WE WILL BE BACK

After some careful thought and consideration, M & D will be back soon to bring you our opinions on the events that transpire in the footballing world, particularly in the Barclays Premier League. Hang on to your tailcoats, we’ll be back shortly.

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As the Toon Army Marches into the Valley of Death…

-by M

a handsome Irish singer by the name of Ronan Keating once sang, “life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it.” and that is the fate of Newcastle fans around the world. Relegated as recently as 2009, the Magpies now suddenly find themselves in the top 4 spots of the Premier League with the season almost half way through. They have been impressive thus far against somewhat lesser opposition and they now face a daunting run of matches against the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Yet, such is the dramatic ups and downs in the recent history of the Magpies that one can forgive the optimism currently surrounding the Tyneside club. Chris Hughton, the man who led Newcastle to promotion from the Championship was sacked barely a year ago and was replaced by Alan Pardew, a decision many deemed to be foolish. However, under Pardew’s charge, Newcastle has transformed themselves over the year through astute acquisitions and a change in footballing and man management philosophy and are now one of the exciting teams to watch this season.

The bigwigs and players who the manager felt could be “bigger than the team” were shipped off to other clubs who were willing to accommodate their egos for their footballing talents (Barton, Nolan, Enrique) while industrious (& mostly French) players with a point to prove were recruited and drilled to play for the collective, rather than for the individual.

Out of all of Pardew’s recent purchases, the one that stands out has to be Yohan Cabaye. the French international has stood out in the black and white of Newcastle this season and has been the conductor of the flowing symphony that is Newcastle’s new style of possession football. His partnership with hardman, Chieck Tiote is one of the key reasons for Newcastle’s outstanding run of results this season.

Undoubtedly, most of the credit has to be attributed to the man many deemed to be unfit for the job. Afterall, here was a man who had a poor reputation in the Premier League after contributing to West Ham’s worst run of results in their history in 2007.  Also, despite his selfish antics, some credit has to be given to owner Mike Ashley. As much as Newcastle fans love to hate him, he has shown his support for the club through good times and bad times and despite his poor taste and shameless advertisement of his company (Sports Direct Arena < St. James Park), Ashley has brought stability to a team that was on the brink of sinking into oblivion after being relegated.

The next few weeks will shape Newcastle’s current season and seasons to come. Many may not give Newcastle a chance against the likes of City, United and Chelsea, but if they continue to play the way they have been playing all season, I would not be surprised if they could steal a win or two against the top 3 teams in England at the moment.

More importantly, it is crucial that Pardew endeavours in the philosophy he has inculcated in the club and keep hold of key personnel such as Tiote and Cabaye. The likes of United and City are already circling around these players but if Pardew can keep these lynchpins in his team, he could be the one to awake one of football’s sleeping giants.

10 Conclusions: Chelsea vs Arsenal

 

-by M

1. What an absolutely brilliant game to watch if you’re a neutral. Alright, the defending wasn’t great from both sides but who can argue against 90 minutes of end-to-end action with 8 goals? Certainly not me. At the end, its probably the Chelsea fans who feel frustrated with what was undoubtedly the most entertaining 90 minutes of football the Premier League has served up this season.

2. Arsenal are ticking on nicely now aren’t they? A couple of scrappy wins in the bag and now a 3-5 win to remember against the neighbours. The crisis seems to have been averted and obviously they still have a lot of work to do to challenge for the title (such as learning how to defend), Wenger must be breathing a whole lot easier after Saturday’s result

3. Speaking of defending, it was an absolute horror show by both sets of defenders. As mentioned previously, it was entertaining stuff but both Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger must surely do something about their defenders. Andre Santos and Johan Djourou are clearly not up to standard. Djourou is a poor excuse for a defender and Santos was abysmal in the first half although his goal in the second half did boost his confidence.

4. Per Mertesacker is not and never will be the answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems. Culpable for Chelsea’s first and second goals, he made Koscielny look class. Not that many Arsenal fans will remember though given the scoreline.

5. How important is Van Persie to this Arsenal side? The man is sheer class.

6. Also, how good was Ramsey? The Welsh captain has stepped up to the plate in Wilshere’s absence and Fabregas’ and Nasri’s departure and was brilliant in midfield alongside Song and Arteta. His carefully threaded through pass to Gervinho for Arsenal’s first equalizer was an absolute gem. A midfield of Ramsey, Wilshere and Song should serve Arsenal well for years to come.

7. Worryingly for Chelsea fans, who have been so accustomed to see their side being rock solid in defence, it is that particular aspect of their game that requires the most work now. Gone were the days of scrapping 1-0 or 2-0 wins under Mourinho. While it is undoubtedly entertaining from a neutral perspective, Chelsea fans must be hoping that AVB does something about the situation quick. Terry is no longer the man mountain he once was and Cech is a poor shadow of his former self.

8. Speaking of Cech, he was at fault for at least 2 of Arsenal’s goals. For a goalkeeper of his calibre, he should not be beaten at his near post twice (or three times if you consider Van Persie’s 3rd goal). It might seem harsh but AVB might do well to purchase a goalkeeper in the coming January window either as competition for Cech or even to replace the Czech international.

9. In a game with high stakes and bragging rights, Torres has once again failed to deliver. Granted, he has had a spell on the sidelines but nothing he tried pulled off. Abramovich must be wondering if Liverpool delivered Torres’ twin brother in January instead of the real Torres.

10. It may be harsh but from the 10-15 minutes of what I’ve seen so far, Romelu Lukaku is NOT Didier Drogba V2.0.

Manchester is Blue… For Now

-by M

it has taken an utter humiliation to Manchester United to revive this dying site. As United fans wake up today hoping it was all just a very bad dream, it is still early days yet for the title to be decided. City have an outstanding goal difference and are now 5 points clear at the top but have yet to play the teams around them apart from United. A clearer picture will emerge after the busy weeks of Christmas and New Year, but yesterday belonged to the blue side of Manchester.

There is no doubt that the better team won on the day. City went to Old Trafford with a game plan and executed it to perfection in the first half. United had the bulk of possession but did nothing productive with it. Nani and Young were toothless on the wings and the workhorse midfield of Anderson and Fletcher were unable to break down a resolute defensive wall of Toure, Barry, Lescott and Kompany.

After Evans was sent off, the result did not look in doubt but for a brief period of five minutes after Fletcher miraculously emerged from the shadows of the game to plant the ball in the back of the net to make it 3-1. After that, it was just a horror movie for United fans directed and starred by David Silva.

United fans may find the scoreline harsh but in reality, 6-1 was probably reflective of the gulf in class and ability on the day. While United have classy wingers in the form of Young and Nani, a midfield of Anderson and Fletcher will never match up to City’s midfield which is run by the little Spaniard, Silva. Unless Tom Cleverley is the Chosen One, United will do well to add one or two central midfielders into their team come January.

Defensively, Ferguson will have to take a good hard look at his long-serving players. But for a moment of idiocy, Evans was the better defender in the first half with Ferdinand looking decidedly nervous with Aguero keeping him occupied. Stand-in captain, Patrice Evra, had an absolute shocker and as most United fans will tell you, he has been abysmal for a while already. 4 out of 6 of City’s goals came down the left flank of United. For Silva’s goal, Welbeck ended up being where Evra should have been.

Yesterday was in all probability a freak result. However, it is a strong statement of intent by Manchester City that should be heeded by all in the footballing community. Contrary to popular belief, it is looking increasingly likely that money can indeed buy success. Manchester will be painted blue for now. But count on the Red Devils to reclaim the bragging rights at the City of Manchester.

 

10 Conclusions: Manchester United vs Chelsea

-by M

– What a game it was. It was not a technically superior game with Ramires’ and Torres’ miss (more on those later) as well as Rooney’s fluffed up penalty. But this game had everything a neutral could ask for. Controversial goals, Nani’s wonder strike from range,  feisty tackles, penalties. The only thing missing was probably a red card but that would have marred the game wouldn’t it?

– Chris Smalling was definitely offside. But Chelsea should have done so much better defensively. Young’s ball was superb and even if Smalling was not there to head it in, he had Jonny Evans behind him to tap it home for United’s opening goal.

– How good was Fletcher on his first Premier League in months? His facial hair and dynamism in midfield had D squealing like a little girl (Fletcher is his favourite United player) and it is always nice to see a player come back and perform well after a couple of months out. He was tidy in midfield, keeping the United engine ticking. And thankfully, he did. Anderson had a mediocre game by his recent performances and would be happy that it was Fletcher and not Carrick partnering him in midfield.

– How did Ramires not equalize for Chelsea only he would know. While some questioned Torres’ confidence in not taking the shot when he could, I felt he did the right thing by squaring the ball to Ramires who really should have buried it. No ifs or buts. De Gea did well to scramble across but really, Chelsea should have been on level terms.

– Take a bow, Nani. That was a goal worthy of winning any game. A player not short on confidence, he was almost untouchable after that wonder goal. As D said, “That is how you hit a ball.”

– I feel a little sorry for Torres. After his goal, you could tell his confidence was growing. He was an absolute nuisance to the United backline and his finish was sublime, dinking the ball over De Gea. But all that will be forgotten with THAT miss. He did everything right but I’m sorry, he should have finished it. I could have put it in the back of the net. Its cruel for him especially after scoring a good goal and you could tell he was regaining his confidence. That miss will crush anybody, let alone a player desperately short on confidence and luck.

– 12 months ago, Rooney would have been absolutely livid with himself if he scuffed that penalty ala Terry in Moscow. Yet, the man managed a wry smile and got on with his game thereafter. If Torres is a man short of confidence, Rooney is clearly full of it at the moment. Its almost as if he goes into every game knowing he will score. That is a scary thought for any non-United fan.

– Did anyone else see Evans’ rage Carrick in the second half? Evans passed the ball to Carrick, who had no opponent within 10 yards of him, but proceeds to make a  back pass to De Gea. Evans couldn’t believe it. Neither could I. Its almost as if Carrick doesn’t want the ball at times and that is why he should not be anywhere near the United first XI.

– Despite the result, Chelsea performed well. The only difference was the quality/confidence of the strikers in both teams. Had Chelsea had an in-form Torres or Sturridge, United might not have been victorious. The numbers state it all. Chelsea had 22 shots on goal against United’s 14. De Gea made 7 saves to Cech’s 3.

– Juan Mata is the key to Chelsea’s success this season. The little Spaniard has a similar style to David Silva and clearly, he was pulling the strings for Chelsea last night. Lampard was taken off at half time. Is it the beginning of the end for Fat Frank?

– Phil Jones is an absolute beast. While he was caught ball watching for Torres’ goal, he was once again, outstanding. Imperious in defence and equally brilliant going forward, United’s 3rd goal was a result of his willingness to step forward from defence with the ball. Young and De Gea have been pretty solid so far for United but for me, Jones has surpassed expectations with his performances in a United shirt. I would not be surprised if he won Young Player of the Year if he keeps this up for the remainder of the season.

Weekend Review

-by D 

Football is a curious game isn’t it. In the result-orientated world of football and to a lesser extent, life, it’s not about the number of chances that one creates or the manner in which the opportunity is born, it is about whether we make those chances count. United, Spurs and Blackburn did whilst Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Fernando Torres did not.

For Arsenal, their defensive fragility and puzzling inability to defend set pieces saw them throw away a game that they had in the bag. One would have thought purchasing an experienced 6’7 German international in Per Mertersacker would solve their woes at the back.
Blackburn certainly didn’t think so and took full advantage of the London side’s weakness at the back as the Yak( see what i did with the rhyme) and Martin Olsson pummeled them with strength and pace. Not that Yakubu’s deft opener was about any of that but still, it doesn’t take much to breach Arsenal’s defence these days.
Stars players may come and go, but this lack of defensive solidity has been a chronic issue that will continue to deny them success. How Wenger and Arsenal fans must have hoped that the opposing centre-back pairing of Scott Dann and the man-mountain, Christopher Samba, were in the red and white instead of the blue and white.
Still, it was nice to see Wenger maintain his sense of humour, as he quipped, “We scored six goals and lost”. Following another pathetic fantasy week, I’m incapable of such graciousness.
As Arsenal’s self-implosion continues to evolve, lovers of schadenfreude should turn their attention to Liverpool’s faltering revolution.
A 4-0 defeat to a potential top-four contender after having two men sent off for silly fouls and your best defender hauled off due to injury in the first-half was the stuff of nightmares for Liverpool fans.
Utterly slow off the blocks and lacking any form of attacking impetus, Liverpool got what they deserved. A few glaring tactical flaws, which in fairness, are only apparent on hindsight, cost Dalglish’s side dearly.
Although Gareth Bale has had a quiet season so far, that lad still can run exceedingly fast. Like real fast. If there were a time to play Dirk Kuyt on the right, this would be it. Especially so if your right-back is a centre-back and even more so if your team goes down to 10 men.
Kenny goes ahead and plays Andy Carroll on the right after Charlie Adam’s sending off. Martin Skrtel and Andy Carroll could not be any squarer pegs in round holes.
Naturally, Liverpool were torn apart by a swashbuckling Spurs side who look like they have gotten over their teething problems. A huge part of their rejuvenation is down to the purchase of Scott Parker, whose tenacity, experience and defensive nous has given their top-heavy side of attacking talents a nice balance.
Just ask Luka Modric, who had the freedom to roam forward and unleash a stunner from 20 yards out past a hapless Reina thanks to Parker’s steady presence behind him.
Further, Emmanuel Adebayor is still in the stage at his new club when his actually gives a damn and a Adebayor who puts in the effort is a pretty scary proposition for any defender. His hold-up play, distribution and finishing was simply exceptional.
And speaking of teams which are on the rise, the top dog for the past twenty years, Manchester United, continue to show how its done. Its hard for me to even type this but its true.
Demonstrating their new brand of intricate passing football, which is fused with Ferguson’s traditionally strong emphasis on wing-play and carried out at breakneck speed, United won the game in a ruthlessly clinical manner – three goals were scored from three attempts in the first-half.
The first, an emphatic header from a wonderfully whipped cross that appeared a tad offside but was never going to be ruled out because well, it’s Old Trafford and Manchester United, they will do whatever they want.
However, there is no doubting the veracity of the second goal, which has to be one of the goals of the season as Nani gently took down a 40-yard cross field ball, slalomed past three players and rifled it into the top corner from 25 yards out.
That, my friends, is how you strike a ball.
The third was slightly fortuitous -a hashed clearance by John Terry ricocheted off a Chelsea defender into the path of an unmarked Wayne Rooney-  but irrelevant because they put the ball in the back of the net and that’s all that matters.
Which is why Ramires and to a larger extent Fernando Torres, will be rueing their respectively glaring misses for years to come. Chelsea were the better side for most parts of the game but sadly, results aren’t determined by the means.
Games are won and lost and limited chances and the only reason that United and Sir Alex have been at the top of the game is because they take those chances. Winners do that.
And as we welcome yet another miserable week of work and League Cup football, it seems that the ultimate winner is English football. Like Manchester United, they are a brand that never fails to deliver. Exhilarating, high-quality action week in, week out.
Until next week then chaps.

Top 10 Transfer-Deadline Deals

Lille's newly recruit Joe Cole poses with his new shirt

-by M

Deadline days are always hectic and full of drama. Its the day where months of speculation are finally put to an end. Its the day where fans become realistically optimistic about their team’s prospects for the next 9 months, when new players are snapped up at either bargains or hugely-inflated prices. Last season we saw Redknapp make arguably the buy of the season in the form of Rafael Van der Vaart for 8 million pounds. What drama unfolded this season? While this season was considerably mellow considering the madness that took place the last few seasons, we have compiled a list of what we feel are the top 10 transfer-deadline deals of 2011/12.

Craig Bellamy (Manchester City —-> Liverpool)

Bellamy, much like Barton, is one who polarizes opinions. Its either you love him, or you hate him. And Liverpool fans do love him. While he’s not the guy with the best temperament or PR skills, his pace and ability is apparent to all and Liverpool fans will not forget the night he scored against Barcelona and celebrated with a golf club swing in mockery of his bust up with ex-colleague John Arne Riise. Frozen out at City, there were rumours that he wanted to go back to his native Wales to play for Cardiff. However, when Liverpool came knocking, there was no way Bellamy would have settled for any other club. The question now is, with such a mobile attack in the form of Suarez, Kuyt and Bellamy, where will Carroll fit in amongst all of this?

Mikel Arteta (Everton —-> Arsenal) 

It wasn’t a good day for Everton fans as they lost Jermaine Beckford to Leicester (see below) and talismanic midfielder Arteta to Arsenal, leaving them with a substantially thin squad. For Arsenal, who were the most active team yesterday, this will go some way to soften the blow of Fabregas’ departure. While Arteta is not quite as good as Cesc Fabregas, he brings the same kind of awareness and vision to the team. We’ve already seen Nasri and Young move up a higher level after moving to a stronger team, could Arteta prove to be the next revelation this season? Or will he be the 12million pound failure that  Wenger bought out of desperation? Arsenal fans will certainly hope he will be the former.

Owen Hargreaves (Free Agent —-> Manchester City)

You’ve absolutely no idea how much man love I have for Hargreaves and his curly hair. As a United fan, it sickens me to see one of England’s best midfielders (on his day and injury-free) leave our club and join City. Yet, this is an important transfer for both club and player. By signing Hargreaves, they now have substantial cover in the defensive-midfield role occupied by Barry and De Jong. With De Jong’s propensity to get cautioned in almost every game and Barry, being Barry, to be able to call upon Hargreaves as backup is a huge boost. As for Hargreaves, a player of his calibre should be playing for a team playing European football. City is undoubtedly a team who will be challenging on all fronts this season and he will be able to get several games under his belt to aid his fitness. For all you know, he may be pushing for a first-team place this time next season. Of course, the key is his fitness. If he is as fit as he claims to be, he will be an absolute monster in midfield for them. If not, he might just fade away like a certain Michael Johnson (remember him?).

Raul Meireles (Liverpool —-> Chelsea)

This was one I that struck me out of the blue despite the fact that he was no longer first choice in midfield for Liverpool after the summer arrivals of Downing, Henderson and Adam. Meireles had a fantastic second half of the season for Liverpool last year and scored against Chelsea. In Meireles, Chelsea have bought a proven midfielder who can play alongside Lampard in midfield, with Ramires as the holding midfielder. While he might not be as good as Ballack or Deco, he brings much-needed creativity to a Chelsea side that is evidently in need of some.

Joe Cole (Liverpool —-> Lille)

We all expected Joe Cole to leave Liverpool in this transfer window but it is his destination that has surprised many. Most expected the Englishman to leave Liverpool for a mid-table BPL team like West Bromwich or Aston Villa, however he has signed for French champions, Lille on a season-long loan. The absolute kicker: He’s the only Liverpool player who will be playing in the Champions League this season.

Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid —-> Inter Milan)

With Samuel Eto’o leaving the club to play football where money grows on trees (thats the only reason he’s being paid 300,000 pounds per week), Inter have swooped for Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan, who has consistently been within the top few goalscorers in La Liga. With no disrespect to Atletico, Forlan can now move on to greater things and rightfully challenge for European honours, considering his ability. It will also be interesting to see how Forlan adapts to Serie A, having not played there before.

Scott Parker (West Ham —->Tottenham Hotspur)

Scotty Parker must have a penchant for London clubs, having spent a large portion of his career with Charlton, Chelsea, West Ham and now, Tottenham. For Spurs, the arrival of Parker brings much needed steel into a fragile midfield spine. With Palacios shipped off to Stoke and Sandro the only defensive midfielder in the team, Parker brings quality into the squad and will probably walk straight into the starting XI, such is the man’s quality and Spurs’ lack of in the centre of the park. A midfield trio of Parker, Modric and Van der Vaart is good enough to mix with the best of English football.

Bryan Ruiz (FC Twente —-> Fulham)

We here at FP will be the first to put our hands up and acknowledge that we have no idea who this fella is. But looking at Fulham’s situation, a striker is exactly what Martin Jol needs. 1 goal in 3 games in which they have won the square root of bugger all is not good enough for Fulham’s standards. Bryan Ruiz’s 6 goals in the 2011 Gold Cup suggests he is capable of delivering the goods and he was part of McClaren’s title-winning FC Twente side, starting 20 times and scoring 7 goals. Fulham fans will be hoping he will improve on that record.

Jermaine Beckford (Everton —-> Leicester City)

A man fast-tracked into the Premier League, moving from Leeds United to Everton last season. He has now moved back down to the Championship level to join Leicester City to aid them in their bid for promotion. Quite why Everton were willing to let Beckford go is something only Moyes knows. A squad already ravaged by injuries and plagued with injury-prone strikers, Beckford would have played a big part in the current campaign. He has already shown he has quality to cut it at the very top, with the strike against Bolton and his solitary effort against Chelsea last season stand out goals for him(see here and here). If he is capable of reproducing such quality on a regular basis, Leicester City may be playing with the big boys come August 2012.