Posts Tagged ‘Premiership’

Football

How Norwich can hurt Arsenal – plan B

By Stefano on April 12th, 2013

Amongst Paul Lambert’s chopping and changing last season, Grant Holt was one of the few constant features of the Norwich City side that finished comfortably mid-table in their first campaign back in the Premier League. His rise through the divisions was remarkable ­ League Two, League One, Championship and Premier League in four consecutive campaigns ­ and with 15 goals in his debut season, some suggested he’d be a decent ‘Plan B’ for England.
After a transfer request and a quick U-turn, Holt laughed off suggestions he wouldn’t be as motivated, having secured a new contract in the summer. But while Norwich haven’t quite experienced ‘second season syndrome’, Holt has.

Just five league goals is a significant drop from last season, with his all-round game also less impressive under Chris Hughton than under Lambert. Since Holt missed a late minute penalty against Southampton last month, Hughton has dropped him to the bench, favouring loanee Kei Kamara as the lone striker. The Sierra Leonean is accustomed to playing on the wings from his time in MLS, and is more of an all-rounder than Holt, able to work the channels on the break.

This will be particularly useful away at Arsenal this weekend, where Norwich will play on the counter-attack. Kamara will hope to pull Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, who hasn’t played for a few weeks, out of position before spinning in behind.

Holt has become used to life as a supersub; his last three Premier League appearances have been from the bench, with his frustration at his reduced role summed up by the fact he’s been cautioned in all three substitute appearances. At the Emirates this weekend he’s likely to be a Plan B. No-one is calling for an England call-up these days.

This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans.

Article originally published here.

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Football

Five reasons why Arsenal fans shouldn’t be too down today

By Stefano on March 4th, 2013

Losing to Spurs is never easy and to be honest it is not something  that Arsenal fans have had to endure too may times in the Wenger era. And yes it does open up a seven point gap between the Gunners and their north London rivals. But if Spurs fans can hear the Fat Lady singing they are mistaken, she hasn’t even started clearing her throat yet.

Besides there are a few positives that Arsenal fans can dwell on this morning

1 Arsenal didn’t really deserve to lose – I think many neutrals would have said that a fair result was a draw. Apart from the minutes of madness in the first half the Gunners played well and were in control of significant parts of the game. In the moments before the goal they looked comfortable and in the second half, after the Mertessacker goal, if they had scored again they would have looked the better bet to win. Admittedly while they created fewer chances they actually had more possession  than Spurs. Ultimately the key Arsenal players had average games  - Walcott, Cazorla and Wilshere – and they will be put in better performances this season.

2 There are still 10 games to go – And if you look at the run in of the three London team the Arsenal one is the easiest of the three  Besides, Chelsea and Spurs have to play each other, so if the Gunners can get a run of wins they will make up some points automatically  Tottenham’s next few games includes trips to a newly rampant Liverpool, cup winners Swansea and Stamford Bridge. They also have two more tricky home games in Everton and Man City. They finish with what on looks like three winnable games, but by then it could be a lot closer. It has happened before…

3 Yesterday heaped more pressure on Arsene Wenger – In the short term this is not a bad thing for Arsenal. He will drive the players with renewed vigour. In the long term it underlines the folly of sticking with a squad that at best can achieve fourth place, when you have huge cash reserves in the bank. Even if Arsenal did qualify for the Champions League this season the pressure for change at the club - highlighted by the alleged offer yesterday – will be huge. There is clearly a mess that needs sorting.

4 Even if the nightmare happens – And Arsenal finish fifth for the first summer in a long time there is very unlikely to be any core Arsenal players leaving  the squad. Wilshere and Walcott are going nowhere. The only question mark could be over Cazorla, and that seems very unlikely.

5 Ramsey played well - On the positive side Aaron Ramsey had a good game and is showing that he is nearing the kind of form that won him a regular first team start. Ok, I am clutching at straws now…



Football

A Champions League games in England ‘was fixed.’ Which team was involved in that game?

By Stefano on February 4th, 2013

In case you haven’t heard yet shocking news from the BBC and others. Apparently a Champions League game in England has been implicated in a huge European match fixing investigation. Europol, who are the European Police agency, have fingered more than 380 dodgy games including a CL one played in England.

Admittedly most of the investigations are nothing to do with Premiership clubs. The biggest links appear to be between Asian betting syndicates and German clubs. However the Champions League accusation will send shock waves throughout the British footballing community.

As of yet we know nothing of the details. The BBC has this

Asked specifically about the allegations surrounding the Champions League tie held in England, Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, declined to identify the match because of “ongoing judicial proceedings”.

However he did say it happened in the last three to four years, adding: “The focus has been on other countries, not the United Kingdom. However we were surprised by the scale generally of the criminal enterprise and just how widespread it was.

“It would be naive and complacent of those in the UK to think such a criminal conspiracy does not involve the English game and all the football in Europe.”

However only six English teams have played Champions league games in the lasts few seasons: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea.

Also there’s no implication that an English club were involved in direct bribery. It could merely be that one of their opponents received a bribe and that the English team knew nothing of it.

Anyhow cast your mind back. Which Champions League games in the last few years struck you as a bit odd and why and let us know in the comments.



Football

Arsenal begin talks to sign Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

By Stefano on December 19th, 2012

We have already had one Arsenal signing (well in the minds of the Zambian FA) yesterday and now it appears that Arsene Wenger is now going after another one – the big one.

Schalke’s potent Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is, according to The Times (no link because it is a subscription only paper), beginning formal talks with the Gunners who are mulling over his demands for a £100,000-a-week salary along with a three-year contract. Huntelaar has just six months left on his contract with Schalke.

Huntelaar would in many ways be a perfect buy for Arsenal. He is a proven, consistent goalscorer with poaching instincts that mark him out as one of the best in Europe. The player’s aggressive and powerful approach also marks him out as ideal for The Premiership and in many ways it is a surprise that it has taken him so long to consider the English league.

Huntelaar scored goals for fun at Ajax before having had a torrid time in both Milan and Madrid. His record at Schalke however, averaging more than a goal every two games, has once again made him a target for top European clubs. He also played a key role for Schalke in their victory over Arsenal in the Champions League.

If Huntelaar does sign one key question is how does this impact on the future of Theo Walcott? The England player is adamant that he wants to be considered as a striker and performed well in that role on Monday night’s win over Reading. Then again Arsenal have been perilously short of firepower upfront, and with Huntelaar, Walcott and Giroud all able to lead the line they would boast some serious attacking options.

Interestingly Huntelaar has scored more goals for Holland than his rival Robin Van Persie even though they have made roughly the same number of starts.

Arsenal have lost many of their transfer targets recently with Chelsea in particular snatching Hazard, Cahill and Mata – three of Wenger’s key prospects. So might Chelsea, or another Premierhsip club, scupper the deal? Only time will tell.



Football

Will Chelsea fans ever love Rafa Benitez? Or are has Roman marked his cards already?

By Stefano on November 25th, 2012

Rafa is in for a rough ride says Simon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do?

With his scruffy little beard and penchant for cheap-looking nylon leisurewear, the multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich doesn’t exactly cut the image of a prototypical James Bond villain.

He may not (to my knowledge) possess a white Persian cat, which he strokes for camp and menacing effect, but like 007′s nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Abramovich is clearly capable of dispatching underlings whenever the whim takes him.

So here we are again. Another November, another dip in form, and another Chelsea manager looking for work. Roberto Di Matteo took a decent and dignified stride in his brief managerial tenure at Stamford Bridge. But from the moment he was euphemistically installed as “interim first team coach” he knew he wasn’t exactly the anointed one. He may even have been another ‘dead man walking’, as Victim No.1, Claudio Ranieri, referred to himself.

Go back two managers, which in Chelsea years means to last March, and Abramovich had grown impatient with his bizarre gamble – football’s very own Charlie Buckett, Andreas Villas-Boas – and in looking for a replacement was desperate for Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola. But with the 41-year-old Catalan making clear he was, at season’s end, taking a year’s sabbatical in New York with his family, the unemployed Rafa Benitez was being fitted up for a temporary spell in the manager’s chair.

But when Benitez threw one of his customary hissy fits at the prospect of being a mere seat warmer, Abramovich had no option but to install, quickly, the popular old boy, Di Matteo. The club’s history of appointing from within has not always gone well: Ruud Gullitt and Gianluca Vialli both fell foul of Ken Bates over money, while Ray Wilkins felt the sharp end of Abramovich’s sword for, it would appear, looking at the Russian the wrong way.

Di Matteo – a club hero still for scoring the fastest FA Cup Final goal after 47 seconds of the 1997 final – had been AVB’s assistant, fulfilling a role similar to that Wilkins had been employed for at Carlo Ancelotti’s side – a link to the club’s history for both fans and players.

But in being condescendingly titled Interim First Team Coach, it was clear that Di Matteo was only installed by default.

How embarrassing, then, that he should go on and end Chelsea’s desperate hunt for the European Cup, land yet another FA Cup trophy at the same time, and galvanise a fractured dressing room.

Perhaps Chelsea had to accept a moral obligation to give Di Matteo the job full-time after all that. Drop him then and Chelsea’s reputation for lousy manager management would have made the club toxic for anyone else to become interested – least of all, Pep Guardiola.

Abramovich had been making overtures to Guardiola again in the run up to Di Matteo’s sacking. But this obsession with landing him is turning the Russian into the greatest stalker since Max Cady came after Sam Bowden and his family. And he’s done it before: so the story goes, Abramovich fell in love with football by watching AC Milan, and set about buying the club. With that not possible, he set about recreating the club by buying Chelsea and installing Andrei Schevchenko, the rossoneri’s star striker, while trying to lure Carlo Ancelotti as coach,

He didn’t, but then he got Jose Mourinho, and that didn’t work out too badly. Or, at least, until Chelsea’s results started to go “in the wrong direction”, the self-same excuse given for firing Di Matteo. Like Mourinho, Di Matteo delivered silverware and good times for the club. But as soon as things started to cool off – i.e. results went against them – they were summarily fired by the itchiest trigger finger since Dirty Harry.

Abramovich, then, has a totally unrealistic level of expectation. But he also appears to lack strong leadership and footballing advice around him. There’s a reason why Manchester United are the most successful football club in history – it’s because they’ve had the same manager for 25 years, who has built, invested and reinvested in consistency and excellence. Personally I loathe the old Scottish git, Alex Ferguson, but you could never knock his record, or indeed his club’s ongoing support for him.

For Chelsea, eight managers in as many years is not only inconsistent, it’s an embarassment. We want success and we’ve had success. We want our club to be led by a dynamic manager whom we can get behind. We had that in Mourinho, we had that in Guus Hiddink, we had that in Ancelotti and we could have had that in Di Matteo.

But, from now until the end of this season (and, it is claimed, with an extension to next season if “mutually acceptable”), Chelsea will be managed by the most divisive managerial appointment it would have been possible to appoint: Benitez.

You may, already, sense some antagonism towards Benitez. That’s because many Chelsea fans consider him a tactical fool, more interested in defensive formations and squad rotation than anywhere near the attractive, free-flowing attacking football Abramovich himself is said to desire.

It’s also because he spent an inordinate amount of time as Liverpool manager winding up Chelsea fans and, especially, Mourinho, and then behaving like an emotionally challenged teenager whenever things went wrong. He’s been out of work for two years, with only a short spell at Internazionale since leaving Liverpool. That speaks volumes.

Abramovich has, at times, treated Chelsea like a plaything. When he’s pumped more than £1 billion into the club since 2004, that’s his prerogative. But you wonder whether he has always had the best advice. Did the club really need a physically crocked Andrei Schevchenko, or a mentally and physically crocked Fernando Torres, each for vastly inflated transfer fees and equally inflated wages?

The problem is impulsiveness and impatience. If Roman wants a bigger yacht, he orders it. Bigger mansion? He knocks through the rest of the street. This has been the ‘see it, want it’ nature of his ownership of Chelsea (which isn’t that dissimilar to the way many Premier League players splash the cash around). More than just an oligarch, like some emperor acquiring lands at will, he has made some ridiculously rash decisions at Chelsea.

Benitez is going to have to endure six months of indifference and hostility from Chelsea fans. Even after Di Matteo had been appointed in March, Chelsea fans still let it be known at Di Matteo’s first home game in charge that Benitez wasn’t and would never be welcome. And so here he is, like the frog in Peter Gabriel’s song Kiss That Frog “all puffed up, wanna be your king”.

At any other club, the sort of success Di Matteo brought in just 167 days in charge would have had his name emblazoned above a new stand at the stadium. But not at Chelsea. This is a club which, for all you or I know, may have fired Benitez before he’s even begun, and hired – and fired – his replacement.

Benitez has a rough ride ahead of him. Even if he does well, he’ll be out on his ear as soon as you know it. Pep Guardiola knows it too. Just as Ancelotti was the coveted one, once, there is no life expectancy at Chelsea. And if he has any sense, Guardiola would give Chelsea one almighty swerve.

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Accessories, Sport

Brandish Christmas List #2 Savile Rogue Cashmere Football Scarves

By Stefano on November 12th, 2012

I have always found it surprising that football clubs haven’t cottoned on to the fact that not all of their fans want to be seen wearing cheap and rather nasty clothes and accessories. There’s clearly a whole group of fans who want to show their colours but wouldn’t be seen dead sporting the usual branded clobber that their team churns out.

The brilliantly named Savile Rogue think so too. For over five years now they have been offering classic football scarves in very fetching, and rather luxurious cashmere. As it states on their website there are fewer worst things in life than scratchy nylon scarves! For obvious reasons the scarves aren’t sporting the club’s crests, but given the state of some clubs – this one springs to mind - this is no bad thing.

Serious fashion heads should note that the cashmere comes from goats in Mongolia and is then shipped to a mill in Scotland.

The company has scarves for most of the Premiership clubs in both home and away colours with prices starting at £43.95

Just about to arrive are leather gloves in lamb leather, insulated fleece-lining and 100% cashmere wool cuffs. And you read that right, you can operate your iPhone to check up on your rivals scores without having to take them off. They will retail for around £64.95.




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