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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Watford v Sheff Utd - farcical

I don't usually report on midweek Premiership matches as they are few and far between, but don't get me wrong when I say 'farcical'. I am referring to the single goal that was given. There was no need for replays for it was so blatant even Malcolm Christie would have condemned it. The match progressed well for the home side where Darius Henderson had a chance with a volley and Tommy Smith almost went close, and then Sheff Utd started to spring to life through newbie Christian Nade who had some chances to go through but fluffed them. Both he and Rob Hulse struck the bar but Sheff Utd had the second half in control and it was not surprising for Chris Powell to upend Keith Gillespie as the Irishman made his way past the left-back. Powell then looked with his usual smirk at the decision and the subsequent booking, as if Gillespie had feigned the contact. Replays showed it could have easily been a broken leg for Gillespie.

Thing is Nade was getting himself into superb spaces to collect the pass or make progress only to fluff it at the end. It was similar to his appearance at Upton Park on Saturday and he may have had Neil Warnock tearing his hair out on the touchline but at least he is working well to be where he should, only needing to sharpen up his control and focus. Yet with minutes remaining of normal time a cross from the Utd right was headed goalwards by Chris Morgan and keeper Richard Lee palmed the ball up off the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced up and down along the goalline and Utd's Danny Webber was the first to react to head the ball in. Replays showed he was offside when Morgan headed but not interfering with play until he went to head himself, coming from the same offside position.

Warnock was delighted of course and this should balance his argument of having decisions going against Utd. From Aidy Boothroyd's view the indecision stunk and being so late in the game brought defeat to Vicarage Road all the more. I wouldn't say because Utd were better in the second half they deserve it, many teams have played the better and have lost. But Watford shouldnt have lost to an indecision like that. To compound the night for the hosts Powell was caught out again by either Alan Quinn or Hulse and pulled the player back to collect a second booking. Again Powell looked with a smirk as if it was another injustice but both bookings were right, the referee Martin Atkinson indicated that he had no other alternative in the circumstances, Powell was left to sheepishly face the embarassment of trudging towards and past the manager on the touchline.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Facts back up why I'm not convinced by 4-5-1 Arsenal in the EPL

Since the start of the season Arsene Wenger has gone all-out in using the 4-5-1 system. After ten years of 4-4-2 which saw two doubles, an unbeaten season and loads of goals why would Wenger completely change to a new system?

I see the merit of the 4-5-1 in the Champs League where the aim of the competition is more to avoid conceding goals rather than to push for goals. In this context the extra midfielder can benefit the team by protecting the defence and maintaining possession of the ball. Equally, I don't see the advantage of it being the Plan A system in the Premiership where the importance of gaining three points every match means having two strikers playing centrally is often the better option, as borne out by the Premiership history of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger.

The startling facts of the AFC 4-5-1 are that despite playing excellent football in virtually every match we have our worst points total in the opening 13 games of an EPL season under Wenger, and have fallen one-nil behind in eight of these matches. I'm not saying that the 4-5-1 is completely at fault for these facts, but I do think there is a connection and that we just don't look as lethal in this system.

For example, in the seven home Premiership games we have played this season we have scored just two goals in the first half (one a Watford OG) as teams have piled men behind the ball. The repeated difficulty in getting a breakthrough in home matches highlights to me that the 4-5-1 system - with the excellent Henry uncomfortably restricted and isolated in the centre and VP forced out into a wide left position - should not be Plan A for the Emirates where the onus is really on us to attack and score plenty of goals.

Against Hamburg it wasn't until Wenger decided at half-time to place Robin van Persie into a conventinal central role alongside Henry that we looked more threatening, and it was VP from a central position who opened the scoring. For me this match simply reinforced my belief in the benefit of playing with two central strikers and I hope it has revived Wenger's admiration for the 4-4-2 system.

It is the system that not only has bought us a lot of domestic success in the last decade but maxmises the attacking talent of Henry and VP and personally I hope to see its return at Fulham tomorrow evening where a win is a must.

Preferred team line up at Craven Cottage:

Eboue Toure Senderos Clichy
Hleb Fabregas Gilberto Rosicky
-------Van Persie Henry

Premiership weekend review - 25-26/11/06

Liverpool 1 v Man City 0

Rafael Benitez considered this match would be tough pre-kick off and City certainly made it so for most of the game. Peter Crouch and Luis Garcia were culpable for misses that should have made their way instead to the back of the net past Nicky Weaver, whereas Slyvain Distin and skipper Richard Dunne then made a fortress of the defence to protect against the wave of Liverpool attacks that came City's way. The breakthrough came as Joey Barton played a back pass to Distin and Dirk Kuyt seized on it enough to make it open for Steven Gerrard to pounce on and run on to hit from 20-25 yards past Weaver. How did Steve Finnan get away with a cheeky trip on Barton earlier on is bewildering as much as the trip was blatant, serving to make further mockery of the officials.

John Motson stated Liverpool played poorly whereas the radio commentators made it that we came at City on several occasions and couldn't put our opportunities into goals except for Gerrard's. Stats stated Liverpool had 62% - 38% possession, four shots to their two on target, ten shots to their four off target, and eight corners to their two. Not pretty but three points.

Charlton 1 v Everton 1

First home game for Les Reed and he came out content, if not smiling. Everton were without Tim Cahill and Andy Johnson but had James McFadden threatening to take Charlton on himself in a first half of equal chances to both sides. Second half brought the goals. Mikel Arteta had three red shirts round him and one impeded him. He took the freekick that Leo Osman glanced on and came off the shins of Herman Hreidarsson just past Scott Carson's diving hand. From then Charlton went on the assault, and attack they did on the Everton goal.

Luke Young delivered a high ball for Amdy Faye and Joseph Yobo to challenge, the Everton defender headed it away but Faye had unintentionally trodden on his foot and Yobo's boot came off. Nuno Valente collected the ball, took too long and was dispossessed by Marcus Bent, and the ball came to Andy Reid who struck a firm low shot past Tim Howard. Replays showed Yobo was totally focused on putting on his boot as play went on, and had he remained focused on the play instead may have got a foot to block the shot. Charlton ended the second half much the better. David Moyes queried whether Yobo was fouled for Charlton's goal when he should have been looking at Valente's delay on the ball instead.

Aston Villa 1 v Middlesbrough 1

Only the one defeat for Villa and yet to concede so at home. Boro are still at sixes and sevens with form but stole the lead through Malcolm Christie, somewhat controversially. Old Sunderland lad Gavin McCann was dispossessed by another in Julio Arca, Aiyegbeni Yakubu got the ball and played in Arca, whose shot was blocked and span to Yakubu, who managed to get a touch to the ball. The ball then came to Christie, who was clearly offside yet when he turned and scored it was given [RedsMan shaking head]. Villa came back before half time, in fact in injury time, with Stillian Petrov played in on goal by Juan Pablo Angel and as Mark Schwarzer came out, he made contact with the Bulgarian and brought him down. Minimal contact but it was made. Gareth Barry slotted home the spot kick.

Fulham 0 v Reading 1

Reading climbing the heights again with another London club scalp, the second such away from home. Glen Little played a long ball from right back that fell to James Harper, who ran on and fed a sweet ball for Kevin Doyle. Doyle came away from Leroy Rosenior and just inside Ian Pearce, and with the goal in sight Pearce committed the professional foul. Why they call it that is beyond me as it is not professional. Pearce was honourable in departing under the red card, Doyle did likewise with the resulting spot kick. Fulham tried to blow Reading's house down but couldn't either finish a chance or fashion one. Luis Boa Morte and Rosenior had a go at each other which the captain should have conducted better if he is to be perceived as positive, then again how does one account for the pressure when results are needed.

Steve Coppell said afterwards he felt the sending off was harsh and I agree with Alan Shearer that I would expect Coppell to be different had the penalty not been awarded. At the age of twenty, Rosenior is my tip for a move to a higher team and culminating into a sharper right back, as I see him in the same mold as Micah Richards. This needs to be encouraged due to our limitations for England.

West Ham 1 v Sheff Utd 0

Nearly thirty-four and a half thousand turned out for this game that marked the first since the takeover talks, rumours and headlines ceased as Eggert Magnusson introduced himself as the new chairman to the Hammers. Hopefully for the team and the management focus can turn all the more to the pitch matters. Carlos Tevez started but couldn't carve out chances but West Ham broke through after a Matthew Etherington corner was nodded on by Anton Ferdinand and headed in by a free Hayden Mullins. Sheff Utd turned the screw in the second half and made chance after chance but couldn't finish. Tevez came off for Teddy Sheringham with a disappointed face and apparently straight in to change and off home. Sheringham made a difference with his appearance and West Ham began to make openings.

However, late into the half, Mikele Leigertwood crossed into the box, Alan Quinn went to challenge and instead came onto Robert Green, whose attempted punch on the ball spun to Robert Kozluk to slot in. Mike Riley cancelled it for Quinn's contact on Green and I thought it was the right decision.

Bolton 3 v Arsenal 1

My EFT colleague T proclaimed he despised Arsenal going up to Bolton. No Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie nor Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott was engaged on the right in a 5-man midfield and threatened well to produce a chance for Emmanuel Adebayor. But the first strike went to Bolton from a set-piece Arsenal have become susceptible to occasionally. With Adebayor watching Kevin Davies, Cesc Fabregas keeping tabs on Kevin Nolan, Kolo Toure pointed at Abdoulaye Faye, but no one picked him up and as the corner came over from El Hadji-Diouf, Faye emerged to bullet in a free header. Commentary stated the presence of Fabregas and Nolan in front of Jens Lehmann impeded the keeper from coming out but I disagree, Lehmann could have gone around those two to either collect or punch out.

Then came a second strike of superb quality from none other than old Gooner Nicolas Anelka. Bolton waited for a first goal for the Frenchman who has assisted well since arrival. Mathieu Flamini was tackled from behind and looked for a decision, none given, Faye carried on, passed to Davies, who then looked and sent a superb cross-field pass of 40-45 yards to Anelka in space. Being watched by Toure, Anelka then came in off the left onto his right foot and shot from outside the box past Lehmann. It was a superb strike for a first career goal for Bolton. Immediately Arsenal responded with Walcott running on and forging a corner which he took quickly to Fabregas. The Spaniard then crossed for acting skipper Gilberto Silva to run in and head past Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Bolton defence caught out just after they had scored.

But the final call went to the home side as Faye was involved yet again, passing down the right to Ivan Campo, who then sent a sweet low ball past Phillippe Senderos for Anelka to run onto and slot past Lehmann, who I felt had given Anelka too much angle to his right. T made this comment on his thoughts behind the defeat:

" Unfortunately I'm limited in time to expand on why we lost (again) at Bolton but I can sum it up in three reasons:

1) Relative lack of physical power.
2) Not clinical in our finishing when taking the game to Bolton in the 2nd half (a sharper Ljungberg would have scored at least one goal y'day)
3) Committing a cardinal sin of going behind early to a set-piece (when playing Bolton we should be training specifically to be well-drilled in defending corners).

"A disappointing defeat but on the positive side I was pleased with the determination of the team to keep attacking and fighting for the equaliser; and more important than the defeat for me was seeing with my own eyes Walcott's special talent, pace and fearlessness in taking on opponents. Fabregas (speaking like a veteran!) said this week that the two best 16-17 years olds he's ever seen are Messi and Walcott... and his sub performance against Hamburg followed by his game [on Saturday] makes me understand why Cesc can make such a comparison.... at the same time bearing in mind that Messi is two years older and ahead of Walcott."

Kevin Davies went in on Emanuel Eboue in the first half and gave away a foul, the Ivorian voiced his disgruntlement to Davies and Davies in return shoved the right back with hands just below the shoulder level. OK, Eboue may have been threatrical although he did land backwards, but Davies received yellow despite Fabregas proclaiming a red would do. I remember when Man Utd's David Beckham and Leeds' Robbie Keane came to at Elland Road and Keane was fouled by Beckham. Keane got up to shove Beckham down, Dermot Gallagher gave Keane a yellow and was demoted to a lower division temporarily for not issuing a red. So on that precedent I expected a red but the rules have apparently changed and such conduct BELOW the face level is a caution. Retrospectively, Mr Gallagher suffered for nothing.

Man Utd 1 v Chelsea 1

The proverbial game of two halves, the first was Utd's, the second was Chelsea's. Chelsea had hardly fashioned a threat on Utd's goal in comparison to Utd's attacks. It was Rio Ferdinand who passed to Ryan Giggs, who then passed long to Wayne Rooney. Rooney fed Louis Saha, who had Ricardo Carvalho monitoring him but Saha jinked a little before he just curled a side foot effort towards goal, banking on Carlo Cudicini being unsighted. He banked right. One-nil for the first half, but then second half Chelsea came for the equaliser. I said to my friends Arjen Robben needed to come on as Gary Neville was not being tested and they needed his ability to put the pressure back on Utd, and Robben came on for the second half.

From a Frank Lampard corner Utd had not held their positions well and allowed John Terry and Carvalho to challenge, the Portuguese defender heading a good header in off the underside of the crossbar and Saha's head. Points shared though they both would have loved the win to have something psychologically over the other. Is Shaun Wright-Phillips right for West Ham? Is Chelsea prepared to listen to offers from Upton Park because West Ham have just come into some financial backing? And kudos to T for his prediction on this result, which was spot on.

Spurs 3 v Wigan 1

To bounce back from the defeat at Reading, Spurs were on home soil and went behind halfway through the half as Lee McCullouch knocked down David Wright's long ball for Henri Camara to volley past Paul Robinson. But Spurs reacted as they did against Chelsea, they came back through Jermaine Defoe, played in by Dimitar Berbatov and twisting Emerson Boyce to score past Chris Kirkland. Berbatov was involved again for Spurs' second, getting between two players and running on into the box to slot home number two. Another key contribution from the Bulgarian came as he ran down the left and then pulled back for Aaron Lennon to finish left-footed.

Newcastle 1 v Portsmouth 0

I watched this game live on Sky Sports and it was better than Man Utd v Chelsea. Why?? The home line-up had limitations, Steven Taylor in central defence with Titus Bramble rendered the right back slot open for Nolberto Solano to cover. No Stephen Carr, Craig Moore, Damien Duff, Shola Ameobi for the remainder of the season, James Milner and Charles N'Zogbia on the wings with Emre and Scott Parker between them, Kieron Dyer aiding Obafemi Martins. It was do-or-die and Newcastle refused to die. After Nwankwo Kanu had an effort off the line, Newcastle went top gear through the runs of Dyer, Milner on the wings and Emre's work rate in the middle. Add to this Parker and Milner had to come off due to back problems before half time and the home side looked up against it.

Martins was played in by Dyer and replays showed he was level with Sol Campbell as he ran on to dink his effort over David James. I just don't know what co-commentator and former Arsenal man Alan Smith had in the afternoon but he called the decision right. It was clearly wrong. Milner came down the right and shot across goal, Primus went to clear, it came off Pedro Mendes and span into the air for James to have to tip over. It was then Newcastle v James as Dyer was first denied by the keeper and then Antoine Sibierski on the follow-up. James had to stop Dyer as N'Zogbia ran down the left to cross for Sibierski to miss, Dyer coming down late and collecting to shoot at James' leg. Another attack and another chance, the ball coming to Emre and he went to place around James but the keeper stretched out a superb right hand to deny the Turkish intenrational.

Martins was having one of those games where it would not go right for him but the Nigerian never gave up on gaining that chance and he did on 69mins. On the attack, it was his ball to the left for N'Zogbia, who then fed into the box, the pass evading James for Sibierski to run onto and slot into an empty net. It was no more than Newcastle deserved, they practically ran Portsmouth ragged in the second half and it ended a deserving home win. The contenders for MOTM were Emre for his tenacity and continued drive to shut down Portsmouth in midfield; Dyer for his continued running that constantly threatened Portsmouth every time, who also stayed on despite running into the advertising boards and picking up on contact a nasty deep gash approximately three inches long and oozing with tissue and blood; and James who sported a Superman-type slick hairstyle yesterday and was definitely quite superhuman for his efforts in the second half particularly.

And a word on Bramble, who is said to not be in line for a contract renewal at St James' Park when his current one ends this season. This was the best I have seen him play for Newcastle, he headed, he cleared, he tackled practically every ball that came his way without error and it was something to see and for him to build up on. Finally, although the others played their part yesterday, Solano was good at right-back and had a comfortable afternoon with no one pressuring him on the flanks, dealing with tackles and headers in the same manner as Bramble. If Newcastle can play like this with the restrictions of selection they currently have, they won't go down. Game of the weekend for me.


Friday, November 24, 2006

British teams in Europe; Man Utd v Chelsea on Sunday

There were mixed happenings in the Champs League for the British sides. Celtic held well against Man Utd at Parkhead and it was Shunsuke Nakamura with his left again from a freekick who sealed the win on Tuesday. A helping hand to that was Louis Saha on two occasions. One where he was not given offside with Artur Bobac to face but stalled in fear of a decision and the keeper came out to block. Then came the freekick from which Christiano Ronaldo struck the hand of Shaun Maloney, giving away a penalty. Saha stepped up to coolly choose his right and the keeper's left but Bobac choosed equally and saved away. Celtic through to the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in its history. I was surprised the likes of Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney didn't take it, but if Saha felt confident to do so then that is enough for someone to step up.

Arsenal endured a scare for 50mins after Rafael van der Vaart ran into space in 4mins and shot over Jens Lehmann to take the lead at The Emirates, but another Dutchman in Robin Van Persie ran into space himself and slotted the equaliser. From then Arsenal engaged forward, Theo Walcott came on and delivered a pass for Emanuel Eboue to chase down the right and aima hopeful shot that wedged under the keeper and inside the goal. Julio Bapiste wrapped up the events by heading into the goal from a Walcott cross.

Liverpool took on difficult opponents PSV at Anfield, PSV had been unbeaten in 18 months in all competitions and held the Reds to a draw at home. Along the way we played 'Knock Down Player' which was our version of 'Knock Down Ginger', where our players were knocked down through injury. Xabi Alonso suffered a hip problem on 21mins, Mark Gonzalez followed fifteen minutes after with a hamstring. There were two impromptu changes we could have done without. The breakthrough occurred after the hour with dirk Kuyt turning his marker and passing into space for Steven Gerrard to run onto and place inside the keeper's left. Then a third change of Jermaine Pennant with another hamstring problem. Peter Crouch wrapped up this game with Luis Garcia crossing from the left for Kuyt to back across for Crouch to nod in. In fairness Crouchie should have had a hat-trick as Liverpool went on to top the group.

Chelsea entered Werder Bremen's ground for a win and left it the losers after Torsten Frings crossed a corner for Per Mertesacker to head in. Injury worries to Dider Drogba and Michael Ballack were dismissed as both are expected to be fit for Sunday's big game. Main thing is Chelsea qualified as they have the better of their clashes with Werder Bremen.

Unfortunately I had a busy schedule on Thursday and only got in to hear of the UEFA cup matches than see them, but all the British sides did well. Blackburn and Rangers gained the point required to qualify for the knockout stages, though Morten Gamst Pedersen was struck with a plastic cup of beer and again highlights the issue of objects projected from the crowd, which I have just heard will be investigated by UEFA. It inadvertently highlights the opinion of the beer served at the Feijenoord Stadion. Newcastle and Spurs recorded wins. Newcastle's skeleton crew coming from behind to fend off Celta Vigo with a first goal of his Newcastle career for Stephen Taylor and another goal in which Albert Luque had an influence in in European football. Could be something there. Dimitar Berbatov returning to the BayArena to haunt his former place with the winning goal.

As for the big game on Sunday, all I have to say is for anyone to lay off Howard Webb and let the man officiate the game with no pressure. I don't think he or any of the other officials go into any match thinking of whether they will please either or both teams and their fans. They go out and officiate as they see it. I don't agree that referees look to balance decisions. But timely words from Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon have added fuel to the broil so it will be an interesting combat.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tugay dismissal unfair; Reed is suspect in Dowie departure

Before the football continues into the European sector oer the following 48 hours or so, a mention of issues over the weekend. I wonder if I am the only one outside of Spurs who believes the contact of Blackburn's Tugay Kerimoglu with Spurs' Hossam Ghaly was not a foul, much less a penalty? Am I also the only one outside of Blackburn Rovers who believes Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam did not handle the ball in the area?

Firstly, the Turkish midfielder struck what simply was a superb volley as Ledley King headed out a Michael Gray cross to put the Lancashire side ahead. But on the hour Ghaly was played through by a sweet ball from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Tugay found himself the covering player with the central defence split open and came to thwart off the Egyptian. Tugay dived across inside the box with his right leg as Ghaly flicked the ball over him, and Ghaly then went down. Referee Phil Dowd checked with the nearest linesman and not only judged the contact a foul therefore a penalty but Tugay as the last man, therefore his dismissal.

Replays showed it was Tugay's trailing leg that Ghaly fell over and for me the question is how could Tugay be in control of his trailing leg in that circumstance to intentionally foul Ghaly? Jermaine Defoe finished off the penalty. Later on the Spurs box was crowded during a Blackburn freekick by Gray, which came to Mido who appeared to have handled in controlling the ball. Penalty appeals were denied and replays showed the ball came off his upper chest mainly than anywhere else, at worst it was inconclusive. Coincidentally Ghaly was involved in another dismissal, that of his own, when he jumped up to challenge Gray for a high ball, leading with an arm which then came down and beside Gray's neck. It was deemed an elbow offence and a straight red and I have no qualms with that decision.

Another question that I wished I had posted earlier when I though about over the weekend and have now seen being suggested in the papers. Who thinks Charlton's new coach Les Reed had some influence in the decision to remove Iain Dowie? Perhaps it is no exclusive, though of course it is strictly my suspicion and perhaps more rumouring elsewhere on the net, but something doesn't fit right with me regarding Reed. He seems to relish the occasion, I expected he would don a tracksuit rather than a suit as it is now strictly football business to get Charlton off the bottom. Charlton have an immense mountain to climb to get out of relegation, and I would like to know who the fans are behind more, Dowie or Reed. Or if they are indeed behind another person to come in instead of Reed.

Stephen Hunt backheeled for Nicky Shorey to cross and Ki-Hyeon Seol easily headed in, and the second came courtesy of Steve Sidwell, with Glen Little passing to him and his mis-hit came to Keving Doyle to score. Reading should have had a penalty when the ever-busy Hunt kept the ball in by the touchline and round Talal El-Karkouri, who clearly had his arms around Hunt before the winger fell down. It looked a certain penalty and lesser appeals have been given but not that one. Charlton were not out of the game and they had their moments through Dennis Rommedahl, Mark Holland's shot cleared off the line and Darren Ambrose going close.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thirty four points out of a possible thirty nine is sensational going

It is an understatement to say that Man Utd have flown out of the starting blocks of this Premiership season. Three years without a title is a long time for a club with the recent history and standing of the Old Trafford club and they have shown in their start of eleven wins and one draw from their opening thirteen games that they are fully focused on preventing making it four seasons without success.

I have been really impressed with three sets of Man Utd players this season. First there are the old-hands of Giggs, Scholes and Neville who have set a fantastic example to their younger teammates in their work-rate, ambition and skill in the opening to this season. These three have the know-how of what it takes to win the Premiership and their presence in the team gives Man Utd a hardened competitive edge which - injury permitting - will serve the team invaluably well for the duration of the season.

Second there is the breakthrough of the January signings of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic. Evra looked shaky last season but he has been fantastic so far this season replicating the form that saw him help Monaco to the Champs League final in 2005. He has very good attacking ability for a full-back which has added an extra dimension to Man Utd's attacking game and is probably the reason why the highly rated Argentine, Gabriel Henize, cannot presently force his way back into the first team. Vidic also took some time to adapt to the Premiership but now he loooks to have firmly cemented a first-choice spot alongside Rio Ferdinand with a string of strong performances, plus his heading prowess from set-pieces has been demostrated with two Premiership goals this campaign. I had a couple of question marks about Ferguson's decision to sign these two players at the start of the year for a combined total of £12 million - but they are now looking to be very astute purchases.

Third is the electric attacking trio of Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. They showed from the game one demolition of Fulham that they had a natural synergy to link-up with each other to sensational effect and their sheer pace, ability and finishing potential have created so many chances for Man Utd this season. Ever since the all-round excellent forward Louis Saha replaced Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Man Utd have looked a more dynamic and cohesive attacking unit so credit must go to the French international for impact on the side. Ronaldo too has been outstanding at the start of this campaign and for me has clearly moved up a level in consistency of performance.

Man Utd have started off the season in title-winning form: now its a case of seeing whether they can sustain it. There is a long way to go yet this season but personally (as I wrote after the Fulham game) I think Alex Ferguson has moulded a team with the right combination of high quality experience, youth, talent and desire to push extremely close for the title this season.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Holland v England - tonight - 19.00hrs - Amsterdam Arena

It's a friendly and as such the media attention where the British are concerned (or, depending on your opinion, predominately the south of England media) is on Steve McClaren's approach to the game. Friendly in terms of no significance in the result, gaining points or going through, simply meet up and play. The friendliness stops when the teams come out, though certain players may focus on keeping fit for their domestic sides and play with less emphasis. A number of absentees from the England squad, and I do question the necessity of today's game sandwiched between the domestic weekends as it is not a qualifier.

The Dutch squad has been reduced with Edwin van der Sar's absence, who opted to be rested, Robin Van Persie expecting his first child (I understand Chris Kirkland is absent for the same reason, congratulations and good luck to them both), Joris Mathijsen suffered a whack on the nose and had to have it re-set, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni van Bronckhorst are injured. But Clarence Seedorf comes in after learning he is just cover and has to really impress to earn a regular call-up. That is ironic, for Ruud Van Nistelrooy is not picked after scoring six goals in the two recent Real matches of the Copa del Rey and La Liga.

England are without Jermaine Jenas, Ledley King, Aaron Lennon, Darren Bent, Kirkland, Scott Parker, Gary Neville and Stewart Downing with Micah Richards coming in but no call for Luke Young. It seems from the Dutch squad and likely line-up this is a suitable, if not inconvenient, moment to test some fresh blood. I would like to know who you would choose and what formation:

Ben Foster

Micah Richards, Jamie Carragher, Matt Dawson, Wayne Bridge

Phil Neville

Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole

Andrew Johnson, Jermaine Defoe

I saw Foster in action during Watford's play-off matches with Crystal Palace and then Leeds and was impressed and he has good potential so I would have him start. Richards is young, determined and comes forward well and Bridge is known for his good attacking runs so the full-backs offer good options. Both Carragher and Dawson are struggling defensively and I think the two of them rather than having a figurehead in either Terry or Ferdinand alongside them is throwing them in at the deep end somewhat but I want to see them both rising up. Phil Neville is versatile and of late since joining Everton has given him the captaincy and first-team action, so I think he has matured well. That gives Carrick the opportuity to surge forward and provide the passes for the forwards I expect they will be eager to gobble up and he can shoot from distance.

McClaren has hailed SWP but for his lack of first-time appearances and I want to give him a start and Cole has returned to fitness and I think would relish a start to get his international career back up and running. Lastly, the forwards. McClaren has opted for Wayne Rooney and Johnson, both determined, pacey, and will shoot from all angles with usual accuracy of 75-80% on goal. Yet given his exploits for club recently, I would be inclined to opt for Defoe, who is equally determined, pacey and likes to shoot from anywhere. He came on on Sunday and got into two good positions and if we can supply him those through balls, particularly from Carrick, it would be standard to his expectations. The possible exception is the height of the two forwards, and to that I say look on how Owen never hesitated to jump up and head.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Premiership weekend review - 11-12/11/06

Arsenal 3 v Liverpool 0

Another defeat away from home to make it five consecutive losses for Liverpool and another comprehensive match in which bad mistakes have cost us dearly. The game began well for both sides, chances and possession was shared until the 41st minute when Aleksander Hleb dragged John Arne Riise wide and then came inside, going past Mark Gonzalez and passing inside the box for Cesc Fabregas to collect and square for Mathieu Flamini to add a touch for the ball to go in. Replays showed the possibility of offside on Flamini, nonetheless the goal stood minutes before half time. With the single goal disadvantage, Liverpool should have stepped up a gear to level the score but some ten minutes into the second half the ball was won by Arsenal and with quick passing Robin Van Persie was found, mis-controlling at first but was allowed time to pass for the running Kolo Toure to collect, Sami Hyypia caught napping, the Ivorian defender slotting under Pepe Reina for no.2.

Ten minutes from time a Van Persie corner came over and our corner nemesis, William Gallas, was free to nod in no.3, Steven Gerrard and Riise at odds as to who should have picked up the Frenchman. It was the points that moved the Gunners into third place behind the leading two, making up the three top teams in the three top places. Liverpool have a major task in restructuring their away form which is deteriorating their league progress. Our defending particularly has taken a hammering, and it is up to the players, not solely Rafael Benitez, to correct this slump in form. In his first season, Liverpool lost 14 times, 11 away. Last season it was narrowed down to six, five losses away. We have already matched last season's loss tally, and for some reason, which I don't feel is down to Gerrard's positioning, we are playing defensive kamikaze away from home and not being sharp enough in front of goal. I do feel that certain players will have to put more effort into their game to improve this abysmal away form.

Sheff Utd 2 v Bolton 2

The home side did very well to pull this game back from defeat against a Bolton side who usually hold a lead well away from home. El Hadji-Diouf latched onto a high ball and outmuscled Phil Jagielka to slot past Paddy Kenny. Bolton doubled the lead on the hour as Idan Tal squared across the box for Kevin Davies to drill low into the corner and it looked a high and dry away win on the cards. But Utd came alive after the second goal and took the initiative, where perhaps Bolton felt the game was won and held back to see out Utd's attacks. On 70mins Mikele Leigertwood crossed from the right which was met by a superb Rob Hulse header that left the keeper with no chance of stopping. Three minutes later another Utd attack found Jussi Jaaskelainen coming out to clear the ball, which found its way to Colin Kazim-Richards, who instead of chipping into the box simply touched the ball with a curl right around the players in front to catch the keeper unaware.

Reading 3 v Spurs 1

The North London sides found themselves live on Sky for the second consecutive week with contrasting fortunes and swapped schedules. Spurs were first up away to Reading having not scored an away goal thus far. They certainly began well with quick attacks and chances going amiss after sharp passing, and with Robbie Keane in form his balls into the box were opening up the Reading defence. One such ball found Hossam Ghaly entering the box and a rash tackle by Ibrahim Sonko brought down the Egyptian, with little excuse. Keane stepped up to score Spurs' first away goal. It wasn't until half way through the half that Reading upped their attacks and orchestrated a number of openings on their right through Glen Little. It was from there the ball was kept and then passed across to Nicky Shorey, who shot low from outside the box past Matt Dawson and Paul Robinson to equalise.

A Reading corner in injury time came across a static Spurs defence and found the foot of Steve Sidwell as he came from behind Ledley King for no.2. Replays showed how at least six Spurs players were around before the corner was taken and none of them picked up on Kevin Doyle nor Sidwell. With Jermaine Defoe on the England striker was played in and shot at the side netting, and the goal kick that ensued was nodded on by Leroy Lita for Doyle to run onto and slice left-footed across Robinson for no.3. Spurs came forward to forge another Defoe opportunity that he struck to come off the inside of the far post and across the goal away from danger. With no disrespect to Reading, Spurs came from a sturdy test last week to give in this week. I wondered if the chances and attacks Spurs made in the first 20+mins made them too confident that they had Reading in control.

Everton 0 v Aston villa 1

Tim Cahill was injured badly from an accidental contact by teammate Lee Carsley, who went in to tackle but instead had pushed Cahill's right knee to hyperextend, the Australian stretchered off as a precaution. Three minutes from half time Isaiah Osbourne chipped a ball into the box where Chris Sutton remained and nodded on past Tim Howard for his first for Villa and their first away win.

Man City 0 v Newcastle 0

This match was live on Sky and had its moments of good football and chances, unfortunately they were few and far between and at times the quality of play dulled to a bore. City scored through sub Georgios Samaras but the referee spotted a foul by Bernando Corradi on Stephen Carr, which looked six of one and half dozen of the other but the goal was cancelled. Frustratingly a number of attacks were formed well by City with Hatem Trabelsi coming forward from midfield but the final ball was very lacking. Newcastle formed one of their best attacks with good link-up that resulted in Antoine Sibierski breaking into the box to be denied by a timely intervention.

Chelsea 4 v Watford 0

The defeat at White Hart Lane came like a slap rather than an uppercut to the Blues. They scored four in midweek and they repeated it again and once again it is Didier Drogba who is ghosting around the defence with a spirit that could carry him alone through teams, much less with the others in assistance. Every week the Ivorian captain is on bustling form, if he is not defending he is tormenting the defence, if not that he is peacemaker. Geremi attacked down the right before crossing low, Andriy Shevchenko missed the ball yet had dragged Danny Shittu and Lloyd Doyley, leaving Drogba to touch in mere inches from goal. Next, a superb attack, Drogba collected a pass from midfield and found Shevchenko, who held the ball as Shittu tried to call offside on Drogba's run but two defenders had failed the trap, leaving Drogba to collect the return pass to slot in no.2.

In the second half, Shevchenko got in on the rout as Drogba simply bounced off Shittu to control the ball on his chest and turn, touching the ball over the defence for the Ukrainian to chest past Ben Foster and score. Finally Drogba gained his hat-trick as Geremi yet again crossed from the right for the striker to simply touch in the ball unmarked. I must admit Watford were defensively non-existent, even if it was against Chelsea.

Middlesbrough 1 v West Ham 0

Two good home results that seemed to emphasise a return to basics and good form that was ended by a sngle Massimo Maccarone goal. West Ham failed to clear under attack, the ball came back into the box and the Italian held well to go round Robert Green and slot in from an angle.

Blackburn 0 v Man Utd 1

The pressure was on the Red Devils after Chelsea had romped at home and perhaps it may have told where Wayne Rooney was concerned, after he made numerous chances for himself to no avail. Blackburn could have gone through to score as they became better in the second half. Zurab Khizanishvili glanced Morten Gamst Pedersen's in-swinging free kick just wide, Morten Gamst Pedersen had his corner come off the crossbar. But past the hour came the telling moment when John O'Shea crossed from the right and Ryan Giggs touched it across from the left for Louis Saha to hit in.

Portsmouth 1 v Fulham 1

A home draw that almost turned into a home defeat for Pompey. Pompey tested Fulham well for the majority of the game, particularly through Lomano LuaLua and Antii Niemi had earned his pay keeping out Nwankwo Kanu's header from close range. Fulham took the lead from a Claus Jensen corner that Zat Knight aimed a head at and deflected the ball off Dejan Stefanovic. Harry Redknapp went for broke in bringing on Andy Cole and it paid off. The ball came into the box and players from both sides kicked at it, with Niemi not getting a firm grip on the ball at two attempts. Cole kicked at it and it came to him, and though he was on the ground he managed to aim it diagonally a second time to score.

Wigan 3 v Charlton 2

Another London side mini-revival that fell short, and now Iain Dowie has left after just twelve matches that made up eight defeats, two draws and two wins. Charlton have fallen further than at any time in the Premiership where they are rooted at the bottom and I think a good cause was the inefficiency of the players. The BBC site states Charlton only kept one clean sheet when in fact it is so far four, against Bolton, Watford and Man City at home, and away to Newcastle. It has not been Charlton at the least. It is burning to have dropped so low but there are 25+ games to go and they are in the league cup, much less the FA Cup so there is still promise. What there isn't is the opportunity for Dowie to get those players he brought in to blend with the others and raise the side back up the table. England players in Luke Young, Scott Carson and Darren Bent shows the quality the side has and it is one big battle.

In the match, Chris Kirkland pumped the ball upfield that eluded Souleymane Diawara and Lee McCulloch took advantage and ran on to score past Carson. Henri Camara obliged a carbon copy as Kirkland's kick was missed by the defence again and the Senegalese forward volleyed no.2. Charlton came back through an own goal by Arjan de Zeeuw as he came to block out Bent and the Addicks looked to be back into the game, but fifteen minutes from time Kevin Kilbane delivered a freekick from the right that Matt Jackson headed in unmarked. Charlton pulled one back again as Herman Hreidarsson's pass found Marcus Bent and he controlled to shot past Kirkland deep into stoppage time.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kolo Toure is a natural leader so should be a captain.....our captain!

(This post is written by a long-time Gunner and regular comments contributor to EFT: GunnerPete)

If any of you have long memories, you may remember a great Spurs player called Dave Mackay, well Kolo reminds me of him. So powerful and so determined to win and enjoy himself.

I really have believed for some time that we have the players, thanks to AW, to win a few trophies this year and for some time to come, but they are not necessarily playing in the correct positions. Henry for one, ( the worst captain Ive seen in 57 years ) it seems has become our wandering lone striker. This has been great until teams worked out a simple tactic to wind him up, so he starts to sulk. If we were playing a two up front system, with a powerful goalscorer (beside Thierry) who would have to be marked separately, TH14 would score more & make more for others.

Baptista may or may not be the answer to our need for a bustling old style centre forward but with skill to match. Who knows until he is given a run in the first team. This may work, but we have major flaws in our team that other clubs have noticed, and use against us. Henry being one of them. He gives the impression that he is doing us all a favour just turning up, and if he had not already signed I would say his body language is crying out for a move! He must be dropped to the bench now and again and made to realise that he is an overpaid player not a god.

I sat with my brother (a Chelsea Supporter) and watched the CSKA & West Ham matches. We both salivated over the beauty of our moves. In fact my brother said he wishes his bunch of mercenaries could/would play like AFC.

However, the fact that something is wrong within our camp is probably too mild a statement. You know when something is wrong when deep down inside you know we will struggle against much weaker sides. I have noticed two big flaws in Arsene's team tactics. Whilst we watched the W.Ham match the flaws became open sores and so easy to see we could not understand why others, especially Arsene, have not.

Flaw one: our lightweight midfield. Mainly due to injuries, but also a lot to do with AW relying on Cesc to much. This lad will burrn out long before the end of the season, unless AW gives him a partner who can potect him, and put fear into the opposition.

Answer = First make Kolo Toure our captain, then place him side by side with Silver in front of our defence, but with the freedom to attack when he wants. This mean bringing in Senderos to play alongside Gallas. He gives us so much more power in defence, and attack. I would also forecast that Kolo would score up to 10 goals a season from that position. AW, could then play a 4-2-2-2 system, which he did against Man Utd. This formation would be so powerful against any style, of any team, including Bolton & Blackburn. They wont bully that back 6 !

Flaw two = Zero / none / tactics at corners and freekicks. I counted 46 corners in the past 3 games and no shots or even saves produced! That is shameful! Answer = If AW was not so insistent that his way is the only way, I would suggest he goes through all the videos of our matches under George Graham.....Steve Bould could also teach him a lesson or Five about where to stand and how to vary, what should be an advantageous deadball situation. How come that I feel nervous when teams like Villa & Everton look dangerous at every corner, and 'The Arsenal' look like wimps? It all comes down to using our ability in the right place & at the right time ie; if AW cannot find a way for our tall men to win the ball at corners.....try passing back to draw the opposition out!

How has this come about? Well it seems to me that AW has decided that he want only one main goalscorer ( since giving away Pires) and rely on midfield to come up with the rest. Sorry to keep mentioning Man Utd, but Fergie gets a lot right with his buying, and one policy I love is that he always has at least two, sometimes three, top strikers in the squad. AW started like this with Wiltord being the 'other' striker but when he went the AW buys since have been woefully bad for that position.

I would like to end by saying that I have been a great advocate for playing reserve players ASAP like Eboue, who I campained for long before he was given the chance. I would like to see young guns like Bendtner & Stokes brought back in January and given a nice long run up front. If they are good enough, they are old enough, like Eboue. I will also forecast that Traore will be our leftside midfielder very soon, so re-establishing our power running left side.

The SAD & SORRY fact is that Arsene will (a) never read this (b) if he read it, he would ignore it! BUT perhaps if enough people press him by mail, he may do right by our KOLO!

Sissoko is hit again as things in football take their Poll

Mohamed Sissoko was hit yet again with another serious injury that could see him out of action until sometime after Christmas, potentially February, which could ironically mark an anniversary from when he received his first serious injury. In late February this year Sissoko caught a player's boot on his eye during the champions league match at Benfica and received serious yet temporary damage to the eye that kept him out for something like six weeks, returning in early April to training. Last night during the League Cup tie he went down heavily while challenging for the ball with Birmingham's Mehdi Nafti, on his right sholder and an early diagnosis is it is dislocated. Arsenal's Phillipp Senderos suffered a dislocated shoulder in the World Cup '06 and was out for some three months, so the impact of such an injury is worrying to Liverpool. I fear it will be as suspected and we will miss the Mali midfielder for the upcoming campaign into and past Xmas. all the best to Momo.

While I am on the League Cup, I should mention congratulations to a Southend United side that eliminated a Man Utd side which contained nine international players, through a Freddy Eastwood freekick that seemed more likely from the textbook of another certain player on the pitch that night, Christiano Ronaldo. Eastwood has had his name pop up several times in various match reports due to his scoring ability and in front of the Sky Sports coverage he delivered a peach of a freekick past Tomasz Kuszczak. Newcastle had taken the lead then were made to fight back against Watford at Vicarage Road through penalties, and their progression into the quarter-finals was a well needed boost for the fans and the club, much less Glenn Roeder.

Biggest battle on Tuesday night was Chesterfield at home with Charlton, where the League One side, lying 18th, had Charlton pegged back twice before coming from behind at the death of extra time. Charlton held onto the character that has began their mini revival thus far to beat Chesterfield on penalties and avoided being another Premiership scalp. Chelsea were stressed to have produced a strong side for Villa to get by but both sides were almost at Premiership fullness. Chelsea were ruthless with four goals but a downside for Villa is skipper Gareth Barry was injured and could be out for a month. Liverpool couldn't repeat their previous cup result at St Andrews but produced enough to gain a vital goal to process through with a somewhat second-string side, Daniel Agger scoring well again with his left foot. Craig Bellamy came back from injury and missed a penalty and from close range, while Birmingham also went close through DJ Campbell and Julian Gray. Spurs fielded a second string side and had not defeated Port Vale since 1955, almost extending that fact where they allowed Vale to score first on the hour through Leon Constantine, waiting twenty minutes to equalise through Tom Huddlestone. Extra time brought another goal from Huddlestone, Jermaine Defoe finished off business.

The main talking point from last night's action involved Graeme Poll once again within the week as he officiated Everton v Arsenal. Andy Johnson went down in the box and Poll waived away any appeal, and as play went on, Poll reached for a straight red in James McFadden's direction. Everton manager David Moyes informed the media he was told by the fourth official the decision was for McFadden calling Poll 'a cheat' as McFadden queried the denial of the penalty appeals. Something else suggested it was for foul and abusive language.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Premiership weekend review - 04-05/11/06

Bolton 0 v Wigan 1

The progress of Bolton has suffered a blip somewhat after enjoying four back-to-back wins, and one defeat out of nine in the EPL before their game last week. They had the majority of the possession in the first half yesterday in this Lancashire derby, and carved an excellent opportunity via El-Hadji Diouf's splitting pass for Nicolas Anelka to have just the keeper to beat but missed. Stelios Giannakopoulos played a one-two with Gary Speed and ran on to score only for the referee to pull it back for offside. Replays showed the decision had to have been for Diouf, who was offside, as Giannakopoulos was onside when the pass was made. A creditable goal wrongly ruled out.

Emile Heskey had to go off due to an injury and was replaced by Lee McCullouch, who came up with the only goal. Bolton had applied pressure to the visitors in the second half but were undone with 10mins to go when Kevin Kilbane and Henri Camara exchanged touches and the Ireland international found McCullouch on his right, who smacked the ball first time. Good finish.

Liverpool 2 v Reading 0

Liverpool have enjoyed a nice run at home with Reading in the league cup, Aston Villa in the league and then Bordeaux in the Champions League, and they had Reading again yesterday. The visitors formed a good chance early in the game through Glen Little getting behind the Reds defence to square for a James Harper shot that deflected off Jamie Carragher's foot and away from danger. Liverpool took the lead almost on the quarter hour mark as Steven Gerrard set a high ball forward for Peter Crouch to head down into the path of Dirk Kuyt. Marcus Hehnemann had come out to get to the ball, and so Kuyt sidefooted the ball in just before the keeper could get back across.

Liverpool had dominated since then with a number of chances going amiss. Reading came out the second half and applied early pressure as they did in the first, Stephen Hunt picked up a Harper cross in the box but was blocked by Xabi Alonso. Sami Hyypia was sent through via a Gerrard ball but to no avail, and the Finn reciprocated with a ball of his own for Gerrard, whose effort was blocked. Reading scored from an Andre Bikey header that was ruled out for a foul on the keeper, and the home side doubled the lead just after. Hehnemann did get to hold a Jermaine Pennant corner and Kuyt was on hand at the rear post to volley it in.

Charlton 1 v Man City 0

Both teams fighting for those vital three points to help cajole their spluttering season start to get themselves further up the bottom half of the table, much less the table on a whole. Charlton have picked up their playability since their Alamo fight with Bolton in the League Cup at home, drawing away to Newcastle and now gathering a vital win yesterday. The irony is the South East London side are rooted at the bottom as two other sides found fortune too which moved them both from the bottom three positions, subject to the West Ham v Arsenal result today. City cannot hold top gear right now and were unlucky not to muster a goal from the chances they made. This was their fifth defeat in the league to add to three wins and three draws, and to that of their league cup exit to Chesterfield.

Charlton scored through Darren Bent, quite easily. Jerome Thomas jingled on the left and cut in to cross into the box, with three City defenders surrounding Bent. The ball went over Richard Dunne but Bent was sandwiched between Slyvain Distin and Ben Thatcher but neither defender jumped, leaving Bent to glance a header past Nicky Weaver. City found Scott Carson in splendid form in goal and when they managed past him they were denied by the post when Hatem Trabelsi sent low a left foot shot from outside the box. One thing City miss is David James and Andy Cole, because since their departure Darius Vassell has to find form and only Georgios Samaras has some promise in scoring, and not Bernardo Corradi.

Watford 2 v Middlesbrough 0

Watford still seeking that elusive first Premiership win, Middlesbrough seeking to rejuvenate their position. The home side have youth and pace, tenacity and a good keeper in Ben Foster behind them, Marlon King eager upfront. Boro had bought Robert Huth to play alongside Jonathan Woodgate, two sturdy defenders but only one of them had some credit yesterday. As Huth dealt with high balls that came his way, the visitors showed a low amount of determination and energy to make Watford sweat. Watford skipper Gavin Mahon threw in the ball, Woodgate half cleared, it fell to Hameur Bouazza who shot low, the ball would have gone off for a goalkick but for Woodgate's stuck out foot diverting the ball tightly inside the near post.

Watford finished the first half with a number of chances and Boro, to their credit, began to fire up in the second. Watford had lost Foster and replaced him with Richard Lee, who was said to have come out early before the second half kick-off to get a feel of the ball, something which he lacked as a compliment to Boro's first half progress. Lee had to parry away a curling low cross from Stewart Downing as Boro urged themselves into action, but they could have gone behind further as Bouazza raced down the left and cut back for Ashley Young to hit high and over from mere yards. Young did manage to make the Boro defence pay after skipper George Boateng inexplicably headed back towards weakly, either for Woodgate or Huth to get or for Mark Schwarzer, the ball falling to Young to run with and slot past the keeper. A first win to help soothe over missing King for the entire season.

Fulham 1 v Everton 0

Everton started dominating the first half, particularly Andy Johnson being a thorn in the Fulham defence. Johnson ran onto the ball inside the box and came under an Ian Pearce challenge, from which Johnson went down. The referee waved no penalty and I felt it was a correct decision. Johnson went further nonetheless and latched onto a Tim Cahill ball but steered it high and over. Mikel Arteta was through on goal with a hatful of Fulham players playing catch up, Johnson to his left to whom the Spaniard should have passed to after his third touch on the ball but he went on and was stopped by good defending by Leroy Rosenior.

Cahill should have been booked for an elbow on Tomasz Radszinki and Johnson for a late foot on possibly Claus Jensen. Jensen was involved in another ugly moment as he poised to take a corner, where he was struck on the face by possibly a 10p coin which seemed to come from the direction behind Everton's goal. However the home side turned after the hour and got the goal. Jensen gathered it on the left and turned past Cahill to shoot an effort that deflected past Tim Howard via Lee Carsley. Johnson had another chance to score, put through by Cahill, but was denied by Niemi twice.

Man Utd 3 v Portsmouth 0

Twenty years at Old Trafford for Sir Alex Ferguson tomorrow, surviving an early period where his head was called for some three years or so into the managerial seat, a period which may have turned on one game against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. Had Ferguson been released in compliance of those calls, who knows what would have happened to the Red Devils, however what we do know is he brought eight Premiership titles, five FA Cups', two League Cups', five Community Shields (one shared), the UEFA Cup, Intercontinental Cup, the SuperCup, the European Cup and Manager Of The Year six times.

Utd were superb last week away at The Reebok and they did not relent to Portsmouth. They gained a penalty through Wayne Rooney, who outsmarted Andy O'Brien and ran onto a Gary Neville throw-in, no offside therefore, and with Dejan Stefanovic catching up, Rooney went down from his challenge. I didn't think it was a penalty but it was given and Louis Saha slotted well past David James. Utd threatened constantly through Gary Neville's runs behind the defence and gained another through a foul on Saha. Ryan Giggs and Christiano Ronaldo poised and it was the Portuguese winger who simply smacked the ball towards goal, James seeming to sight the ball just too late to stop it, such was the velocity of the strike. James was again in good form and denied them on occasion but couldn't deny a third goal, Neville crossing for Nemanja Vidic to head another textbook header.

Newcastle 0 v Sheff Utd 1

Playing so soon after having to face Italy's Serie A current joint-top side Palermo 48hrs before couldn't have aided further progress for Newcastle, and they went into yesterday's match without Shola Ameobi, Obafemi Martins and we know about Michael Owen. That left loanee Giuseppe Rossi alone upfront with Duff as support. Why couldn't this fixture be played today and the league cup tie at Watford on Wednesday? Craig Moore may have been lucky to stay on after flattening Rob Hulse off the ball and Newcastle were flattering in front of Utd's goal, to the frustration of the home fans.

The telling point came in the second half. Nick Montgomery deceived Emre and turned on the ball, with space and time to run on and deliver, despite Alan Hansen's 'not a great ball' opinion, a timed ball for Danny Webber to head in. Replays showed Titus Bramble, Moore and Stephen Carr in the vicinity and no communication from any of them to the danger, particularly the good view Carr had. Webber was unmarked for what turned out to be Utd's first away goal and eventually away win of the season. Alan Quinn raced down the left for a chance to increase the lead, and with Steve Harper coming out, Quinn's effort bounced off the near post.

West Ham 1 v Arsenal 0

What follows now are two match reports on two London derbies where the favourites are away against two respective home sides in the bottom half of the table, respective home sides who have not beaten their opponents for some years. Apparently West Ham had not beaten Arsenal since 1999 and this one at Upton Park started very well with both sides using 4-5-1, Lee Bowyer came in to aid the midfield yet Arsenal still played around the middle to draft some chances. It was fine to pack the middle with five players but the Hammers needed their midfield to be sharp on Arsenal's toes and shut them down early to prevent them playing. One definite good change has been Robert Green in goal, who appears not only on the England list but keen to impress in the top league and he made sure his handling was of the utmost best in getting to a Robin Van Persie volley. Before that the Hammers forged a chance from a short corner and Matthew Etherington curling a drive across goal that Bobby Zamora just agonisingly missed. Tomas Rosicky was put through with a superb touch from a high ball from Thierry Henry but shot wide and Henry himself became frustrated with the lack of guile on the West Ham goal and took it on himself down the left flank, only to be denied just inside the box. West Ham defended with good valour.

Van Persie went to take a throw and appeared to have been struck by an object, a second such incident over the weekend. Jens Lehmann kicked a goalkick that reached Yossi Benayoun, who dwelled on the ball too long instead of passing quickly to Bobby Zamora, Zamora obtained it and found Jonathan Spector who crossed for Yossi Benayoun to head wide near the post. Alan Pardew saw differently after the hour to move into 4-4-2, bringing off Bowyer and Zamora for Teddy Sheringham and Marlon Harewood, which brought experience, vision, speed and strength to the frontline to finally challenge the Arsenal defence. Arsenal should have had a penalty when Aleksander Hleb played a one-two with Henry and beat Spector to the ball in the box, replays showing the American had little of the ball and more of Hleb's right leg. It was a decision Wenger was understandably annoyed with, exchanging some words with Pardew.

However West Ham were spurred into action with two devious strikers and the likes of Matthew Etherington and Benayoun began to make ways down the flanks in anticipation, one chance coming into the box for Sheringham only to be denied by a timed block by Gael Clichy. Harewood had a great chance as Sheringham headed on and William Gallas lost his footing, leaving Harewood one-on-one from an angle with Lehmann where he fired straight at the keeper. Kolo Toure was set up with a fizzing shot that looked in but just curled away from the post literally by the merest of inches. But a minute from time West Ham made their play pay. Etherington battled with sub Mathieu Flamini and won the ball, played a one-two with Sheringham and then crossed low behind the defence where Harewood poached and pounced from behind Clichy.

Pardew celebrated with the Hammers staff, perhaps in an over-zealous manner that seemed to have upset Arsene Wenger and lead to him pushing Pardew away as the Hammers man came towards to speak to him. Later footage showed the two managers continued to exchange words but on a more colloquial manner. At the end Pardew went over to Wenger to shake his hand but the Arsenal man showed no inclination and assistant Pat Rice reluctantly gave out a hand before Pardew was ushered away down the tunnel. Pardew made an apology afterwards in the post-match interview

Spurs 2 v Chelsea 1

This derby goes further back than West Ham's Arsenal record, nine years further back the last time Spurs defeated Chelsea. Key to this was Man Utd's win on Saturday for Chelsea, for Spurs it was simply the need for more points to climb the table. Although Hossam Ghaly went on a run of some promise, Chelsea started the brightest when Didier Drogba headed down to Michael Ballack, the German then sending a high ball over the defence for the onside Arjen Robben to race onto, one-on-one with Paul Robinson. Ledley King made an exceptional recovery from some yards to catch up the speedy Robben and superbly touch the ball away just before the Dutchman was about to strike. From the resulting corner John Terry got up to head the ball and it fell down to Claude Makelele, who half-volleyed across the ball to spin it past Robinson. After that Robben ran down the right to set up Frank Lampard with a shot over the bar, and another corner brought a Drogba headed goal that was disallowed. Graeme Poll explained the decision was for Terry pulling on King, the MOTD commentator pointed Drogba had apparently pushed on Matt Dawson. I didnt see any infringement by Terry.

Spurs then turned up the pace on Chelsea and it was Dimitar Berbatov who drew a foul from Paulo Ferreira on the left side, from which Jermaine Jenas delivered the ball for Dawson to get above all and nod on past Hilario. Spurs had come back, after a period where Chelsea had threatened to increase their lead. After a Spurs corner that resulted in a little melee and the box bouncing off for another corner, Aaron Lennon was his usual whippet self and teased down the right side, drawing the attention of Ashley Cole and Ballack before twisting and then hooking a left foot cross for Robbie Keane to steal behind the unsighted Ferreira and head just over the bar. Jose Mourinho took off Ferreira and replaced him with Khalid Boulahrouz at the break to strengthen the right back position where Spurs had more fluidity than the Chelsea boss preferred. This may have been a wrong move.

Some six minutes into the second half, with Spurs under attack, Dawson cleared to the left where Keane loitered within their own half, the Irishman made Boulahrouz commit himself and then went on the sprint down the flank. Boulahrouz caught up with him and after two stepovers lost his balance, leaving Keane to move on and cross with his left. Makelele managed a foot to the ball which sent it over the defence to Lennon, who dummied Ashley Cole to cut onto his left and sent the ball past Hilario. Ghaly was booked for an elbow on Michael Essien, something which I thought was meant to be a red card offence but may have seen to Mr Poll as unintentional, nonetheless chelsea came gunning for an equaliser whereas Spurs sensed a potential upset. Boulahrouz didn't get to a high ball over the defence and Keane obliged by chesting the ball and coming in to square for Berbatov, who couldn't finish.

Makelele came off for Shaun Wright-Phillips, making Chelsea's line up now 4-3-2-1, and five minutes later removed Boulahrouz for his final substitution of Salomon Kalou, potentially leaving Essien to hold behind Ballack, Lampard and SWP, Kalou and Robben aiding Drogba. A sense of frustration came into Chelsea where Terry brought down Berbatov on the half-way line and earned the skipper a booking. Then with under twenty minutes of normal time, Benoit Assou-Ekotto fouled Kalou on the Chelsea right which gave an excellent opportunity to equalise. After the melee in the box the ball went over all for a goalkick, but from that melee players gathered from both teams to remonstrate, particularly Pascal Chimbonda and Didier Zokora who were incensed with Terry. Mr Poll reached for his card, ushered for Terry to come over and booked him again, the defender making no complaints or comments as he walked.

Despite the disadvantage, Chelsea came forward. Lampard broke down the left and shot over the bar. Ballack found Robben on the right and the Dutchman cut inside to curl a sweet left foot beyond Robinson but not the post. I had taken Terry to be a cool personified player, even if Chelsea are behind, as he was in the Nou Camp to set up Drogba. But yesterday during a Spurs corner in the first half he came down from a jump and was stepped on by possibly Zokora or Chimbonda or Assou-Ekotto and was annoyed with possibly Mr Poll not noticing it. Quite possibly he carried that thought into the second half and it culminated into the rash challenge on Berbatov and then the sending off, as replays showed an infuriated King saying something to him and Terry retorting. It is potentially Terry's words that probably upset Chimbonda and Zokora.

Mr Poll apparently stated or indicated he disallowed Drogba's goal because of a pull on King's jersey by Terry, and he issued Terry's second booking for a pull on King during that freekick. I couldn't see anything in either incidents but judging from Terry's reaction to the sending off and that of Chimbonda and Zokora, added with the non-committal of referees to reveal exactly why a booking is issued, I sense Terry was booked for something he said rather than he did.

Aston Villa 2 v Blackburn Rovers 0

This fixture has been an entertaining one of recent seasons. With Villa looking to come back to winning ways after last week had ended their unbeaten run, and Blackburn in good spirits following a good job in Europe on Thursday, chances went to either side to open the scoring. Gabriel Agbonlahor remains on the wings where his pace and delivery into the box is proving an asset, Chris Sutton started with Juan Pablo Angel. Blackburn were without Robbie Savage due to injury so Aaron Mokoena partnered Tugay in central midfield. Villa were awarded a penalty five minutes from the break when Sutton lifted the ball into the box and it came off Andre Ooijer. Replays showed it was mostly off the uper left chest area below the shoulder than the arm but the linesman gave it. Gareth Barry sent the ball down the middle.

A goal five minutes before half time, another goal five minutes into the second half, for Villa. Michael Gray had possession by the Blackburn box and passed it back to Zurab Khizanishvili, which left the Georgian defender with too much to do in such a short space and he was dispossessed by Angel, the Colombian slotting past Brad Friedel. If the penalty given against Ooijer was a firm decision, then the one against Stiliyan Petrov should have been given. A Blackburn freekick taken by David Bentley struck the Bulgarian on the right arm, and was for me a penalty but Howard Webb, who incurred the wrath of Mark Hughes at half time, waved any appeals away.

LA Primera Liga & Serie A

Barcelona had followed their inability to hold onto a win on Wednesday against Chelsea with a draw at Deportivo, where they had the lead through a Ronaldinho penalty. Depo's Juan Rodriguez equalised with fifteen minutes to go and Barca endured six bookings. Real Madrid and Sevilla had their chance to group the table, but Madrid sent down at home to Celta Vigo 1-2 and Sevilla jumped up with a 2-0 win over Osasuna with former West Ham and Spurs man Freddie Kanoute scoring from the spot. In Serie A, from where I reported on Inter's stuttering progress home and in Europe, the 'Nerazzurri' notched another win against Ascoli to remain joint top with Palermo, who also won against Palermo, while AC Milan went down 2-0 at Atalanta. The significance in both of these respected leagues is Barcelona and Real Madrid stuttered in taking top spot and AC Milan have looked well in Europe but clearly are not recovering from the match-fixing scandal at home.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

EFT Player of the Month for October: Jussi Jaaskelainen!

The month of October saw a host of players battle it out for our player of the month award. Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Barry, Francesc Fabregas, Tim Cahill and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all featured in the voting among the five man EFT panel. Yet the player to come out on top of this quality selection of players is the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.

He has been a crucial player in Bolton's high-flying start to the season, and this was significantly highlighted a fortnight ago when very late into a tough away game at Blackburn Rovers he made two penalty saves in two minutes (the 87th and 88th minute) to help secure a narrow one goal victory for his side. Okay, he conceded four goals to a rampant Man Utd side a week later but watching the highlights it was clear that if it wasn't for the excellent Finnish international keeper the scoreline could have been a lot worse for the Wanderers.

For me Jussi Jaaskelainen is a composed, consistent, highly athletic and reliable keeper who would not be out of place in any side in the world. At 33 years of age he will be reaching his prime as a keeper so expect many more top-rate displays this season from Bolton's shot-stopper as they press for European football qualification.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

WBA Robinson out of order; San Siro sensation; Liverpool's progression in Europe

There will be no weekend review, unfortunately, as my schedule has caught up with me this week. However, there are a number of titbits I wish to mention as I don't want them to go unnoticed......

Paul Robinson of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, against Birmingham, stretched to keep the ball in play and did so, and in the process this allowed the ball to be free for Birmingham's Damien Johnson to challenge for it. Robinson saw this and immediately got up to run toweards the ball and then unleashed a very physical jump for the ball that instead resulted in his elbow making impact with Johnson's jaw. Johnson was knocked to the ground where his face hit the ground first and was semi-conscious. Referee Nigel Miller cme out with the red card faster than Robinson's reckless action that earned it. Johnson's jaw was later confirmed as fractured. Birmingham manager Steve Bruce said "When I saw it again on TV, it was a horror show. He knew what he was doing." It was something very similar to the Ben Thatcher incident on Pedro Mendes, and is not a red straight and three match ban, rather a straight red and five-to-ten match ban. I wonder if the FA will introduce their 'exceptional powers' in this case.

One player who is impressing at St Andrews is Nicholas Bendtner, a young Danish internationalon on loan from Arsenal. another is Michael Chopra of Cardiff. I mentioned previously during a Newcastle match review that it was ironic the North East side were struggling for goals and a decent striker, maybe before Obafemi Martins was bought, yet sold an-eager-to-impress Chopra to Cardiff. He added two more to his tally against Sunderland last night to edge him out at the top of the goalscoring charts with ten.

Luton Town defender Sol Davis suffered a stroke on the coach to the Sunday game against Ipswich Town. That must have been a worrying moment for the players and management and staff to see and acknowledge and the team went on to a hard 5-0 defeat to the Suffolk side. I watched the game and though Luton tried to get in the game after the break, it wasn't going for them. Davis' stroke pales into significance the defeat and I wish him the very best in recovering. It will call for some strong resolve and nerves now to pull this side back into winning ways after their home victory against Leeds. They lost to Everton in the League Cup, then Ipswich and last night Burnley won 0-2. This side was impressive in League One and currently 9th in the Championship, I hope they can put back some bite into their campaign.

In the Premiership, I noticed a number of harsh decisions. I recall Everton's Mikel Arteta clambouring over Arsenal's William Gallas, the whistle blew for a foul and the Spaniard left his boot on the Frenchman, which provoked Gallas into a reaction of verbals but nothing physical. Arteta was rightly booked, Gallas was wrongly booked. Watford's impressive Ashley Young was onside when he ran onto the pass from another Watford impressive player, Hameur Bouazza, and saw his goal cancelled out, wrongly, by the linesman. The linesman strikes again. Man Utd were awesome, Wayne Rooney will now shave his beard as his 'London bus' patience after no goals has paid off as three came along. Liverpool played their best since the season began against a Villa side unbeaten and have held both Arsenal and Chelsea to a draw at their respective grounds. Charlton hung on for a brave battle on Wednesday against Bolton and did it again away to Newcastle, so the feeling is much better at The Valley that they can move away from relegation.

In Europe, particularly in Serie A, I watched the Milan derby at the San Siro and it was a superb match. Inter took the lead through Hernan Crespo's header from a Dejan Stankovic cross and then doubled it with a sweet strike from Stankovic as he controlled a Oliver Dacourt pass and then smacked the ball in an instant. This was officially a home match for Milan and it got worse for the 'hosts'. After the break, Inter broke forward and the ball came to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who chipped it past Georgian defender Kakha Kaladze and slid it underneath Dida for number three. Milan then took charge and came back through Clarence Seedorf as his shot deflected of Inter skipper Javier Zanetti to make it 3-1 with some fifty minutes on the clock. But Inter scored again through the somewhat controversial giant of Marco Materazzi, who headed in from a Stankovic freekick. Celebrating with his shirt partially over his head, as some like to do, he revealed a T-shirt underneath with a message, all of which was deemed a bookable offence that added to the yellow he had received earlier and ended in his dismissal. Reminiscent of Sunderland's Ross Wallace against Hull at the weekend.

That was on 68mins, Inter 1-4 up and expecting to hold down the play for the final whistle. Milan had other plans and went into action. Two minutes later sub Alberto Gilardino rose above Ivan Cordoba to head in Milan's second from a Cafu cross. Then into the first minute of five minutes' injury time, Cafu crossed and Inter's keeper Cesar failed to make enough contact, meaning he was out of position for Kaka to gather and lob him sweetly for 3-4. Before they could muster another chance to draw, the whistle blew. I thought the referee had a good game handling the play, the referee being none other than.....Stefano Farina, who officiated the Barcelona v Chelsea game last night!

Pleased for Liverpool's progression into the last sixteen, where a stupid, senseless act of violence occurred. A Bordeaux was on the ground and the referee made no indication to stop play, the ball went out for a throw, John Arne Riise took it quickly and the referee had to stop Luis Garcia on the attack as Riise was then attacked with a vicious headbutt from Fernando Menegazzo, who then went on as if he was also injured and that he had done little to Riise!! Riise had a gash that oozed blood! Bye bye, Menegazzo, for good hopefully. Garcia was on form again with a left foot half volley and a late finish either side of a superb Bolo Zenden ball for a Steven Gerrard first goal of the season. ITV teletext have been getting a number of stated facts wrong recently, stating PSV's win against Galatasaray did us a favour. The win was anything but, as beating them favoured the Dutch more than us after our win.

Chelsea only need a draw next time to go through, as Barca struggles under the weight of Werder Bremen's win in Bulgaria. Ten bookings in the Nou Camp makes it surprising no one was dismissed. Deco scored in the third minute, Frank Lampard equalised with a chip from an acute angle into the goal, Ronaldinho squared for Eidur Gudjohnsen to gain the lead back but Didier Drogba finished off a resurging injury time battle to touch in John Terry's head-down. Chelsea could do themselves and Barcelona a favour by beating Werder Bremen, if Barcelona win in Bulgaria. If they are to defend their trophy, the Catalans must. I don't see Chelsea losing, so the least is a draw in North West Germany, and a win against Levski Sofia would then leave the German and Spaniard sides to fight it out in the last game at the Nou Camp.



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