Category Archives: Premier League

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.


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 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.



Filed under Cups, Premier League, Tactics board

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



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?




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.




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).




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


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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Season so far – Part Three; Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Portsmouth, Stoke


The start of Liverpool’s season has been the most talked of. Questions concerning the defence, midfield and the attack have yet to be properly answered and Rafa Benitez has come under criticism for the poor start in the league and Europe.


But where has it all gone wrong? At the beginning of the season Liverpool were many people’s tip for the title; continuing the good form shown at the back of last season into this. Firstly it is important to recognise where the title was lost last season. The home draws against West Ham, Hull, Stoke and Fulham were the reason cited for Liverpool failing to win the league. Converting two of those into wins would have given enough points to be level with Man Utd.


This season Liverpool has beaten Stoke and Hull at Anfield, thereby rectifying the mistakes of last year. At this point it is worth noting that the draws come with Alonso in the team and the wins this season obviously did not.


However, this season there have been defeats to Fulham, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Spurs and Chelsea. Against Villa, Sunderland and Chelsea Liverpool did not take their chances; against Fulham Liverpool had plenty of possession but did not create enough. The Spurs game was a poor performance and a justified defeat.


The argument that Liverpool needs Gerrard and Torres is justified to an extent. The remainder of the attacking players could not command a place in most teams first XI. Kuyt is an average right winger; Benayoun is tricky but wasteful and can try too hard in certain situations, Riera likewise. The third man in the Gerrard, Torres triumvirate, Aquilani, has been injured so judgement cannot be passed. However, Benitez’s wisdom needs to be questioned – was spending 20m on an injury prone player (who was injured at the time) a good idea?


Defensively the team is at sea. The players seem to have no confidence in each other and are almost waiting for one of them to make an individual mistake. Furthermore, it is very difficult to join a back four that defend zonally from set pieces. This is found out when Arbelloa replaced Finnan, goals from corners were being leaked with regularity. Johnson and Insua joining Carragher and either Skrtel or Agger has not helped. Particularly Insua who is looking a worse player as each week goes by. For a 20 year old he looks far too slow.


The answer is not to sack Benitez. However, he should not be allowed to purchase players. Mourinho said during this time at Chelsea that he wanted a squad of 25; three goalkeepers and two players in every other position. Liverpool have three left backs, three right backs, four central defenders, four central midfielders (I don’t include Spearing), four wide players and three strikers. The lack of quality in some of those positions is the reason Liverpool did not convert the defeats this season into positive results.


Manchester City


A good start to the season which has tailed away after the succession of draws. City certainly has the quality to challenge for the league and the Champions League places. Alan Hansen explained the difficulty City have right now is the defence. It’d be too easy to pick on Bridge after what we saw on MOTD.


I feel that City need to play with more strength in the middle of midfield. Currently the side is playing an orthodox 4-4-2 which I don’t think affords enough protection to Lescott and Toure; particularly if either full back goes on a run up field. Playing a Christmas tree or 4-5-1 and having De Jong, Barry and Ireland in the middle would give more balance to the side. This unfortunately means dropping Wright-Phillips but giving Bellemy and Tevez the license to roam behind Adeybor will cause enough problems to any defence so the attacking potency will not be lacking.


Manchester Utd


I might be speaking too soon, given the very important match coming up, but this is how I am viewing the season so far. It has been a good start, minor blips against Liverpool, Burnley and CSKA but nothing aside from that.


However, a theme of Utd’s season has been the late goals scored, most notably against Man City and Sunderland. This points to the fact that Man Utd need late goals to secure or rescue results. Neither the defence nor the attack has been firing on all cylinders but yet both have been at full strength, player-wise.


The reason for the success so far has been Rooney’s form. He has been far and away the best player. Only Berbatov looks like coming close to matching Rooney for the quality he brings to the side. Unfortunately for Utd Rooney is a form player, when on form he scores goals for fun but they a tendency to dry up in patches. The success of the season depends on keeping Rooney fit and others filling his boots when he is not scoring as freely as he could.


In January there has been a lot of talk of Villa or Silva and I think at least one needs to be purchased in order to remain on course to challenge.




I still maintain that this is what needs to happen on the pitch in order to fix Pompey this season


However, off the pitch needs as much attention. Players need to be assured that they are at a club for the foreseeable future and that they will only leave if their performances are so good someone buys them or so bad Pompey sell them.


Survival is paramount for the future of the club and Hull’s victory against Stoke will not help Pompey.




Tony Pullis deserves so much credit for what he has done at Stoke. He has developed a squad which has enough quality in each position. There is nothing I would change if given the chance.


One potential addition in January which could start the side nicking a few more goals could be a true goal poacher. At the Brittania Stoke are going to have more of the ball than they did last season. Having someone like Michael Owen (obviously not actually Michael Owen) in the side could open up defences which come to Stoke and sit in for a draw.


Actual names to consider could be Chopra from Cardiff (if they need to sell) or Leeds’ Jermaine Beckford.

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



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




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.




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.




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.     




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.




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.




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.




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.




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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