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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Palacios Show; Now Ramos is to Vamos?

Portsmouth 2 - 0 Spurs

It didn't work again with Spurs yesterday away at Fratton Park. The set-up to me looked, once again, unusual. Whispers are now circulating on whether it will be about time when Spurs chairman Daniel Levy calls time on Juande Ramos' White Hart Lane future as manager. For me, it's the selection of players within the formation that strikes odd. The back four was not stable and consistent with Vedran Corluka, Michael Dawson, Jonathan Woodgate and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. They were put under good pressure mostly in the second half and they struggled particularly down their right, Pompey's left, against Arsenal and Lens loanees Armand Traore and Nadir Belhadj respectively..

I would have preferred Jermained Jenas and Didier Zokora central, David Bentley right and Da Silva Melo 'Gilberto' (yet another in North London) left-midfield, pushing Jamie O'Hara up with Roman Pavlyuchenko. The Russian was battling on his own and getting little dividend. Ramos maintains Spurs played with one striker against Newcastle in the League Cup win in the week, albeit with a line-up that included Aaron Lennon, Ledley King and Gareth Bale. Lennon and Darren Bent were benched yesterday.

The Spurs fans made known their discontent at the substitution of Pavlyuchenko for Bent, as it seemed far more constructive to have both on with Spurs chasing the game. Crucially they had a penalty appeal turned down as Lennon crossed and the ball struck Lassana Diarra on the right hand, which was a handball and could have changed the ending of the game more in Spurs' favour. It was one of a handful of decisions that unfortunately were not rightly given over the weekend. Is it time for Ramos to go, already? No doubt the current position is precarious but Ramos did arrive on the back of a prosperous run with Seville. Does he have the credentials to pull Spurs out of the current rut?


The current climate about referees has been highlighted and produced a number of comments against the officials and their officiating. Notoriously the decision to give a goal in the Watford v Reading match last week when it seemed clear to all the ball went out for a Reading corner. The ref was Stuart Attwell who went on the advice of his linesman, but for me he should be positioned to see the ball bounce wide of the goal in the first place.

Everton v Liverpool: Fernando Torres had scored twice already before an Andrea Dossena cross went over Joleon Lescott and Dirk Kuyt, falling to Torres who scored from an angle. The goal was ruled out for Kuyt fouling Lescott, and at the time Lescott held his hands up briefly, but replays showed little to nothing of contact and Lescott had not made an attempt to jump for the ball in the first place to be hindered.

Tim Cahill's challenge on Xabi Alonso was not a straight red, but I wonder if, with the focus on Kevin Davies' challenge on Gael Clichy last week, and Emmanuel Pogatetz' on Rodrigo Possebon in the week, the referees were cautioned to give those challenges the sanction of serious foul play, as they could result in serious injury. Therefore the straight red. It has been mentioned that with Cahill not responding to Riley's repeated whistles and calls for him to return to the referee until very late, the red was for added dissent but I don't agree.

Man Utd v Bolton: Christiano Ronaldo comes inside from the right into the penalty box, he aims to go across the path of JLLoyd Samuel and the left back makes for me a superb interception on the ball. Ronaldo goes down and the penalty was given, by Rob Styles. Styles gave the penalty last season to Chelsea at Anfield for Flourent Malouda running onto Steve Finnan that resulted in a 1-1 finish. Here, Styles was perfectly positioned that the decision he gave must call into question the sharpness of his eyesight.

And Ronaldo did dive. I have Sky+ and the privilege of slowing down the viewing, watching Andy Gray on 'Super Sunday - The Last Word'. Mr Gray claimed the penalty was wrong AND Ronaldo did not dive, despite the many technological facilities at his disposal. Under Sky+, I saw Samuel tackle, get the ball cleanly or enough, Ronaldo goes to bring his right leg forward but then stops halfway (Samuel's limbs have not made contact with Ronaldo at all) and goes down. Now a few Utd fans I have heard from said Ronaldo did not appeal, but he didn't have to. Styles had blown for the penalty almost immediately. Further, he looked too embarrassed to appeal in case he was booked for diving.

Another factor is that Ronaldo does not look to skip over Samuel's tackle if he suspects he will get the ball past him and the defender will be late. Instead he goes to touch the ball past Samuel and then goes down, looking for the decision but then having realised Samuel got the ball decides to keep quiet.

Newcastle v Blackburn: Blackburn's free-kick over the Newcastle wall came to Christopher Samba, who headed it in. Samba was sticking out in an offside position, along with Matt Derbyshire, and when the Frenchman made contact with the ball, the offside was not given.

Portsmouth v Spurs: The handball against Diarra I already mentioned above.

Wigan v Man City: This was practically as big as the one at Old Trafford. Wilson Palacios goes into the City box on the attack and Javier Garrido makes contact, as you would do when challenging for the ball. It wasn't a charge into Palacios, more a shoulder-to-shoulder coming together, yet the Honduran then went down, twisting his body in gymnastic fashion with his right side going down first.

If Garrido had made such heavy contact against Palacios' right side, then the Honduran should have gone down over onto his left rather than his right. Very disappointing decision by Steve Bennett, even if he took counsel from his linesman.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Danny Guthrie should have shame for causing broken leg of Craig Fagan

There are some things you see in football that you are instantly disgusted by. Fortunately they are few and far between, but watching Match of the Day at the weekend there was one such incident when viewing the Newcastle United v Hull City match.

With the game in its last minutes the Hull striker, Craig Fagan, had possession of the ball deep in Newcastle's half by the touchline. Newcastle midfielder, Danny Guthrie, made one petulant attempt to win the ball which was shaken off by Fagan, and then with no attempt to play the ball decided to run at Fagan and perform a vicious karate kick at the legs of the Hull forward.

Fagan went down and then instantly got up in shock and rage at the assault just committed on him. A few Hull teammates then ran towards Guthrie enraged at the blatant violence of the attack.

Guthrie was given a straight red card by the referee and for some reason decided to clap the fans when walking off the pitch.

I started talking to my brother about this incident and the pure violence of the challenge. It was a disgrace and had no place on the sports field. It was reminscent of the Ben Thatcher assault on Pedro Mendes and the Roy Keane tackle on Alfe Inge Haaland for its sheer violence with absolutely no intent to play the ball.

To hear the breaking news that Craig Fagan has a broken leg as a direct result of Danny Guthrie's assault which will keep him out for 6-12 weeks adds an exclamation mark to the disgrace of what took place on Saturday.

Just like the penalty received by Thatcher, the assault from Guthrie deserves the imposition of an aggravated suspension to demonstrate football's intolerance to unmitigated violence. Lets hope the FA acts quickly on this one.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The value of compatible partnerships: Rooney/Heskey; Lampard/Barry; Brown/Ferdinand; Terry/Cole; Walcott/Rooney

It was a pleasure watching England play last night. And it feels great to write that sentence.

Capello picked a side yesterday of compatible partnerships across the pitch which linked together to produce a flowing team performance that simply overwhelmed Croatia on their way to a resounding 4-1 win.

Wayne Rooney said after the match that he couldn't have a better forward partner to play off than Emile Heskey. Michael Owen said the same thing last Autumn when he and Heskey combined to good effect against Russia. The much maligned Heskey now deserves to gain good sentiment from England fans - he may not score many goals but his hard work and proven ability to unsettle defenders is really appreciated by more talented forward partners. In my view Heskey should remain a starter: any player that gets the best out of the explosively-talented Rooney should be an automatic selection in the team.

Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were a joy to watch yesterday in the way they seamlessly worked off each other in the centre of midfield. Barry now must be a fixture in the team like Marcos Senna is for Spain - he gives excellent balance and stability to the team. I would also prefer Lampard to stay in the team when Steven Gerrard comes back from injury - he is a more 'mature' player in the way he operates on the pitch and I think the degree of calm and composure he brings to the team is preferable to the more frentic play of Gerrard.

I noted yesterday how the defence had three well-grooved partnerships. No one can doubt that Ferdinand and Terry is a superb centre-back combination. Add to this on the right side of defence there is the combo of Brown and Ferdinand which works very well at Man Utd and on the left side of defence is the regular Chelsea combo Terry and Cole. This defence is strong and can get better because across the board there are well-honed partnerships.

Add to these complementary partnerships were the selection of two superb wild-card players on the wings. On the left hand side we had the excellent technical ability and 'football-intelligent' Joe Cole who knows how to score and assist. And then on the right is the 19 year old who has the temperament allied to talent to become a superstar: Theo Walcott. So happy for him to get a hat-trick and I also really liked the way he and Rooney linked-up together - we all may have seen yesterday in Zagreb the start of a massively exciting partnership.

Fabio Capello has shown his ability in his work and team selection for yesterday's match. Now lets keep it going for the next games against Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Everyone watch out for the 'new' Manchester City

I remember the day that Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Actually, more than that, I remember the moment I heard it. I remember after giving a bit of thought about it that this was a seismic move; a move that would see the existing top two of Arsenal and Man Utd have a substantial new contender to compete with and would change the footballing landscape in England as we knew it for many years to come.

In hindsight it doesn't look too acute an observation given the apparent ease Chelsea has had in achieving success through huge financial investment in the last five years, but I remember at the time people downplaying the move or simply not gathering the implications of it.

For me yesterday saw the biggest moment in English football since that day in the summer of 2003. The Abu Dhabi United Investment Group takeover of Manchester City will change the landscape of English football just as much as the Abramovich takeover of Chelsea.

For supporters of the Premier League there is a new reality for us all to adjust to. There is a new contender to the elite clubs in England and the Abu Dhabi buyers have at their disposal the incredible financial muscle to achieve what appears to be their aim of making Man City the top club in England and Europe.

On day one they have bought Robinho under the noses of Chelsea for a British record tranfer fee of £32.5 million. They also put in a £30 million bid for Dimitar Berbatov as Man Utd were putting the finishing touches to their bid for the now former Tottenham striker.

The public statement behind these bids is breathtaking: the new Man City have the ability, the arrogance and the will to confront head on the top two clubs in the Premier League - and with the example of the Robinho acquisition, succeed.

For the last few years we have all got used to talking about the 'big four' of Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd and Chelsea. Now that will soon be revised and in the 'new' Man City there is a club that not only has the intent to be part of a 'big five' but in a few years will have the capacity to be first among them.

What a difference 24 hours can make in football. Extraordinary.


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