Monthly Archives: October 2009

Season so far – Part Two; Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham and Hull

Burnley

 

At the start of the season if you would have said to Owen Coyle or any Burnley fan that the club would be 11th after ten games they would have bitten your hand off.

 

The home defeat to Wigan would have caused some concern for Coyle but I’m sure that it will serve to galvanise them for the next home game. I think that the danger for Burnley and the reason why I think they’ll struggle this year is due to depth of squad. This is not necessarily due to not having enough quality but rather a lack of experience. Also, it has to be questioned how long Graham Alexander will be able to survive into a Premier League campaign. He is a leader in the team and hugely experienced. Unfortunately he is 38 and it is difficult to play 80% of games at the intensity of the Premier League.

 

In January I think Coyle needs to get someone with experience of a Premier League relegation fight in the team. Someone along the lines of Robbie Savage would be the right type of player. Obviously not Savage himself as I don’t think the Blackburn connection will help, but someone of his ilk.

 

P.S. The Beast is looking to be a liability

 

Chelsea

 

They look by far and away the strongest contenders for the title; very fluid in midfield and attack and lots of options.

 

Two things will stop Chelsea from winning the league. One is the African Cup of Nations, particularly if they can’t buy players as a result of Kakuta. However, which player would want to go to Chelsea knowing that if the transfer bans happens then they will not be sold under any circumstances. For example, David Villa moves to Chelsea in January. They lose their appeal at CAS and the transfer bans kicks in, running until summer 2011. Villa finds life in the Premier League or England difficult and wants to go home. Chelsea can sell but can’t buy a replacement; would they sell?

 

The other factor is the appalling defending continues. Chelsea may be able to score at least two against most teams but two decent set pieces from the opposition will see a draw come out. The trouble with the defending is that it is not a problem which is easily fixable. Chelsea’s defenders are not kids and it will be tough to teach them how to defend set pieces. I would think that Carvalho has to be dropped once Alex is back up and running.

 

Everton

 

A stop start season so far with a lot more stops than starts. Everton started quite badly last season as well but had picked it up by now. All Everton fans will cite the Phil Neville tackle at Manchester Utd and the catalyst.

 

Everton are playing with a few new players which always disrupts a team which is built on organisation. The squad is strong, well balanced and I think it is a matter of time before results start coming their way. Questioning what has gone wrong is difficult as it is not just one big problem but lots of minor problems.

 

Clean sheets should be the priority for the next couple of games and ensuring that Phil Neville is replaced adequately. I would play Moyles favourite 4-5-1 for the next couple of games and resist the temptation to play two of three good strikers available. This should grind out some results and but Everton back on track.

 

Fulham

 

I have written about my thoughts on Fulham’s season overall (see previous post) and I have to say that so far the start has gone contrary to my expectations.

 

The goals have been following from a number of different areas of the pitch and the defence, whilst not watertight, is holding its own.

 

My concern, alongside those mentioned in the earlier post, is that the goals being scored are not ‘standard’ goals. By that I mean that not enough goals are being scored in a calculated way, most are being scored from distance, after ricochets in the penalty box or an opponents mistake. Contrast that with Chelsea’s goals, most come from a predicable move. That type of goal dries up a lot quicker than others and when they do I see Fulham starting to falter.     

 

Hull

 

Words cannot describe the trouble Hull are in. To all Hull fans…be thankful Portsmouth exist so that at least you have someone to mock.

 

In January Hull need to sell players and prepare for the Championship. Don’t start to think you’ll get out of this mess and spend even SOME money. How Phil Brown is still in a job is beyond my comprehension.

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Season so far – Part One; Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Blackburn and Bolton

Now that we are a quarter of the way through the league games played I thought that an assessment on how each team is doing, what needs to happen to improve the position and, maybe, what positions need to be filled in January. This will be done in four parts and alphabetically.

 

Arsenal

 

Aside from two blips in Manchester the start of the season has been very impressive. The goals are plentiful and are being scored from a number of different positions, thinking Gallas and Vermaelen really. To put Arsenals start in perspective, had they beaten West Ham and the team with whom they have their game in hand, Arsenal would have gone top.

 

The danger for Arsenal comes from two areas. One is often discussed defence; if Arsenal do not score more than the other team they will more than likely lose. Sounds obvious but I think most fans know what I mean.

 

Secondly was something that Martin Tyler remarked on in commentary during the West Ham match. The psychology of the Arsenal team is that if the opposition does score then they can score two. This might be true after ten or fifteen minutes but like during the AZ or West Ham match if there is not sufficient time then goals will not be readily available. The attacking play Arsenal use cannot be turned on like a tap, unlike the log ball.

 

This could be rectified by employing the services of a more clinical striker in ‘easier’ games. Against West Ham the starting three were van Persie, Arshavin and Eboue. Would replacing one of the three with Eduardo, Vela or Bendtner would have changed the final score?

 

Aston Villa

 

A mixed start of the season for Villa: fantastic results against Chelsea and Liverpool but poor results against Wigan and Wolves. The defence is fantastic with loads of depth and so far James Collins is having a fantastic season.

 

The midfield is strong in the middle and has enough depth to cover what Martin O’Neill wants. No one is particularly creative but O’Neill either wants his players to dwell on the ball or venture into areas which they would not be welcome.

 

Where Villa would struggle is with the depth of their attacking options. Agbonlahor and Carew are a very good striking partnership, although Carew has yet to shine this season. Heskey does not help Villa; he arrived in January and they collapsed, started the first game against Wigan and they lost, was dropped and Villa have climbed the table.

 

If they choose to play a 4-5-1 and one of the wide players that can fit into the system, Milner, Young and Agbonlahor, gets injured then they are perilously close to ‘bare bones’. In addition, if they play a 4-4-2 and Agbonlahor goes down injured then will a pairing of Carew and Heskey provide enough for Villa to win.

 

In January Villa need a winger to fill the void potentially left by an injured Milner or Young.

 

Birmingham

 

Of the ten games played four have been against Man Utd, Spurs, Villa and Arsenal – almost half therefore should be unconsidered unwinnable.

 

However, the games against Bolton, Burnley and Stoke were lost and two of those were at home. I have written previously about where I thought Birminghams difficulty would be and that is in the goal scoring. Only eight goals have been scored in the league this season. Benetiz, who looks lively, has been missing during international duty and therefore a consistency has yet to be found. Once it has they I imagine the goals will come. The midfield has enough creativity to produce chances and goals will come if McLeish allows them to get into a rhythm.

 

The defence has been impressive and Lee Carlsley will become more important as the season progressed.

 

Blackburn

 

I fear for Blackburn this season. The only man that will get Blackburn out of a relegation battle is Sam Allardyce. The question has to be where the goals are going to come from. Di Santo played very well against Burnley and Dunn is having one of his best seasons but one will probably go back to Chelsea in January and the other is alongside Anderton and Redknapp in the injury prone top 100.

 

The wide midfielders, Pederson and Diouf need to start contributing more in terms of end product. However, it has been a difficult start for Blackburn as the first choice centre back partnership of Samba and Nelson has not been readily available.

 

I don’t think Blackburn will go down as there are three teams that will be worse then them…but it’s going to be tough. They need a person that will guarantee them ten goals in the second half of the season.

 

Bolton

 

I like what Gary Megson is doing at Bolton. The defensive signings in the summer were very good (Knight, Ricketts and Robinson) and the midfield looks good. I haven’t really seen enough of Bolton this season to give a more informed opinion but from what I have seen the football looks to be of a decent quality.

 

A common theme is coming out during this review and that is the goals element. Although Bolton have scored goals they have been from all areas of the pitch. That was a good thing for Arsenal, but why not Bolton? Well the reason is that these goals are ‘unexpected’ goals; Cohen was not expected to score three league goals in seven games this season. He may get to six or seven for the season but no more.

 

Bolton, like Blackburn, need a striker that can supplement the unexpected goals that will come Boltons way. Elmandar has not yet justified his price tag but Klasnic has looked lively and could be the man to provide the goals.

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Kightly – the key to Wolves’ survival this season

I started my Fantasy Football team this year with Doyle and Ebanks-Blake as two of my three strikers (the other was Torres if you were wondering). This was based on having seen Wolves play a number of times in the Championship last year. I was impressed with how they went about constructing attacks.

 

Playing a 4-4-2 with a very attacking left winger in Michael Kightly afforded Ebanks-Blake and Iwelumo the opportunities to score goals. Indeed Kightly topped the assists chart in the Championship last season. Wolves in order to get the best out of two strikers with excellent movement and ‘instinct’ need to utilise Kightly; get him running at people without fear of repercussions if he loses it.

 

It was interesting to hear in the pre-match build up that McCarthy had the pitch shortened and made narrower. The theory is presumably that space will destroy a team like Wolves, maybe not as gifted as Tottenham, Liverpool etc. However, does McCarthy really expect to get results against those teams or would the same sized pitch as last year help get results against the team he is battling with?

 

So far those matches this season the home form has seen a defeat to Pompey and draws against Hull and West Ham – not good enough. Granted the key to Wolves, Kightly, has been injured for the most part but, once he is back and firing on all cylinders, is making the pitch tighter going to help or hinder him.

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In Arsenal we trust

Arsenal, a club I admire; or rather Arsene Wenger, a manager who has built a club I admire. Under Graham and Rioch Arsenal were, well, just another team. A team that defended well and had some flair in attack but they never captured the heart of the football fan.

 

The admiration of the football fan is something which is difficult to achieve. Most have tribal instincts about their club and will not look to support anyone else. Wenger has forced most into accepting that the way Arsenal play their game and have developed without the need to expansive amounts of money is a thing to strive for. However, the old mentality of wanting to win trophies will always turn the football fan at the last minute. They could never commit their ideological view to Arsenal without the end product.

 

However, with shares in the club being purchased by American businessmen and Russian oligarchs can the ideology of Arsenal continue to exist or will it be driven away by the ideology of the aforementioned football fan – “yes great, but I want to win things”.

 

The chances are that it will because investors, like fans, want success. They, however, want it for a different reason; financial. You obviously get more money for winning a trophy than finishing second or getting knocked out in the semi-final but it is not enough to make a significant difference to the balance sheet. In addition, there are only a finite number of trophies available; four in England, three in Spain and Italy. Every team can’t win something every time.

 

Two cases in point are Porto and AC Milan. Both have won the Champions League in recent seasons but neither has gone on to great success, even though Milan had the foundation to do so. This is because the marketing brand which is Milan did not have anymore to give and a Champions League success did not sell more shirts in Africa and Asia. One unique selling point (USP) of Arsenal is their ideology, taken directly from the brilliant mind of Arsene Wenger. Lose that and more fans will dessert than will join.

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Well done Steve Gibson

Steve Gibson is once again proving he is one of the best chairmen a football manager can have. This opinion seems strange when he has recently admitted to hatching a plot to sack Gareth Southgate weeks before he actually did (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/m/middlesbrough/8318553.stm). He strung Southgate along, knowing fore well that come Tuesday he’d be gone – regardless of the outcome of the Derby game.

 

So why then is Steve Gibson one of the best? Well firstly his decision was not knee jerk. If he was that way inclined he had numerous opportunities to relieve Southgate of his duties. He could have sack him during the slide towards relegation of straight after. Gibson approached his decision in a calm and measured way. He took results into account but placed a lot of emphasis on performance and who those results were achieved against. One has to think that the 0-5 defeat to West Brom was the catalyst for the decision being taken.

 

Gibson has said that automatic promotion was always the goal and at the beginning of the season ‘Boro, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd and West Brom was the likely candidates for two spots. Losing 0-5 does not logically lead to the conclusion that ‘Boro could compete.

 

Secondly, once the decision to replace Southgate had been made, rather than sack him there and then, appoint a caretaker, and find a replacement, he kept Southgate in charge. Genius. Results were not horrendous, particularly away from home, so keep the momentum going. Once the successor had been all but confirmed then the dismissal came. Whilst this is not kind to Southgate it helped the team enormously. Steve Gibson has a responsibility to the club, not Southgate.

 

Finally, and if the reports are true, then Gibson has selected one the best managers available in Gordon Strachan. He worked wonders at Southampton, Celtic and, to a lesser extent, Coventry. He is the perfect choice to lead ‘Boro into the Premier League next season and give the fans renewed faith.

 

Well done Steve Gibson, not a set of easy decisions but he has handled them very well and done the club proud.

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Newcastle’s transfer policy

The revelation that Newcastle signed a player based on a YouTube clip is not as outstanding as people are making out.

 

I remember hearing that the late Sir Bobby Robson signed Carl Cort for Newcastle by mistake. If I recall he had been after Jason Euell but a case of mistaken identity caused Cort to sign. Also, I have the long held belief that Walter Smith signed Ibrahima Bakayoko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibrahima_Bakayoko) for Everton because he was by far the best player on Championship Manager 2.

 

This behaviour from Newcastle isn’t new. What is disturbing is that the reason behind the move was that Dennis Wise wanted to keep two agents happy. A question of priorities arise; do you want to keep agents or managers happy? Let’s hope that Newcastle get the next Messi from these agents otherwise all would be in vein.

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