, both goals in the first half. Martin O'Neill said afterwards " "I've done absolutely nothing at all. These players have done it themselves and, in fact, they keep me going to be perfectly honest. There is a good spirit within them and they want to play." Yet Villa have been a good side within a restricted shell, Thomas Sorensen has been a good keeper in previous seasons, Olof Mellberg, Gareth Barry, fairly new recruits Stephen Davis and Gabriel Agbonlahor have shown good potential, and now with Kevin Phillips moved at West Bromwich Albion, Luke Moore gets another chance to impress and Juan Pablo Angel is probably looking from a healthier prospective that the one he had under David O'Leary.

With a history of title wins, FA Cups (lost to Chelsea in the 2000 final) and League Cups, as well as the European Cup in '82 and the Super Cup in '83, Villa have long been a potentially honours-winning side, only that the past managers have failed to organise the players constructively. Why that is is debatable, however having O'Neill in charge may serve as inspiration in itself for players to shine. Newcastle failed to clear a long diagonal ball and as Titus Bramble erred, Moore took over the ball and teed up to score around Shay Given. More than half an hour later the visitors were made to pay again as Agbonlahor ran at the defence and then threaded a sweet ball for Angel to pounce onto, rounding Given for Villa's second.

Newcastle made two changes at half time of Nolberto Solano and Celestine Babayaro for Charles N'Zogbia and Albert Luque respectively and Newcastle started more determined for the second half. Another change 10mins later with Belozoglu Emre coming off for Nicky Butt, and with all three changes came a snag. Obafemi Martins on his debut leapt to challenge Liam Ridgewell and hurt himself coming down, having to go off permanently after some treatment on the pitch and reducing the visitors to ten men for the remainder. To their credit Newcastle conceded no more despite the disadvantage. The win now puts Villa in third place with their next fixture back in London at West Ham.

Blackburn 0 v Chelsea 2

Last season this fixture ended in a 0-1 win, with Jose Mourinho alleged to have not shaken hands with Mark Hughes afterwards. If no love was not lost between the two coaches, it was neither missed on the pitch. This looked on paper an away win before the start but Blackburn had different ideas. They were as energetic as Chelsea were sluggish, Robbie Savage's famed blonde locks flowing in all directions that indicated his tenacity to run at the Chelsea players who dared touch the ball and other Blackburn players almost followed suit. Chelsea had uncharacteristically given the ball away on occasion and managed to break on Blackburn less than expected. At one point the home side shaded the possession but couldn't make it count for more as Benni McCarthy dropped to pick up in midfield and then seemed to struggle in determining what to do with the ball. Jason Roberts had little of the ball and when he did McCarthy was not partnering to receive, therefore the attacks broke down or were reduced to little. Crosses were few and far between from Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley, some were of dire quality.

Chelsea may have been sluggish in their general play but they had a midfield to go into battle with. Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Claude Makelele, Andriy Shevchenko partnered with Salomon Kalou, big gun Didier Drogba on the bench. Blackburn's defence were made to work hard but well in denying Chelsea time and space to play, Essien going close with a shot that was blocked. Savage had dropped Ballack with a late tackle and then came to with Essien, neither player pulling out though Savage was booked for recklessless. Goalless at half time, it was the turn of new signing from PSV Andre Ooijer to make an error. Early into the second half, a Lampard freekick found the Dutchman clambouring over John Terry. Hughes claimed Terry dropped but Ooijer was at fault. Lampard delivered the opening goal from the spot.

McCarthy almost equalised after chesting down a Brett Emerton cross but his effort was blocked by the returning Petr Cech, who says he is now 100% back to his fitness. Drogba came on for Kalou on 56mins and his strength and pace made Ooijer pay 10mins from time, as Drogba controlled an Essien pass and with the Dutchman struggling to keep up and then going down challenging the Ivorian to no avail, Drogba took the challenge and then one stride to strike the ball past Brad Friedel.

Middlesbrough 0 v Portsmouth 4

Boro have not beaten Portsmouth for 12 years and last night that fact extended even further. Speculation arife that Jonathan Woodgate is to discuss a loan move to The Riverside, the Real Madrid defender talking to other clubs as well as Boro. The home side got off to a bad start early in the game when Dejan Stefanovic curled a freekick well to Mark Schwarzer's right for the Australian to palm off for a corner. From the corner the ball was headed towards goal but came back for Nwankwo Kanu to score his third of the season. But as the first half played on, Boro did not look tainted and certainly looked good enough to repeat their comeback against Chelsea. This is why judgement should not necessarily hinge on appearances.

Five minutes into the second half, another delivery from a short corner by David Thompson found Boro's defence ragged and in all sorts in trying to get back as Benjamin Mwaruwari headed in at the rear. Ten minutes later a Boro attack was cleared, George Boateng and Kanu went to challenge, the ball went over them and Kanu turned quickly to then poke the ball past Chris Riggott's challenge, leaving the Portsmouth man with a clear run on goal from the halfway line. Boateng chased in the hope of putting off Kanu but the Nigerian had already reached the box and touched the ball past the advancing Schwarzer. Boro made a number of advances on Pompey's goal but lacked any cohesion to make David James work. Then to add more to the open wound, a minute left in injury time, sub Svetoslav Todorov received a chipped ball from Sean Davis over the defence. The Bulgarian, who came on for Kanu, was played onside by one player failing to run out and touched the ball over Schwarzer for number four.

The result flattered Portsmouth, they were strong at the back and had a creative midfield that capitalised on a lack of awareness by the home midfield, a lack of quality in deliveries from the wings, defending which was mismanaged (particularly when Riggott came too rashly to challenge Kanu that led to the third goal), and nothing to show for the determination of Mark Viduka and the pace and strength of Aiyegbeni Yakubu. Gareth Southgate has another hungry London side to face next, at The Emirates stadium, another bogey side. Portsmouth have yet to concede, which is excellent considering their plight last season, a tremendous start. Sol Campbell has added strength alongside Linvoy Primus, pushing Stefanovic into the full back role, Matt Taylor and Gary O'Neil are energetic midfielders, Davis and Pedro Mendes are good in command in midfield as the other former Spurs player Noe Paramot was at his best last night in stifling Stewart Downing on the right, Kanu is in current good form and Todorov is adding to the tally. How long can they continue like this? Enough at least to cement their Premiership position earlier than expected?


Monday, August 28, 2006

EFT goal of the weekend: Daniel Agger!

Liverpool were one goal down at home to West Ham when the game entered the 42nd minute on Saturday afternoon. At this point, their £5.8m young Danish centre-back, Daniel Agger, picked up the ball inside the Hammers half and provided a moment of pure inspiration that initiated a signifcant come-from-behind win for the Anfield side.

The reverse swing in Agger's shot is something else!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Weekend review - Man Utd continue 100% as Man City gain vital win

Watford 1 v Man Utd 2

Aidy Boothroyd considered higher expectations after regarding losing 1-2 to Utd as not something to reflect on. It seemed Watford had actually given a good fight beyond the expectations of others, at the least. Louis Saha went on the run on the left and Mikael Silvestre overlapped him for Saha to touch a sweet ball to the left back for a low shot into the goal, Silvestre's first away goal. Watford equalised well through Ashley Young's even sweeter touch to get past Silvestre, left the Frenchman for dead and crossed for all to miss the ball but Damien Francis, who touched it in. In the second half a freekick was delivered over the Utd defence and Doug Henderson was furthest at the back with perhaps a left foot touch to gain the lead, however the Watford man instead cut back for Danny Shittu and Francis and the opportunity was severely reduced to nothing. Moments later, Utd took the lead. Chris Spring dallied on the ball too long and was forced into a pass back which no one but Ryan Giggs picked up on, jinking past the keeper and slotting home.

Charlton 2 v Bolton 0

Competitive game at The Valley, and the home side needed something after a torrid time at Upton Park and a spanking in midweek at home. Bolton had record signing Nicolas 'The Sulk' Anelka watching in the stands. Call him what you like but if he shows his full potential it will be a dividend signing. Stelios Giannakopoulos completely messed up a superb chance to score when he collected a high ball, with Scott Carson to beat. He checked back on Talal El Karkouri and then should have scored but it seemed it was not perfect enough for him and when he went to check back again, Bryan Hughes came to the rescue. At the other end Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink thread through Darren Ambrose, whose effort was blocked well by Jussi Jaaskelainen, Abdoulaye Meite took up an excellent defending position behind the keeper and then blocked the follow up by Darren Bent. The ball came off Meite to Ambrose, who looked onside but once he actually shot pass the keeper into the net, the effort was ruled offside. The replays showed Ambrose was on for me, strongly, but the commentator on Match Of The Day said there had to be TWO defenders between the keeper and attacker in such a circumstance. I was not aware of that and that being that, that is a load of cobblers. Goal was legitimate and should have stood, otherwise next we will need three kings and a star with a blessing.

Kevin Davies and Herman Hreidarsson were enjoying acquaintances with the Bolton man jumping with a flailing forearm in the Icelander's face. Surprise he was not punished for that. In fact Davies had done that a few times in the game but it was Hreidarsson who retaliated back with a clear aimed right elbow to Davies. Mike Dean had no hesitation but a straight red. So it stayed at the break but it then turned controversial. Amdy Faye may have pulled back slightly on El Hadji Diouf and it takes little to nothing of an invitation for the Senegalese forward to fall down. A pull is a pull, so the penalty was given. Carson dived well to block the effort and then cleared the ball from danger. At the other end Bent was put through but was tugged slightly by Tal Ben Haim and he too needed little invitation to go down, again a pull is a pull. Bent scored.

Another jump, another involving Davies, and another sending off. Davies went up and in his defence he was looking at the ball when he caught Faye on the face with his left forearm. It seemed innocuous to me but Faye accepted another feign invitation and rolled about as if pulling out a blazing fire on his back. A flailing arm is a flailing arm and Davies was living by the sword, so he received his red card. To compound the afternoon for the visitiors, Hasselbaink flicked on the high ball for Bent to react the quickest and squeeze under the advancing keeper for Charlton's second.

Liverpool 2 v West Ham 1

As Anfield celebrated 100 years of the Kop stand, for me Gerrard didn't win the FA Cup for us, he scored the goals that levelled it for us twice. It could have been someone else scoring twice and that player wouldn't be credited the final like Gerrard has been. So the first meet up between the two teams since produced a good match, the first played yesterday. Liverpool had taken the game by the reins with their attacking flair before West Ham eventually claimed control and went on the break. With 11mins on the clock, Yossi Benayoun passed diagonally for Bobby Zamora on the far right, Zamora touched forward and aimed the ball across goal. Pepe Reina came to deal with it but misjudged the ball's path for it came instead towards goal, the former Villarreal stopped could only get a palm to it before it went in. Zamora said he aimed for the goal. Yeah. But it matters not how just as long as it does.

Despite the possession, Liverpool were rocked by the early goal for they had dominated well up until then, and even after the goal they could have gone further behind, just like the final. The ball came over towards the defence, neither Daniel Agger nor Sami Hyypia dealt with the ball and it fell down well for Marlon Harewood to run onto and touch past Reina, but just wide of the post. Liverpool had a freekick just outside the box which Fabio Aurelio (pronounced OR-RE-O by the commentator) curled well but for Paul Konchesky retreating in time for excellent defending to head off the line (reminded me of Ashley Cole), and couldn't make their possession count until half an hour later when Xabi Alonso squared for Agger and the Dane went on a run as the opposition backed off and uleashed a fierce left foot shot at goal from 25-30 yards that bent in then out into the top right corner of the goal. John Arne Riise, be wary.

The home side added to their tally as Steven Gerrard ran down the right and passed long to Luis Garcia, the Spaniard intelligently cutting inside Paul Konchesky to collect the ball and came across the box to thread a little pass for Peter Crouch. Crouch rounded Roy Carroll before slotting between the legs of Anton Ferdinand and past Danny Gabbidon on the line. I liked Dirk Kuyt coming on, I'd mentioned to my EFT colleagues of his potential link-up with Craig Bellamy in the same vein as Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler as Kuyt had scored twenty goals in each of his three seasons at Feyenoord. Time will tell. For the sake of Jonathan Pearce who commentated, it is KITE. Not KIT or even KURT. Goodness me.

Spurs 0 v Everton 2

Spurs started badly against Bolton but did well enough to get back at home in midweek against plucky Sheff Utd, so another home game against Everton could have made for another win or perhaps a draw, as Everton had failed to win at White Hart Lane for over twenty years. But for me the defence is badly missing the guidance and leadership of Ledley King, who Michael Dawson takes his cue from and Calum Davenport is, at best, a decent interim. Jermaine Defoe was on the bench as Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane provided the attack. Spurs had an advantage in Kevin Kilbane enduring a terminator of an afternoon. First, his dive-in tackle on Lee Young-Pyo didn't touch the South Korean but Lee made something out of it and Kilbane was booked. Kilbane followed that with another tough challenge that Lee remained on his feet from so Mark Halsey gave a warning, but the Irishman chased Lee as the Spurs defender ran down the right towards goal and caught him from behind just as Gary Naysmith came to help. Kilbane got his second booking.

With Bent scoring twice, the eyes fell on Andy Johnson at the Lane as England prepare to gather for the Euro2008 qualifiers this week. The former Crystal Palace striker brought a foul from Benoit Assou-Ekotto wide on the right on 52mins, Mikel Arteta crossed the freekick, Joleon Lescott nodded on and Davenport touched the ball into the net under pressure from Joseph Yobo. Spurs responded with Defoe on for Lee, another looking at the Euro2008 matches, but it was Johnson again who capitalised as the ball was spread to Phil Neville on the right and his high cross was meant by Johnson as he easily emerged between Davenport and Dawson to tap past Paul Robinson.

While I mention the absence of King, Robinson has bemoaned the sale of Michael Carrick, and I agree. Jermaine Jenas is not a replacement for Carrick and has not produced the form to warrant a call up for England. With Jenas and Edgar Davids in the middle, that midfield should be energetic and tough but Carrick's ability to break up play and spread the passes is missing and both King and Carrick missing added to Everton's dominance with 10 men. Even in jest, there shouldn't be talk of Aaron Lennon moving anywhere.

Man City 1 v Arsenal 0

Following on from the major issue at the City of Manchester stadium in the week Ben Thatcher was dropped, and I hope he will return a better player in terms of temperament. City rode some luck as Thierry Henry met Alexander Hleb's sweet pass to have a one-on-one with Nicky Weaver in goal. Richard Dunne got back to stop him and Micah Richards but Henry managed to get the ball pass them as they collided with each other but Weaver's outstretched left leg stopped the effort. Robin Van Persie was put through on the same side and his left foot shot struck the post and went away from danger. Justin Hoyte is as accomplished as Davenport for Spurs, and he was ideal for a loan to Sunderland but not to replace Cole. I would have preferred Mathieu Flamini, provided he was fit. Hoyte had come to meet a high pass to Trevor Sinclair on the right and completely missed it as Sinclair coolly gambled and chested the ball towards goal, though nothing came of the attack as Joey Barton just missed the post.

But Sinclair went on to thwart Hoyte again as another crossfield ball was controlled well by the City winger to go into the box and as he did he was upended clumsily by Hoyte. Barton deposited the spot-kick. Henry went on to collect a through ball and with Weaver out aimed for the far post, which usually ends up with a goal. But the ball went wide and it seemed to not be Arsenal's day. Kolo Toure aimed a header off the crossbar from a corner, Van Persie was on goal and jumped to nod the ball as he was challenged by Slyvain Distin and Dunne, the City skipper appearing to nudge the Dutchman but nothing given, to Van Persie's frustration. Not a comfort to the Gunners, but City needed something after the week, especially as they had sat at the bottom of the table.

Arsene Wenger looked confident after the match, as if he was relaxed that at the moment things will turn for the better shortly when the team get that gel back to their start. The issue about Ashley Cole is neither here or there with Wenger, either he stays or he goes, and there is another with Jose Antonio Reyes, who appears to have declared publicly he will not play for Arsenal again.

Fulham 1 v Sheff Utd 0

Two talking points in this game. Utd skipper Chris Morgan was penalised unfairly for a header over Brian McBride and Jimmy Bullard simply curled a beautiful freekick from 20 yards that had Paddy Kenny rooted, which is somethig as the Eire keeper is one of the best in the game. The other was Bullard's thunderous drive. Tomasz Radzinski was put through on the right by a sweet Bullard ball and the Canadian had to simply compose himself and aim at goal but then suffered a lack of confidence and tamely aimed to square for Luis Boa Morte, the ball went loose and Bullard thumped a shot that had Kenny beaten but came off the post. Bullard doing excellently since his arrival, more than a few players put together but Fulham got their win after a hard start at Old Trafford and a draw against Bolton.

Wigan 1 v Reading 0

Emile Heskey made the headlines in his first JJB stadium appearance and made the difference too. He nodded onto the crossbar from a corner after goodwork from Henri Camara, who had to go off. Otherwise the Senegalese was making a great partnership with Heskey. The goal came in the 38th minute as another new signing Denny Landzaat chipped over for Lee McCullouch to nod into the path of Heskey, who bursted onto the ball to touch in.

Pascal Chimbonda was geared up to replace Heskey and the body language between him and Paul Jewell seemd to show the edgy atmosphere between manager and player, considering. I sound like a cheap hack wishing to fuel a flame to a potential gas leak but instead of Jewell giving instructions to the Frenchman before going on, Jewell looked slightly sheepish in looking other directions. When Chimbonda touched the ball, it sounded as if the crowd didn't know whether to cheer or to boo, so they did neither. But it would appear Chimbonda is staying.

As I type Aston Villa are continuing their strong start under Martin O'Neill after an earned draw at The Emirates and coming back against Reading in the week. They are 2-0 up against Newcastle despite the visitors holding most of the possession. Blackburn sit in 19th place and they face a hurt Chelsea side from The Riverside match, so both teams are going to be gunning for three points even more. Boro entertain Portsmouth on Monday.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Playing for your country: It's an honour....or it's compulsory

Apparently France coach Raymond Domenech has issued a warning to Chelsea's Claude Makelele in regard to joining the France team for the Euro2008 qualifiers. Makelele made his retirement clear from international football after the World Cup final, where he was one of a few excellent players for France, along with Lillan Thuram. Yet both have been recalled by Domenech.

If Makelele fails to join up, he faces a domestic two-game ban. Domenech made it clear to Makelele and Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho that Makelele had no choice. Now I am getting even more bewildered with football rules. Now a player has no choice but to play internationally even when he does not want to. What is that about? Did Domenech not speak to the players when they announced their retirement or decided to avoid that until the qualifiers are near and then felt brave to do so? And since it is not the national squad a player is contracted to, why is there an obligation? Surely there are other players who can fill the void.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

If Rooney is out of order, Ben Thatcher should be out for longer

Last night, during the opening minutes of the second half of Manchester City v Portsmouth, the ball was cleared from a City corner and Pedro Mendes chased it to prevent either it from going out or a City player reaching it. He saw City left-back Ben Thatcher racing down towards the ball and kicked the ball out of play. Thatcher then collided with Mendes which sent the Pompey midfielder down to the ground and in contact with the advertising boards. Glen Johnson was nearby and aimed to hold up Thatcher to have a word, then realised Mendes was potentially in a serious state and quickly summoned the Pompey medical staff, who attended to Mendes along with the City medical staff and a stretcher. Several minutes went by and Pompey manager Harry Redknapp even came to attend the scene as Mendes developed a seizure and required oxygen. He apparently suffered another seizure en route to hospital.

Referee Dermot Gallagher deemed the incident as a bookable offence, not a straight red.

My heavens. I saw this on Sky Sports and the commentator said it looks uglier every time it was replayed, and he was right. Every time I saw it replayed it looked horrendous, Thatcher simply came in on Mendes, no challenge for the ball, no tackle, he literally came in on Mendes' left-side jaw with a high elbow from nowhere, so imagine the impact and the shock to the brain, hence the seizures and the concussive state. Appalling is an understatement, horrendous, horrific, vicious, and premeditated certainly wouldn't be. After the challenge, if one wishes to label it as that in football, you could see one or two Man City fans hesitatingly applauding Thatcher. You couldn't miss the elbow at any speed, much less the speed Thatcher was going at. Surprisingly, Mr Gallagher did.

Thatcher previously elbowed Nicky Summerbee of Sunderland at Selhurst Park back in January 2000 and received a two-game ban. He should have been arrested last night, because that was a clear case of GBH with intent. I understand Mendes is stable and will be supervised medically and neurologically, returning to Portsmouth today. And yet this is another case of reckless conduct in football that simply proceeds to serious injury and could potentially worsen into a fatality.

This is partly the reason why I endorse the ban on tackles from behind, probably why FIFA did too, owing to the recklessness of some players. Redknapp said he knew what would happen once Thatcher was seen at such pace, either he was intent on a late tackle or something else, and last night it was viciously something else. I even wrote in my weekend review "....Ben Thatcher, for me a defender with a self destruct button at times....". Mendes may well be out of action for a month and a speedy recovery to him indeed. Thatcher should be out for longer than that.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rooney out of order

Wayne Rooney was sent off against FC Porto in the LG Amsterdam Tournament for a challenge on defender Pepe Ferreira. The referee registered the dismissal with the Dutch FA who in turn reported it to the English FA. The English FA dealt with the dismissal as if it occurred in England and Rooney was handed a three-match ban to commence tomorrow. Paul Scholes was also sent off in that game and was banned too for three matches.

Now Rooney and Scholes lost appeals against the bans, though Scholes was meant to have no qualms about the decision. Rooney, however, has made it clear through his agent Paul Stretford in a letter that stated Rooney may consider pulling out of any commercial duties he agreed to for England because of the FA's stance.

That to me is the proverbial toys out the pram. While the conduct against Ferreira warranted a booking, it can be debated that it was harsh for a straight red. Personally I feel Rooney intentionally used the forearm. Yet because Rooney did not get it his way, he wishes to spite the FA, regardless of the many others he would please. Certainly the FA should not be held to ransom at all by any player and Rooney can withdraw from such duties as he sees fit, someone else can do it instead.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Brand new season, brand new Premiership

Welcome to all from ElteFootballTalk for the new season in the Premiership. I apologise for a late summary of the top flight football matches but there are a few talking points.

Bolton 2 v Tottenham 0

Spurs' fans can correct me but Tottenham have found The Reebok stadium a bogey place to play at recently after last season's 1-0 defeat. Kevin Davies put Bolton in the lead with a neat header that appeared to have been aided by the presence of new French defender Abdoulaye Meite, formerly of Marseille. Meite was between Calum Davenport and Spurs' new Bulgarian striker from Bayer Leverkusen, Dimitar Berbatov for the Bolton corner and pulled on Davenport's shirt as he aimed to get forward to challenge Davies. Whether he would have got there or not is debatable but certainly Bolton would have been penalised if it was seen.

You may have already seen the video we have currently of Ivan Campo's effort from some 40 yards at goal for Bolton's second. As the ball cleared out from Spurs' defence, Campo came up onto it and firmly struck it low and it curled into Paul Robinson's right corner. Robinson didn't see it until it was too late.

Everton 2 v Watford 1

David Moyes seems as dogged and determined to make Good his work on Goodison Park, bringing in Andy Johnson, of whom the Premiership is quite acquainted with, and new defender Joleon Lescott from Wolves. The interesting point here was the partnership of Johnson with James Beattie, two keen goal hunters. The link up between the two when the ball came down from high inclued two one-twos and Johnson running onto the ball to hit it left footed, the ball deflecting off Lloyd Doyley over Ben Foster in goal.

Second half found Everton's second under bizarre decisioning. As the ball broke down the Everton right, Chris Powell and Tim Cahill chased it, Cahill got there first and hooked the ball back for it to go off Powell for a corner. The linesman nearest gave handball and Everton a penalty when in fact the ball came off Powell's forehead! It is easier from the replays but surely the keener eyesight of the linesman is better than that when the ball touches nearer the head than any arm or hand. Mikel Arteta stepped up to deposit the gifted spot-kick. Watford had become more spirited in the second half and gained a consolation through Damien Francis, his shot deflecting off Alan Stubbs and the post to break the clean sheet.

Arsenal 1 v Aston Villa 1

New stadium, bigger capacity, the Gunners anticipated the first Premiership goal for Arsenal on Saturday, and they came up against a rejuvenated Villa side with a new manager and potentially new owner in the very near future. Arsenal huffed and puffed in the first half with Emmanuel Eboue striking at Thomas Sorensen to push the Dane into a tip-top save over the bar and Emanuel Adebayor unfortunate to see his header cleared off the line. The visitors were giving as good as they got with Gavin McCann, Stephen Davis and Gareth Barry sperheading the attack and Gabriel Agbonlahor testing Jens Lehmann from some 20 yards.

The fans thought they saw the first Premiership goal via Kolo Toure's headed effort from a freekick but he was ruled offside, in the dying moments of the first half. However, the first goal did come, courtesy of Olof Mellberg as Lehmann failed to collect a corner ball and Mellberg rose above Adebayor to head in. Arsenal went into siege mode and came at the Villa goal, Adebayor hitting another effort that was cleared off the line by Liam Ridgewell. Yet the Gunners managed to equalise some half an hour after Mellberg's goal, with sub Theo Walcott coming on in the 73rd minute and dinking a chip over for Gilberto Silva to collect and hammer in at the back.

Portsmouth 3 v Blackburn 0

Blackburn Rovers appeared to have fallen apart on Saturday. Lucas Neill misjudged a high ball that went over him and Benjamin Mwaruwari pounced onto the ball to cross for Svetoslav Todorov to tap in from close range for the lead. I noticed Sol Campbell of Pompey rekindled with a previous adversary in Jason Roberts, Roberts came into the box but was blocked off well by Campbell.

Another former Arsenal man in Nwankwo Kanu took the centre stage in the second half when he headed past Brad Friedel from a Sean Davis cross to put Pompey two up. Minutes after that Blackburn were down a man when Lucas Neill received a second booking for impeding Kanu on the run that ensued his first in the first half for hacking down Todorov. Kanu went on to produce his second goal which again came from a header from a Gary O'Neil cross and could have wrapped up a hat trick when given a penalty after being judged to have been impeded by skipper Andy Todd. Todd was given a straight red for his tackle and the replays for me made no clear conclusion. Kanu stepped up and had his glamour soiled a bit as Friedel dived to save.

Sheff Utd 1 v Liverpool 1

Regardless, I did not take this game as easy as others may have sensed it would be. Neil Warnock demands practically a Premiership performance from a Championship side before promotion and there was no change. Liverpool were playing at 70% of their ability and the first half was more or less superseded by the Reds with a possession of 41 - 59%. However, we were made to pay the toll for our efforts with John Arne Riise then Jamie Carragher both coming off with ankle injuries that has now put them out for at least two or three weeks. Sheff Utd scored first through Rob Hulse but his effort was ruled out for offside.

From the outset of the second half Sheff Utd scored again, this time legitimately. Another freekick on the Sheff left was delivered by David Unsworth and Hulse was unmarked by Fabio Aurelio to head in. A gifted goal through another set-piece error which any side chasing the title are expected to handle comfortably. From then Liverpool became relentless, as numerous advances on the Sheff Utd goal ended in the last touch being too heavy or players slipping over. Then yet another penalty controversy as Steven Gerrard attacked and played a one-two with Robbie Fowler before evading a Chris Morgan challenge but his left foot effort easily stopped by Paddy Kenny. Rob Styles blew for a penalty.

My understanding is that Morgan came across and made an attempt to impede Gerrard more than to stop the ball. Gerrard looked up afterwards and pleaded to the ref and the decision was given, within the law. From the speed of play and the replays nothing untoward appeared, but if the decision is the right one, surely Morgan should go off with a second booking, if not a straight red? I wished Mr Styles had explained that point. Fowler stepped up to deposit the spot kick. For our efforts in getting back at Sheff Utd, the penalty could be deemed as a reward but not in that way. Sheff Utd hadn't really threatened Liverpool often enough after the goal and chose to hold back in numbers to thwart our attacks. Liverpool should have been better and need to sharpen up for an important result tonight before turning back to the Premiership.

Man Utd 5 v Fulham 1

If Blackburn Rovers had fallen at Fratton Park, Fulham provided a 20min horror show for the Cottagers' fans as the home side took turns to turn the roast spit. Ryan Giggs crossed to confuse Liam Rosenior and Ian Pearce and allow former Fulham man Louis Saha to head in. Saha then aimed to bring in Wayne Rooney with a cross that Pearce put into his own net in attempting to cut it out. Saha was on form again as his volley was parried by Antii Niemi for Rooney to pounce onto, and Rooney provided a sweet cross for Christiano Ronaldo to volley in at the rear unmarked. Who said Rooney and Ronaldo won't get on?? Business as usual, clearly.

Fulham wrapped up the first half with Heidur Helguson's shot deflecting off Rio Ferdinand over Edwin Van Der Sar, but United picked up a fifth as Ronaldo found Wes Brown hairing down the right and Brown crossed for Rooney to tuck in low. Van Nistel-who??

Newcastle 2 v Wigan 1

Newcastle were considered to be in some difficulty in their chase for another striker, with Alan Shearer retired, Michael Owen recovering, Michael Chopra sold to Cardiff, Albert Luque is preferred to either partner Shola Ameobi or replace him but he started on the bench, still yet to find the true form Newcastle bought him for. News today that the club have agreed on a £10m plus fee with Inter Milan for Obafemi Martins will bring some delight to the fans, though I understand Portsmouth have come in with another offer so there commences a battle for the Nigerian's signature. So with Ameobi on his own, it was a 4-5-1, Nicky Butt holding behind new captain Scott Parker and Emre, Nolberto Solano and Damien Duff on the flanks. But the Geordies had a strong desire against Wigan and took the lead through Parker as Ameobi chipped across goal for the skipper to nod in.

Wigan came back in the second half as Emile Heskey headed on a high ball for Lee McCulloch to control, push aside and curl round Shay Given's left side just on the hour, but five minutes after sub Charles N'Zogbia, who I find is impressive with speed and a decent left foot, came on to replace Butt and unleashed a fierce drive at Chris Kirkland which the keeper could only parry for Ameobi to pick up and tuck away.

Chelsea 3 v Man City 0

Man Utd and Chelsea, two main contenders for the title, start off as their respective managers expected them to. Chelsea started their defence on 11mins with Ben Thatcher, for me a defender with a self destruct button at times, needlessly bringing down Arjen Robben near the touchline. The Dutchman took the opportunity to chip a freekick ideally for John Terry to head in the club's and his first for the campaign. Fifteen minutes later Frank Lampard took his cue as he summoned the ball from Michael Essien and with one touch took it to the side to strike at goal, the ball coming off Richard Dunne and going in. Essien almost added to the scoreline before half time with a fierce shot from some 25-30 yards that Nicky Weaver, in for the departed David James, to push aside.

Man City's handicap was further hampered with new signing Bernardo Corradi picking up his second booking for a lunge on Essien over the hour, after a first yellow in the first half for a reckless hack on Paulo Ferreira. Essien pulled on Corradi's hair in return and picked up a booking. The goal of the game came via great work by Robben and Wayne Bridge, Robben spotting the left back running down and thread him through, Bridge cut across for Didier Drogba to dive and head acutely inside the post. Andriy Shevchenko also scored in injury time but was ruled offside.

I understand that Sylvain Distin may not be cleared to join Middlesbrough, Stuart Pearce is not yet resigned to letting him go, and on this display it would be the right choice.

Reading 3 v Middlesbrough 2

The Championship champions with Dave Kitson, Steve Sidewell and Leroy Lita started badly with two goals to the visitors within 21 mins. Aiyegbeni Yakubu crossed from the right for Stewart Downing to volley in with the Reading defenders ball watching, then Yakubu added a second with an Ameobi goal, as he pounced once keeper Marcus Hahnemann failed to hold a fierce Fabio Rochemback shot. Then the comeback. First South Korea's Seol Ki-Hyeon gave Boro a torrid time on the wings and made no exception for Julio Arca, beating him well and crossign for Dave Kitson to open his Premiership account. Then Ivar Ingimarsson's low cross from the left found its way to Steve Sidwell to touch in Reading's second.

The comeback, then the take over. Leroy Lita came on for the injured Kitson, and once again it was Seol who worked the Boro defence to cut across for Sidwell to thrash it out with keeper Mark Schwarzer and Emanuel Pogatetz, the ball spilling for Lita to pounce on despite Chris Riggott's attempt to block. Boro almost equalised twice as Ibrahim Sonko dithered on the ball and Mark Viduka moved in to be denied by the keeper, then Stuart Parnaby passed across all for Viduka to touch in, only to be denied this time by the linesman. Replays showed the Australian was quite onside.

West Ham 3 v Charlton 1

A London derby that started well for the visitors and then crumbled. Danny Gabbidon inexplicably add his arm to the flight of a Bryan Hughes ball to thwart Darren Bent behind him and West Ham paid for it, Bent converted the spot-kick. Iain Dowie would have been pleased with that on the quarter hour but not so much ten minutes later. New left-back Djimi Traore went in to tackle on Lee Bowyer and appeared to get more of the ball than the player but was booked. Perhaps unfortunate but on a booking you need to be much more careful and Traore conceded another freekick. As Bowyer poised to kick the ball, Traore was nearby and stuck out his foot to block, an infringement in the rules and another booking, so he had to go.

Traore has the potential to be a very good defender, he can pass well with a good left foot on him, can tackle well and has good height. But that is if he is really focused, and the thing is he is letting himself down with rash challenges and careless thinking that lets down the team and end up with a booking, or two as the case was on Saturday.

A goal down at the break, West Ham equalised through Bobby Zamora as Bowyer crossed for the striker to score unmarked at the far post. Zamora added a second in comical fashion as a mis-hit effort hit the post, evaded Scott Carson, and Talal El Karkouri completely missed the ball as it boobled over the line. New signing Carlton Cole came on for Marlon Harewood and was put through in injury time by Bowyer (yet again), a lobbed ball found the former Chelsea and Aston Villa man in space and his first touch was to finish firmly past Carson.

Didn't West Ham go behind to Blackburn last season and eventually won the game by the same scoreline?? Didnt Blackburn score in the first half and West Ham scored all three in the second half?? And Blackburn had a player dismissed too, in Paul Dickov?? Uncanny.


EFT goal of the Week: Ivan Campo!

Bolton Wanderers midfielder, Ivan Campo, may have an unusual hairstyle and not the best conditioned physique but that should not obscure that he can play good football and strike a ball.... as this EFT goal of the week against Tottenham Hotspur on week one of the Premiership season proves.

And the pure happiness/shock on his face during his celebration makes for fantastic viewing too!

Rooney, Saha and Ronaldo have the pace and mobility to spearhead an effective title charge

The first twenty minutes of Man Utd's opening match of the season at home to Fulham yesterday afternoon was extraordinary to watch. Man Utd found themselves four goals up within twenty minutes thanks to a firecracker start by the forward line of Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo ably supported by one of the best ever Premiership players, Ryan Giggs.

Each goal stemmed from lightning fast attacking moves that blew open the Fulham defence and were rounded off by clinical finishes. It was exhilarating period of football and vindicated the decision made by Ferguson last February to include the more mobile Louis Saha in front of Ruud Van Nistelrooy. VNR is a pure goalscorer- but he could not have contributed to the sheer speed of Man Utd's attacking play in the opening of yesterday's match.

The final score was 5-1, and it is fair to say given the high level of Man Utd's team performance that they were good value to have won by an even bigger scoreline.

If Saha, Rooney and Ronaldo can approach each match this season with the same verve and energy as they did yesterday, it could well be a very exciting season for Man Utd who also welcomed back the excellent Paul Scholes to their central midfield yesterday after six months out with an eye injury, and who have the £18.6m signing from Spurs, Michael Carrick, also waiting in the wings to make an impact in CM.

Of course, it may not be wise to read too much into one match- especially as Fulham do have a traditionally appalling away record. However, the pace and quality of Man Utd's attacking football in the first twenty minutes yesterday was outstanding, and clearly signalled to me that they are ready and have the hunger to make an effective title challenge this season.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The three England amigos

Steve McClaren, Terry Venables and John Terry are the national football squad's new coach, assistant coach and team captain respectively. A new 'evolution' rather than revolution. England have a vice-captain in Steven Gerrard and I would have thought he would be at the press conference too, barring any commitments. McClaren announced his selection of players for the Greece friendly at Old Trafford on Wednesday, and a number of omissions were noticed from the usual suspects:

Paul Robinson, Chris Kirkland, Ben Foster;

Wayne Bridge, Wes Brown, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, John Terry (capt), Luke Young;

Stewart Downing, Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves, Jermaine Jenas, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, Kieron Richardson, Shaun Wright-Phillips;

Dean Ashton, Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe.

Notably was David Beckham's absence and that of recent Pompey acquisitions Sol Campbell and David James, Scott Carson and Theo Walcott were moved down to the U21s', Wayne Rooney is apparently being rested, Michael Owen is recovering, Michael Carrick is recovering, and so is Joe Cole. James maybe regarded as getting on in age at thirty-six while Campbell's absence could be down to his ability at international level as he is the same age as Gary Neville. Yet there are a number of central defenders who are younger and able to replace Campbell. Just. His height and heading ability was very distinctive and his strength at times was simply overawing. But fuss is made about Beckham, whether this spells the end of his international career.

If Beckham takes the omission to heart, and he should not considering it's a friendly, then expect him to announce his retirement within a few months if not weeks. This could depend on the squad selection come the Euro2008 qualifiers. Nonetheless, this is a vital opportunity for Lennon to shine for ninety minutes. The selection opens another opportunity for Defoe to finally show some quality for country and Bent, who missed out on an earned World Cup chance.

As for Terry as captain, at first I was disappointed Gerrard did not get chosen, but considering the choices of the two of them, the England squad will have a great leader whichever choice it was. I wonder if Beckham was crying during the Portugal game because he was injured and could not help England any further, or he felt he would not play any part further if England went through to the semis', or he felt it was time to call on his England career himself, much less the captaincy. There was an opening in Beckham that the media could press on to niggle him, something which they'd be hard pressed to manage with Terry.

It's a New Dawn, It's a New Day, It's a New Life...and I hope we will be feeling good.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Johan Djourou has fantastic composure and acceleration off the mark

Arsenal's 3-0 away win in Zagreb last night is an excellent way to begin our attempt to finish off the job we started in the final four months of last season by clawing back fourth place from our North London neighbours. With 90 minutes still to go it will be premature to say that we have booked our place in the Champs League group stage, but we have given ourselves a major advantage going into the home second leg, and that's all that Gunner's would have hoped for yesterday.

Very encouraging and predictable for me is that this young team is simply getting better all the time. Ever since our performance in the Bernabeu, the 'next-generation' AFC have been consistently proving their worth and their mettle. The likes of Fabregas, Eboue, Van Persie, Hleb, and Adebayor are now a season more experienced, a season more battle-hardened, and many of our youngsters now even have World Cup tournament football experience to fall back on.

This time last year, although I had extremely high hopes for the likes of Fabregas and Van Persie, I could not say with complete confidence that they were fully ready to be regular first team players. Conversely, at the start of this season I can say with huge confidence that they are all ready now to be consistent, high quality performers game-in, game-out.

Plus, unlike the England national team, these young Gunners are not just developing individually into excellent players but significantly know how to play together as a cohesive footballing unit. They all know their roles in the team - and how to seamlessly link-up with one another to cause problems to their opponents. The collective performance of our team averaging 23 years of age against the Croatian champions was possession football of a very high quality- and the three goals were due reward for it. Of course, Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff must take credit for being able to create a team that is at least the equal to the sum of its parts

I have written many times on the qualities of Fabregas and Van Persie (for example, check out in the archives: 14 July 2005 - 'Fabregas is reason why Arsenal can afford to let Vieira go'; 28 Nov 2005 - 'Van Persie's grooved technique is the reason why he won't stop scoring') so although I'm tempted I'll pass on focusing on these two individuals who were the goal-scorers last night. Instead, I want to focus on a player who has consistently impressed me in his few appearances for the Gunners, and who will be starting the season in centre-defence alongside Kolo Toure due to the shoulder injury that has ruled out Phillipe Senderos until October.

That player is 19 year old Johan Djourou. There are not many 19 year old centre-backs who can say they have played World Cup football, but Djourou played two games for a Switzerland team that did not concede a goal during the competition. And for me there is no surprise that the Swiss coach had the faith to select the young Gunner: this is a young centre-back to believe in because he has fantastic composure on the ball, and his acceleration of the mark is outstanding. One example of the latter yesterday was his speed of recovery in getting back to thwart the through-on-goal Zagreb centre-forward when the score was 0-2. He has a sense of calm about his defending that is impressive, and at only 19 years of age he is only going to get better learning from his older peers Kolo Toure and Phillipe Senderos.

Of course, because of his age and relative inexperience the next couple of months may prove to be a difficult baptism of fire for Djourou. But surrounded by the experience of Toure, Lehmann, and Gilberto; plus equipped with what appears to be an exceptional temperament for defending, I'm sure he will be able to handle the responsibilty well.

I also believe that the apparent ease with which Wenger accepted the departure of Sol Campbell (who has decided to join Portsmouth??!) is because he knows that Djourou is ready now to progress into a first-team player and first-choice cover for Toure or Senderos. With what I have seen of Djourou up to now, I agree.


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