Posts Tagged ‘ Football ’

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.

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.

 

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.

10 Conclusions: Arsenal vs Liverpool

Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez Share a Moment Together After Combining for Liverpool's Second. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images

-by D

1)      Liverpool were disciplined as they held their shape well and cut off Arsenal’s supply from the flanks, thus isolating a frustrated Robin Van Persie. Although Samir Nasri made a few dangerous forays through the middle, Reina was not really tested throughout. It was telling that a moment of ill-discipline cost Arsenal the game.

 

2)      Anyway, if anyone would like to know how M plays football, one does not have to look further than Jose Enrique.

 

Boasting a similarly muscular physique, the former Newcastle left-back put in an solid display- comfortably dealing with the threat of the swift but woeful Theo Walcott and consistently providing an attacking threat down the left flank. Liverpool’s left-back woes appear to be over.

 

You’re welcome M

 

3)      Shameless displays of guy love and back scratching aside, Liverpool were admittedly lucky to come away with the win.

 

Up till Frimpong’s unnecessary challenge, a makeshift Arsenal side matched Liverpool in every department. Whatever they lacked in experience certainly was not evident as Liverpool were restricted to futilely lumping the ball towards the direction of Andy Carroll.

 

If Van Persie had converted from 6 yards out and Balotelli’s twin did not lunge into Lucas (sounds wrong doesn’t it), Arsenal could have very well won the game. Still, discipline counts and pays off.

 

4)      And if they did, Thomas Vermaelen would have been the man-of-the-match. The Belgium international was bloody immense for the Gunners- snuffing out the much bigger Andy Carroll while guiding his makeshift backline that featured two 19-year-olds making their Barclays Premier League debuts.

 

Perhaps they biggest compliment one could pay him for his remarkable performance is that he suddenly made Arsenal ballsy. Who would have known.

 

5)      Speaking of ballsy-ness, Emmanuel Frimpong, Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel have lots of it. In Frimpong’s case, perhaps a bit too much.

 

Nevertheless the three 19-year-olds acquitted themselves well, putting up solid performances in their virgin Barclays Premier League game ( well frimpong played 30 minutes against Newcastle but let’s just take it as it’s his “first” time for a flowing sentence). Yes, Frimpong was brash. And yes Jenkinson played Suarez onside for the first goal. But we tend to forget how young these players are and their respective displays play testament to their undeniable talent.

 

Most importantly, they make us feel bad about ourselves. What were you doing at 19?

 

6)      And while we are on the topic of youngsters, Martin Kelly did pretty well didn’t he. Replacing the still slightly raw John Flanagan, Kelly carried on where he left off last season, when a hamstring injury curtailed his impressive run.

He kept Andrei Arshavin and Bacary Sagna quiet throughout while giving Liverpool attacking thrust on the right flank with surging runs. More importantly, he appears to be a better defender than Glen Johnson. The England international right-back should be worried for his spot in both the Liverpool and national team.

 

7)       Which is really a testament to Liverpool’s new-found squad depth. Even without Steven Gerrard, Fabio Aurelio and Glen Johnson, Dalglish was still able to put up a strong starting line-up and send on Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez off the bench, who proceeded to set up both goals.

 

Juxtaposed with last season when Liverpool could only muster Joe Cole and David Ngog to turn the tide, it’s a far, far cry in terms of quality. A pity that Alberto Aquilani was not given a chance though.

 

8)      It’s very presumptuous and premature but Andy Carroll doesn’t seem to fit in with Dalglish’s pass and move philosophy, which calls for Liverpool to play a high-tempo game with plenty of quick passes and swift movement.

 

Just like how the more mobile Hernandez and Welbeck are preferred over Berbatov over at Manchester United, Carroll may not be the man for Dalglish’s revolution. However, like I said, it’s very early and as such, I’d love to be proven wrong as the season goes by and Carroll gets fitter.

 

9)      My rage at Carroll stems from his pithy returns for my fantasy football league. No goals and assists and a bloody yellow card in two games for 10million pounds is really costing me. So forgive me if I do sound irrational.

 

10)  Back to the rational stuff. Without Luis Suarez, the Merseyside club appear to lack invention and penetration in the final third. An over-reliance on the Uruguay international to win them games may prove to be an issue.

 

While Steven Gerrard’s return may ease Liverpool’s dependence on Suarez to clinch matches, big money buys such as Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson must alleviate the burden. A two-man team, as we all know, brings you no where.

 

11)And it is not all gloom and doom for Arsenal. The Gunners were unlucky to leave the Emirates without a single point as a patched up side matched an expensively assembled Liverpool side blow for blow throughout. If not for Frimpong’s brashness and Aaron Ramsey’s terribly unfortunate own-goal, the result may have gone Arsenal’s way.

 

If Vermalean, Szczesny, Wilshere, Ramsey, Sagna, Song and Van Persie manage to stay fit while starlets such as Frimpong, Jenkinson and Miquel continue to develop Arsenal still could get something out of this season. It is still early days mind you.

 

12) Which is why Liverpool fans should not start to hail this game as the second coming. Again. Let’s take it one game at a time guys.

 

13) Does anyone else miss Linda Pizzutti?

 

10 Conclusions: Sunderland vs Newcastle

-by M

  • In a game that started off so promisingly for Sunderland, they must be left kicking themselves for not capitalizing on what was a whirlwind start for them. They were out of the blocks faster and were quicker to every ball and winning most of the challenges against Newcastle who appeared to be stunned.
  • Definitely a Newcastle penalty. Larsson may not have intentionally handled the ball but the reality of the matter was he denied what would have been a Newcastle goal. How the linesman missed that is one question only he can answer. Could it be because Sunderland were the home team? Or just maybe he had Larsson on his fantasy team.
  • It’s funny how quickly a game of football can be changed after one single event. It seemed as if Sunderland were a little rattled after nearly conceding a penalty that they backed off a little and allowed Newcastle into the game. From then on, it was a keenly contested game right to the final whistle.
  • Did anyone else catch a glimpse of that awkward moment when Sessegnon was kneeling in front of Pardew and Pardew had both his hands on his head? (you will, it will definitely be on one of the leading sports websites)
  • Ryan Taylor is a lucky, lucky boy. If he had connected with his elbow on Gyan in the first half, he would have undoubtedly been sent off. However, he escaped punishment and scored the winning goal. Newcastle fans must be silently relieved that Taylor did not make contact on Gyan with his flailing elbow and that Webb did not catch the Newcastle man red-handed.
  • How Cabaye got away with his challenge on Phil Bardsley I will never know. His studs were showing, he was going at speed and caught the Sunderland full-back. The only probable reason was that Webb did not want to send a player off so early in the game given the game was a derby.  That challenge anywhere else might have seen a straight red for the Frenchman.
  • So in a sense, Phil Bardsley’s second yellow was somewhat fortuitous. It was a similar challenge as Cabaye’s on Gutierrez. Studs showing, foot high, sliding in at speed. Bardsley should consider himself lucky it was not a straight red.
  • Mignolet’s positioning has to be questioned for Newcastle goal. He was caught in no man’s land and misjudged the flight of the ball completely. While it was a good delivery by Ryan Taylor, Mignolet should have done better.
  • What is Lee Cattermole’s purpose on the field? It seems as if his sole aim in the game is to hack down as many opposition players as possible. The ‘Makelele’ role has gained some prominence in recent years but Cattermole is no Makelele. How some England fans can call for Cattermole to be in their team is beyond belief.
  • That said, was waiting for something to happen with Cattermole and Barton on the pitch. Afterall, what’s a derby without a little scrap?

After the Spaniard, It Could Be the Croat…

-by M

“You either sell him, go out and bring three or four players in and have a better team, probably, in all honesty, or you keep him,” was Redknapp’s frank reply when quizzed about the future of his classy playmaker Luka Modric, who has been pursued by Chelsea this whole summer..

Modric himself has already clarified that he wants the move to Stamford Bridge.

“I would like to go to Chelsea. A lot of players would like to go there and play for Chelsea because it is one of the best clubs in the world, and so do I. I would like to play there.” 

He has made it quite clear hasn’t he?

Citing the allure of the Champions League and a desire to win trophies, his preference of Chelsea may not go down well with Spurs fans who are fierce London rivals with Andre Villas-Boas’ side.

Redknapp himself has been adamant that Modric was going “nowhere” during pre-season but his recent statement suggests a weakening of the club’s stance.

It is no wonder that Redknapp does not want to lose Modric, who has to be the strongest skinny fella in the Premier League (much like Messi in La Liga). He has an exceptional first-touch, keen spatial awareness, deft dribbling abilities and remarkable strength on and off the ball. Quite a spectacular player really( D’s personal favourite).

While Tottenham fans would undoubtedly be upset with losing a fan favourite and one of the classiest playmakers the club and Premier League have seen in recent times, it will not be all doom and gloom at White Hart Lane.

Unlike their London rivals Arsenal, Redknapp has shown that he is not shy to splash the cash on players if the need or opportunity arises.

Modric will certainly fetch a fee in the region of 30m and upwards given his reputation in the Premier League and also including the fact that they are selling to one of their rivals. This money should and will be reinvested in players that could see Tottenham challenge for a top 4 spot again.

Assou-Ekotto may have impressed last season but his defending has always been suspect. A quality left-back such as Leighton Baines may be exactly what Spurs need to reinforce their backline. Given Everton’s inability to generate funds, a generous offer may tempt Everton to offload their player of the year and arguably England’s best left-back to Spurs.

Redknapp has also revealed that the team is in the process of bringing in Emmanuel Adebayor and Lassana Diarra. As unlikeable as both characters are given their affiliations to Spurs’ London rivals Arsenal, the duo boast quality and experience at the top level.

Spurs desperately need some steel in their midfield and a reliable 15-20 goals a season target man who is able to lead the line. Diarra and Adebayor fit the bill.

Also, Redknapp has hardly tapped into the transfer market this off-season, he could very well bring in a couple of new faces to add depth to his squad, especially since some of his players are frequent visitors to the treatment table (see Ledley King, Tom Huddlestone and last season, Van der Vaart).

More importantly, you know your squad needs a revamp when Jermaine Jenas is near the first-team.

Another key consideration for Spurs would be to ensure that if any deal is to be done, it should be done with enough time for Redknapp to reinforce his team. A repeat of the Berbatov saga should not occur, no matter how much the price may inflate. Redknapp himself has insisted that chairman Daniel Levy would not let that happen. “He won’t do that, no chance,” the Spurs manager stated.

With all that said and done, it still seems more likely that Modric would be at White Hart Lane at least till the January transfer window. As the transfer deadline approaches, it will be make or break time for Chelsea within the next few days if they are to snap up the highly rated Croat.

Either way, Spurs fans should still have reason for optimism for the upcoming season. If Bale is able to replicate his early season form of 2010/11 and Van der Vaart maintains his fitness, Tottenham will be right up there with the big boys come May 2012.

The Silver Lining of Football

-by D

Football is a major part of most of our lives. After all, if you are reading this article, you are probably a football fan.

And like a good number of football fans, the Barclays Premier League is likely to be the league that one follows.

While top European leagues such as the Bundesliga and La Liga may arguably be superior to the Barclays Premier League in terms of competitiveness and technical ability respectively, England’s top-flight football still commands the greatest worldwide following.

Therefore, a palpable sense of disappointment could be felt after the release of the following statement from the Premier League and Football League with regards to the horrendous riots in London and several parts of England.

“We are in ongoing discussions with our London-based clubs, the Metropolitan Police and statutory authorities in regard to the staging of the coming weekend’s fixtures in the capital.

“The Metropolitan Police has conveyed to us the dynamic nature of the current situation and with that in mind all parties will review the situation on Thursday and make a further public statement at that time.

And following the postponement of the Everton-Tottenham game, where does that leave us poor souls? How will our fantasy teams survive? Will we face yet another weekend of replaying YouTube videos of last season’s best goals?

It has been 76 days since that cracking Champions League final in Wembley and whilst international-football tournaments, pre-season games and transfer gossip have occupied us since, nothing is quite the same as the Barclays Premier League is it?

Owner of QPR, Bernie Ecclestone, is equally disappointed as most fans.

“It [the postponement] sends a terrible message to the rest of the world,” Ecclestone told the BBC.

“Would we want to take a risk? It’s a difficult decision to make.”

Ecclestone’s worries are understandable; partially given that his London based club would be raring to kick-off their first top flight appearance in 15 years. It is exciting as much as it is lucrative for the club.

While more disappointment may ensue for club owners and fans alike, there is a slight measure of comfort that one can feel from the disruption- a display of societal awareness and maturity by a few footballing figures.

The England defender is an active participant on Twitter

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand deserves praise for measured remarks made on Twitter following the cancellation of a scheduled international friendly.

“England vs Holland game is off, good call. Who wants to see a game of football when our country is in turmoil,” the former England captain tweeted.

“I can’t tell the youths exactly what to do but stealing tv’s + trainers+burning innocent peoples houses+shops aint solving nothing at all.”

In juxtaposition, footballers have used Twitter in petulant and irresponsible manners before -Ryan Babel’s photo of Howard Webb in a Manchester United Jersey and Joey Barton’s public lashing of the Newcastle management come to mind.

Of course, the ridiculous amounts of money they earn perpetuate the general impression of Barclays Premier League footballers as, well, twits.

Which is why “rioferdy5’s” comments are refreshing because they give some hope that they are levelheaded individuals around in top-flight football.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, whose comments about referees and injuries are sometimes construed as whining, portrayed a similar level of class.

“I hope it won’t affect this first fixture, but we’ll be governed by the authorities,” Bruce told Sky Sports News.

“It’s a problem which society has got and I’ll echo what everybody else thinks who’s seen this outrage.”

“It’s sad and disappointing to see people on the rampage like that. I hope the Premier League can start and bring a bit of peace and normality to it, because you don’t want to see these scenes we’ve witnessed.

There is a sense of respect and understanding that the tumult in England is way bigger than football. Regardless of how massive English football is, this shared acceptance of what takes precedence in such trying times is pretty commendable.

Cynics may dismiss the reactions as PR-friendly statements or simply remarks that any civic-minded citizen would echo. In fact, they very well might be.

Rather, such sensibility stands in stark contrast with summer incidents such as Mario Balotelli’s puerile bottle-throwing following his substitution that was induced by an audacious but failed back-flick, the ridiculous post-match brawl following the Venezuela-Peru Copa America semi-final, the FIFA bribery allegations and of course, overly self-indulgent transfer sagas.

Eventually, Barclays Premier League games will go on and the childishness will return. Yet, it is warming to know that there are plenty of mature heads and humility in football still.

For many of the innocent individuals whose lives have been tarnished by acts of sheer irresponsibility and mindlessness, football will not fill the voids in their lives.

However, for English football fans and more importantly, for those affected, football will soon return and provide a welcome distraction.

And that is a silver lining we can all look towards to.