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.