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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Carew for Baros looks a very good deal for Villa

John Carew is a striker whose late winners for Valencia in the Mestella have twice knocked Arsenal out of the Champs League. He also seemed to have a great knack for scoring goals against Real Madrid for Lyon in the Champs League (three to my memory). He is only 27 years old. He has immense physical presence, is good in the air, and has a cool finish in front of goal.

And so while the media were focusing on Villa signing Ashley Young for nearly £10m eariler this week - my focus was on the swap deal Martin O'Neill achieved in sending the stagnating Milan Baros to Gerard Houllier (reunion time for the ex-Pool pair) and in return gaining the big Norweigan striker.

For me this should prove to be a very effective and underrated signing. Carew has all the attributes to be an effective target-man holding up the ball and linking-up with the pace of Agbonlahor and Young coming in off the wings. He will also be a more dominating and pacier presence in possession than Villa's current centre-forward options - Juan Pablo Angel and Chris Sutton.

I have high hopes for John Carew in the Premiership and look forward to seeing how he adapts to the Premiership. I really think that very soon he will be making a good mark.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Assured Clichy has made it a case of 'Ashley who?'

After a thrilling come-from-behind win against Man Utd it is definitely the case that these are more good times to savour as an Arsenal fan. I would not swap Henry, Cesc or RVP for any other player in world football. They have the special talent and the special motivation to make supporting them a joy and its simply fantastic that I can expect to see them play and inprove in the same team for some time to come.

Henry is Henry: and what a cool header that was to win it. I'll repeat what I said about Cesc after the Real Madrid game: he has the talent, composure, temperament and motivation to become the world's best midfield playmaker. And van Persie is simply one of the most technically-gifted footballers I have ever seen- for some time I have stated my wonder at his fantastic ball-striking technique and again he demonstrated this with his 'true-strike' to gain the all-important equaliser yesterday.

But in this post I want to focus on a player who has impressed me from the first time I saw him play in the Arsenal shirt: Gael Clichy. He has - as expected - made the departure of Ashley Cole a virtual non-event for the functioning of this Arsenal team.

Quite aside from sharing the physical characteristics and the same high defensive and attacking qualities as Ashley Cole, I reckon that he is slightly faster and a better ball-dribbler than Cole. He has excellent technical ability on the ball and is composed when having possession in tight situations.

Clichy also looks to have always had an excellent temperament which is a major reason why I have always had faith in the young Frenchman. For me, he is a player to be trusted to be fully concentrated on the pitch and this can be indicated by the fact that his consistency of performance- something which Cole excelled at - is very good.

Yesterday Clichy started up against perhaps the most in-form winger in world-football, Cristiano Ronaldo. And just as Ashley Cole memorably did in Euro 2004, Clichy gave no inch against the flying Portugese winger.

Twice Ronaldo tried to knock the ball past Clichy and fly round the other side of him to continue his dribble. And twice Clichy outsprinted Ronaldo, got the ball first, and found an Arsenal teammate. So effective was Clichy against Ronaldo that this may have influenced to a large extect Ferguson's decision to switch the Portugese international to the left wing after about 35 minutes where he remained for the rest of the game. This was a good decision by Ferguson because for me Clichy would have remained more than a match for Ronaldo.

Clichy is still only 21 years old and with all his qualities - including what looks to me a special temperament - I believe he will be a consistently excellent performer for the team for a very long time to come. Making the loss of a player of the quality of Cole a virtual irrelevance so quickly is no-mean feat, but it is one that Gael Clichy has done with seamless ease and what's more it is exactly what I expected of him. For me at least his presence at left-back has quickly made it a case of 'Ashley who?'.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Premiership weekend review 20/01/07

First one of mine for the year and it was an entertaining weekend, more or less. Three dismissals, one which was a substitution that lasted for mere seconds and a bad injury.

Man City 0 v Blackburn 3

Having had Joey Barton speculated to be an interest for Everton, and Micah Richards, speculated to be an interest for Chelsea, both declare their intentions to stay at Eastlands as the club is going somewhere, this result is a slap on the face. Barton was suspended and comments he made in regard to the central midfield area for England have rubbed a couple of shoulders the wrong way, coming amongst opinion Barton could be considered for the Spain friendly. Richards is possibly another contender for selection but yesterday made little to enhance that. Morten Gamst Pedersen headed in well from Richards' area and deposited a curling freekick to notch his brace. New kid Matt Derbyshire came on and wriggled Stephen Jordan this way and that to gain a closer approach to Nicky Weaver and beat the keeper at his near post. Blackburn defender Andre Ooijer had his left leg fibula broken and angle ligament damage as Bernado Corradi fell onto his ankle. I imagine the break occurred near the ankle and therefore could heal quicker than the usual break further up the bone. All the best to the Dutchman.

Reading 3 v Sheff Utd 1

An old Championship clash and the home side appeared more alive and more cunning than their guests to relinquish three points. Steve Sidwell ran on and had his cross cleared but deflect off him to Shane Long to poked ahead to score. Ulises de la Cruz went on a run from left-back across the pitch, the ball was dispossessed but came to James Harper who found de la Cruz still running and found him, the Ecuadorian using his right to slot in. Keith Gillespie came on and seconds later got into a set-to with Hunt and then stuck out an elbow to Hunt's face. Mark Halsey was debriefed by the linesman and Gillespie was off. I'm certain it took longer to put his kit on. Gillespie then came to Hunt to shove an elbow onto his chest before Phil Jagielka ushered him off. Neil Warnock was incensed but kept reserve, gesturing with a raised foot coming down to indicate Sidwell's tackle earlier on Chris Armstrong deserved equal sanction. Reading first-team coach Wally Downes took offensive at the gesture as an interpretation for someone to go in hard on Hunt in retaliation, and came over to shove Warnock, who didn't retaliate.

An immediate melee ensued from both benches, resulting in Downes and Warnock being dismissed from the benches. It was a bad gesture regardless of it's intention. Hunt then added a third by touching back the ball into the net after Sidwell had his effort on goal blocked. Christian Node scored a consolation from a delivered freekick that had Reading running out but failing to implement the offside trap properly.

Fulham 1 v Spurs 1

Fulham for me have been the draw specialists, 11 of them in the league if I remember correctly and the most memorable one was Vicarage Road, Watford leading 2-0 and ended 3-3. As the home side greeted Steed Malbranque with boos upon his everyt ouch, the Frenchman went on the run down the left flank past two players until Heidur Helguson upended him. The Icelander was rightly booked but he received a second for coming over from the side to challenge Tom Huddlestone with studs showing, although it appeared a challenge to block the ball rather than anything malicious. So down to 10-men, Fulham earned a penalty as Brian McBride aimed a shot at goal that was blocked by Matt Dawson. Replays showed the defender influenced the touch with his right side, the ball coming off the arm, so the defender was booked and new face Vincenzo Montella took the kick for 1-0. Spurs turned the pressure on Fulham for the equaliser, with six minutes remaining. A delivered freekick was not dealt with properly and came to Pascal Chimbonda, who controlled and squirmed a right foot effort that Jan Lastuvka could only parry in.

Liverpool 2 v Chelsea 0

Much has been mentioned in regard to how it is Chelsea have leaked goals more openly than before, with opinion swaying towards the absence of John Terry. Nonetheless the main thing was they were not losing, as comforting to the Chelsea fans as that can be, but to the club they want more. Alongside Terry, Ricardo Carvalho has been impressive. Without Terry he has to lead and whoever it is who has come into Carvalho's space has struggled to match Carvalho. Yesterday Chelsea had to do without Carvalho, taken ill Friday night, and had to assemble a back four out of two central midfielders and a right back in a central role. My colleague T estimated Liverpool would use Peter Crouch's aerial advantage to put pressure on Carvalho and leave either Craig Bellamy or Dirk Kuyt to work on perhaps a nervy central defender. Michael Essien partnered Paulo Ferreira in the middle and I wouldn't call them nervy, just unorganised.

Two goals in the first twenty minutes. Jamie Carragher launches a ball to Crouch, who added the slightest of touches which found Ferreira slow to react, allowing Kuyt to capitalise with chest controll and slotting past a headgear protected Petr Cech. The second came via a Steven Gerrard ball into the box aimed for Crouch but cleared by Essien to Jermaine Pennant. Pennant controlled and then teed up a volleyover Cech, not an easy feat over a 6ft 5in keeper. John Arne Riise was at left wing with Fabio Aurelio at left back, so the Norweigan was allowed closer rein to ran at Chelsea, which he did with some aplomb, cracking a 40-yard effort off the crossbar.

Newcastle 2 v West Ham 2

West Ham for their woes started the brighter with two goals from Carlton Cole and Marlon Harewood. Newcastle failed to clear a Yossi Benayoun corner and allowed Calum Davenport to head across to Cole. Harewood then turned on Peter Ramage to run on and slot in number two, West Ham looking in cruise control. However James Milner gathered on the right and aimed a shot that found Scott Parker in an offside position, the skipper allowing the ball to go through his legs and past Roy Carroll. It was arguable that Parker took advantage by impeding the line of vision of the keeper and therefore was clearly offside, and the linesman had flagged at the time but ref Uriah Rennie disagreed and allowed the goal.

My opinion is the decision is a tight one. Parker is not interfering with play but did he impede Carroll's vision? I say Carroll looked on Parker to do something with the ball as it headed in Parker's direction but nonetheless Carroll didn't move. Parker jumped a little and opened his legs. He is in an offside position but not interfering with play and had not impeded the keeper in any way. So say the rules, which I think should simply revert to the original rule of one being in a position regardless if they were not interfering, getting an advantage or making toast. With one pulled back before the break, Luis Boa Morte handled a corner and Nolberto Solano coolly scored from the spot.

Portsmouth 0 v Charlton 1

Massive win for Charlton in consideration. It seemed unlikely with Portsmouth at home and the likes of Sol Campbell, new recruit Lauren, Nwankwo Kanu partnered with Andy Cole, and the usuals of Matt Taylor, Pedro Mendes and Sean Davis included. But Charlton were carving out chances while Portsmouth were slow to react. The home fans got behind Charlton new boy Ben Thatcher at every touch, however it was former Pompey player Amdy Faye who stole the credits as he went through to play a one-two with Bryan hughes and scoffed a shot at goal via Campbell's challenge, the ball going up and spinning past David James.

Question: Glen Johnson played after having accepted a police fine of £80 for theft from a DIY store with another player in Millwall's Ben May. Why did he do it, out of the two of them, while receiving a footballer's salary?? Would this be a possible indication of debt?

Aston Villa 2 v Watford 0

Both sides battled and toiled to score but couldn't, Milan Baros and Hameur Bouazza going the closest. It took a corner and then a Gavin McCann shot to break the deadlock, McCann's shot coming off Malky Malkay then Gavin Mahon past Ben Foster, who simply kept out Villa on his own with some good keepering. Next Danny Shittu was slow to react to the ball going over him and then tumbled to the ground as Gabriel Agbonhalor showed his renowned pace to collect then deposit the ball past Foster late into injury time. The promising Ashley Young was excluded from Adrian Boothroyd's selection, penning a way for him to join Villa for under £10m. A confidant Boothroyd had earlier said Young would be going nowhere and all bids were rejected. A reluctant Boothroyd accepted his player is wanted and therefore desired to leave. Perhaps young may remain at Watofrd until the end of season why the deal eventually goes through.

Middlesbrough 5 v Bolton 1

My, my, when the going gets tough at The Riverside, Boro can get going. The last score of this magnitude came at White Hart Lane at the expense of lowly Charlton, not to be expected from a Bolton side vying for a European place. Three Boro goals in under twenty five minutes. A stewart Downing freekick came off Abel Xavier's head, the pst then Gary Speed for the first, the Portguese nearly knocking out one of the management team in celebration (as well as Gareth Southgate); Downing again crossed for Xavier to head a superb effort past Jussi Jaaskelainen and then he went on the run and came inside to strike with his right foot for number three.

A Bolton attack found Kevins' Davies and Nolan combining for the captain to pull one back with a low curling shot, only for Downing to again come inside and cross with the outside of his left foot for Mark Viduka to touch in at the far post. The second half brought one more goal, courtesy of Viduka again. Lee Catterole got the better of Ricardo Gardner with some ease and pulled back for the Australian to slot in his second with six minutes to go. El-Hadji Diouf argued a point with ref Alan Wiley and became the third Premiership dismissal on the afternoon for foul and abusive language.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

How will Rafael Benitez attack Essien and Carvalho?

Last season one of the shock scorelines was Chelsea's three-nil away defeat in February to Middlesbrough. The in-depth analysis made by Sky's Chris Kamara of this match was superb. He showed that Steve McClaren had deliberately instructed Yakubu to be on Ricardo Carvalho with the aim that Boro's defence would launch long ball after long ball in the direction of the Nigerian striker. The plan worked perfectly: the well-built Boro forward predictably out-muscled the Portugese defender which resulted in a couple of the goals that was scored. Meanwhile the indomitable John Terry was looking on like a helpless by-stander as his centre-back partner was given a really rough time.

At Anfield this lunchtime there will be only Carvalho as a recognised centre-back in the Chelsea defence. With Terry and Boulahrouz injured and Gallas and Huth gone the 'billionaire club' is in the incongruos position of likely having to resort to playing compact midfielder Michael Essien at centre-back. If Carvalho was having problems with the high ball at the Riverside last year, I think that Essien could have an equally bad time tomorrow. For Benitez' master-plan for this match should be to do with emulating McClaren and targeting the aerial weakness of the makeshift Chelsea centre-back pairing.

Benitez is not afraid to play aerial-ball football: indeed the signing of Peter Crouch was primarily for this purpose. I expect Crouch to start tomorrow so that Chelsea's apparent achilles heel can be given a full test. Crouch does not have the muscle of Yakubu but his sheer height advantage will mean that he should win the majority of long balls played in his direction. Then it will be up to Liverpool to maximise the knock-downs that come their way around the box.

Gerrard will be a chief threat in this regard, and the fact that he will be attacking the box from a central position can only be a positive thing for this potential tactic. I also think that Kuyt's greater physical presence means he is probably a better option than Bellamy in going for this 'direct-football' option . Kuyt has an excellent Anfield scoring record and I have a feeling that he will be on the score-sheet today.

This is my feeling for the strategy and personnel that Benitez will opt for and I think it is one that will pay-off with a couple of Liverpool goals. We'll see... and lets hope for an overall exciting encounter.

P.S. It will be excellent to see the return of Chelsea's Petr Cech in goal. His injury was truly life-threatening and to make a comeback within three months is an outstanding testament of his strength of character. We at EFT wish him a safe return to competitive action.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Signing Owen Hargreaves in January could be a mistake by Manchester United

With the opening of the January transfer window, United have inevitably again been linked with a big money move for Bayern's Owen Hargreaves. This does not appear to be just press speculation either, as Sir Alex Ferguson has repeatedly made clear his desire to bring Hargreaves to Old Trafford and as Hargreaves says in his own column on the BBC website, the speculation is "concrete".

However, Uli Hoeness has recently reiterated that Bayern will not sell Hargreaves in January and will only consider a sale at the end of the season. Whilst I have always maintained that Hargreaves is a exceptional energetic midfielder, I think that this in fact could be beneficial for United this season for a few reasons:

1. Price

Prices are always inflated in the January transfer window. The limited time to buy means that selling clubs alway have buying clubs over the barrel in terms of demands. £15 million is too much for Hargreaves and anything above that would be ridiculous.

2. Champions League - Cup tied

Before Hargreaves broke his leg, he played for Bayern in the Champions League against Spartak Moscow. So, he would be ineligible to play for United for the rest of the CL campaign.

3. Recover from injury

Hargreaves is just on his way back from a serious injury. It will take him time to regain match fitness and optimum form. Coming to a new club with title aspirations with huge expectations on his shoulders would not, in my opinion, aid his recovery or be of substantial benefit to United in the short term this season. If United do sign him, it would be much better to do so at the end of the season when he will have trained and played for Bayern regularly and would be fit to start the new season with a full pre-season campaign behind him.

4. Disruption to the current settled United team

One of the major factors to United exceptional domestic form this season which Ferguson has not openly acknowledged is that he has gone "back to basics" with the United formation. 4-4-2. The unsuccessful forays into 4-5-1/4-3-3 have been ditched as Ferguson has realised that United are at their most penetrative with a four man midfield with two wide men and two strikers.

Central to this formation has been the partnership of Carrick and Scholes. Carrick has been unspectacular but solid, especially in his retention of possession - and Scholes has been rolling back the clock in putting in some exceptional displays with his link play.

Signing Hargreaves for an inevitably large fee will, I feel, give Ferguson too much scope to tinker with the successful formula he has embarked upon this season. The temptation will be for Ferguson to revert to a 5 man midfield and I think that would be a mistake in United's hunt for Trophies this season.

Hargreaves will be a very good signing for United, but the fruits of that signing will only be seen when Scholes ends his Indian summer of great form and is replaced by Carrick as a slightly different but still creative force and Hargreaves steps into the "Keane" role of box-to-box midfielder.

Yes, United's squad will be stretched this season if injuries occur, but I think that signing Hargreaves in January will be gamble that could backfire for United.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Arsenal's forward line is looking ready to explode in 2007

A quick post to primarily celebrate the comeback of a rested and fully fit Thierry Henry to the Arsenal line-up. The brave decision taken by Wenger to rest him during the month of December was not welcomed by Henry at the time, but given the 'before and after' comparison of his play all supporters can see that he looks a lot more healthy and physically confident now after suffering from visible burn-out for the first few months of the season.

Enjoy again Henry's thrilling goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup third round last Saturday that finished off a sterling attempt by the Anfield side to rescue a two goal half-time lead:

It's moments like this that highlight that Thierry is a different level of footballer. Fantastic goal from a fantastic player.

Overall I really enjoyed seeing the zip, movement and interchange between Henry and Robin van Persie in the match against Liverpool. This partnership is shaping up to be something truly special because van Persie is now really exploding as a player with exceptional technique and finishing ability. It is also noticeable to me just in the last month or two that van Persie now looks to have a stature and self-confidence on the pitch that wasn't quite there before and this can only be good for him and the team.

Add the physically intimidating and rapid Adebayor plus the quick-developing Theo Walcott to Arsenal's forward mix and the potential to create really exciting and compatible pairings is I reckon at its highest level since the days of Bergkamp, Kanu, Wiltord and Henry a few seasons back. I think the next year can really prove this - especially with the impressive young Danish international Niclas Bendtner returning to the squad in the summer.

Again hats off to Wenger for delivering van Persie and Adebayor to Arsenal for relatively low transfer fees, and having the patience to develop strikers for his team instead of buying them in ready-made. The one thing that Gunners have learnt from Wenger is that when it comes to his purchases of virtual unknowns the wait is usually well worth it!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

EFT Player of the Month for December: Cristiano Ronaldo!

With a clean sweep of first choice nominations across the five man EFT panel Man Utd's flying Portugese winger Cristiano Ronaldo is the comprehensive winner of the EFT player of the month award for December.

He has been in an excellent form all season but in the last month he seems to have found an even higher gear to fly into attack and tear defences apart. Six goals and a couple of assists in three games around the Christmas period were decisive in seeing Man Utd open up a solid lead over Chelsea. His sheer individuality, sharp skills on the ball and dribbling at major speed are fantastic qualities and he is a great asset for Premiership football let alone Man Utd. Well done Ronaldo in claiming this month's EFT award.


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