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!