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Sunday, May 24, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 14 (final week!)

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 enters the last weekend with a firm lead in the Scorecast race and the questions is whether any of the rest of the EFT team can have an amazing weekend of predictions to make up the gap? We'll know by this evening!


Arsenal v Stoke, 16:00 3-0
Aston Villa v Newcastle, 16:00 1-1
Blackburn v West Brom, 16:00 1-1
Fulham v Everton, 16:00 2-0
Hull v Man Utd, 16:00 2-1
Liverpool v Tottenham, 16:00 3-0
Man City v Bolton, 16:00 2-0
Sunderland v Chelsea, 16:00 1-2
West Ham v Middlesbrough, 16:00 0-1
Wigan v Portsmouth, 16:00 2-0


Arsenal 2-0 Stoke, 16:00
Aston Villa 2-1 Newcastle, 16:00
Blackburn 1-1 West Brom, 16:00
Fulham 2-1 Everton, 16:00
Hull 1-1 Man Utd, 16:00
Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham, 16:00
Man City 3-0 Bolton, 16:00
Sunderland 0-1 Chelsea, 16:00
West Ham 3-0 Middlesbrough, 16:00
Wigan 1-1 Portsmouth, 16:00

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

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

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wenger got it right! Underlines the power of picking the right players in the right positions

The result was a nil-nil against a team that was taking a cautious approach. Nonetheless, Saturday's Arsenal team selection by Arsene Wenger for the match against Man Utd - and congratulations to them for being very worthy champions - struck me from the outset as correct all the way down the team line-up.

It shows that Arsene Wenger - as you would expect despite ridiculous media hyped-up hysteria that would want you to believe the contrary - is still an analyst to believe in.

Number one good move: Playing Alex Song at centre-back. For me this is the position that is best for Song and for Arsenal. For sure he can do solid job as the anchor Central midfielder - but for me he does not quite have the attacking instincts, nimbleness of movement and forward passing skills to be a top player in this position. Indeed, this was shown in the big games that Arsenal had against Man Utd in the Champs league - an inablilty to apply forward pressure against them left too much of a burden on Cesc/Nasri to launch attacks, who in turn were shutdown by the stampeding Fletcher, Anderson and Carrick.

Number two good move: Playing Denilson in the anchor role. Denilson is my player of the season. I like his hard working attitude and his ability on the ball. Why Arsene Wenger decided he should be left out for Alex Song in the Champs League semis is beyond me. Even a non-Arsenal fan but very astute analyst - Andy Gray - said the same in the commentary yesterday, saying that he feels Arsenal have lacked without Denilson in the midfield. So it was great to see Denny back in the proper first team yesterday - and again for me he had a very solid game.

Number three good move: not playing Mikael Silvestre. Silvestre has the unforunate distinction of having played in two four four draws this season - plus conceding another four against Chelsea last week. For sure these defensive nightmares for Arsenal can't all be pinned on Slivestre - but for me he is noticeably an unsteady centre-back who appears far past his best when playing for Man Utd at left back around six or seven years ago. Song is far better than Silvestre at CB - and must always be the preferred option if there is an available centre-back slot.

Number four good move: keeping Walcott on the bench away from home. Walcott is a superb player in the making. However, when he starts on the right side of midfield away from home the opposition team have an advantage. Walcott is not a natural midfielder and does not have good defensive instincts or ability. This means that the home team have a better chance of winning the midfield battle and getting in our defence. And if you are playing against very good opponents you are then asking for problems. Moreover, Walcott is an excellent impact substitute, as he has shown a couple of times at Anfield in the last two seasons. Putting the speedster on fresh when the game is stretched and the opposition is tired is always a positive move. Next season Rosicky - we all hope! - will be back. With him and Nasri well adept as solid right hand side midfielders, I hope Wenger declines to use Walcott as a starting right winger next season - and instead promotes him to the centre-forward line.

Number five good move: having a right midfielder on right midfield. Basically an extension of the argument above. Having Nasri on the right midfield tightened up the defensive side of our midfield and consequently the whole team had a better stability.

Number six good move: keeping out an out of form Adebayor. After his FA Cup semi final and Champs League first leg performances, I would have dropped Ade and have opted for the in-form Nicklas Bendtner to have started the second leg against Manchester United. Adebayor's demeanour is not good at the moment and he does not look to have a good focus on the game or Arsenal at present. Arsenal need eleven players who are ready to give their all with full focus - and with Ade in the team we would only be getting on 10 and a half players which is not good enough.

Number seven good move: keeping Diaby in central midfield. Please Arsene - do not play Diaby on the left wing anymore like you did in the first leg at Old Trafford. It just doesn't work against world class teams to play a gangly central midfielder on the wing.

Aside from these good moves which gave me confidence before the match on Saturday that we'd see a more stable Arsenal team there was one other move which is very intriguing.

Number one intriguing move: Keeping Cesc in the 'hole'. I prefer to see Cesc play deeper so he can get on the ball earlier from defence, take control of the tempo of the game, and pick out his incisive forward passes. Wenger said last month that he believes Cesc is better at playing deeper and gave reasons to back it up.

So why does Wenger persist in playing him in the 'hole'? Is it because he has someone lined up to play Cesc's naturally deeper position next season and he is trying to groove Cesc in the 'hole' position to accomodate this new player? Is it because Wenger has found out that Xavi Alonso would be willing to come to the Emirates if Liverpool agreed to sell him? Is this the core reason why Cesc is stil being played in the 'hole'?

I would find this move to be an exciting development were it to happen (with respect to my Liverpool supporting colleagues here at EFT).

Saturday for me showed what a difference it makes to get the team selection right. Arsene in my opinion went off the boil in the last month in terms of his team selections for big games. It was reassuring and very good to see him get back on track on Saturday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 13

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 defiantly in first place and his predictions are up first:

Bolton v Hull, 15:00 1-1
Everton v West Ham, 15:00 1-1
Man Utd v Arsenal, 12:45 2-0
Middlesbrough v Aston Villa, 15:00 1-1
Newcastle v Fulham, 15:00 0-0
Stoke v Wigan, 15:00 1-2
Tottenham v Man City, 15:00 2-0
Chelsea v Blackburn, 16:00 2-0
West Brom v Liverpool, 13:30 1-2

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

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

Bolton 1-0 Hull, 15:00
Everton 2-0 West Ham, 15:00
Man Utd 2-1 Arsenal, 12:45
Middlesbrough 1-1 Aston Villa, 15:00
Newcastle 1-1 Fulham, 15:00
Stoke 0-2 Wigan, 15:00
Tottenham 3-2 Man City, 15:00
Chelsea 1-0 Blackburn, 16:00
West Brom 1-2 Liverpool, 13:30
Portsmouth 2-1 Sunderland, 20:00

Friday, May 08, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 12

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 defiantly in first place and his predictions are up first:

West Ham 1-1 Liverpool
Man Utd 2-0 Man City
Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea
Newcastle 2-0 Middlesboro

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Don't blame the man in the middle; blame the men on the outside

The referee in tonight's Champions League semi-final 2nd leg at Stamford Bridge was Norwegian Tom Ovrebo. The headlines of the English papers tomorrow will metaphorically 'scream' it was his fault why Chelsea went out of the semi-finals, went out of the one chance they had to avenge their defeat last year. As far as I'm concerned, yes, Mr Ovrebo was at fault. But he wasn't the only one.

Mr Ovrebo was at fault for the lack of progress for Chelsea. I can only think of four potential penalty shouts that occurred in the game, I believe there could have been one more. First, Florent Maluda took on Dani Alves (who, for me, was something of a disappointment to say the least tonight) and then turned back on him. Alves clearly impeded the Frenchman and a free-kick was given. Alves was at the time inside his penalty box, Malouda was outside. I don't think that was a penalty.

Drogba took on Yaya Toure in the box, once played in by Frank Lampard. Toure grabbed Drogba's shirt but Drogba went down only after the ball was out of his control. That was a penalty for me. Nicolas Anelka touched the ball near the Barcelona penalty box, Gerard Pique had his right arm raised before Anelka played the ball and the ball comes off Pique's hand. That, to me, was a penalty.

The last Chelsea corner came to Michael Ballack, he swung a shot towards goal and it came off Samuel Eto'o, off his left arm. Eto'o was in position before the ball was struck. That wasn't a penalty and Ballack's disgraceful, ugly harassment over the referee afterwards rightly earned a booking.

Now, aside from those penalty shouts, what did Chelsea do to earn the win? They had Michael Essien aim at the ball and score a superbly taken left-foot volley. It put them ahead 1-0 after the ninth minute. Thirty six minutes later they hardly came at Barcelona, the away side made most of the football. What Chelsea did was play defensively in front of the penalty box, they had numbers in position in spaces to deny Barcelona that space to play their little through balls, their little passes. They defended deep to avoid Barcelona playing the long through balls, and their task was made all the more easier with Thierry Henry withdrawn.

People will say 'what is wrong with that?', but while it was cunning to thwart Eto'o and Lionel Messi from those movements around and through the defence, thwart the passing and breaking by Andres Iniesta and Xavi, it stopped Chelsea from their usual attacking flow, at home. Their usual break from the midfield three, with Lampard threading passes to the flanks and then joining late, was missing, and it left Drogba on his own having to battle with Toure. Toure was fortunate to have escaped twice from possible Drogba-breaks on goal.

I can only think of one moment in the second half when Chelsea came forward, with Anelka drawing defenders to him and then passing to Drogba, who turned Pique and then shot weakly at Victor Valdes, with the rebound gathered and shot by Lampard blocked, and then Malouda hitting the side netting. That was it.

Then Eric Abidal (another defender who failed tonight and who I have never rated for club nor country) was taken to have fouled Anelka on the run and was red-carded, although replays showed Anelka tripped over his own leg with no contact from Abidal. Another bad decision. But that didn't even push Chelsea to surge onto Barcelona's goal. Chelsea seem to have felt comfortable a goal up, a man up, and then simmered. And that led to Barcelona's goal.

That slacking in focus, that same focus that denied Barcelona space last week and tonight, allowed for Barcelona to maintain the ball from a cross, with Messi receiving and playing it to Iniesta, who had the time and space to take a chance first time. Ballack was the nearest player and he ducked or turned away from the shot. It was practically the only effort Petr Cech had to move to. It was the one time Chelsea afforded Barcelona space to do something......and it cost them.

I watched the game with others and I said to them that if Barcelona were to take a chance first time, they could score. That was because whenever Barcelona got within sniffing distance of the penalty edge, they were being snuffed out, and that was because not only did Chelsea deny them space, but also because Barcelona seemed to want to walk the ball into the area as they mostly do in La Liga. Defences open more to them in the Spanish league, whereas here Chelsea's plan was to close up tight. The one moment Barcelona took the opportunity first time they scored, it was the only shot on target from them.

Don't blame the referee entirely. Chelsea still had the majority of the game to play for and they hardly did that. Depending on penalty appeals to get them through was desperate. They didn't play the attacking football they are renowned for. In both legs Barcelona were the attacking team and it is they who earned their passage into the final. And it is ironic that where Barcelona looked more vulnerable with Abidal off, where Chelsea became too relaxed, that it was then when Chelsea lost control of their focus. And the whole tie.

The reactions after the game were understandable but I cannot condone them. I can understand when (not if) a driver cuts up another driver, the first driver becomes frustrated and displays that frustration towards that second driver, from their car seat, but that's it. I cannot condone road-rage, especially where it can almost come to violence. The Chelsea players are understandably upset but they individually dealt with their disappointment, with a few not visibly becoming animated towards the referee. Nor the camera.

We all have disappointments and if we allow our emotions to take over, people will be at each other's throats daily. What's next, a throw-in is not given and the referee has to run for cover? A child is denied a free-kick and swears at the referee? I don't want bad habits coming into football. Disappointments are to be dealt with with maturity, not in the manner seen tonight. When you add up that, without the penalty appeals, Chelsea didn't play enough for the win, you should realise Mr Ovrebo isn't the only one at fault for Chelsea's exit. But it is easier to target him than to look at the players themselves.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Congratulations to Birmingham, Preston North End, Sheff Utd, Burnley & Reading; damnation for Joey Barton

Additional to the congratulations to Wolves for their clinching of promotion and the Championship title, the English Football League Championship has finished and further congratulations go to Birmingham on reaching the automatic-promotion packed 2nd place with an away win at Reading. That defeat meant Reading, Sheff Utd, Burnley and Preston North End will all battle in the play-offs for the coveted third avenue to promotion to the proverbial 'big league'.

Is there a favourite of anyone's to emerge at the end? I personally would like either Burnley or PNE. Nothing against Sheff Utd nor Reading, but neither of the other two teams have been in the Premiership. But a favourite for who I think will go through is Reading. It will be a tight battle as we've seen Burnley grab a few Premiership scalps and can produce good attacking football and so can Reading. I think PNE will have to battle deep to get through and Sheff Utd likewise.

Now for the commiserations. Former Premiership teams Norwich City, Southampton and Charlton Athletic have gone down further into League One. I find it being something else to link League One with those teams, they seemed better than to be dropping leagues. They were, to me, definite Championship material and then questionable Premiership quality, not questionable Championship material and then poor enough to drop into League One.

Four seasons back, Norwich was in the Premiership, doesn't seem that long ago. They relegated alongside Southampton that season. Charlton's fall was as recent as two seasons ago. The likes of Jeremy Goss, Robert Fleck, Steve Bruce; Darren Huckerby, Gary Doherty, Leon McKenzie of Norwich. Mick Channon, Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer; Theo Walcott, David Prutton, Brett Ormerod for Southampton. Clive Mendonca, John Robinson, Scott Parker; Darren Ambrose, Richard Rufus, Darren Bent. Seems a shame.

My last note is on Joey Barton. What is it that needs to happen for this young man to actually wise up? Newcastle United, one from rock bottom in the Premier League, go off to face Liverpool, at Anfield, a team who are biting at the bits in chasing Man Utd for the title, therefore are fevering for three points, have lost only twice in the league thus far, who thrashed Newcastle at St James' Park 1-5. Alan Shearer is in control and chooses Barton to spearhead the assist behind Mark Viduka as the lone striker, with Peter Lovenkrands and Obafemi Martin either side of Barton on the flanks. A 4-2-3-1, ambitious but a potential to thwart Liverpool's efforts and aid the away side.

That's the plan. But it crumbles with two Liverpool goals in the first half. Not the end of the world, bring the players in, maybe change one or two positions, maybe not, maybe encourage one or two players, a draw could be obtained if nothing else, but fundamental to that is focus. No silly tackles, giving the ball away, needless dangerous free-kicks, keep it simple, keep it safe, keep it firm. And what does Joey Barton do? It's what he didn't do. With Newcastle under attack and the ball going wide with Xabi Alonso following it, Barton just needs to shadow the Spaniard, keep him away from supplying towards goal or passing back to a team-mate.

Here's what Barton did do. He runs up and leaps into a 'tackle', with almost two feet and contacts Alonso on the ankle. A sore injury results to Alonso, thankfully, while Barton pleads innocencebut is straight red-carded nonetheless. Absolute reckless 'challenge', Newcastle a man down, a manager's hopes (which were probably slightly cracked at half-time) just obliterated. Not only that but Barton, looked on as the kind of central attacking midfielder with grit that Shearer needed for the remaining games, is now banned for those remaining games. The one player shouldn't make a difference but you never know.

Those remaining games at home to Middlesbrough and Fulham and lastly away at Villa Park, are pivotal. Middlesbrough cannot seem to score for life, which almost matches the current qualities of their North-East rivals. Fulham, despite now smarting from a Chelsea defeat, still harbour good qualities and intentions for that now all-important seventh spot for Europe. Not to mention Aston Villa, who crucially picked up three points last night to cement their European spot for next season.

Now it is stated that Barton and Shearer came to in the dressing room over Barton's red card, and the player is not only suspended from further games, and out for the rest of the season, but is now suspended from the club "until further notice". Notice that I think he won't be getting from the club. Shearer may move on afterwards but he has some influence at SJP. Would you deny a player like Barton from playing under your management or do you think you can put up with the threat of him behaving in the manner that has him disciplined more by the authorities than actually playing?

I argued for Barton on his return to Newcastle from prison while others consider him too dangerous a threat to any club while playing. I thought prison would curb him, hopefully push him to channel his aggression in the right manner, he could return to football and show us the better side of him. Maybe I was wrong.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

EFT Scorecast Weekend 11

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 in first place by a small margin and his predictions are up first:

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

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

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

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

Chelsea 2-0 Fulham, 15:00
Man City 2-0 Blackburn, 15:00
Middlesbrough 0-2 Man Utd, 12:45
Portsmouth 1-3 Arsenal, 15:00
Stoke 1-1 West Ham, 15:00
Tottenham 4-0 West Brom, 15:00
Wigan 2-1 Bolton, 15:00
Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle, 13:30
Sunderland 1-0 Everton, 16:00
Aston Villa 3-0 Hull

Friday, May 01, 2009

The spirit of football

I came across this:

"Newcastle tea lady Kath Cassidy, who has spent over 40 years serving cuppas to the great and good at St James' Park, has her own ideas about how to motivate the players in their battle against relegation.

"I might go into the dressing room before a game with my picture of Jackie Milburn holding his medals. I'd say to the players 'Get your finger out, look what he won for £20 a week.""

When players in the English Premier League really do appreciate who they play for, for they are in the top tier of English football, how much they are paid, and what is expected from them in every game, then we as the fans and supporters can go to games and/or watch them on TV and watch such appreciation emit from their football.

Players actually playing thoroughly, with more focus, more accuracy, more determination, more aforethought, more grit, more ability, would be what the EPL would simply stand for globally. Players of Milburn's ilk did so, a good chunk for the payment, and probably an equal chunk or more for the love of the game. It would make the EPL much more competitive, at the top, in the middle, and around the bottom of the league.



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