Friday, 26 February 2010

The 'B's' are in big trouble

 Carling Cup Final week can be seen as a key point of a football season. Firstly and without doubt you will hear Messrs Lineker and Stelling use the classic presenter line as 'the first major silverware of the season' within the first minute of the live coverage but it signifies spring and the final third of the season, which means games and points become more and more precious.

Points are already a commodity at the bottom of the league table as yet again the 'B's' at the basement of the Premier League struggle, causing alarming concerns about their tenure in the elite league.

Firstly Bolton - who were simply shocking in the local derby against Blackburn and former boss 'Big Sam Allardyce'.  Their problems are evident to see, they miss the presence and leadership of Gary Cahill, and for the exception of Matthew Taylor, they have a workman-like midfield and a real inability to score goals up front - it’s going to a real long fight for Bolton.

The same could be said for the 'B' at the bottom Burnley - who are still without an away win in the Premier League this season which is largely contributing to their plight this season. Whilst watching the game against Aston Villa they still adopt the ‘Owen Coyle’ approach of playing good free-flowing football. There are some positives in the team, the debut of on-loan Jack Cork with two assists, the goal-scoring nous of Stephen Fletcher and playmaking ability of Chris Eagles. But the problem as it often is with prompted team is defensive and the step-up in class of opponent.

I had barely had a chance to get my seat for the second half to see three goals in 5 minutes and end this as a contest. To add to the problems each of the goals in the 5 minute spell could have been avoided. First Burnley should have cleared Stewart Downing weak yet accurate effort off the line, the third goal Agbonlahor was played a mile on-side by Leon Cort and the shot from Downing could have been closed down more quickly by Eagles. As for the fourth, Gabby Agbonlahor roasted down the left hand side like a pizza delivery boy in a hurry before cooling delivering the goods to Heskey just in time before the no fee 30 minute deadline!! A fifth goal capped off by the pizza man that came just off the training ground nice and easy! To easy - almost as quick to change your hair colour!!

As mentioned in my mid-season review these are the two teams that show all the signs of trap door exit of the Premier League, their only saving grace Bolton could the poor form of other teams around also fighting for survival, but these recently performances show strong clues to who be exiting via the trapdoor.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

8….9, 10 you're out!!!

Another weekend of Premier League action, and if clues weren’t given last week on who were in the title race then the DNA has been left at the crime scene this week.  Let’s cut straight to the chase – this is a two-horse race Chelsea and Man United.  Why? Although Arsenal are still mathematically in with the race the last two weeks have shown that the Gunners are welterweight looking good without the knockout heavyweight punch! They are susceptible to the quick counter-attack, over committing players, playing with no width and trying to play everything through the middle.  Wenger is short of a strong spine and needs a world class keeper, midfielder and centre forward - and it's time to spend the cash and buy quality.

Below the race for the title is the race is the battle for Champions League’s places.  Liverpool has got their voices back!!! Gaining 17 points out of 21 after a fiery and 18-certificated Merseyside derby where 2 men were sent off (Kyrgiakos and Pienaar) and another goal from the in-form Kuyt who has finally chalked up 50 goals for the Reds.  They’re very much back in the hunt for the fourth spot, largely due to the inconsistency of Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa. With Spurs and Villa playing out a nil-nil draw - and City’s surprised away defeat at battling Hull.

The race at the bottom is as tight as it gets, with 4 points separating 6 places between Sunderland (13th) and Bolton (19th) and Hull and Burnley picking up 3 points after good wins at against City and West Ham respectively.   As for Portsmouth it gets tougher and tougher, with their worst performance of the season at Old Trafford with schoolboy defending for Rooney and Berbartov’s goals.  To add insult to injury Portsmouth chucked in three own goals to boot, as if United weren’t capable on their own.  One can only hope that Wednesday’s visit from the tax man doesn’t close their doors for good, but is the best they can hope for administration?

We are approving the final third of the season as still a few stories to be written the question is: who else will soon be hearing the 10 count?

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Men v Boys II

May 2009, Champions League Semi-final and Arsenal get blown way by Manchester United 3-1. Basking in their glory, United defender Patrice Evra mentioned that it was 'men against boys'. Like an improved version of an old model, Sunday's clash of the titans was mark II. Both teams started very well: the usual high intensity that comes with Arsenal and Man United. The best chances came initially to Arsenal and Andre Arshavin - who on three occasions had opportunities to put the set up teams Fabregas and Nasri to score. With all his effort and endeavour it wasn't the Russian maestro's day.

The game was nicely balanced, with a sense that the first goal would be essential to who wins the match. It came from United and with skill from Nani that proved the faith Sir Alex showed in starting him, playing on a weakness of Gael Clichy being susceptible to the pace of Villa's Ashley Young.

Stepping in between Clichy and Nasri, then past Denilson and producing a shot come cross only to put tipped in by Almunia. The mood changed at the Emirates, as if they knew they where already beaten.  Four minutes later it was 2-0 a counter attacking move with Carrick, Nani and finally Rooney finishing beautifully for his 100th Premier League goal.

Game over when JS Park 3-0 with the freedom of The Emirates to score - another painful and frustrating day for Arsenal fans who are facing the realisation the league is slipping away.

Vermaelen got a consolation goal but no more than that. It's back to the drawing board for Arsene Wenger whose team need to get back to winning ways quickly before the knives come out about their in-ability to make the next step and last the pace of the title race. As good as Arsenal have been without a leading striker, the match was evidence that they require a target man to offer a plan B then playing to feet and through the middle of defences!

Arsenal fans need to keep the faith, 'In Wenger We Trust' still must resonate, they are still in the race for the title, it has become tougher but not impossible - next Chelsea a true test of their character.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Can the defence please call for Ferdinand and Vidic

Throughout Sir Alex's illustrious managerial career at Man United, he has owed much of his success to his central defensive partnerships: from Bruce and Pallister in the early to mid 90s, then Johnsen and Stam and now more recently Ferdinand and Vidic. The performances in recent games against Burnley and Manchester City suggest that they are there to be shot at with a Kalashnikov and not a Magnum!! Burnley where presented with at least three glorious chances to score last Saturday week, all made possible by schoolboy defending from Evans and the very experienced and internationally capped Wes Brown.

Manchester City - and more notably Carlos Tevez - took full advantage of this in the league cup semi-final 1st leg at Eastlands, showing Fergie that United should have paid the money and kept him, to give support to Rooney up-front.

This is a Man United team that is in transition and clearly playing below par, dogged by injuries to key players - none more notable than Vidic and Ferdinand. They are the cornerstone of the Man United defence and provide Van De Sar with the protection that led them to a third consecutive league title and a Champions League Final.  In reserve Wes Brown can provide cover but becomes a better centre-half when he plays the number two position, and not lead. He has also been hit with injuries over the last few seasons.  Johnny Evans is definitely a player for the future, played wonderfully well in the Carling Cup ’09 campaign including the final itself, but again he is still raw and needs to be nurtured around a more established defender.

This is why getting Ferdinand and Vidic back is so crucial to United winning silverware: without them they’re vulnerable to being hurt by top quality opposition, especially in Europe.   Question marks are being asked about whether United are strong enough to win trophies this season or if the cracks starting to show in their once formidable stature.  Yes, they won 4-0 on Saturday against a struggling side Hull, relying on Rooney to score the goals, but they have lost the ‘fear factor’ they are there for the taking, that would be music to the ears of their rivals, waiting to pull the trigger. 

Yes, they won 4-0 on Saturday against a struggling side Hull, relying on Rooney to score the goals, but they have lost the ‘fear factor’ they are there for the taking. That would be music to the ears of their rivals, waiting to pull the trigger.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sol Gamble? Not really

July 2001 a beautiful summer’s afternoon was transformed the sensational news I received from a text saying that ‘Arsenal have just signed Sol Campbell’.  To my amazement as in 2001 to be experiencing the same surprise that he’s back, and this could be Arsene Wenger’s shrewd bit of business ever!

The facts speak for themselves - Arsenal’s central defensive pairing of Gallas and Vermaelen is first choice, but beyond that Arsenal have major league problems. The defensive frailties are in the replacements Silvestre  (if he was so good why would Ferguson let me go for nothing??) and Senderos (only ever played one good game for Arsenal - 2005 FA Cup Final) replacement cover was very much needed.

Arsenal are attacking on three major fronts and if any level of success is to be achieved then another central defender as cover was needed.  That is what Campbell will be, cover - not a starting 11 player but someone when called upon can do the job. Campbell may be 35-years old but he has proved his fitness over the past 3 months to Wenger and the very demanding first team fitness coach Tony Colbert. But most importantly he can provide much needed leadership to younger players who still are yet to hold aloft silverware at The Emirates.

Campbell was part of the successful team that won 2 league titles (2002, 2004) and 3 FA Cups (2002, 2003 (despite not playing in the final) and 2005), he knows what it takes to win trophies and more recently captained Portsmouth to Cup success in 2008, a time which Arsenal haven’t one anything.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Mid Season Review

With the Premier League season now past the halfway point, let’s review via the good old school grading system just who deserves a thumbs up and who needs detention.


Vast improvement and looking like this year can mount a title bid, but need to kept first team members fit such as Fabregas, Arshavin, Gallas and Vermaelen.   Van Persie is a huge loss to The Gunners who really need to buy another striker in January.  If they’re going to win the league it will be by a low points total courtesy of teams beating each other

Grade: B

Aston Villa

Carrying on from how they started last season. A team who prefer to play counter-attacking football then breaking and wearing teams down.  In the hunt for a top four spot and in a semi-final of the Carling Cup. Comparisons will be drawn to their form in the second half of last season and judging by The Late Late show with Fernando Torres in their last home game, it could be a valid point.

Grade: B

Birmingham City

Tipped to go down at the start of the season and now currently the form team in the Premier League, winning 6 of their last 8 games only conceding 4 goals in the process, with currently the best centre-half pairing in the country (Scott Dann and Liam Ridgewell).  8 more points from safety - should be thinking about a top 10 finish.

Grade: A

Blackburn Rovers

Survival is the key for Big Sam’s boys; they struggle to score goals and missed the creative flair of -David Dunn over the last month or so.  Up-front Di Santo, McCarthy and Roberts aren’t getting the supply from midfield, not the type of strikers that create something from nothing - still in with a shout of winning a trophy.

Grade: D


This is a team in real trouble this season; seem to have lost the fear factor that was around playing Bolton under Big Sam.  Subsequently Gary Megson was given the ‘elbow’ on recently.  Defensively Bolton are shocking, leaking more goals than a burst water mains! Up-front other than Klasnic (who has only recently been showing some decent form) they're not offering much else.  Bottom three this season!!

Grade: E


Great start to the season and very much the league’s surprise package.  However, poor away form (only 1 point all season) has a sniff of Hull 2008-09 - relying on their home form will put more then pressure on them then a Dyson vacuum.  Make no mistake; these boys are in real trouble unless they start picking up points on the road.

Grade: C


New manager, top of the Premier League, but not all’s happy at The Bridge. On their day the Cheese Rolls are the best in the business, they really are, but defensively even with JT they have problems.  Cech is at Checkmate in goal, they are susceptible to the high ball and in midfield they have less width than Kate Moss’s waist! Still favourites to win the title but January will be an acid test with Drogba, Kolou and Essein due to African Nations.

Grade: A


Sticky season so far for The Toffees, been hampered by injuries in key positions - Jagielka, Arteta, Yakubu and Osman to name a few - and a poor start to the season, especially at home.  Forget about last season’s dizzy heights, with little money to spend Moyes and Co. need to tough it out and allow key squad members to return.  Got more than enough to stay in the league, and could get a run together in the Europa League, to give their fans a few exotic away days.

Grade: D


Playing out of their skin at the moment, good free flowing football, very attack minded and in Bobby Zamora a striker who is showing the form that got him the move to Tottenham from Brighton.  Damien Duff is looking like his old self, top 7 finish on the cards, maybe time for a cup run, and in Roy Hodgson a worthy contender for manager of the season.

Grade: A-

Hull City

The plea for Tigers' fans would be ‘save our Jimmy Bullard’. It’s that simple, with him in their team they will stay up, without him Hull struggle.  A plucky result against Bolton, but Hull struggle to score goals and lack a creative flair, that only Bullard gives them.  If they stay up it will be by the skin of their teeth…..again!

Grade: E


Underachieving again, as the team that flatters to deceive the most in the Premier League.  After a very good 08-09 season (which they should have won the league) Liverpool’s expectations were high and has proven unrealistic. Too much reliance on G&T - not the drink, but Gerrard and Torres.  Glen Johnson has been a good signing, Reina is very reliable but the depth isn’t strong enough. Kuyt on the right???? Lucas in midfield??? Clearly haven’t replaced Xavi Alonso, but with all the problems with G&T fit, they can still get fourth spot.

Grade: C

Manchester City

The Premier League big spenders, who are proving to be real contenders for a Champions League spot.  Quality throughout the squad – the question is what is City’s best line up and will Robinho go in the transfer window?  Still a bad smell in the air over the handling of the Mark Hughes dismal and Mancini will need time, something that he may not have.  Only guarantee is that they can and will spend in the transfer market.

Grade: B

Manchester United

Proving this year that they are beatable, suffering 5 defeats already this season, as always in the hunt for the title.  Injuries have hit United hard; especially defensively with Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Neville, Fabio and Raphael all have had spells in the treatment room. Defensively they are suspect – (just ask Leeds fans) Valencia is looking to be a good buy and Rooney is having his most productive season in goal scoring to date. More needed from Berbatov, and Owen simply needs more game time. Opportunities for silverware beckons.

Grade: A-


A team that are in real trouble both on and off the pitch, players haven’t been paid for three months and a recent fan protest to the ‘get the board out’ to boot. Bottom of the Premier League but only 4 points off safety and recent performances against Man United, Liverpool and Burnley suggest that progress is being made. But they are deep rooted in financial trouble and with four players away on African Nations duty (Dindane, Belhadj, Kanu and Utaka) Avram Grant will need to wave a magic wand.

Grade: F

Stoke City

Last season’s surprise package are showing that it wasn’t a fluke.  They are a serious Premier League outfit with a tactically astute manger in Tony Pulis. Strong defensively, being lead by Ryan Shawcross and Huth, the threat of dead ball situations from Rory Delap and an intimidating venue at Britannia Stadium gives them more than enough to pose threat to teams despite recent dip in form.

Grade: C


A solid team that have improved slowly under Steve Bruce, growing a tendency to throw away points in late stages of games, notable against Birmingham, Everton and Portsmouth. In Darren Bent, alongside Kenwin Jones Sunderland have real match winners - keeping Lee Cattermole fit will be the key as to whether they move up the table or get drawn into a relegation fight.

Grade: C

Tottenham Hotspur

Along with Manchester City and Aston Villa, the best equipped side to try and break the strangle hold of the ‘big four’.  They have real depth across the full squad and especially in midfield and upfront including Lennon, Kranjcar, Modric, Defoe, Crouch and Keane. Spurs have tightened up defensively as well! With four consecutive clean sheets – they will be well in the mix for the four spot, can they last the pace? The key will be keeping a centre back pairing fit as King, Woodgate and Bassong have suffered from key injuries this season.

Grade: B+

West Ham

Put simply West Ham are in a right 2 and 8! Struggling at the bottom of the league, no money to spend, looking likely to have to sell before they can buy, combined with a team that is hit by huge injuries (including top scorer Carlton Cole) and suspensions.  Main difficulties will be the small squad and inability to keep clean sheets - tough remainder of the season for the Claret and Blues.

Grade: E

Wigan Athletic

Another team who will be watching the trap-door this season, conceding on average nearly three goals a game, the highest in the Premier League and only one win in eight games. In Hugo Rodallega, Wigan do have a goal-getter but defensively The Latics need to improve at the back and get more for players such as Scharner, N’Zogbia and Koumas.

Grade: F


Similar situation to Wigan, survival is the number one priority, manager Mick McCarthy was heavily criticised for resting 10, starting on a recent visit to Old Trafford saving for a big ‘six pointer’. 3 wins in their last 6 games prior to the new year, is the kind of form that will keep them in the top flight but they have only scored 17 league goals this season, the lowest in the Premier League. May suffer the same fate as West Ham.

Grade: E

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The End of Mark Hughes

The lights are out for Mark Hughes and his 15 month reign Eastlands. To my complete amazement no sooner had he been shown the exit door and given his P45 Roberto Mancini was wiping his feet at the entrance quicker than a rat up a drain pipe!!!

Now we all know football can occasionally bring up some stories that bring Corrie writers to their knees but this is just simply ridiculous... actually it's stupid! Sparky certaintly raised the electricity bill with his expenditure of £200m including the likes of Gareth Barry (£18m), Adebayour (£25m), De Jong (£16m), Santa Cruz (£17 ½m), Lescott (£24m), Toure (£14m) and Tevez (heaven knows exactly how much). These are all core squad players starting the majority of games, so guess what? It will take time, Rome wasn’t built in a day, or should I say Abu Dhabi!!! Ever heard of process Mr Chairman????

Time has become a commodity in football and who is the seed with for this? Rich football owners who desire to use their cash to buy football clubs as their new play toy - demanding success as instant as their coffee, as quickly as they spent their cash.

On City’s officially website Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak stated ‘A return of 2 wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with targets that were agreed at the start of the season’. Were they targets made with a gun to Hughes’s head? They need time, learn how to play together as a team, understand each others strengths and weaknesses and manage the expectation that many of those players haven’t experienced before.

So 6th place in the league, the closest they have been to their local rivals since Technicolor, and in a semi final for the 1st time in nearly 30 years and to still lose your job!!! What signal does this sent to the rest of the Premier League? Messrs Zola, Brown and Megson will be feeling they could be stuffed come Boxing Day.

So what of the new boy at Man City? Roberto Mancini wasn’t the first choice, and only time will tell if he can cut it! Yes he’s won two Serie A titles, but City fans wanted a big name with Premier League experience like Hiddink or Mourinho, both proven men. Mancini's appointment feels hasty over a cloud of uncertainty and he will be under immediate pressure to succeed, especially now he has a head start being only two games away from Wembley.

This wouldn’t have done Man City’s PR any good over the handing of Hughes’s exit. Stay tuned to this drama - there are a few episodes to run still.