Smiles All Round
Forget Knighthood, if this move doesn’t get the man canonised, the world will be in shock. David Beckham announced to the world on Thursday afternoon that every last penny of his reported £170k a week deal at Paris St. Germain will go to a lucky Parisian boys orphanage. It was a move that most likely melted the hearts of mothers and fans alike across the globe,
On an otherwise dull deadline day in which the greatest drama were balmy reports of Peter Odemwingie’s attempted break-in of Loftus Road, Beckham’s announcement that he was heading to Paris was timed to perfection.
Sports writers speculated on the transfer, fashion writers were giddy at the prospect of wife Victoria heading to the self-pronounced fashion-capital of the world and news journalists put the Mali crisis onto the back burner for the day in order to divulge the details of Beckham’s lone humanitarian crusade to save the street urchins of Paris.
Allez Le Becks!
One could easily have forgotten that the main headline was his signing of a six month contract at PSG.
From a footballing perspective, the signing of David Beckham is unnecessary. PSG’s main bit of business in this winter transfer window was finally to unveil Lucas Moura, their £40m signing from Sao Paulo grasped from the clutches of Manchester United. The Brazilian slotted straight into the PSG line up on Friday night, providing two assists in PSG’s 4-0 win over Toulouse. The addition of Lucas represents a final piece of the jigsaw for PSG’s attack
Predominantly, Carlo Ancelotti prefers a narrow system consisting of three centre midfielders, two advanced playmakers and a lone striker. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the main man up front, supported by one of Lucas, Jeremy Menez or Javier Pastore. Their three central midfield spots are usually occupied by three from the likes of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Clement Chantome.
If David Beckham is to fit anywhere into this line-up, it’ll likely be in a deep midfield position. He did it well enough for LA Galaxy, though even the most ardent of Beckham fans will concede that playing against the likes of the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers is not comparable to what Ligue 1 and the Champions League has to offer. If and when he features, it’ll most likely involve a cameo of Beckham pinging fifty yard balls to the feet of Ibrahimovic, or scoring the odd free-kick should the Swede allow Becks the opportunity to revel in his spotlight.
Of course, the real success will come away from the pitch. The Qatari Investment Authority’s purchase of the club in 2011 was just the latest in a string of deals aimed at increasing their presence within the game. The filthy-rich emirate has its fingers in several pies across European football, ranging from sponsorship deals involving Barcelona’s shirts or Man City’ stadium, to their successful bid for the right to host the World Cup in 2022.
The latter is Qatar’s primary focus. They need to somehow convince the footballing world that they are a suitable choice to host a World Cup and are serious about their intentions towards the sport. What better man, then, to promote the cause than David Beckham?
David Beckham transformed American ‘soccer’. His five year stint in Major League Soccer converted the league from a retirement ground for Europe’s stars, to a retirement ground for Europe’s stars watched by record numbers of spectators. He converted his club, Los Angeles Galaxy, from just another MLS franchise to a household name and a leading force in the American game.
The Qatari’s will also remember his stellar role in promoting the Olympic Games in London last summer. The sight of Beck’s surging up the Thames in a speed boat during the Game’s opening ceremony is perhaps one of the most defining British moments of 2012, let alone the summer.
Therefore, PSG’s owners are willing to go along with the orphanage stunt whilst also handing Beckham a high percentage of royalties simply because, for six months at least, Paris St. Germain will be muttered in the same breath as the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona purely because of the presence of Becks.
The owners could have quite easily signed a footballing superstar to front their brand. Cristiano Ronaldo’s name has been mentioned in recent months, as has Kaka, Neymar and even Lionel Messi. But in terms of trying to get the whole world talking about Paris St. Germain FC, David Beckham is your man.
All the pre-match talk in the build-up to Manchester United’s encounter with rivals Liverpool was focused squarely on Robin Van Persie and Luis Suarez. The weekend papers relentlessly ran the rule over both strikers, comparing everything from their temperament to their weight. During Sky’s prelude to the match Jamie Redknapp came to the conclusion that both players were 'literally identical'.
As is always the case when Sky relentless bill a game like a dog with a bone, the tussle between the Premier League’s most in-form players was somewhat of an anti-climax. Sure, Robin Van Persie set United on their way to victory in the first half with a fairly simple strike, but other than that the two players did not imprint much of an influence on the match as they normally would. Luis Suarez cut a lone figure up top for Liverpool during the first 45 minutes as Martin Tyler futilely tried to raise suspense every time the Uruguayan came in camera shot of the ball.
Settling their differences the Sepp Blatter Way
Despite doing the double over their hated rivals, United fans would have left Old Trafford this afternoon with a touch of disappointment. At 2-0 Liverpool should have been dead and buried, and the United of old would have ruthlessly went in search of more goals to inflict humiliation on their enemy. As it was, Liverpool found themselves right back in the game minutes after Patrice Evra had seemingly handed United all three points. A fierce Steven Gerrard strike was saved well by David De Gea, but Daniel Sturridge was first to react as he scored his first Liverpool league goal with perhaps the easiest chance he’ll get in his Anfield career.
From that moment Liverpool seemed convinced that they could at least snatch a draw. Manchester United, as has been the case for a fair few seasons now, decided that a one-goal lead was sufficient and therefore shut up shop by bringing on Chris Smalling and Phil Jones for the final twenty minutes.
Try as they might, Liverpool couldn’t find an equaliser and the 76,000 inside Old Trafford were relieved to hear the final whistle.
Not only had Manchester United claimed a vital win in the race for the title, us fans had also learnt something; gifted as Luis Suarez might be, he’s no Robin Van Persie. Literally.
1. Someone signs Zaha and it's a bit shit
"All these transfer rumors are turning my world upside down!"
As an athletic and skilful young player Zaha has been ripping up the championship with the kind of effervescent glee that one rarely sees. The Palace fans have been completed justified in their chants of ‘he’s just too good for you’ as the 20 year old England international makes another defence look like a sandcastle trying to stop the ocean.
"Men, hold your ground"
And as such an exciting and fun player to watch, Zaha will of course go to a big club and subsequently be assigned to the bench, make a few alright cup appearances then get a cut price move to Sunderland when his potential has been sufficiently squandered. Ho hum.
2. Chelsea sign Lukaku (again)
After failing to secure the signature of Mills & Boon leading man and part-time pirate, Radamel Falcao, Chelsea are involved in the footballing equivalent of buying a film on DVD then remembering you already have it but just lent it to your mate, resigning one Romelu Lukaku.
To be fair, you could always do with another copy of Die Hard.
Lukaku impresses in his second spell at the Bridge, adding some credibility to the faltering front line. No one quite has the heart to tell Roman he already owned Lukaku because he seemed really happy at getting it right for once. And who doesn't want to see a smile on his little face?
3. Danny Rose signs for Sunderland in a permanent deal
And no one really cares either way.
4. 'Arry signs Top Cat
Some may scoff at the idea of a professional football manager signing an actual cartoon character in a relegation scrap, but Redknapp has history.
And if you think about it, Top Cat might be the perfect signing for QPR. A lot has been made about the massive wages being paid out to fading stars, parasites happy to stay on a sinking ship for one last lump sum to add another layer of gilding to their mansions, but not TC - he actually lives on the streets, in an actual bin! Surely there can be few greater incentives to perform your best than no longer literally living in a bin.
And all those Brazilians complain about making their way up from the favelas
It is impossible to overestimate how important the kinship between ‘Arry and TC would be, a couple of lovable rogues with penchant for evading the law. And on top of everything else, it wouldn’t be the first time Redknapp has relied on a domestic animal to get him out of trouble.
5. Arsene Wenger buys a new coat
He could probably get one quite cheap in the sales, and I think Pat Rice got him some Next vouchers for Christmas. This one is a bit more optimistic than the others but poor old Arsene could really do with a new coat - his current one looks an alien symbiont which is slowly eating the bottom half of his body (apparently where he keeps his managerial ability.)
HAIL THE ALL-COAT!
If there’s ever a time to sit a player down, hand him a pen and force his signature onto a legally binding document, it is this evening with Arsenal and Theo Walcott. The English winger cum centre forward has so far lived up to his word that he is best suited as a central striker, and his club are reaping the dividends. A hat-trick tonight against an unfortunate Newcastle side will only add to the speculation over whether or not he will put pen to paper and deliver a happy New Year gift to the legions of Arsenal spectators.
Sporting the famous Arsenal ‘Number 14’, Walcott scored his hat-trick in the presence of greatness; Thierry Henry, perhaps the club’s greatest ever player as well as one of the most gifted strikers Europe has produced, was seated in the stands and his standing ovation for Walcott’s third was evidence enough of his appreciation for his heir apparent.
Walcott’s first goal was as close to an ‘Henry’ finish as you’re ever going to get. Running through on goal and with only Tim Krul to beat, Walcott opened up his body and cooly curled the ball around the Dutch goalkeeper and immediately set off for his celebration just as the ball tucked inside the post. It was justification enough that the 23 year old is ready for the demanding role of playing Arsenal’s goal-scorer.
Newcastle, however, were not willing to back down and send Arsenal into 2013 on the back of a comfortable victory. For the larger part of the half the Magpies were arguably the better side. They were very comfortable in possession and the midfield duo of Cheik Tiote and Gael Bigirimana played the roles of tackler and provider very well. The latter, only 19 years old, was particularly impressive and has so far represented a coup for Newcastle, having signed the Burundi-born midfielder for less than a million during the summer.
On the cusp of half time, lady luck shone on Newcastle. Having been awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Arsenal box, Demba Ba shaped up to curl one towards the left hand side of Wojciech Szczesny’s goal only for the ball to deflect off Jack Wilshire’s head and flat foot the Pole as it sailed into an unguarded net.
From then, the game took a turn that would be more fitting for a game of Fifa than it would a Premier League match. Both defences seemed to fall apart, and the two sides traded goals for the best part of forty minutes. First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the home side the lead with twenty yard daisy cutter just after half time. Not long after, some brilliant play down the left wing from forgotten man Gabriel Obertan allowed Sylvain Marveaux to equalise. Next, a defensive mix up for Fabricio Coloccini was capitalised on by Lukas Podolski, who headed the ball into an empty net.
Once more, a resilient Newcastle went in search of a third equaliser, and they soon got it from Demba Ba. Sylvain Marveaux brilliant cross with the outside of his boot, perhaps the best assist you’ll all season, was met with a side volley from the Senegalese making the score line 3-3.
That was about all Arsenal were willing to tolerate. No more were Newcastle going to trouble the Gunner’s, as they set about finding a fourth goal. It came from the star man, Theo Walcott. The England international met Kieran Gibbs’ flat cross before turning and tucking the ball into the roof of the net. It was the goal that broke Newcastle’s back. Minutes later, Olivier Giroud came on and delivered a quite memorable cameo. The Frenchman opened his account with a fine header from an even finer Walcott cross and thanks to some dreadful Newcastle defending. Next, Giroud prospered from yet another Theo Walcott assist as he drilled the ball beyond the unlucky Krul. The Frenchman almost grabbed a quick-fire hat-trick but was denied in the dying minutes by the cross bar. The match ended in appropriate fashion, as Walcott shimmied past a trio of Newcastle defenders before dinking the ball over Tim Krul to make it 7-3.
His performance not only mesmerised the Arsenal supporters, it made them swiftly forget that little over a fortnight ago, the Gunners’ were in the midst of yet another so-called crisis and calling for the head of Arsene Wenger. Now, they look set to head into the new year on the back of a series of promising league displays and they are firmly in the hunt for the third automatic Champions League qualification.
For once, their priority for the new year should not be the delivery of some much needed silverware. Instead, the club should pull out all the stops to prevent tier potential new talisman, Theo Walcott, from following the likes of Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas out the exit door of the Emirates.
Out of ideas, out of Europe
As Manchester City played out their last match in this year’s Champions League, there was a feeling of resignation amongst the players. Did they even want to qualify for the Europa League?
Martin Tyler tried his best to glamorise the competition, but the simple fact is that for a club like Manchester City, who are attempting to defend their maiden Premier League title and are yet to enter the domestic cup, the Europa League may well be more of a burden rather than a privilege.
Then again, for a club like Manchester City, to prefer to be excluded from European competition smacks of an arrogance that they are yet to deserve on the continent.
When the four teams were pulled out of the hat for Group D in late August, City would no doubt have winced at the talent they were drawn alongside; the German champions, the Spanish champions and the Dutch champions. In Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Manchester City, Group D possessed three of the strongest sides in the competition. Nevertheless, the manner in which City succumbed to elimination is cause for concern for Roberto Mancini.
In their six games, City failed to register a single win. For a club that has spent close to a billion pounds (source
) in transforming itself over the past four years, that statistic will not sit well with the manager and, more crucially, the board.
You get the impression that this year was supposed to be the season in which City were expected to make ground on Europe’s elite clubs. They broke their trophy duck in 2010 with the FA Cup, and they followed that up with a Premier League title a year later. Therefore, progress in Europe would have represented a natural trajectory for the club. That has failed to come to fruition this season.
For all the talk that City are simply happy to be handed the chance to compete in Europe’s premier competition, given that it wasn’t long ago that they were playing the likes of Gillingham in the English third tier, the same could be said for Borussia Dortmund. Despite being a dominant force in German football at the turn of the millennium, horrendous mismanagement and a laissez-faire approach to finances meant that the club from Prussia almost declared bankruptcy in 2005. Three years later, the club battled with relegation for a large chunk of the season and finished only nine points above the drop. A major restructuring took place, and Jurgen Klopp was appointed manager in 2008. His tactical nous and brilliant man-management has propelled Dortmund back to the top of German football, and they are considered dark-horses for Champions League this year.
Like Man City, their experience in the Champions League last season represented something of a learning curve for the young Dortmund side. They finished bottom of a group that contained Arsenal and Marseille. However, unlike City, they seemed to have learnt from their mistakes and they finished top of a very difficult group this year.
Whilst it is impossible to compare the two styles of the clubs, an issue has to be raised with the strategy Roberto Mancini deployed. The fact that they recorded only three points at home is a major problem that has to be addressed. As many an experienced manager has stressed over the years, Alex Ferguson being chief among them, you must win your home games if you are to have a chance of progressing from the groups. In the six group games that City have played at home under Mancini in the Champions League, the club have won only two of them. Compare that to the likes of Bayern Munich (5/5), Real Madrid (5/6) and Barcelona (4/5), and it goes a long way to explain City’s failures in Europe over the past two years. Of course, it is not the only issue that explains their misgivings (you’d need an inquiry for that).
The main problem now that they have failed to advance in Europe for the second year running is that next season there is a possibility that they could be drawn in a similarly difficult group. City are likely to remain as third seeds for next season’s draw, and therefore they will inevitably come across one of Europe’s strongest sides in the group stages. Progression is a must for the club, though whether Roberto Mancini will be present to oversee qualification is another matter.
Tottenham humbled by superior North London rivals
Everything was going swell for Tottenham during the opening fifteen minutes of the North London Derby. Emmanuel Adebayor had handed Spurs the lead, and Andre Villas Boas surprise game plan of fielding two strikers seemed to have unsettled Arsenal. The Emirates faithful were gradually becoming more frustrated with their side’s uninspiring start, and the visiting supporters were settling In for an enjoyable afternoon in Islington.
Cue one moment of madness from goal-scorer Adebayor that kick-started a reversal of fortunes for both sides. The Togolese striker’s mindless and potentially dangerous challenge on Santi Cazorla left Howard Webb with no option but to send him off. From that moment, the game belonged to Arsenal.
Their passing game returned instantly and their belief rocketed as they delighted the home fans with an emphatic win over their local rivals. Theo Walcott proved yet again that he is becoming a vital component of this Arsenal side, and a player that Arsene Wenger cannot afford to lose.
As with every loss, the buck is expected to stop at the manager. In this case, however, it would be unfair to criticise Andre Villas Boas. The Portuguese’s decision to play with two strikers seemed to be working perfectly up until Adebayor was sent off. Even with ten men, he insisted with playing two up front, and for a time there was a sense of unease around the Emirates with the score-line at 4-2 and Tottenham temporarily in the ascendency. As it was, Theo Walcott ensured all three points to inflict a potentially damaging defeat on Spurs.
A worrying issue for Villas Boas is his side’s lack of creativity. Luka Modric is sorely missed, and with Moussa Dembele out of action, there is a glaring issue with centre midfield. Sandro has been an outstanding performer in the league this year, but at times he is a one-man band such is the lack of quality Tom Huddlestone offers. The return of Dembele and Scott Parker may rectify the issue, but from a creative sense, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson have yet to replicate anything like the form Rafael Van Der Vaart produced during his two years at White Hart Lane.
Norwich rejoice as they topple Man United
Having been selected for the Saturday tea-time kick off for the second consecutive week, Manchester United knew that they would uproot Manchester City as Premier League Leaders with a win away to Norwich City
As it was, City’s position at the summit was never in any danger, such was the poor display of Ferguson’s men.
Simply put, Ferguson got the team selection all wrong. The decision to place Ryan Giggs in central midfield alongside Michael Carrick resulted in a partnership that lacked drive or conviction. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are dreadfully out of form, and once again failed to service the front pairing of Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez. The omission of Wayne Rooney was glaring, and served as a reminder as to how vital the England forward still is to Man United’s play, regardless of the £24m arrival of Van Persie. Rooney usually serves as the link between United’s midfield and their attack; yesterday, there was no such player, despite Van Persie’s unfruitful attempts at dropping deep to dictate attacks.
Nonetheless, Norwich thoroughly deserved to come away with a memorable win. Not only did they frustrate Man United with their excellent defensive shape and resilience, they posed a significant attacking threat in the likes of Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington. The latter was a thorn in United’s side all game as his constant threat limited Rafael’s attacking thrust. His header to hand Norwich the lead was brilliantly taken and fully deserved.
Chris Hughton’s side have seemingly steadied the ship after a worrying start to the season, and Carrow Road is becoming something of a mini-fortress. The Canaries have lost only one game at home this year, to Liverpool, and can add their victory over United alongside impressive wins against Arsenal in the league and Tottenham in the League Cup.
They currently sit five points above the relegation zone in 14th position, though they shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders given their recent form; they are unbeaten in five league games. United have surrendered 1st place to Man City, and they will have to drastically improve if they are to reclaim top spot. The issue of centre midfield is a problem that could prove fatal for Alex Ferguson and his side, and is one that needs to be addressed immediately.
Defeat to the Saints leaves Mark Hughes without a prayer
Surely Mark Hughes’ time at Loftus Road has to come to an end? After twelve games, QPR currently sit bottom of the table without a win and are slowly losing contact with the rest of the league.
Tony Fernandes was not even present to watch his side’s dismal defeat to fellow strugglers Southampton; he was enjoying the sunshine in Austin at the US Grand Prix due to his Lotus commitments, but had he been present at the match, Mark Hughes may well be unemployed this morning.
The fortune of this current QPR side proves that money is not the key to success in football. Fernandes spent big in the summer, both in terms of transfer fees and wages, to construct a football team that he hoped would make great strides following a tense first season in the Premier League. However, the likes of David Hoilett and Esteban Granero can be accused of caring more about their pay packet than their club’s survival at the moment.
By half-time, the Saints were well in control of the game. Ricky Lambert had given Southampton the lead with a brave header on the goal-line, whilst Jason Puncheon, who was particularly impressive, doubled the lead with an accurate finish from well outside the box. QPR were slightly improved during the second half, but the accident-prone Paulo Gazzaniga in the Southampton goal was barely tested. For all Rangers’ calamitous defending this year, it is their strikers that need to step up and guide the team to safety. QPR have only scored nine goals in twelve league games this season, and things will hardly improve against Man United at Old Trafford next Saturday.
Whether or not Mark Hughes will be in the dug-out at his old club next weekend is a decision that Fernandes and his board will need to make. QPR shouldn’t be at the foot of the Premier League. With the players they have and the money that has been spent over the summer, they should be well clear of relegation and battling it out around mid-table. As it is, things will need to improve drastically to prevent Rangers’ dreadful start from becoming a season-long struggle. As for Mark Hughes, his head is surely on the block, and it’s only a matter of time before Fernandes swings the axe.
As Rod Stewart sat in his seat wiping his tears away with his handkerchief, and as the other sixty thousand fans around him were bellowing out “It’s a grand old team to play for”, the magnitude of what Celtic had just achieved was beginning to resonate throughout the footballing world.
It is no overstatement to suggest that last night was one of Celtic’s greatest in its 125 year history. They have had many brilliant European nights over the past sixty years, from the sacred Lisbon Lions to heroic defeat in Seville nine years ago. Last night’s victory against what many have decided to be the greatest club side ever has certainly got to rival those nights of old.
Despite what the statistics may tell you, yesterday’s defeat was no fluke. True, Celtic had 16% possession and three shots on target, but a fortnight ago in the Nou Camp the Bhoys came close to shocking the Catalans by almost snatching a draw. Jordi Alba’s late winner handed Barcelona the win and many assumed that the deflated Celtic were finished in this year’s competition.
Last night, however, they had the roar of Europe’s greatest atmosphere willing them on. Every tackle was met with raucous salute. Whenever Celtic made it into Barcelona’s half a sense of expectation filled Parkhead. Every shot that the brilliant Fraser Forster saved, as well as every clearance made by Celtic’s back four, was celebrated like a goal.
That eighteen year old Tony Watt scored the crucial second goal for Celtic and handed his side a famous victory only adds to the mythical nature of the game. Watt was signed from lowly Airdrie United for £50,000. He’d only been at Aidrie for two seasons before Celtic came calling. Only making his Champions League debut yesterday, he has immediately become part of Celtic folklore with his crucial goal last night. His finish past Victor Valdes was superb. It was a chance that any striker could easily have fluffed given the occasion, but Watt finished with ease. It is hard to believe that only four years ago he was playing for his local boys’ side of the outskirts of Glasgow.
Celtic now sit in second place in the group, three points ahead of Benfica and four ahead of Spartak Moscow. They still have a lot of work to do to qualify for the knockout rounds. The away tie against Benfica is a crucial match for both sides. Should Celtic avoid defeat in Estadio Da Luz, a tough ask for the majority of sides, then they would have one foot in the last sixteen. Even if they lose in Lisbon, they would simply have to avoid defeat to Moscow at Celtic Park in their last group game to qualify, assuming that Barca defeat Benfica in the Nou Camp.
If they reach the knockouts, anything could happen. It is too premature to discuss Celtic’s chances of lifting a second European Cup in May, but with their excellent home record in European competition, no side would relish the prospect of playing in front of sixty thousand fans at Celtic Park. The Hoop’s domestic form may have taken a hit in order to concentrate in Europe this season. But when you record results like the one yesterday, you doubt Celtic fans are worrying too much about the SPL title at the moment.
United superior as Arsenal fold
It’s a safe bet to say that Arsenal will not challenge for the title once again this season. Not many tipped Arsenal to challenge over the summer, but nonetheless the gap between themselves and the league leaders was quite apparent on Saturday afternoon. Somewhat inevitably, Robin Van Persie gave United the lead against his former club after just three minutes. You’d be forgiven for thinking that another 8-2-esque drubbing was on the cards.
United comfortably controlled the match and Arsenal threatened little throughout the ninety minutes. The 2-1 score-line flattered Arsenal for they could easily have been on the receiving end of a heavy defeat. Wayne Rooney missed a penalty on the brink of half time; Van Persie should have added to his opener one more than one occasion, and Anderson had a goal correctly ruled out. Santi Cazorla’s pulled one back with the last kick of the game for Arsenal, but it only served to make the score-line more presentable for the Gunners.
Arsenal had their fair share of possession, but they lacked the bite to harm United. The jury is still out on Olivier Giroud, as the striker put in another ineffectual display. The sending off of Jack Wilshere condemned Arsenal to defeat, though Mike Dean was correct to dismiss the England midfielder.
Spurs poor home form is cause for concern for AVB
Wigan defeated Tottenham at White Hart Lane for the second time in three seasons to leave the home fans disgruntled at yet another poor league performance. When Andre Villas Boas inherited the manager’s chair from Harry Redknapp, he knew he’d have a tough time convincing the Spurs’ faithful that he’s the right man for the job, but it’s proving tougher than first thought.
As Roberto Martinez stated after the game, Wigan were worth every bit of their victory. In fact, Martinez may even be unhappy with the number of clear cut chances his strikers spurned. Shaun Maloney and Arouna Kone were both guilty of missing good chances, with the former missing a one-on-one chance against Brad Friedel.
Spurs had little opportunity to gain anything from the match. They had slightly more possession than Wigan throughout the ninety minutes, but only managed five shots on target. They are not playing with the swashbuckling style that characterized Redknapp’s Spurs, and certain players look like they are playing within themselves. Kyle Walker, for example, is lacking the adventurous attacking play from last year, and the counter attacks that made Spurs so dangerous last year are rarely seen this season.
The poor result may herald the reappearance of Emmanuel Adebayor in the starting XI for the match against Manchester City next Sunday. Despite their poor home form, Spurs are still sitting comfortably in 5th position. They are fortunate that their nearest rivals, Everton, Arsenal and Fulham, also dropped points this weekend. As for Wigan, they will be very happy with their place in mid-table. They currently sit six points above the relegation zone in 12th place.
City unable to break down stern Hammers
With Chelsea dropping two points at Swansea, Man City had the perfect chance to restore the Manchester duopoly at the Premier League summit. However, West Ham proved too resilient and a bore draw was played out.
In fairness to West Ham, they were the better team for the majority of the first half. Kevin Nolan had a goal ruled out after a debatable offside call; Yossi Benayoun blasted a shot against the top of the bar and Andy Carroll’s left footed daisy cutter went narrowly wide of Joe Hart’s post to leave West Ham feeling aggrieved that they were not leading at half time.
Predictably, the second half was a case of West Ham digging in and keeping City at bay. At times the game resembled a siege, though the visitors didn’t create a single clear-cut opportunity to win the game. Mario Ballotelli, Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez were all guilty of wayward shooting and such was the numbers of West Ham’s defending that City’s midfielders were not allowed the space to craft anything of note. West Ham fully deserved their point, however, and they’ll be more than satisfied with a home draw against the champions.
Liverpool’s poor home record extended against Magpies
Liverpool started the game full of attacking intent. Raheem Sterling in particular gave Vernon Anita a torrid time during the opening ten minutes, and it was in this passage of play where Liverpool ought to have taken the lead. They dominated the early proceedings but, as has been often the case so far this season, they lack the killer instinct to damage the opposition. Their front three of Sterling, Suarez and Suso are individually capable of crafting chances, but only Suarez seems to possess a goal-scoring ability.
It was the Uruguayan’s brilliant goal in the second half that saved Liverpool from yet another disappointing defeat at home. There are few players in the league who could have matched the way he chested the ball and rounded the keeper almost in one movement to equal the score line.
Newcastle managed to emerge from a slow start unscathed and slowly asserted themselves on the game. During the opening twenty minutes, they gave Liverpool’s midfielders too much space. However, they slowly found their way into the game and Yohan Cabaye gave them a perhaps undeserved lead with a fantastic volley on the cusp of half time after Hatem Ben Arfa turned Jose Enrique inside out before delivering an excellent cross to the Frenchman.
Demba Ba’s withdrawal shortly after half time blunted Newcastle’s attack. Liverpool’s controlled large parts of the second half and deserved at least a draw from the game. Fabricio Colloccini was correctly sent-off for a pointless lunge on Luis Suarez. Although not much of a connection was made, the intent was plain for all to see.
Chelsea earn their spurs against a hampered Tottenham
So far this season, there hasn’t been a standout side that you’d dub title certainties. All of last year’s top four have stumbled and stuttered at some point during this early start of the season, but Chelsea’s bright start means that they are the side to beat at the moment. Chelsea were the superior side at White Hart Lane on Saturday afternoon, and deserved all three points. If they are to mount a serious title challenge this season, their defence has to significantly improve. Tottenham had sixteen shots on target and will feel hard done by to have lost 4-2. Regardless, Chelsea’s attacking riches is a sight to behold. It doesn’t matter if Hazard and Torres were off form, Juan Mata was there to cover them. His two classy goals won the game for Chelsea and kept them top of the league. He also teed up Daniel Sturridge in stoppage time to secure the game, though quite what Kyle Walker was trying to achieve by diving/back heeling the ball for Mata in the build-up is anyone’s guess.
In fairness to Spurs, they were missing their talisman, Gareth Bale and new signing Moussa Dembele, and without the two they looked bereft of ideas at times in attack. Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson are not men who are going to fire a side to Champions League qualification, and Spurs had to rely on Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Defoe to recover from a goal down after half time. Although Defoe doesn’t offer much when his side are not dominating a game, there are few other strikers in the league who can get a shot away like he does. His pounce for the equaliser is the reason why Emmanuel Adebayor can’t get a game at the moment.
Ten years on, but it’s the same old Rooney.
For all the talk that Wayne Rooney is not the player we all hoped he’d be after a decade at the top, some fans should take a step back and reflect on his career so far. Yesterday, he scored his 200th club goal and is steadily honing in on the goal-scoring record for Man United, all before his 27th birthday next week.
His two goals helped United to a 4-2 win over Stoke, though it was his own goal early on in the game which handed his side a scare. Stoke had more than one opportunity to go two goals up before normality was resumed after half an hour when Robin Van Persie teamed up with Rooney to take control of the match. United have developed a habit of conceding first during matches this year, and Ferguson will be concerned with the ever increasing ‘goals against’ tally. After 8 league games his side have set the goal-scoring pace with 21 goals, though they have conceded 11. If United maintain these kind of statistics for the whole season, they will score in the excess of 100 league goals, but will concede well over 50 or so. In fairness to United, they are currently without Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, so are very short at centre back. With a fully fit back-line, United should stem the flow of goals. Regardless, Ferguson will be happy that his side are keeping pace with the front runners without really hitting top form. Next week’s tussle against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will be billed as the biggest of the season so far.
Sunderland salvage a draw in derby
The Tyne-Wear derby has to be one of the most ferocious in British football. Derbies themselves are a strange phenomenon. Matches are played at an incredible pace, and the players look more riled than the supporters. The moment Cheik Tiote lost the ball to Jack Colback, albeit after being fouled, you just knew he was going to leave his mark on Steven Fletcher. The referee had no option but to send off the midfielder and it’s an all too common theme for Newcastle fans; it doesn’t take much to push Tiote over the edge.
The game itself lacked quality. Yohan Cabaye gave Newcastle the lead after only two minutes, and the Magpie’s should have exploited Sunderland’s slow start. Alas, Martin O’Neil’s men were handed a golden opportunity to take charge after the sending off, and Newcastle retreated to protect their lead. Sunderland finally drew level in the dying minutes thanks to Demba Ba, but Newcastle would no doubt have been the happier side at the final whistle, having played over an hour a man less.
QPR’s defensive issues still persist, whilst 10 man Everton gain a point
The Super Sunday fixture was anything but. On a rain soaked Loftus Road, a QPR side bereft of confidence had the perfect chance to kick start their season against a lacklustre Everton who played with ten men for the final 30 minutes. With the major international breaks out of the way until the new year, the Premier League will now begin to take shape, and its getting to that point of the season where a poor start will transform into a season long struggle to avoid the drop. Rangers should not be sitting in 20th place with the squad that they possess. There have been worse teams than them in the league so far this year.
After three minutes, Junior Hoilett’s strike took a fortunate deflection off Leighton Baines and flat footed Tim Howard to hand Rangers the lead. It is the kind of luck that QPR need to lift them off the foot of the table, but they failed to capitalise. Everton found their way into the match, and having equalised through a lucky own goal from Julio Cesar they could have taken all three points were it not for Phil Jagielka heading against the bar from a corner late on.
The Toffee’s will no doubt take a point back to Merseyside. Steven Pienaar was harshly sent off for a second yellow midway through the second half following a supposed trip on Jose Bosingwa. The result leaves Everton still in the top 4, having gained a point over Spurs and West Brom, both of whom lost this weekend. As for Rangers, they face Arsenal at the Emirates next weekend so may well head into November rooted to the bottom. Their next home game is against Reading, a match that Mark Hughes must win, for his sake more than anything.
As an institution, the Football Association is not a particularly good one. It isn’t very efficient, nor is it successful. To some, it is a laughing stock within its industry, and to others it is the very definition of bureaucracy at its worst.
This week, they have taken up a fair share of printing space on the back pages of the tabloids. Firstly, there was Roy Hodgson bizarrely exposing his team selections and opinions to a carriage full of passengers on the underground. Then you had Ashley Cole launching an ill-thought out attack at the association via Twitter and a subsequent discipline hearing. Lastly, there was more pleasant news with the unveiling of the new and state-of-the art centre of excellence in Staffordshire. Mixed in with these three talking points was a controversial weekend of Premier League Football which centred on the antics of Luis Suarez, Robin Van Persie and goal-line technology.
Starting with the new centre of excellence, the FA have seemingly pulled out all the stops to create what they hope to be a breeding ground for a new type of English footballer; one that can pass. The FA Chairman, David Bernstein, spoke of a vision to redefine England’s footballing future by turning today’s children into Xavi’s and Iniesta’s, and future coaches into Pep Guardiola. The benefits of this new centre will not be seen until 2020 at the earliest according to Bernstein, but at least it is a step in the right direction for a national team that has been in the mire for arguably a decade if not longer.
Obviously, the new headquarters will not produce an endless supply line of superb footballers. English football as a whole is not centred around skill and technique. Kids are cast aside at a young age for being too small or too weak, and that will probably remain the case. For every genius that has graced the Wembley pitch, a big, strapping, hit-it-and-run hard man has accompanied him.
The FA will hope that the new St. George’s Park centre will follow in the footsteps of the French equivalent, the famous Clairefontaine. Since their centre of excellence was established in 1988, the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and William Gallas have graduated and formed brilliant careers. Ten years after their centre was opened, France won their maiden World Cup and followed that up with a European Championship two years later. Success will not come as quickly or as lavishly for England, unfortunately, as French football was in a somewhat better condition than the current English set-up in the years leading up to their triumphs.Likewise, Spain have enjoyed a combination of striking gold and reaping the rewards of reforming national attitudes towards sport since the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. Germany, forever England’s nemesis, overhauled their youth system in 2002 and focused on developing their own youth rather than importing young talent. The result is a world class national team that is the envy of European football.
On a final note, with the new Centre of Excellence costing £105 million, and combined with the £800m spent of rebuilding the Wembley stadium, never has such a mediocre football team enjoyed such envious facilities to strut their disappointing stuff and routinely frustrate an entire nation.
Outspoken Cole opens the door for Baines
Ashley Cole’s Twitter antics have dominated the build-up to this Friday’s match against San Marino. Providing he starts, Cole will receive his 99th cap this week, and therefore will secure his 100th next week in Poland. However, he placed his whole international career in jeopardy last Friday by labelling the FA a “bunch of twats”. Not only have the FA charged him with a breach of discipline, Chelsea have also fined him for the outburst.
Regardless of whether or not he is temporarily removed from the squad, which now seems unlikely, there is a case to be made that, given the outstanding form of his understudy Leighton Baines, Cole does not deserve to start the following two internationals. Everton’s full-back has been one of the Premier League’s standout players so far this season. He performed well in the opening round of world cup qualification fixtures last month and there is no harm in giving him another run-out against lowly San Marino this Friday. Ashley Cole will be 33 years old come the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, whilst Baines will still be in his prime years at 29. You could even argue that Baines is a superior player to Cole at the moment. At the very least, he is in much better form than the Chelsea Left-back. Either way, San Marino will pose zero threat to England at Wembley so there is no harm in blooding the inexperienced players that Roy Hodgson has called up to the squad, including Jonjo Shelvey, Ryan Shawcross. There are growing signs that Hodgson has one eye on the future in recent months. Rio Ferdinand ‘s international career has effectively been declared over by Hodgson in order to provide his younger centre backs more experience in the build-up to Brazil 2014. The new manager also seems determined to establish Tom Cleverley as the national team’s new ‘Number 10’, though the jury is still out in regards to his true quality. Lastly, he continues to persist with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but you get the feeling that perhaps it is a case of ‘too much, too young’. He may well develop into a classy midfielder, but at the moment he is doing little to warrant a starting place in the England XI.
To finish on the subject of Cole, he is certainly an England legend and may well be looked back upon as an all-time great, but he seems determined to be remembered more for his off the field behaviour rather than his brilliance on it. That seems to be the mindset of the majority of the English panel, come to think of it.