Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Weekend Observations 20th - 22nd November 2010

Game of the weekend was quite obviously the thriller at the Emirates which saw Arsenal and Tottenham swap their traditional roles in these games. Usually, it is Spurs who start brightly before self-destructing in comical fashion however this time it was the gunners who decided to piss away their 2 goal half time advantage giving Harry Redknapp's side a famous win. Their first in this corresponding fixture since 1993.

Naturally, the red half of North London were spitting bile at this result with many fans even calling for Arsene Wenger's head. Given the opposition and manner of the defeat the reaction, although not necessarily the right one, is understandable. Without taking anything away from Tottenham, nobody can deny this was more of a case of Arsenal losing the game than Spurs winning it. They threw away a game against their most bitter rivals from a commanding position. Simply unacceptable.

The match seemed to represent a microcosm of the recent fortunes of both sides. The unrest amongst Arsenal fans comes from the fact they are seeing their side spunk away leads far, far too often while Tottenham once again found themselves having to battle back from the dead as it were in a game that looked beyond them. While this new-found resilience is commendable, they wont always be able to recover from regularly giving the opposition a head start. Crazy talk of winning the league need to be put to one side until they learn to start football matches as well as they finish them.

After all the dust settled, Arsenal still remained just two points off the league summit but if they are to retain anything even resembling title aspirations, they need to show far more by way of cojones in big games against the better sides in the league and make no mistake, Tottenham are most definitely one of the league's better sides these days. Their improvement has coincided with their rivals obvious decline over the last five years and on the evidence of Saturday, would suggest that the gap between the two sides – if any remains – has narrowed. The oft regurgitated "let's all laugh at Tottenham" chant is now strictly ironic as they are certainly a side to be taken very seriously.

Arsenal's defeat proved not to be as much of a catastrophic blow to their supposed title challenge as it first appeared thanks very much to 'unstoppable' Chelsea's third defeat in four league games, this week, at Birmingham. Each week, I keep saying that the west Londoners will still be strong enough to win the title but with rumours of unrest behind the scenes and the whole Ray Wilkins nonsense, all may not be well at The Bridge.

Despite dominating at St. Andrews, Chelsea came away with nothing. Bad performances such as last week can be written off as a bad day at the office but playing well and losing is a cause for concern and sows those proverbial seeds of doubt into their minds.

The last month has seen Chelsea's poor form allow Manchester United to creep up alongside them like some pervert at 3am at any South London bus stop atop the league table. Bafflingly, United are STILL unbeaten this season despite looking barely adequate in most of their performances so far. Even Saturday's win over Wigan was laboured at best. The away side had to be reduced to nine men before the reds looked anywhere near comfortable. But as they say, a win is a win, and if they lift the big trophy come May following a string of 'meh' wins, I doubt the Old Trafford faithful will have much to complain about.

One thing the fans did get vocal about was the return of Wayne Rooney following all the shenanigans of a few weeks back. After pretty much spitting on Sir Matt Busby's grave with his disrespectful actions in hankering for a move only to be rewarded with an exorbitant new contract, many wondered if the fans who dedicate so much of their lives to the great club would be fickle enough to simply support him once more despite his treachery. All it takes is one goal and a contrived kiss of the club badge usually. In a bizarre turn of events, United fans actually showed a sense of indignation that didn't involve a nonsensical, misguided scarf protest as the 'White Pele' was actually booed by some supporters as he was brought on late in the game. If and when Rooney hits the goal trail once again, it will be interesting to see if this resentment towards him continues.

Across town, Manchester City fans had reason to smile once again after a convincing win at Fulham. Interestingly, Roberto Mancini sent his team out to attack rather than with the usual 'just try not to lose' philosophy. Seeing his team 3 goals to the good in little over half an hour tells it's own story as City showed more adventure in that short time than in all their preceding games this campaign combined. I maintain that this side has all the tools to win the title this season and if they play like this more often, I can't see any reason why they can't usurp the teams above them over the coming months.

An interesting side note from the game was fact that City were facing a Fulham side managed by the very man that was so spectacularly dismissed to make way for Mancini 11 months ago. Given that Mark Hughes bought most of the players he faced on Sunday, you have to wonder how he managed to get his tactics so badly wrong. Fulham are now only outside the drop zone on goal difference and if Hughes doesn't soon improve on his sides mediocre total of just two wins so far, he may well find himself out of work once again.

The topsy-turvey world of the Premier League also saw Bolton consolidate 5th place this weekend with an emphatic 5-1 win over the predictably inconsistent Newcastle. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, to echo my thoughts from last week, credit to Owen Coyle for turning a team of uninspiring cloggers that were about as appealing as a battery acid enema into a team that actually aspires to play decent football. I'm still scratching my head at how good that man Johan Elmander is looking too. Two more goals this week sees him joint second in the scoring charts this season above the likes of Drogba, Torres and Berbatov. With their precarious financial position leading to rumours of player sales, the Swede's fine form could see a battle for his signature and a pretty decent wedge of cash come in from any potential buying party.

Finally, the quality of Elmander's goals have also been worthy of high praise. Unfortunately, he was upstaged in the goal of the week stakes by Blackpool's Luke Varney who hit an absolute stunner against Wolves which helped the seasiders to a 2-1 win.



Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham
Birmingham 1-0 Chelsea
Blackpool 2-1 Wolves
Bolton 5-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 3-0 West Ham
Manchester United 2-1 Wigan
West Brom 0-3 Stoke


Blackburn 2-0 Aston Villa
Fulham 1-4 Manchester City


Sunderland 2-2 Everton

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Monday, 15 November 2010

Weekend Observations 14th - 15th November 2010

Only really one place to start and that's West London with one of the shock results of this or any season. Sunderland marched into Stamford Bridge acting like they own the joint and inflicted Chelsea's biggest home defeat since 2002. Funnily enough, not long before they were being bank-rolled by a Russian Billionaire. I wonder if the two facts are connected in some way... Anyway, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't think Chelsea are one their way to winning their fourth Abraomvich sponsored league title this season having started the campaign like a house on fire. A paper house doused in kerosene.

However, the current champions' league performances in recent weeks have been quite far removed from the thrashings they were routinely handing out back when the sun was shining in late August. Sunday's massacre at the hands of the Black Cats, while unexpected, maybe shouldn't be considered the massive shock we perceive it to be. Of course Sunderland would fancy their chances after looking at the team sheet and seeing that the Blues were missing Lampard, Terry, Alex and Essien. Credit to Steve Bruce’s side for taking advantage. This wasn't a smash and grab counter-attack inspired, shut up shop effort either. The Mackems went out with a positive attacking mentality with two up front and subsequently bossed the game.

3-0 was not an unfair reflection of the match at all. Nedum Onuoha opened to scoring with a superb solo effort that will surely be in the running for goal of the month. Had that been scored by Gareth Bale or Theo Walcott or Wayne Rooney, the simultaneous orgasm from over-excited TV pundits would knock the globe from its axis. Unfortunately the second by Asamoah Gyan was tarnished by Bolo Zenden's tragic attempt at dancing during the celebration. Seriously, there's no place for that sort of thing in the game. I hope the FA look at that retrospectively and ban him from ever cutting shapes like that in a public place again. The icing on the cake came from Danny Welbeck came after an Ashley Cole mistake. That was really sad to see. I was so gutted for him but it seems that the only way I can truly express my sympathy is by laughing very loudly.

Whether this is just a blip or the first signs of decline for Chelsea remain to be seen. They will be slightly concerned seeing that they also lost to easily the worst Liverpool side I've seen in my lifetime. The reds followed up that almighty win at Anfield with a draw at Wigan and a feeble surrender on Saturday at Stoke. After all the talk of turning the corner, it seems like Roy Hodgson's men have switched into reverse gear and gone right back round said corner. Ten years ago Liverpool actually went to the Britannia and won 8-0 but were so bad on Saturday, it's not unfair to say that they made Stoke look like the offspring of the Brazil 1970 team and Superman! This naturally, led to the predictable bi-polar switch in attitude from the scousers who were just last week dancing a merry jig. This week, the conclusion of the match saw the traveling fans shouting themselves hoarse pleading for Kenny Dalglish to be handed the managerial reigns and Hodgson to be put out to pasture. I don't think 'King' Kenny, or any manager for that matter, will be able to do a great deal with the likes of Poulsen, Konchesky and Rodriguez constantly stinking up the place.

In 1995, people around scoffed when Sony entered the gaming market and released something called the 'Play station', U2 topped the charts with "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" (a song infinitely better than the terrible movie which it was the soundtrack for...) and I started getting hair and spots in weird places and as the huge crushing fist of puberty decided to do a number on me!

Also, 1995 was the last time Aston Villa beat Man Utd in the league prompting Alan Hansen's now famous "You'll never win anything with kids" proclamation. 15 years of hurt was that close to coming to an end for the Villains but for the Mancs increasingly annoying penchant for scoring late goals.

So, it turns out that Villa can be quite entertaining despite my previous suggestions to the contrary. The Villa park faithful have seen two goal-packed games with late drama in the space of just three days. What do I know about football anyway?

A few weeks back when Man City were winning football matches, very few people gave a monkeys as to how the results were achieved. Mind-numbingly unadventurous and uninspiring football to make one want to gouge out their own eyes and throw them under the wheels of a speeding bus was a small price to pay for results and there was genuine belief in some quarters that the Premier League trophy would be returning to Manchester this season, only this time to donning sky blue ribbons rather than red.

However, following a run of three home league games without a goal, the natives are understandably getting restless. And why not? Roberto Mancini is so cautious you imagine he wears two condoms and a rubber glove just to masturbate. City are playing by a different set of rules from most other teams right now and as such, will always be judged due to their substantial financial clout. If you're not winning games, performances come under more scrutiny. For the vast, unfathomable sums of money spent, we were expecting a new powerhouse in the game not a side that takes on Birmingham with the sole aim of avoiding defeat.

"I wonder if I can get away with playing TEN defensive midfielders..."

With all their supposed title rivals dropping points, Arsenal's win at Everton sees them within touching distance of the Premier League summit. It's early days but there are those on the red side of North London who feel that the club's six year 'drought' without a league title may well be coming to an end. We'll wait and see if the anticipated New Year collapse takes place yet again. It's been a long held belief that The Arsenal play some magical style of pure football from the heavens but the win at Goodison was not an example of Arsenal at their free-flowing best. Their much-praised style has been supplemented and on occasion even replaced with something us Brits like to refer to as 'grit'.

The contrast in their two goals epitomised this newfound ability to mix it up. The first was a result of a Bacary Sanga shot from a position where you usually expect to see Arsenal players still try a pass rather than pull the trigger while the second was a typically well worked passing move finished by Cesc Fabregas that the team has become famous for. Chuck in the awful disciplinary record this season and it looks like, maybe, just maybe, Arsene Wenger's kids have finally grown a pair and worked out how to grind out results and when even when not at their best.

Next Saturday, they face arch-rivals Spurs at the Emirates. What greater incentive going into the game knowing that a win will send them top of the league? Equally for Tottenham, who themselves remembered how to win a league game this weekend, what greater motivation for the match than to try and halt the gunners' continued ascent?

The liliwhites' first win in five was a Gareth Bale inspired 4-2 humping of Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane in a horribly one sided affair, although a late rally from the visitors restored something in the way of respectability to the final scoreline. Given that Big Sam named an ultra-defensive 5-man back line, it was natural that he would be quite pissed off about how much joy and freedom they allowed the Spurs attack. Although both teams would have come into the season with vastly different aspirations, they are currently both among number of teams bouncing around in a very congested looking table that is looking tighter than a gnat's rectum at present. A tiny gap is opening up between the top four and the rest while Wolves and the increasingly dire West Ham are at risk of being cut away at the bottom but between that, only two wins separate 18th placed Birmingham City and Bolton up in the dizzying, nose-bleed inducing heights of 5th.

Speaking of whom, credit to Owen Coyle who would have never imagined in his wildest dreams he would be leading his beloved Wanderers to such a lofty position. Even more credit is due for turning Johan Elmander into some kind of footballer! For two years, the Swede has looked about as useful as tap-dancing lessons for Stephen Hawking but has somehow discovered something resembling a goal-scoring touch. With six goals already this season, the pick of the bunch came in Saturday's win at Wolves. But like Nedum Onouha before him, had this goal been scored by a more high profile player you'd never hear the end of it.



Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United
Manchester City 0-0 Birmingham City
Newcastle United 0-0 Fulham
Stoke City 2-0 Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 Blackburn Rovers
West Ham United 0-0 Blackpool
Wigan Athletic 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Wolverhampton Wndrs 2-3 Bolton Wanderers

Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
Everton 1-2 Arsenal

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Midweek Observations - 9th-10th November 2010

There was an absurd but understandable amount of hype surrounding this week's Manchester derby at Eastlands. Sky were the main culprits with a number of flashy idents, various lives from the City and infinite interviews with any person who has ever seen Manchester on a map. Needless to say, I, like many others, were sucked in, and with good reason. This was supposed to be the biggest derby for years with the reds and the blues neck and neck in the league and more poignantly, both in the title race. United and City are both spilling over with talent and couple that with the extra incentive of wanting to beat your arch-rivals for bragging rights and such, I'm sure it wasn't too outrageous to expect a decent game packed full of goals, incident and talking points which would have sad little internet, homely looking bloggers yammering on for days.

Instead what we got was the football equivalent of this...

Actually, that's mightily unfair on tumbleweed.

Thanks to the negative approach of BOTH sides and a lack of desire to actually win the game, there was very little to actually 'observe' so I will move ever-so-quickly on. Let's hope Haye v Harrison is better, eh?
24 hours earlier, Sky Sports decided to televise the match between relegation fodder Stoke City and Birmingham City in a match that one couldn't get excited about beforehand even if Jessica Alba and Kelly Brook were to promise to wrestle naked in the centre circle at 15 minutes intervals. It was about as appealing as the bread before the starter before the main course.
As it turned out, this bread was the best part of the meal. The second half of said bread... er, match was one of the most entertaining 45 minute spells of the season, swinging back and fourth resulting in a 3-2 win for Tony Pulis' men. Interestingly enough, for all his pissing and moaning about referees this season, it was surprising (or not) to see Pulis noticeably less vocal about the possible handball by match winner Dean Whitehead before scoring the all important goal. People would be inclined to listen to his not altogether crazy suggestions to punish bad officiating if he wasn't such a hypocrite.
Earlier this week, much-maligned footballer Joey Barton actually surprised the world with something of a face turn by showing something resembling maturity. Well, about as much maturity Joey Barton can muster. The St. James' jailbird also seemingly offered advice to the apparent heir to his throne of thuggary Andy Carroll telling the striker to concentrate on his football. Barton feels that Carroll's recent on-pitch actions ought to be taken into consideration over his off field misdemeanours. Not 48 hours after these words of wisdom, Barton reverted to type by showing that his own on-pitch actions were just as reprehensible as what he does when he gets pissed off after receiving the wrong flavoured milkshake at a well known fast food establishment. After his unprovoked punch on Morton Gamst Pedersen, hopefully the authorities will throw the book at him. With any luck it will hit him in the eye because, you know, Karma is a bitch.
In the same game Jason Roberts scored the second winning goal for Blackburn Rovers in as many games. He must read this blog.

On a similar theme, Jermaine Beckford scored a stunner for Everton to salvage a draw against Bolton set out to prove that he is NOT as I previously suggested out of his depth in the Premier League and Aston Villa took my claim that they are boring and rammed them down my throat when they decided to participate in a rather exciting match with Blackpool. But like a petulant child with a spine made of reinforced steal, I am too stubborn to bend on these issues. Well done to both for their respective achievements but one swallow does not a summer make and all that. One goal wont convince me that Beckford isn't going to continue to maraud around Merseyside like a headless chicken with a broken Tom Tom while a 3-2 win against Blackpool reserves will not suddenly see Gerard Houllier's team starting to play expansive, high-tempo attacking football from now on.
Speaking of Blackpool, following his ludicrous threat to resign if he is punished over his team selection, is anyone else beginning to think that loveable Ian Holloway is fast becoming the miserable old giffer you encounter at bus stops and in grotty pubs that complains about everything but is completely oblivious to the fact that life couldn't actually be any better for him? Don't get me wrong, 'Ollie' is still what my Encyclopaedia of Great Football Clichés would refer to as a 'Breath of fresh air' and I would take his enthusiastic randomness over the monotonous generic nonsense spoken by most managers in the Premier League any day of the week but his threat to quit is childish, petty, vindictive and most importantly shows a lack of respect to his players who will be leaving in the lurch.
That said, he is right to be vexed at the authorities. The Premier League have already imposed the controversial home grown/25 man squad limit this season but if a manager isn't free to pick any first XI he chooses from that squad then what was the point? Farcical.
What would a discussion about Premier League football in modern times be without some sort of debate about tackling? Interestingly enough, for the second time in a matter of weeks it is perennial victims of leg-snap from seasons gone by Arsenal who are the perpetrators. In their 2-0 win at Wolves, Catalan Captain Cesc Fabregas found himself very lucky not to pick up what would have been his side’s FIFTH red card of the season after a late, reckless and totally unnecessary lunge on Stephen Ward. The Gunners' player and his boss were quick to say sorry afterwards but having been down this road already this season, you have to wonder if Arsenal players think it's ok to start tackling like animals so long as they say sorry afterwards? That's the kind of reasoning you'd expect from an infant thinking he has a justifiable reason to continuously whale on his little brother.
However, Fabregas wasn't the only guilty party in this game as 'Killer' Karl Henry was also lucky to escape punishment for an over the top challenge on Andrey Arshavin.

There was some naughtiness from many media outlets who have ignored this incident in their reporting of the game. Conspiracy theorists from the ever-paranoid but frightfully large gooner blogosphere would point to some kind of non-existent media bias against them, others particularly those from a certain area of the West Midlands would suggest that poor old Karl has had enough of a kicking (so to speak) from the media already this season so it is about time they chose to lay off him. The truth is, the Fabregas' apology and acceptance by Mick McCarthy made for a better 'story' so everyone just ran with that. Besides, the THUG FOOTBALLER COMMITS THUGGISH ACT headline has already been hogged by Joey Barton this week.


Stoke City 3-2 Birmingham City
Tottenham 1-1 Sunderland

Aston Villa 3-2 Blackpool
Chelsea 1-0 Fulham
Everton 1-1 Bolton
Manchester City 0-0 Manchester United
Newcastle 1-2 Blackburn
West Ham 2-2 West Brom
Wigan 1-1 Liverpool
Wolves 0-2 Arsenal

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Monday, 8 November 2010

How things Change. Weekend Observations - November 6th-7th 2010

Where else to start than at Anfield? With the poor performances, player unrest, takeover shenanigans and financial troubles, it's difficult to imagine a football club experiencing a more eventful opening three months to a season. Much of the drama is akin to works of fiction and would not have been out of place on the horrifically unrealistic but highly watchable Sky One series Dream Team from days gone by.

Liverpool have somehow gone from a humbling shock home defeat against newly promoted Blackpool to an incredible victory over champions Chelsea in the space of just a few weeks – a third league win on the bounce propelling them from the doldrums of the Premier League relegation zone to the dizzying heights of mid-table.

The victory over the league leaders was inspired by the eye-poppingly good Fernando Torres whose two first half goals were enough to see off the visitors. The second of which was a moment of genius that simply reminds all of us exactly why we love watching this thing we call football.

Last week, I suggested that the Spaniard looked disinterested in Liverpool's unconvincing victory at Bolton and while I stand by that claim, the contrast in his performance this week could not have been more stark. Torres was back to his unplayable self and sent out something of a reminder as well as a huge 'F*CK YOU!!' to all the critics who have dared to write him off this season.

And it wasn't just Torres. The likes of Jamie Carragher, Maxi Rodriguez and Lucas all played unexpectedly well in this match making me think someone had spiked my coco pops with some kind of hallucinogenic drug such was my astonishment to what I was witnessing. Yes, Liverpool actually looked like a decent side for the first times in what seems like years. Maybe they finally have turned that fabled corner that everyone is so obsessed with.

As for their opponents, a strange thing occurred to me. The problem of subjective interpretations based on particular outcomes. Last week, Chelsea didn't play well but managed a result away at Blackburn. We all sat here saying it was the hallmark of champions to be able to do so and just assumed that the same would happen whoever they faced. I'm not saying that one defeat means Chelsea are in any sort of crisis but in truth, they haven't been at their best recently and perhaps are not deserving of the exaggerated hype surrounding them. They still undoubtedly remain the best side in the country and will more than likely end up as champions but maybe all the talk of them running away with the title ought to be set aside as of right now.

That very term, 'crisis' has been bandied about a great deal so far this season. As each week passes another club is on the brink of declaring some kind of state of emergency. Whereas Manchester United and Liverpool seem to have come through their periods of sensationalised disaster, last week it was the turn of Manchester City, with reports that Roberto Mancini was about to be taken out round the back of Eastlands by a large man armed with a handgun, duct tape and enough space in the back of his car to fit the body of a diminutive Italian wearing a scarf. However, the billionaires were back to winning ways thanks to two goals from marquee summer signing Super Mario Balotelli at West Brom.

If you believe what you read about Mancini being on borrowed time, this win would have surely bought him some breathing space. However, the pressure could well be right back on if City, minus their Hawthorns match winner following his sending off late in the game, lose this Wednesday in a little match taking place at Eastlands against their penny-pinching neighbours from around the way.

Speaking of whom, Ji-Sung Park's winning goal in the last minute of Fergie time... I mean, stoppage time at home against Wolves could well prove to have huge ramifications given the erratic results of the teams surrounding them this weekend. Manchester United, once again, looked far from convincing, but remain unbeaten and are slowly looking to build up something like momentum. They're turning those early season draws into wins and continue to put pressure on Chelsea above them. You have to believe that the performances will eventually come too and it will be just as important for them to avoid defeat on Wednesday as much as their cross-town rivals.

As I pointed out weeks ago following his hat-trick against Liverpool, the excessive praise dished out to Dimitar Berbatov that day proved to be somewhat premature with the Bulgarian having gone five league games without finding the net before being dropped... sorry, "rested" on Saturday. This doesn't make him shit either, it just means he's probably somewhere halfway between.

A major talking point from Manchester United's win this weekend was the aborted return to action for the lesser-spotted Owen Hargreaves, a player so unfortunate with injury an entire Salford-based hospital is set to be built and named in his honour*. For those that didn't see it, the former England international was withdrawn after just 5 minutes of the game with a hamstring injury. Yes, FIVE MINUTES!! Sir Alex has suggested 'anxiety' may be the cause of the latest set back suggesting that, understandably, there may be some psychological hump that Hargreaves will have to scale if he ever to get back to his best.

On the subject of perpetual injury problems, Arsenal found themselves in a rare position this week when what a good portion of what many believe to be their first team were available for selection. In the past five trophyless years, we've been constantly been led to believe that had Arsenal not been victims of a gypsy curse and hadn't had more players in hospital than available to play then these barren years would have been far more fruitful. The first chance to prove the validity of this claim came against Newcastle at the Emirates and it was a test they failed in spectacular fashion.

Andy Carroll
gave the visitors a shock 1-0 win in a game where the same old problems reared their ugly, ugly heads again. I'm tempted to copy/paste previous statements about goalkeeping problems, failure to perform when Cesc Fabregas isn't 100% and inability to break down any team that actually knows how to defend but these problems are so glaringly obvious they don't really bare repeating.

Arsene Wenger's team is at risk of becoming the most pointless entity in football. Every season it's the same. A top four finish without ever really looking like winning the title and a decent cup run until they come up against someone half decent. Same old tedious story every year. Repeat to fade.

Equally pointless are an Aston Villa team who this season are about as interesting as a three hour lecture on socks by Iain Duncan-Smith. Following a prolonged and patient rebuilding process, Villa were on the brink of reaching the holy grail known as the Champions League just a little over a season ago. Now, in the space of a little under six months, the whole plan seems to have unravelled and they have returned to the level of midtable obscurity that preceded Randy Learner’s takeover some years back. It's hard to lay blame at the feet of new manager Gerard Houllier but this current side are hardly one to get the juices flowing.

This weekend's 1-all draw at Fulham was just about par for the course for a team averaging less than 1 goal a game so far this season with just 10 in 11. Only West Ham (9) and Wigan (8) have scored fewer and both those sides are in the relegation zone. If Villa are not careful, they could easily join them over the coming weeks as they sit a mere three points about the bottom three.

Spurs, the team that eventually achieved what Villa couldn't by breaking into the elusive top four and subsequent Champions League qualification, did their reputation no harm last week after comfortably beating European champions Inter Milan at White Hart Lane. Now, unless you superglued your eyes shut and stuffed your ears with playdough, you wouldn't have failed to notice that the major talking point from the game was Gareth Bale whose the stupendous performance presumably had Inter's right back Maicon on the phone to a victim support helpline after the game, such was the brutality of the public violating he suffered.

Bale's performance had the 'experts' almost literally frothing at the mouth in excitement and declaring, in all seriousness, that the young Welshman is somehow up there with the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi and Drogba as the best in the world. Leaving aside the fact that in both games against Inter he was allowed the freedom of Europe to do his damage thanks to the absence of any attempt to try and stop him, I was interested to see how well Bale was performing back on home soil. His sum total of two goals (both in the same game) and one assist having played every minute of every Tottenham match this campaign would suggest that maybe he's not quite the new Maradona just yet. Talk about people getting ahead of themselves. Best in the world? Have a word with yourself!

Bale and his Tottenham team were on the receiving end of something of a hammering from Bolton which by some folks' twisted logic would mean that Owen Coyle's side are now the best team in Europe.

Final point this week would be to tread on already well trodden ground and talk about Stoke City. The staffordshire club are floundering somewhat in the league and are only outside the bottom three thanks the the abovementioned woeful scoring record of Wigan Athletic. Grandmaster Tony Pulis seems to think that this down to bad refereeing decisions going against them and Dean Whitehead has pointed to Danny Murphy's comments some weeks back, believing they have influenced officials. It's funny that Blackburn and Wolves, also criticised by Murphy, have not faced similar troubles but let's not let that get in the way of Pulis' deflection tactics to stop people noticing how piss poor his team actually are. I seem to remember him criticising other managers for 'moaning' in the past. Nothing like good old fashioned double-standards, eh Tone?

*This may not be true

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Weekend Observations 30th October - 1st November 2010: Part Two

Part One here

When it was decided that Blackpool v West Bromwich Albion was to feature as the Monday night game on Sky, no-one in their right mind could have envisaged that a win for the home side would catapult them into the top half of the table nor would they have guessed that The Baggies would be ruing missing on three points that would have put them into the top four.

An entertaining and eventful game at Bloomfield Road on saw the away team play most the match with 9 men having had Pablo Ibanez and Gonzalo Jara dismissed before the half hour mark. Ian Holloway's men wasted a hatful of chances and almost squandered a 2-0 lead when Yousouf Mulumbu grabbed a late consolation. The most impressive aspect of the game was the willingness of both teams to attack. Blackpool could have easily sat back and kept possession with their two man advantage but still went out trying to score more goals even when winning comfortably. West Brom, although forced to set up with a 4-4-0 formation for over an hour still managed to get forward on enough occasions to make a game of it and were almost rewarded in the dying moments for their endeavour. Both teams ought to be praised for their positive attitude and some of their more pragmatic Premier League counterparts would be wise to sit up and take note.

That final sentence would have been a nice segue into discussion of the dull, scoreless West Midlands derby between Aston Villa and Birmingham City but this sentence is about all I could muster on the game. I’ll quickly move on the admittedly only fractionally more exciting game at the Reebok Stadium where Liverpool beat Bolton 1-0. Interestingly enough, despite their terrible start, should the unexpected happen and the scousers beat Chelsea next week, they could theoretically jump up to as high as fifth. However, watching their unconvincing smash and grab victory at Bolton, I would say that Hodgson's team have very little to be optimistic about. Maxi Rodriguez' 86th minute toe-poke merely glossed over what was another poor performance.

Take out Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard and you would struggle to convince many people that the rest of the Liverpool team are any better than their vanquished opponents on Sunday. Speaking of Torres, don't let the assist fool you, his overall contribution to the game was minimal and his lack of interest couldn’t be more apparent if he ran around with a huge neon sign with flashing text which read: "CANT BE ARSED" on it.

Many fingers have been pointed in many directions at Anfield but let's face it, on the pitch is where the main problems lie and the majority of the personnel in that line-up are just not up to the task of helping Liverpool return to past glories. For the likes of Lucas and Konchesky to name but two, their glaring deficiencies were once more exposed as they faced a team who are probably their equals at this point in time. The end result was a turgid, awful advert for top flight football which would have been just as 'entertaining' if all 22 starting players took a sedative pre-match and kept passing out at random moments during the game until the last man was left standing. Even Jamie Carragher readily admitted after the game that neither side deserved to win and apologised to everyone forced to put up with that drab 90 minutes as he realised we all died a little inside. Ok, maybe I made up the bit about the apology but I will never get that time back and that depresses me somewhat. But I digress, on the evidence of the game, any talk of 'turning the corner' ought to be curtailed until a later date.

What made the game look even worse was the fact that the first televised game on Sunday was the Tyne-Wear derby between Newcastle and Sunderland at the Sportsdirect.com@St. James Park Stadium – to give it its full name – which was a cracker of a game. The Magpies rolled back the years and almost looked something like Kevin Keegan's original entertainers from days of yore. The star man in the 5-1 battering was Kevin Nolan who nabbed himself a hat-trick. The rest of the Newcastle forward line weren't too bad either with Shola Ameobi grabbing a brace and Nolan's court-enforced flatmate Andy Carroll at the heart of everything good the home side did. I imagine they are just like Joey and Chandler from Friends except instead of Manhattan based hi-jinks with various members of the opposite sex, Andy Carroll just assaults them (allegedly). And rather than the all too frequent trips to the same coffee shop, I imagine Andy Carroll just decides to glass people (allegedly) irrespective of the beverage of choice or the establishment he happens to be in.

Without trying to take anything away from a Newcastle side very much deserving of a famous victory, they couldn't have had a bigger helping hand form their arch-rivals who looked about as lively as a bunch of red and white striped barber's poles. I guess that would explain why some of the defending was hair-raisingly tragic! Not to mention their terrible tackling which saw six players booked and Titus Bramble sent off. I alluded to the fact that certain teams seem to be over dependant on their star man and there is no greater example of this than at Sunderland where Darren Bent seems to be the only person who actually knows how to find the back of the net. Naturally, it was the England striker who grabbed the Black Cats' consolation late on.

Lack of goals aside, it's difficult to see what Steve Bruce is actually doing with this Sunderland team. They don't appear to have any sort of football philosophy in their approach nor a discernible style of play. They aren't really defensive nor are they particularly dynamic on the attack. They don't lose a lot but don't win a great many games either. Currently in 12th place, there isn't much to suggest that they won't be hovering in and around this position for the duration of the season.

Mid table obscurity has however, has allowed Sunderland to hold the Northeast bragging rights for the last year or so following the relegations of Newcastle and Middlesbrough in 2009. The Toon have returned and you'd think that after the indignity of playing in the second tier for the self-professed big club, you'd want to try and keep well away from that dreaded relegation trap door.

After all the various controversies, embarrassments, managerial changes and general instability down the years, it would surely be sensible to steer clear of anything that may cause more problems at the club, right? Wrong, Newcastle United FC is apparently the first football team to openly embrace it's masochistic tendencies. When no problems are present, the club will actively seek them out.

Despite sailing to promotion last season and maintaining something of a healthy position in the Premier League to date, Chris Hughton continues to be undermined at every opportunity. The growing speculation about his future has been greeted with silence by the board and the reported delay in offering him a new contract all point to yet more imminent changes at the club. A massive derby win will give Hughton some breathing space but a few dodgy results will be the only excuse Mike Ashley will need before turfing him out and doing something daft like bringing back Sweary Joe.



Arsenal 1-0 West Ham
Blackburn 1-2 Chelsea
Everton 1-0 Stoke City
Fulham 2-0 Wigan
Man Utd 2-0 Spurs
Wolves 2-1 City

Aston Villa 0-0 Birmingham
Bolton 0-1 Liverpool
Newcastle 5-1 Sunderland


Blackpool 2-1 WBA

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Nani State - Weekend Observations 30th October - 1st November 2010: Part One

First major talking point comes, not for the first time, from Old Trafford and another, let's say, favourable example of officiating from which the home side were able to benefit. For anyone that didn't see it, Nani scored United's decisive second goal in the 2-0 win over Tottenham after throwing himself to the ground rather easily, handling the ball deliberately before getting up and putting the ball in the back of the net when the Spurs goalkeeper justifiably believed his side should have been awarded a free kick by Mark Clattenburg.

A crack team of the finest minds on the planet couldn't work out why the Durham official allowed the goal to stand. Firstly, if the ref did not feel Nani deserved a penalty, the Portuguese should have been yellowed (yes, yellowed!) for what in football-speak is known as simulation (diving to you and me). If not, and Clattenburg deemed the tumble to be accidental, there can be no denying that Nani deliberately handled the ball while on the ground. Again, this could have been punished by a yellow card (although a rudimentary google search tells me that a card of either colour is not mandatory for this offence) but at the very least Spurs should have had a free kick. If Clattenburg didn't see the handball as some have suggested, the whole world saw his assistant set him straight. Why did he ignore this advice and gave the goal anyway?

The defence put forward is that Spurs were given the opportunity to play an advantage although I'm left scratching my head as to what 'advantage' there was to be gained when Gomes put the ball down with Nani standing near enough to ultimately score the debatable goal. In truth, Heurelho Gomes made the ultimate schoolboy error by not "playing to the whistle" something you are instructed to do from the very day you lace up your first pair of Gola football boots and regularly toe-punt the ball into no particular direction from a young age. However, was it really unreasonable of the Brazilian to think he deserved a free kick after Nani's deliberate handball? Clattenburg stood shrugging his shoulders. Since when has that been the signal to 'play on'? He should have made it clear that he was allowing an advantage.

As for the culprit himself, unsporting as it may have been, he had no option but to put the ball in the net. As Darren Fletcher so eloquently put, he would have been on the receiving end of a 'bollocking' had he not done so. Modern football is bereft of any sense of fair play that players will get continue to try and steal an advantage wherever they can until they are punished appropriately by the officials; something Clattenburg and his colleagues failed to do in such spectacular fashion on Saturday evening leaving 'Arry rightly peeved. It's also a shame for Nani himself as this moment overshadows what was other a very good performance from him.

There is a perception in the English game that the bigger sides, Manchester United in particular, often get the big decisions go their way and incidents like this do nothing to change that view. What also doesn't help is the fact that Clattenburg sent away all the Spurs players - booking Modric in the process - but allowed Rio Ferdinand to continue to mouth off next to him while conferring with the assistant.

But while Spurs were right to feel hard done by (let's be honest, this isn't
the first dodgy decision to go against them at Old Trafford in recent years... come to think of it, it's something of a regular occurrence) let's not forget they were still 1-0 down at the time and it was very late in the game. Of course, we will never know if they would have managed to grab an equaliser in that time but on the evidence of the game, it didn't look likely. Nani's goal was the difference only between either losing 1-0 or 2-0. Also, it would be unwise to ignore the fact that they themselves have been on the receiving end of favourable decisions so far this season against Stoke and Fulham respectively. C'est la vie. If I knew what people meant when they say 'Swings and Roundabouts' I'm sure I could apply it here too.

The away side had lots of possession but this ultimately failed to translate into any clear cut opportunities against a United side many would have argued beforehand that they had the beating of. Current crowd favourite Rafael van der Vaart has been considered something of a revelation at White Hart Lane thus far with his pant-wettingly impressive performances. Looking a bargain at a mere 8 million quid and already being prematurely touted as signing of the season, many would have thought he would provide to inspiration for a Tottenham team looking to win at Old Trafford for the first time since the Berlin Wall was still standing tall, Nelson Mandela was wearing stripped pyjamas and the B-52s were tearing up the charts inviting us into their "Love Shack" (1989 – simpler times). Unfortunately, 21 years of hurt for Spurs is set to continue for another season as the Dutchman failed to make any impact baring one shot that rattled the post in the first half. One of the most noticeable things about the former Real Madrid man's performance was his instance on trying to do everything by himself and failure to acknowledge better placed team mates. As good as he appears to be, he doesn't strike me as much of a 'team player'. 'Arry gives him license to do as he pleases and while it works against smaller sides, he needs to be less selfish against the better teams if he is to pose the kind of threat expected of him.

Mrs. van der Vaart. Why? WHY NOT!?!?

That's not to say that Tottenham are, or need to be, solely dependant on one player to pull their proverbial strings. One team that may have become guilty of this are United's affluent cross-town neighbours City whose attack, sans Carlos Tevez, can only be described as flaccid. I warned a couple of weeks ago about the need for greater contribution from the rest of Mancini's Millionaires and for all their talent, this hasn't transpired in their two most recent Premier League games culminating in Saturday's shock 2-1 loss against a Wolves side who, for my money,are getting relegated this season.

Dusting off the Big Book o' Clichés, I am compelled to use the expression that a week can be a long time in football. Last Saturday people were talking about Man City being the only team capable of challenging Chelsea. Two defeats later and the same people are now questioning whether Roberto Mancini is up to the job and with rumours of internal conflicts also continuing to surface, it just makes the whole bizarre situation at the club even more surreal. For me, it's damn near impossible to comprehend that a squad bloated with that much talent wont find a way of coping without Tevez, however long the Argentinean is out for. If they manage to secure victory in the forthcoming Manchester derby in a few weeks, those people claiming that the club is in 'crisis' will be backtracking once more.

That said, they now look some way off the Chelsea side they managed to beat a few weeks back. The Blues managed a late 2-1 win against a spirited Blackburn side that actually looked as though they set out to play a game of football rather than their own unique brand of rugby league that Sam Allardyce usually sends them out to pla... oh, can't say that now, can I? Anywho, with the game locked at 1-all in the second half, Rovers had their chances to win it and by right should have inflicted the West Londoners second defeat of the season right there at Ewood Park. Jason Roberts was undoubtedly guilty of squandering the best of these chances, scuffing wide a 1 on 1 when it would have been easier to score... blindfolded! With that kind of finishing, it's no surprise that Roberts has averaged less than one goal every FIVE appearances for Blackburn to date.

Chelsea eventually won the game with a late Blanislav Ivanovic header and remain a fairly comfortable 5 points ahead of the chasing pack. In second place are Arsenal who themselves scrambled an 88th minute Alex Song winner against bottom club West Ham in a game where The Gunners somehow managed to look fairly average in despite damn near total domination of possession. Cesc Fabregas limped around with an achy-breaky hamstring which, going on the usual recovery time of injured Arsenal players, could yet rule him out of some important fixtures once more over the coming weeks. When he's on the pitch and not playing well, it's worrying to see how much this transmits to every other player in Red and White and this was no more evident than on Saturday. Still, 3 points iz 3 points, innit? The Hammers wouldn't have expected much from the game but would also not have been too happy to see wins for fellow relegation candidates Wolves and Liverpool...

Part Two to follow...