Thursday, 26 May 2011

Premier League (All-inclusive) Team of the Season 2010-2011

Anyone who reads this blog more than once without wanting to take legal action against me for stealing away valuable minutes of their lives, will know my previous reservations about the PFA and their decision to toss out awards to players long before the season's end. As such, I waited until the conclusion of the 2010/2011 Premier League campaign before doing similar.

What follows is the definitive Premier League team of the season. But rather than just select the best XI, I've decided to make things interesting restricting the selection to only ONE player per team. You might want to ask why to which I would simply respond that this is my blog therefore my rules. Deal with it.

Edwin Van der Sar (Manchester United)
Lauded like some sort of evergreen tree not simply because of his size but also his longevity. The 40-year old Dutchman has hardly had a vintage season (admittedly, there are probably more deserving players from the pool of talent at Old Trafford) but is an easy choice as standout stopper in the sense that there hasn’t been much in the way of competition from other keepers this term.

Blanislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
Again, an absolute dearth of outstanding right backs in the league meant I’ve had to opt for the physically domineering Serb meaning his Chelsea chum Ashley Cole misses out on the left back spot. Not to say he isn’t deserving in his own right. His 'don't fuck with me' stare and general disregard for anyone else on the pitch (teammates included) have made him one the very few consistent performers at The Bridge this season.

Leighton Baines (Everton)
How many players have the same initials as their position? Baines has had a fine season for a much improved Everton side. Like many modern multifunctional full backs, contributes to much of his side’s attacks as well as being a half decent defender. Got a lethal free kick on him too.

Kompany (Manchester City)
The Man City man has stood out as the best defender (yes, better than Vidic!) in the league this season and for all City players that could make the cut, he gets the nod for me. It's easy to piss money on attackers but finding a solid consistent defender is where the real skill lies. Get's extra props for having to carry Joleon Lescott for most of the season too.

Hangeland (Fulham)
Big bad Brede is a typical no frills centre half. Physically commanding, reads the game brilliantly for the most part but also provides a real threat – as in frightens the life out of his opposite number – when getting forward for set pieces. Everyone loves a goal-scoring defender.

Scott Parker (West Ham)
Rightfully the winner of the Football writer's award this year. The only reason West Ham's relegation wasn't confirmed sooner.

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Unquestionably the breakthrough player of the season, there’s nothing new about young players starring in the first team at Arsenal but eyebrows have been raised by the fact that for once, the player happens to be English. At the almost infant age of 19 little Jack has also this season managed to earn his way into the England first team while still desperately being coveted by the U21s.

Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur)
A more technically gifted player and more consistent over more of the season than certain more talked about Tottenham teammates. If he could add goals to his game, would be arguably one of the best players in the country.

Charlie Adam (Blackpool)
Looks like a builder but plays with the grace of a figure skater and has a left foot more practical than most people's hands. A stocky reminder that you don’t need to be 5’4” and built like a flea to be a fleet-footed and skilful. Gives hope to salad dodgers up and down the country. Should no doubt be a Premier League player next season despite Blackpool’s relegation.

Ashley Young (Aston Villa)
A full back's worst nightmare. Frightening pace and a wicked delivery. Not enough old fashioned out and out wingers these days.

Peter Odemwinge (West Brom)
Straight shootout between him and Asamoah Gyan. The latter's injury means the Nigerian beats the Ghanaian (standard). As has been pointed out elsewhere, cost less and scored more goals for a far more inferior team than supposed “signing of the season” Hernandez.


Formation: 4-3-3.


Ben Foster

Jose Enrique

Robert Huth


Christopher Samba


Stuart Holden

Charles N'Zogbia


Dirk Kuyt


Steven Fletcher


Asamoah Gyan


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Monday, 23 May 2011

Ch-Hell-sea, City-ing Pretty and Beck of the Net - Weekend Observations - 22nd May 2011

After all the fun and games of the relegation battle, other final day stories sort of took on far less significance. Do I give mention to the team who actually took the trophy home? Well, having secured the title a week before, I'm going to say no. Besides, aside from vomiting at the fact Johnny Evans and Darron Gibson picked up winners medals, what more is there to say? We've all seen them lift the trophy more than enough times down the years, the whole thing has become boring.

And I mean REEEEALLY boring...

As I planned to write this here blog (yes, some form of planning actually goes into this crap!) I was going to mention the fact that Chelsea's meek surrender in the title race and generally abject end to the season had gone relatively unnoticed and unreported. That was until the whispers about Carlo Ancelotti's future suddenly became so loud they managed to perforate the collective eardrum of the entire population of Kensington when Roman Abramovich actually went ahead and pulled the trigger - as is his wont and a major problem for the club - on the luckless Italian for having the gall to finish 2nd after winning the double in his debut season just last year. Useless so and so! At least he has time to go to the Flower Show this week.

Carlo's P45 followed The Blues' 1-0 defeat at Everton meaning third placed Manchester City's 2-0 win at Bolton capped what has been an impressive season for the... er, lighter shade of Blue(s) as they finished level on points with the West Londoners. The cash rich citizens' win also meant that Arsenal finished a lowly fourth in a season that promised oh so much at one stage. The last few weeks - a surprise win over the champions aside - have seen the North Londoners in freefall. A limp 2-2 draw at Fulham just about summed up their wretched second half of the season showing. The gunners went in needing to win to have any chance of catching City but the result at Craven Cottage was telling as Wenger's team weren't even capable achieving the bare minimum required of them on the day. A few more games and I am certain they would have missed out on Europe altogether so maybe they ought to actually be grateful for fourth...

The only shining light at the Emirates seems to the continued excellent form of Robin van Persie whose record 9th consecutive goal in away Premier League games and 18th overall this season makes you wonder what might be IF he can stay fit for a whole season and IF his manager decides to bring in some decent players to play alongside him.

Arch rivals Tottenham arrested their own recent rot with a 2-1 home win (finally) that of course sent Birmingham down while securing 5th place and Europa league qualification much to the dismay of 'arry and most people inside White Hart Lane. Having tasted the sumptuous delights of the Champions League banquet for the first time, you can't imagine they'll be too pleased to drop back into Europe's secondary competition – the equivalent of eating a cold service station Ginsters slice in a lay-by off the M25.

I know I've been down on the tiresome predictability of the Premier League for much of this season but,  I have to say that the final day made realise exactly why we still continue to watch and love this game oh so much. Has one round of fixtures produced so many top quality goals? I can't be bothered to check so instead I will doth my cap to [deep breath] Roman Pavlyuchenko, Craig Gardner, Brett Emerton, Junior Hoilett, Stephen Hunt, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Stephane Sessegnon who were all seemingly trying to compete in their own goal of the week/month/season competition.

Special praise however goes to a man I have often suggested offers about as much of a goalscroring threat as a stroke victim. Step forward Jermaine Beckford who went all Leo Messi on us as he drove through the Chelsea team with a run from deep in his own half before a cheeky dink over Petr Cech to score a goal of such quality, it would have surely run Rooney close for strike of the season had it not already been decided prior to that last day. Well played that man. Still won't convince me he's any better, mind.


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Dead Pool and Striking a Brum note - Relegation Day - May 22nd 2011

I'm really starting to grow tired of Sky and the unnecessary propaganda surrounding all their 'Super Duper Sunday Football extravaganza' parties. Time and time again the actual event quite simply fails to live to expectation. Just this past weekend, 'Survival Sunday' promised tension, excitement and the most dramatic end to a Premier League season in recent memory but like all other 'Grand Slam' and 'Feast of Football' Sundays, it once again failed to deliver.

Hang about, that's not right at all!

That actually turned out to be quite a lot fun didn't it? For anyone lucky enough to have a subscription to the Sports channels and no girlfriend forcing them into taking walks at Kew Gardens because "it's such a nice day", you were able to witness all the drama promised and more and the relegation battle swung back and forth some 14 times over 90 minutes like some sort of ADHD suffering pendulum. After West Ham were condemned last Sunday, five teams were looking to avoid the final two relegation spots. When all was said and done, it would Blackpool and Birmingham sucked into the Championship vortex while Blackburn, Wolves and Wigan were able to keep their heads above water in a flurry of mixed metaphors and convoluted similes.

The neutrals choice, the breath of fresh air and recipients other such patronising plaudits Blackpool went as they came, attacking until the bitter end. Not many gave them a prayer at Old Trafford but for a brief moment as they went 2-1 up against the new champions, Ian Holloway and his tangerine army were in dreamland. Unfortunately, defender Ian Evatt had what qualified doctors would call 'a mare' as he picked the worst possible day to play like a some kind of limpet washed up on the shore of the town's own Pleasure Beach. Already at fault for his side's first goal conceded that day, things went completely pear-shaped as a moment of madness saw him turn the ball past his own keeper to give United the lead in the second half. The reds then cruised to a 4-2 win and this loveable Blackpool team was down and out. It's easy to sympathise with the hapless defender but I'm not sure how much pity he deserves. Yes, he made a mistake but it was a fairly stupid mistake(s) to make. If that's the standard of Blackpool's defence – the 78 goals they conceded in the league would suggest that it is – then maybe the Championship is the place for them after all.

I'll admit it was refreshing to see a team come up and not adopt what a lot of people would call the 'Stoke City' approach but in fairness, the Staffordshire side's philosophy has established them as a Premier League side. The contrasting fortunes of the two teams harks back to the age-old football debate about whether it is better to play well and lose or win ugly. An interesting footnote to Blackpool's Premier League adventure could see them rewarded with a place in the Europa League qualifiers by virtue of the fair play league [Decision Pending].

If Blackpool are given the place, they will join Carling Cup winners and fellow relegatees Birmingham City who lost 2-1 to Roman Pavlyuchenko at White Hart Lane. In contrast to Ian Holloway's team, Alex McLeish's men paid the price for being too conservative. The Blues were not adventurous enough in what was in effect a must win match. Playing for a draw was a dangerous game and in the end it proved costly. By the time they started to commit, they were already a goal down, a more positive approach did yield a fine equaliser from Craig Gardner but it was too late and they were punished further at the death.

So it's Championship football next year but despite this, surely Brum fans will still view this season as a success having secured their first trophy in some 40 years? The Carling Cup win IS consolation as is the prospect of European football next season. Something that may well prove useful for raising their profile but then again could have a damaging effect on any promotion hopes. Time will tell.

Staying up in dramatic fashion are Wigan Athletic who not only looked dead and buried for most of the afternoon but for a good solid chunk of the season too. Just one week earlier, they were 2-0 down at half time against West Ham and their survival chances looked slimmer than Kate Moss in a Vietnamese POW camp. A fantastic comeback that day and a valuable late 1-0 win at Stoke this week means yet another season of top flight football for the Roberto Martinez and his team.

The latics rode their luck harder than a champion jockey at Kempton for much of the game and despite big Hugo Rodallega getting the decisive goal, their real match winner on the day was Ali Al Habsi. The keeper made a number of vital saves to keep them in the game at 0-0 and will surely be rewarded with some kind of pie or whatever it the people of Wigan give out for such feats of gallantry.

Over at Molineux, Blackburn secured their safety by beating Wolves 3-2. However, the latter also stayed up by the skin of their teeth thanks to results elsewhere. On their awful first half showing alone, Mick McCarthy's men probably deserved go down more than anybody and as it is, ought to be grateful for the ineptitude of others for their continued existence as Premier League side. You'd like to think that Big Mick sent a bouquet of flowers and a huge thank you card to a certain Ian Evatt.

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

City High - FA Cup Final 2011

Yaya Toure. Transfer Fee: 24 million quid; Reported salary: 200 thousand English pounds a week; Scoring the winning goal to deliver your new club's first piece of silverware for 35 years: Priceless!

After their win over Manchester United in the semi final, Blue Moon was belted out in full voice at Wembley again yesterday as Manchester City delighted their fans with a 1-0 win over Stoke City securing the final domestic trophy of the season. This follows Birmingham's Carling Cup win in February and City's arch rivals United confirming their 19th league title just two hours prior.

On that note, how daft a decision was it by the authorities to schedule league fixtures on the same day as the cup final? The double success for the City of Manchester has been lauded in some quarters but you can't help but feel each achievement manages to overshadow that of the other. Still I imagine it would have been a great night out around Castlefield, Deansgate and the like...

The Eastlands club have been ridiculed for a number of years by their more blinged up crosstown neighbours with reds fans going so far as to display a banner at old Trafford taking the piss out of City's long barren spell. Toure's rocket couldn't have done any more to make sure that banner comes down if he marched over to Salford and yanked it down himself.

Having also secured Champions League qualification for the first time ever just last week, you'd have to say there have been worse weeks for the Blues. Even if they lost yesterday, the season could still be considered a success. Commiserations go out to their vanquished opponents in Stoke City who clearly went to Wembley as underdogs and probably had the backing of many so-called 'neutrals' beforehand (Can you really be neutral if you are wanting one of the two teams to win?).

The game itself was not a classic but with rare exceptions, it was par for the course in an FA Cup final. The sense of occasion and the build up almost always outweighs the quality of the game. A fact summed up by Tony Pulis' transformation from a smart dignified suit beforehand to his cheap, comical tracksuit and baseball cap combo by kick off.

Of course, the lack of excitement was to be expected given the reputations of both teams. It has been suggested that at times this season Man City's tactics couldn't have been more conservative if they were managed by Margret Thatcher and it's generally accepted that pretty football is about as out of place at The Britannia Stadium as Malcolm X at a Ku Klux Klan rally. If this were a fairy tale, it wouldn't be so much Beauty and the Beast, more Beast and the Beast.

In fairness, City have had their moments this season and with Carlos Tevez back in their line up, they were always likely to play with a greater sense of attacking urgency. Even the much maligned Stoke had recently starting playing a more expansive game deploying explosive wingers Matthew Ethrington and Jermaine Pennant with great effect.

City quite clearly lined up with a far superior team and for 45 minutes it showed. They controlled possession and created the better... sorry, ONLY real chances in the first half. For all the above criticism, Tevez injects life into their play and it will be a shame if rumours of him leaving are true.

Stoke, after recent good performances - in the semi final rout of Bolton and the win over Arsenal last week to name but two - unfortunately reverted to type and took a life-sappingly negative approach. At no point before half time did they have less than 9 men behind the ball. Pulis' men played the long game and seemed content to wait for set-pieces and throws as their only means of actually trying to win the game. All of which the City defence were able to absorb.

That said, Ethrington was clearly struggling after his recent injury and once Pennant picked up an ankle knock their chances became slimmer than Kate Middleton on a hunger strike.

For all their possession, City found themselves unable to break down Stoke. The red and white wall was standing firmer than a man asked to partake in a threesome with Eva Mendes and Mila Kunis. They did manage to force their way through once or twice but were limited. Super Mario Balotelli's great strike was denied by an even better Thomas Sorensen save and later, David Silva volleyed into the ground and the ball bounced up over the bar. The Potters were dire but managed to keep it level til the break.

The Second half saw Stoke improve. They began to keep the ball better and actually make the game something of a contest. Kenwyne Jones had a great chance to give them the lead following a fine pass from Ethrington but Jo Hart in the City goal was equal to it. This was Ethrington's only significant contribution before being subbed and only makes you wonder how different things might have been if he was fully fit.

City were still being frustrated by Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shawcross in particular but kept plugging away until they were rewarded on 74 minutes when that man Yaya Toure continued the theme of Africans scoring at the new Wembley (Brappp!).

Manchester City v Stoke City by geuzehead

In five FA Cup finals since the ground was reopened four years ago, Didier Drogba (2007, 2009, 2010), Kanu (2008) and now Toure have all found the net.

All three have also scored in semi finals and if you add Obafemi Martins and Drogba's exploits in Carling Cup finals this year and in 2008 respectively then you have to say Northwest London is becoming a home away from home for brothers from the motherland - take THAT France!

The Blues then retained possession until a few hairy moments at the end when Stoke won a succession of corners but held on for richly deserved win.

There's a lot of animosity directed at City for the way their rich Arab owners have been flashing the cash. Of course, jealously and hypocrisy have played a part. They aren't the only club with rich owners who have 'bought' success and let's face it, whoever you support, you wouldn't be remotely outraged if it were your team in a similar position.

City have always been a likable team and have had many sympathisers due in part to the vast shared dislike of United but also because they were seen as 'loveable losers'. Now that they are serious contenders, the bitterness has spread like Californian wildfires. Was there so much hate when were scraping around in the old Division Two a little over a decade ago?

Personally, I'm indifferent to the club but glad to see a 'new' team win a trophy. Moreso, I'm pleased for Roberto Mancini. The press have undermined him with all too frequent speculation about his job as well as unfairly criticising him and his tactics at every turn. You couldn't open a newspaper or click on a sport website this season without another name being touted for the Eastlands dugout. Credit to him for getting on with his job and succeeding in both reaching the top four and winning a trophy as a kicker. Well done, sir.

What of Stoke? In truth, does anyone outside Staffordshire really care? Harsh maybe but it's almost better to give such a frank assessment than to go with the patronising line that they should have enjoyed their 'big day out'. The better side won on the day so there is no room for sympathy or sentiment although it is lazy to say that it was some sort of victory against Stoke's 'attrition' football given how City themselves have played on occasion this campaign. Besides there is no 'right' way to play and Stoke's methods have established them as a Premier League side after their own previous 'lows'.

What next for the upwardly mobile Mancs though? More big money, big name summer signings? Title push next season? The Champion's League? World domination??? Now that they've got that winning feeling, you'd think they will only go from strength to strength. Ominous signs for the rest of us...

Man of the Match: Yaya Toure

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Thursday, 5 May 2011

All Eyes on Wembley

I make few apologies for the lack of input in recent weeks. What has ultimately boiled down to yet another tedious two horse race between Chelsea and Manchester United has killed my Premier League mojo. Even as I tried to get my juices flowing about the relegation battle, it soon became abundantly clear that it wouldn't matter which three of the bottom seven went down as no side has made a convincing enough case for exactly why they deserve the privilege of going through the exact same struggle for survival next season.

Further afield, most of the European Leagues have all but been decided. I mused about the possibility of Napoli putting up some kind of fight in Italy but of course since singing their praises they have collapsed like house of cards in Japanese earthquake and allowed AC Milan to stroll towards their 18th Scudetti crown.

The last major honour to be decided this season before a long, welcome summer break filled with repetitive, improbable and often inconceivable transfer rumour rubbish is of course the European Cup (Am I still obliged to refer to it as the Champions League despite the fact the 'league' format of the competition was completed before Christmas??).

This year's final takes place on my doorstep here in London. Well, not literally of course. Among other things, I live on a hill. Totally impractical for playing football. UEFA's showpiece event will be at national embarrassment Wembley Stadium and will be contested by Manchester United and Barcelona. The latter looking to win the thing for the third time in six years while the reds have now reached three of the last 4 finals (winning one and losing one of the previous two). This match is also a repeat the 2009 final in Rome. Who says football is boring and repetitive???

United's road to Wembley has hardly been the most challenging. Looking at their group, it would have actually been more difficult NOT to qualify given they were up against Rangers and Bursaspor. Valencia were supposed to provide some competition for top spot but failed to do so. In the first knockout round, Sir Alex Ferguson's side made short work of Marseille and dispatched of Chelsea in the quarters. While not strictly an 'easy' run, United would have expected to beat everyone they faced and it's clear that they steered clear of far more testing ties against genuine European heavyweights (Sit down Chelsea).

In the semis United turned over a Schalke side who I genuinely believe would struggle to beat a lot of Championship teams. The Germans' presence in the final four of this competition was like the time you snuck into the VIP section of a club before being told that minimum spend on drinks was £100 but all you had was a scrunched up twenty in the back pocket of your cheap jeans. Comfortably the poorest semi finalist in the competition probably ever.

That said, you can only beat what is put in front of you and beat them they did. Salford's finests entire campaign saw just two draws, an impressive zero goals conceded on the road and remarkably, from their 6 games away from Old Trafford, 5 wins - as many as they've managed in 17 Premier League games so far this season.

Barca also helped provide a strong argument in favour of ditching the group stages altogether as they were faced with the all too minor inconveniences that were FC Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos. After naturally cruising through unbeaten, the Catalans made it past Arsenal despite a first leg loss before ruthlessly sending Shaktar Donestk on their way.

Then came their controversial semi final first leg that will ultimately be remembered for whinging, petulance and the worst acts of cheating you would find this side of a Premier League footballer's Super-injunction. And that was just from the Mourinho's post match presser. The game itself, affectionately referred to as the 'Battle of the Bernabeu' turned out to be the worst thing Spain has given to the world since Gazpacho (seriously, cold soup?).

Rather than marveling at a wonderful football match against two of the best teams in the game right now, we're instead left scratching our heads wondering what is so wrong with Sergio Busquets' face that he needs to hold it every time an opposition player so much as farts within 20 yards of him. Barca were not the only culprits however, the cynical nature in which Real Madrid went out to stop them from playing must not be ignored. Dani Alves was universally condemned for his reaction that resulted in Pepe's red card but as far as I am concerned, if the Portuguese international goes flying into a challenge with his studs raised so high then it is completely understandable that he receives his marching orders no matter how minimal the contact.

In the midst of all the diving and play-acting, people seemed to forget that this Barca team is the best club side in the last few decades bar none. People have forgotten how much joy they can bring with their football and decided to solely focus on the nasty side of their game. Thankfully, Lionel Messi was able to rise above the nonsense and net a brace including yet another jaw-dropingly outstanding goal to remind us just why he is considered the world's best player.

Barca's 2-0 win in the capital rendered the 2nd leg almost redundant but the 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou did suggest that things may have been oh so different had Madrid not been so negative with their tactics at home. Something for United to consider on May 28th. Although, it will take more than simply adopting a 'positive' approach to beat Pep Guardiola's team....

(Yes, this video is like porn to me...)

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