Friday, 28 September 2007

Premiership Weekend Preview 28/9

On Monday night(yes, I know it's technically not the weekend), Spurs host Aston Villa at White Hart Lane. For me, this one is too close to call because it all depends on which Villa show up. Will it be side who quite comfortably beat CSKA Fulham or the side that lost against Liecester midweek? Tottenham, you feel, after thier comedy start are almost on their way to getting things together following the North London derby defeat. Two good cup wins (Granted one was against a bunch of amatuers and the other against Famagusta) and avoiding defeat at Bolton (The importance of which cannot be underestimated) could see them push on starting Monday.

You have to wonder however, if the pressure is begining to get to the normally laid back (not reinforcing any Dutch sterotypes or anything) Martin Jol who has seriously been on the defensive over the last couple of days. Making a point of mentioning Mourinho by name suggests that maybe there was some truth to rumours about Levy making the Portugese an offer.

Up the Seven Sisters road, Arsenal just cant seem to escape speculation about a proposed takeover. Billionaire Alisher Usmanov has increased his stake yet again. Little is known of this man and if you ask a lot of Arsenal fans, they dont want the guy to have anything to do with their club.

There is always going to be suggestions of dressing room unrest whenever boardroom shenanigans are taking place and after what has seemingly been a good week for the gunners (top of the league, record profits, Carling Cup win), Wenger will be hoping that his players can stay focused on the task ahead because, as he knows first hand, West Ham is not an easy place to go to. A task made harder by the fact that Dean Ashton is now back and firing for the Hammers.

Staying in London, The Kremlin hosts a West London derby between CSKA Fulham and Fulham Northern Irish. CSKA will be boosted by the expected return of Didier Drogba as well as a their win in midweek. Avram Grant is talking about unleashing a five-man attack (Spurs fans out there will be thinking back to the rollercoaster days of Ossie Ardiles) because, as we all know, goals win games and hey, seeing as they are playing Fulham, who knows what the score might be?

In two other note-worthy games, The Salford Bay Rowdies will be hoping to bounce back from their suprise Carling Cup exit against Birmingham and former favourite Steve Bruce. In another match of Rowdies-players-turned-gaffers, Mark Hughes takes his Blackeye Rovers team up to Sunderland and Roy Keane. Should be a 'sparky' encounter...

At the bottom, pub side The Derby and County host Bolton. This is the kind of game where both sides could throw caution to the wind as beating fellow relegation candidates could prove so vital in the long run. Expect goals, bad defending and lots of shouting from the touchline.


Saturday, 29 September 2007:
Birmingham v Man Utd, 17:15
Chelsea v Fulham, 15:00
Derby v Bolton, 15:00
Man City v Newcastle, 12:45
Portsmouth v Reading, 15:00
Sunderland v Blackburn, 15:00
West Ham v Arsenal, 15:00
Wigan v Liverpool, 15:00

Sunday, 30 September 2007:
Everton v Middlesbrough, 16:00

Monday, 01 October 2007:
Tottenham v Aston Villa, 20:00

And now for something completely different...

Going back a couple of years, Pope John Paul II sadly died. At this time, I also happened to be taking a Theology module called 'Philosohy of Religion'. During one of our seminars the discussion veered onto weather David Beckham would be mourned in the same way as the pope. We then went on to talk about whether it was feesable to consider if football was as big (or bigger?) an institution worldwide than the Catholic Church.

Comparisons between the beautiful game and religion could once again be brought to the fore this week (really sorry for the laboured and tennuous link there) as the Anglican church in America rejected/ the idea of ordaining openly gay priests as bishops while former England International Graeme Le Saux talked about the gay rumours that plagued him throughout his career.

In an this more tolerant era where the previously inconcievable idea that a black man and a woman can go head to head for presidency of the United States, its interesting to see that homosexuality still has that enormous stigma attached to it. I'm curious to what would happen if a major footballing icon (say, a Gerrard, a Ronaldo, an Henry or even Becks himself) were to come out.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Carling Cup 3rd Round Review/Round Up.

Last saturday, A toothless Coventry side bent over and took one from a rapant Ipswich Town at Portman Road.

The week before they were hammered at home by Bristol City. Not many would have given them no chance Old Trafford last night regardless of the team Sir Taggart put out but once again football proves itself to be a funny old game.

CSKA Fulham ended a dismal fortnight by slaughtering Hull. Hardly likely to appease fans who continue to mourn the loss of Mourinho but at least they finally got some goals under their belt.

Spurs have traditionally been a 'cup side' for as long as I can remember and maybe the impatient hierarchy should put this into perspective before harbouring quite frankly unrealistic aspirations of playing in the Champions League.

Rowdies aside, shocks were few and far between this round. Liecester's win over Villa or Luton beating Charlton may have raised an eyebrow but with The likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, City and West Ham all going through in the last 48 hours you sense that the criticism of top sides not taking the competetion seriously can be consigned to the graveyard of other footballing fables such as Curtis Davies being a £10 million defender or that Blackburn Rovers 'bought' the premiership title way back when.

Finally, it's nice to see that I'm not the only one who has a problem with refereeing standards in this country.

Carling Cup 3rd Round Results

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle
Blackpool 2-1 Southend (aet)
Burnley 0-1 Portsmouth
Luton 3-1 Charlton (aet)
Man City 1-0 Norwich
Reading 2-4 Liverpool
Sheff Utd 5-0 Morecambe
West Brom 2-4 Cardiff

Aston Villa 0-1 Leicester
Blackburn 3-0 Birmingham
Fulham 1-2 Bolton
Hull 0-4 Chelsea
Man Utd 0-2 Coventry
Sheff Wed 0-3 Everton
Tottenham 2-0 Middlesbrough
West Ham 1-0 Plymouth

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Things I Learnt Watching Football This Weekend (22nd - 24th September)

1. The standard of premiership refereeing is a disgrace

Not for the first time, one of the premier league’s most eagerly awaited matches is ruined by the incompetence of the man assigned to apply the rules.

Mike Dean embarrassed not only himself, but his profession and football as a sport with his performance on Sunday. Yes, while it’s true that the imminent demise of CSKA Fulham has many of us salivating more than Brittany Spears’ potential new lesbian cell-mate, and while many may think that after all the luck they’ve had with refs in recent years that they were getting their just desserts, no true fan of football can say that what went down on Sunday was acceptable. If Rob Styles had to face sanctions for his faux pas a few weeks back then Dean should never be allowed to take to the field again after Sunday’s calamity. It wasn’t just one major decision he got wrong but…

- Should have awarded The Rowdies a first half penalty
- Should never have sent Mikel off for his challenge which for me was more clumsy than dangerous/malicious.
- Should have instantly booked John ‘Above the Law’ Terry for attempting to prevent him showing the red.
- Should have sent off Joe Cole for his assault on Fake Ronaldo
- Should have, having already booked him, sent off Wayne ‘Above the Law v 2.0’ Rooney for his illegal, but slightly satisfying, challenge on A-Hole.
- Should have given Louis Saha a slap/yellow card for that pathetic swan dive. (I’ve had to sit through ‘experts’ proclaim that Saha was entitled to go down because there was contact. Bollocks! Since when was ‘Minimal Contact = Foul’ part of the football rulebook? He wasn’t impeded as he could have stayed on his feet and kept the ball. No foul!)

The game wasn’t a classic. It never usually is between these two but it certainly wasn’t helped by the performance of the referee. The other Big 4 clash this season ended the same way. Why is it that these men in the middle bottle it so much when it matters? I’m sick to my back teeth of the ‘human error’ excuse as well. It’s a job. Do it right or be punished. That’s how I’ve always understood life to be. Why are referees exceptions to these rules?

2. Predictions of CSKA Fulham’s demise may not be premature.

As of last week, when Jose Mourinho left. I spent most of my time rejoicing that the arrogant so and so would no longer be polluting my TV/Radio/papers/net with frequent bouts of verbal diarrhoea.

I expected CSKA to struggle, but would soon recover based on the sheer strength of Roman’s financial muscle. Any manager with a bit of clout about him could win the title with that kind of backing. Success was not mutally exclusive to Jose. He inherited a far better squad than the one he left and seeing how he hadn’t even signed most of them (Robben, Cech, Duff, Gudjohnsen, Gallas, Lampard, Terry, Joe Cole, Makalele were all CSKA players before Jose was gaffer), I don’t why he gets so many plaudits for winning them the title in ’05. He did what was expected and before people bang on about Ranieri’s failings, let’s take away the money and truly ask whether Mourinho would have be such a great manager when the strength of his squad was made up of Bogarde, Stanic, Melchiot, Jokanovic and Forssell? Thought not.

That said, Avram Grant doesn’t look capable of washing Jose’s Y-fronts. When a manager says in his first press conference, “I’ll try my best” then you know you have problems. CSKA were abysmal on Sunday. Sending off or not, the fact they failed to register a single shot on target the entire match sums up how bad things have gotton. It’s not even like The Rowdies were on top of their game and gave them a battering. They need to pull their collective fingers out over at the Kremlin otherwise they will be in serious trouble over the coming weeks/months/years. P.S. The rumours of Burmese monk-like protests from fans and Abramovich giving Essien lessons on passing the ball are hilarious.

3. Michael Owen is probably finished as a top player.

If it isn’t one thing with this guy it’s another. As of writing, it’s rumoured he is facing surgery on a persistent groin problem. How can this problem be persistent when he’s only played a handful of matches in the last few months? Surely this must mean that the problem was apparent before his crippling knee injury last summer. The guy has far too many problems for his own good and all the talk of who England should play up front with Owen needs to be dismissed because despite his successful cameos against Israel and Russia, we need to realise that this all they are these days, cameos. A fully fit Owen has become an exception rather than the norm.

4. Jimmy Hasselbiank and Robbie Fowler could make a mockery of Championship defences this season

I watched some of Cardiff v Preston at lunchtime on Saturday as I was interested to see how two of the hottest strikers in premiership history lined up against opposition far worse than anything they have ever been used to.

No disrespect to Preston or anyone else in the Championship but these guys have made their names at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively and carry a wealth of experience both domestically and abroad.

To be honest, both guys were just having fun. Fowler bagged a brace and I believe at one point I saw him attempt stepovers! Jimmy on the other hand disregarded all his team-mates and chose to shoot on site at every given opportunity. When these two click properly, it should make for some interesting watching.

[Like clockwork: Tonight they beat West Brom 4-2 in the Carling Cup at the Hawthorns. Another Brace for Fowler and a 20 yard strike from Jimmy!]

5. Rafa’s rotation policy. Does anybody get it?

£25 million Fernando Torres was left on the bench on Saturday for a game Liverpool could/should/would have won at a canter had they fielded their strongest XI.

Liverpool strolled through tonight, Torres bagging a hat-trick no less, which makes his initial omission on Saturday all the more puzzling.

I have a lot more respect for Benitez than to think he had one eye on tonight’s match against an under-strength Reading side in the Carling Cup as if to say it was a more important than 3 points in the league.

6. Yes, City were not boring but that’s more a testament to Fulham’s gung-ho tactics and Kamikaze defending.

Forget Diamond formations, holding roles, wing-backs, Sweepers, two banks of four and all that technical mumbo-jumbo. Fulham seem to currently be adopting the ‘playground football’ tactic. Pick enough players, tell some to generally try and stay back while everyone else piles forward trying to get as many goals as possible. Back to back 3-all draws at home, scoring in every game but sadly no clean sheets this season, seem to suggest that it isn’t quite going to plan.