Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Can Spurs really challenge City and United for the title?

Tottenham Hotspur brushed aside Norwich City last night to go seven points behind the two Manchester clubs with a game in hand.

Are Spurs a real threat for the Premier League title?

After losing their first two games (to United and City) they have only lost once since - to Stoke City - and they were desperately unlucky to lose that one. So it's been 12 wins in 15 games since those two opening defeats.

Spurs have been knocked out of the Europa Cup while both City and United have fallen into it since being knocked out of the Champions League. That could be a blessing for Spurs, but there is no question of United or City treating it as anything like a priority.

In the League Cup Manchester City play Liverpool in the two-legged semi-final. United and Spurs have already been knocked out.

In the FA Cup one of Manchester United or Manchester City will definitely get knocked out and one will definitely progress - as they are drawn against each other. Tottenham have the 'luxury' of a home draw against League Two Cheltenham Town, so they should progress.

It boils down to Manchester City having a lot of games; United with the League and FA Cup (at least as far as beating City is concerned) as priorities, and Tottenham with the League and the FA Cup as far as it takes them.

Tottenham undoubtedly have a multi-talented midfield, with Scott Parker, Luka Modric, Rafael Van der Vaart, being supported superbly by Gareth Bale on one side and Aaron Lennon on the other. The defence looks fairly strong and is backed by 40+ Brad Friedel showing no signs of a dip in form.

Maybe it is only up front where Spurs lack the fire-power to match the best. They average 2 goals a game; United average 2.61 and City average 2.94.

But with City possibly distracted by other tournaments, it may depend on United and Tottenham's progress in the FA Cup as to which will challenge City the most.

I don't think Tottenham are quite ready yet, but they're close.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rodgers should stop moaning and get on with it

I see Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers is moaning about the Premier League schedule over the festive period. They play - as do all the Premier League clubs - four games in 12 days or so.

I find this all this rather incomprehensible. No club in England or Scotland has played fewer games than Swansea City have so far this season - 17. In contrast, Fulham have played 31, including their assault on the Europa League, but I haven't heard Martin Jol complaining. (If he has, he might have some justification.)

Swansea City got themselves dumped out of the League Cup at the first attempt - beaten 3-1 at Shrewsbury Town - and one wonders what effort they'll make to get past Barnsley in the FA Cup third round in January.

I'm sure the Swansea City board will welcome the games over the festive period as they are always well attended and bring in commensurate revenue

Swansea City could end up playing a mere 40 games in the whole season. One wonders what the objective is: to play football or not to play football?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fulham undone by last-gasp header

Fulham were undone by a sucker punch last night as they were knocked out of the Europa League by an injury-time header by Odense BK of Denmark.

Fulham were seemignly curising into the last 32 at half-time with a 2-0 lead, and needed to win to remain above Wisla Karkow in the group. But two second-half goals put paid to Fulham's Europa League ambitions. So ends a 14-game run in the competition which started way back on 30 June - nearly six months ago!

Despite a 3-1 defeat in Turkey, Stoke City qualified for the knock-out stages last night, but they could be the only British team to make it through the Europa League groups.

All of Celtic, Tottenham Hotspur and Birmingham City are starting this evening's round of matches in third place and all look unlikely to qualify.

But will they be sad or happy?

Celtic will be left to push for the SPL title. Tottenham will be left to push for (ahem) a European place, although they will hope to qualify for the Champions League; and Birmingham will be left to catch up their league games and settle down to plotting a way out of the Championship.

It makes you wonder why they bother to qualify in the first place.

Manchester City and Manchester United, take note.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Manchester has the Europa League to look forward to

I'm sure a few weeks ago, Manchester was preparing to laugh at London as, at various times both Arsenal and Chelsea appeared unlikely to progress out of the Champions League groups.

Well, the luagh was transferred to London last night as both Manchester clubs failed to progress, while both Chelsea and Arsenal had already won their groups the previous evening.

Oh, woe is Manchester!

City's damage had alrady been done in previous matches - not only losing to both Napoli and Bayern Munich away, but also only drawing with Napoli at home.

United had faltered in earlier matches two - having beaten only Otelul Galati in this group - but even so, a draw in Basel last night would have seen them through. They lost 2-1. The loss of so many strikers to injury is taking its toll, even on a squad as big as Manchester United's.

So, they're both left to concentrate on domestic competition - oh, and the Europa Leagu, of course.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Grassroots Football the Debate Goes On

I have made this post on behalf of a contributor who wished to remain anonymous.

I listened with interest this morning to the Radio 5 Live debate regarding Grass Roots football. As usual a large proportion of the callers cited the example (or lack of it) given by professional players each week on Match of the Day etc. They are of course an easy target and a point Trevor Brooking, once great player and an ideal role model, defended to the point of saying to one caller that he was wrong that the top level has to be sorted before the Grass Roots. Trevor’s view is that the club level, coaches and parents, the Grass Roots has to take the lead.

We’ve been told for years that we have to get things right at the bottom with the youngest of players, but as with all arguments there are two sides. My own view, without sitting on the fence, is that both are right. But, as important as it is to get it right when players are young, it is ludicrous to think that you can try to attempt to educate young boys and girls about respect and to play the game in the correct manner and spirit if the same isn’t done in the professional game at the same time. So, Trevor and 5 Live callers you’re both wrong ... and right!

For example, it is interesting that a young player sanctioned for violence on the pitch, i.e. punching an opponent in a youth game is likely to be banned for months at a time, perhaps longer (quite rightly), but the same offence in the Premier League can only carry a maximum three-game ban – crazy! Or that a young player swearing at a referee will be sent off and banned for a long period of time, but a professional player is unlikely to even be booked. Double standards that, I’m afraid, “the professional game” simply ignore and which, even more simply, just isn’t good enough.

The other usual argument that arises in these debates is comparing football with rugby and people generally put this down to a “class thing”: football is a working-class game etc, etc – rubbish! It’s about education and being set the right example. I feel insulted that as a middle-class person of means I can be ostracised from being able to enjoy playing or watching football because I have been deemed to have taken the game away from the masses. In the same manner I am sure the vast majority of decent working-class people feel insulted about being derided as unable to be respectful towards referees and are the parents who watch their child’s match shouting abuse and swearing, etc. This isn’t about class – it’s about society and basic manners.

Both ends of the spectrum have to be tackled and better examples set. This includes the PFA who continually defend players from the sometimes indefensible. Players not being allowed to be fined more than two weeks wages, or insisting some players are given another chance after they’ve punched someone on the pitch or in a nightclub for the umpteenth time and already had three or four previous chances.

The Football Association, County Associations and local Leagues have a long way to go too. Small sided football on smaller pitches is a fantastic idea and the new plans for 5v5 and 9v9 should be implemented straight away. However, County Associations and Leagues don’t promote this themselves.

Last season my under-11 side, playing 11-a-side football for the first season, played a cup semi-final on a neutral ground organised by the League on a full size pitch measuring 110m x 85m with full size goals. This is nearly the maximum allowable size for a football pitch – what a stupid thing to do, and subsequently an appalling game of un-enjoyable football was the result. At my own club we’re lucky to have a youth size pitch of 80m x 45m with youth size goals and yet the League itself insisted on organising matches on pitches that are inappropriate; it’s farcical and shouldn’t be allowed. It’s even more ludicrous when you consider both teams were happy to play the game on our club’s pitch but the League would not allow it!

It’s also interesting to note that now in our second season of 11-a-side football my young team has only played on a youth sized pitch with youth sized goals, that we are fortunate to have, away from home twice.  

The plan for the development of smaller sided teams playing on smaller pitches is great but the FA is going to have to support clubs and councils financially to provide the equipment. A set of 9v9 size goalposts cost approximately £400 a pair and even more for those with wheels that can be easily moved when not in use. Multiply that across hundreds of local leagues and thousands of teams because not all clubs will have the money available and in the current financial climate I suspect local councils will be prioritising their funds elsewhere.

The Respect campaign and Charter Standard Programme also need work. The Charter Standard programme is very good but essentially you get this status by filling out forms. The local FA then monitor that you have the right number of qualified coaches and proper documentation about codes of conduct etc, but they don’t look at the actual behaviour of the clubs, players, coaches and parents.

We play against a Charter Standard Club that frankly shouldn’t be allowed on a football pitch. Players as young as 10 are abusive to referees and the parents are truly unbelievable. I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to swearing but I never do it at football. I’ve even seen a parent from this club walk onto the pitch and confront a 15-year-old referee whilst an under-11 game was in progress and the teams coach was egging him on and hurling four letter abuse at our parents and coach who were trying to calm the situation!  Yet this club proudly boasts its Charter Standard status on their website.

I’ve heard, albeit anecdotally, that these incidents aren’t isolated for this club but other clubs who have complained officially to the League in the past have see nothing happen and now consider that there is no point in bothering to say anything because the League and local FA simply haven’t done anything. Why isn’t the behaviour of a clubs, players, officials and parents the key monitor for continuing to be called a Charter Standard Club?

It’s a damning indictment of the game as a whole such that I felt I had to write this article anonymously because of the concern I have that my own team and club will be vilified by the local FA and the local League by saying things about their organisation and the lack of action taken against clubs whose behaviour and Charter Standard status goes unpunished, even though I haven’t mentioned any by name. I’m sure this view is shared across the country.

All in all the FA have some great ideas for the development of the game at Grass Roots level but both ends of the spectrum have to be tackled at the same time, and professional players, coaches, managers, administrators, pundits, commentators, administrators and the PFA have to recognise that something has to change at their level as well and not continue to use the excuse that they are “professional” and exempt because of it.

Succinctly, a dive to get a penalty is cheating. It’s not “professional” nor is it “being clever”; both quotes are an ex-player-turned-pundit’s worst statements, but they are heard most weekends on Match of the Day when analysing a match and the eradication of that type of attitude alone would mark a major step forward for the game we love, all the way down to the Grass Roots.

Anon: Football fan, and youth coach.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Gary Speed's untimely death leaves us numb

The news of Gary Speed's death on Sunday was devastating.

As a Leeds United fan, I have extremely fond memories of Gary Speed and his contribution to the winning of the last Division One Championship before the Premier League in 1992.

Speed was one of those unassuming players who plied his trade with craft and application while always remaining calm and respectful of his opponents. Therein must lie some of the reasons for his career's longevity.

I remember Speed as one of the talented midfield also consisting of Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan and David Batty. Speed was a player with poise and elegance and a knack for scoring headed goals that you really didn't expect him to manage.

Amazingly, Speed played until late 2008, with Sheffield United, in his fortieth year. It was a magnificent career of 677 games and 103 goals.

His recent role as Wales manager looked to be turning into a success with four wins in the last five games. We'll never know where Gary Speed might have taken Wales.

The high regard in which Gary Speed was held has been demonstrated by the reaction of neutral fans in the games since his death. Watch out for reactions at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United when their first home games come around.

We are left with a numbing death of a marvellous player, and the sad mystery of why he chose to take his own life when things were apparently going so well for him.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Odds against Manchester City progressing in Champions League

Despite all their millions it looks as though Manchester City are going to be knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Only a win against Bayern Munich will do for City and even then they have to rely on Napoli drawing or losing against Villareal in Spain. So far in this season's competition Villareal have yet to register a single point.

It's not looking good for Manchester City. Maybe they should make plans for the Europa Cup instead.

Yet in the Premier League they have been dominant thus far, winning 11 of 12 games and scoring 42 goals while conceding only 11.

Suddenly, Sunday's televised game for City away at Liverpool (conquerors of Chelsea last week) seems to take on huge significance. Liverpool's home record of two wins and four draws is not too impressive, but City's attacking prowess might allow Liverpool to take more of an "away game" approach.

A defeat certainly won't spell crisis for Manchester City, but will further dent confidence before the visit of Bayern Munich on 7 December.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pity Northampton Town, but what about Gala Fairydean?

I'm sure Manchester United fans suffered when they lost 1-6 at home to Manchester City. I'm sure Chelsea fans suffered when they lost 3-5 at home to Arsenal, as well as yesterday when they lost 1-2 at home to Liverpool.

But Manchester United and Chelsea fans have far more good days than they do bad. Manchester United, for instance, haven't conceded a goal in five games since that disastrous defeat.

Get over it, big boys.

Consider poor Northampton Town fans. There were 5,039 in attendance at Sixfields on Saturday (not all home fans, of course) for the visit of Shrewsbury Town - not long back in the Football League, but in a play-off position in League One. "The Cobblers" are at the wrong end of the table, but the fans couldn't have expected the events of Saturday afternoon.

Northampton Town were 3-0 down at half-time; already a bad day. Four minutes into the second half, however, Ben Tozer pulled a goal back to give the home fans some hope. And it remained at 1-3 until the 82nd minute when Marvin Morgan made it 1-4. No doubt this was a cue for many home fans to exit, but they would have missed Ade Akinfenwa pulling another back to make it 2-4 three minutes later. A bad result, but not a disaster.

However, the next few minutes would make it a disaster. Shrewsbury Town helped themselves to three more goals in the dying minutes to make a final scoreline of Northampton Town 2, Shrewsbury Town 7. It's the kind of result you avoid buying a paper for.

A terrible day for Northampton Town's suffering fans as the team remained 20th in the table. Not bottom then! No, poor Pymouth Argyle are seven points behind Northampton.

There's always somebody worse off than your team.

What about the poor Gala Fairydean fan(s) whose team lost 11-0 to Airdrie United in the Scottish Cup on Saturday?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Unimpressive England shake the monkey off their back

England completed back-to-back1-0 victories with their win over Sweden last night.

The result against Sweden was, for once in a friendly, more important than the performance, as it shook the monkey from its back in the form of failure to beat Sweden in 12 attempts in 43 years.

However, it was another typical England performance - despite numerous personnel changes from the Spain game. A reasonable first half was rewarded half-way through with a deflected Gareth Barry header to give them the lead, but the second half was pedestrian and England failed to capitalise on their first-half performance, thereby always keeping Sweden in the game and with a chance of equalising.

It has happened so many times before, but on this occasion England held on to win.

Complaints from the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Vicente Del Bosque about England's performance and style of play ("defensive", "physical") against Spain rather smack of sour grapes. England know they are not as good as Spain, and to try to match them at their own game would be footballing suicide. There are many ways to play football - that's what makes it so fascinating - and although we can all admire and aspire to Spain's style of play, it would takes years to get anywhere close.

Having said that, as Gus Poyet says (BBC) something must be done about the lack of technical ability in England. Talk gets us nowhere; it's time for action.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Wenger had it right as Arsenal rise continues

The top four - Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle United - all won by the odd goal on Saturday. Good enough for three points, of course.

But the biggest winners on Saturday were Arsenal, who beat West Brom 3-0. Now the crisis-hit Arsenal of some weeks ago sit in 7th place, on the same points as Liverpool and Tottenham, and only three behind Chelsea.

Now it's all about Robin van Persie is single-handedly lifting them up the table. He scored one and made two on Saturday.

As usual, there is little or no perspective and it's all by the media. It's all doom and gloom or the best thing ever.

When Arsenal were struggling they had just lost two key players (Fabregas and Nasri) and had injuries too. Now they are doing well, they have centre-backs back in the team, Song back in midfield and, yes, van Persie back up front.

Arsene Wenger (quite ridiculously touted for the sack by some) was right all along, and Arsenal will be in among the challenge for honours when it matters.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Arsenal and Chelsea edge nearer qualification

Although London's two Champions League entrants only managed draws in this week's group matches, they both sit in a good position in their respective groups.

Arsenal might have expected to win their home game with Marseille, but a 0-0 draw kept them above the French team, and four and five points clear of Borussia Dortmund and Olympiakos respectively. Another win will see the Gunners through to the knock-out stage, though they will, of course, hope to win the group.

Chelsea's 1-1 draw in Genk was treated like a home victory for the Belgian team, whose home supporters' roar at the final whistle will be hard to match anywhere throughout the whole competition. The goal by Jelle Vossen was Genk's first Champions League goal in their four matches. Given the ease of Chelsea's 5-0 home win over Genk only two weeks ago, this was indeed a momentous draw for the Belgian club.

Meanwhile Chelsea's woes continue. Following their 1-0 loss at QPR and 5-3 loss at home to Arsenal (with a 2-1 carling Cup win at Everton sandwiched in between), this draw was hardly the boost they needed. But they do have some relatively easy league games coming up. As with Arsenal, another win will see them qualify.

Work still to be done.

Friday, 28 October 2011

It's fun to make predictions

It's fun to make some scoreline predictions from time to time, so let's have a look at this weekend's Premier League clashes.

Everton face Manchester United in the noon kick-off on Saturday. Manchester United "bounced back" from their 1-6 loss at home to Manchester City during midweek by beating Aldershot Town 3-0 in the Carling Cup, but it's necessarily in quotes because, in all fairness to Aldershot, they weren't top class opponents, in addition to which, Sir Alex Ferguson changed his whole starting eleven anyway. Everton can be stubborn and drew with Chelsea over 90 minutes in the Carling Cup on Wednesday.
Prediction: Everton 1-1 Manchester United

Chelsea play Arsenal in the Saturday lunchtime televised game. Chelsea are progressing well, if unexcitingly (last week's oddity at QPR an exception), and Arsenal have now won seven out of their last eight games. Hence, the Gunners are not making the news any more. Where's the fun in them winning? I think the Blues will prove too strong, however.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal

A bit of a nightmare for Wolves, who, having been dumped out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday by Manchester City 5-2, now face them again in the league. Without a win in six league games for Wolves, City are not the ideal opponents. City are in seemingly imperious form.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-0 Wolves

Here are the rest:
Norwich City 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Sunderland 1-1 Aston Villa
Swansea City 1-0 Bolton Wanderers
Wigan Athletic 0-0 Fulham
West Brom 1-2 Liverpool

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Noisy neighbours City begin to roar

It would be hard to be writing a football blog this week and not talk about Manchester City's thrashing of Manchester United 6-1.

The fact that three of the City goals were scored in the last minute of the game and added time, and that five of the City goals were score after Jonny Evans's sending off cannot disguise the fact that City outplayed United and always looked the more likely to score.

Yes, of course, the Evans sending off and the late goals distorted the scoreline, but after so many years of playing second fiddle to United's dominance, City fans won't worry about that.

With players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva (magnificent), and even Mario Balotelli firing on more cylinders than City have had in the last forty years combined, there can be little doubt that the Blue half of Manchester is set for something big. The huge money spending is finally paying off.

Good news for England too: James Milner and Micah Richards were tremendous, and were ably supported by Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry.

The noise from the neighbours is become a deafening roar.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Abandoning relegation would be insanity

I have never heard anything so stupid as the apparent proposal to abandon relegation from the Premier League.

And that's saying something when we've had proposals for a "39th game abroad", mid-winter breaks (a pet hate of mine) and Celtic and Rangers to play in the English League.

I'm not sure who's proposing such nonsense, but, at a stroke, it would render about 75% of the games in the Premier League as irrelevant. The top few would still battle for the title and places in the Europa League they later decide they'd rather not have, and the remaining dozen or so clubs would have nothing to play for in the league - ever!

And guess what? No one would want to watch: at the ground, in the pubs, on TV, or even in deepest Malaysia. It's not a recipe for sanctuary for the clubs who might fear relegation; it's a recipe for disaster.

If this is some crazy notion based on the US model of the NFL, then what should we expect next? Overtime to ensure there are no draw? 117 players on each side, 106 of whom would be on the bench (what would Carlos Tevez think of that?)? Full body armour? Renaming football to soccer?

Come on. If our American friends Stateside were so good at inventing sports, some of them might just get played outside of their own back yard, and not have "world champions" from ONE country. Football (yes, NOT soccer) CAN learn a lot from other sports (like replays in cricket, and on-pitch injury treatment in rugby, to name but two), but it should ignore nonsensical proposals from apparent foreign owners who should remember why they bought into our game in the first place.

And why should the current members of the Premier League suddenly decide to ring-fence themselves? Would it be because some of them know they're not really part of the elite? Here's a list of the real top 20 clubs, based on league positions since the war:

1 Manchester United

2 Arsenal
3 Liverpool
4 Tottenham Hotspur
5 Everton
6 Chelsea
7 Aston Villa
8 Manchester City
9 Newcastle United
10 West Ham United
11 Leeds United
12 West Bromwich Albion
13 Wolverhampton Wand.
14 Nottingham Forest
15 Sunderland
16 Leicester City
17 Middlesbrough
18 Blackburn Rovers
19 Birmingham City
20 Southampton

The other current Premier League members are placed as follows:
23 Stoke City
26 Bolton Wanderers
31 Norwich City
32 Fulham
33 QPR
53 Swansea City
80 Wigan Athletic

You know what motivates proposals like this? Greed, fear, cowardice.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Give Rooney a year off from international football

So there it is: Wayne Rooney got the three-game international ban.

So, as I said in this blog on Monday: don't take him to Euro2012.

Rooney will miss the whole of the group stages. The last time England played more than four games in the Euros was at home in 1996, so is it worth taking Rooney for one game in the hope that he can squeeze us through to another?

For those first three games England will have to play a Rooney-free style; a style that they will have developed over the course of friendlies between now and June 2012. If England qualify for the quarter-final, is it realistic to suddenly change back to a Rooney-centric style of play?

I'm afraid it's best to write off Rooney from international football until the start of the 2012-13 season and the next set of World Cup qualifiers.

Sir Alex Ferguson must be delighted!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Euro2012 qualifiers

The qualifiers for  Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine are shaping up.

The 12 countries who have already qualified are:
  • Poland

  • Ukraine

  • Germany

  • Russia

  • Italy

  • France

  • Netherlands

  • Greece

  • England

  • Denmark

  • Spain

  • Sweden

  • There are 8 countries who have qualified for the two-legged play-offs in November. If they are seeded by the FIFA rankings, then they will come out like this:
    • Portugal (5th)
    • Croatia (9th)
    • Bosnia-Herzegovina (22nd)
    • Montenegro (26th)
    • Turkey (27th)
    • Republic of Ireland (29th)
    • Czech Republic (40th)
    • Estonia (58th)
    Thus, the top four would be seeded, and drawn randonly against the bottom four.

    The draw takes place tomorrow (Thursday 13 October).

    Monday, 10 October 2011

    How do you solve a problem like Wayne Rooney?

    "How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
    How do you find a word that means Wayne Rooney?
    A flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown."
    [With thanks - and apologies - to Rodgers and Hammerstein, from The Sound of Music.]

    Sent off for England on Friday, Rooney will now miss at least one - possibly two, and maybe even three - games at the start of Euro 2012.

    If UEFA decide he should be banned for three games, solving the Rooney problem will be easy - don't take him at all. Let's face it, England only rarely progress even one game beyond the groups at the Euros, so it would be a waste of a squad place to pick Rooney in the hope that we get beyond the group.

    At least, following this latest pathetic show of petulance, we've been spared the same old line that we've been bored with for the last eight years: "You've got to remember he's still young." At last the pundits have realised he's not - at 25 - particularly young any more, particularly with younger - yet more mature - colleagues around him; for example, Phil Jones.

    Gary Neville says we should stop trying to solve the Rooney problem per se, and solve the wider England problem - which is that we're not very good, and as a result Rooney gets frustrated, leading to such actions. I think he's got a point. We're often too reliant on one person - or at least believe we are - and how many times has that player missed out on the big tournaments? Think Keegan, Brooking, Robson, Gascoigne, Owen, Beckham, Rooney, metatarsals, etc.

    The team should be built to play good football, based on a system, not a player. Let Rooney be a cog in a well-oiled wheel, not the oil without which the wheel simply can't turn.

    Wednesday, 28 September 2011

    City and United struggle in Europe

    Manchester City and Manchester United may be leading the domestic charge, but both are struggling to find their feet in the European Champions League.

    City, for all their extravagant spending, have only a single point from two games, and United are not much better off, with two points. Both sit third in their group.

    City had a rough night, losing 2-0 to a resurgent Bayern Munich and with some controversy as Carlos Tevez appeared to refuse to go on as substitute (he has since claimed: "There was some confusion on the bench and I believe my position may have been misunderstood"). City now need two good results against bottom-placed Villareal to stand any chance of progressing.

    United were stunned last night as Basel came from two goals behind to lead Manchester United at Old Trafford. Ashley Young scored an injury-time equaliser to save United from an embarrassing (not to say damaging) home defeat. With both Benfica and Basel two points ahead of Manchester United, the Reds need to gain two wins against Romanian club SC Otelul Galati to keep their hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages alive.

    Wednesday, 14 September 2011

    City and United take to the European stage

    Both Chelsea and Arsenal got off to satisfactory starts in the Champions league groups last night.

    Chelsea eased to a 2-0 home win over Bayer Leverkusen, courtesy of goals from David Luiz and Juan Mata - both made by Fernando Torres.

    Arsenal were frustrated by a late equaliser by their hosts Borussia Dortmund, but Arsene Wenger will at least be pleased that they didn't fall to the sucker punch of an even later winner. The team - in re-development - showed some signs of resilience and an away draw at this stage is a good start.

    Tonight it's the turn of England's Manchester giants - United and City - who have both started the league season at a sprint.

    Manchester City will revel in their bow in the Champions League, with the visit of Napoli and an expectant crowd. Stand by for some "Poznans" when (rather than if) City score.

    As for United, 18 goals in their first four league games, have raised expectations to unsustainable heights - surely? A trip to Benfica this evening may serve to demonstrate how much they have progressed since their humbling by Barcelona in last season's final in May.

    It should be an exciting night!

    Tuesday, 16 August 2011

    Aguero could be Manchester City's real star

    Have Manchester City finally got themselves a real star?

    Last night Sergio Aguero (mysteriously wearing "Kun Aguero" on his back) came on as substitute with the score at 1-0 against Swansea City, and he proceeded to score two (the second one a beauty) and make another as the Blues an out 4-0 winners in the end.

    Indeed, Aguero helped make the scoreline a bit harsh on Swansea who for much of the first half were the equal of the rich Mancunians, at least in terms of possession. In the end statistics such as the shot count were overwhelmingly in the home side's favour.

    Edin Dzeko scored City's opener after the impressive Vorm in Swansea's goal couldn't hold a shot from Yaya Toure, and David Silva (who also had a good night) go the other goal after good work by Aguero.

    But the real story of the night was the Argentinian Aguero. He looked keen, quick, robust and undoubtedly had an eye for goal.

    Could City finally have the man who could make the difference?

    Monday, 15 August 2011

    Premier League stutters into action

    And so the 2011-12 Premier League season got off to a ... rather stuttering ... start at the weekend.

    Saturday afternoon saw only five games start the season, with Liverpool the biggest of the clubs getting underway - and they could only manage a tame 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland. Tottenham v Everton was called off after the riots, so it was left to Bolton Wanderers to make their mark, winning 4-0 at newly-promoted QPR, and proudly heading the Premier League table straight away - and they still do!

    Arsenal's trip to Newcastle was shown live on Saturday early evening, but made headlines for all the wrong reasons (Song, Barton, Gervinho) and produced no goals. Joey Barton may protest his innocence, but one has to wonder why he is so often at the centre of controversy. As for Stephen Taylor trying to claim that Gervinho had elbowed someone (when all he did was wave his fingers in Barton's face) - oh dear, oh dear, let's all try and get sensible, shall we? Taylor is one of those English players who's all huff and puff and machismo, with a heap of indignation thrown in. We don't need it.

    We hoped that Sunday's two live games featuring Chelsea and Manchester United might enliven proceedings, but Chelsea's rather one-dimensional display against Stoke did nothing, and it was left to the champions to chose touches of inspiration, even if Ashley Young's winning shot was in the end helped into the net by two deflections.

    Can we rely on Manchester City or the Welsh Dragons from Swansea to breathe some fire into the nascent season tonight?

    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    Tottenham v Everton falls victim to the riots

    I see that Tottenham v Everton has been postponed for this Saturday as a result of the recent riots in the area. This has to be the right decision at this uncertain time.

    It will be interesting to see what other games get postponed. Games in London and Bristol were postponed in the Carling Cup during the week.

    Thus, other games that must be vulnerable are:
    Fulham v Aston Villa
    Liverpool v Sunderland
    QPR v Bolton
    Birmingham v Coventry
    Crystal Palace v Burnley

    West Brom v Manchester United on Sunday, and
    Manchester City v Swansea City on Monday.

    It looks like being a stuttering start to the season.

    Football fans will join the rest of the public in their anger against these idiotic looters.

    Monday, 8 August 2011

    United see off City - just

    Manchester United came from 2-0 to beat arch-rivals Manchester City 3-2 in the Community Shield at Wembley yesterday. As an advert for the forthcoming season, this was pretty good.

    Big spenders City would love to take the Premier League title away from United, of course, but spending lots of money is not the simple answer. Manchester United will want to keep their title, but they also want to challenge the likes of Barcelona for the Champions League. After their humiliation at the hands of the Catalans in May, there were one or two notes that they may have learned a thing or two from that game.

    The equalise was the result of a series of one-touch passes ending with Nani planting the ball high into Joe Hart's net. Nani also got the winner as the usuall-reliable Kompany floundered on the half-way line.

    United will be disappointed that they conceded two goals, but they will shrug that off with their victory.

    City will realise that there is still a long way to go to turn money into titles.

    Friday, 5 August 2011

    Sven cracks a break joke

    Leicester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has joined the mid-winter break bandwagon, saying that England will struggle to win a major tournament unless the Premier League adopts a winter break.

    With England due to play Holland in a friendly before the season has even started, Sven's comment is really funny.

    Get this as well. He said: "It's more difficult for England than other countries to do well in a big tournament."

    "You have to have a break. You need to give every Premier League player seven days to fly to wherever they want."

    He added: "They can have sunshine, relax and then one week of preparation and then start again."

    With all the foreign players in the Premier League, I'm not sure why this is a specific problem for England - probably because none of our players want to play abroad. With all the sun, breaks and lack of games in foreign places, why is that?

    Before we think about a mid-winter break (when would that be, by the way?), let's think about a summer break. Many players had not long finished last season before they were whisked away on lucrative tours abroad. Why not spare them that and play half-a-dozen games at places like Bradford, Halifax and Hartlepool so the players don't get too tired?

    Do me a favour, Sven.

    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    The Championship beckons

    And so, with the weather just about as nice as it has been all year, we come to within a couple of days of the new football season for the Championship and Leagues One and Two. The spectators may bask shirtsleeved in Saturday's sunshine (if it holds!), but the players (all tans and new hair cuts) will suffer in the heat.

    The Championship promises to be more competitive than ever this season. There are many strong clubs in there and all are desperate to make it to the Premier League.

    Relegated clubs Birmingham City, Blackpool and West Ham United will be among the most desperate for promotion, but they will certainly not find it easy. Clubs like Leicester City (big summer spenders), Cardiff City, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest may head the rest, but consider Burnley, Coventry City, Derby County, Hull City, Ipswich Town, Middlesbrough, Reading and Watford! Promoted clubs Brighton and Southampton may even have a shout.

    I'm sure the other seven clubs will fell that they should be included too - everyone is optimistc and hopeful before a ball has been kicked.

    Whatever happens, expect the unexpected and a firecely fought campaign.

    Monday, 1 August 2011

    Tough World Cup draws for home nations

    The World Cup in 2014 in Brazil seems an awfully long time away. In Europe qualification for next year’s European Championship hasn’t even reached the business end of operations. Yet the draw for the qualifying groups for the 2014 World Cup took place on Saturday.

    England found themselves in a pretty tough group, with tricky trips to Eastern Europe in Ukraine and Poland, as well as Moldova, together with Montenegro, who are proving tougher than expected in the Euro qualifiers, and minnows San Marino. If Fabio Capello though his stint as England manager was awkward, then he’ll be delighted that he’s leaving the hot seat before those trips come up!
    As well as facing each other, Scotland and Wales have another pair who’ll have their own neighbourhood squabble – Croatia and Serbia – as well as Belgium and Macedonia. Qualification looks unlikely.
    Northern Ireland have a couple of teams that they should beat – Azerbaijan and Luxembourg – but with Russia and Portugal heading the seedings, they’ll need something like a miracle to qualify. Israel make up the six.
    Spain got the toughest non-top seeds in France, but there’s nothing at the moment that will worry the Spaniards.
    Qualification goes directly to the eight group winners, and the eight runners-up are paired (no doubt on a whim by FIFA) in four play-off matches.

    Tuesday, 19 July 2011

    Modric, Fabregas: who's going to win and lose?

    As the transfer mayhem continues throughout this miserable British summer, Tottenham Hotspur are holding out for more than £27m for Luka Modric; Arsenal have rejected a bid of £27m from Barcelona for Cesc Fabregas.

    If those players eventually move - Modric to Chelsea, Fabregas to Barcelona - who will be the big winners and losers in the deals?

    Tottenham: loser or winner by selling Modric for, let's say, £30m?
    Chelsea: loser or winner by buying Modric for that price?
    Arsenal: loser or winner by selling Fabregas to Barcelona for, let's say £35m?
    Barcelona: loser or winner by buying Fabregas for that price?

    I'd say:
    Tottenham: winner, by getting so much for a player who didn't play that much last season.
    Chelsea: probably a winner, given the lack of inspiration in their midfield for much of last season.
    Arsenal: loser; they need top players; they need players.
    Barcelona: Fabregas to improve their team? Really? Not now, but maybe in the future. Just about a winner.

    So, I'd say:
    Biggest loser: Arsenal.
    Biggest winner: Tottenham.

    But the game's all about opinions, isn't it?

    Monday, 11 July 2011

    So familiar - England's women pay the penalty

    In the end England's women's did tread exactly the same path as the men usually do - they lost on penalties in the World Cup quarter-final.

    Misses in the penalty shoot-out by skipper Faye White and Claire Rafferty meant that England succumbed 4-3 to France after a 1-1 draw after extra time. This, despite leading the penalty shoot-out 3-2 with only two kicks each left. England missed their two; France scored theirs.

    And that was after England had led 1-0 through a Jill Scott goal, only for Elise Bussaglia to equalise for the French with only three minutes of normal time to play.

    It all sounds so depressin gly familiar doesn't it? Only the names have changed.

    Yet, once again like the men, England's women performed up to the expectation of their ranking; tenth in the world, they reached the last eight of the tournament.

    France are joined by Japan (conquerors of hosts and holders Germany), USA and Sweden in the semi-finals.

    Friday, 8 July 2011

    England's women look to make further progress

    The transfer nonsense carries on.
    Fulham have already progressed through one round of the Europa Cup of the new season.
    The managerial musical chair game has settled down a bit.

    And England's women eventually made serene progress out of the group stages of the World Cup to face France in tomorrow's quarter-final. England are 10th in the world rankings compared to France's 8th (indeed, only Australia (11th) are lower than England in the rankings of the teams left in the competition).

    In matches between the two countries England have won two, France five and there have been five draws. It looks tough for the English girls, but their competitive spirit has been shown already in this tournament with a turn around from 1-0 down against New Zealand to win 2-1, and a fine 2-0 win against group favourites and 4th-ranked Japan to win the group. Otherwise they would have been facing Germany.

    There's seems to be an upbeat togetherness in the England ranks and it may seem them progress. Manager Hope Powell said: "We've played well in all three group games but not quite to our best yet so hopefully we can get better.

    "This squad wants to win games and now it's a case of you win you stay, you lose you go home, so we have to prepare ourselves the best we can before we face France."

    Thursday, 30 June 2011

    England's women follow traditional path

    The men do it all the time, the youngsters did it a couple of weeks ago, and now it's the women's turn.

    I'm talking about their failure to grasp a tournament by the scruff of the neck - and actuall win the first game.

    At last year's World Cup England's men took an early lead only to end up drawing against USA 1-1 (a match they were expected to win). Although they qualified from the group the stumble meantr that they had to face Germany in the first knock-out match and they lost 4-1.

    At the recent Under-21 European Championship the men actually did rather well to draw 1-1 with Spain in their opening game, but they then failed to beat the Ukraine (a match they were expected to win) and went out with a defeat to the Czech Republic.

    And now the women are doing the same. They drew their opening World Cup match on Monday, 1-1 with Mexico (a match they were expected to win) , and now face a 'must-win' game against New Zealand tomorrow.

    Sorry to be cynical, but I can already read the headlines ...

    Monday, 20 June 2011

    England's youngsters come home

    For the English the football season finally came to an end yesterday as England Under-21s crashed out of the UEFA Under-21 Championship in Denmark.

    Needing a win, England were leading 1-0 with a minute to go when the Czech Republic equalised and  then moments later stole a winner to go through and send the English youngsters home. It was a disappointment for manager Stuart Pearce who must have thought his boys were on the verge on a semi-final spot.

    But it was not to be.

    Pearce said: "It was probably the best performance of the tournament. But perhaps us going home now was symptomatic of us not passing the ball well enough in the first two games."

    So it's holiday time for these boys with most of the rest already on hot beaches. Pre-season training will sart in early July, and the first Premier League games are on 13 August (some of these players will start in the Championship a week earlier).

    Until then, relax.

    Mind you, the Women's World Cup starts next Sunday in Germany, with England's women having an outside chance (they're rated 10th in the world). Good Luck to them!

    Tuesday, 14 June 2011

    Managerial merry-go-round in full panic

    The madness of the managerial merry-go-round is in full swing.

    Carlo Ancelotti sacked at Chelsea. No appointment yet
    Mark Hughes resigned at Fulham. Martin Jol appointed at Fulham.
    Gerard Houllier resigned at Aston Villa.
    Billy Davies sacked at Nottingham Forest. Steve MacClaren appointed at Forest.
    Alex McLeish resigned as manager of Birmingham City. Resignation rejected.
    Aston Villa have now asked to talk to McLeish.

    Fun, isn't it?
    And funny how clubs believe that managers who have failed at other clubs will succeed at theirs. It was the old manager's fault that he failed at their club. It was the old club's that the new manager failed there.

    Blind optimism? Blind panic? Blind stupidity?

    There's got to be some fun during the summer when there are no games to keep us occupied!

    Friday, 10 June 2011

    Pearce bemoans England's absentees

    The European Under-21 Championships open in Denmark this weekend. England's under-21 team is one of eight competing. The other seven are: Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Belarus (Group A), and Spain, Czech Republic and Ukraine with England in Group B.

    England under-21 boss Stuart Pearce is unhappy that several of England's top young players have withdrawn from the squad. Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Micah Richards and Andy Carroll are the big four names - all with senior international experience - who have pulled out.

    "We've probably got the biggest number of absentees who have represented the seniors," Pearce said. "We need to make sure that when we turn up to these tournaments that the big, big players are here."

    He went on to say that experience gainmed from such a tournament didn't have a downside. "It adds value to the players, which obviously the club pick up on as well.
    "I'll still deem that there's a real learning curve from the tournament like this. It's really high-profile, it's gaining in momentum profile-wise every two years."

    It's a shame that so many of England's top youngsters will miss the trip. Invaluable experience will be lost, which could have stood them in good stead for future senior tournaments.

    Nevertheless, others will gain from - such as Jordan Henderson, now of Liverpool, and Scott Sinclair of newly promoted Swansea City.

    We wish them well.

    Wednesday, 8 June 2011

    The insanity of a mid-winter break

    Talk of a mid-winter break in the English Premier League has reared its head again.

    Sir Alex Ferguson mentioned it after Manchester United were crushed by Barcelona; England players have talked about it after their embarrassing draw against Switzerland last week; Fabio Capello said England players looked tired in that game.

    But a mid-winter break simply would not work.

    First of all - when IS mid-winter? November suffered snow in 2010; but so also did February 2010. So when do you break? December?

    Secondly, the game is all about money and attendances at games on Boxing Day and New Year's Day are always at a peak. This might not matter to clubs whose stadiums are full every week, but it will certainly matter to the Wigans and Fulhams of this world.

    Thirdly, it is not the breaks that matter, but the number of games. There are 38 Premier League games, as many as 19 Champions League games, plus possibly 11 cup games. So that's 60+ games in a season of around 41 weeks. That's not mentioning the half-dozen pre-season games, of course. What are we suggesting with a mid-winter break? That we cram those 60+ games into two or three fewer weeks?

    Fourthly, the truth is that there will be no mid-winter break for players. If there is a break in the Premier League, then the clubs will whisk their players off to Thailand, Japan, USA for a lucrative mini-tour to ensure that revenue is boosted. Add three more games to the schedule.

    Talk of a mid-winter break is misguided foolishness. Forget it now.

    Monday, 6 June 2011

    England end on a poor note

    And so another football season comes to a close, and it ended, for Englnad, on a pretty gloomy note. The performance in the 2-2 draw at home to Switzerland in Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier was poor, to say the least.

    Excuses of tiredness; some lame claims that they had done well to come back from 2-0 down, can't disguise the fact that a home draw against the Swiss is simply not good enough.

    There was some respite in the group as Montenegro could only draw at home to Bulgaria, and so missed their own chance to claim top spot ahead of England.

    So what's wrong with England? People like to blame the manager and his tactics ("too cautious"). Tiredness has been blamed. Apparently England players averaged 46 games to Switzerland's 31. Yet, Glen Johnson has missed half the season, as has Rio Ferdinand; Milner's not a regular at Manchester City, and Scott Parker has missed several games for West Ham. For Switzerland, Senderos, Djourou and Behrami all played in the Premiership last year, so I'm not sure about that stat.

    It was supposed to be a good thing that Ferdinand and Terry were back together in central defence; that Wilshere was playing; that England played 4-3-3 (4-5-1, take your pick). They were all "good things" until Switzerland took a quick-fire two-goal lead in the first half. The recovery to grab a draw only partly disguised the dismal performance.

    Top passers in the England team were John Terry (71) and Rio Ferdinand (57). Why? Because they spent most of the game passing to each other! Why? Because there's little or no significant movement ahead of them. They are then left to chip the ball forward (England's disease) and possession is lost.

    We have no thrusting midfielders; none who can make a 20-yard run so that our possession is in the middle of the opposition half rather than in the middle of our own (indeed the Swiss had several who could do this: Shaqiri and Xhaka being two); none who slip quietly into open space in dangerous positions (like Xavi or Iniesta of Barcelona); none who can play quick one-twos to open up the opposition; and, more crucuially, none who can instantly control a ball and be ready for the next pass or move immediately. They call it technique and they've been going on about it for years, but nothing improves.

    I think England fans live on in (blind) optimism that things will get better, but really they know they won't. We want England to be good, but we don't really believe they are or can be.

    Teams like Switzerland are better than we are.

    Thursday, 2 June 2011

    Blatter back in as FIFA president

    So Sepp Blatter was re-elected unopposed as President of FIFA yesterday.

    The FA's "too-little-too-late" attempt to postpone the election in the light of corruption investigations and unopposed candidacy was mocked and scorned by a succession of speakers from Haiti, Congo, Fiji, Benin and Cyprus. They called the FA's stance unconstituional and said that the interference from media and politicians was unwarranted. I'll bet.

    The FA went out on a limb, with little support, and their position was defeated as 172 delegates (of 206) voted to continue to the election. Blatter was re-elected. "Today something marvellous happened and I'd simply like to tell you I'm deeply moved and honoured. It's a challenge, a new one for me, and I accept it," he said, in somehwat mock surprise.

    Is there any light at the end of this murky FIFA tunnel?

    Well, maybe the corruption investigations will find something to stick.

    It appears that the way World Cup venues are chosen will change to encompass votes from ALL the delegates rather than the 24-man executive committee. That should make it more difficult for widespread corruption from potential hosts.

    There were words (let's hope, not platitudes) around making FIFA more transparent and to "restart the credibility of FIFA". Blatter said: "Everyone was waiting for solutions - now we will apply them."

    I'll not be holding my breath.

    Tuesday, 31 May 2011

    Sponsors voice concerns about FIFA

    Now sponsors are apparently getting twitchy about the goings-on within FIFA.

    President Sepp Blatter has stated that the organisation is not in crisis, but both Coca-Cola and Adidas have voiced their concerns.

    A a Coca-Cola spokesperson said: "The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport."

    An Adidas spokesman said: "The negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners."

    Blatter is now unopposed for the presidency of FIFA (vot on Wednesday) after Mohamed Bin Hammam dropped out of the race following recent allegations.

    "Football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties," Blatter claimed.

    Monday, 16 May 2011

    Relegation looms for two out of five

    While the city of Manchester celebrates its League and FA Cup wins for United and City, at the other end of the table the folk of Blackburn, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Wigan and Blackpool will be living a fearful week as the threat of relegation looms large over all of them. Poor West Ham United already felt the axe as they were relegated after defeat at Wigan yesterday.

    At the weekend Blackburn Rovers got a valuable point against the champions, while Wolves, Wigan and Blackpool all recorded wins, which they would have hoped would have dragged them clear of the relegation mire, but didn't. One point now covers all these five teams - Blackburn and Wolves on 40, the others on 39. Of the five, maybe Birmingham City are fearing the most after their dreadful home defeat against Fulham (0-2) on Sunday made them the only losers of this group.

    So it will all come down to the final day and no games look easy. Perhaps the stand-out game is Wolves v Blackburn as it involves two of the clubs. In addition, Birmingham City travel to Tottenham (looking for fifth place), Blackpool travel to already-crowned Champions Manchester United (who, even if they field a supposedly weakened team, will still present a mighty threat and will not want to dent an almost perfect home record further), and Wigan Athletic face Stoke City who might be a little deflated after their FA Cup Final defeat on Saturday.

    For those involved, next Sunday is going to be an awful afternoon.

    Monday, 9 May 2011

    Manchester United on verge of record 19th title

    Manchester United pretty much clinched the Premier League title yesterday with the 2-1 win over Chelsea.

    The fast-start goal after 36 seconds was a body-blow for the Blues from which they never truly recovered. And the second United goal was the clincher.

    Chelsea, never a team to lie down, mounted something of a second-half revival, with Frank Lampard cutting the arrears, but, despite some nervous moments for the home team, it was always going to be too much for Chelsea to turn around the early setbacks. In truth, the defending that allowed United to score their goals was woeful, and David Luiz (who has otherwise impressed greatly since his arrival in January) paid the price with his half-time removal by boss Carlo Ancelotti.

    Manchester United only need a point to secure their record-breaking 19th English League title and, with due respect to Blackburn Rovers (away) and Blackpool (home), there is no doubt that they will get it. This championship has been won at home, with only one draw denting an otherwise perfect home record. Away from home, United have not been so impressive - even Blackpool have won as many games away.

    Indeed, United have not always looked to be championship material. But in this oddest of Premier League seasons, none of the other contenders - Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City - have done enough to stop the Reds from virtually securing the title with two games to spare.

    As for Chelsea, they will lick their wounds from a trophy-less season and try to figure out how to get the best out of Fernando Torres next season. The fact that neither Torres nor Drogba scored a goal while both of them were on the pitch has to be a key pointer.

    Friday, 6 May 2011

    Leeds and Burnley charged: why?

    I am a Leeds United fan, but sadly live over 200 miles away in the south, so getting to see the team in action is an infrequent occurrence. I did, however, get up to see the tense 1-0 win over Burnley last Saturday. It's a shame for Leeds that the hard-fought, but deserved win will probably count for little as Nottingham Forest look certain to claim the last place in the play-offs by avoiding defeat at Crystal Palace tomorrow.

    I was rather bemused, however, to read that both Leeds and Burnley are to be charged by the FA for failing to ensure that their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and/or refrained from provocative behaviour.

    The incident happened in front of where I was sitting - only 20 yards away. A high challenge on Leeds's Max Gradel by Chris McCann sparked a melee in which I believe McCann, and Leeds's Neil Kilkenny and Eric Lichaj were booked. The melee was nothing more than the sort of thing you can see on Match of the Day every week. I have no idea why the FA chose to charge these two clubs.

    There is a bit of a paranoid conspiracy theory at Leeds (justified, as "they" are always out to get us!), but this did seem over the top.

    I am even more surprised to see this morning that Leeds have pleaded guilty to the charge. No doubt they will end up with a more severe punishment than QPR will receive for their misdemeanours (judgement mysteriously delayed by the FA yesterday).

    Tuesday, 3 May 2011

    Norwich City make it back to the big time

    Congratulations to Norwich City who secured promotion to the Premier League last night with a 1-0 at Portsmouth.

    This followed Cardiff City's inexplicable 0-3 surrender at home to Middlesbrough earlier in the evening. That result meant that Cardiff were left hoping for a Norwich failure at Fratton Park, and results to favour Cardiff next Saturday.

    But Norwich were in no mood to let slip their advantage, and a Simeon Jackson header gave them the win they needed to clinch promotion.

    Manager Paul Lambert called it "a miracle" as the club has achieved back-to-back promotions - the first club to do son since Manchester City did so in 2000. Lambert took over as boss at The Canaries after his then-club Colchester United won 7-1 and Carrow Road on the first day of last season. They have rarely looked back since then.

    Norwich City join Queen's Park Rangers as clubs promoted from the Championship to the Premier League. Cardiff City are left to fight out in the play-offs with Swansea City, Reading and, almost certainly, Nottingham Forest.

    Tuesday, 26 April 2011

    Mancini must hope unconvincing Manchester City deliver the FA Cup

    I watched Manchester City stumble to a 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park yesterday evening.
    For the millions City have spent, they have come up with an entirely unconvincing unit. Players like Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko (although he did score the winner) do not look like players who will win the Premier League for City next season.

    Yet, they have made the FA Cup Final - delightfully, for them, at the expense of their more illustrious neighbours from Old Trafford. The chance to bring the first silverware to City since the League Cup in 1976 looms large, but opponents on 14 May Stoke City (last winners of silverware in 1972 with the league Cup) will present tough opponents, and City should be mindful of Arsenal's defeat in the League Cup at the hands of Birmingham City earlier this season.

    City look comfortable in fourth place and, in spite of Arsenal's recent troubles, are likely to stay there to claim a Champions League qualifying spot for next season.

    Time could well be running out for Roberto Macini and, if he fails to deliver the FA Cup next month, he could see his number up.

    Tuesday, 15 March 2011

    Give the captaincy back to John Terry

    The discussion about John Terry's captaincy of England has reared its head again recently.

    When it first came up for discussion in February 2010, I commented on it. Here are some snippets:

    "So should John Terry carry on as England captain?

    Chelsea obviously see no problem with the situation as he has carried on as captain of the Blues.

    Why should it be any different for England?

    Some may say the job's so important and it's representing the nation and all that. Is it? Is that the real reason for all this debate? Or is this just a typical media storm in a tea cup, brought about because of the lifting of restrictions on reporting this story, and the "haven't-we-done-well-to-expose-him?" media frenzy that has followed?

    Let's face it. The media (newspapers in particular) love to "get" someone, don't they? And the bigger they are, the better. Captain of England? Top score!

    If Fabio Capello sacked Terry as captain (and he won't), who would he put in his place?

    Who are the candidates?
    Steven Gerrard (he of the nightclub fight accusations)
    Wayne Rooney (he of the dubious onfield discipline)
    Rio Ferdinand (will he be fit?)

    The fact is that Capello chose John Terry as England captain because he is the best man for the job - football-wise. Does there need to be another reason"

    The only thing I was wrong about was that Capello DID sack Terry as captain. He chose Rio Ferdinand as his replacement, but Ferdinand has figured very infrequently due to injury (as I expected).

    Give the captaincy back to John Terry - it's the right thing to do, Fabio. 

    Thursday, 27 January 2011

    Premier League is shaping up

    This week's Premier League games have helped to shape the league table.

    Chelsea's impressive win at Bolton on Monday seemed to put them back in the title race, and when Manchester United were 2-0 down at Blackpool the following evening, Blues fans must have been rubbing their hands with glee. But, where Wayne Rooney can't score, Dimitar Berbatov can't stop scoring and two from him helped United to turn the game round to win 3-2. Soul destroying for title rivals.

    Thus, United are 5 points ahead of second-placed Arsenal, and a further 5 points ahead of the other team most likely to challenge, Chelsea.

    Liverpool's 'lucky' (according to Dalglish) win over Fulham last night moved them up to the dizzy heights of 7th, although they are five points behind 6th-placed Sunderland. The Reds are clearly not going to be dallying with relegation; they're only looking up now.

    Blackpool's loss underlines the precarious nature of their own position, despite some exciting times up to now. Although apparently comfortable in mid-table, they are only six points ahead of the relegation places. No doubt they were delighted by Wigan's 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa, which has left Wigan in the relegation zone, and lifted Villa level with Blackpool - Houllier's team now starting to pick up points.

    Alphabetically they'd be the last three in the league and that's where they are (slightly out of order): West Ham, Wolves and Wigan. The Hammers' defeat at Birmingham City last night leaves them without the distraction of a Wembley final, but would they really wish such a 'problem' on 17th-placed Birmingham (three places higher)? I doubt it.

    Tuesday, 25 January 2011

    Chelsea right back in the title hunt

    Chelsea's return to form in the Premier League last night with a 4-0 win at Bolton Wanderers might just have the teams above them twitching.

    The Blues (41 points) are now seven points behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand - an away game at Blackpool this evening. Between these two sit Arsenal (same games as Chelsea) with 46 points and Manchester City (one more game) with 45 points.

    Chelsea's imperious march through last night's game (at a venue where they always win and never concede) appeared to be proof that they have come through their bad patch - their last away win being in October. Goals from Drogba, Malouda, Anelka and a first from Ramires saw them cruising on a night when Bolton had wanted to celebrate the life of recently-died Nat Lofthouse with a win. The impeccably observed minute's silence before the game was a true mark of respect to the great man.

    Manchester United will want to start winning away games (they have drawn eight of ten away to date) as, in the end, the dropping of two points in so many away games could prove crucial. SO tonight's game at Bloomfield Road takes on added significance.

    Suddenly, Chelsea appear not to be out of the title race.

    Monday, 24 January 2011

    Sexist comments have no place in modern football

    The furore over the alleged sexist comments made by Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray about female assistant referee Sian Massey is fully justified.

    Their "off-air" comments were recorded before the Wolves v Liverpool game on Saturday and then released by an unnamed source after the match.

    The comments reportedly ranged from [Keys]: "Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her" to [Gray]: "Why is there a female linesman? Somebody's ****ed up big" and [Keys]: "I guarantee there will be a big one today. Kenny (Dalglish) will go potty."

    In fact, 25-year-old Massey got the "big one" right and it was in Liverpool's favour as Christian Poulsen played the ball through for Raul Meireles who Wolves thought was offside, but was proven by Sky's TV replays to have been kept onside by defender Ronald Zubar. Fernando Torres scored from the ensuing attack.

    The kind of outdated sexism voiced by Gray and Keys surely has no place in the Tenties. Society and football have moved on from when Sky started showing live football (as they have pointing out repeatedely in the last few weeks) twenty years ago.

    Some years ago pundit and erstwhile manager Ron Atkinson was sacked as an ITV pundit for "off-air" rascist comments, as was (in a non-football context) Carol Thatcher from the BBC.
    Will Sky have the courage to follow suit?

    Friday, 21 January 2011

    South Coast stirring in League One

    In League One the south coast is stirring. Brighton lead the way, with Southampton in third and Bournemouth in fourth place.

    This weekend Bournemouth (40 points from 25 games) host the leaders Brighton (46 from 23). Gus Poyet started to stir Brighton in the latter part of last season and they have continued their good form into this season. Their last three games have been wins against two other south coast teams: Exeter City 2-1, in the league; Portsmouth 3-1 in the FA Cup; and another league win against Peterborough (3-1).

    Bournemouth's recent form has not been quite as good: 0-0 at Rochdale, a 2-1 loss at Colchester United and before that a 3-0 against (another south coast team!) Plymouth Argyle. They have obviously not been helped by the upheaval and then departure of boss Eddie Howe, who has now taken over the reins at Burnley. Lee Bradbury has now taken over as boss at Dean Court.

    Brighton, of course, are moving into the their new stadium at Falmer - The American Express Community Stadium - next season and they would be delighted if they were to do so in the Championship.

    With an impressive record to date, you've got to fancy the Seagulls to edge it over the Cherries in tomorrow's game.

    Thursday, 20 January 2011

    Premier League sees off Championship in the FA Cup

    The four Premier League clubs duly dispatched the four Championship opponents in the FA Cup replays this week.

    Only Doncaster Rovers took a severe beating - 0-5 at Wolves - and Cardiff City ran their opponents closest, beaten by Stoke City only after extra time.

    However, both Leicester City and Leeds United had their moments against more illustrious opponents in Manchester City and Arsenal respectively.

    On Tuesday Leicester City levelled at 1-1, then brought the game back to 2-3 to put the wind up the big-spen ders from Manchester.

    On Wednesday, Arsenal brough out most of their big guns to ensure that could see off Leeds United for whom a superb 25-yard strike by Bradley Johnson had briefly given them hope at 1-2. Ultimately, though, the classy act that is Arsenal proved too much for the gutsy Elland Roaders. A 38,232 crowd brought back memories of the good old days to the Yorkshire club, who are in with a shout of promotion back to the top league.

    Onward they go, then the Premier clubs:

    Wolves and Stoke face each other in the fourth round.
    Arsenal host another Yorkshire club in Huddersfield Town.
    Manchester City face the conqerors of Sunderland, Notts County, in a potential banana-skin tie.

    Tuesday, 18 January 2011

    Grant stays at West Ham - but for how long?

    It now appears that West Ham United will be retaining Avram Grant as manager. Today they say they are “committed to retaining Avram Grant as manager”.

    This after all the speculation over the weekend and the worst kept secret that the Hammers were courting Martin O’Neill for the job. However, it seems that O’Neill declined to take up the management role at Upton Park.

    Having failed to tempt O’Neill back into management – he left Aston Villa last August – West Ham say they were now identifying “potential transfer targets” in a bid to avoid relegation.

    Earlier in January owners David Gold and David Sullivan would not comment on Grant’s tenure after a board meeting.

    One can’t help but wonder how long Grant will last if things turn worse again for West Ham.

    Monday, 17 January 2011

    Fourteen teams in relegation battle!

    I cannot recall a season when so many teams in the Premier League have the potential to be relegated. I don't mean that they're all not very good - I mean that the lower half (and more) of the division is so tight.

    Just TEN POINTS cover the teams from bottom (West Ham United with 20 points) all the way up to Bolton Wanderers in seventh place with 30 points.

    Forty points is usually taken as the number you need to be safe after 38 games. Only once have more points been needed. That could happen again this seasonas points are being shared around liberally between all teams.

    No team among the 14 in that ten-point zone will consider themselves safe until they are comfortably past the 40-mark point.

    Let's look at a few examples:

    At the bottom West Ham have 20 points from 23. They need at least another 20 from 15 games. That's seven wins from 15; they've only won four so far. Ouch.

    In 17th place are Aston Villa with 22 points from 22. If they carried on at a point a game, they'd get 38 points. Not enough. So they need a couple of back-to-back wins to ease their discomfort.

    Everton and Liverpool are 12th and 13th respectively, both with 26 points from 22 games. Another 14 each from 16 games looks within their compass (three wins, 2 draws), but a bad run oif a few games without a win would trouble them.

    In 7th Bolton Wanderers should be secure, but even they won't rest easy until they bag another 10 points from their remaining 15 games. If they were to lose three or four in a row and slip into the bottom half the board and fans would soon get nervous.

    In a season when the top teams are stumbling and not shining as brightly as in recent seasons, the battle to stay in the Premier League should keep our interest until the very last day.

    Friday, 14 January 2011

    Where does the power lie in FIFA?

    I read that Fifa executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii have appealed against suspensions imposed upon after corruption allegations in 2010.

    Nigeria's Adamu, caught seeking bribes from undercover reporters, was banned for three years and Temarii, from Tahiti, received a one-year ban for breaching confidentiality rules, but was cleared of corruption.

    Both men were unable to vote on the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in December.

    Their cases will be heard by Fifa's Independent Appeals Committee, chaired by Bermuda Football Association president Larry Mussenden.

    In February the Confederation for African Football (Caf) has its annual assembly in Khartoum, Sudan, where it will choose two delegates for the 24-member Fifa ruling body.

    Now forgive me, but Nigeria (32) [perhaps honourably excepted), Tahiti (183), Bermuda (172), Sudan (100) are not exactly world leaders when it comes to football. Of 207 nations listed on FIFA's official rankings, it seems to me that too many down at the lower end have too much influence in what goes on in the world game. How can so many from so low down be on a 24-man committee?

    Now I'll gather up my aspersions.

    Thursday, 13 January 2011

    Dalglish sees the scale of the problem

    If Kenny Dalglish didn't know the scale of the problem at Liverpool before he joined as temporary manager last week, then he surely knows now.

    Dalglish's Liverpool have now been knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United and beaten (for the second time this season) by Blackpool in the space of four days. The once mighty Reds now sit 13th in the table, only four points off the drop zone, and a mere five points off the bottom of the table.

    Liverpool's away record in the league is abysmal: won 1, drawn 2, lost 8, scored 8, conceded 21.

    After last night's defeat Dalglish said: "The effort, commitment and desire is there. But sometimes it doesn't matter how good the player is, you need belief. We'll work hard on giving them that."

    Next up for Liverpool is the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday. The pressure doesn't let up!

    Meanwhile Ian Holloway's perennial underdogs Blackpool have now reached 28 points, and it is traditionally held that 40 points will make you safe in the Premier League. Twelve points required from 18 games - they might just make it!

    Tuesday, 11 January 2011

    Stop denying us goals and apply the rules properly

    Listening to commentaries of televised football over the weekend, one of the commentators (I can't remember which one or which game) said of a penalty claim: "if you give that, we'll be getting eight or nine penalties a game" or a very similar sentiment.

    It was the kind of foul that is ALWAYS given outside the penalty area, but very rarely inside.

    It wasn't the foul on Dimitar Berbatov in the Manchester United v Liverpool game, but it was similar. A foul that would be given outside the box, but when it's given inside (and results in a penalty) the victims are up in arms.

    The commentator obviously advocates a dual-rule system: one set of rules outside the penalty areas, and another set for inside. Most referees already play to this dual-rule system.

    What annoys me is that we, as the spectators, are being denied goals (albeit penalties) in favour of ignoring the rules. I'll stop short of calling it cheating, but it does mean that the rule breakers are getting away with it.

    Why, in a sport where the objective is supposed to be to score goals, do the rule makers and appliers do so much to prevent goals being scored?

    Monday, 10 January 2011

    FA Cup delivers its magic

    It hasn't always been the case in recent years, but the FA Cup third round really delivered the Cup in its finest tradition over the weekend.

    Fired by Leeds United's excellent draw at The Emirates (which was so nearly an away win for the Championship team), lower league teams exploded into action on Saturday afternoon.

    League One Brighton beat Championship Portsmouth 3-1.
    League One Sheffield Wednesday won 3-0 at League One Bristol City.
    League Two Burton Albion beat Championship Middlesbrough 2-1.
    Championship Doncaster Rovers drew 2-2 with Premier League Wolves.
    League One Leyton Orient won 1-0 at League One Norwich City.
    Championship Reading beat Premier League West Brom 1-0.
    League One Southampton beat Premier League Blackpool 2-0.
    Championship Cardiff City drew 1-1 at Premier League Stoke City.
    League Two Torquay United beat League One Carlisle United 1-0.
    League One Notts County won 2-1 at Premier League Sunderland.
    Championship Leicester City held Premier League Manchester City.

    And pride of place must go to League Two Stevenage who beat Premier League Newcastle United 3-1.

    Add the interest of Kenny Dalglish returning to Liverpool and his first match being at Old Trafford in the Cup and it truly was a potent mix that didn't fail to deliver.

    Let no excuses of bad refereeing decisions of weakened teams detract from this. It was a humdinger of a Cup weekend, and let's have plenty more.

    Friday, 7 January 2011

    Keane becomes another sacking victim

    Among all the forecasts for the first of the vulnerable Premier league managers to fall, suddenly comes the sacking of Ipswich Town manager Roy Keane.

    Ipswich sit an uncomfortable 19th in the Championship, and have suffered seven defeats in the last nine games. Yet Keane has led Ipswich to a Carling Cup semi-final against Arsenal, the first leg of which is at Portman Road next Wednesday.

    After losing 1-0 to his old club Nottingham Forest on Monday Keane said: "I'm doing my best and if my best isn't good enough, then I'll take the consequences."

    As for the vulnerable Premier League managers, Roy Hodgson of Liverpool surely heads the list, followed by Avram Grant (West Ham), Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea) and Gerard Houllier (Aston Villa).

    Given the large number of recent sackings across the top four divisions, the next one could be only hours away.

    Wednesday, 5 January 2011

    Surely Beckham won't become a professional trainer!

    It really is beginning to look like David Beckham might make a return to the Premier League. His current club, LA Galaxy, is said to be in talks with Beckham about a possible loan deal, with Tottenham Hotspur as the favourites.

    As a strange addendum Galaxy might only releae Beckham to train with the club, not play! That would be weird. It would be hard to imagine Beckham training with Spurs until the US Major League Soccer starts in March. Surely he would have to be able to play.

    Of course, the wider media are trying to make out that Beckham's first game for Spurs could be the game agaainst his old club Manchester United on 16 January. That seems a little unlikely given all the caveats involved.

    Still, for my part, I'd like to see the old England hero back in English grounds to see what he can still do. He would definitely bring intense media and spectator interest to what is already the most watched football league in the world.

    Can Harry Redknapp pull off the deal for Spurs?

    Tuesday, 4 January 2011

    Christmas and New Year shape the rest of the season

    Many years ago they used to play three games over the Easter period. It was one on Good Friday, one on the Saturday, and one on Easter Monday. It used to shake the league up with only about half a dozen games to go. It doesn't happen any more. Good Friday has been virtually lost to football, and most of Easter Monday has too. Some games may be played in the midweek following, but usually European ties take over.

    It's a shame.

    However, Christmas/New Year has become the new shake up time. With four league games on approximate dates of 26th, 28th December and 1st and 4th January, the leagues shape up in this period. With still 20 games left the period in no way brings any conclusions, but it does formulate the rest of the season. For example, Fulham and Birmingham City now know they are in a relegation battle, which they weren't sure about before, Chelsea are playing catch-up at the top, and new contenders Norwich City, Nottingham Forest and Millwall have emerged in the Championship.

    There has been the usual bleating about too many games, but with the best attendances of the season over this period, no owner is going to turn down this bonanza.

    With Premier League games tonight and tomorrow, the shake-up is not yet complete. Let the excitement continue!