Thursday, 6 January 2011

Midweek Observations 4th-5th January - Part One: Managers on the brink

The sack race is on...

Wow! Has there ever been a single round of fixtures that has put so many football managers 'on the brink'? At 10pm on Wednesday night, speculation was rife that anything up to FOUR managers could be getting the boot after some disappointing and shocking results. The metaphorical crosshairs have been aimed at London, Birmingham and to the surprise of literally nobody who has ever even seen a football, Liverpool.

At the time of writing no-one has been handed their pink slip but I very much imagine that none of the four men about to be discussed will have gone to bed after their respective matches and had anything close to a decent night's kip.

The first manager waking up in a cold sweat is Roy Hodgson – a man I and many others have spoken about at length already this season. It's safe to say that 'Woy' was never a popular choice amongst Liverpool fans. His appointment seemed as perplexing as it was unexpected. Despite a wealth of past experience and relative success at Fulham just last season, was Hodgson really expected to transform the fortunes of the scouse sleeping giant? On the contrary, it turns out he is doing nothing more than accelerating their decline. This is by far the worst Liverpool FC have been since I began watching football and things seem to have reached something of a nadir over the last week with the shock defeat to Wolves at Anfield followed by the 3-1 demolition at the hands of Blackburn.

Yes, Liverpool are so bad that they were comprehensively beaten by the current laughing stock of the premier league; a team who can't seem to go a day without embarrassing themselves somehow. This week alone they've tried to shoehorn themselves into transfers they have no realistic chance of ever completing coupled with the fact their chairman genuinely believes watching some football on telly is a sufficient qualification to own a football club. Yes, boys and girls, Liverpool were beaten by this!

What made this defeat all the more remarkable (aside from the fact Benjani grabbed a brace...) was the fact that Hodgson has only ever been sacked from one other job in his entire career. Where was that you ask? That's right, when he was manager of Blackburn. Can't imagine he is too fond of this area of Lancs.

Back in August, Chelsea were riding on the crest of a wave. The rest of the league could only look on in awe as the blues were running rampant up and down the country like some sort of modern day Mongol army with Genghis Carlo at the helm. Such was their dominance, many of us imagined that they would have the title already wrapped up by the stage of the season and would be able to put their feet up as the rest looked on in envy.

But it wasn't meant to be as a freak result at home to Sunderland in November set the wheels in motion for what has become an almighty crisis at The Bridge culminating in Wednesday night's 1-0 humbling at the hands of a Wolves side that began the evening bottom of the league.

Giving Carlo Ancelotti the boot would have been unthinkable three months ago but given the fact Chelsea have only managed 7 points from the last 27 available, dropped from top spot to fifth and are now 9 points behind Manchester United having played a game more, questions will no doubt be asked. Aside from results, performances, both from individuals and as a team have been poor and uncharacteristic mistakes are being made throughout the team.

This result would suggest that the former Milan man cant seen to motivate or inspire this side at the moment and the longer the poor run goes on, the more difficult it will be to turn things around. In theory, a game against a side at the foot of the table would have been ideal to try and get things back on track but such is Chelsea's current state of malaise that even a team featuring Christophe Berra and Kevin Foley couldn't prove to be beatable.

But can you really sack a man who less than a year ago won the club's first ever league and cup double? Well, Roman Abramovich has never been shy in disposing of underperforming managers before despite previous successes as Jose Mourinho and to a lesser extent, Big Phil Scolari will testify. All eyes will be on the mysterious Russian Oligarch to see if he will pull the trigger on the Italian.

Wolves' win lifted them from the foot of the table where they were once again replaced by West Ham. The hapless hammers were annihilated 5-0 by Newcastle at St. James' Park. Much has been made of Avram Grant's 'leadership' so far this season but having lifted himself out of the drop zone for the first time in what seems like decades, some poor deluded fools might have thought West Ham could push on in their fight against the drop.

It wasn't so much the fact that West Ham lost but more the fact they were so emphatically humiliated. When you allow Leon Best, a striker whose goals per game ratio is so underwhelming it would be more effective to have a single block of lego leading the line, to score a hat trick then you know there are serious problems. A recent run of semi-decent form provided a glimmer of hope but the footballing lesson they received in the north east has brought them right back to earth with a bang. There is losing and then there is this; the grim reality of the situation they face if things continue as they are. A truly damaging defeat which could prove to be the last straw as far as Grant is concerned.

West Ham are joined in the drop zone by a side that just two seasons ago almost found themselves playing Champions League football. How times have changed. When Martin O'Neill left in the summer, people expected Aston Villa to return to midtable obscurity. No-one could have imagined they would be embroiled in a relegation battle. Gerrard Houllier was expected to steady the ship but like the captain of the Titantic, he seems to have steered said ship straight into an Iceberg. A 1-0 home defeat to a stunning Phil Bardsley goal for Sunderland has condemned the villains to drop below the dreaded dotted line on many printed versions of the league table.

Admittedly, Houllier been hamstrung by injuries to key players and been forced to field a number of youngsters but quite simply, and at the risk of getting caught in the sticky web of football cliché, with the likes of Young, Agbonlahor, Albrighton and Brad 'Hellboy' Friedel in goal, this Villa team, albeit not the top four challengers of years gone by, is far too good to go down (Yep, I said it!). The former Liverpool boss must be under pressure to stop the rot before the damage becomes irreparable.

While not want to endorse the sacking of any of the above, if messes Lerner, Abramovich, David Squared and whoever is in charge at Liverpool these days were to pick any time to get shot of their respective managers, you'd think that the first week of January would be the ideal time to do so. The transfer window is open allowing any potential incoming replacements the opportunity to make any 'cosmetic' changes needed to get their teams back on track.

You can't imagine there is much surgery needed at Stamford Bridge and Villa Park given the quality of players in both sides relative to their current repective aspirations (title challege and surviving relegation). However, in the cases of Liverpool and West Ham, you imagine they’d be wanting a full scale face lift.

So... who's going first?

Part Two to Follow... maybe

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