Premier Class…

1 04 2010

Whilst sitting here fuming that the plumber which visited this morning to simply tighten a pipe has somehow managed to remove any hot water from anywhere other than the kitchen, I thought I would do what I promised a few days ago and write a blog on the Premier League and my expectations for the last few matches.

Lets start at the top. Chelsea will win it, Man Utd will come second and Arsenal third. I don’t like the idea of Chelsea winning it particularly, but they simply seem to have the legs whereas Man Utd and Arsenal seem reliant upon inspiration from individuals. The injuries to Rooney and Fabregas severely hamper their respective teams and their title challenges. Arsenal have no-one to suitably replace Fabregas, and the nearest pretender, Ramsey, is crocked for the long term too. For United, the loss of Rooney is a big blow, and whilst Berbatov has shown recently that he is good enough to replace Rooney, there are, for me, question marks as to whether he can provide as much inspiration and clinical finishing that Rooney does. Man Utd do not need a player to drift in and out of matches like Berbatov does, instead they need players to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and win them. Berbatov only does this in part.

For me Chelsea are looking like they are getting stronger, and with no European competition to worry them, the league becomes the priority. Add to this the bonus that their key men (of which, unlike their rivals there is more than one) are not getting injured in Europe but instead are getting stronger and better, and the only conclusion is that they will regain the title.

In the race for fourth, I still think Liverpool will just about get there. The two-man team that is currently the Anfield side is showing signs of significant improvement, and looking at their remaining fixtures, it is, realistically, only the penultimate game of the season which they should lose. All the rest are matches they need to, and should, win if they want that fourth spot. Compare this with Man City who still have to play Man Utd, Arsenal, Villa and Spurs. Or Spurs themselves who have Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd, as well as City. Villa, for me are slipping away, and are out of contention altogether for a fourth placed spot. I just think that the Liverpool bandwagon is finally gathering some momentum this season, and given the return to form of Gerrard, and the return to fitness of Torres, I wouldn’t bet against them coming fourth and winning the Europa League.

And so to the bottom, where it increasingly seems like two from three will accompany Portsmouth into the Championship. Strangely it is not Hull or Burnley for who I fear, but the increasingly agitated West Ham. In-fighting and, today,  out-fighting, are blighting the club in its attempts to stay in the league. The sounds coming out of the board-room, and from the manager make it seem like the club is struggling behind the scenes, and the remaining fixtures seem to suggest that it could be hard for Zola’s men to pick up many (if any) more points. Wigan and Sunderland are their best hopes, although a Fulham team distracted by the Europa League may also play into their hands. However, if they need points on the last day of the season, then a trip to Man City (who may still be fighting for fourth) is the last thing Zola would want.

As for Burnley, the match against Hull in a couple of weeks is vital for their chances, but three games against top-six opposition may render that result meaningless. Add to that an away trip to St Andrews, and you fear for their chances of picking up anything more than five points. Which may be enough, but it seems unlikely. This would leave them on 29 points.

On paper, Hull have a slightly easier run in, but have no ‘dead certs’. Most of their matches are against teams in the top half of the table, and whilst they may fancy themselves to pick up some points, I cannot see it being more than three or four. If this is the case, Hull would finish with 31 points.

This would mean West Ham would need roughly five more points to stay up, but looking at their fixtures, I’m not confident. It may even come down to goal-difference which decides who stays up. Either way though, West Ham look like they are in trouble.

Of the teams above them, I’m delighted to think that my team, Wolves, as well as Bolton and Wigan are all but safe from relegation. The recent spell of four games unbeaten has done wonders for the Wolves team, and whilst realistically we cannot expect that to continue against Arsenal on Saturday, it has launched us clear of the drop zone, with a bit of a cushion. If we add that together with the healthy goal difference advantage we have over Wigan, then things are looking up.

So, whilst I think the “big-four” monopoly over the Premier League will continue for now, it will not be without one hell of a fight. And the outlook for Portsmouth is bleak, certain relegation, financial collapse, and players looking disillusioned with the club mean that the tunnel for them seems very dark and very long. For Burnley or Hull relegation would not be the end of things, I think that their respective promotions came perhaps too early for the club, and the financial windfall provided should see them build and develop as football clubs as well as teams. Relegation could be a problem for West Ham, without the Premier League’s cash, and with a rush of key players likely to leave, as well as the manager, the tunnel is likewise pretty dark for them too. However I think it’s significantly shorter for them, and some sound investment over the next few years and I think they would be back stronger if they got relegated.

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Accountability…

7 05 2009

This weeks Champions League semi-finals, traditionally two of the most engaging matches in the season, have been overshadowed by two very poor referees performances which ruined the ties.

On Tuesday Manchester United overcame Arsenal with consumate ease at the Emirates stadium. Yet it could have been so different had the referee, Roberto Rosetti, not awarded a series of free-kicks for very small offences. Indeed, the cheap free-kick that Ronaldo won to score Manchester United’s second goal on the night, should not have been given. Through the course of the night he was poor and was not consistant in anything other than his own incompetence.

As if Tuesday wasn’t bad enough, Wednesday was worse. The scenes at the end of the Chelsea-Barcelona tie were disgraceful, yes, but understandable too. Now I dislike Chelsea and the way the club has destroyed football. That said, they had every right to be aggrieved as the referee, Norweigan Tom Ovrebo, missed at least three clear penalty claims for Chelsea.

The consequence of the lack of decisions have been depicted on the back pages of every newspaper across the country. The words of Didier Drogba have reverberated around sporting websites and sporting commentators. The anger of Michael Ballack, the frustration of Guus Hiddink and the disappointment of Frank Lampard have all been recited by the press. There is one person we haven’t heard from though. That of Ovrebo. Apparently he has been told by UEFA not to make any press comments, something which is sure to fan the flames more than it dampens them.

I have written about this before, but referees need to be made accountable. At the moment the thing that frustrates the fans and players more than the decisions made is that the referees do not seem to be accountable for the decisions? Any punishment that comes the referee’s way is negligable and out of the view of the public. Referee’s get away with poor performances as they do not have to publically account for their decisions. Yes, UEFA will probably stop him refereeing any further matches in the Champions League, but that is too little to cover the loss of the match on which so much rested.

Drogba himself will undoubtedly be punished for his words, and it is likely that Ballack will also face UEFA scrutiny. The players are not allowed to speak about the referees without fear of punishment, and this is wrong. If other players can be criticised by opposing players and managers, why can referees not? It causes so many problems, and many could be aided should referees simply be made accountable for their decisions. If they were to give interviews after the match as managers do, perhaps many of their decisions can be explained in public, rather than the private report they submit to the respective authority.





Football Thoughts…

19 04 2009

It’s been a busy week for football this week. As I’m now sat watching the second FA Cup semi-final instead of finishing an essay, I thought I would do at least some writing.

Yesterday’s semi-final between Arsenal and Chelsea was an interesting tie. Won late on by Didier Drogba, the tie was played in the shadow of the Hillsborough tragedy (of which I have previously written), with presentations made to members of the Hillsborough families. The teams were meant to play wearing black armbands as a sign of respect. Yet Arsenal played the first half armband-less. Which was a point of criticism undoubtedly. Until Chelsea came out in the second half, without their armbands. They did, it appears, somehow jump onto the Arsenal players arms at half-time. This seems both bizarre, and slightly disrespectful. Was there only one set of black armbands at Wembley yesterday? I had always thought that the armbands were little more than black tape, so why would there need to be ‘proper’ bands? Did the FA simply forget the second set of bands? Whatever way you look at it, only having one set of armbands is distinctly unprofessional from the FA, and two teams could have simply made do with the traditional tape, as opposed to apparently sharing the armbands.

Secondly, briefly, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the next Manchester United manager will be David Moyes, who, to my mind, has many of the same traits as Sir Alex Ferguson, and who has proven himself consistantly with hardly any money at a high standard.

Finally, I cannot finish a football related blog on this day without mentioning the success of my own team. Wolverhampton Wanderers have been promoted to the Premier League two games before the season ends. Barring any freak results, they will go up as Championship Champions too. It has been a roller-coaster season, our autumn was brilliant, our winter less so. Our spring has been necessarily strong, and our summer will be exciting. Sitting atop the league since October, Wolves have proven themselves to be the best team, scoring the most goals and having the league’s top scorer in our ranks. Congratulations to Wolves, and here’s hoping for a solid season next term!





Stamford Surprise…

9 02 2009

The surprising dismissal of Luis Felipe Scolari from Chesea this afternoon has revealed much about the nature of the beast. Having courted the Brazillian for so long, it seems counter-logical for Chelsea to sack him at the point the going gets tough. Yet they did. Or rather Abramovich did. Yes, it is true, the Russian owner of Chelsea has had his final, definitive say in the matter.

For Abramovich, sitting fourth in the league is simply not good enough, especially as Chelsea seem so far off the boil they are practically frozen. The fortress that was Stamford Bridge is now little more than a hiderance to players already suffering from a crisis in confidence. So many key players are not performing to the same standard they were a couple of years ago. Drogba is unhappy, Deco is wayward, Terry looks less than composed, Joe Cole is off colour, and try as he might, Frank Lampard cannot continue to carry the team as he has done in recent times. And the reason for all this, is, according to Abramovich, Scolari. The big Brazillian’s first attempt at club management for a long time has imploded spectacularly, despite it being easy to suggest that he was not given a fair stab at things.

For Abramovich, Chelsea remains his plaything. It is true that he does care about the club, and wants success, but he feels that, as owner, it is his call on the major decisions. He forced Mourinho out last season, in what was probably his biggest mistake to date. He sacked Grant and Scolari for little more than a few poor results (Grant had only lost in the Champions League final and finished second to Manchester United). Neither were given a fair crack of the whip. Chelsea were the first rich-mans-plaything in this era of increased wealth from foreign climes. They are still considered the blueprint for league success, and have upped the stakes for other clubs. Suddenly it became hard to compete with them in financial terms, so teams had to find other ways of gaining the upper hand. United succeeded, and there are signs Liverpool have done too. Chelsea’s transfer policy of signing the big-name older players has done for Scolari. Youth is the way forward, yet it was a factor ignored by the previous three managers. Sir Alex Ferguson has often talked about his current team playing together for another ten years at the highest level. That is a sign of his youth policy working. Most of Chelsea’s first team are 30 or over, and it shows. Aston Villa, another team who have invested largely in youth players, have claimed third ahead of the Blues.

Scolari, then, was sacked for two reasons. Firstly, most of his key players are alarmingly off-form. As manager it is his job to correct this element. But, more importantly, I would suggest Scolari has paid the price for a transfer policy which is clearly not of his own making. In this regard I feel sorry for him.





This Was the Week That Was…

21 09 2008

In a busy week for news, I am going to offer my brief thoughts on various issues which deserve to be looked at more thoroughly than I am prepared to do at this point.

First up is the increasing dissent within the Labour party ranks. Whilst those at BULS remain unwilling to discuss this growing concern, and those at the Labour party conference batting it away like an annoying mosquito, I firmly believe that there can be no doubt that all is not well within the party. We are bombarded with different stories of various backbench MP’s calling for Brown’s head. The arguement for keeping Brown is simple, there is no-one better. This is not an endorsement of his abilities (which he has himself defended today), more an observation about the potential of the other options. What, therefore, this boils down to is, he is the best of a bad bunch.

Another argument to keep him runs along the lines of: “We are in a difficult economic period. He has the experience to deal with such problems.” Whilst this is obviously true, there are a couple of issues I have with this naturally defensive statement. Firstly, that it should not be read as a pro-Brown stance, instead it should be read more as a “need-for-stability” stance (the two are subtlely different). Secondly, I don’t buy it anyway because, whilst he does have the experience, perhaps the need for fresh thinking is upon us. This one man has run the rule over Britain’s economy for the best part of a decade, some new thoughts and a new approach may be worth the punt.

Anyway, that’s enough about the Labour party’s problems. My next issue is with football.

Obviously I have already written about Manchester City and the huge investment they have received. My issue is with people who therefore make them ‘favourites’ to break into the so-called ‘big four’.  not this season I’m afraid. Yes, they have money. Yes, they have signed Robinho. No, this doesn’t mean they will claim anything above fifth for me. Robinho will make a difference, but he cannot, by himself, drag City into the upper echelons of the league. Essentially they have the same squad of players they had before the money came in, and will do so until at least the new year. By which time, they will be out of the running for the title, and be struggling to stick with whichever team is in fourth. Ryan Giggs is one of the few people I have heard talk sensibly about this, when he maintained the same thing to Sky Sports.

Next, as we know the season is but a month old, and the FA’s ‘Respect’ Campaign has received wide publicity, for all the right reasons. There seemed to be more respect to officials from players and staff and vice versa. However the cracks were there, as David Moyes was sent to the stands for explaining to the fourth official why his team should have been given a penalty as Leon Cort handled the ball in the box. He was right, the officials were wrong, yet they dismissed him anyway, and now he faces an FA charge. However, the death of the campaign came today as Manchester United travelled to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea. It was not the final score (a thrilling 1-1 draw by all accounts) but the nature of Man Utd’s play which was the final straw to break the proverbial camel’s back. They picked up seven yellow cards. The club automatically receives a fine for six yellows, so there was something amiss at the Bridge. The cards, for a variety of things, ultimately, I beleive, shows that the Respect Campaign is failing just weeks into the season, as the Champions cannot, and have not, given the campaign itself the respect it deserves.

Finally, I would just like to point out that the mighty Wolves are top of the Championship pile, and now three points clear of Birmingham City. The team are scoring goals for fun, and are really looking good. Obviously there is a long way to go, and injuries and suspensions will play a big part in the campaign, but the initial signs are encouraging. They are one of only two teams in the league who haven’t lost yet (the other being Cardiff), and have many fans dreaming of next May already.





The Big Sheik Up…

4 09 2008

This week has been one of the most unbelievable in footballing terms for a long long time. As new owners aquired Manchester City on Monday, they immediately agreed to fund bids for various players worth around the £30million mark. On Monday, long time Chelski target Robinho was the first arrival at what has quickly become known as “Middle Eastlands”. He arrived for £32.5million. Other offers for players such as Berbatov and Torres were soon made known too (Torres was apparently subject to a £50million offer). The new owners have quickly upset footballing circles, circles based in tradition and history.

As they plan to revolutionise football, I am left wondering quite what the appeal of Manchester City is. Yes, they have a brand new stadium (one less thing to worry about – look at the mess Liverpool are in with regard their prospective stadium), and some very good youngsters, but aside from that, were City really going anywhere? They got a new owner just a year ago, but Dr Thakshin’s dodgy finances have meant he has quickly reliquished power to the oil-rich buyers from Dubai. It is easy to forget, but City were in the Championship (or Division 1) as recently as 2002. There are more established clubs in the Premiership to pick from (Everton are crying out for investment as Moyes has struggled to finance players this summer). Manchester City just seems such an odd choice. I don’t get what the appeal is.

Then there is the knock-on effect this will have on the club. As I already mentioned, Manchester City have one of the most promising youth set-ups in the country. They have already brought through players such as Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards and Michael Johnson. There are others who have immense potential too. What will happen to this policy (of which I am in favour) once the best players in the world are brought to the club for stupid amounts of money? Will they be forced out to find other clubs? I think they will be left with little choice.

Then there is the manager. Mark Hughes (of whom I am a huge fan) is one of the best young managers in the league. But if he fails to match his employers ambitions with silverware, he too surely will be on his way, to be replaced with someone with more managerial clout (Jose Mourinho is still hot footballing property, don’t bet against a return to England for the self appointed “special one”). The best players, after all, need the best manager.

There is a short-term nature to this. If the man at the helm fails (as happens – Mourinho couldn’t deliver the Champions League despite huge financial backing) then they will be sacked. It’s a simple formula really, but one which is potentially very disruptive both to the players and to the fans. I have always maintained football clubs need consistancy, but this formula does not allow for a manager building a team, and a squad. It gives him a short-term goal of ultimate success, but nothing more permanent. In the long-term, this will put prospective managers off the job, simply because they are more realistic than the prospective employers.

So there are exciting times ahead for City, yes, but there is also a feeling of suspicion on my behalf. The Chelsea revolution has stalled, despite appearances, Manchester United have shown that money doesn’t necessarily buy success (compared to Chelsea they spent little – until signing Berbatov for £30million – this summer). City fans will be hoping that the same thing doesn’t happen at Eastlands. I fear it might, to the detriment of football as a whole.

There is much more I could add with regard to the huge sums of money involved in the game now, but that’s a different point for a different time.