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Friday, February 27, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 4

Welcome again to the weekly feature on EFT where the team here put their prediction accuracy skills to the test by trying to forecast the scores of the weekend round of Premier League matches.

3 points is awarded for a correct score (e.g. 3-1). 1 point is awarded for a correct result (correct positive result or a draw).

The updated Scorecast points table is in the EFT sidebar. Still going strong as reigning leader, Abdul's predictions are first up:

Arsenal v Fulham, 1-0
Chelsea v Wigan, 0-0
Everton v West Brom, 2-0
Middlesbrough v Liverpool, 1-1
Aston Villa v Stoke, 2-0
Bolton v Newcastle, 1-0
Hull v Blackburn 1-2
West Ham v Man City 1-0

Arsenal 2-1 Fulham,
Chelsea 1-0 Wigan,
Everton 3-0 West Brom,
Middlesbrough 0-0 Liverpool
Aston Villa 2-0 Stoke,
Bolton 1-3 Newcastle,
Hull 1-1 Blackburn,
West Ham 1-1 Man City,

Everton v West Brom 2-0
Arsenal v Fulham 2-0
Chelsea v Wigan 2-0
Middlesbrough v Liverpool 1-2
Hull City v Blackburn 1-1
West Ham v Man City 0-1
Bolton v Newcastle 1-1
Aston Villa v Stoke City 2-0

Arsenal v Fulham, 2-1
Chelsea v Wigan, 2-0
Everton v West Brom 2-0
Middlesbrough v Liverpool, 1-2
Aston Villa v Stoke, 2-1
Bolton v Newcastle, 2-0
Hull v Blackburn, 1-2
West Ham v Man City, 1-2

Arsenal v Fulham, 1-1
Chelsea v Wigan, 3-1
Everton v West Brom 2-0
Middlesbrough v Liverpool, 1-2
Aston Villa v Stoke 2-1
Bolton v Newcastle 1-1


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arteta and Fabregas

This is a short post to make note of the premature end to a superb season for Everton's Mikel Arteta. This is a player I have really enjoyed watching over the last few seasons and he has been fantastic in the last few months. I have reckoned for a long time that Arteta is the closest player in terms of style and composure to Cesc Fabregas in the Premier League - and in terms of shooting and crossing ability for me he is the superior player.

Arteta is a fantastic and composed tone-setter for his team just like Cesc Fabregas and it is this excellent quality that will now be especially missed. Everton have the midfield resources to place a player of good quality into Arteta's midfield gap but none will have the same level of composure, rhythmic passing and movement ability of the Spaniard.

It is a real shame that Arteta is now out for the season after sustaining a rupture to his right knee ligament with Everton pushing for fourth place and doing very well in the FA Cup. Lets hope he can make a full recovery as he is an extremely influential player for Everton and for the neutral he is an excellent player to watch.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Is Benitez playing games with Agger as he did with Keane?

Daniel Agger is a superb centre-back. Not only is he commanding in the air and a good reader of the game but he is also comfortable on the ball and has an imagination and ability for going on surging attacking runs or stroking an accurate attacking long pass. Plus he has the technique to strike an excellent shot as testified by his long range scorcher against West Ham a couple of seasons back.

For me it is typical of the pragmatic defensive-minded Rafa Benitez that he rates the 'no-nonsense' purely defensive Martin Skrtel above Daniel Agger. I imagine him writing in his note-book during games a big tick against Skrtel for his aggressive defending and simple passes while putting a question mark against Agger's name when he makes as interception and then embarks on a dribble beyond the half-way line.

When Skrtel received his nasty ligament injury in October Daniel Agger came into the team and Liverpool maintained their tight defensive record. His performance away against Bolton was excellent - losing a tooth and playing on with courage. Against Arsenal it was his vision and ability to play a long pass that saw Keane go on to score a crucial equaliser. And against Wigan he immediately atoned for a defensive error by launching into a committed run deep into the Wigan defence which led to the comeback goal.

But despite being an effective part of a team that had maintained Liverpool's lead of the Premier League he started being undermined by Benitez. The ageing Sami Hyppia started getting games in front of Agger. And then when Skrtel was fit he displaced Agger immediately. Agger has been a regular unused sub in the last seven weeks when Liverpool have stuttered and today against Man City was even displaced from the bench by Hyppia. If Agger wasn't injured major questions should be asked of Benitez why he was left completely out.

It looks to me like Benitez's self-defeating style of man-management is on display again. His treatment of dropping Keane just as the Irishman was building up good confidence was head-shaking. And now it looks like we are seeing another stylish and determined player like Agger being slowly frozen out of the Liverpool first team.

Its disappointing because Keane and Agger are good footballers to watch and I believe they make Liverpool a more attractive and dangerous prospect because of their creativity and ball-playing ability.

There is a strong suspicion that Keane was frozen out because Benitez was looking to prove a point and stamp down his authority - though for what reason its unclear and anyway to me there can be no good reason for the treatment that the Irish captain received. Is he doing the same to Agger: leaving him out for non-footballing reasons and ultimately playing a pointless game with someone's career while also damaging the playability of the team. It looks to me that he is.

What's your own reading on the Agger/Benitez situation?

Friday, February 20, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 3

Welcome again to the weekly feature on EFT where the team here put their prediction accuracy skills to the test by trying to forecast the scores of the weekend round of Premier League matches.

3 points is awarded for a correct score (e.g. 3-1). 1 point is awarded for a correct result (correct positive result or a draw).

The updated Scorecast points table is in the EFT sidebar. As reigning leader, Abdul's predictions are first up:

Arsenal v Sunderland 2-0
Aston Villa v Chelsea1-1
Bolton v West Ham 1-2
Man Utd v Blackburn 2-0
Middlesbrough v Wigan 0-1
Stoke v Portsmouth 0-0
Fulham v West Brom 1-0
Liverpool v Man City 1-0
Newcastle v Everton 0-1
Hull v Tottenham 0-1

Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland,
Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea,
Bolton 1-1 West Ham,
Man Utd 5-0 Blackburn,
Middlesbrough 1-2 Wigan,
Stoke 1-1 Portsmouth,
Fulham 2-1 West Brom,
Liverpool 2-1 Man City,
Newcastle 0-2 Everton,
Hull 2-2 Tottenham

Arsenal v Sunderland, 3-1
Aston Villa v Chelsea, 2-1
Bolton v West Ham, 2-0
Man Utd v Blackburn, 1-1
Middlesbrough v Wigan, 2-1
Stoke v Portsmouth, 0-2
Fulham v West Brom, 2-0
Liverpool v Man City, 3-0
Newcastle v Everton, 2-1
Hull v Tottenham, 2-2

Aston Villa v Chelsea 1-1
Arsenal v Sunderland 1-1
Bolton v West Ham 1-0
Middlesbrough v Wigan 2-1
Stoke City v Portsmouth 2-0
Man Utd v Blackburn 2-0
Fulham v West Brom 1-2
Liverpool v Man City 2-1
Newcastle v Everton 1-2
Hull City v Tottenham 2-2

Aston Villa 2 v Chelsea 2
Arsenal 2 v Sunderland 0
Bolton 1 v West Ham 1
Middlesbrough 1 v Wigan 3
Stoke 0 v Portsmouth 1
Man Utd 3 v Blackburn 0
Liverpool 2 v Man City 0
Fulham 2 v West Brom 1
Newcastle 1 v Everton 2
Hull 2 v Spurs 1

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Man Utd's quality of football against Fulham went to a higher level

Alex Ferguson's Man Utd teams have always had a reputation for playing an attacking brand of football. Despite my allegiances with another team I have a definite respect and admiration for the progressive style of football that Ferguson demands from his team.

But yesterday the searing quality of Man Utd's attacking football against Fulham seemed to me to go to a higher level. Their possession-passing football was mesmerising to watch with one-touch pass and move football that the Fulham team simply couldn't live with.

Evra, Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Berbatov, Park and Tevez were running rings around Fulham with fast attacking passing football that looked so easy because they kept it simple. The passing was short, quick and to feet with amazing movement into space off the ball that their opponents simply couldn't keep up with. Even John O'Shea was revelling in the football that Man Utd's more skilful players was achieving.

I like the way Berbatov has incorporated himself into the team. For me he is now a major player in Man Utd's system and has IMPROVED their team from last seasons Champs League and Premier League title winners. He is a great link-man and neatly likes to come back deep to aid possession of the ball and which also creates space for Man Utd's other attackers to exploit further up the field. His touch, control and passing on occasion is sublime and Ferguson is clearly pleased with the Bulgarian's contribution because it appears he is one of the first names on the team-sheet.

Michael Carrick is another player who should be highlighed because he has stepped up again in his level of play this season. His passing range and imagination is excellent and his presence in games is improving. I like his central midfield combination with Paul Scholes - they have a good affinity with each other and launch attacks with great speed of thought and pass.

Man Utd are now five points clear at the top of the table and if they keep playing at the level that they did against Fulham they will be unstoppable. They were all on their game yesterday and for me it was a performance that was highly impressive to watch and worthy of note.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Scolari gone, but is it Abramovich who is the main cause for a rocking Chelsea?

Chelsea's dismissal of Luis Felipe Scolari is disappointingly premature and quite disrespecting of a coach who has achieved the ultimate prize in football.

To be dismissed after only seven months is indicative of a negative culture that is badly affecting a growing number of football club owners and supporters who react to a bad result or run of results as if there is a crisis necessitating dramatic change. The cost of this mindset is lack of stability - and that is the real problem.

Just look at how the impatience of Abramovich against managers have coincided with Chelsea's fall away from the position that Peter Kenyon once described as their 'league of one'.

Jose Mourinho was forced out despite bringing Chelsea two titles and an FA Cup. Avram Grant was told to move on despite taking Chelsea a penalty-kick away from winning the Champs League. And now Scolari goes after a couple of months of below-par football that had fallen below the initital excellent standards seen at the start of the season. A World Cup winning coach not even given a season to prove his worth: astounding.

How long will the next manager last before Abramovich believes there must be someone better and exercises his power to dismiss? And does he realise that this type of mindset doesn't often help the results of a club nor its image?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 2!

Welcome to the weekly feature on EFT where the team here put their prediction accuracy skills to the test by trying to forecast the scores of the weekend round of Premier League matches. The updated Scorecast points table is in the EFT sidebar.

3 points is awarded for a correct score (e.g. 3-1). 1 point is awarded for a correct result (correct positive result or a draw).


Blackburn v Aston Villa 2-1
Chelsea v Hull 3-0
Everton v Bolton 1-2
Man City v Middlesbrough 3-1
Portsmouth v Liverpool 1-2
Sunderland v Stoke 3-0
West Brom v Newcastle 2-2
Wigan v Fulham 2-2
Tottenham v Arsenal 0-2
West Ham v Man Utd 2-1

Blackburn v Aston Villa 1-2
Chelsea v Hull 4-0
Everton v Bolton 1-1
Man City v Middlesbrough 2-0
Portsmouth v Liverpool 0-0
Sunderland v Stoke 2-0
West Brom v Newcastle, 1-0
Wigan v Fulham 1-1
Tottenham v Arsenal 1-1
West Ham v Man Utd 1-2

Blackburn v Aston Villa, 2-1
Chelsea v Hull, 3-1
Everton v Bolton, 1-2
Man City v Middlesbrough, 2-0
Portsmouth v Liverpool, 0-2
Sunderland v Stoke, 2-0
West Brom v Newcastle, 2-1
Wigan v Fulham, 1-1
Tottenham v Arsenal, 2-2
West Ham v Man Utd, 2-1

Man City v Middlesbrough 1-2
Blackburn v Aston Villa 1-3
Chelsea v Hull City 2-0
Everton v Bolton 2-0
Sunderland v Stoke City 1-1
West Brom v Newcastle 2-1
Wigan v Fulham 1-0
Portsmouth v Liverpool 1-1
Tottenham v Arsenal 2-2
West Ham v Man Utd 0-2

Blackburn 1-2 Aston Villa,
Chelsea 3-0 Hull,
Everton 1-0 Bolton,
Man City 2-1 Middlesbrough,
Portsmouth 0-1 Liverpool,
Sunderland 1-0 Stoke,
West Brom 1-1 Newcastle,
Wigan 1-0 Fulham,
Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal,
West Ham 0-3 Man Utd

Thursday, February 05, 2009

What now for Liverpool's RB?

Last night's showing from Liverpool was poor. We are not entertaining, we are not scoring,we are not progressing, we are now just simmering. We are not dropping our level but we are not ascending from it either. We are practically at a standstill. The drive, the determination, the grinding out goals, the fight, the playability, had all come to this season, resulting in just one loss in the league. Two all season. Now it's three.

When you consider we started with good players in Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, backed by Albert Reira and Dirk Kuyt, along with Xabi Alonso, we should have attacked at Everton from the whistle and kept to it. Then we lost Gerrard, and note I haven't mentioned Lucas Leiva, and our play went mediocre. The game had both sides more interested in slaps and tickles than bangs and wallops at goal. Torres had to come back often to get involved, who supplies him the ball other than Gerrard?

But the longer it went on, the more you watched Leiva, the more you would suspect a sending-off would ensue. Regardless whether a booking is justified or not, it has happened and will not be rescinded with a period in the sin-bin. Because we don't have one. Being on a warning, your football has to be sharper and more accurate than before, it shouldn't take a warning for that level of your play to come out. Not Leiva. Be sensible, maintain your stance, receive and distribute, ensure you get the ball, because you're on a warning. Not Leiva.

So for more than half an hour of play we had to hold with 10 men. And hold we did. Yet I still suspect Man Utd would have carried the fight nonetheless, it would remain to be seen. But one can refer to their FA Cup tie against Portsmouth more recently, when Tomas Kuszczak was sent off (at practically the same time in that match as Leiva was last night), and Portsmouth could have been beaten at Old Trafford, when Harry Bet Sulley - Sulley Muntari - for the winner. So without Gerrard and then down to 10 outfield players, we had to dig in and hold on. David Moyes was said to be 'elated', but were Everton such an equal to our 10 men, or vice versa?

Nonetheless, Everton are through and we are not, and since the winner host Aston Villa, Everton are more suited to that than we are. Which brings me back to my original point of the article. What now for Benitez? If we are at this point of his management not strong enough to take the fight to Everton, even without Gerrard, then are we really fit to fight for the title? We've seen how Man Utd were at the start of the season without Christiano Ronaldo and as soon as he returned, in the away game at Stamford Bridge, Man Utd had toughened up. Add to that the vigourous contribution of Carlos Tevez almost every time he plays, Man Utd have hit top spot.

Many have stated we should have kept Robbie Keane, and I agree he should have remained until the summer at the least. But the decision to release him was not Liverpool's but more Keane's. And no one should blame him. He wants regular starts, which he got deservedly with Spurs. His captaincy isn't with surprise as he was captain in Ledley King's absence previously. But Keane hadn't added his goal-scoring touch when he played for us, and he did have his chances, let no one tell you otherwise. We needed an immediate response from Keane and we didn't get one. He wasn't suited to our regime as a striker. You need to be scoring regularly to earn your place, that is the strength needed to compete for the title.

And for me Dimitar Berbatov is getting away with his selection when Tevez is eagerly waiting on the bench. Keane has scored five, Berbatov six, so far. If Keane isnt getting a regular start for Liverpool, how is Berbatov doing so for Utd? That is because other players are scoring too. Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, all contribute, even Nemanja Vidic. Liverpool have waned in comparison, Gerrard our top scorer with nine, Torres is 2nd with nine (considering his injury period).

The top fifteen scorers in the EPL consist of five midfielders, Gerrard being one of them. Our midfield consist of Javier Mascherano, Alonso, Riera, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun, Leiva, Kuyt and none of them feature in the top list of EPL scorers with the exception of Kuyt with five goals. Is this down to the players or is it down to Benitez? Does he tell his players to feed Torres constantly, relying on the former Atletico Madrid captain for goals, or does so to get his striker working more and feeling more confident? Or does he tell his players to keep hold of the ball and only release when it is absolutely appropriate and clear to do so without error?

For me, the situation now is to play on with your strongest team. Gerrard could be out for some time and the likes of Babel, Kuyt, David Ngog, need to be playing regularly. Kuyt started very well at the start of the season, and he has scored as many as Keane. Has been quiet. Babel has determination, pace and a fierce shot, why isn't he regularly employed? Ngog has good international experience and scoring ability, scored well at PSV this season, why not let him come up now with Keane gone?

My formation A: Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger/Skrtel, Aurelio/Insua; Babel, Mascherano, Gerrard, Riera; Kuyt/Ngog, Torres

Formation B: Same goalkeeper and back four; Babel, Alonso, Mascherano, Riera; Gerrard, Torres.

Now it is testing time for Liverpool. A scan has yet to reveal the damage, if any, to Gerrard, and we should cope without him. That is, the players need to come up with more resolve, more enterprise and bring their football to a sharper level to compensate. And they can. Now is the time, with the domestic cups now gone. They are for another season, the title and the Champions League are our concern. In terms of a team built for all competitions, we are not. But we don't want that now, we want the title. The title, we can definitely go for.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Arshavin signing demonstrates Wenger intent to regain leading position

Arsene Wenger is a winner. This is clear in his obsession for football and his absolute frustration when a win is not achieved.

Arsene Wenger is equally an idealist. He will not satisfy his desire for winning through the easy route of spending loads of money on hyper-inflated transfer fees that will potentially bankrupt the club. And he will not spend vast sums of money on players who don't fit his aesthetic vision of how football should ideally be played.

This is why Wenger has preferred a 'bottom-up' policy in recent years: that of buying players very young at relatively low prices whom he can mould into his style and vision of how football should be played. Young players tend to be cheaper than players in their prime - and they are more maleable for development into a specific way of playing.

This method was always going to involve some patience on the fans behalf as they witnessed their rivals spending plus £20 million on a regular basis on 'prime-time' players. That being the case, Wenger's young Arsenal went very close last season to winning the Premier League title and enjoyed a solid Champs League run that was cruelly snatched away in a tumultuous finish at Anfield.

Buoyed by the progression of his young third generation squad, Wenger placed his faith in them to push on again this season. He witnessed the departure of Hleb and Flamini with reluctance but tellingly his only signings again were youngsters: Samir Nasri of Marseille and Aaron Ramsey of Cardiff. Such was his belief in the likes of Denilson, Diaby and Song to push through this season he saw fit to allow the veteran leader, Gilberto, to leave to Panathanikos at the end of the summer.

However, the first half of this season has been the most rocky of Wenger's eleven years at the club. Leading players failed to recapture the form of last season; the captain, William Gallas was fed-up with perceived disrespect of younger players and broke convention by telling all to the media; long-term injuries were sustained by the new captain Fabregas and the magnificent young superstar Walcott; and fans were shuddered by such events as losing a two goal lead with barely minutes to play against Tottenham and defeats to newly-promoted Stoke and Hull City.

In the last two and a half months, Wenger has steadied the ship. At the worst points of this season he protected his players from widespread criticism from fans and the media alike with amazingly optimistic comments that had bemused listeners at the time - but now make sense. He knew how fragile his young players were in what was their first major challenge of their careers - and he determined to shield them from the effects of that rather than publicly adding to the refrain.

This was excellent and smart man-management/team-management - and the result has been a slow, but steady, rehabilitation in results and performance by a side lacking its main focal point, Cesc, and its most dynamic forward, Walcott. Indeed, this paternalism by Wenger may be looked back as one of his finest hours; that when really tested he stood firm against all those who wanted him to publicly criticise his team and express an acceptance that he needed to revamp his team.

That all being said, Wenger knew that his young squad was in need of a boost of talent and experience and that the current perceived image of Arsenal as a slightly fading force on the national and European scene was in need of some restoring. In this context, his targeting and eventual acquisition of the Russian captain and super-talented roving attacker, Andrey Arshavin, is, if anything, an outward signal to all those doubters by Arsene Wenger that he is determined as ever for his club to be a major winning force into the future.

Andrey Arshavin is not in the mould of Wenger signings in the recent years because he is clearly a player in his prime who has years of experience already behind him and whose market value will not be much higher than it is now. It is a reversion to the types of signings we saw years ago made by Arsene Wenger like that of Sol Campbell, Marc Overmars, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Gio van Bronckhurst, Sylvain Wiltord: players entering or in the prime of their careers who can perform straight away at a level to gain near enough instant success.

It can be interpreted as a sign that Arsene Wenger's patience is not everlasting; that he feels he has been necessarily patient in the last few season as his young players have developed but that the time for success and winning trophies is now. Therefore, his signing of a special player who is in his prime; who can deliver fantastic play and tangible success now rather than in a few years.

I look forward to when Cesc, Walcott, Eduardo and Rosicky returns and how Arshavin will complement with these excellent attacking footballers as well as RVP, Nasri, Vela and Adebayor. With Arshavin as a link-man in the final third of the pitch the potential to create chances and score goals will be very high. And his aesthetic style of play will fit perfectly into Wenger's idealist vision of achieving winning plus total-football.

There is much to play for this season and Arshavin will hopefully have make a quick impact on the team. But my sense is that it will be next season with a fit squad and a level starting-field that the Russian playmaker will come to the fore as he plays his part in getting Arsenal back to the vision for the club that Arsene Wenger and the fans share: winning consisently, competing for honours, and doing so with fantastic style.

Good on you Wenger for signing Arshavin, and all the best Andrey!


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