Juve return to serie A (5-1 vs Livorno)

August 28, 2007

It was a great start to the season for La Vecchia Signora but it is far too early to be altering realistic expectations of champions league qualification into Scudetto dreams.
Livorno were terrible, lacking bite in the final third and a defender capable of tracking Trezeguet.
 

Iaquinta, despite scoring two goals on his full debut, is irritating. His character is snake-like and for me, as a Juve supporter of 12 years, he is not the kind of player I see as worthy of the shirt. I am sure he will score goals, but he isn’t world class as a footballer or a man. He can make things happen and he does work like a Trojan, but still, he lacks real quality and is a worse diver than super Pippo Inzaghi. I reckon even Inzaghi would have held his hands up and smiled after that second goal which Nedved fired with amazing accuracy off Iaquinta’s legs…But not Iaquinta, who held his hand high in the air as if to thank the Gods for allowing him to produce a moment of such sublime beauty.

Still, 5-1 is a great result. And there are definite reasons to be cheerful…

Chiellini is looking incredible and I am extremely happy that we didn’t sell him. Not only is he uncompromising as a defender but his positioning is competent and he isn’t afraid or lacking the skill to support Nedved up the left flank. In defence, Andrade is looking more comfortable and Criscito, playing next to him in the centre, appears to have considerable potential. With Camoneresi likely to assume the right wing position, perhaps Salihamdzic is best deployed at right back where he looked solid if unspectacular…But with Camoneresi returning to first team action soon, will that mean that Nocerino has to make way??? I hope not, because every team needs a Beast, and Nocerino seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve as well as the obvious tenacity which has helped shape his promising reputation as a cultured hack…

Almiron is finding his feet in the middle and his play and physique, does seem reminiscent of his countryman Veron. While Zanetti was and will always be very tidy, it can not be long before the out of sorts Tiago is bedded into that central position alongside Almiron. We paid a fair amount of money for the Portuguese midfielder and he has proved in the past that he is quality. Just taking time to adjust to the Italian atmosphere.

Nedved continues to impress with boundless energy and astute use of the ball. If this is his last season, we all know he is going to give his all in every match.

Up front, I am so glad that Trezeguet stayed, because he is a World Beater in front of goal. A hatrick on his return to the top flight justifies whatever money was spent to keep him and if he stays fit, he will definitely be a contender for capocannieri. Del Piero still has the flair to prove a thorn in the side of anyone we face, and only his fitness can be of concern. I would say it is in attack where we are lacking depth…Because without Trezeguet and Del Piero we look feeble…Why the hell didn’t we go for Huntellar instead of Iaquinta????? Palladino is pretty, but well off the standard required to be a force at this level.

We do lack a major midfield creative force, but at the same time the Nedved, Almiron, Zanetti (Tiago), Nocerino mix is industrious enough to create chances for the forwards. Defence will be fine and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chiellini and/or Criscito breaking into the Azzurri squad at some point over the coming season.

All in all, a commendable start against a very weak side.

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Champions league: Lille v Manchester United

February 20, 2007

Bad pitch. Hard and balding.

Van De Sar

Neville Vidic Ferdinand Evra

Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs

Larson, Rooney

1T:

4- Neville chopped maliciously. YELLOW Fauverguie…

Vidic firm in the challenge. Impressive strength.

12– Scholes takes down a frog with a crunching two footed lunge…no booking.

Impotent possession from Lille.

15- EVRA Yellow. For losing possession then slashing at the right calf of the luckless Debauchy with a switchblade he had stashed in his jockstrap..

16- Ronaldo fortunate with ricochet, almost twists his way into a shooting position in the box..

Crowd trouble. Police in. United fans.. Batons cracking jaws!!

20-Scholes finds Rooney in the 18 yard area who turns and shoots but hits the ball well over the target…he was been ‘muscled’ to the floor as he shot. Rooney lively.

Evra cross finds Rooney but the striker’s first time shot is mis-hit across the box…

22- Giggs corner>>Silva the Lille keeper, flaps his arms like a butterfly’s wings… but Lille get away with it..

Game suddenly open…waves of United energy flowing towards the Lille goal…

Lille dowse the flickering flames with another bout of impotent, uninspiring possession.

Ronaldo must have forgotten his box of tricks/.

Nicknamed ‘the cleaner’…Lille defensive midfielder, Makoun…

Clever Rooney flicks a ball into the path of strike partner, Larson who wins a corner…

25-corner kick wasted by Giggs…

Rooney dropping deeper into midfield to get involved more in the play…

27- Evra hamstrung by Debauchy…YELLOW (merited, even though this was a revenge attack for Evra’s earlier slash and run routine)

Lille manager Claude Puel looks on with fierce concern.

Vidic grabs Odemwingie…The Lille player needlessly performs an imitation with his hands of a booking…the ref duly obliges YELLOW…Giggsy not happy with the sign language.

Neville sorts out brief moment of danger in box, heading coolly back to van de SAR.

Lille in the ascendancy.

Ronaldo down on the deck after head-butt from behind…there-after he is booed by the fans every time he touches the ball. I don’t like him as a person but on this occasion he had every reason to show a slight touch of irritation and pain given the skull to skull confrontation with his marker…

So far the French have made even Ronaldo seem British in terms of sportsmanship..

34- Evra floored whilst in full flight but ref adjudged the left back to have lost control of the ball before the scissor kick halted his progress by skinning his thighs///

38-Evra concedes a corner through heading a free kick away from his goal.

41– Rooney into the box and heading towards the 6 yard box, he finds Larson whose shot is blocked…ball falls to Ronaldo looking to clean up but his effort also is cleared and the move breaks down…

45- Boomer finds space to get a shot away from 25 yards out, left boot, just past the post…

HT

Both teams have shown attacking intent. Possession of the ball has mainly been at the feet of
Lille but they are less toothsome in attack than their British opponents, United, who have come closest to opening the scoring. Resolute defending from both rearguards is proving the main obstacle to goals and entertainment for the neutral. Though, as a fan who can appreciate Cannavarro viciously brining a player to the floor then emerging from the battle with the ball at his feet and a mischievous grin on his choirboy face, I have been impressed not only with Vidic for United, but also by the central pairing at the back for Lille. Makoun The Cleaner is keeping his home turf relatively spic and span…But with Rooney around, all the efforts geared towards cleanliness could count for nothing. Giggsy has been anonymous. Ronaldo disappointing. Scholes and Carrick too busy blocking the powerful running of the Lille midfield. Neville Mr. dependable…A game depressingly devoid of shots and goalmouth action. Likeliest to break the deadlock??? Undoubtedly Wayne Rooney: Sharp as the teeth of a sabre tooth tiger. With comparable aggression.

2t

49-Ferdinand is thankfully strong enough to steal the ball from Odemwingie, who had raced into the area in an attempt to latch onto a sneaky but effective through ball.

51- Rooney skips past two tackles, drives himself and the ball into the box, shimmies past another player then chips a pass to Giggs at the far post who is inches away from connecting…Wicked Wayne.

54- Rooney puts Ronaldo through on goal. The Portuguese man of war skins the defender and shoots..but his drive is saved; the rebound is collected by Ronaldo who pushed the ball back to Rooney whose shot is unworthy of such a divine boot… 

55-Vidic crumples Odemwingie…subsequent free kick>> weak header easily saved by Van De Sar…

57- Cadabye on for Fauvergue…SUB…(2 defensive midfielders, 3 offensive mid, 2 attackers).

58-Odemwingie puts through Boomer, who steadies himself then tries to poke the ball past Van De Sar who deflects the shot for a corner with his feet. Class save.

59- Vidic lost his footing…boomer hits it wide…Odemwingie had taken a terrible dive prior to the chance.

60- Makoun drive from 20 yards blocked,.

62- Tafferau races down the left wing, crosses…Odemwingie heads home, GOAL disallowed!!! Infringement was pushing Vidic…dubious decision, especially bearing in mind he is a dwarf compared to the Croatian stopper…

Lille turning the screw.

67- Saha on for Ronaldo. SUB.

68- Dummy by Giggs puts Saha in on goal; his shot is well saved, too central.

Dejected Ronaldo, tears streaming down his immaculate face, throws his boot into the ground.

69- Odemwingie cuts in and tries to bend one round the far post…2 yards wide…

Flowing Rooney inspired move results in Larson chipping a left foot shot towards the unguarded top corner, which drifts just over the bar..

75- Ausel on for Odemwingie… SUB

81- Chance at near post spurned by Asserl after pacey cross opened up the space…

83- Giggsy takes free kick quickly. Scores!! 0-1 GOALLL…the welsh-man even took me by surprise, yellow for Silva for reluctance to accept the goal…legitimate and cunning by Rooney, who played a part in the disguise and Giggsy who struck the ball!…Silva was organizing the wall when the ball flew into the net!!!!

84-Lille players coming off the field…they can’t accept the goal. Ref stopping his watch. Debate on sidelines…Ferguson and Quieroz involved but only to wave their players back onto the pitch, awat from the trouble… Neville had been the first United player to remonstrate with the defiant Lille crowd of players and staff…

86- play resumes>??? Indeed it does…to choruses of sour boos from the crowd.

Neville getting pelted with plastic bottles and freshly laid dog shit… Unfazed the proud and some would say stupid Englishman walks a manly stride to kick the rubbish away and gets on with it.

90- 3 mins of stoppage time to be played.

93– Scholes for O Shea SUB

94= Full time. Lille 0-1 Manchester United

Hardly a spectacle of foot-balling brilliance- as is intended by the doctrine of the Champions league- produced by some of Europe’s most talented players, the match was instead a sluggish, niggly performance bereft of real quality and, desired mainly on the natural supporter’s part, panache. On the night it was accuracy and speed of thought which won the game. The decision of Giggs to not only take the free kick with the haste of a man destined for the gallows at dawn, but also his match winning maneuver was coated in a layer of unerring precision.
Lille’s reaction to the goal was despicable. Brazen petulance of this nature by coaching staff and players alike is unprecedented behaviour at this level of the game and as Ferguson remarked after final whistle ‘never seen that..a disgrace is what I have seen tonight..thats not football..it is intimidation to the referee…UEFA will come down strongly, you cant tolerate that…’

Replays show the abortively attempted Lille player walk-off was instigated by a Lille coach who after receiving the ball on the touchlines, picked it up, held it tight to his chest then beckoned his players to leave the field…

‘ive got the ball ad nobody is playing anymore’ is what, through studying the replay and employing lip-reading skills that I developed in ‘Nam, I concluded the Lille coach had said during the very public display of French dishonour.

I am sure that Lille will feel very hard done by, especially given the goal they had disallowed. But replays of the incident have convinced me that there was a push, albeit carrying the force of a rat’s fist striking a hippo’s rear, and with definite contact which could well have contributed to Vidic’s dive into the turf prior to Odemwingie heading the ball home, the referee was justified in ruling the goal invalid.

A great result for United. Deserved, perhaps, on endeavour but the nature of victory and Lille’s inability to act gentlemenly when staring defeat in the face, will be the most talked about aspects of this unintriguing anglo-gallic encounter.

MOM: Makoun. A fearless, fierce and highly competent component of the Lille defensive shield. Unlike his team-mates he emerges from this indecorous encounter with his pride intact.

Makoun…The CLeaner.


The White Pele

January 31, 2007

 

 

Explosive finishing, world class vision, bewildering ball control and an unquenchable thirst for victory: Wayne Rooney is special. More special in fact than any other British player these eyes of mine have had the pleasure of seeing play the beautiful game.

After a period of relative anonymity (10h 37mins without scoring in the league) the young Manchester United forward announced his return to form last Saturday evening in the FA Cup encounter with Portsmouth. Of the two goals Rooney plundered it was the second strike which illustrated exactly why I rate him so highly.

The true greats see the flow of the game much quicker and easier than their inferiors. They know instinctively where the goal is and need only a sniff of a chance to attempt the outrageous. Eric Cantona, Paulo Di Canio, Gianfranco Zola; all amazing players but sadly, from a patriotic perspective, none are British. But now there is Rooney: a gritty young British lad who displays this magical connection with the essence of the game that only the true geniuses possess. His second goal against Portsmouth was magnificent. Instinct and god given talent combined to produce a few seconds of pure brilliance. 30 yards from goal, taking a touch to bring a pass under control, he spotted James a few yards off his line. Without looking up, Rooney moved the ball into the firing line then unleashed a driven chip which floated perfectly into the top corner of the net. It was wonderful to watch and added some long overdue assurance to my suggestion that Wayne Rooney is destined to be one of the best footballers of all time.

Spending his early days developing  his now trademark robustness and red hot competitive streak in the dog eat dog trenches of a tough council estate situated on the outskirts of Liverpool, Rooney’s precocious ability was noticed by an Everton scout when he was only 9 years old. In his last season for the local junior team, Walton FC, he scored a staggering 99 goals. Progression through the ranks at the Everton Academy came swiftly. Having played for the U19 team at 15 years old it was no surprise to those following his divine steps when he went on to make his first team debut at the tender age of 16 in late 2002. Early in the next year he received his first international cap when representing
England in the February 2003 home defeat to the fearsome Australians. Continued success in and around the Everton first team followed, which in turn attracted interest from a number of bigger clubs. After Rooney’s relationship with the Everton supporters became fractured amid attempts by Newcastle to sign him, Alex Ferguson stepped in with a 25m bid which captured the teenager’s signature in August 2004.

Since arriving at Old Trafford and falling under the steely gaze of Ferguson, Rooney has matured both on and off the field of play. But this steady progress was rudely stunted by the metatarsal injury, sustained in a league encounter with Chelsea, which not only ruined our country’s chances and hopes of performing miracles at last year’s World Cup, but also blighted Rooney’s form for the first half of this current premiership campaign.

The boisterous Manchester United front man may now- at this vital stage of the season- be entering a period when his mind, heart and body are gruffly synchronized. And with his team well positioned in the Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League, Rooney could well be the dynamo behind a devastating triple success.

After completing the deal to bring Rooney to Old Trafford in 2004, Ferguson said :“I think we have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years“. Two and a half years on and only the criminally insane could disagree.


Arsenal v Manchester United preview.

January 18, 2007

Since losing 1-0 away to West Ham on 17th December of last year, Manchester United have been back in title form; winning 5 out of their next 6 games, drawing 1, and scoring 16 goals in the process. With only four months of fixtures left to complete Alex Ferguson’s energetic and talented team is well placed to attempt a glorious treble comprising of the Champions League, FA Cup and Premiership.

This Sunday the Red Devils face a stern test of their title credentials when they visit the home of the only team to have left Old Trafford with three points in this current campaign; Arsenal. Back in September when the Gunners exuberantly carved out their path to a deserved 0-1 victory in Manchester, United had not yet found the rhythm or cohesion which they now possess. Since that period Alex Ferguson has steered his young charges into the kind of form which could well see the club claim their first premiership crown for 4 years (02/03 season was their last domestic league success). With nearest rivals Chelsea playing away to Liverpool on Saturday, there is the possibility- albeit a small one considering Liverpool’s recent home form- of Manchester United opening up a 9 point lead at the premiership summit.

Tomasz Kuszczak was one of few United players to come out of the previous encounter with Arsenal with any dignity intact. The sturdy Polak has continued, as the season has progressed, to play a reliable substitute for ace stopper, Edwin van De Sar. And with Rio Ferdinand absorbing and enjoying the presence of Nemanja Vidic, Patrick Evra and Gary Neville providing solidity and support to midfield from the fullback positions, the entire United rearguard merits praise and respect. In midfield the combination of the re-energized dynamo Paul Scholes, flamboyant and increasingly deadly Cristiano Ronaldo and steadily improving anchorman, Michael Carrick; is capable of creating and scoring goals against any opposition. As if that wasn’t enough to strike fear into the hearts of every other Premiership squad, there is also the resurgent Ole Gunner Solskjaer who is someway back to his lethal best, an erudite Swedish 18 yard box assassin named Henrick Larson, and the pacey yet profligate Frenchman, Louis Saha. The only major player I have omitted from that group is none other than the young man on whose broad shoulders rests the hopes of a nation of present and future England supporters; Wayne Rooney. After every United performance in which Rooney appears I am left with a feeling that he remains a millisecond or three away from being the unstoppable force we all know he can and hopefully will be for the majority of his career. He hasn’t been playing badly, not by any measure. Such is his overall class that even an out of sorts Rooney is superior to most his peers. The meeting with Arsenal on this coming Sunday could well provide the perfect platform and occasion for Rooney to re establish himself as an up and coming superstar.

While Alex Ferguson and his players modestly accept the ego warming that the pundits’ plaudits and league position supply, Arsene Wenger and his motley crew of ravenous delinquents are writing their own preface to a new chapter in the club’s silver-laden history.

Sitting in fourth position in the league table, a staggering 15 points off current Premiership leaders Manchester United, the only realistic goal of the Gunners can now be to dislodge and replace
Liverpool in third position before the season ends. The team has been in a transitional phase over the last year with stars such as Reyes, Bergkamp, Cole and Viera all leaving Arsenal for new adventures elsewhere and a group of youngsters arriving in their place. It has taken some time for the newer elements of Arsene Wenger’s squad to gel together and begin producing the kind of football which is needed if trophies and titles are to be won.

The giant Emmanuel Adebayor has filled in remarkably well for the sporadically injured mainstay front man Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie, with ten goals to his name, appears to be fast finding his feet in the English game. Vibrant Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas grows in stature and maturity with every game and his midfield partners of Gilberto Silva, Tomas Rosicky and Alexander Hleb are beginning to resemble a fluid and adventurous unit thoroughly exciting to watch. With Cole defecting to Chelsea, young Frenchman Gabriel Clichy has continued to develop his skills at left back while the ultra dependable Kolo Toure has proved the perfect tutor to the burly figure of Phillipe Senderos in the middle of the back four.

In their last six games, Arsenal have won five, lost one and scored 17 goals.

With Henry back in good shape and once again proving a constant threat when anywhere near the opposition goal, Arsenal will be confident of continuing their recent purple patch with a confidence boosting second victory of the season over their old enemies, Manchester United…


The Red Devils continue their march towards the title…

January 15, 2007

Martin O Neil and his players will be sick of the sight of
Manchester UNITED after Alex Ferguson’s men inflicted their second victory over Villa in a week by stomping them 3-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

 

The Red Devils welcomed Van De Sar, Vidic and Scholes back into the starting line-up while Villa fielded roughly the same team who acquitted themselves so commendably in the 2-1 defeat to United suffered last weekend in the FA Cup.

 

 It was Gary Neville who engineered the first of many opportunities for the home side. The veteran stopper was sent free down the right flank and after looking up and spotting a target he delivered a pacey cross plum onto the head of Larson, whose shot was acrobatically saved by Villa keeper Sorenson. On 11 minutes, United took the lead through Asian dynamo, Park. The attacking midfielder finished well with a right foot drive into the far corner after finding the ball at his feet courtesy of a fortunate ricochet off a defender. Five minutes later Park turned provider. Carrick spread the ball to the Korean on the right wing, then charged forward into the box to collect the return pass before steadying himself and smashing an accurate shot past Sorenson for 2-0.  Unlike the first goal, which must be said was created through luck rather than superior technique, number two for United laid bare for all to see Villa’s defensive inexperience with Carrick allowed to enter the box and shoot largely unhindered.

It was no surprise when the third goal went in such was United’s domination of the game. McCann was caught in possession by the lively Park which sent the ball rolling kindly into Carrick’s path. The midfielder chipped the ball to the far post where none other than December’s player of the month, Ronaldo, was arriving to nod home for 3-0.

Although Agbonlehor grabbed a smart consolation for Villa, when racing into the six yard box to connect with a great pass from Barros, Man U could well have finished the game with several more goals. Saha, Larson and Rooney all went close before the final whistle.

 

With Chelsea demolishing
Wigan with consummate ease and last Sunday’s tightly contested FA cup match fresh in the memory it was important for United to put Villa to the sword as empathically as possible. Which they did with aplomb.

 

Fergie has organized his troops into a cohesive, fluid unit which is not only hard to break down but also -at times- nigh impossible to prevent from scoring. Paul Scholes continues to make every
England supporter lament at his early retirement and his partner in central midfield, Carrick, is slowly adding a more adventurous aspect to his already well rounded bag of tricks.  When they are not supplying chances for the front men, the midfield of Scholes, Carrick, Park and Giggs is more than capable of providing goals through their own steam.

As strange as it is to conclude -given his undeniable talent- Wayne Rooney is the only United player not currently performing near his peak. Against Villa on Saturday Rooney was hardly anonymous but neither was he a constant menace to the opposition goal. One well struck drive, which shook the bar before bouncing clear, was all that the youngster contributed to the 3-1 victory. Still, that feeling remains that he will soon find his killer instinct and with it the goals that will flow like vodka at a Boris Yeltzin birthday party.

 

Other than Rooney’s continued failings in front of goal, the only potentially serious problem for the team is Carrick’s lack of tenacity and grit. The much touted purchase of Bayern Munich and England’s combative Owen Hargreaves would add protection to the defence and allow Scholes to roam forward with more confidence that should he lose the ball there will still be a barrier in place between his midfield and defence strong enough to repel the opposition. Every great team needs an accomplished anchorman.
Italy has the snarl and bite of Gattusso, Arsenal; the elegant and experienced Gilberto, Chelsea; Essien the enforcer. Carrick is not of the same caliber as those players and I doubt he ever could be. Since Keano departed Old Trafford the anchorman role has been attempted by a succession of players, none of whom have come any way near adequately replacing the Irishman. From what I have seen of Hargreaves his presence on the field would make any team he played for stronger and more resilient. And despite his tough tackling reputation, the
Munich midfielder can create chances for others and tuck away the odd scorcher himself.

Chelsea should be thanking the Gods of Football that for now, due in no small part to a broken leg, Hargreaves arrival in
Manchester appears delayed until at earliest the summer break of this year. If or when he does appear in the red of United, the rest of the league beware.

 

 

 

 

 


Curbishley and the Argies…

January 7, 2007

When the Hammers defied all the odds and battled valiantly to beat the runaway league leaders, Man United, only two weeks ago, triumphantly heralding the arrival of the man charged with performing a miraculous rescue mission for the club, Alan Curbishley, an uplifting wind of optimism swept through Upton Park. But only one point from the subsequent three fixtures and the gruesome nature of the humiliating 6-0 defeat at Reading, has left nobody connected with the Hammers, in any way romantically disillusioned as to the seriousness of the current predicament in which West Ham find themselves firmly entrenched. Alan Curbishley was brilliantly successful as manager of the Addicks, a team which ironically he now must view as a fierce enemy upon which he wishes relegation of the most emphatic variety. He kept Charlton in the top league season after season, often threatening to take them into Europe. Through intelligent acquisitions and calm man management, Curbishley achieved commendable success with limited funds. But the arena he has recently entered offers a profoundly different set of circumstances and challenges. With 16 games left to play, his Hammers team are 18th in the table, at best 4 points away from the safety of 17th.

 What caused the horrifyingly sudden decline in the fortunes of the east London club is an issue fast conceding importance to the matter in hand of securing a place in the top flight for next season. I remember watching last season’s FA Cup final from the sun drenched lounge of my Melbourne flat.
Liverpool were exceptionally lucky, and though Gerrard’s first strike was worthy of winning any match I was enthralled by the decidedly British enthusiasm and passion which West Ham displayed. Yes I know they lost, but I couldn’t help but gain respect for both then manager Pardew and the team he had created. The nucleus of that squad remained at Upton Park during the summer break but after that magnificent effort in Cardiff, their form this season has faltered into dangerous territory. Dean Ashton’s long term injury has certainly contributed to the horror and in some unfathomable way so has the arrival of the two Argentine internationals, Tevez and Mascherano. Both of the South Americans starred for their country at the 2006 world cup, and both players have since been coveted by a handful of top European clubs. Still, partly due to the Hammer’s decent showing in the league and FA Cup, the decision of the Argies to sign for West Ham, at the time, seemed almost conceivable and a logical step forward for the club. Imagine the hearts of all the Upton Park faithful filling with pride derived from the news that their long served club was now of such global prestige that two of the up and coming stars of the world game were coming to town. Neither Argentine has since played much football for West Ham. And the exact circumstances of their contracts have been kept unusually clandestine which has fuelled rumours hinting at financial irregularities in the transfers and criminal agent meddling. The crux of the matter is that critics have suggested Tevez and Mascherano have come to West Ham solely in order to be seen by a wider audience, generate interest in both themselves and their club, then command huge transfer fees in order to move onto clubs who are of a greater stature thus making a handsome profit for West Ham and agents. A common story perhaps in modern football where the $ is fast replacing passion and loyalty. No need to dwell on the issue other than to reiterate that neither player has been given the chance by Pardew formerly or Curbishley currently, to show what they can do. And two players who have both been individually praised by the demi god of football himself, Diego Maradona, should be given the chance to show what they can do. In an Argentine team that forces Lionel Messi and Hernan Crespo to sit on the bench and watch from the sidelines, Mascherano and Tevez were mainstays. They must be incorporated into the first team if West Ham are to claw their way out of the miserable bottom three. If they aren’t to be used then Curbs should sell them both to any of the still very willing suitors, pocket the cash then invest it wisely on a few quality players who are up for the fight.


Premiership New Year Report

January 1, 2007

Table above taken 31/12/2006

The leading pack

Despite increased investment in players and coaching staff, those teams closest last season to challenging
Chelsea for the title have once again all but fallen by the wayside. All except Manchester United. Mourinho’s major signings of last Summer have so far proven to be ,at best, in need of a longer settling in period. The previously world class Ballack has been depressingly mediocre in the Chelsea midfield with Lampard consistently out-shining the German national team Captain. Shevchenko, the 30 million pound man from AC Milan, could turn out to be the most disastrous waste of money in the history of football. The Ukrainian hit man has taken to the premiership as woefully as a polar bear stranded in the Sahara desert. Kalou the costly teenage striker, appears energetic but hardly of the quality required to be successful in the Premiership. And with Robben sporadically in and out of the treatment room, the majority of the team’s goal scoring responsibilities have fallen to Didier Drogba, who has, this season, really found his footing in the English top flight. At the turn of the year, the Ivorian leads the top scorers chart with 20 goals to his name and his contribution to Chelsea’s season can not be under appreciated. Were it not for him, the team could be closer to Bolton (in 3rd) than the runaway leaders
Man U.  After two years spent hanging on to the cashmere coat tails of Chelsea, Manchester United seem to have, this season, found the formula to wrestle back control of the crown that no team has worn as regularly since it’s conception; The Premiership.
Ferguson has eruditely constructed a team of youthful exuberance, world class talent, experience and hunger for success. Vidic has seamlessly slotted into the defensive blockade alongside Rio Ferdinand and with Neville maintaining praise-worthy form at right back, Heinz increasingly dependable on the left and the elfin Van De Sar producing the most consistent goalkeeping security the team has witnessed since the Schmeichel era, the United rear-guard has been immense. Carrick, while lacking the bite and growl of Keano, has gradually found comfort in the anchorman role. His passing range and accuracy combined with threatening forages forward is winning over the Old Trafford faithful. It will be interesting to see what happens if Hargreaves finally arrives at United; because with Scholes seemingly back to his best I would guess Carrick would be the one to drop down. Saying that, I have no doubt that Hargreaves would dramatically enhance the United squad. He is an English Gattusso, which, coming from me- an ardent fan of the Italian General-is praise indeed. I would love to see him playing in the Premiership, but I doubt Carrick would feel the same! But back to the story of the current league leaders. As mentioned Scholes, having fully recovered from the injuries which have plagued him over the last 18 months, has been arguably the best midfielder in this country. His goals, assists and wonderful to watch tenacity, have added power to the heartbeat of United. Giggsy has also been performing at a high level but it is the opposite winger, Ronaldo, who has shone the brightest of them all. After the Portuguese player’s very public controversy with team-mate Rooney at this year’s world cup, I wasn’t sure how the two of them would thereafter be able to play together in the same team. But Fergie knows how to adopt the paternal role and the elderly Scot knows better than to allow two of the most promising youngsters in the world game to part company. Ronaldo has been scintillating, bewildering audiences week in week out with high speed garrincha-esque dribbling skills which now lead more often to spectacular goals. It has taken a while to see Rooney reach anywhere near the rhythm which makes him one of the deadliest strikers ever born into this galaxy, but his contribution to the fortunes of his club have been growing month by month in terms of explosiveness and vitality. His speed of thought is still second to none and when his shooting boots really become alight with flames- which has yet to happen this season- the rest of the league beware. Saha and Solskjaer have provided adequate supporting roles to the leading protagonists behind the charge which has propelled Man U six points clear at the top of the league.
Up there, but no where near the top…

Bolton should be congratulated for their ultra solid first half of the campaign and if they can keep their star players fit, the team could well achieve a highly coveted champions league place in May. Anelka, Diouf, Nolan and Jaskelannan have provided a column of strength through the centre of the Allardyce’s first team and with Campo, Davies and Speed offering reliable consistency, Bolton have developed into a seriously hard to beat or contain, premiership outfit. Arsenal have in my opinion prospered from the absence of Henry, due to a mixture of fatigue and injuries, with the responsibility for winning games falling onto the shoulders of the players who are usually in the shade whilst King Henry soaks up the limelight. The defence isn’t amazing but there is much youth and promise with Ebou in particular impressive as a marauding, violent, right back. Hleb and Rosicky are fast adjusting to the English game and Spanish youngster Fabregas is showing signs of turning into a midfielder of platinum worth. The gangly figure of Adebayor, together with Van Persie, has stepped up their game in order to fill the void left by their French talisman with the young but always entertaining Walcott delivering several sterling cameo roles. Theo must be one of the quickest players in the league; faster than a leopard with an eagle eye for the goal. However, the gelling of the team has been sporadic, and at times, the Gunners have been disturbingly well beaten. On the other hand, they create so many chances with their mixture of high speed passing and movement that when they play well, their opponents seem likely to suffer a heavy defeat. Work to do for Wenger, with this team showing encouraging signs of becoming once again a major threat to the top two.

Liverpool hasn’t made any improvements on their form of the last few seasons. Benitez spends millions more than any previous Anfield boss yet isn’t able to make any progress in building a bridge from
Liverpool to the territory where Man U and Chelsea are battling it out to the death for the top honours.

Well this report is shaping up already far more lengthy than I had hoped for, so I will skip the middle of the road teams and head straight towards the foot of the table…

AT rock bottom we find Watford who deserve to be there having managed only one victory up until now. Ade Boothyrod always comes across as an honourable man bossing a respectable club, but his team especially after the cruel injury suffered by ex Gillingham great, Marlon King, have struggled to offer any sharpness in attack and have in turn failed to convert many evenly contested, in terms of spirit and work rate, games into victories. Unless they sign a proven goal scorer in the January transfer window
Watford are going down. How strange to see Curbishley return to football to manage the hopelessly struggling Hammers whilst the man he replaced, Alan Pardew, arrives at Charlton in a quest to save them from the relegation that looms ever larger on the horizon. Both these teams are in great need of a charismatic leader to lift their spirits and reinvigorate their play with fresh ideas and iron. I think Pardew has the easier task of the two due to his larger than life passion for the game and horrifying lack of luck over the last 4 months. It seems criminal to me that Tevez isn’t playing regularly for West Ham, and Mascherano, but from what I understand; one or both may be sold in the January transfer window. If either  Charlton or Westh Ham are to survive, then who will take their positions in the bottom three???


Southgate’s first season as a premiership manager may well end in heartbreak unless Yakubu and Viduka start scoring regularly. Those strikers could save Boro’s season. Sheffield United look the most susceptible out of the Blackburn/Wigan/Blades group but realistically those currently at the bottom seem destined to stay there due to a combination of lack of quality and too much ground to make up on teams who possess far more talented squads.

Awards:

Team of the season- Manchester United. OAP Ferguson looking well placed to reclaim the title.

Player of the season- Ronaldo. As much as I despise him for his petulance and irritating vanity the Portuguese winger has looked like the most dangerous player on the pitch in every game he has played.

Best Manager- Steve Coppell. His Reading team are sitting pretty in the top half of the table to the dismay of many experts who had predicted their downfall.

 

Predictions for the top:

1.Manchester United

2. Chelsea

3. Arsenal

Predictions for the bottom:

18. Boro

19. West Ham

20. Watford

 

Expect to see more of this look as the season progresses.