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Monday, December 31, 2007

Phil O'Donnell - 25th March 1972 - 29th December 2007

Football has had yet another tragic occurrence and it does make for depressing news. The Scottish Premier League fixture between Motherwell and Dundee United at Fir Park on Saturday ended in a home win of 5-3 but the win was marred by Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell collapsing as he was about to be substituted with Marc Fitzpatrick. After five minutes treatment on the field, O'Donnell was taken into a waiting ambulance to Wishaw General Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.

At Motherwell 1990-1994

The cause of death was said to be initially a form of seizure though that has not been confirmed. Scarves and flowers have been laid at Fir Park by many including manager Mark McGhee, colleagues past and present, amongst others. I am quite devastated by yet another death on the field, in the game. Spain and football witnessed the loss of Sevilla's Antonio Puerta in August this year, football has witnessed a number of players passing away on and off the field recently. It is unprecedented, it is not as if football will deter the Grim Reaper, but it just was not an issue until the turn of the century.

Scotland cap

O'Donnell was considered a very bright prospect for Scotland as a teenager with Motherwell in 1990, one of four scorers for the side in their Scottish Cup final win against Dundee United that same season, Scottish PFA Young Player Of The Year 1992 and 1994, and a first Scotland cap in 1992. In 1994 he brought the attention of Celtic and signed, being party to the 1995 Scottish Cup final win over Airdrie and the league title win in 1998. O'Donnell signed for Sheffield Wednesday in 1999 but found his appearances limited by injury in his first season when Wednesday went down from the Premiership and only a handful of appearances thereafter until Wednesday went down again.

Fifth player from right, applauding

He was released by Wednesday and went to train with Motherwell where former Ipswich and England defender Terry Butcher was manager, eventually signed up and made captain. He was known as 'Uncle Phil' particularly with his nephew David Clarkson a striker at the club but also for leadership qualities and experience.

In action for Motherwell as 'Uncle Phil', the match where he later passed away

Xmas is a time for celebration, a season to be jolly, good tidings. All the more why it must be very painful, very tragic after such a loss. O'Donnell is survived by his wife and four children. EFT sends its condolences and best wishes to Phil O'Donnell's family.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Carvalho & Gunnarsson acts call for revision of penalties

Three games kicked up earlier than the others yesterday afternoon. Chelsea v Aston villa, Spurs v Fulham and West Ham v Reading. All three games carried five dismissals altogether, three in one game.

Watched the highlights of the Stamford Bridge match, which the pundits around on TV and radio are hailing as a fantastic game. For the neutrals, of course, it was fantastic, but not as a fan of either side. Or a former manager. Joe Mourinho said of a high scoring match either side that such a match was not good as it goes on to expose defensive frailties of both sides. And he is right.

Gabriel Agbonlahor simply caught out Chelsea's left side, who left him alone enough to chip towards John Carew, who headed across for Shaun Maloney to hit past Petr Cech. With Ricardo Carvalho in defence, I felt he would hold the line firm but Chelsea were stretched. What would Mourinho have felt about Villa's second, a shot from Maloney that Cech should have gathered comfortably yet it was almost a carbon copy of the first Croatia goal at Wembley not so long ago. How Carson must have looked on and sympathised. Maloney was not closed down.

Then the penalty. It wasn't in my opinion, any contact from Zat Knight must have been minimal and not exerted enough to cause such a foul. Michael Ballack clearly dived to exaggerate and Phil Dowd's miserable grouchy self gave it and the red card to Knight. Penalty coolly deposited by Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukrainian was put on fire and he responded in the 2nd half with a superb shot from outside the box to equalise, with Alex adding another with a sweet run and link up with Shevchenko. Yet more defensive frailties as an Ashley Young freekick was evaded by all but Martin Laursen for Villa's equaliser, not one Chelsea defender went to that ball.

Then the second dismissal. What the heavens was Carvalho thinking as he just dived in on Agbonlahor with both feet like an eagle on its prey?? Notwithstanding that Agbonlahor was about to run on goal and could have left Carvalho, as the last defender, for dust, the Portuguese was certainly uncharacteristic with that challenge. But a freekick for Chelsea with two minutes to go brought a superb show of technique and skill from Ballack as he curled the ball away and past Carson. Yet that was put to the side as Villa attacked with injury time looming, the ball dangerously bouncing in front of the Chelsea goal and Ashley Cole diverting it away. The decision was given that handball occurred and Cole was sent off. Replays showed the ball more likely bounced off Cole's chest. Gareth Barry scored from the spot-kick.

So for me two penalties and two dismissals that were not.

I watched West Ham v Reading. When Reading went behind, I felt they have a good attacking approach that could gift them an equaliser because West ham were coming forward but not utilising the space and speed they worked up in front of Reading's goal. Freddie Ljungberg and Scott Parker were guilty of not providing across goal when given the excellent chance to. Reading were reduced to ten when Brynjar Gunnarsson won one tackle and then launched into a two-footed lunge on Hayden Mullins. So bizarre, rightly dismissed.

West Ham scored fortuitously as Carlton Cole slipped over the ball but mixed up defending allowed Nolberto Solano to control and slip past the Reading keeper. Reading equalised in the second half as Nicky Shorey chipped a sweet reverse ball for Dave Kitson to volley past Rob Green. Reading with eleven players may well have stolen the points but overall a draw was fair.

Both tackles by the players in question very much could have caused a horrific injury, much less a broken bone. A straight red and three games out could make or break a side's next three games, but the long-term of a player on the end of such challenges is a far more serious issue to consider. What more can be done to stamp this challenge out? Introduce huge fines too? Because I felt it would wither away from football, we are not taught to tackle with two feet so at professional level we are not supposed to be seeing it, yet there we are with two such incidents early in the day.

As far as I am concerned, huge fines are a must in such circumstances. While I think Ashley Cole and Zat Knight have good cause to appeal their dismissals, Carvalho and Gunnarsson certainly need to do more than apologise. Such conduct should compel the instigator to contribute to the cost of any recovery for the injured.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Seasons Greetings 2007 from EliteFootballTalk

Merry Xmas to you all from EliteFootballTalk. This year appears to have hit the domestic football programme in England with a title race of wider proportions. Both Arsenal and Liverpool maintained unbeaten performances up until the second weekend of this month where they both coincidentally lost. Nonetheless the title race has branched into four teams, being the four top teams, with Liverpool waning a little out of the top four places. The coming up of the FA Cup and league cup matches, the Champions League matches and maintaining status amongst the summit of the league could make huge demands and cause teams to show indifference.

Newcastle were made to push hard in their own back garden by Derby, who took the lead twice and should have finished the game with three goals at least. Derby have shown rock bottom form, with some teams pushing them to a thrashing. Derby have not lost to Newcastle and could have recorded a double over them, were it not for Mark Viduka.

Milddesbrough and Sunderland from the North East are not faring better themselves. How does Boro go from a huge win against the league leaders and another in the next game away to Derby to then lose to West Ham? That's no disrespect to The Hammers, particularly how Scott Parker formed his goal, superb feet movement. But Boro lost the momentum they had from the Arsenal win. Where is Mido, who they bought to bring up the goals along with Jeremie Aliadiere in the absence of Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Mark Viduka? Stewart Downing is lacking the amount of assists he provided last season and how Gareth Southgate remains in the job considering the climate of requirement in the league is something.

We have seen Jose Mourinho, Sammy Lee, Lawrie Sanchez lose their positions and for what? Chelsea had lost to Villa away and came to a draw in their opening Champions League game but it seemed results was not the agenda for his departure. Sammy Lee took over from Sam Allardyce and Bolton sank, an unfortunate baptism for Lee. Sanchez appeared to talk more after a match than before it. He brought over exciting players to boost a flagging Fulham team in Hameur Bouazza, David Healy, Clint Dempsey but released Liam Rosenior and included Paul Konchesky. I don't think Fulham will face relegation, as feared by the board, but a new manager needs to install some steel into the side to win games.

Everton have found good form, documented by T in his article previously. They were unlucky to have to concede defeat at Old Trafford because before then they were making good progress in the league and UEFA Cup, beating an AZ Alkmaar side unbeaten in Europe for 32 games. Portsmouth were also on a similar run, very stubborn at Fratton Park where they held both Liverpool and Man Utd to draws and they have slipped only sightly of late, to Spurs then Liverpool of late. The attacking element of their side has to sharpen up again but not much, for the balance is there in Niko Kranjcar, Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka, Sulley Muntari and Mwaruwari Benjani. I have a concern with Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin, who seemed out of sorts and Herman Hreidarsson covering left back. Glen Johnson appears to be more of a mature player.

Blackburn started in fine form only to have given it up recently in the Carling Cup and the league. They kept out Chelsea for most of the game but it only takes one goal more than the opposition to win. In the Carling Cup their defences were opened up quite easily whereas before it was shut firm by Ryan Nelsen and Christopher Samba. Roque Santa Cruz is a good acquisition and has shown that thoroughly with goals, in contrast to Benni McCarthy who publicly rose to the challenge of Cruz's arrival and has come out 2nd best. While David Bentley has been good for Blackburn, Morten Gamst Pedersen has been missing. Where are his wonderful left foot efforts that either fizz in or come off the woodwork, his many assists?

Man City have been great, with Sven Goran Eriksson orchestrating and the battle not being over until 'the fat lady' appears. Only two defeats to two of the top four, a Manchester derby win, three of the four yet to visit the City of Manchester stadium, and Liverpool yet to even face them, City are holding well in 4th place. The fuss over Rolando Bianchi who has now scored in the last three games, Martin Petrov and Elano pulling some strings, Dietmar Hamann and Michael Johnson in central midfield and Joe Hart doing well in goal. Comparing this to how they were last season and before, it's a different City that I seldom hear being shouted by their fans.

I spoke of Sammy Lee and Bolton sinking. Remember when they were in the relegation zone? Gary Megson took over? The ridicule that followed, even from the Bolton fans and yet the revitalisation has brought Bolton out into 14th place, four away from the top 10. Nicolas Anelka is in superb form and is a hot prospect for departing to Chelsea or Manchester United or anywhere else in the league. Bolton allowed for Allardyce's leave, they have to simply hold onto Anelka, they gave him an opening when other clubs wouldn't and he is repaying Phil Gartside.

Xmas is Xmas, a break from work, family gatherings, maybe a Christmas carol or two, turkey, cake and spirits all round. Yet for the football fans there is no break, with the fixtures on Boxing Day and through to the weekend. It's for this love of football why we have EliteFootballTalk.

Have a Merry Xmas everyone.


Friday, December 21, 2007

English Premiership Predictions: Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U, Chelsea (Skipper covers all your premiership clubs)


Arsenal v Tottenham

Spurs have a horrendous record against the Gunners. However, I was impressed with Spurs against City. They have also been well recently.

Arsenal’s “slump” in form only lasted for one game. They have all their stars back and they should win this. But for some reason I am going to defy my own logic and go for a draw.

Skipper predicts: 2-2

Aston Villa v Man City

Manchester City have not been good away from home. Aston Villa lost their last two home games, so this is a tough one to call. I fancy Villa to get back winning at home again.

Skipper predicts: 2-1

Bolton v Birmingham

Bolton are doing well at home. I fancy them to continue their good home form and win this comfortably.

Skipper predicts: 3-1

Fulham v Wigan

This is a huge game for both teams. Fulham have been struggling recently. Steve Bruce will fire up his team after a fantastic win last weekend. They will be full of confidence.

Skipper predicts: 1-2

Liverpool v Portsmouth

Liverpool really need to win this game to get the last two results out of their system. Rafa rested several of his stars against Chelsea, so he will field a strong side in this match.

Pompey have been good away from home, but I think they will taste defeat at Anfield.

Skipper predicts: 2-0

Middlesbrough v West Ham

Middlesbrough are in a good form, they have found a spring in their steps. Tuncay Sanli is playing really well.

West Ham have hit a slight dip, this is a tough game for them

Skipper predicts: 2-0

Reading v Sunderland

Sunderland have had terrible luck on their travel. Reading are always solid at home. I fancy Roy’s team to pull off a surprise victory in this one.

Skipper predicts: 1-2


Man Utd v Everton

Everton are on a really good run. They managed to get a draw away at Chelsea. United usually win this fixture quite comfortably. Everton are showing new resilience this year, which I have seen in them before.

I think this will be a close game and end in a stalemate.

Skipper predicts: 1-1

Newcastle v Derby

Derby have been awful this year. Since Jewell taking over, they are showing a bit more fight but the results are not changing.
Newcastle are improving.

Skipper predicts: 2-0

Blackburn v Chelsea (1610)

Blackburn have had some bad results recently and have also started conceding a lot of goals. I wasn’t that impressed with Chelsea in the mid week. They will be without some key players.

I fancy Blackburn to beat Chelsea.

Skipper predicts: 2-0

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Moyes exciting 'five-five' balance holds excellent promise

If I was an Everton fan right now I'd be immensely happy with the development of my club and the excellent balance that David Moyes is affecting within his team.

He took over a team known for hard-working and battling qualities and by slow evolution it is now clear that the end-game for Moyes is the beautiful game at Goodison without losing defensive solidity.

The focus of this article is on the magnificent 'five-five' balance that Moyes has formulated. His back four are all good footballers and professionals: Phil Neville, Joseph Yobo, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka featured at the weekend and the promising Leighton Baines and ageless Alan Stubbs are also available. Ahead of the defence is their midfield minder, Lee Carsley, whose anchor-man play is so important for allowing the front five players to play and express themselves as an attacking unit.

But it is the front-five players that Moyes has assembled that have really caught my eye. Each of them are high-level technical footballers who have the intelligence, desire, ability and unity to create effective pleasing-to-the-eye passing and attacking football.

In my view Mikel Arteta is the closest player to Cesc Fabregas in the Premier League - he is a superb midfield player that I really enjoy watching.

Leon Osman is a really underrated English midfielder - a rare breed in that he is composed and comfortable on the ball and can supply a good finish and incisive pass (and it is a blow that he is now out for six weeks due to a broken toe).

Stephen Pienaar was schooled at Ajax so it is no surprise that he has excellent technical ability and has the in-built mentality to play good attacking and passing football.

And to complete the exciting attacking quad of midfielders that play in front of Carsley is the superb Australian attacking midfielder Tim Cahill - a guy I have written about before on EFT - who combines massive determination, attacking awareness and a striker's ability to score goals. What a buy he was from the then Champsionship division club, Millwall.

Then to top it off in the lone-strikers role is the ice-cool natural finisher Aiyegbeni Yakubu who Moyes bought back in August from Middlesbrough. A stat that cannot be overlooked is that after Thierry Henry the most prolific striker in the Premier League over the last four seasons is Yakubu - and the nature of the majority of those goals were that of simple finishes having anticipated correctly what movement he should make in and around the box to place himself in the right position to profit from the build-up play of his teammates.

Yakubu is the perfect complement to the four creative midfielders attacking right behind him and his signing shows yet again that Moyes knows not just a good player but one who that will fit into vision of football and improve his club. Yakubu is currently joint top-scorer in the Premier League and he will simply score many more for Everton in the system that Moyes has created.

David Moyes has been doing a great job for Everton for the five years. But for him he is just starting as I realised when hearing him say something significant on TV a few weeks ago. He said that Everton were moving up a level in line with a vision for how he wanted his side to play football. It appears clear to me that his vision for Everton is to play a more technical attacking style of football in the mould of a Ferguson and Wenger - without losing the defensive stability that his early seasons work was focused on.

I think the signs are clearly there that he is achieving this with Everton currently in sixth place and second top scorers in the league. For me as a fan of good football it is promising and refreshing to see what Moyes is developing at Everton - and it is something that I will keep an eye on in the months to come.

Do Everton followers agree they are moving up to another level of football?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gallas plus £5 million for Cole: what a superb deal that was!

Arsenal's one nil victory over Chelsea was important for the three points won and the psychological gain for this young team to finally beat their mega-spending opponents after three seasons of draws and defeats. However there are some other points that came to mind when watching the game yesterday.

First William Gallas' headed winning goal underlined the evidence that increases game by game that Arsenal definitely got the better of the deal that saw them gain Gallas and £5 million of Abramovich's money in return for Ashley Cole.

World cup-finalist Gallas is now Arsenal captain and has been fantastic this season in focusing and rallying this young Arsenal team to win and keep winning while being superb at the back in combination with Kolo Toure.

Meanwhile, Cole has not yet settled let alone thrived in the more conservative playing style of Chelsea, has been injury-prone, and has even been the subject of player-rotation with the lesser-talented Wayne Bridge.

The deal looked good at the time for Arsenal which was something to be grateful for after the murkiness that surrounded Chelsea's behaviour in tapping-up Cole - and it has got ever better since.

Second was the absence of the ego-centric, insulting Jose Mourinho - I'm thankful that I did not have to put up with his opinions pre and post-match.

Third is the continued excellent defensive and attacking play of full backs Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna. Aside from their consistency, technique, defensive ability and all round great team-play the thing I really admire about both these guys is their temperament.

I have said this about Clichy ever since his introduction into the Arsenal side - he always looks totally focused and concentrated on the pitch and for me he is a great ambassador for Arsenal football club. I also see similar composed qualities in Sagna - in the heat of battle he is making good decisions and overall is looking assured. It can only be positive for the whole team when your defenders can be trusted.

Finally, seeing RVP, Cesc, Hleb, Adebayor, Rosicky and Flamini all feature yesterday was great in view of the busy Christmas schedule coming up. Having four of these key players missing from the midield/attacking unit did have a predictably marked impact on the creative and attacking dimension of the team so it was reassuring to see the unique Arsenal verve return - albeit a bit rustily - yesterday.

In particular it was great to see the return to Premier League action of the superb RVP after over two months out. He is one of the leaders of this young Arsenal team and his positive influence on the likes of Ade and Cesc cannot be underestimated. His finishing, link-up play, technical ability and character are all fantastic so Arsenal are far the stronger for his return.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liverpool are still not the real deal

Liverpool were disappointing today and the game looked far too easy for Man Utd at times. It was sad to see Liverpool resorting to playing long balls particularly when Crouch wasn't even on the field for the first 70 mins. As much as Liverpool fans will hate to admit it, Liverpool are still not the real deal and it showed today. I don't think the problem lies with the lack of quality players in the squad, I think it has more to do with Liverpool's lack of adventure, especially at home when they really ought to be more offensive. Man Utd were extremely tough to break down but I cannot recall Van der Sar having to make a single save in the entire game.

Back to back defeats in the league but a great win against Marseille is just so typical of Liverpool. Rafa would have been slaughtered if he had rung the changes today and lost but to be honest, even with playing the same eleven that destroyed Marseille, Liverpool put in a very ordinary performance.

Rafa believes that by buying new players Liverpool will become a better side. In theory he is right but I cannot help thinking that its how Liverpool play that needs to change rather than the personnel.

The 1-0 defeats for Liverpool and Chelsea today effectively mean that the title will be a two horse race between Man Utd and Arsenal. Despite what people said about these "grand slam" games not being particularly relevant in the title race, I disagree and firmly believe that Utd and Arsenal have taken a huge stride in effectively making the fight a two-horse race. I hope I am wrong.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Andriy Voronin – Is he good enough to play for Liverpool?

Voronin has revealed this week that he is loving life at Liverpool. I can’t quite make up my mind about this striker.

Voronin, who has scored four goals in 17 appearances so far for the Reds has featured regularly in Rafa’s plans. I like the work rate of Voronin, he chases the ball with a real desire and passion. He also shows great acceleration over the first 10-15 yards. However, he lacks the killer instinct in front of goal and often shoots when a simple pass would suffice.

We all know Rafa like hardworking strikers, sometimes he opts for this over and above natural goal scorers. Crouch, Kuyt and Voronin; I wouldn’t describe either of these as natural goal scorers, but Rafa always speaks so highly of them.

What do you think of Voronin?

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Big four Clash this weekend: Liverpool v Man Utd & Arsenal v Chelsea - Skipper Predicts

Sky are building this weekend’s meeting between the big four as 'grand slam' Sunday. This is the first time these clubs are going head to head on the same day this season. I am taking a close look at how the matches will pan out.

Liverpool v Man Utd

Liverpool haven’t beaten Man Utd at Anfield since 2001, which should give Fergie’s men huge confidence going into this monster battle.Liverpool are in a good run, with the exception of the Reading game they have been in scintillating form.

Matches between these two teams are always very tight. Both teams have a solid back four. The strikers will have to be on top of their game to come out on top.

Liverpool need to play with two up front. I think we should play with the same team that battered Marseille, except I would go with Crouch to partner Torres.

Which ever team scores the first goal will go on to win this game. Liverpool will need to start the game on the front foot and put United under pressure from the kick off.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Arsenal v Chelsea

Part II of 'Grand Slam Sunday'.

This is Arsenal's first match since their defeat to Middlesbrough last weekend - their first league loss of the season - and represents a big test for the young Gunners.

Chelsea, who are doing the business quietly but effectively at the moment and fast looking like dark horses for the title, travel to The Emirates in the knowledge that they haven't been beaten on Arsenal's turf since 2003.

I think Arsenal will get back on track and sneak this one. I like the way Arsenal attack teams, the loss of Essien and Drogba will affect Chelsea. Arsenal on the other hand will get some of their injured players back.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fabio Capello, England Coach - the right choice

Recalling how pitiful Steve McClaren looked and spoke at the press conference held after his dismissal by the FA further reminds me how important it was for us to be rid of him from the England coach position. It further reminds me of the image of McClaren hiding under an umbrella while his then adversary in Slaven Bilic remained in his jacket and suit. McClaren could not even brave the elements while out there monitoring his career ebb with the lacklustre approach from the very players he is said to have coached. The manner of that conference where he said words to the effect of 'it's happened, it's sad, I've tried, didn't work, I'm sacked, move on, next challenge, see ya'. Hardly a care and as pitiful as his ridiculous exit after the away Andorra game.

My choice was Harry Redknapp with potentially Tony Adams as his no.2, both English and in charge of a Portsmouth side brimming with confidence, their best Premiership start ever and in top shape up the table. Wasn't it Portsmouth who battled relegation during most seasons? Such a contrast. But since the frighteningly suspicious way it was exposed that police were on their way to Redknapp's house during an investigation into corruption in football, Redknapp was embroiled in 'controversy', therefore ruling him out of the running for the position. I would bet that Redknapp would have taken that role with huge aplomb and with little persuasion.

Jose Mourinho became a sudden favourite for the role, where it was made abundantly clear he was interested and wanted someone to talk to him about it from the FA. Yes, good, what's that? OK, what about, then there's.........well, not really, no, I don't think, that doesn't work, not that much. In the end, despite Mrs Mourinho's keen interest to return to London, her husband chose to turn down the coaching role. I didn't think he really wanted it in the first place but instead looked to propel himself into the media spotlight for others to take a look at him. The Special One. With Chelsea, two league titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, Community Shield. With Porto, two league titles, UEFA Cup and the European Cup. Very impressive. But the Special One did not feel for a real challenge in turning around England's fortunes to qualify for the World Cup 2010.

Fabio Capello clearly does. From his appointment as coach of AC Milan in 1991, he led AC to four league titles and the European Cup. He left AC to join Real Madrid, winning La Liga title, rejoined AC again for 12 months and then moved onto Rome giants AS Roma, guiding them to their first Scudetto in 18 years and leaving them in some controversy with players leaving the club and Roma ending up with Capello's departure and near relegation. Capello then joined Juventus and took them to two Scudetto titles consecutively, though the titles were stripped from the club as a result of the match-fixing fiasco. Capello joined Real Madrid again, last season, with former Juve players Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson following. Real Madrid finished with the last game winning 2-1 to grab the title off Barcelona. Capello was fired nonetheless.

Nine league titles and a European Cup, Capello's record shows clear intent in his team to achieve and nothing less acceptable. He is rumoured to pull no punches with his players, they are to listen and nothing else. He has clashed with the likes of Ruud Gullitt, Francesco Totti, Alessandro del Piero, Antonio Cassano, tutored the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Paolo Maldini, Marco Van Basten, Marcel Desailly. He is exactly what England could do well with, put the steel into the team that they have been missing for many many years. I hope this is what we are due to see from his management, not the cowering under the umbrella while the ship is sinking.


Liverpool, Man U, Arsenal , Chelsea and Celtic into the knockout stage

With the imminent appointment of Capello, it has taken the gloss of the British teams’ achievement in Europe.

So who would you like your team to face in the next round?

As a Liverpool fan, like Torres I would like to draw Real Madrid. We have yet to meet them in the Champion’s league and I fancy Liverpool against any of the Spanish teams. I have been fortunate enough to watch Madrid in their stadium. They generate a terrific atmosphere, nothing like Anfield of course. I hope we avoid AC Millan, I don’t want the hype of “revenge” to dominate next match for Liverpool in Europe.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

EFT POTM for November: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Steven Gerrard has been immense since the debacle of the England non-qualification for Euro2008 with his form, passing, running, direction and goals since the no-score draw at Ewood Park, through the matches of Besiktas, Fulham, Newcastle and Porto for the month of November. This was quite essential in raising Liverpool's profile in Europe and at home, with a stronger position on both levels than initially. Gerrard has had to bounce back from the aforementioned debacle for himself and Liverpool and hopefully internationally, particularly with the England players responsible being booed at their very first domestic game after.

Usually a write-up for POTM comes earlier but due to circumstances it is now that one gets to supply it, and it's a coincidence. Yesterday Gerrard help move Liverpool into the knock-out stage of the Champions League competition with a thorough 0-4 win against Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. Immediately from the kick-off he was challenged, if you wish to call it that, by Mamadou Niang which badly jarred his right knee. Minutes later Gerrard went on the surging run that brought Liverpool's first with a penalty.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rafael Benitez will inspire the Reds? Marseille v Liverpool will reveal the answer

Liverpool need to win in Marseille to ensure safe passage into the last 16 of Europe's elite tournament, barring a surprise Besiktas victory in Porto.

This game has all sorts of implications for Benitez, as the owners are due to meet him prior to the United game. Rafa knows he will be untouchable, or should be, if Liverpool beat Marseille and build towards a title challenge. But he will also be aware that the fickle nature of any football fan will surface again should Liverpool fail to beat Marseille and slip against Manchester United.

After the horror show at Reading, I am sure some of the Liverpool fans are a bit down, a bit anxious, perhaps a bit worried about what awaits them on Tuesday night. Rafa has not made too many tactical blunders in Europe and I hope he doesn't make one now. I think he will pick the right team for the job.

Rafa on his change of formation:

"It is easy after the game to talk about the formation but we played the same system against Newcastle and everyone was talking about a fantastic team."

Managers always know how to put the perfect spin on things. Rafa, against Newcastle we played with wingers, we did not have Crouch and Voronin on the flanks. I wish mangers would be more honest in their analysis.

If we don't win on Tuesday, we could end up in the UEFA cup, God forbid. There are so many matches in that competition, and it will mean having to play catch up football with the rest, as matches in the league following a UEFA cup game will have to be played on a Sunday. Rafa will also probably not get any more funding in January and get embroiled in another public fight with our owners. In short it will be disastrous.

I am confident that we will make it. So what do we need to do?

Rafa, if you are reading this, please play 4-4-2: play Stevie in the middle with Javier. Have Harry on the left and Yossi on the right. Pick Torres with Crouch upfront.

If we pick these key players then I can't see us not going through. Rafa does not mess around with the defence too much, so I trust that he will pick a solid back four.

In terms of tactics, I think Liverpool should play a pressing game at a high tempo. Marseille have technically gifted players who are comfortable on the ball, if you allow them time, space and sit back like we did at Anfield then they will cause problems.
Rafa, please don't tinker too much.

I think Liverpool will win it and go through.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Southgate underlines his potential as broken Arsenal are fallen

Arsenal lost their unbeaten league record earlier today and it was to deserving opponents. Middlesbrough have not been at their best this season but they have good players and I personally rate Gareth Southgate - he is a strong analyst and a fighter and I like that combination when looking at the potential of this young manager.

When he was a young player at Crystal Palace I wanted George Graham to buy Southgate for the Gunners- I liked the fact that he could play in defence or midfield and that he was intelligent. I followed his career with interest and admired the way he positively reacted to being the 'fall-guy' who missed the penalty in the Euro 1996 semi-final. He was a good captain and professional for Boro until the end of his playing career and is exactly the sort of individual I would like to see given a chance as a Premier League manager. The Boro chairman has a good reputation for loyalty and he should definitely maintain this quality with Southgate - I think he has the character and analytical ability to be a really good manager.

The signings of Tuncay and Aliadiere show that Southgate is interested in signing mobile and technically good players that can get Boro playing a more sophisticated style of football. Equally, the signings of Luke Young and Gary O'Neil show that Southgate can also spot a good and committed professional (both were young captains at their former clubs) who can inspire a good work ethos throughout the club.

All four were at their best today - as were the rest of the team. Its a great thing for a club and its supporters when all eleven players play at their best level and this is what I saw today from Boro. They were technically good in possession and were fully determined to pressure their opponents when Arsenal had the ball. I was hoping they would tire at some stage but they didn't - and with Southgate driving and instructing them from the sidelines it looked a day when Boro simply would not be denied.

As for Arsenal... I wrote on Thurday that I would like to have seen Denilson introduced for this game, fearing that a Gilberto/Diarra partnership lacked the creative and dynamic qualities that Cesc, Flamini and Hleb crucially bring and upon which much of the Arsenal game is built. I don't know if it would have made a difference to the result as Boro were so up for it today but my fears about the Gilberto/Diarra combination were unfortunately vindicated because they lacked the ability and composure to get a grip on the game and introduce a good passing rhythm in the midfield zone.

Combined with Eddie still adjusting to Premier League pace, Eboue finding dead-ends and Ade looking fatigued it was a broken Arsenal for me today. Four consecutive away games in 13 days with a depleted squad looked to have taken its toll and its time to regroup at home and hopefully get some of our injured players back in to freshen things up.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Liverpool will not win the league under Rafa Benitez"

This was the view of some of the callers on tonight’s phone in on five live.

I am so disappointed that on the eve of our biggest week of the season Rafa chooses to experiment with 4-3-3. This was a strange formation, given that we have been playing with 4-4-2 so successfully recently.

4-3-3 only works if you have athletic strikers who can work the channels and slot into midfield, when required. Crouch and Voronin are not athletic strikers, anyone intelligent can see that.

I was completely baffled with Rafa’s team selection and formation. Rafa keeps going on about the league being a priority but time and time again he prioritises European football over the league.

I don’t understand why he changes the team so much. Even if we beat Marseille, it will not compensate for Rafa’s tactical blunder today. If we go out of the Champion’s league and lose to Man U, Rafa will not get my sympathy should the owner’s decide to part company with him.

Rafa can experiment in the Worthington cup, but to do it in the league beggars belief.

Rafa got away with taking Stevie G off against Everton, but he did not get away with it this time.

I am astounded by Rafa’s decision making.

Adriano can be the catalyst for a top - 5 finish for Man City

Under Sven Goran Eriksson's tutelage and funded by Thaksin Shinawata's deep pockets, Man City have made huge strides forward. In fifth place in the league going into the busy Christmas period, Eriksson must now firmly have his sights on a Eufa cup place for next season and he may even be hoping to sneak a Champions League place from under the noses of the" big four".

However, if they are to continue to flourish in the league, Erikkson will need to address the major problems that his side have in the final third of the pitch. City have scored only 19 goals in the whole league campaign. Only West Ham have scored fewer goals in the top half of the league table and even then the Hammers have played one game fewer.

It is telling that Martin Petrov and the brilliant Elano, both attacking midfielders, are the club's top scorers with four goals each, but the contribution from the City strikers has been negligible. Rolando Bianchi was brought in for big money in the close season to be the lead striker, but he looks like one of the few players that Eriksson has made a mistake on. Bianchi has not settled at all and I will be surprised if he is not sold back to an Italian club in January. Valeri Bojinov, undoubtedly talented, has been injured for some months, and with Vassell, Samaras and Mpenza clearly not up to the grade, City need a solution to their goalscoring problems - fast!

Clearly Eriksson knows where his problems lie. In recent weeks, City have been linked with Peter Crouch and Adriano. I do not think that Rafa Benitez will part with Crouch in January, he has already proved that he is valuable squad player to have around. However, Adriano is a distinct possibility.

Adriano was a player who I rated highly in his Parma days. His pace, power and direct approach reminded me a lot of (the original) Ronaldo. He appeared to have everything and his first season at Inter Milan was the success that everyone thought it would, be scoring an astonishing 40 goals in the 2004-2005 season. However it has been downhill for Adriano since then. Weight problems, personal difficulties after his father passed away and loss of form has meant that he became a shadow of the player he once was.

Eriksson will need all his managerial wits about him if he is to get the best out of Adriano again, but I think that City may be the ideal club for the troubled Brazilian. It seems that he needs a change of scene and there won't be the expectations that Adriano has had to face at Inter, one of the most profile clubs in the world. City's direct style will also suit his game. If Ireland, Petrov, and Elano can exploit Adriano's pace and power, I can see Adriano adapting to the Premier League and becoming the "last third" player that City desperately need.

Friday, December 07, 2007

English Premiership Predictions: Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U, Chelsea (Skipper covers all your premiership clubs)

Last week I predicted 6 accurate results and one prefect score. This is not bad for my debut. There are some crucial matches taking place this weekend once again. Here is how I think the matches will pan out:

Aston Villa v Portsmouth

Villa will look to bounce back after their home defeat to the Gunners. This will be a very close game.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Chelsea v Sunderland

Sunderland have put in some solid performances away from home without any real end result. I think much of the same will follow at the Bridge.

Skipper Predicts: 2-0

Everton v Fulham

Everton are on a terrific run at the moment. Fulham have struggled to be consistent over 90 minutes but I have a feeling that they will get a result against Everton.

Skipper Predicts: 1-1

Man U v Derby

Will Manu U do to Derby what Liverpool and Arsenal did? I can’t imagine any side being managed by Paul Jewell taking that kind of hammering again, but United will be far too strong for Derby.

Skipper Predicts: 3-0

Newcastle v Birmingham

Newcastle will be buoyed by their result against Arsenal. Birmingham were fortuitous to get a result against Spurs. This will be a comfortable home win.

Skipper Predicts: 3-0

Reading v Liverpool

The reds are on a great run. They have had a week off to prepare for this game. Rafa will no doubt make several changes with the Marseille game in mind. He is however not rotating the spine of the team, which is good in my view. I also like the way Liverpool attack teams on the counter away from home. They will do the same at Reading.

Skipper Predicts: 0-2

Middlesbrough v Arsenal

This will be the 3rd away game on the trot for the Gunners. They are without a lot of key players. Borough traditionally do well against the big teams at home. I think this will end in a stalemate.

Skipper Predicts: 2-2

Bolton v Wigan

Bolton will want a reaction to their capitulation at Anfield. I think they will react well.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Tottenham v Man City

I watched Spurs last week and thought that they were really unlucky against Birmingham. I think the home side will sneak this one.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Blackburn v West Ham

Blackburn at home are very difficult to beat. They reacted well after the defeat to Villa. I think they will continue their good form.

Skipper Predicts: 2-0

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Denilson should play at Boro to regain Arsenal midfield initiative

At the start of the season when I saw Newcastle away was our second match I would have taken a draw. And with Newcastle under fire from the fans and the media and Arsenal taking a depleted side up to St James Park in an evening match I reckoned that it was certainly not going to be automatic three points (The good Arsenal Analysis site did an article yesterday predicting this too). Plus there was no way the Magpies could have surrendered like they did against Liverpool – that was a capitulation that you can only get away with once in front of your own supporters.

Contemplating a testing physical battle I think Wenger was right to go in with a defensive midfield pairing of Gilberto and Diarra. But there are clear limits to fielding this duo – neither has proven strength as creative or attacking central midfielders. They are both primarily anchor-midfield players – and therefore the attacking drive and creative spark of the team was always going to be more limited than usual yesterday.

I rushed home to see the last three minutes of play – turning on the TV with nice timing to watch four consecutive Newcastle corners! Yet the radio commentary and after-match opinion that I saw indicates that as predicted by the central midfield pairing Arsenal indeed lacked their customary potency, rhythm, control and flair.

To regain the attacking impetus in our central midfield I would like to see Denilson come in against Middlesbrough. For me he is the closest alternative we have to Cesc and with his presence in the CM the passing rhythm and flow through the midfield can by upped a few notches for the benefit of the whole Arsenal team.

For me Denilson has the all-round ability and character to become a very good player and I was with Bob Wilson at the start of the season thinking that he would be the one to watch. This hasn’t happened for the young Brazilian – simply because he hasn’t had much opportunity to play. When he started against Wigan and against Sevilla last week he did found it difficult to impose himself in both games. However, because of the ingenuity, energy, and fighting spirit that he would provide I still think he is the option to turn to at the Riverside in a bid to maintain the points push and therefore the confidence factor.

And then with any luck the likes of Cesc, Hleb, RVP (apparently unlikely) and Flamini can then return for the showdown with Chelsea the following week.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Rob Styles was so wrong on Ronaldo it beggars belief

I don't look for perfection from referees and I rarely castigate them for errors that naturally will happen in the course of a match. But when Ronaldo at full pelt was confronted with an onrushing Antii Niemi in last night's Manchester United v Fulham match there was only two things he could physically do: run into the keeper and be given a penalty or leap over him to avoid what could be a sickening collision and be given a penalty.

So when Rob Styles blew his whistle and yellow-carded Ronaldo this was not just an error - it showed a fundamental lack of understanding as to the rules of the game from a Premier League standard referee.

It is irrelevant whether Niemi touched Ronaldo or not - the fact is that Ronaldo had to leap over Niemi otherwise he would have been bought down. Surely this is basic knowledge for a Premier League referee. The pace at which Ronaldo was running combined with the way Niemi ran and dived in his way meant there was no way Ronaldo could have avoided Niemi and stayed on his feet.

For Ronaldo to be booked is outrageous. He clapped his hands at Styles when given the booking which is quite a restrained response given the lunacy of the decision. He may have a reputation for diving but that was certainly no dive and Rob Styles should have clearly seen it that way. After his bizarre penalty award to Chelsea at Anfield earlier this season it really is time for Styles to look carefully at his quality of decision-making in and around the penalty area.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Flamini is a worker, a fighter and a winner

Two seasons ago Mathieu Flamini showed everyone he has a character to believe in.

With left back after left back after makeshift left back falling injured (Cole, Clichy, Cygan, Lauren etc) Flamini was forced into this position and he showed fantastic determination and battling qualities in every performance as Arsenal recovered from a poor first half of the season to make the Champions League final and brilliantly rescue fourth place.

Flamini typified Arsenal's comeback that season by giving his all and performing very well in an unaccustomed position. At the time I mentioned on EFT how I liked the way Flamini played with his shirt sleeves rolled-up - like he was a guy at work ready to put in an energetic shift and with determination would get the job done. And this is the character he has massively injected into Arsenal this year - that of a worker and a fighter.

At the pre-season Emirates Cup the guy who drove into the box and executed the opening goal of the opening match against Paris St Germain was Flamini. Arsenal won the Emirates Cup and then went to compete in the Amsterdam Tournament where after a solid win against Lazio they played against Ajax who had a clear strategy of making numerous late and bad tackles. Significantly for me after every terrible tackle the first Arsenal player to run in and remonstrate with the offender and show support for his fallen teammate was Flamini.

I liked to see this - Flamini was not going to stand-by after watching a teammate get flattened, and his example meant that other Arsenal players would quickly follow him and show that this new young Arsenal team were united in their determination not to be bullied into submission. Arsenal won the Amsterdam tournament with a late van Persie strike and after two pre-season cup wins Flamini was assured a starting place for the season.

The young Frenchman hasn't looked back by becoming an integral member of this third-generation team. He sets the tone for hard work and fighting spirit that his teammates latch onto and emulate. But this is not all - he is a good passer of the ball and is an able finisher.

On Saturday, Arsenal has a tough-looking away match against Villa that was made even more tough by conceding an early goal. The Gunners then started to find their passing rhythm and crucially were able to capitalise early on their momentum through a brilliant left-footed strike by the right-footed Flamini. His goal celebration is now becoming trade-mark - punching the air with anger and determination as if he has just righted a wrong.

It shows about his character that there is no posing with Flamini - this guy is on the pitch to work and win. Arsenal went onto score a second and gain a good win at a difficult venue - and for me it was really appropriate and unsurprising that it was Fighter Flamini who initiated this comeback victory.

His decisive contribution underlined again that it is massive that Arsenal did not lose Flamini in the summer. I really like what he brings to the team: he is a worker, a fighter, and a winner. And when Owen Hargreaves is trading on the transfer market at £20m I can only be impressed by the fact that we recruited who I consider a better player at between 5-10% the price - demonstrating yet again that Wenger is a master at recruiting excellent potential at great value for money.


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