Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Premier League is back with a bang! That was one hell of a first round of matches, full of entertainment and goals. We've missed this! Obviously, the results of the first matches are often a false indication of how clubs will perform during the course of the season, but based on them (and again, I repeat, these are false indications so bear with me), here are the conclusions I've come up with for all the teams in the Premier League. These are premature judgments, so feel free to rip me to shreds if you disagree:
Life post-RVP began with the 0-0 draw at Sunderland, but I've said it once and I'll say it again, Arsenal are looking very good. Some of their inter-play was fantastic and it'll only be a matter of time before their new look side starts performing. Cazorla looks like he'll adapt to English football pretty quick and he's surrounded by creative players too. They're going to challenge for the title. Watch this space...
Martin O'Neill's men will be solid as any O'Neill team always is. They obviously didn't create much against the Gunners as most sides don't opt to try and attack at the Emirates stadium. I expect them to settle soon and pick up slowly as the season goes along. A Europa League challenge wouldn't be off the cards knowing that O'Neill has what it takes to get them there.
Clint Dempsey wasn't missed as the Fulham faithful found a new hero in Mladen Petric who scored twice and gave an assist on his debut. Dempsey looks like he's on his way out of Craven Cottage, but I'm not too sure they'll be worried about that. A 5-0 home win is the dream start to any team's campaign, but with the lack of depth in the squad, I expect them to hobble around mid-table throughout the season.
Unlike Fulham, losing 0-5 at home is the worst possible start to any season. Their main problem I believe, was the fact that they gave 4 debuts to 4 new signings. It obviously takes time for new players to gel and for some reason Hughes ignored this aspect. They've got players with experience all over the pitch, but will that be enough to avoid a relegation battle again? I strongly doubt it. They're a team of what I'd like to call "Premiership rejects" and we'll see if those players have what it takes to keep them up.
Brilliant performance by a brilliant team. They will be the surprise package of the season...again. If handing 4 debuts was a problem for QPR, then the 3 new signings that Swansea have acquired have just proven otherwise. Micheal Laudrup took off where Brendan Rodgers left off, with the Swans keeping true to their attacking philosophy. De Guzman, Chico and Michu all look like absolute steals and I wouldn't put it past Swansea vying for a Europa League spot.
A last minute penalty saved the Royals from defeat this time around, but the game itself wasn't full of action so it's hard to make any sort of proper judgment on Reading. Let's give it another game.
I simply expect more long throws, high balls, hussling and bussling in the box and some odd complaints from Tony Pulis as the season goes on. Mid-table as per usual.
Possibly the biggest false dawn of the new campaign. Steve Clarke will obviously be pleased to get one over his former club, but whether they can repeat such a performance over the course of the season is doubtful. I expect them to face a relegation battle even though they looked impressive against Liverpool, it was a combination of things that led to such an odd result.
Two harsh penalty decisions went against them in their game at the Hawthorns it must be said (as well as the red card), but besides the fact that Rodgers will need time to properly influence the team and its style, there seems to be a breath of fresh air around Liverpool. I expect them to do better than last season and be within the top 6-7 teams in the league. One thing I do wonder about though is Suarez's finishing; it could prove costly to them because for all his skills up front, he's kept the habit of shooting straight at the keeper. Am I wrong about that Liverpool fans?
They're back and with Big Sam at the helm, expect nothing other than a team that'll battle its way to safety this season. They've got the personnel and they seem to have got the hunger, albeit through a lucky goal to win their first game back with the big boys. Mid-table would do them well.
I'm wondering about Paul Lambert's motives moving to Villa Park. Taking one look at their starting 11, it's hard to find players who strike fear into opponents, either physically or on the ball. They'll struggle this season, regardless of Lambert's presence. Villa are a team that don't just need a managerial change to bounce back to the higher spots in the league. Strugglers this season.
Can they do it again? Another good season in the works with players purchased on a small budget? I think they can. Barring injuries to their main players, I'd actually bet on them finishing in the top 4 this season. With the magic syrup of Ba and the power of Papiss Cisse, I think the Geordies are going to have an even better season than last year. The balance of their squad seems right and they have the ability to adapt to different formations, giving Alan Pardew the luxury of a Plan B.
Modric to leave? A striker to join? Players changing numbers for fun (Bale is now 11, and VDV is 10)? Tottenham will fail to live up to the expectations they've set for themselves unless a striker (or 2) is signed. They're one of those clubs you know have got everything to make it huge and it's now all in the hands of Villas-Boas who'll be looking to redeem himself after his failure at Chelsea. Top 6 finish, but no Champions League for Spurs.
The great escape last season was a lucky one. They did look pretty decent at times against Chelsea, and I expect them to avoid getting into the mess they were in last season. A surprising top 10 finish for the Latics wouldn't be wide off the mark.
The Blues are looking confident following their Champions League success last season. With the acquisition of a few new young faces and with a blend of experience, there's no reason why Chelsea won't mount a much more serious challenge than last season. Hazard looks to be the man they should build the team around and he will flourish with the responsibility.
Still the team to beat? When a team wins the league, particularly their first one (in the PL era), the challenge is retaining that title. Getting to top is hard, staying there is harder. No major signings were made during the summer apart from Jack Rodwell, but their comeback against Southampton proves that they've started off exactly where they left off last season. They'll be fighting for the title and the quality of their squad means they'll do so easily.
A bogey team perhaps? The determination to do well looks to be in place, whether or not they'll have the consistency and depth to last an entire season is the real question. I think they'll pull off similar feats to the likes of Hull, Norwich and Reading in years gone by; meaning that they'll perform well until January and will stay up....just about.
The traditional slow starters got off to a flyer by outplaying, outfighting and beating Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini stole the show and put in a top performance. Every year there seems to be the same players at Everton doing the same job. It's still a surprise that they do start slow because they've got what it takes to beat the big boys. They'll do their usual bit of that slow start and will then start flying toward the end of the season with a late push for a European place. (Random info: Darron Gibson has not lost a league game he's played in since April 2010 - good luck charm?).
The danger with signing a marquee player is the expectation it brings. Had United not signed RVP, this defeat would have seemed a lot less strange than it does. With the talent available at United's disposal, particularly going forward, it seems hard to understand how they couldn't breakthrough the Everton defense and trouble Tim Howard. United will be fighting for the title with City, Chelsea and Arsenal - but will need to massively improve on their performance against Everton. Fergie has work to do in finding the best formation and positions for all his players.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Yesterday, I discussed with a friend about how players have too much power in Football these days. His argument was that if a club decides to sell a player, there's nothing the player can do but leave. My argument was that a player can sit on his a*se for as long as he wants and earn his salary regardless of whether the club want to sell him or not - if he's on a contract. Both seem to be typically right, but they depend on the scenarios.
Let's take scenario 1: the player wants to leave the club, but the club wants to keep the player
This has become a typical scenario nowadays with many footballers looking for a transfer to a "bigger" club (or just more cash). They hand in a transfer request, or they get their agents to get involved in some dodgy shenanigans, the club rejects the transfer request, the players sulk until they make the move. The club's usually try and force their hand on the player, but most times, the player gets what he wants.
Example: Luka Modric currently wanting to leave Tottenham and force a move to Madrid. He's pushed for the move so much that Tottenham have to cash in on him while they can, knowing that Real Madrid are prepared to offer big money and that the player himself will no longer be performing (if he stays) to his maximum level thus reducing his value.
Scenario 2: the club wants to sell the player, but the player doesn't want to leave the club
A club is looking to offload one of its players, but the player doesn't want to leave the club. What happens then? Can the club force the player to leave? Even if the club has agreed a fee with another club and everything is on the dotted line, they still need to get the player to sign. But what if he refuses to sign, then what happens? He's still at the club, albeit unwanted by the club, and is still earning his salary for doing...well, nothing. Can the club kick him out? It can get nasty, but if the player doesn't want to leave, he won't.
Ex: Winston Bogarde at Chelsea between 2000-2004, played only 9 games and was surplus to requirements at the club, particularly because of his high salary. So while the club did try and get rid of him, he refused to go anywhere. He stayed at the club until his contract finished and retired following those 4 years at Stamford Bridge. He said " Why should I throw fifteen million Euro away when it is already mine? At the moment I signed it was in fact my money, my contract. This world is about money, so when you are offered those millions, you take them. Few people will ever earn so many. I am one of the fortunate few who do. I may be one of the worst buys in the history of the Premiership, but I don't care".
Clubs do have the power to put players in situations they don't want to be in, particularly when the player starts pushing for a move against the club's will. But ultimately, as long as a player is under contract (especially after the Bosman ruling), he will always hold the key to his future.
Even if it means sitting on the bench, going to Argentina for 6 months on a Golf tour (see Tevez, Carlos), the player will always seem to have more power than he should. Clubs that face situations like this always end up cashing on the players because it makes sense to make money out of them, but overall, I believe players have a bit too much power and this has been to the detriment of Football in general.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Robin Van Persie will sign for Manchester United, subject to a medical, after Arsenal and United agreed on a fee for the Dutchman. There are so many questions that fans have been wondering about, as one of the biggest transfers between two English clubs in the modern era is about to be completed:
- I recently wrote about Arsenal fans getting used to the idea of losing their key men when they hit that golden age of 29-30 years old. But losing Robin Van Persie is going to be a major blow to them. Despite the signings they've made this summer of players like Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski, all of whom are bound to make a positive impact on the league, losing their key striker, captain and star man (again!) is going to demoralize their players. How often are Arsenal going to keep going on like this? Wenger should have waited out for Van Persie's final season to try and make him change his mind halfway through the season perhaps. Cashing in on him when the "right" amount of money comes their way shows where Arsenal's ambitions might actually be. Losing him on a free rather than selling to a rival should have been the mentality adopted to ease Arsenal fans' worries.
- There is a telling difference between Arsenal losing Van Persie and when they lost the likes of Henry, Vieira, Nasri, Fabregas and co. When most of the "invincibles" left, their talents were either fading or had not yet been reached. When Fabregas left it was because of his past affiliation with Barcelona. When Nasri left, the suspicion was that it was about the money...but none of these players were sold at the peak of their powers. Van Persie has never been this good. This is the peak of his career and losing a player that influential at this stage in his career, no matter how many Arsenal fans deny it, is a massive blow. Wenger wanted him to stay and he joined one of Arsenal's rivals.
- Arsene Wenger must prove Van Persie wrong and show him that this Arsenal side has the capability to win trophies. This must now be one of Wenger's biggest challenges yet.
- People often forget that Robin Van Persie was signed in August 2004 for the tiny fee of £2.75 million from his childhood club Feyernoord. Wenger spotted the talent and gave him the chance to join a top club. Numerous injury plagued seasons later, Wenger stood by the Dutchman and gave him chance after chance to show his true talent - which to be fair, he only did properly last season (2011/2012). That patience that Wenger had with Van Persie seems like it was never appreciated by the Dutchman. How naive Wenger must be feeling right now.
- 24 million pounds for a 29 year old Striker, who's injury prone, and has only had 1 good season is a very valid argument. But to whoever uses that argument, would you say "No" to Van Persie joining your club? I doubt it. The man remains, at the moment, one of Europe's most lethal finishers and probably the best striker in English Football. This is a huge signing! One of the biggest to ever happen in English football. - Arsenal fans must start praying their next captain is Marouane Chamakh, Abou Diaby, Park Ju-Young or Sebastien Squillaci.
- How are United going to play now? How will this move affect Welbeck and Hernandez? I personally believe having 4 top strikers is something Ferguson has been unable to handle since the 1999 treble season, back when egos weren't as big as they are today. Expect someone to be grumpy about this move and unhappy at playing second fiddle.
- What has Dimitar Berbatov done to deserve this treatment from Ferguson? Nobody will ever know, but the Bulgarian would be an asset at absolutely any club he joins and should be ready to move on now. Unfortunately, Ferguson's cold shoulder doesn't seem justified.
- The mouth-watering aspect of seeing Van Persie up front with Rooney must be terrifying for any defense. This is going to be pretty damn exciting!
- Was Robin Van Persie really needed at Old Trafford? United's main problem last season wasn't up front. Why sign a striker when the need to fill gaps in other positions is much more important? This might the rare occasion I believe that a United signing was being done for the player not to join any other rival club (City particularly) and not for the purpose of having him at the club. Often players linked with clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have been poached and signed by the boys with the huge bucks (City, Chelsea and now PSG), but this might be the first time the roles have been reversed and United have signed a player to avoid him joining one of the huge cash-filled clubs.
- Manchester United fans are excited and have every right to be. Rarely has Sir Alex signed players that are aged above 25 who have succeeded - so this is another test. Veron, Hargreaves and Berbatov (sort of) are just a few examples of that. I'm pretty sure he'd have studied this move long and hard before deciding to go for it.If the move works out Fergie will be deemed as a genius and if it fails, RVP will just join that list of players who never lived up to the hype. A win-win situation I suppose? "Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie" - how good does that sound?
- Rooney, RVP, Hernandez, Welbeck, Kagawa, Cleverley, Nani, Young, Valencia...United's front line is looking really good!
- The rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal has admittedly softened over the past few years with Wenger and Sir Alex often seen together sharing a joke or two, but don't be surprised to see it boil over again now that this move has happened. Pizzagate the return? I sure hope so!
- The one thing that this move does confirm is that loyalty no longer exists in Football. One day a player is your hero, the next day he's turning up playing for your rivals. Kissing the badge and all that means nothing anymore. Even what the players say means nothing anymore. We've seen it with Fernando Torres, Ashley Cole, Carlos Tevez and now Robin Van Persie. Long gone are the days when players will stay at one club long enough to earn themselves a testimonial game. Such a thing doesn't matter anymore when "personal ambitions" and cheques are involved. Once upon a time moves between clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea...etc were so rare that it was unthinkable as the players knew and respected the rivalries. But the more time passes, the more that mentality disappears. Never, ever, be shocked to see your hero leave your club to join a rival.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Tell your significant others to start making way because our true love is coming back and is already kicking. The season has now kicked off and is only going to steamroll further from this point onward. So allow me to present my predictions for the upcoming season, and I'm looking forward to yours too. Bear in mind that like with everything, the emphasis is more on English Football than other leagues, so I will do my best to adjust that (warning in advance, it won't work):
English Premier League Winners:
As tight as it may be, and since superstition won't allow me to bet on my favorites, I'm going to have to go with Chelsea winning it. For the simple reason that, of all the usual suspects, they've got the most depth in their squad. Whisper it too, but I think Arsenal are in with a good shout too and City will obviously be defending their title with their lives.
English Premier League relegated teams:
Swansea'll go down with the second season syndrome blues hitting hard now that life's going to be without Brendan Rodgers. Reading are the second team I'd expect to go down and finally, one of the regulars in the league has got to vanish, and I'm going for Sunderland.
English FA Cup Winners:
It's about time Tottenham won something, so I'll bet on them.
English Carling Cup Winners:
Speaking of teams bound to winning something, Arsenal's trophy-laden period will end with the Carling Cup...I think.
English Premier League top goalscorer:
It'd be easy to say RVP, but given the fact that his future is still unresolved, someone with a steady presence is going to do it this year, and Sergio Aguero is the one that comes to mind.
English Premier League PFA Player of the year:
Not that this award does justice to any player or season, but I'm going to stick my guns out and guess that it'll be an English player, Wayne Rooney.
English Premier League PFA Young Player of the year:
Same as above, it's almost always an English player, Kieran Gibbs.
Ligue 1 Winners:
Is it already a foregone conclusion? It's going to take a massive disruption for PSG to lose this title. It's pretty much theirs already.
Ligue 1 relegated teams:
Ligue 1 has always been so tight in terms of points, that teams lingering around 13th can find themselves in the top 5 spots within a week. So I'm going to just throw in names here - Troyes, Evian and Brest.
Ligue 1 top goalscorer:
Zlatan's going to walk with it as he always does.
La Liga Winners:
It would take a man of courage, balls made of steel (with loads of cash in them), and a person who's been living under a rock for the last few years, to bet against Real Madrid or Barcelona winning it. I'm going for Real Madrid retaining their title.
La Liga relegated teams:
Real Betis, Granada and Valladolid. All depends on who gets smashed the most by the Clasico boys.
La Liga top goalscorer:
Meh, Meh, Meh...Messi. Or Ronaldo.
Serie A Winners:
Despite Antonio Conte being hit with a heavy ban, I feel Juventus will successfully defend their title. They're investing in all the right places and in the right way, not to mention that they've instilled a belief that the whole world is conspiring against them - and that is something that creates a huge amount of strength within a team.
Serie A relegated teams:
Siena, Torino and Genoa.
Serie A top goalscorer:
Now that Zlatan's no longer in Italy, the door should open up for Cavani to improve on his season tally of last season. Di Natale should be in the top ones too, but Cavani's the man to keep an eye out for.
Bayern Munich are going to bounce back with a vengeance - they always do. Never write them off.
Bundesliga relegated teams:
Too though to call. Nurnberg, SpVgg Furth and Augsburg.
Bundesliga top goalscorer:
Going to bet on Robert Lewandoski, though Huntelaar is a good option as well.
Champions League Winners:
The final's at Wembley again and this time, I'm expecting Jose Mourinho to lead his Madrid troops all the way up to lift the trophy.
Europa League Winners:
Not too sure I can see past Bilbao doing it again, but if so, then just for the sake of it, Newcastle United.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
While most people are happy with the fact that the Olympics have been giving us some sort of entertainment with the Football matches, I'm finding myself rather annoyed at another international tournament while friendly matches are the only club football we get to see for another 3 weeks(-ish). Fair enough we had an action-packed Euro 2012 tournament which was good entertainment and which I personally enjoyed, but the Olympics aren't really a welcome escape. The quality of play isn't that high (playing U-23s + 3 over 23 players is still a ridiculous rule) and there is one particular aspect of it, which we also hear during friendly matches, that is so frustrating it makes me mute my television screen whenever I do watch some of these matches...it's the sound of horns (or whatever it is that these fans are blowing!).
This sound seems to be present only at international tournaments or friendly matches that aren't competitive. Games that, regardless of their importance, seem to attract people who enjoy these noises. But this sound isn't just heard at any international tournament, but it's especially at the boring ones which lack an atmosphere (and there are many!). This sound is a clear indicator in my opinion that what we're watching is so dire that the fans in the stadium need to use this sound to "create an atmosphere".
At the African Nations Cup, we often hear this "noise" and it was also present during the World Cup 2010 via the most annoying instrument (if we can call it that) the world has ever known...the Vuvuzela. In Europe, America and Asia though, that God-forsaken instrument isn't present so daytripper fans resort to buying some other useless horns that are sold outside the stadium that make noises so loud and annoying, reminding us of that awful sound of a mosquito getting close to our ears in the middle of the night. Admit it, it has happened to every single one of you at least once in your lifetime.
Atmosphere at games are created through chanting. Fans standing, uniting and singing as one. It's created by the mockery (to a certain extent) of opposing fans, by the banter, by the banners, by the the flags, by the supporters' traditions, by the flares (in some places), the frustration at refereeing decisions, the true joy and elation of a goal...etc. It is definitely not created by the blowing of a horn like Gimli of Lord of the Rings and the Horn of the Helm Hammerland. That's not Football. Leave the horns, the Vuvuzelas and other instruments to concerts, orchestras and movies. We want chants. We want proper fans getting riled up about everything that happens on the pitch. We don't want "oohs" and "aahs" every time a player does a trick that seems remotely nice on the eyes. Football is not a musical. It doesn't deserve simple claps, it deserves singing, screaming and proper support. The more non-Football elements like instruments are seen at stadiums, the more you know you're witnessing a game that either holds no importance, is mediocre, is boring or simply just lacks an atmosphere; and the friendlies and Olympics are a great example of that.
Can't wait for the real stuff to begin again!