Inter v Milan – what did we learn?

Watching the Milan derby is always a pleasant experience; it is an important match to both sets of fans and more so this year as a win for Milan would put them with touching distance of Inter going into the end of the season. This year, however, the game took on extra significance as both teams would be playing English opposition in the Champions League. Inter will face Chelsea and Milan will play Man Utd. With Sir Alex Ferguson watching on what will he and Carlo Ancelotti make of their opposition.

Milan

Leonardo started with a 4-3-3 and it become evident early on that the middle three of Gattuso, Ambrosini and Pirlo were being overran. Sneijder, before being sent off, was finding too much space. There is an imbalance in those three players as all three are naturally deep players but all three seemed to compensate for the others by going forward. This left too bigger gap between the defence and midfield and Inter exploited it.

Going forward the two full backs did not offer any quality but could easily get up and down for overlapping runs. Pirlo was disappointing as the creative player in the midfield. Beckham, when he had the ball on the far right provided some trademark crosses but Borriello was too isolated and easily picked up by the Inter defence. Ronaldinho will cause Ferguson the most problems. Although not on top form tonight it was clear that he was a handful for Maicon. Man Utd have problems at right back and these could be exploited by Leonardo.

Overall it should be an easy win for Man Utd but with a note of caution. An orthodox 4-4-2, giving support to Borriello could see a tougher game.

Inter

Inter played a 4-3-1-2 system, a change for Mourinho which I think has been made with one eye on the Chelsea game. He knows that they don’t play with a lot of width so is getting used to packing the centre channel of the pitch. The three central midfielders were all very defensively minded and this enabled not only Sneijder, Militio and Pandev to play without fear but either full back could go forward and have suitable cover. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Maicon against Ashley Cole. There is also a solid centre to Inter’s defence; Julio Cesar (best goalkeeper in the world in my opinion), Lucio, Samuel and Materazzi.

Inter certainly have the better team and with Eto’o to return from duty in Africa Chelsea should be concerned about their chances. Mourinho will be spot on with his tactics against them and who knows Chelsea’s weaknesses better than him.

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Managers; Burnley, Bolton and the Old Lady

A subject close to my heart is that of managers. Every aspect of a manager fascinates me; what makes them take a job, what makes them leave a job, what makes a Chairman sack a manager, what makes a Chairman hire a manager and obviously all of the training, tactical and player relationship issues.

The points I want to make tonight involve the employment of managers. Owen Coyle has recently crossed over to Bolton. I have to say that this could be a huge mistake as the realistic failure far outweighs the realistic success. Bolton may have fantastic facilities (training ground, academy, ground etc) but there is not a lot of money available for transfers, compared to those Coyle expects to be challenging. Bolton are very likely to be 10th at a maximum because other teams have just got a lot better.

However, it is very possible that they will go down. So far there have been no clean sheets and a lack of goals. Any team in the relegation zone is a bad run from being a drift and Coyle has an unquestionably tough job. His stock would have risen more at Burnley by staying up that it will at Bolton by being 10th.

On Burnley, congratulations to Barry Kilby, Burnley Chairman. He has looked at the situation and will look to appoint experienced Championship managers. The thinking is great; either Burnley stay up and they’ll have a manager that is unlikely to jump ship immediately or Burnley go down and there is an experienced man to get them back up at the first attempt.

Finally, and touching on a subject which really gets my goat; massive clubs appointing young managers. Ciro Ferrara is on the cusp of losing his job at Juventus because they are third and on a bad run of form. The honeymoon period for him is over and he is struggling to turn it around. Why? Because he is inexperienced – it’s not his fault. Managers need to learn the ropes at a team that doesn’t have grandiose expectations and then move into a large club. Pep Guardiola has been the exception to the rule but then he has / had Messi, Henry, Eto’o, Inista, Xaxi to call on…I’d be able to win most of the games.

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Arsenal’s fixture list

Arsenals season will turn on four matches, played back to back, staring on Wednesday 27th January and finishing on Wednesday 10th February. They play Aston Villa, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool in a row.

If they come through these matches relatively unscathed then there run in is one of the easiest on record. The only real tests will come against Man City and Spurs and whilst these will be tough games they represent a small percentage of the point on offer after the Liverpool match.

Furthermore, starting the run of games towards the end of the transfer window will given Wenger sufficient time to purchase a striker that will add something different to his current group.

I recall how Arsenal went on a run of winning 10 games in a row to clinch the title in 1998. Their fixture list is primed for a repeat of this. Thursday 11th February will be the date when we can decide whether the title has a chance of returning to Arsenal. If they are within touching distance then I venture to say it will be theirs for the taking.

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Draws for the World Cup

The World Cup is going to be held in Africa for the first time. Given that the successful team tends to be from the confederation that is hosting the tournament maybe this could be the time for an African team to come to the front and win the tournament.

The team with the best chance, on paper, has to be Ivory Coast. There is a good spine to the team and Didier Drogba has the ability to score a goal out of nothing. However, it is very questionable whether they will even go through to the knockout stages. They have been drawn in this years ‘Group of Death’ along with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.

It was unfortunate really given that they were bound to come up against one of the seven seeded teams (they could not be drawn against South Africa as they are from the same confederation). The real kick in the teeth was drawing Portugal. Although not at there best in qualifying they are still a force to be reckoned with, particularly with Ronaldo showing the kind of form he is for Real Madrid.

All of the groups are forced into a holes; one confederation can’t play the other (unless its Europe), eight teams are seeded, an unseeded South American team can not play a qualified African team, an Asian team can not play a team from Central and North America. This puts all unseeded teams at a disadvantage as only a relative few get the ‘luck of the draw’. Luck has almost been minimised through careful planning.

In order to give good teams like the Ivory Coast a chance of succeeding the draw should be random, aside from the host nation being drawn in shot A1 so that they play the first game. I will conduct such a draw and report back on my Groups.

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World Cup draw

Behind the times I know but the computer has been playing sily buggers. This is the first opportunity to post after the draw; here’s what I think:

A lot has been written about the World Cup draw; England’s fantastic group and the group of death in particular. All of the seeded teams aside from Brazil have it relatively easy (France being seeded in the eyes of FIFA).

The real competition of the World Cup will come for the battle in Group D for second place. Assuming that Germany will play as well as they can then any one of Ghana, Australia and Serbia could come second. This will be a fantastically competitive group as each team plays with real grit and determination.

In addition, and for the benefit of England, second place in Group D will likely play England, winners of Group C. Hopefully they will be very tired after their exertions.

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Roy Carroll and why he is just as bad

Now that the furore surrounding Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland has calmed down I thought that my thoughts could be finally be heard.

Firstly, I don’t blame Henry. Whether he meant it or not it doesn’t matter. The only moment when Henry would have had the clarity of thought to admit to what he had done, intentionally or not, was after Gallas had peeled off in celebration.

Can we blame Henry for not admitting it? No, of course not. If Ireland had gone on to win (they weren’t winning at the time) then Henry would be hated by his country and teammates alike. The French public forgave Zidane, they wouldn’t forgive Henry.

Henry can regret not speaking up at the time but he had approximately 5 seconds to make the decision. Furthermore, if he does own up it is not a guarantee that the correct decision would be made (see Robbie Fowler penalty versus Arsenal).

Thierry Henry has been called a cheater by a lot of people. I would extend this list to almost every footballer, professional or not. We have all gained a free kick or throw in which we know should have gone the other way. I would immediately throw Roy Carroll into this bracket (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_prem/4130167.stm). Note the poll on the right of the screen.

Let’s categorise Slaven Bilic in that list (http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/internationals/croatian-rocker-who-wants-to-roll-over-rooney-419478.html)

It could go on.

For this whole shambles I blame FIFA and the referees. How the linesman missed the handball I’ll never know. They should be banned from going to the World Cup as punishment for a calamitous error.

FIFA should have long introduced video technology for the fourth official. The rule in using it should be as follows: “If the fourth official recognises an incident which is conclusive beyond all doubt which the referee and his team have not seen then it is his duty to inform them of the incident in question.”

This denies the fourth official the license to rule on penalty decisions, all of which have an element of doubt, off-sides, unless obviously wrong, or general fouls. However, the Henry incident, the Bilic incident, the Carroll incident, the Rivaldo incident and the Zidane incident would be irradiated without any controversy.

I do not subscribe to the view that it will delay the game due to the melee which always ensues after an ‘incident’; there will always be sufficient time for the odd replay. Also, the argument that the beauty of football is that the same game can be played anywhere and introducing video at the highest level would distort that does not sit well either. Cricket and Rugby have not been harmed by the introduction at the highest level only. Also, the games which have extensive enough video coverage tend to be the ones that matter the most, including play-off games for all leagues and any Cup final.

Now is the time to use the technology at our disposal to remove things which referees can’t see or fail to see.

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Season so far – Part Four; Sunderland, Tottenham, West Ham, Wigan and Wolves

Sunderland

 

Steve Bruce and every Sunderland fan must be pleased with the start of the season. To put everything into perspective Sunderland avoided relegation last season on the last day.

 

Sunderland have a good squad and depth in all of the key areas. Obviously Darren Bent has been the star so far and got a deserved England call up. I think that the man who has impressed me the most is Cana. His huge experience has really given the team a maturity that they were lacking last year. Watch out for his arm gestures next game; whenever a colleague has the ball he points to where it should be played.

 

In January I think that Bruce should look to sign another striker, one happy not to get a regular game but can come in and do a job. If Bent gets injured then I feel Sunderland are a bit light on striking power. Jones has not been scoring enough in the last 12 months and Campbell is just ‘potential’ at the moment.

 

Maybe Benjani on loan from Man City?

 

Tottenham

 

My favourite quote from Harry Redknapp his season was (and I paraphrase) ‘we’ll score loads of goals and win most of the time but occasionally get thumped because of the way we play’.

 

Essentially that is what has happened so far this season. Spurs are winning most of the games and aside from the performances against Sunderland, Man Utd and Arsenal Spurs have dominated the matches they have been involved in.

 

They should be a challenge for anyone on paper and, like Harry says, will win most of their games.  

 

West Ham

 

Tough times at Upton Park this season. I think that the squad has some good players (Upson, Green, Parker and Cole) and some good young players (Noble, Tomkins and Collinson). However, the rest of the squad is of a quality which is border line between Championship and Premier League.

 

When on form, e.g. Ilunga second half of last season, the players are more than capable. If the players are not on form then the lack of base quality will become more evident. It’ll be tough for Zola this season and I foresee a relegation battle.

 

The key as to what to do in January is not who to buy but keeping all of the players named above.

 

Wigan

 

I don’t really know what to say about Wigan. Having only seen them a few times and their form being so inconsistent it is difficult to provide any constructive or quality comment.

 

The only aspect of Wigan’s play that I would like to pick up on is reverse positioning of N’Zogbia and whoever is on the right of midfield. By having each player come on to their stronger foot the idea is that the ball will be used better closer to the goal, i.e. in the central channel. This seems to work against the bigger teams, those that do not load the midfield when the play Wigan. Against teams against whom points are expected to be won then it seems that by cutting inside each player gets crowded out.

 

I would have thought that Roberto Martinez could use this ploy sparingly rather than every week (from what I can see anyway).

 

Wolves

 

I am one of few impartial football fans that likes Mick McCarthy. This season is going to be a tough one for him and followers of Wolves. I have written before about what I think Wolves need to do in order to survive and having watched the game against Arsenal I still believe what in what I wrote http://thoughtsonfootball.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/kightly-the-key-to-wolves-survival-this-season/

 

Wolves need to start using their forward thinking players more intelligently in order to create the type of match which they dominate.

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