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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Who is worthy of staying in the Premier League?

NEwcastle played a goalless draw with Portsmouth, and it was a result I had predicted exactly, due to the scoring form of both teams of recent. Newcastle have good scoring power in Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and captain Michael Owen, but they all failed to score. I wondered, if Newcastle were to be relegated, whether Owen would remain at St. James' Park. I then wondered if there were any opinion on any player, playing with a team still at threat of relegation, who one would consider worthy of remaining in the Premier League. Teams as in Blackburn, Sunderland, Hull, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom.

Now, for me, the likes of Jonas Guttierez, perhaps Mark Viduka, and arguably Owen, are worthy of staying on, worthy of interest from a Premier League club. Owen has the instincts he has been renowned for, but he seems to have lacked in receiving the kind of service his ability requires. Guttierez has shown ball control I've rarely seen in the EPL, he can go on runs and hardly lose the ball, and as such is quite useful in assisting chances. Viduka enters into the realm of football where retirement may seem the next near step but I think he can hold up the ball and play players in very well.

Others like WBA's Chris Brunt, who has a firm shooting left-foot and an eye for a through-pass; Boro's Stewart Downing, England international with good pace, attacking ability on the wing and good assists; Sunderland's Djibril Cisse, Steed Malbranque or even Kenwyne Jones; Hull's seasoned Kevin Kilbane, Geovanni, or Andy Dawson; Blackburn's Benni McCarthy, Matt Derbyshire, or Stephen Warnock?

Who, out of those sides, would you consider worthy of staying in the Premier League, were their respective clubs to suffer relegation?


Friday, April 24, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 10

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. Abdul remains superb in first place and his predictions are up first:

Man Utd 2 - 1 Tottenham
Arsenal 3 - 1 Middlesbrough
Blackburn 1 - 1 Wigan
Newcastle 2 - 0 Portsmouth

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

Bolton 1-1 Aston Villa, 15:00
Everton 2-0 Man City, 15:00
Fulham 2-1 Stoke, 15:00
Hull 1-2 Liverpool, 15:00
Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham, 17:30
West Brom 0-2 Sunderland, 15:00
West Ham 1-1 Chelsea, 15:00
Arsenal 4-0 Middlesbrough, 13:30
Blackburn 1-0 Wigan, 16:00
Newcastle 2-1 Portsmouth,

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

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Arshavin, Torres, Benayoun: take a bow!

The title really says it all. Football fans must salute the skill, determination and pure finishing execution of these three players in a football match that was relentless in attacking action and effort. Arsenal and Liverpool have an intimate history - and tonight produced yet another amazing match of football between these two sides that shall be remembered.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal
Torres 49 Arshavin 36
Benayoun 56 Arshavin 67
Torres 72 Arshavin 70
Benayoun 90+3 Arshavin 90

Saturday, April 18, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 9

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. Abdul remains relentless in first place and his predictions up first:

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

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

Aston Villa 2-1 West Ham, 15:00
Middlesbrough 2-0 Fulham, 15:00
Portsmouth 1-1 Bolton, 15:00
Stoke 1-2 Blackburn, 15:00
Sunderland 1-0 Hull, 15:00
Man City 3-0 West Brom, 15:00
Tottenham 3-1 Newcastle, 13:30

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

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

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Walcott is ice; RvP a fighter-thinker; Ade a positive team-orientated 'confidence' player

The three goalscorers last night - Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor - are fantastic representatives for Arsenal. I say this not simply on the back of their goals in the win over Villarreal to place Arsenal into the semi-finals of the Champs League, but more broadly because of their individual temperament/character and what their meshing in the forward line lends to the overall character and force of the team.

Walcott is ice. When Arsenal bought him from Southampton I wrote on this site that Walcott reminds me of another sporting TW: Tiger Woods. There was a sense in his demeanour, in his choice of words, that he had a calm and winning temperament of exceptional quality. In his first cup final aged 17 years old he demonstrated his superb ice-cool temperament with a wonderful opening goal after five minutes against Chelsea followed by a celebration which showed his passion and desire behind the quiet demeanour.

This attitude combination: ice calm and winning desire, is one that transmits to teammates who should gain confidence knowing they have a teammate not only blessed with sensational natural talent in their side but who vitally also has the cool not to be daunted by any occasion. Witness Anfield last season in the Champs League quarter final; England away in Croatia; and last nights big Champs League match, for further examples aside from the 2007 Carling Cup Final of his ideal temperament for big match occasions. Walcott has a temperament far beyond his years.

RvP is a fighter-thinker-technician of the highest level. On the pitch he fights for the ball, and then with the ball at his feet he is mentally alert and thoughtful in looking for either a killer pass or killer finish with a technique that I still think is the most aesthetic and awesome in the league.

His fighting mentality also is one that transmits to teammates and supporters - he sets an example for fighting for the ball and not shirking from a battle or opportunity. Instances of this that standout for me is his lunging finish at the far post for an equaliser against Man Utd in January 2007 (which resulted in a broken foot and a four month lay-off), his two goals against Chelsea this season when Arsenal were at a very low point confidence-wise; and THAT kung-fu kick goal against Charlton where only a player of massive fighting desire and technique would have attempted, let alone executed with masterpiece brilliance, that running high-jump volley. He is a superb member of the team and has matured into a growing leader of this third-gen squad.

Adebayor is a footballer I have supported during his tough spell earlier this season. He puts in a tremendous amount of a work in the forward line which is well appreciated by teammates and a good portion of the Arsenal support. And when he talks I notice he always genuinely accentuates a team-ethic and a focused positive attitude which I think reflects well on an excellent perspective to his football and his teammates.

However, more than most players in this Arsenal side, Adebayor is also a 'confidence player' - a guy who can be unstoppable when he feels the confidence of the fans and his team, but who loses his technique and confidence quickly if he feels the ire of the fans. The latter was the case earlier this season - where a clumsy piece of tactical play in his negotitation (I guess probably demanded by his agent) for a new Arsenal contract last summer offended some fans, many of whom, I suspect, were already doubters of the player despite the fact he shouldered the burden of the front line last season with 30 odd goals and an immense amount of running without the injured RvP and Eduardo and the departed Henry. It was clear to me from his demeanour during the first half of this season that Adebayor decisively felt the criticism from this section of the Arsenal support and as a result his edge in confidence and sharpness diminished.

The recent seven week layoff was a blessing in disguise for the big Togolese player - giving him the space to re-group, re-focus and re-energise. His two goal comeback against Man City was also massive for the resurgence of the 'big-on-confidence' Adebayor that we have seen in the last fortnight - a change in the atmosphere of fan reaction to Adebayor was tangible and so with it the bolstering of his self-belief. Subsequent goals in both matches against Villarreal are testament to the return of an Adebayor who looks to have gained his vitality. This gives me satifaction because for his workrate for the team and his expressions of a team-ethic and a positive approach to football I like to see him feeling good about his game and the support around him. It is also great for the team because it is clear that an Adebayor who is 'big-on-confidence' is also a profound - and quite unique - attacking weapon.

I feel that when you have three players in the forward line of the team who exhibit a great array of positive mental characteristics on top of excellent footballing ability you have the makings of something sensational. Arsene Wenger has recruited into his third generation side in Walcott, RvP and Adebayor a stunning complement of attitudes in the forward line: an ice-calm winner; a fighter-thinker; a positive team-orientated runner and finisher.

Due to injuries this mix has not had the chance to apply itself together. Last night was really the first time all got to start together in a big match. And all three contributed their considerable physical, technical and mental qualities decisively to a winning effort.

It is also a trio that from their interactions on the pitch look like they have a good understanding and relationship to each other - which can only be conducive to their development as a forward line. I feel yesterday saw just the start of an explosion of play from this attacking trio as a collective unit - which should be fantastic for all Arsenal fans and supporters of good football to watch.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 8

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. Abdul is still running strong in first place but has been unable to get his predictions in by the deadline so its second placed Skipper's predictions up first:

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

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

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

Liv v B'Burn 3-1
Stoke v Newcastle 1-1
Boro v Hull 1-2
Chelsea v Bolton 1-1
P'mouth v West Brom 2-0
S'land v Man Utd 2-1
Tottenham v West Ham 2-1
Wigan v Arsenal 0-3
Aston Villa v Everton 2-1
Man City v Fulham 2-2

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Arsenal re-acquainted with at one time the world's most underrated footballer

Arsenal take on Villarreal in Spain later this evening in a Champions League quarter final first leg. This match will see two of the most football-intelligent and progressive managers of the last two decades pit their wits against each other: Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini. For those who admire football played on the ground in technical, attacking, quick-moving style this is the match you want to watch: these two managers make it their life-mission to create such football and to win with this style.

For those who also like tradition, memories and goodwill in football there will be the great moment tonight of 35 year old Robert Pires coming up against the team he helped earlier this decade to a fantastic era of success and sublime football that will never be forgotten in the history of the English game.

Pires was a technical fighter of a left winger who could finish and assist with equal world class ability and composure and who was excellent at dribbling with close control in attacking straight lines up the pitch. I liked the repeating ways he would curve his right foot round the ball to curve in shots from the left inside the right post or alternatively how he would glide pass a defender to the touchline and side-foot pass the ball with deliberate accuracy into the path for a player like Thierry Henry or Freddie Ljungberg to tap in from short range.

Pires was integral to the attacking total football of Arsene Wenger's second generation side that won the double in 2001-2002 and then superbly went the whole season unbeaten to win the title in 2003-2004 season. He scored loads of goals from his left midfield starting position and stacked up multiple assists. His attacking combination down the left side of the pitch with a young Ashley Cole at left back (the good old days of Ashley Cole!) and Thierry Henry roving in a left forward position was the source of many goals and was a major weapon of Arsene Wenger's genuinely great second generation footballing squad.

In Pires' last season at Arsenal aged 32 years old he was the most senior outfield player of a squad undergoing a transition with far lesser-experienced players like Fabregas, Clichy, Senderos, Reyes, Adebayor, Eboue, RvP, Flamini, Hleb, Diaby, Walcott coming through. I liked the 'old-head' role he was playing and I remember in particular a memorable performance on the right side of midfield in a 3-1 home win against Liverpool where a young Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry also had excellent games in what was a must-win league match in the come-from-behind race with Spurs for fourth place. And of course there was THAT tackle on his former teammate and fellow Arsenal legend, Patrick Vieira, in which after winning the ball his forward pass led to a crucial home goal in the Champs League quarter-final first leg against Juventus.

Pires deserved in his career to have a starting place in a Champs League final and he was not alone in frustration and disappointment when he was tactically taken off the pitch for Manuel Almunia by Arsene Wenger after only ten minutes of the 2006 final in Paris because of the sending off of Jens Lehmann. Wenger really had no alternative as Ljungberg was a fitter and more energetic player - but it was a bitter moment for a classy player and character like Pires to be removed so prematurely from an occasion that his football would have adorned.

My younger brother was always consistent in saying that Robert Pires was the most underrated player in the world. And he was not alone, in 2004 we were happy to see that the captain of Mexico and the coach of Vietnam put Pires as number one in their votes for FIFA World player of the year. It was great that he got this recognition - albeit not in the places you would expect it! - in what was Arsenal's fantastic year.

For me Robert Pires was a superstar player with a great balance in his temperament between determination and composure. This reflected in his game - always attacking with intent and in the heat of the moment more often than not he knew and could execute with precision whether it was best to pass, shoot or dribble. And from what I've seen in my glimpses of the Spanish league, little has changed in his style of play and effectiveness with Villarreal.

So tonight there will be great scenes when Pires lines up against Arsenal shirts and shakes the hands of his former manager, Arsene Wenger; those of former teammates like Toure, Clichy, Cesc, and greets the travelling Arsenal fans. Next week, at the Emirates, his reception will similarly be fantastic, and that will be produce more great scenes reminding us of the capacity of football to produce excellent moments of solidarity and genuine goodwill.

It will be a deserving moment and fitting legacy for a player of the quality and character of Robert Pires.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Liverpool’s title credentials under my examination Part 2 from Craven Cottage (Fulham v Liverpool)

Back in December I made a trip down to Anfield to see Liverpool take on Hull. Yesterday, I made a trip to Craven Cottage with my little brother and some friends to see If Liverpool could continue their recent resurgence and pile the pressure on United.

Craven Cottage is a lovely little ground, which is situated on the banks of River Thames. From the Putney stand if you look through the gaps, which appears in the corners of the Riverside stand you can see people enjoying a bit of sailing. We were supposed to be in the neutral area in the Putney stand, absolutely no chance, the entire stand was packed with Liverpool fans. It was my brother’s first time going to a football patch, he definitely enjoyed the experience.

NOT since February 8 have Liverpool topped the Premier League. After 90 minutes it looked as if they would do so only by goal difference, leaving Manchester United with two games in hand. Then, substitute Yossi Benayoun gathered the ball in the penalty area, sped around the slipping Paul Konchesky and shot past Mark Schwarzer, breaking Fulham’s resistance and leading to wild celebrations in the Putney stand. Fulham, who came within seconds of thwarting another Top Four side. They defended stoutly, rode their luck after Liverpool had hit the woodwork four times in the first period.

The lateness of the goal should not hide how deserved the victory was. Liverpool were not as fluent as they had been in rattling in 13 goals in their previous three games, but they were comfortably the better side, and had more than enough good chances to have won emphatically.
It was Benayoun’s introduction quarter of an hour from time that saved Liverpool. Suddenly there was a guile to their desperation, and Benayoun had twice gone close when Babel’s ball, aimed initially at Gerrard, fell for him 12 yards out. He struck a crisp angled drive, and this time neither Schwarzer nor the woodwork could intervene. As the celebration in the Putney End attested, Liverpool’s dream of a first title in 19 years is still very much alive.

Liverpool need to continue as they are and hope that United slip up. In truth they could have been well clear of United by now if they did not throw away so many points at home. However, there is no pint looking back in anger but focus on what’s ahead. The title race is definitely on.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 7

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. Abdul is looking very good in first place and his predictions are first up:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Alan Shearer - a Selfish Opportunist?

I will set out from the outset that I have never been Alan Shearer’s biggest fan. I also accept that this article is not fact-based as it is based on my own perceptions and because there is no way of knowing what goes on in the board room at Newcastle United. However, I do believe that there is more to Shearer’s appointment to Newcastle today than just his love for the club.

Shearer was an extraordinary player, the most talented out-and-out striker that England has produced in a long time. However, I always felt that he welded too much power, both at Newcastle and with England, and I was alarmed at how comfortable he felt in having such a dominant influence as a player. The prime example of this was his role in almost single-handedly sacking Ruud Gullit as manager at Newcastle.

I have been even more unimpressed with Shearer since he hung up his playing boots. His analysis with the BBC has never, to my mind, been insightful or thought provoking. Instead he has resorted to clichés and old fashioned football mantra – “they need to have passion”, “they don’t like it when it gets rough” etc etc. For me, he does not have what it takes to be a modern football manager.

But what has riled me most is the overbearing influence he happily enjoys over Newcastle from the sidelines. Graeme Souness, Sam Allardyce, Glen Roeder have all had their tenures and indeed appointments undermined by Alan Shearer’s refusal to declare his intentions regarding his inevitable approach to manage the club. I would very much doubt that any one of these managers would say that Alan Shearer actually supported their efforts with the club and yet he has declined to accept the mantle and responsibility of managing Newcastle himself. I feel that this is because he has been fearful of the harm to his reputation as the prodigal son should he not prove to be a “success”.

And now we have the situation where Shearer has finally accepted the accepted a role to manage Newcastle until the end of the season. For me, this is typical of the opportunist that is Alan Shearer – for this is a situation from which he cannot lose. If Newcastle get relegated, then he will argue that it was not his fault as he came on board at the tail end of the season with only a few games remaining. However, if Newcastle survive, he will be heralded as a saviour upon whom all credit should be bestowed. In effect he is using the next couple of months as his own personal management training ground – and well renumerated at that.

I have nothing against Newcastle as a football club, but I fully expect most Newcastle fans to disagree with my opinion.

What do you think?


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