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Has Wenger Lost It?
31st March 2007 and 1st/2nd April
If Liverpool showed how champions put away teams when on top Chelsea and Man United asserted champions do the things Liverpool do not. Chelsea were held by an ultimately futile effort from a Watford with next to nothing to play for 93 minutes but got as many points as Liverpool's home romp. Man United facing a seemingly tough and organised Blackburn and with their supposed star missing 4 or 5 gilt edged one on one efforts still managed to batter Blackburn from 1 down. Domination like that normally costs money and involves lots of leather. One almost felt sorry for Hughes boys except Mark Hughes was whining after their UEFA exit at time wasting tactics and yet seemed oddly silent on his own team trying it on. If he stops whining and gurning he could be a top manager - White Noise.
I cannot resist re-stating my point on the Kid Wayne. Yeah he missed chances but we want strikers getting in position without fear. He also by playing closer to goal created some confusion that gave Scholes the starting yard (although the next 8 were pure Ginger Prince). He also played the line like an Owen with speed and power left and it was his break that led to the third goal as the defender handled to stop him getting it. He also in being tackled led indirectly to the 4th. The point being Rooney 40 yards from goal faces two lines of players and if he is tackled the ball does not ricochet to anyone in place to do damage. Yes unless he picks up soon he is not destined for the top 50 in the world but he is a good player deployed as a front striker - he just does not score or create enough dropped off, shoots enough possession into the crowd although not like Rio, the cunt [Rio], to be of much value. His big game record stinks mind and that is another doubt for me.
Man City enjoyed another pleasant trip to the North East and it is increasingly a case that maybe the team you do not want to play are those with something to play for. Like Boro Newcastle have seemingly decided they will aim for mediocrity next year. Speaking of Boro they managed to lose to West Ham to further distance Southgate from the Warnock christmas list. Indeed with Wigan narrowly losing it is game on and some team above will be happy to get 3 points soon. Even Villa will cherish denting Everton's Euro hopes as they now only have 5 points over Charlton.
Spurs are coming and it will be interesting to see how they choke it away this year. Bolton are struggling and only a great strike by TWSI Favourite Kevin Davies (KD) stopped them dropping 2 to the Blades. Everton cannot quite match Spurs power to win consecutive games. I would still argue that Spurs have largely under performed and should be challenging to at least pressure Arsenal. This lose make yourself under dog and come through may take the pressure off but it does not consistently win big prizes.
Finally Fulham and Portsmouth both have had successful seasons if they avoided the drop but Portsmouth would dearly have liked to hold on for 3 against 10.5 men and stayed closer to the UEFA 'race'. The fact the limping half man scores really rubbed the salt home.
31st March 2007
Before I get too self indulgent Liverpool showed once again that when they can force the early opening they often go on to win nicely. No other teams is the first goal more important than for Liverpool and Arsenal. OK it is big in every game but Chelsea and Man U manage it more often and Chelsea in particular are in Goal Difference terms not a great deal better than Liverpool.
Arsenal for all the compliments and their ability against weaker or more scratch teams in the cups are just not that good. They are weak at the back in open play, set pieces and don't half have some lightweight players. They do not a have a top class forward in the Drogba or Berbatov sense or even in the line leading Saha, Kevin Davies or uncle tom cobley sense - scoring, holding the ball up or work rate. Baptista is just a poor player and they should give someone else a chance.
The first goal credit to Liverpool out wide they made a fool of Clichy and crouch used his long legs with a true poachers finish for once. The second goal conceded was a shocker from an Arsenal point of view. If you let people stand and deliver and then head without a challenge then you will concede goals. The idea that Gallas without Terry is a top class centre half needs revising. I always maintained with his height, pace and ability in the opposition box at set pieces he was a more valuable full back than Cashley and his form proves that for me - average centre half at best when played without the physically dominent, when fully fit, Terry.
Well as the game kicked off everyone was saying that they could not understand why Gerrard was not always picked in central midfield, as though that seam of failure has not been done to death by England and Liverpool prior to 2005... It is clear to me over time that whilst the lad has better games than most his instinctive play is not suited to a central midfield 2, seemingly even a 3 in Rafa's eyes. He is just too inconsistent in his passing, tackling and positioning. Yes he can do great things in all aspects of the game but as we argue against seemingly everyone else with Rooney talent is not the issue. I've argued in my england selection that I would not personally pick Gerrard but it does illustrate the problem that when someone is perceived to have a big week, as most top players will, then 8 years of history is forgotten. Just wait if Rooney breaks his 30 game CL and competitive England game drought how all us doubters will be mocked.... Moronic.
Aside from being a long way to justify my view of Gerrard my point is this that opinions are formed of players young. They end up at clubs where they can be average players but enjoy a high profile which maintains they are what people decided years ago - and its reverse. This is not to damn Jenas, Defoe, Rooney and others as I can merely point you at their playing record and in the Spurs players where and when their manager plays them. The point being in my sanctimony I may have fallen victim to this in reverse over Crouch. Crouch got England's crucial goal in Macedonia and is up to 9 from less opportunities than say Rooney (11) whilst adding height to his team and without tantrums, Crouch will always try at least. He does provide height and despite being awkward has some skills. Then again his headed goal was atypical and his ability to be a big man and outlet people can play off is limited from what I have seen. However I have less doubts about him than some super star naturals long feted. So I have not changed my mind but will try to be more open minded and put his weaknesses in context of his strengths. After all I asked someone to tell me which game since 2005 showed Rooney was world class and despite having no answer my friend said he was!
17th/18th March 2007
On Sunday Liverpool and Arsenal both showed they have lots of nice footballers but true cutting edge is players who get goals at 0-0 or break ties when matches are tight. Players like a Ronaldo or a Lampard. At least Arsenal are a young and relatively inexpensive side if you don't count Reyes.
You can see the problem for West Ham and Charlton as whilst with all the mediocre mid table morass and cup replays meant wins were easier to secure it was as true for them as Manchester City (as I write this Sunday Charlton have 3 as well). No doubt the sight of a Viduka less Boro and Boro's famous lack of effort when not faced by crisis or nothing to lose meant if Siddy were to grab 3 points it was there. Sure enough after some early scares they did. No doubt the famous penalty misser Pearce said to the even more famous one Southgate "ta mate".
Man United with Saha out needed someone to play the so called Wayne Rooney role and up stepped Ronaldo - albeit he played wide but a lot of his best work came through the middle. Indeed to this humble viewer this may be a long term answer. As rather than play an artifical 4321 with Rooney wide has not seemed to have the effect one would expect in central midfield - arguably sabotaged by the kid losing heart. Indeed as much as Ronaldo's performance would have had all true fans of the game smiling Rooney had a smile on his face and seemed to be loving it again. Against Boro in the cup he got a nice opening goal but his bulk and body language did not look good after.
The irony being for me Rooney is not terribly good at the Wayne Rooney role and generally as recently with Larsson has long droughts when placed there. Whereas played with Saha predominently behind him or Ronaldo/Giggs he can use his gifts closest to goal.
Having said that after Rooney and Ronaldo fashioned the opener for Park Rooney's goals were typical goals against a team 1 down. Albeit the first of them came 60 minutes before most teams over commit forward as Bolton did. I feel if England insist on 442 that they play someone a bit more like a Kevin Davies or a Johnson to provide pace or size and ball holding ability at 0-0 alongside Rooney. 2 strikers best when the opposition are over attacking is not ideal against most continental teams. Still Ben Hiam has seen 5 of Rooney's 11 this season.... Hopefully that will happen in the Israel game.
Bolton despite getting the talismanic Kevin Davies back seemed to have little to offer. Maybe they are worn down, found out, were never that good to begin with (-3 goal difference), hate playing teams with width and pace (lost 4-0 and 4-1 to United and 4-1 to Spurs) or just have so many players looking to leave end of season - the penalty for good management and not getting tied to ageing players for too long. Either way it looks like a long time between now and May for them.
Sheffield United lost 3 points to Charlton and West Ham and now have 4 and 8 point gaps. It is also a time when one cannot make suppositions about who will win what games as squad's tire and other targets present themselves for teams in 3rd, 4th and 9th to 15th. They will want 3 more points soon as Charlton are 3 from their door step. On highlights they seemed to leave themselves wide open as Sheva, like Rooney, showed in enough space and no challenge he can score. Then they started to play and probably most significantly lost Hulse for the season. Chelsea started with 5 attackers and still probably could have won more if Sheffield has scored. Having not slagged him does Neil Warnock think anyone wanting to be taken seriously complains about the free kick that led to 3-0? It was probably a foul to boot.
Talking of whingers Mark Hughes was whinging about West Ham's lifeline winner. It was probably the worst piece of officiating I can recall featuring: hand ball: offside: ball not crossing the line. However anyone who has not seen it probably like referee and linesman would assume it was just Hughes crying wolf again. Mark Hughes is 80% a good and maybe prototype great manager he does not need the constant whining. Indeed having whinged about a soft but still giveable penalty for the West Ham first maybe the officials were not looking to favour them. It is time to cut out all the whinging and accusing fellow pros of cheating that the likes of Emerton and Blackburn do. It is unedifying and absolutely pointless - they never change the decision.
The Hammers only gained 2 points as Citeh leap frogged the Blades. not enough although as said before whilst they may need maybe 14 from 8 that is not as hard at this time of year as earlier. You just have to catch some clubs at the right time in a few games and fight in the rest - as well as beat any rivals.
Spurs duly buried Watford at home in the most standard issue result. No doubt Paul Robinson the very ordinary top cat in this country will laugh at making a fool of the man who might replace him Foster - neatly dummied by his centre half Shittu who was no doubt getting variations on his name thrown at him after that.
Wigan maybe should have beaten Fulham but frankly a point suits both sides although 3 might have made them almost complacent safe. That is the problem for West Ham and Charlton in that 1 bad result both ways can make their task harder. According to Sky the game had 1 shot on target - you just hope it was not some kids first taste of live football or another one will be lost to rugby league.
I wonder if Portsmouth and Reading want a sniff at Europe knowing how it has worn down small squads in the past. Certainly Portsmouth had the better of the chances with 4 shots on. Is the UEFA cup any kind of draw for their fans? No idea, I know I could do without. Indeed whilst Spurs may grab 5th they and Newcastle with their bloated squads have struggled up to now with cup responsibilities.
14th March 2007
Andy Gray clearly does not read his press as he kept going on about how many fans Manchester City get, ignoring all the reports that for some games up to 10,000 season ticket holders do not turn up. You almost wonder if they prefer to be relegated.... Then they have massive amounts of fans turn up for the division. Frankly long term you fear for 2nd clubs in cities. While we are on about Sky Peter Reid was on complaining about people going to ground. Yeah great a moral lecture from a man who put a kid in the reserves for not signing a new contract, what a cunt.
Dysfunctional, toothless, stretched and shapeless and that was just Chelsea. For the first time this season with United suddenly short of front players and Rooney looking fat and disinterested outside some wonderful cameos suddenly people are saying to me 5/1 Chelsea is interesting (9/2 after last night). Published figures don't show this but I just wonder if the City of Manchester stadium has a bigger pitch as Chelsea have never convinced there even with a far better playing team than this one.
Anyway I cannot analyse Chelsea who went back to their best formation 4321 and Ballack worked hard, he did honest but he is just not that good, but it showed it really is a formation based on the 3 being 2 tacklers and Lampard. They looked awful and won on a penalty. They are not that good but could walk away with a lot of silverware, go figure. I actually think some of their better players are wearing down with Essien missing last night. They don't have a fit full back I rate. Terry took another shocking knock and carried on what a trooper but I am convinced he is in need of a longer rest.
City need a goal and someone who works hard up front. At present they seem to play Barton as a 2nd striker/Lampard role. Lampard extremely Lite he is. I don't think he has enough quality or works hard enough or picks the right option enough to be an international. I think the lesson for McClaren is this if he wants the Chelsea Lampard stop playing for his most over rated player Rooney. Make Rooney play for the team wide in a 4321 or if he does not try he can watch at home. Kevin Davies or AJ to lead the line and that would at least be a functional team - Gerrard can carry the drinks and oranges at half time.
City have 6 points in hand they should stay up. Just don't ask me where their next goal is coming from. Maybe Chelsea would be within winning the Manchester United game of being behind on goal difference had their manager not seemingly mentally lost the game at Anfield during a petty feud with his boss. In the end though how he has got a smaller squad often with: no recognised, by anyone sane, right back or more importantly centre half: Shevchenko who adds nothing when he does not score and has not scored many: Ballack who is working harder but not enough quality or work overall: to easy 2nd is no mean feat before considering he has a trophy and is in two other cups.
Arsenal scraped a hard fought win like Chelsea and 20 more performances like that a season would be in order even if it is not as pretty as we'd like. Personally I am splintering on the fence of Henry leaving. If they were slightly better then I say go as he is only declining and 29 is the wrong age in football for me for anyone bar a centre half. However they need to stay top 4 and they just are not that good that conceivably a well managed Spurs or Newcastle or an Everton with a cash injection could not get to them. Then again I would like to see how many important goals at 0-0 and 0-1 Henry has this year. For me he is becoming what people always said he was - lightweight in big games or against harder teams. The irony being his big league game scoring and assists record is good. All top players will be nuetered to some extent by good teams and Henry has plenty of goals against Chelsea and Man United.
4th March 2007
As it turned out one of the defining features of last season that shaped this year was Spurs needing only to match Arsenal's result in the last game of the season suddenly had 9 or 10 sick players. Well they tested the food and the conclusion would be something else they did or more likely an attack of mass hysteria. Their away performances since notably from metaphorical bed wetter Defoe and Berbatov have been in a similar vein. With Bolton rocking and Cahill out the rush for Europe should begin today for Spurs.
You wonder if Noble was the one who cared: 19 year old West Ham fan booked in 5 minutes scores in 16. Screaming at his fellow players... Spelling H-E-A-R-T for Ferdinand's benefit. Tevez scored and went mad - his only mistake probably for good reasons was to sell his career to some spiv. It is not his fault a) he is not a great player b) West Ham with total disregard for their then manager and the rules of the league 'bought' him.
Berbatov certainly had shaken off their away nerves as Green being the early hero attested. However Robinson showed not for the first time that positioning and technicalities are not the strong point of a below average keeper like him.
For me Spurs away from home 4312 make sense with the 1 a wide player and for me Lennon is a sub (like Defoe). Whilst the strikers turned up they conceded 3 to a poor team like West Ham.
Frankly Spurs should be better than 1.5 points a game. They actually have 4 strikers who are better than say Chelsea who have 1 good striker. United have 3 counting Ole Gunnar and a 4th in Larsson barely with them. Frankly Liverpool only have 4 if you count Fowler. Yet once again great strikers do not maketh a team. I think the problem is that due to injury and fashion 1 big 1 small they have played Defoe away too much. Sure Defoe had a good day but it was also a sign of what he is good at and not good at - he scored a classy penalty and he set up the winner on a break away as West Ham treated 3-3 as though they were behind. He is a great player when the boots are not flying and gets better when the opposition are desperate and go 1 on 1 at the back - in normal games that makes him classic cream on top and a player of limited use against better teams at 0-0. A better sub than starter, much as Madrid correctly viewed Owen - why do we so over rate our strikers not called Andy Johnson who is under rated... Oh and Kevin Davies!
Lee 'Cunt' Bowyer's managed to retain and enhance his well earned reputation for cuntery - why was he tackling Lennon going nowhere with no one in support - he gave Defoe the chance to show his class when other players are not involved and let Spurs back into a game they were struggling in. Of course the 3rd goal came from an un-necessary foul by the only player to approach Bowyer in the Cunt stakes, Anton Ferdinand. With Upson off injured again they may have to stick with a player who thinks the club deserves what little he gives when he wants to give it. In the end they gave away 3 of the 4 goals. Bowyer started it with the penalty that seemed to lead to the 2nd as the 3rd given away by Ferdinand led to the 4th.
Aside from Anton, Jermain and Lee Cunt there was a pitch full of complacent English millionaire under achievers who don't give the impression they think or work at their game: Robinson gets fatter and more complacent with each unearned compliment: Green and Dawson despite making the fringes of the England squad have not gone forward or given any indication they want to: Even Lennon I cannot see how Spurs think they can consistently win 442 with 2 lightweight intermitant contributors wide (ditto Ghaly and Malbranque). Like C'Ash Cole another who plays wide but has poor quality crossing as a rule. I don't rate Harewood and Zamora and their ilk enough to judge them as I am not sure they have a tremendous amount of talent to waste like those mentioned above - like too many English players and sportsmen a modicum of praise leads to a lot of complacency - see Flintoff and Harmison for what full blown hubris becomes.
4th March 2007
The first half Bolton just played showed how without KD they are just a bit flabby with little cutting edge and a good keeper. Anelka was Bolton's 2nd choice after Andy Johnson and whilst his overall goals total is not terrible it is not great for a player who does more than his share of idleness. Honestly Bolton push forward and where is Nic? Just in the opponents half walking.
Blackburn induced 2 penalties and people probably don't realise that most of their football is played on the ground and in McCarthy, Nonda and Bentley they have plenty of cutting edge. Bolton will be hanging on medical reports of KD as without him they have few weapons to hurt and pressure teams into errors.
Indeed the fact KD plays wide to Anelka seems more of a manager trying to prove he did not make an error and avoid upsetting a notorious whinger (and a complete wanker on this display). Sure he added the consolation which is a bit like cream on top - it is easier: cream on bottom?: butter side down player? Anelka merely showed he can do it only when it is made easy - see his braces against lite tackling Arsenal and Man City.
Bolton have 4 points on 6th and with Chelsea and Arsenal heading for the CL they are still well placed to get a UEFA slot. However one would like to see where they are going to score without KD. Diouf looks heavy and slow. Nolan far too big and lacking in quality to spark anything. They look like a team that has peaked and maybe a UEFA cup place would be a poisoned chalice diverting resources next year.
3rd March 2007
Chelsea were once again indebted to the big Drog for opening up Portsmouth after an evenly contested opening. To state some portentious nonsense Africa may be supplying the two best strikers in the world. Both give you far more than regular goal scorers. Indeed Drogba given Chelsea sacrificed height with the bizarre decision to get C'Ash is importent defensively at set pieces. He [Drog] also showed for 2 years in a 4321 he was prepared to play for the team at the expense of his reputation. C'Ash's fan would probably point out he actually looked like Bridgey by getting some all too rare assists. Well Done Ash although one may have come off a Portsmouth player and how many players turn that first one into a goal - I know I know credit when its due well done Ash.
Of course like Man United Chelsea got a big game from the keeper. Showing no signs of any after effects from Berkshire Hunt's assault. Maybe Chelsea would have more points if he had not missed games but frankly as their goal difference shows Chelsea have shown amazing qualities to get this far given 2 or 3 players are worse than useless. Shevechenko someone even argued with my mate in the pub yesterday that he was anything but complete shite - worse he now appears to be merely goal hunting so his one stat may improve but not the team. Ballack what is it about him that makes him so good, his penalty taking?
I cannot help feel that Chelsea's big players are/will pay a price for their efforts to date: arguably Terry has played more games than he should as all year he has not looked fit. In short I think they will drop more points than Man United as they are not as good. Then again Cech, Lampard and Drogba may be having their best seasons and any team with them cannot be ruled out entirely. I just don't see United choking and arguably with Saha back in for Larsson they will be better. Rooney can surely do better. Scholes missing is hard but a chance for O'Shea and Fletch. The biggest worry might be that maybe Nemanja Vidic is being found out but small worries in such a free scoring team.
Everton lost Cahill for the season and if Chelsea have been unlucky Everton having their 3 best forward going players on the pitch at the same time has been all too rare. Sheffield put another point into the defense and whilst they did not gain ground it is 1 game less to go and Man City now in the mire. Moyes will probably be most glad refs are finally giving AJ a fair shake. 4 points off Bolton will have Moyesy and co glued to the Blackburn Bolton a fixture that 10 years ago would have been as watchable as a re-run of Eastenders but now is nearer 24 but not Battlestar (apologies to Virgin Media viewers!).
The Man City players habit of getting a few points when they seem in trouble will be tested under the pressure of immediately needing them 2 games in hand to a team that takes about a point a game is meaningless. On highlights they seemed to fully deserve a home defeat. Barring miracles both teams do not need more than a handful and whilst at 2 down to Watford Charlton would be grateful for a point they gained ground only on City and have a game less and need more than a point a game in all likelihood. Man City in their soul-less stadium are beginning to lose their famous support and you may wonder if their fans will secretly prefer to be fighting back.
Any team can win or lose 3 on the trot but with Watford scoring 2 and not winning I'd say they are sunk as they will not get many better chances for 3 points.Charlton's hopes are increasingly slim and mathematical. They need at last 1.5 points a game and 1 is not enough even with a 2 goal comeback. At least it looked a good open game on highlights.
Baptista came to the party and what Arsenal are short of is non Henry goals like they used to get from Ljungberg and Pires. Ljungberg, Fabregas, Hleb and Rosicky are not tearing up trees to have loads of news print on their scoring exploits. Indeed Silva has added some much needed ballast especially from the spot and I don't think they should start counting on that. Reading whilst beaten battled all the way and they are a team to kill off as soon as you can....Bikey looks a liability when I see him then again Duberry???? Still don't think Arsenal should buy the beast but as a make weight to allow them to off load Reyes maybe. Arsenal are still rubbish at defensive set pieces and no wonder Jens is always pissed off....
Fulham Villa: low mid table: mediocrity: another Barry assist: 9 points clear of Charlton: probably only need 3 more each: O'Neill will look to build from here: Coleman to tread water: 'Nough said.
Newcastle Boro... Nice to see some England centre halves in a 0-0. 37 and 36 points mean they are safe and a run of results could given the resources of some of the teams above could mean Europe but it is probably unlikely.
3rd March 2007
I confess I cheered when Man United won this as it was a game that deserved a winner, who better to deliver it than the man I once sardonically called John O'Lampard. In a way it was a scrappy contest because so fast and hard a game was it that the supposedly class players did not have any time or space. You can see why if English clubs set a tempo the likes of Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are exhausted by 80 minutes.
Liverpool impressed me they loaded up on Evra and Vidic forcing Ferguson to throw Silvestre on eventually and unsettling the man my mate calls Nem. Gerrard, Bellamy and Kuyt used their pace and height to make United looked stretched frequently. Indeed the real head scratcher was why Bellamy was withdrawn for Pennant's largely aimless crosses. Indeed so hard was it both sides effectively got few good chances each. Liverpool just need slightly more cutting edge from midfield say a Lampard? (cheeky moi?) They probably had the best of the game with Bellamy others going close.
Indeed on a day for heroes they were the likes of van der Sar and Carragher who almost made me wonder if he needs to come up in my rating of him as having little Value Over RePlacement (VORP a baseball stat how many runs over say a bench player - but a great concept).
Indeed the players most found out in a hard fought match without time and space for poncery were Roon and Ronaldo. In games like this at 0-0 Rooney's stature and lack of pace is shown up - and maybe even his first touch. Ronaldo showed that if nothing is on for him he just casually passes to whatever shirt he sees without any though whatsoever - this is infuriating in a striker like Owen but exasperating and dangerous in a midfielder.
Indeed Ronaldo strayed into liability territory and teams must know to just shepherd him as he does not look for people to pass to. His 15 goals have come from 126 shots (Rooney last year took 125 for 16 but he is a striker). Whilst Ronaldo is the more proven match winner neither is threatening my world 23 on this although again allowances should be made for the lack of space and sheer intensity that rendered most players profligate with the ball. Ronaldo and Rooney should learn the tricks of Scholes and Lampard when there is nothing on to just jink and switch feet gaining a vital half yard and time for themselves.
Oh and if someone offers me out with a crew of my choice Paul Scholes is not on my list after that air shot. It all adds to my slight suspision that the Ginger Prince does seem to miss a lot of high pressure games. Still his replacement O'Lampard will not lack for confidence now.