Wednesday, 14 December 2011


I had to abandon my trip at Paris due to personal reasons. I didn't really feel like continuing the blog or the trip at the time and I'm back at home with a temp job at the moment, just wanted some normality. I'm still going to Poland and Ukraine in June though, and thinking of resuming some posting about general football news as I do enjoy it a lot. Going to catch up on a few other blogs I was enjoying before.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A few thoughts

Just a few quick points to make following last weekend.

- Chelsea are now impressing me
- Stoke are also impressing me at times
- Alan Pardew seems to be able to work under any environment. Obviously its inevitable, but I just can't guess exactly what Mike Ashley has up his sleeve to make Pardew's life a misery over the next six months and force him away from the club in some manner or another.
- Bolton seem to be falling to pieces. After the most inspiring start to a season imaginable, they have gone from defeat to defeat. I can't make up in my mind what the future holds for them. I thought they had recovered from losing Elmander and Sturridge but perhaps their problems lie further back now. Not sure how much longer they can rely on Jaaskelainen.

Whatever it is, I hope there is no kneejerk reaction to sack Owen Coyle if it carries on over the next few games. They've had some seriously tough matches amongst their first 6 fixtures, and more than 3 or 4 points would have been counted as an achievement. Results haven't been the problem so far. Coyle still has to prove himself a viable top flight manager for me, but nothing has shown me he doesn't fully deserve the opportunity again this season.

I crossed the channel over the weekend by the way, and will be posting more updates soon on my whereabouts. Until now I have been too preoccupied with removing myself from Calais!
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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Two Week Catch Up!

Sorry about the long break chaps. I've been having a great time with the challenging task of actually having a great time without much money in London. After the previous Saturday/Sunday's marathon session getting to Watford, I made next to no progress in getting as far as Wembley in Brent within the following 9 days. That's 9.2 miles, an average of 1 mile per day.

Of course, the reason why being I wanted to stay around for the England-Wales game, but I did manage to keep fit by a slight detour to Barnet for a horrendously poor 0-0 against Accrington. My yearning for a break following an intense hike to Watford lasted only a few days before I went hunting for another new ground. I did manage to catch a couple of red cards for my troubles and although I'm sure Accrington are more convincing at home, there was a strong sense of also-rans in this tie. Trust the weekend I arrive in London to be an international break with England playing away.

Well the rather longer trip to Bulgaria for England did bear fruit, in a 3-0 away win. England were not great entertainment value but on the other hand could be described as having done an efficient job on their hosts, taking full advantage of glaring defensive weaknesses. Marking and positioning were great strengths of the legendary Lothar Matthaeus, but not attributes he has been able to project onto his current project. I think I may have spotted better defending at Barnet.

A 13th minute corner was only cleared as far as Barry, who produced a useful 30 yard ball to Cahill, who managed to control and tuck it home well. Not bad in the box for a centre back, that lad. Rooney headed home a Downing corner to make England comfortable well before half time - set pieces looking to be a weak point for the home side. And that was stretched further in injury time with another for Rooney, Walcott and Young combining nicely before setting him up.

The second half died a slow death, unfortunately. We have all seen this England performance before, just doing the job and letting the rest of the game play out. As the old adage goes, however, 'you can only beat what's in front of you'. What we did see is that Joe Hart doesn't readily sleep on the pitch. One more thing of note: with a midfield trio of Barry, Parker and Milner, this was the first competitive England game for several years that did not feature either Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. It went as well as expected without them.

Full of excitement and ambition for Tuesday then? Well sort of. It was great to see such a fixture in a first class stadium, but Capello went back on his 'bold' move of dropping Lampard and confusingly threw him straight back in the team. There was a real lack of drive from England. There was little threat to the goal until 35 minutes when Downing worked the ball down the right and cut a short cross back to Young who stroked it in with ease.

Other than this flurry of activity either side of half time, there were few positives for England. Wales grew into the game and began rendering chances, the best of which Earnshaw dramatically spurred just yards in front of goal, with Hart beaten. England rode their luck and mustn't let it happen again. There are very few serious games like this for a national team before they are put to the final test in the tournament proper. If they fail to take control of the game against Montenegro on 7th October, they will almost certainly have topped the group and will have 'done enough' anyway, but it will be an essentially poor preparation for Euro 2012.

Anyway, I have moved on, got my head down and made it to Rochester, Kent in the 7 days since then, which is a wonderful place, but I do plan to get a move on now and see some of the continent.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Already, my post from yesterday is outdated. Things are moving so dast, Mertesacker is in at Ashburton Grove, Cahill is definitely not.

So with the planet scouring airports, petrol stations, training grounds and Little Chefs up all over, I thought I'd cut my losses and give you a run down of the rumours for lunchtime along with the chances of them actually happening. May my integrity be judged in future days by what is now written...

Owen Hargreaves - Man City 9/10
Frank Ribery - Chelsea 1/10
Raul Mereiles - Chelsea 3/10
Alvaro Pereira - Chelsea 8/10
Luka Modric - Chelsea 2/10 (0/1,000,000 according to Harry!)
Wilson Palacios - Stoke 9/10
Cameron Jerome - Stoke 6/10
Nicolas Bendtner - Stoke 8/10
Lukaku - Stoke (loan) 0/10 (this is against league rules, apparently)
Peter Crouch - Stoke 3/10
Peter Crouch - Sunderland 3/10
Papiss Demba Cisse - Sunderland 2/10
Papiss Demba Cisse - Newcastle 3/10
Federico Macheda - Newcastle 5/10
Davide Santon - Newcastle CONFIRMED
Craig Bellamy - QPR 5/10
Anton Ferdinand - QPR 5/10
Shaun Wright-Phillips- QPR 7/10
Armand Traore - QPR CONFIRMED
Bryan Ruiz - Fulham 8/10
Zdenik Grygera - Fulham 7/10
Andre Pierre Gignac - Fulham 0/10
Scott Parker - Tottenham 9/10
Lassana Diarra - Tottenham 4/10
Gary Cahill - Tottenham 4/10
Gary Cahill - Arsenal 0/10
Mikel Arteta - Arsenal 1/10
Marvin Martin - Arsenal 4/10
Keisuke Honda - Arsenal 0/10
Per Mertesacker - Arsenal CONFIRMED
Andre Santos - Arsenal CONFIRMED
Park Chu-Young - Arsenal CONFIRMED
Wesley Sneijder - Man Utd 0/10
Yossi Benayoun - Arsenal }
Yossi Benayoun - Tottenham }   9/10 combined
Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool }
Sebastian Coates - Liverpool CONFIRMED
Scott Dann - Blackburn 5/10
Luca Toni - Blackburn 3/10
Yakubu - Blackburn 4/10
Alan Hutton - Aston Villa 8/10
Steven Davies - Aston Villa 7/10
Joe Cole - Aston Villa 4/10
Joe Cole - Lille (loan) 4/10
David Ngog - Bolton 7/10
Nedim Onuoha - Bolton 5/10
Sebastian Bassong - Bolton 2/10
Gerhard Tremmel - Swansea CONFIRMED
Shaun Maloney - Wigan 8/10
Jean Beausejour - Wigan 6/10
Albert Crusat - Wigan CONFIRMED
Eljero Elia - Juventus CONFIRMED
Clint Dempsey - *various 3/10
Sulley Muntari - *various 4/10
Eden Hazard - *anywhere 0/10
Liam Ridgewell - *anywhere 1/10
George Samaras - *anywhere 1/10
Mario Balotelli - *anywhere 0/10

Other tentative rumours: Mauro Zarate linked with a number of clubs including Liverpool and Villa; Bentley may be used as a makeweight by Spurs, likewise Malouda or even Alex by Chelsea; Joseph Yobo might be on the move; much confusion over James Milner, but I can't see anything happening.

Word is that Stoke boss Tony Pulis is currently abroad, and that Spurs are due to make a big name signing today. Swansea are also said to be active.

Think back to last time, Torres £50m? Carrol £35m? Hold on to your swivel chairs.

I leave you with this hilarious report:

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Transfer deadline incoming!

Plenty to write about after a busy Bank Holiday weekend, including my double bill at MK Dons and Watford, and the story of the week - the 8-2 thrashing Arsenal received at the hands of the reigning champions. But its about to get a whole lot busier with just under 36 hours left of the transfer window. With multiple clubs looking desperate to complete the makeup of their squad at this late stage, this is where the focus lies.

Clearly the game's most desperate character today is Arsene Wenger. Since the post published on 15/08 ('You Are What You Spend'), Wenger has signed two players for definite: young Costa Rican striker Joel Young and also
Park Chu-young, a striker from Monaco. However, this last deal hijacked a bid from Lille, who may now be too peturbed to let an agreement come to pass over Belgian winger Eden Hazard. Fenerbahce left back Andre Santos is also to join them for £6.2m, abandoning the troubled ship dealing with match fixing allegations. Great news for Everton who get to keep hold of Leighton Baines for the time being.

It was reported on Friday that Bolton had turned down a bid of £6m for Gary Cahill, apparently insulted by the offer. Wenger has refuted the quoted figure, but in any case, he would have to be a good deal more serious to convince Bolton to sell. It makes sense to start low in making offers, but Arsenal's dire need for a quality defender is obvious - they are far too thin on the ground to last the season and compete for the top four. Gartside doesn't need to sell, Arsenal must make an attractive offer to push this deal through. They might be looking at £12m minimum.

The current theory, however, is that Per Mertesacker is more likely to sign at around £8m. A little surprising actually, given that Mertesacker is not the most mobile. With him partnering Vermaelen though, we could be looking at a different Arsenal, certainly featuring a serious threat from corners, and with Koscielny another option, guarenteed height at the back and finally, at long last some serious defensive cover.

QPR have another kind of urgency. Despite being off the mark with their first win, it has been a shakey start to the season. There is clearly the need for improvement, and it seems quite feasabile that they can. With the Fernandes takeover, funds have been made available to Warnock, and he cleverly snapped up central midfielder Joey Barton. Rangers' physical presence in midfield has been reliant on one of Warnock's right hand men, Shaun Derry. Derry has a great engine on him and has signed a new contract today, but is aging and not greatly experienced at this level. Barton can provide for all of this, and add extra drive to create the chances QPR need. Initial reaction from onlookers had mostly addressed the famous personalities of Barton and Warnock, but it should work well. Barton is far more mature and professional now than he was three or four years ago, and a relentless drive to overcome odds and critics to succeed will be shared between them.

Luke Young from Villa should be another astute signing to shore up a defence in shock with more valuable experience. Warnock has declared a hunt for another 'four or five players at least', so expect to hear more news from Loftus Road by tomorrow. Who else could be on the shortlist? Surely Shaun Wright-Phillips is a potential target, being on the far end of City's conveyor belt of talent. His reserves teammate Roque Santa Cruz is out of the picture after sealing a loan move to Betis, but whether Craig Bellamy is a possibility is unclear. Certainly a player in need of a new home, but one has to wonder whether his joining forces with Barton and Warnock would be cramming too many giant personalities into little Loftus Road's home dressing room. Still, watch this space.

There is much more likely to happen. M'Vila to Arsenal? Possibly, certainly a central midfielder is required there. Benayoun and Malouda remain possibilities, if Chelsea are willing to sell, and another longshot is Mario Goetze. Arsenal are lodging massive bids for him, but Dortmund would need to be pushed an awful long way to sell a young star that made them such a great force last season.

Stoke are likely to be making positive moves (Palacios deal still on, Lukaku on loan more likely than Peter Crouch), Newcastle (Santon from Inter a great potential replacement for Enrique), perhaps Sunderland too (Papiss Demba Cisse from Freiburg for a brave £14m?). Tottenham are always, always active, and one of the latest wealth hotspots of Europe, Anzhi of Russia, might just throw a few spanners in the works - a £25m offer for Vidic has been rumoured!

Either way, keep your eye on this for the next day and a half!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Malcontented in Milton Keynes

Afternoon all. So I'm in Milton Keynes now, and I'm staying here until tomorrow, getting some rest and going to the match - MK Dons vs Stevenage, a true glamour tie. The reason I'm resting here now is this: I am going to attempt to walk to Watford in time for their Sunday game against Birmingham. Yes I'm a glutton for punishment and I couldn't get enough of them following last weekend's goalless draw at Coventry. Apparently its a 32 mile walk and I'll have to do it either side of nightfall and find somewhere to stay in Leighton Buzzard or someplace, should be fun!

Potential route pictured.

So the Champions League draw was made yesterday. Man City got drawn the toughest group of all in Group A, although mostly because they were in pot 3, being new to the Champions League. Bayern and Villarreal were not the hardest teams to get ahead of them, but Napoli from pot 4 will be distraught as they complete the group. Frankly all of these teams could find it tough in what looks to be a close group.

Man United had a different story, as they face Benfica again, and need to overcome Basel and Otelui Galati (who I confess to never having heard of). Chelsea have Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Belgian champions Racing Genk, not a straightforward challenge but a manageable one none the less. Arsenal face Marsille, Olympiakos and Dortmund, perhaps a more evenly matched group, as the other strong side from pot 4 is drawn against another English hopeful. Arsenal would be disappointed not to advance, though.

But the big guns were all drawn in Group H. One by one they came out, first pot: Barca; second pot: Milan; third pot..... BATE Borisov. Viktoria Plzen of Czech Republic completes the group. And herein lies my problem with UEFA's system.

The seedings for these draws are decided by coefficients that set teams into seperate 'pots' from which they are picked. The coefficients are a points system, based partly on the quality of the domestic league a team comes from, via that nation's club's past performance, but mostly by the club's own performance in European competition over the last 5 years. If a team is new to European competition, they will have a very low coefficient, and can expect a tough draw in any group.

Not that there should be a problem with this. 'New' teams like City should not be offered a helping hand into the upper echelons of Continental competition. Of course, teams need to prove themselves to push further through a tournament. However, it leaves an uncomfortable feeling when you look at the group stage as a whole. Six matches for each team, and when it comes down to the draw, Manchester United are looking down the pots and grinning. They will avoid all the big sides until February at least. Only Milan sticks out as a potential obstacle, but they have a one in seven chance of drawing them (Inter's group cannot face them because of the national rule). Valencia may be tough, but over two games, United should get the better of them.

Beyond this, the only potential problems are a couple of strong teams recently absent to Europe: Napoli and Dortmund. They succesfully avoid them for one of the cannon fodder teams in the draw, Galati (I say this making assumptions, but reasonable ones). Another filler team fills in the third spot.

Now when Barca got drawn against Milan, there were sharp intakes of breath all round. Group of Death prospects were premature. It would have taken Dortmund and probably Lille to stir things up. Napoli could not have joined the group because Milan are also Italian. As it transpired, Group A is the toughest group, not because it contains multiple favourites for the tournament, but because the teams are of a good standard but closely matched.

The point is, it is almost impossible to be drawn a truely challenging group where the seeded team is put to the test at all. The seeding system is set up heavily in their favour, and if a newcomer from a strong league appears, they are prevented from having to face them. For every Milan there are seven CSKA Moscows, for every Napoli there are three APOEL Nicosias.

So if the other teams are worth anything, why aren't they moving up the pots? The reason being there is no mobility in this set up. By this I mean the football equivalent to 'social mobiliy' - the possibility for a well run club to improve and compete with previously higher ranked teams. Even before the prize money by round is considered, it seems as if UEFA are actively trying to keep any different clubs from making the knock out stages. Take Ajax for example, a big club fallen on hard times, largely due to the standard of Eredivisie. They are drawn against Real Madrid for the second year running, this time facing Lyon instead of AC Milan. Does that mean this is their opportunity? Lyon have made it to the knock out stages every year for the last eight years. They have found their place. It seems that place is not for Ajax.

Many would like to see an FA Cup style draw, completely at random. This certainly contains the excitement the Champions League sometimes lacks, but others raise the point that the latter stages could contain some rather mediocre teams, if they get the luck of the draw. This is a fairly unlikely outcome that we would be seeing Zenit St. Petersburg make it to the final to face Barcelona, but it is understandable that everyone wants to see the better teams face off in the latter stages.

The problem is that it is being decided in advance who is the 'best'. A lot of presumptions are being made by fans and UEFA are acting on it. In essence, a season of no surprises is perfect for them, in terms of profitability. But what football fan wants that? The 'best' team should be decided on the pitch on the day, and nowhere else. Actively trying to pitt the recently strongest teams against the recently weakest teams dilutes the competitive nature of this competition.

It would at least be helpful if the coefficient system actually took account of who teams lost to. If Benfica come third with six points, they will be rewarded exactly the same as BATE if they achieve the same record. And when you add the large sums of money awarded to the teams advancing each round, it simply acts as a cement to secure the dominance of the big clubs for future years.

Either way, the reality is that UEFA want to make the most money possible from running this ship, and that way is to get Barca, Real and English teams into the final, with Bayern and the Milan teams as a sideshow. Anything else is lost profits.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

So I go to Coventry by Saturday in time for the worst game of the weekend, a bore draw vs Watford. There were chances but the keepers were the best players on the pitch. Frankly neither team will be doing anything tremendous this season.

On I press then with some words on the Premiership last weekend.

By the way, when short on time, I may omit some detail on several games i order to get some more detailed analysis on others. Being midweek, these reviews assume some knowledge of the weekend's results, allowing some more meaningful words on selected talking points, all in a readable length.

Anyone watching Man City this season has to wonder just what they might be capable of. Seven goals in three games now, Dzeko is scoring, Silva is looking like easily one of the best attacking players in the league, and altogether a different approach from Roberto Mancini. City finally look serious about attacking, and its paying off so far, as it should with the resources they have. But these things are never as simple as a matter of resources, so all at the club should be pleased with the start so far. Even Gareth Barry was seen rocketing home a 25 yarder from a cheekily cut back corner, which he clearly enjoyed. If anyone was guilty of not producing, it was the previous weekend's star Aguero, who might have got another two himself.

Of course, Swansea...Bolton...hardly the litmus test for title winning teams. But do not underrate Bolton. They showed real character to get back into the game at 2-0 down after some serious backs-to-the-wall punishment and may have taken this further had Zat Knight not been guilty of some poor decision making to restore City's two goal lead. Normally when your front two both score, it counts as a good day, and this will be of value to Ivan Klasnic and Kevin Davies, as Bolton set out to improve on last season's 14th place finish without the benefit of Daniel Sturridge, who appears at risk of wasting away at Chelsea.

A look at Everton's worries and reaction from Man United's convincing home win against Tottenham to come very soon.