Friday, 29 January 2010

You can stick yer green and gold scarves where the sun dont shine!!

The 'Greater' Manchester?

Reading some of the reports from the Craling Cup semi final, you'd get the impression that White Knight Wayne Rooney had slayed some sort of huge sky blue mythical dragon-like creature once and for all and that by reaching the Carling Cup final, he and princess Neville can ride off into the sunset once and for all to live happily ever after. While they may have come through this particular battle and feel that they have vanquished their closest rival, the penniless scroungers from Salford would be unwise to ignore their nearest and dearest after City most definitely gave a fantastic account of themselves over the two legs and have shown that the gap between the two teams which as recently as 10 years ago resembled a huge gaping chasm, has narrowed significantly. An injury time winner is far from conclusive proof that United somehow remain the dominant Manchester side and even less of an indication that they will continue to be so in the coming future.

That said, IF United are to continue their dominance, much of it will be down to the form, fitness and motivation of Wednesday's match winner Wayne 'White Pele' Rooney who this week has gone out of his way to remind everyone just who the hell he is with not one but two match-winning performances. Reminding... with a vengeance! The team 'one man team' is often bandied about far too frequently, but at times, it does carry some significant weight it has to be said...

Much of the reason United are so reliant on 'Wazza' is because of their reluctance/inability to fork out the money for one Carlos Tevez who once again proved his worth with yet another goal against his former team. His 18th in total this season.

The Surrey-based mob that follows the debt-ridden penny pinchers from Old Trafford once again made headlines for all the wrong reasons by choosing an inventive way of giving Craig Bellamy some early Valentine's Day presents (although many might suggest that pelting Craig Bellamy is something to be praised, not punished...) but that wasn't their biggest crime in my eyes. What really irks me is this ridiculous campaign and those ridiculous green and yellow scarves they wear in protest while still paying through the nose for tickets. Yes, these fans who are so angry with the Glazer regime are voicing their anger by wearing a scarf but at the same time putting more money into the pockets of their perceived oppressors by continuing to attend games. Not exactly the best way to make a statement is it?

Sticking vaguely with the derby and it looks as though the marquee signing of the new City regime Robinho has played his last game for the club as he sets sail for home. While he may have left some decent memories for City fans during his time - particularly during the first half of his debut season - it would be very difficult to suggest his time at Eastlands was anything close to a success with his recent double-substitution against Everton summing up what many have suggested about his inconsistency and supposed unwillingness to put in 100% in every game. Despite his talent. Will he be missed ultimately? Doubtful.


[Refuses to use any Toto puns]

The latter rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations have all of sudden got very exciting. The quarter finals saw Cote d'Ivoire and Cameroun both crash out in spectacular fashion against Algeria and Egypt respectively; leading to what has become football's biggest grudge match in the semi final.

For those that don't know, tension between the two nations has led to a rivalry that boiled over during qualification for the 1990 World Cup when the Pharaohs defeated Algeria in a match that saw fans rioting, players coming to blows and even the Egyptian team doctor being blinded!

The final stages of qualifying for this summer's world cup saw Egypt grab a last gasp goal against Algeria in their equally controversial final group game (The Algerian team coach was attacked on route to Cairo, fans from both sides attacked each other and on the pitch, the crucial goal came in the 96th minute of the match). The goal meant the two finished with identical records and were forced into a play off match which took place in Sudan. Algeria triumphed amidst reports of yet more attacks and fighting to book their place in the World Cup where of course they will face England.

Anyway, coming back to this tournament, Egypt would be looking for revenge and in a match any sane watcher could only describe as chaotic, the Pharoahs took thie revenge in style with a 4-0 win. In all fairness, they were helped on their way as Algeria pushed the self destruct button in emphatic style losing 3 men to red cards including Portsmouth Nadir Belhadj for one of the worst tackles you are ever likely to see and goal keeper Faouzi Chaouchi who was clearly not grateful for his good fortune in not getting sent off for head-butting the referee (yes, you read that right!) later kicked out at Mohamed Nagui and got his belated and most certainly deserved marching orders.

Egypt will look to seal their third successive ACN crown against the Black Stars of Ghana who beat huge rivals Nigeria 1-0 in a game where the Super Eagles redefined the idea wastefulness in front of goal as they squandered chance after frustrating chance.


Mighty Reds march on/Eagles plummeting

Filtering down to the Championship, I'm not going to hide my uncontrollable joy at the renaissance currently taking place at The City Ground. This week, the Mighty Reds humiliated QPR to consolidate the second automatic promotion place and go 19 games unbeaten in the league. Billy Davies has managed to turn around a team potentially staring relegation square in the mush and a swift return to League One last season into genuine promotion contenders.

As the result against Rangers would suggest, the rise has come from playing open attacking football with the likes of Majewski, Cohen, Blackstock and Earnshaw all playing their part. With Wes Morgan marshalling the backline and the vastly underrated Lee Camp in goal, the importance of defensive discipline has also not gone ignored evidenced by a recent run of 6 consecutive clean sheets and the fact the team have only conceded more than one goal in a match on just two occasions all season; the last of which coming at the tail end of September meaning Forest are tighter at the back than a constipated virgin.

Admittedly, with a number of games to go, Forest could collapse faster than a US investment bank. But for the meantime, dreams of a return to the Premier League after over a decade away could become a reality despite the protestations of the man at the helm. Davies is naturally wary of his current team suffering the same fate as his last, who, as luck would have it, Forest face this weekend in the East Midlands derby; a match that has become quite heated once again in recent years thanks in part to everyone's favourite footballer Robbie Savage.

Whether Davies and Forest have what it takes to seal promotion remains to be seen but they are certainly where they are on merit.

Incidentally, the only time I have had a chance to see the reds in person was at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace back in October who themselves have been in the news this week. Unfortunately, due to the fact they have about as much money as Woolworths (apologies for the dated reference but this bloody economic recovery has made it hard to think of decent finance related metaphors for the ever-increasing posse of football clubs in monetary meltdown) and have gone into administration.

Regardless of what you may think of the man, Neil Warnock has performed nothing short of miracles to get Palace within touching distance of the players considering the fact he barely had tuppence to spend on strengthening his team this summer and the fact he has had the task of motivating a team that hasn't seen a pay check since Dougie Freedman's first spell at the club (or so I've been led to believe).

The impending sale of the talented Victor Moses should help steady the financial ship somewhat but the club will be in a precarious position with the ten point deficit and the loss of their best player. The remainder of the season looks fairly bleak for the Eagles.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A kind of prediction type thing totally copied from somewhere else (Part deux)

The second part of my look at the midweek round of games in the premier league this week. Find part one here.

Aston Villa v Arsenal

Game of the week? I reckon so. As I mentioned last week, this is the first of a nightmare run of fixtures for the gunners that will really test their credentials as supposed title challengers. They'll take heart on the fact that they haven't lost at Villa since 1998 but questions will be raised as to whether their defeat to Stoke in the FA Cup on Sunday (their first in any competition since their champions league dead rubber against Olympiakos at the start of December) has halted their momentum. Wenger's Arsenal have been notorious for being unable to react positively to defeat, particularly in the FA Cup. In 2008, following a cup defeat to Man Utd, a run of 4 draws cost them the title. In 2007, they famously went out of 3 cup competitions in the space of 10 days and even in the unbeatable season exit from the Champions League Quarter finals came just 3 days after losing the FA Cup semi, again to United (the side's only back to back defeats all season!).

This much sought after momentum will be with the home side who followed up their hockey score victory in the Carling Cup last four with a fairly straightforward win against Brighton in the FA Cup. Admittedly, their league form has been far from spectacular recently and fourth place could soon slip out of their reach if they aren't careful. Despite their awful home record against Arsenal, they will be encouraged by their performances against the other members of the Premier League's elite so far this season. However, with the Arsenal team expected to look completely different to the team battered by Stoke at the weekend, if they are at the top of their game, they should just about have enough to see off Villa.

Prediction: Arsenal to just about come through with a 2-1 win.

Blackburn v Wigan

If I'm honest, and as my bookie will attest, I haven't got the slightest clue when it comes to predicting Wigan games. Very much like I said about Spurs yesterday, they can either be brilliant or absolutely shocking. When they recently got hammered 5-0 at Old Trafford, I kid you not, it could have quite easily eclipsed their 9-1 defeat at White Hart Lane a month previous. They were THAT bad! It's too easy to say that if the likes of N'Zogbia and Rodallega perform Wigan should have no problem because there is quite simply no guarantee they will. Martinez certainly has a very positive football philosophy which looks good when it comes off but when you see how bad they can be, you have to wonder how tactically astute he is and what, if any, kind of authority and discipline he has. When things are going wrong, does he really know what to do to change it? Ultimately, what I think I'm asking is if he is really ready for Premier League management? I believe Wigan are as prime candidates for the drop as anyone given their inconsistencies.

Blackburn on the other hand will just be happy not the be facing Aston Villa again. We all know how Fat Sam sets out his teams to play and given how abject his side have been on the road, the importance of points at Ewood Park cannot be underestimated. With Chris Kirkland injured yet again, Rovers should win it but it wont be a classic (cue a 5-5 scoreline).

Prediction: 2-0 to Blackburn

Chelsea v Birmingham

There was a slim hope amongst the majority of the football viewing public that CSKA Fulham would be somehow hindered by the loses of messers Drogba, Essien et al during January allowing the rest of the chasing pack to catch up. This proved far too simplistic an assumption as factors such as the snow causing the blues to only play one league so far this month and Drogba's Ivory Coast exiting the African Cup of Nations before Chelsea had a chance to 'miss' him were not taken into account.

With an almost full compliment of players (Mikel remains in Angola – COME ON THE EAGLES!!! – and Essien seems to have sustained some kind of injury) going into the second half of the campaign, many will believe that it would take a major catastrophe of Newcastle-esque proportions to see them not win the league come May.

The march to the title will be expected to continue with three points against a Birmingham side on a simply unfathomable good run. Credit to Alex Mcleish but anyone who has seen Birmingham play will know they have not hit the dizzy heights playing anything even close to exciting football. Their style of play hasn't won anyone over but it has got them results. Going through their squad there aren't many players that other teams would look upon with great envy (and that is putting it as nicely as you can imagine) with the exception of on loan Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart – a major factor in their current position – but they work hard for each and play for each other etc. Something that has certainly been helped by the fact Mcleish has kept the same starting XI in the league since Jesus was teething or something like that.

I don't expect Birmingham to be as abject as the last team to go to Stamford Bridge but I don't see them holding the title favourites like they did just a month ago.

Prediction: comfortable 3-0 win for CSKA

Everton v Sunderland

I commented in detail about Everton's recent run last week and there seems no sense in repeating it here although they did lose to the aforementioned Birmingham at the weekend meaning there will be no repeat of last season's FA Cup heroics. A key factor in how they end this season comes in the form of the returning Mikeal Arteta. All of sudden, some people (me) might say that the Everton midfield looks like one of the strongest in the division.

From all the early season brilliance of Sunderland, Steve Bruce seems to have no idea how get the best out of his team anymore. Their results are currently as bad as any team in the league and a defeat against Rock Bottom Pompey in the cup wont be good for morale. What's that? Useless trivia you say? Sunderland conceded 7 in their last league game and in going to Goodison, they return to the scene of their last 7 goal pasting. I say this is useless because the Toffees wont get that many again but should come through this without too much trouble (Although Steve Bruce has the easiest team talk ever: "Lads, whatever you do, just makes sure it's less than 7 this week").

The Mackems may be encouraged by the fact the often useless Phillipe Senderos may play for Everton following his loan from Arsenal and the visitors could have Lee Cattermole back in their side.

Prediction: 2-1 Everton win but the moral victory goes to Sunderland for not being embarrassed yet again.

A kind of prediction type thing totally copied from somewhere else (Part Uno)

Much to the shock of both myself and the rest of the world, Hell froze over as I didn't get a chance to watch much football this weekend. Well, not enough to justify a decent 'observations' post. This is not because I have fallen 'out of love with the FA Cup' or some other ridiculous cliché that pundits and commentators all over the country have suggested as being behind the low attendances at matches (or was that just in the third round? Is it still a valid talking point now?). I just don't feel that from what I did see and hear, there weren't enough interesting talking points to carry a blog that in all likelihood will be read by no-one other than myself in a few months when I get bored of watching episode after episode of Two and a Half Men on Comedy Central.

So what I've decided to do is to see is to look ahead to this weeks Premier League programme and do some kind of preview slash prediction for each match. You may have seen this kind of thing somewhere before but don't hold my lack of originality against me.

I've decided to break this up into two parts. Tuesday's games first and Wednesday's tomorrow as that would make more sense than doing it the other way round wouldn't it?

Bolton v Burnley

To be at the Reebok for this one. Owen Coyle against the team he brought into the Premier League so soon after abandoning them like some unwanted family pet after Christmas when the little Timmy decides that Rex isn't quite the dog he wanted. Well, Rex is back, and this time, it's personal...

Coyle has been unlucky in that he had to face Arsenal in his first 2 games but will be happy with the way they played in both games. Burnley are shocking away from home so you'd think this would be a home banker. However, If they are to have a chance here they should be encouraged by the fact Bolton are about as disciplined as a your typical Lancashire lass on a given weekend (or so i've heard) and are yet to keep a clean sheet in 20 games so far this season.

Prediction: First points for Coyle with a 3-1 win for the Trotters to leapfrog their Lancs rivals in the table.

Portsmouth v West Ham

Another basement battle as the penniless paupers of the Premier League go head to head. The derby of debt some (me) have called it. Does anyone else get the mental image of two homeless people fighting – possibly to the death – over a discarded (and expired) half of an M&S Chicken Salad sandwich as a means of food allowing one of them to survive the cold night ahead? No? Just me then.

Well, with West Ham now controlled by David squared the traveling fans can probably sing about having less debt like it is actually something to be proud of. Still, I think that's the only thing they'll be singing about as Pompey, lack of pay and all, haven't actually been THAT bad at Fratton Park and a West Ham team desperate for a striker may be be one of the few teams not capable of causing the home side's defence much trouble.

Prediction: A rare moment of joy before the despair of administration. 2-0 Portsmouth

Tottenham v Fulham

Cant see anything beyond a home win here. Fulham have been very bad away from the cottage for years. Spurs on the other hand are either really good at home or really awful. Rarely is there a middle ground. They're overdue a big home performance and will want a reaction after Jermaine Beckford waltzed in and started walking around White Hart Lane like he owned the joint. If they are serious about 4th place, they'll need to quickly forget how pitifully they allowed Liverpool back into the race and push on themselves. With their attacking talent (including my alternative suggestion for their player of the season so far Niko Kranjcar) and Fulham potentially missing their two players of the season in Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey, I see a big score here.

Prediction: Long night for 'Woy' as Spurs romp to a 4-0 win to consolidate 4th place

Wolves v Liverpool

With no distractions from here until May, if Liverpool don't make some serious headway up the table, residents of Merseyside might see something of a human sacrifice with a slightly overweight bearded Spaniard burning on the pyre. Games against the likes of Wolves shouldn't even provide a worry. Particularly if Mick McCarthy decides it isn't winnable.

Saying that, we've all seen Liverpool so far this season and even the reverse fixture was far from convincing (You might remember the home needed needed Wolves to go down to ten men before they could take control of the game...). Rumours are that Stevee Ge'arrrhd could be back but given the indifferent season he's had thus far is that really even an added bonus for his side? Despite their problems, you think Wolves wouldn't cause too much trouble but once again, this is Liverpool we're taking about.

Prediction: Rafa keeps the Wolves at the door with a slim 1-0 win.

Part Two to follow

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Midweek Observations 19th - 21st January

1. Case of the ex

As you will all know, Carlos Tevez delighted the entire football loving nation by bagging a brace for Moneychester City to beat their debt ridden neighbours from Salford in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. Whatever you think of the grotesque sums of money they spend on players and the long term ramifications for English football (That is, City eventually making every season a boring procession of trophy-winning dominance while the rest go bankrupt trying to keep up. Over-simplification? Perhaps, but it's pretty much what will happen), it certainly raised a smile on my face to see them get one over their arch nemesis. And to see a Manchester United old boy do it just made it all the more sweet. Granted, the reds will undoubtedly be favourites to progress following the return leg but in the mean time, I just have to say that anything that winds up a boot-licking moron like Gary Neville (pictured below) is OK with me.

2. May the fourth be with you

And so for all the agony, anger, despair and talks of crisis, failure, Armageddon etc at Anfield, all of a sudden the scousers are just one point off the sacred top four places that a month ago many would have suggested was out of their reach. As bad as they have been this season, and make no mistake, they have been pretty bad, Liverpool's result against Spurs was a reminder to all the naysayers and critics than Liverpool are not quite ready to give up their status in the fabled 'big four' without a fight. Of course, there's a huge chance they still won't finish in the Champions League places but suddenly, Rafa's guarantee that many mocked a few weeks back doesn't sound so stupid.

Spurs on the other hand only showed more evidence that, despite how far they have come in the last few years, they are still not quite ready to mix it with the elite. Every time they get close, there's always some kind of obstacle; inept managers, tactless boards, Chris Armstrong, Lasgane. One day, Spurs will get a clear run to success and in the 89th minute of the game to clinch the first title seen at White Hart Lane since 1961, the world will end. Mark my works.

Although saying that, if anyone can tell me why Jermaine Defoe's goal was disallowed, I'm all ears.

3. Arse up

L'Arsenal are now top of the league. Something quite momentous I've been led to believe (Call me crazy but I can't quite remember trophies being handed out in January). Can Arsenal win the league? Some would suggest that the determination shown to come back from 2-0 down against Bolton as a reason why they can. However, others will feel the fact that they went 2-0 down (at home!) to Bolton at all as the very reason they can't. Chelsea under Mourinho and Manchester United in recent seasons have shown the importance of a mean defence if you are to win the title. L'Arse, this campaign, have conceded more goals than those two, Villa, Spurs, Fulham (!) and Birmingham (!!!). Arsene Wenger has done brilliantly to get his side where they are but the real test of their apparent new found mental strength and ability to 'battle' will come in the next couple of weeks when they face a Villa side fresh off their goal orgy with Blackburn, Manchester United, Liverpool and a Chelsea side that humped them back in November. If, in the unlikely event, the gunners are still top after those games, only then can talk about the title get serious.

4. Willy's Big Tackle

Much has been made of William Gallas' admittedly horrible tackle on Bolton's Martin Davies. It makes a change to see perennial 'southern softies' Arsenal being accused of being over-physical while those well 'ard Northerners are the ones walking off the pitch with a few bruises.

Besides, given how Bolton have gone about playing 'football' over the years, any so-called assault on one of their players is surely just canceling out some misdemeanour they have committed in the past and restoring the natural order of things. I think Matt Taylor kneeling on the back of Fabregas' neck just three days before might have flicked the proverbial karma switch.

5. When the fat lady sings

On the subject of northern thugs, Blackburn Rovers, with former Bolton General, Sam 'The Walrus' Allardyce in charge were involved in a ten goal 'thriller with the Villa' in what some (me) are calling the match of the decade (so far). Somehow, despite conceding SIX goals, the Walrus still somehow came to the conclusion that because ONE of these goals could have been disallowed that it is somehow the fault of the official that the country wont be seeing Blackburn and both their supporters at Wembley for the Carling Cup final. The mind boggles. No wait! when it comes to Fat Sam, it really doesn't. It's very rare when I suggest football needs to take lessons from rugby but the Respect campaign becomes [more of] a big joke if people within the game aren't censured whenever they decide to have a pop and question the integrity of the officials.

6. Sol Disrespectful

Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell has always struck me as a strange man. He's never been one for tact or showing any concern for anyone other than himself when it comes to his career. Maybe he's different in his personal life but all I can judge him on is what he does in terms of his football career. This is a man who as captain of Spurs thought "what do I care about a silly little hundred year old rivalry? I'm joining my team's arch rivals. For FREE". The same man who apparently decided at half time in a match for Arsenal that he didn't really fancy it so left. Of course, Sol was miraculously on good terms again when L'Arse made it to the Champions League final. Campbell is then said to have negotiated to have his Arsenal contract terminated to 'go abroad' before ending up at Portsmouth! After 3 years and one FA Cup with the South coast side Campbell was gone again. Whether this had anything to do with their impending financial apocalypse is open to speculation but seeing as Campbell next turned up in supposedly cash-rich Notts County colours, said speculation could only be intensified. Was it then a coincidence that following the former England man's sudden departure it was discovered that the Magpies didn't quite have the pot of gold they led everyone to believe? Now, after a shock return to the gunners, Big Sol is taking the now penniless scroungers of Fratton Park to court over some unpaid monies.

When the news broke, people screamed blue murder asking all sorts of accusing questions: How could he be so insensitive and unsympathetic to their plight? How can he sue a club struggling to stay afloat? Has this man no heart? Have you ever seen him and Osama Bin Laden in the same room? And so on.

Exsqueeze me but, at the risk of sounding unpopular, Isn't Campbell is perfectly entitled to take whatever steps he deems necessary to get what was promised to him? If you or I worked for a company that was struggling financially who were withholding what was promised contractually, wouldn't we be entitled to do exactly what Sol is doing? Once again, people are thinking football is a special case where the normal rules of life don't apply even to the point where some people are actually feeling sorry for the terribly run mess of an organisation that is Portsmouth FC.

7. And finally,

Going back to that Carling Cup semi... EVEN HESKEY SCORED!!!!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Weekend Observations 16th-17th January 2010

1. Blunderland

As impressive as it may have appeared on the surface to see CSKA Fulham publicly violate Sunderland on Saturday, I have little problem taking credit away from the home side as they were assisted by a side who were clearly filming an instructional video for children about how not to defend. Either that or they were auditioning for some kind of travelling circus. Either way, to say that they gave Chelsea a helping hand on their way to such an emphatic victory would certainly not be overstating matters. With the exception of Ashley Cole's one-off moment of genius (Spit!) each of the other six goals were just examples of extremely piss-poor play from the visitors. From Fulop coming miles out to flap at crosses to the inability of any one the Mackem back four to grasp the concepts of closing down, cutting out crosses or man-marking, I actually think they were lucky to get away with only conceding the seven given the other chances missed by 'Tha Bloos'. The old saying goes that you can only beat what is put in front of you. It's a shame Steve Bruce decided to put NOTHING in front of Ancelotti's team. I feel sorry for the fans personally.

And to think Lorik Cana was once linked with a move to Arsenal...

2. A Laws onto himself

As a young pup I always remember hearing good things about Brian Laws in the Nottingham Forest team of the early 1990s. I'd be lying if I said I had any vivid memories of any particular game he played in but as one of those people who was supposed to be quite good, I've always kind of had respect for him. As a manager, ignoring a rather amusing incident involving a plate of chicken wings, he had a fairly successful time at Scunthorpe down the years and up until recently, had a steady if unspectacular stint in charge of a Sheffield Wednesday side without a pot to piss in.

Like anyone who played under Brian Clough, he has been compared to and somehow expected to replicate the successes of the great man. Of course, such expectation is almost fantastical. Having been sacked from Wednesday, many would question the logic of even giving him a job in the top flight. This is the flipside of the idea that English managers do not get enough opportunities at the top level. There seems to be something quite perverse about rewarding a manager who was sacked for struggling with a Championship club, with a Premier League job.

That said, up until his side conceded the first goal at Old Trafford, Laws could have been well on his way orchestrating a real shock in the backyard of the champions. Burnley's profligacy in front of goal is what cost them rather than any sense of being overawed or overrun by a superior side. Play like that against teams lower down the league and Laws could both keep Burnley up and enhance his own rep as a manager.

Also, I feel I must point out this interesting (or not) statistic.

3. Top Fear?

Maybe I'll be proved wrong down the line but the top three positions look pretty certain. It's just a case of what order Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United will finish. This leaves the much sought after fourth and final Champions league qualifying place up for grabs with four teams very much in contention. However, Spurs, Man City, Villa and Liverpool all stumbled this weekend, which begs the question, do any of these teams deserve to mix it with the big boys? Spurs have now dropped points AT HOME against Hull, Wolves and Stoke this season. Any team with serious Champions League aspirations should do better than one point from a possible nine against such opposition (no disrespect intended blah, blah, blah etc).

Once more, it's too early to judge Mancini and what impact he will make at City but regardless of who is charge, given the cost of the side (yes, money will ALWAYS be the barometer that they are measured by), the succession of draws at the tail end of Hughes' tenure as well being made to look so ordinary by Everton this weekend indicate that while they will go on to dominate English and probably European football one day, questions remain over whether they are good enough this season to achieve their much publicised 'targets'.

Villa fans were quick to claim that last season the squad was not equipped enough to sustain any reasonable challenge over the course of an entire season. An unconvincing performance at home to a very poor West Ham side would suggest that the insecurities of 12 months ago still remain.

Liverpool's problems are too tedious to document here and now. It's been done to death everywhere else.

4. Four-Ever?
Everton could have included themselves among that group of teams chasing fourth spot but for a combination of injuries and dodgy form this season. Over the last few seasons, Moyes' team have shown what they are capable of – including reaching last season's FA Cup final – and the performances over the last two weeks against Arsenal (where they should have come away with 3 points) and Man City (who they absolutely battered with little remorse) as well as the battling draw against Chelsea a while back would suggest they would not be out of place amongst the upper echelons of the division.

Some consistency between now and the end of the season should see them through to a strong finish and if the aforementioned top four pretenders continue to stutter then who knows?

5. Good to see refs taking action on diving... despite being wrong

During Liverpool's match at Stoke, Lucas was adjudged to have dived in an incident that supposedly 27,000 people could see was a penalty. I'm not going to go into whether Lee Mason was right or wrong in not giving a spot kick but rather praise the official for producing a yellow card for for what in his eyes was an attempt to con him into giving a penalty. Mark Clattenburg recently gave Craig Bellamy a second yellow card for a similar offence and did so again last week when he felt Gabriel Agbonlahor had dived. Interestingly, all three decisions were probably wrong but it is certainly refreshing to see that refs are not shy in punishing perceived cheats. Long may it continue and hopefully it will discourage players from throwing themselves to the turf so liberally.

6. Trastornar el carro de Apple?

I've literally just finished watching the evening game from La Liga on Sky which saw Valencia demolish Villarreal 4-1. The shit-hot David Villa bagging a brace with Eva Banega and David Silva grabbing the others. The home side also had two goals wrongly disallowed for offside as well as missing countless opportunities to make the result all the more embarrassing for the team in yellow. For those that don't follow the Spanish championship too closely, Valencia are a team for whom trouble seems to be around every corner, they have been through a number of managers in recent years, are no strangers to player and boardroom unrest, oh and they have financial problems that would make Lehman Brothers blush. Despite all that, they have an abundance of talented players and are making serious waves in the title race this season. When people look at the Primera Liga, it's hard to look past the all-conquering Barcelona and the Galacticos of Real Madrid. However, with the latter slipping up this week and Barcelona arguably not as dominant as last season, there is certainly a realistic possibility Valencia could upset the proverbial apple cart or some other cliché and steal the title from under their noses. Stranger things have happened (currently a massive 40/1 at Bet 365).

7. Quite Preposterous Really

Like Valencia, West London's finest are no stranger's to controversy. The team has suffered from a lack of stability for quite some time and have not been helped by a seemingly trigger happy board that change managers more often than the normal man changes his boxers. Just last week Paul Hart was given the boot... sorry, "parted company" with the club after just five games in charge. I seriously believe my years of Championship Manager/Football Manager experience means that they should at least give me a week in the job. I mean, they've tried everyone else, haven't they? In all seriousness, it seems that the expectations of the powers that be far exceed anything that exists in footballing reality. They need to remember firstly that they haven't been a Premier League side for many moons now and to even get back there will take time and more importantly, continuity (that is not sacking a manager every six weeks). But of course, maybe I'm expecting too much from someone like Flavio Briatore whose rumoured overbearing control seems to be a hindrance to the club rather than a help.

8. Africa Cr*p of Nations

I've been watching this competition with some interest (COME ON THE SUPER EAGLES!!) over the last week. I'll try and sum up what I've seen so far in the most concise and accurate way possible: While it has been entertaining, the defending in this competition is awful. God awful. There have always been suggestions that what African football has in flair and strength, it lacks (quite glaringly) in defensive discipline and organisation. Some would suggest this is unfair, ignorant and somewhat offensive. Anyone with Eurosport would not! That is all.

9. And finally...

I'm not a fan of the new low-angled main cameras for televised games at the Reebok stadium.