Moyes; A Specialist in Mediocrity?

winner_newSitting seventh in the league with four games to go, we can safely conclude Manchester United have had what was once referred to by an octogenarian feckless workshy benefit scrounger as an “annus horribilis”.

New manager David Moyes has come in for sharp criticism all season, particularly following maulings from their title rivals, a shock home defeat to a team they had been beating since before the UK joined the EEC in 1973, and losing home AND away to both Liverpool and Manchester City for the first time in one season. There are many, many, many, many reasons for this but here are the top five:

1) Being David Moyes – A lot of David Moyes’s problems seem to stem from simply being David Moyes. He has been David Moyes for a very long time, it’s hard-wired into him at this point. But hope is not lost. There are a few options available to him – changing his name to Alex Ferguson by deed poll, identify theft, or simply using a symbol or symbols like purple genius Prince. My suggestion is #£&!

2) His smile – Robert Helpmann’s portrayal of the creepy child kidnapper in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang put fear in the hearts of young children the world over. Despite not even appearing in the original book (he was written in by the film’s writer Roald Dahl), our creepy enemy of kids was voted scariest villain in children’s books. With a smile that sent chills down your spine, comparison’s have been made with David Moyes’s own attempts to portray contentedness and joy on his face. Rumours that Moyes was seen bundling Zaha and Fabio into a wooden horse drawn carriage before riding away with a cackle are as yet unconfirmed.

3) What Would Jagielka Do – As a top coach, there are ways to get your players onside – a group trip to Alton Towers, a trust-building game of Wind in the Willow, where the players have to trust you to catch them as they lean backwards, watching Clueless with popcorn and Haribo. Constantly asking your formerly championship-winning players to model themselves on a previous employee who has never won a thing is not one of these ways. To choose this as a way to get an unwilling player to cooperate is a rather strange tactic. I’m no football coach, so it could be that Moyes is simply a maverick genius walking to the beat of his own drum, but all the evidence seems to point to the contrary on this one.

4) Fellaini – A robust midfield needs someone to clean up and drive play forward. Moyes can be forgiven then, for thinking the answer could be found in the fluffy head of Marouane Fellaini.

You could almost see the logic. “Well, they couldn’t handle him when he played under me, so if I take him with me, other clubs won’t be able to handle us either”.  There’s some obvious flaws here though, the main one being that Moyes’s record against the top four is so woeful that only a man who asks “What Would Jagielka Do” would think the answer to that problem was “didn’t have more players like Fellaini”.

Unfortunately for him, Fellaini’s ability to clean up was less like a mop and more like a clogged up ancient feather duster. It seems like Manchester United still can’t deal with Fellaini on the pitch.

5) Being David Moyes – I know what you’re thinking. “You’re so beautiful, Jude”, and you’d be right to do so. But you’re also thinking “You’ve already done this one!”, and it’s true, I have previously touched on this. But as all master debaters know, the power of repetition knows no boundaries. So it’s here we can delve into further detail as to why Moyes is so bad.

It’s not just the woeful record against top teams, the shambolic attempts at man-management, the route one football, the evident lack of a plan B when plan A inevitably fails (yes David, Fellaini is not a plan. A hindrance, definitely, but not an alternative), the creepy smile or even the fact he’s collected about as many unwanted achievements this season as Fergie collected trophies. No, more than all of these (and there were plenty more, to be sure) it is the fact that, in the face of all of this staggering evidence of incompetence, David Moyes remains perplexed as to the source of his misfortunes.

Jose Mourinho referred to Arsene Wenger as a specialist in failure, and there’s mounting suspicion that Moyes is a specialist in mediocrity.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being distinctly average per se, the world requires a balance of over- and underachievers. Trying and effort are adequate qualities and achievements when you come seventh place in the Year Three Egg and Spoon race. It would not be unfair to state, however, that competitive football is not the place for mediocrity.

Mediocrity rarely wins titles, or inspires players. Mediocrity does not, to borrow a much abused phrase, “take the game by the scruff of the neck”. Unless taking the game by the scruff of the neck means 81 crosses with no discernible target and very little end product.

No, it seems to be that Moyes has possibly chosen the wrong field of sport for his talents. Much like Tim Sherwood, a much more successful future lies in becoming Head of PE at a Free School or Academy.

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World Cup Group A

In our build up to the World Cup, John Hughes will be sharing his world football knowledge on what we can expect to see, one group at a time.  First up, offering some sort of order is Group A.

brazilBrazil

The one we know: There are plenty of Brazilians playing in the Premier League at the moment and some will face a fight to make the squad.  David Luiz should make it fairly comfortably, and whilst his style incurs scorn in this country, he is much loved in the colours of A Seleção.

The surprise package: In these days of 24 hour Sports channels most of the Brazil squad will be known to us.  Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard is probably the most unknown of all Brazil’s quantities, and the diminutive play-maker evokes memories of Juninho.

How will they get on: Croatia and Mexico will be no push over, but Brazil showed in the Confed Cup last year that they have the power to match their guile.  They won’t be as great to watch as their predecessors, and are a little over reliant on Neymar.  There’s a question mark over the quality of centre-forward too.

Prediction:1st

Croatiacroatia

The one we know: England fans will remember that Luka Modric was pretty good in Euro 2008 qualifying, whilst Tottenham fans probably rue the day the little man left the lane.  With 73 caps, Modric will be Kovac’s go to man.  Modric has established himself as a key component of Ancelotti’s Real Madrid side, which is no mean feat.

The surprise package: At 19 years of age Inter’s Mateo Kovacic is destined to be a star, and with eight caps to his name, is already establishing himself in the Croatian set-up.  He can go to the World Cup without a huge weight of expectation on him, and will likely prosper if used lightly.

How will they get on: The climate will have an effect on Croatia, and being first up against Brazil won’t help either.  It’s a third group stage exit in four World Cups for the Croats.

Prediction: 3rd

Mexicomexico

The one we know: Javier Hernandez will be lightly raced by the time the World Cup comes around, having been a bit part in David Moyes’ plans.  It’s likely that he will compound Moyes’ foolishness by having a Toto Schillachi moment at the World Cup.

The surprise package: Truth be told, you wont know too many Mexicans when they trot out in the middle of June, but we may know a few after.  I’ve always liked Guardado, but with four goals in his first three caps it’s Pulido that we should be looking out for.

How will they get on: Mexico are a team and have made the knockouts in each of the last five World Cups.  With a largely home based squad expect a spirit and togetherness superior to most.

Prediction: 2nd

CameroonCameroon

The one we all know: We know quite a few actually, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o leap off the page at you.  Then, when you scratch your head a little, you remember that Charles Itandje and Jean Makoun weren’t figments of your Premier League imagination.

The surprise package: Bundesliga enthusiasts will be able to tell you that Mainz 05 have a player on their hands in Maxim Choupo-Moting.  The German born forward has taken well to his adopted country bagging nine goals in just 23 appearances.

How will they get on: This is not the Cameroon of old, and truth be told, can count themselves lucky to have even made it here.  Just once have the Cameroon escaped the clutches of the group stage exit, and this will be no different.

Prediction: 4th

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Mourinho the WWE Superstar

The amount that we are informed that football is a business, it’s sometimes problematic for the man that wants the passion and emotion that the game can provide.  Then we are told it is sport, just a game influenced by tribal impulses in which logic is non-existent and we are ruled by the heart and the heart alone.  Then there is the middle ground that allows us to remember football is in the entertainment business as well – and we have the symbolic figure that is Jose Mourinho.

With even the game itself bogged down in facts and figures at times, the off-field entertainment has become all that more important to our enjoyment of the game and Mourinho consistently steps up to the plate to deliver all sorts of nonsense to get the juices flowing.  He’s like the boxer at the weigh-in, needlessly getting in other people’s faces in order to secure that advantage in the mind, taking every and any available opportunity to prod and provoke his rivals whoever they may be.  There’s almost a WWE-esque nature to Mourinho, bringing a sense of bravado and provocation to his speeches anytime a microphone is pressed into his face.

We see managers failing to shake hands with each other all the time, as responsible men throw their toys out of the pram over the most minor infringement or incident, with the opposition then bleating their hearts over a lack of respect, as if the failure to connect skin is a violation on their human rights.  That would be too simple for Jose however, and not only does he decide against shaking Arsene Wenger’s hand, but he purposefully opted to leave the match early and make a point of not shaking his hand, knowing the cameras would follow his trail down the tunnel with a couple of minutes still left to play.  This is not something he decides on the spur of the moment; he knows exactly what he is doing. It has been meticulously planned. This is choreographed douchbaggery.

This is a man who will happily defend the indefensible in order to provoke a reaction from people, more than happy to witness a challenge that sees one of his own players plant every single one of his studs into an opponent’s shin before questioning the integrity of the referee for having the temerity to dismiss him.  He knows Ramires is in the wrong, knows his player was reckless and potentially threatened the career of Karim El Ahmadi, but why admit that? Where’s the fun? What headlines would a simple concession make?  Instead a conspiracy theory is in action, Mourinho single-handedly starting a petition to have Chris Foy prevented from officiating his beloved Chelsea side.

He will repeatedly talk in riddles in press conferences as well, providing endless soundbites for the assembled hacks hanging on his every word.  However, should anyone attempt to join in, repeat his words or elaborate them for their own analogy, he stops, snarls and calls them stupid for failing to come up with their own metaphors.

He is the child at school who decides what is cool and what is not and should anyone from the nerdy side of the camp attempt to join in with his games, it loses its appeal to him and his band of cronies and that ‘Little Horse’ is put down.  Essentially, Jose Mourinho liked My Little Pony before it became cool.

So while the likes of Arsene Wenger will come in post-match, smile politely and answer questions as sincerely as possible, Tim Sherwood will do his heart-on-the-sleeve routine and shoot from the hip, there is something devilishly exciting about the dishonest way Mourinho will conduct himself in the public eye.  We’ve all heard stories of what a wonderfully controlled person he is behind the scenes, but there is no place for such humility when histrionics make the world go round.  We can only hope that one day we can celebrate 1000 games of Jose Mourinho; chief provocateur, riddler and downright pain in the backside too all and sundry that cross his withering eye.

For he is the man that fills that void between business and sport. All hail Jose the entertainer.

 

 

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Who could replace David Moyes?

David Moyes is toast. There is all the required evidence to show that it is simply a matter of time. For one, there are embarrassingly pathetic Manchester United fans paying for a banner to be flown over Old Trafford asking for Moyes to be sacked, instead of aiming ire at the man who appointed him, or the owners who let Alex Ferguson appoint him. For two, there are newspaper photoshops. For three, it feels a lot like Manchester United are turning into turn-of-the-millenium Liverpool, and there’s not one thing in the world worse than that. And lastly in this abridged list, he doesn’t seem able to be a very good United manager. A good manager somewhere else, yes, but it just won’t work out here.

Despite it being the fault of Ferguson and the Glazers, it doesn’t change the need for Moyes to be replaced. There are many better managers at top clubs, but very few available right now. Options are limited, so who might be suitable of the four possible options?

Alex Ferguson

Recall the saying, ‘you broke it, you bought it.’ Well, Ferguson created this mess, so he could make some amends by coming back to the scene of the crime. Here’s how it would go: he’d finish second, then have mid-table disappointment. Then with heavy investment he’d eventually win the league and dominate England again for another twenty years. Towards the end of the second reign, he would sell out the Glazers for an even bigger leveraged buyout to someone else, giving the next man – David Moyes, again – the chance to try to rebuild a squad against a backdrop of heaving, almost-sentient debt. This would be repeated ad nauseam, until Manchester United had as much debt as the Western world. Odds: 500,000,000 in debt repayment/1

John Harvey-Jones

In many respects, Harvey-Jones would be the perfect man for Manchester United right now. Harvey-Jones was the successful head of Imperial Chemical Industries from 1982 to 1987, turning a loss-making company into one that had profits of one billion pounds, and also saw the price of shares double in the same time. That kind of financial acumen and crisis management is definitely required right now. But given the disquiet in the dressing room, they could also use the famed leadership to improve the morale and decency in the squad, aiming to, as he put it, ‘reduce the number of those who can say ‘no’ and increase the motivation of those who can say ‘yes.’”

He also came to wider prominence in his BBC series Troubleshooter, where he advised failing businesses on how to turn around their fortunes. After that, he had success in positions such as Bradford University chancellor, Chairman of The Economist, and a director of what would become Diageo, showing he could turn his hand to many types of leadership, which is just what United need. In fact, he is almost entirely perfect for the club, with the exception he passed away in 2008. God rest his soul.

Does that rule him out? Well, anything can happen in football. Odds: 2/1

Joseph Stalin

Stalin ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to a certain United manager of the past. He knows how to rewrite history, he is aggressive when it comes to censorship, and he is not sentimental when it comes to keeping those around him in prominent positions should it no longer be politically helpful. Ferguson was obsessed with control, and Stalin certainly maintained control of his position. With his CV of repression and causing the murder of millions, Stalin is like Alex Ferguson, but with a slightly more genial approach to public relations. коэффициент: четыре к один

David Moyes

Having let David Moyes go, United would be in need of a man with experience of leading a big club in Europe, used to dealing with the pressure of the press, and ideally with a working knowledge of United. He also needs a track record of getting the most out of the transfer market, and with the Glazers as bosses he’ll not have millions to throw around every transfer window. His past performance at Everton shows that he can overachieve on a budget. When you add that to the fact that as the most recent manager of Manchester United, he would have the best knowledge of Manchester United, allowing for a seamless transition into the job. By virtue of not having died in 2008, he is just ahead of Harvey-Jones for the position. Odds: Poor David

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In Defence of Booing

winner_titleI recently dined at an Italian restaurant, ordering one of my favourites, ‘Spaghetti alle vongole’. A genuine classic I’m sure you’ll agree, the powerful but simple flavours cement its place as one of the great Italian pasta dishes. Now, the various components were well balanced, the pasta was ‘al dente’ and the presentation was elegant, unfortunately my clams were overcooked, and by overcooked I mean ruined. A crushing disappointment for all involved. I briefly considered sending the offending molluscs back to the kitchen, and then again at the end of the meal pondered whether to make the waitress aware of the tragedy that had befallen me. In the end I did neither, I just won’t be returning, that is my way of showing my disapproval. What I certainly did not do is march through to the kitchen and boo loudly at the chef as he attempted to make his or her way in the world. One reason I didn’t do this is that said chef would have stabbed me in the neck (and they’d have been right to do so) the other is that you just don’t boo people in the real world. You do in football though.

If you support a football club you’ll no doubt have been told on numerous occasions that ‘real fans’ don’t boo their team. This is clearly nonsense. Booing is a sign of dedication to your club, a sign of wanting them to succeed so much that you’re prepared to sacrifice whatever dignity you have left in order to register your disappointment when that success proves elusive.

The problem with the anti-booing brigade is that they are trying to apply logic and real world values to football, this a crap idea, the enduring appeal of football is that it is removed from all the mundane nonsense that has infiltrated your day to day existence. Logic is footballs kryptonite, therefore to be anti-booing is to be anti-football. Think about it (but not for too long, my reasoning is flimsy at best).

When a manager makes a substitution that is met with a hail of abuse and a chorus of those glorious boos, it’s not because those brave booing heroes have weighed up the tactical implications of such a move, had a quick pow wow, decided that said substitution will be to the detriment of the sides chances of victory in the current match and reasoned that making a funny noise as loudly as they can is the best course of action, no, it’s because they’ve seen the board go up and something in their heart, something deep in their soul has gone BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Football fans once held great power (not great responsibility though, someone should tell Uncle Ben from Spiderman, Franklin D Roosevelt or Voltaire, whoever it was that said it first, I honestly don’t know). As the main source of the clubs income their voice was powerful and persuasive. No longer though, names are changed, colours switch from blue to red and and some grand old institutions become little more than franchises, often out of town ones. Fans can protest of course, they can wave their flags and sing their songs, maybe even organise a march. They’d be as well not bothering, the war is over, the empire has won. Of course in a logical world fans could just stop turning up, stop buying official merchandise, from replica shirts to (replica) meat pies, that would certainly have an impact, especially lower down the football ladder. But for those not paying attention this is football, logic has no place here. You’ll always turn up, irrespective of what your lot are called now, what colour they play in and the crimes against humanity committed by your chairman.

All that you can do is boo. Loudly.

The next time the half-time whistle (half-time booing is generally more fun than full-time booing*) is met with a resounding boooo do not tut, do not shake your head. Stifle your idiotic notion that it isn’t the real fans making that noise, real fans boo, they boo because they care, they boo because there’s nothing else to do.

*the exception to this rule is when people stay back specifically to boo their team off, this is  the action of true visionaries, maybe even pioneers. It’s booing distilled down to its very essence.

Booing is probably the last thing that unites football fans, boos ring out all the way from the Bernabeu to Bayview (home of East Fife, where they love a boo, in fact in that part of the world booing a chef would be considered acceptable, even quite restrained behaviour). The impulse to boo takes no heed of league position, of previous success, or any other extenuating circumstances.

It is the last act of defiance left open to the proletarian masses, its purity and its goodness unites all ‘real’ fans, do not dare attempt to wrestle it from us, if you do then we’ll………well we’ll……….

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO you.

Please come and play with me on Twitter where, rather hypocritically I’ll block you if you boo me (I won’t really I’m not a blocker) https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

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How Do The Great Premier League Strike Partnerships Compare?

Modern football with its 4-5-1 formations and ‘false nines’ has done its best to rid the world of deadly strike partnerships.  This season however the Premier League has launched its own campaign to bring back the ‘little and large’ front-men combination and it has been a breath of fresh air with Aguero and Negredo tearing apart any team that decided to turn up in Manchester earlier this season bar Mourinho’s Chelsea (we will let them off against Bayern) whilst over in Liverpool, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez regularly connect on a level no one else on the pitch seems to be able to match.

This resurgence in striker partnerships got us thinking at KickOff about which two front men were the best ever when combining up top. For those growing up watching the Premier League in the 90s the easy answer would be Yorke & Cole and it’s difficult to argue with them after their success in the terrible winning season but for the sake of this article we will give it a try. A few seasons before Yorke & Cole were combining for United the original SAS, Sutton & Shearer were busy winning the Blackburn the Premier League title and in fact we don’t like it how the current ‘SAS’ give no credit to the previous occupants of the title but that might just be us. So who is the best front two?

Original SAS

In terms of goals scored together, the original SAS had the advantage of playing in a 42 game season when they steered Blackburn to the title in the 94/95 season.  That campaign they contributed a combined 49 goals as they brushed aside all in front of them to wrestle the title from Manchester United, winning the league on the last day of the season by a single point.

Shearer Sutton StatsAs can be seen from the stats, not only were they both deadly in front of goal but they also contributed with their fair share of assists as well. They lead the way not only in chances taken amongst their team mates but chances created as well, showing the link up that existed between the pair.

Both Shearer and Sutton were British transfer record signings when they arrived at Blackburn, first Shearer in 1992 for £3.3 million and then Sutton for £5 million in 1994. This faith shown to the pair was repaid with Blackburn becoming the second team to win the Premier League and still the only side outside of last seasons ‘Top 4’.

Yorke & Cole

When you think of Yorke and Cole the 98/99 Treble winning season immediately springs to mind. That partnership was recreated in playgrounds and on parks across England during that season and for good reason. At the time it seemed like a week didn’t go by without them terrorising defences together, winning flick-ons for each other and somehow linking up in one way or another but the first thing we noticed when looking at the stats from that season was the amount of games they actually played in the league. Cole started just 26 games while Yorke started on the bench 7 times. This is where memory has somehow warped perception of reality but it is probably not surprise considering Sir Alex also had Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as options up top, as well as the fact they were competitive on three fronts.

Yorke Cole StatsEven with the rotation in places up front that season both Yorke & Cole came close to the 20 goal mark, which seemed to be a good target for a striker’s season until the likes of Henry, Ronaldo and now Suarez felt like 20 goals a season wasn’t quite enough. Cole’s strike rate of 17 goals in just 26 games was even more impressive considering the amount of games he started from the bench and they also contributed with their fair share of assists.

Modern Day SAS

To say Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez have single handily dragged Liverpool into the title race would be doing an injustice to other star performers and the tactics of Rodgers this season but the impact the two have had up front can’t be underestimated.  Both lead the way in the Premier League top scorers chart this season, with Suarez scoring 10 more goals then Aguero in 3rd. 

Excludes game against Cardiff

Excludes game against Cardiff

These statistics are made even more impressive by the fact that both players have spent time on the sidelines but when they have appeared together they had terrorised some of the best defensive lines in the Premier League, demolishing Arsenal at Anfield and then teaming up together to cause Manchester United countless problems just last weekend. What Yorke, Cole, Sutton and Shearer have in common is that they all combined to fire their team to the Premier League title and with the way Liverpool are performing if Suarez and Sturridge continue to score as freely as they have been then they may also have a title medal themselves at the end of the season.

Although we aimed to provide a way to split the strike partnerships apart, looking at the statistics has just shown us how important all 3 strike forces were and are to their team. We will let you make your own decision as to who you think was the best strike partnership and for even more stats like those mentioned in this article take a look over at KickOff.co.uk.

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Top 5 Football Apps

winner_titleAs websites and newspapers launch apps to increase access for their readers, and to offer in-game analysis of what’s going on, how many passes went to the left, and what the latest betting odds are, there’s something of a dotcom bubble about. A lot of apps are being praised for their effectiveness, whereas really it is the pure sense of novelty, rather than genuine worth, which is getting them coverage. Here is where help comes in. All two million football apps have been downloaded and tested in several minutes worth of research. It is now possible to present to you the best five football apps available at the moment.

Carrick-o-meter

It’s not easy to keep a beat, but by God this north-east metronome just keeps the game tick, tick, ticking. This app is like a digital version of playercam, allowing you to focus solely on the statistics of Michael Carrick’s performances. It tracks the number of sideways and backwards passes made throughout the game, and the number of interceptions he makes. It initially launched with additional features: tackles made, goals scored, forward passes and instructions given to other teammates, but these were removed in the beta stage due to the lack of use

Scholes or Carrick?

This app allows you to upload a picture of Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes to the cloud, and then uses proprietary software to attempt to tell the difference between the two, because sometimes when you see Carrick, you know, it’s hard to believe it’s not Scholes.

Michael Carrick’s Life Heatmap

How often do you wonder where Carrick is in a match, and then realise – of course – he’s sitting just in front of the defence, #screening the back line and making #interceptions to improve his Squawka score. He’s the epitome of reliability, but this app extends that knowledge to find out just where he is throughout the day. Here’s a sample day from last week:

7am: Wake

8am: Stare at grey wall

9am – 12pm: Training

12.30pm: lunch consisting of bread

1pm – 5pm: Stare at grey wall

5.30pm: dinner consisting of bread

6.30pm: Stare at grey wall

10pm-6.59am: Bed

The heatmap looks a lot like a grey wall.

Carrick Man-Of-The-Match-ometer

As we all know, football is a game when two teams of eleven play each other, and at the end of the match Michael Carrick is given the man of the match, regardless of if he played well, or if he even played at all. What this does is keep track of the man of the match awards won by Carrick, but also the variables that come with it. First, the number of times throughout a match that someone sends a tweet containing, ‘Carrick’ and ‘control’, the number of times United bloggers tweet, ‘Anyone who doesn’t like Carrick just doesn’t understand football,’ and it also scans Spanish-language tweets to see the number of comparisons between Carrick and Xavi. It, however, appears that there is a slight glitch in the last feature as it displays no instances of that happening, which obviously can’t be right.

Michael Carrick’s PR Guide

Running a company? In the middle of a crisis of underperformance? Coming under scrutiny from shareholders at an EGM? Then this app is for you. With a few simple questions at the start like, ‘have you performed terribly?’, ‘have you failed as a senior member of the company?’, ‘is there any chance you’ll change anything about what you do to improve?’ the app then spits out instructions about how to behave and speak in privately. As a test, we answered, ‘yes,’ to all questions and the advice giving was impressively intelligent:

“Barely contain laughter at the situation, give a limp performance in front of the cameras that gives no succour at all to fans, and then ask your wife not to call Roy Keane a c*nt on Twitter. Don’t apologise for terrible display.”

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Nick Miller’s League Winner and Losers?

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With a third of the season remaining, there are four clubs with a serious chance of winning the Premier League. Nick Miller looks at the arguments for and against the candidates…

Chelsea
Why they will win the league
Jose Mourinho gets plenty of credit (often from himself), but perhaps one area of his managerial abilities that is underplayed is his adaptability. He generally knows how to beat whichever opposition is put in front of him, and alters his team accordingly, from tactical moves like playing Samuel Eto’o as a winger at Inter to trying to wind up whichever passing manager he thinks is the latest threat. Also, for a man with an ego as apparently big as his, he generally admits when he is wrong, in that he frequently makes very early substitutions and often rips up a gameplan and starts again if things aren’t going well.

Mourinho is Chelsea’s biggest weapon (in a number of ways, one might argue), but their success is also based on a tight defence (the best in the division, an improvement after some early season shakiness) and that remarkable attacking three of Oscar, Willian and, perhaps the outstanding player in the Premier League this season, Eden Hazard.

Why they won’t win the league

Is he enough to win it alone?

Is he enough to win it alone?

The obvious negative is a lack of a top-calibre centre-forward, with Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o contributing just 11 goals between them so far this season. While that hasn’t exactly left them struggling for goals (only Manchester City and Liverpool have scored more), in certain games they could suffer without a real finisher, the recent draw with West Ham being an obvious example. “There are things I cannot say,” said Mourinho when asked about his forwards after the recent cup defeat to City. “There are things I can just think and keep to myself. I don’t want to individualise to speak about my striker or my keeper or my left-back. We are a team, we win, we lose.” Fair to say that Mourinho believes he is choosing between the lesser of three evils in attack.

Arsenal
Why they will win the league
The old line about Arsenal not winning the title because they’re Arsenal, and collapsing is just the sort of thing they do, is a rather lazy one. If that were true, they surely would not still be in the title race against two of the biggest financial behemoths football has ever seen. And let us not forget that, for all the gloom about Arsenal’s title chances, they are still just a point off the top of the table. “I think just that our job is to be ambitious and to try to win,” said Arsene Wenger recently. “If we do not win to take full responsibility for that. That’s as simple as that and that’s how I see it.”

In Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker they have arguably the best centre-back pairing in the division, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks to be in excellent form, and with the likes of Aaron Ramsey ready to come back to help out soon, they could still lift that elusive Premier League title.

Why they won’t win the league
They are simply too brittle, both physically and mentally. Injuries to crucial players have already impacted on their form (one cannot imagine, for example, them being so comprehensively outclassed by Liverpool had Ramsey and Theo Walcott been around), and Wenger admitted that they were “nervous” before their recent draw with Manchester United. If they were cowed at the prospect of facing the worst United team in a generation, then what chance do they have of overhauling anyone actually any good?

And not only will they have to overhaul those teams, they will have to beat them individually. They have a nightmarish spell at the end of March that sees them visiting Spurs and Chelsea, then playing Manchester City at home, followed by a trip to Everton. Chuck in the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, and you have a side who haven’t exactly suggested they can beat the best, having to beat the best. Wenger’s inaction in January is already starting to bite.

Manchester City
Why they will win the league
When fit, their first choice midfield and forward line is simply the best in the division – no arguments, no protests, no contradictions. A strike partnership of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo is probably enough, then with Samir Nasri and David Silva feeding them, backed up by Yaya Toure and Fernandinho…well. They’re quite a prospect, and have backed up that potential by whacking in a whacking great 68 goals so far this season.

In addition, they seem to have the perfect manager to deal with Jose Mourinho and his – how to put this nicely… – bullshit. Manuel Pellegrini appears impervious to any sort of provocation from his old foe, ignoring everything that the old provocateur slings his way. This is largely because, frankly, not much of what he says is particularly interesting, which leads to assorted infuriated journalists (always funny to see), but you cannot really blame him when even the remotest hint of controversy is jumped upon like Sepp Blatter at a free buffet. Take his remark this week, when he said: “If we only consider this season, there is just one club in Manchester and it’s ours, but you cannot forget what United has done in the previous years.” This of course was reported as a Pellegrini stating that City were a bigger club than their cross-town rivals, when of course he said nothing of the sort. For Pellegrini, prudent silence and straight-batting is the sensible way to go.

Why they won’t win the league

As strong as 11 men

As strong as 11 men

While their home record is near-perfect (that one Chelsea-shaped blemish aside), City’s form on the road is a little ropier. They have won just six of their 13 games away from Manchester, drawing three and losing four, including inexplicable defeats to Sunderland, Aston Villa and Cardiff, as well as potentially-damaging draws with Norwich and Stoke. Of course their home form is so good that this might not have been a real issue, if they didn’t have to travel to Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton before the season is out. It will be a huge surprise if their remaining six home games did not bring 18 points, but that won’t be enough if they don’t fix their issues on the road.

Liverpool
Why they will win the league
As Arsenal found out a couple of weeks ago, they can be simply devastating in attack. That first 20 minutes of their 5-1 win over Arsene Wenger’s side was probably the most exhilarating spell of football that has been played this season, and if they can repeat that on a few occasions for the rest of the campaign, they will be difficult to stop. In Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge they have perhaps the most effective forward partnership in the division, and when Raheem Sterling is whizzing past them and Phillipe Coutinho is feeding passes through to them, they can be impossible to stop.

Plus, there’s the nagging sense that, while it might not be something one wants to readily admit, Brendan Rodgers does actually know what he’s doing. While he obviously comes across as a proto-Brent buffoon, Rodgers has shown an adaptability to his approach, learning from mistakes and rarely repeating them. He has a well-drilled side that tends to cope reasonably well with key absentees (they won seven of the 11 games that Daniel Sturridge missed earlier in the season for example, and two of the defeats were at Chelsea and Manchester City), and has a clear idea of how they’re supposed to play. That sounds pretty basic, but it’s remarkable how rare it is, even in the Premier League. Also, while the other candidates have a pretty tough run-in, Liverpool’s is relatively friendly, a trip to Manchester United aside. If you consider that to be especially intimidating, of course.

Why they won’t win the league
Their defence is…a problem. The continued presence of Aly Cissokho (owner of, on the evidence of his time at Anfield, one of the most baffling CVs of all time, given that he’s played for Porto, Lyon and Valencia) should almost discount them straight away, but aberrations like Kolo Toure’s against West Brom and Fulham are a little more common than Rodgers would like. Indeed, it was rather baffling that Liverpool spent the January transfer window chasing after another winger, rather than some defensive reinforcements.

However, probably the biggest reason that Liverpool won’t win the league is that they aren’t quite ready yet. They have a collection of relatively young players who aren’t quite hardened to campaigns of this sort, and they are not consistent enough (they have only won more than three games in a row once this term) yet to sustain a serious title challenge. Next year, perhaps, but as Rodgers has noted, their realistic aim this season is qualifying for the Champions League, and they should be happy with that, for now. If they were chasing just one team, you might be slightly more confident about their prospects, but three…it seems a step too far.

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My Favourite XI

The weather is terrible and as a student that means leaving the house just doesn’t happen. Most of us don’t have jobs like real adults so when the heavens open we can just go into hibernation mode. As a football fan that often means I find myself scouring YouTube watching clips of various players, mostly ones I have grown up watching. As I did this my favourite XI started to form in my mind and then I thought I’d share it. To make it slightly easier to narrow down the list I made the requirement that the player had to be one that I’ve actually watched.

Naturally as a Chelsea fan there is a slight bias towards players from Stamford Bridge but the contingent is only at three. Of course no-one is going to agree with this XI, in fact it must be near impossible to find someone else who would agree with your XI. Ergo the point of these things is to look at other people’s chastise them as idiots or laud them as geniuses and then go about thinking of your own. Personally I find commenting on players that played before you started following football a little tricky because there is only so much you can rely on so that’s what I have imposed the restriction that I did.

GK – Gianluigi Buffon

Piercing. That’s how I’d describe Gianluigi Buffon’s eyes. Whether they’re displaying joy at stopping a penalty, anger towards a defender who has made a mistake or coldness towards a striker who has the cheek to try and score past him they are always piercing.

It may seem odd that I haven’t picked Petr Cech as my keeper but whilst I have nothing but admiration for Cech and the way he came back from that horrific head injury he doesn’t excite me like Buffon does. The Czech keeper is actually two inches taller than Buffon but for me he doesn’t have the presence that the Italian does, he’s like a lion. A lion that has the reactions of a small cat as this save shows here.

When Juventus got relegated and Buffon chose to stay with the club that was something that really won my admiration, it was such a show of loyalty and I found myself asking afterwards how many Chelsea players would have done the same, there weren’t many.

RB – Javier Zanetti

Everyone talks about Ryan Giggs and his amazing longevity like he is some sort of example to model professionals and freak of human nature. Now I’m not slating what Giggs has achieved, I think his career is truly remarkable and he deserves the plaudits but the way he is idolised in this country does grate on me somewhat.

This is because over in Italy there is a certain Javier Zanetti who has been doing much the same in a very similar vein. According to Wikipedia (yes I know, horrible way to start a sentence) in terms of club career games there are only eight matches between them (at the time of writing) and that seems pretty impressive. Zanetti is just a couple of months older than Giggs and unlike the Welshman he has suffered a very serious Achilles injury that ruled him out between April and November of 2013. Call me sceptical but if Giggs suffered such an injury I’m not sure if he’d be able to return. Zanetti has been one of football’s constants whilst I’ve been watching and for that he deserves his spot.

CB – Alessandro Nesta

Nesta is in this list purely because he is the master exponent of the hook tackle. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about this is the perfect example. Not only is the tackle perfectly timed but also he retains possession for his side rather than knocking it out for a throw in or a corner.

Is it possible to say Nesta was underrated? I’m not sure he was clearly one of the greatest centre-backs of his age but Paolo Maldini often seems to steal all the plaudits. Nesta’s trophy cabinet is ridiculous three Serie A titles, three Italian cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup, two Champions League and one World Cup. I loved watching him play and as I said his hook tackling was masterful.

CB – John Terry

There can’t be too many footballers who divide opinion in the same way John Terry does. I have no interest in getting into a discussion about his behaviour off the field because in this instance I’m judging him solely on his performances on the pitch.

In that case there have been few centre-backs who have remained at a consistently high level for as long. Terry is a legend amongst Chelsea fans and there are hopes that he might end up amongst the coaching staff when he eventually hangs up his boots. He is a rock at the back and his English style of defending often means his technique is overlooked.

He has always put his heart and soul into giving the best for Chelsea and personally I’m happy he’s not in England contention because it means he can keep playing for us. It’s hard to imagine a Chelsea fan picking a favourite XI without him if we’re honest.

LB – Roberto Carlos

In case you haven’t noticed footballers do a lot of running and kicking. That in turn contributes to huge thigh muscles but none are as earth shatteringly magnificent as those of Roberto Carlos. The Brazilian’s thighs are like tree trunks, which probably explain why when he hit the ball it went like a guided missile.

I was only five when Carlos scored “that” free-kick at France 98 so I didn’t really appreciate what had happened so my first real glimpse of watching him was the 2002 World Cup. That Brazil side was such good fun to watch with their attacking front trio but in Cafu and Carlos they had two of the best attacking full-backs around. Watching him rampage down that left side was remarkable and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone match his high offensive standards since.

CDM – Andrea Pirlo

I started writing this as the great maestro joined Twitter and whilst it is unlikely he’ll read this I hope he does come to realise just how widely revered he is on the social media platform. The man’s beard has to be up there with the greatest in world football and there are few that ooze composure and cool in the way that he does.

This is before we get onto him as a player, probably one of the best deep-lying playmakers I’ve ever witnessed and when he’s at his peak it is pure artistry. In the 2012/13 season he was simply majestic throughout and I’m convinced it was his performances that led to Football Manager introducing the new role of regista into their game series. I consider it a shame that here in England we never got to see Pirlo grace our top division but perhaps it was for the best. By admiring from a distance we have perhaps enjoyed Pirlo as much as was possible.

CDM – Michael Ballack

Frank Lampard was probably the toughest player I had to leave out of this piece but whilst I adore him as a player and will defend him to the hilt in the Lampard-Gerrard argument there is something about Ballack. As mentioned earlier I only have very vague recollections of France 98 so my main World Cup memories are from Korea/Japan in 2002.

In that tournament Michael Ballack was sublime, marshalling the German midfield and team superbly until the semi-final. After he was booked in the semi, thereby ensuring he missed the final, his performance only increased and it was an amazing show of mental strength. Of course I’m well aware that Roy Keane did something similar a few years earlier but at the time I wasn’t really able to appreciate what the Irishman had done in the same way I did when Ballack did it.

He was one of the most complete midfielders of his time; excellent in possession, a fantastic shot and a terrific tackler. He was also one of the best headers of the ball which made him a very valuable asset in both boxes. As for his time at Chelsea I will always remember his brace at home to United in the 2007-08 season, a brilliant all round midfield performance.

CAM – Ronaldinho

Probably one of my favourite players of all time, I was in constant awe of the things that this man could do with a football. He was incredible gifted, I’m not sure many players are close to him in terms of natural ability. If had the application of someone like Cristiano Ronaldo I’m certain he would have gone down as the greatest players to have ever lived. However I wouldn’t have loved him in the same way.

The reason that Ronaldinho will always have a place in my heart is because it always looked as if he was just playing with his mates. It was extremely hard to wipe that wonderful smile off his face. I can still remember his goal at Stamford Bridge in 2005; it came in a period of three or four seasons where we always seemed to be drawn against Barcelona. Chelsea triumphed that night but I’ll always remember it for that goal.

At the edge of the box he had Ricardo Carvalho directly in front of him and a number of defenders in close proximity. It didn’t faze him though as he did a quick shimmy and then struck the ball into the far corner with the outside of his boot. It is hard to do it justice in words so just watch his brilliance.

RM – Gianfranco Zola

Nowadays at Chelsea we are more than used to being a hated club, people resent the way we became one of football’s elite and of course I can totally understand that. Also a lot of our players have become severe hate figures and again some of these are understandable (others are just baffling though) however there is one man synonymous with Chelsea who will never fall into that category.

I only really knew him during his twilight years at the Bridge but I’ve seen more than enough for Gianfranco Zola to always have a place in my best XI and my heart. The Italian Magician as he was affectionately known was capable of things that most other players couldn’t even think of, just like this goal against Norwich. He could create or score out of nothing, he was a master of free-kicks and above all else he was just a really nice guy. I’ve never heard anyone speak poorly of him and Zola is arguably our greatest ever player and a legend who shall never be forgotten.

LM – Eden Hazard

If Zola is our greatest ever player this boy is quickly staking a claim to topple the Italian’s throne. Given he is only 23 it may seem ridiculous to include in my favourite ever eleven but I’ve been watching him solidly for the last three seasons and I love watching him play. Like Zola he is capable of anything and right now he has the world at his feet.

I’d be amazed if Hazard hasn’t won the Ballon d’Or within the next five years and I fully expect him to be on the podium within two years. He is up against two of the most gifted players the game has ever seen but for me he can be as good if not better. His close control is astonishing and when he starts running at defenders it can be extremely difficult to stop him without committing a foul. Under Jose Mourinho he is perfectly positioned to fulfil his potential and the next few years could be some of the most exciting at Stamford Bridge.

ST – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

I’ve been thinking long and hard about it and if I’m honest I’d say Zlatan Ibrahimovic is my favourite player of all time. Ronaldinho is up there as is Zola but the former’s fall from grace was disappointing whilst I only saw the latter stages of Zola’s career. Ibrahimovic didn’t really come to my attention until he joined Juventus but of course I knew about his outrageous solo goal at Ajax.

Outrageous is probably the perfect word to describe the big Swede; some of his antics on the field are out of this world. He is incredibly talented yet also remarkably dedicated and hard working. I finished his reading his autobiography back in autumn and I’d strongly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, his is an extraordinary tale and he puts it forward very well.

He will forever be remembered as one of football’s mavericks and rightly so, he is simply brilliant to watch, the perfect mix of power, technique and imagination. Since joining PSG he has become a pivotal figure off the field and you get the impression he really buys into what they want to achieve. I’m sure he’ll stay closely connected to the club after he retires but until then we can hopefully keep enjoying moments like these (oh and this).

Manager – Jose Mourinho

Hardly a surprise is it? As a Chelsea fan Jose can do little wrong within football in my eyes, his sale of Juan Mata was questionable but the results since have demonstrated why it was necessary. He brought us the first title for fifty years and the first of my lifetime. His return to the Bridge this summer caused no end of excitement and his talk of staying for as long as the club wants him is just music to my ears. I have the utmost respect for Sir Alex Ferguson and what he achieved at Manchester United but it really is a no-brainer.

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Football’s Greatest Moments

winner_titleFootball is the greatest game in the world, of that there is no doubt and it’s a subject covered previously on the blog (http://blog.betsofmates.com/2014/01/how-to-make-football-better/). If football is the greatest game, and it is, then it stands to reason that a celebration of its greatest moments would be a pretty bloody marvellous topic for one of those internet articles you’re all so keen on.

When you think of the events and occurrences that have defined this wonderful sport your mind probably conjures up images of a slaloming Maradona, a turning Cruyff or a celebrating Pele. This is understandable, but frankly wrong, and actually a little insulting, all these things happened ages ago, I don’t remember them, you don’t remember them, they may as well be fictitious events for all the difference it’d make. What follows is the correct list of football’s greatest moments and all of them actually happened.

Adebayor goal and celebration vs Arsenal

It is often said that the birth of Christ is the greatest story ever told but (at the risk of being very offensive) that’s nonsense. First of all it’s at best an okay story (not enough explosions for my liking) and second of all it’s nowhere near as funny as the day Adebayor raised the bar for trolling to heights never previously imagined. Ade didn’t exactly leave Arsenal on the best of terms, and he’d already stamped on his ex-teammates head, so no-one was expecting a #mutedcelebration if he scored against his old club. What we could never have imagined was the vein bulging full pitch sprint and triumphant knee slide in front of those that had once adored him that greeted his goal. Never in the history of the world has such naked joy been met with such vitriolic, but impotent, hate. It was hilarious, it was dangerous and it made this planet a better place to live. What a moment, what a man.

Mourinho poking Villanova in the eye that time

It took a while for Jose to best Barcelona on the pitch, understandably so, the Catalan side he came up against have been hailed as one of the finest of all time. Quite uncharacteristically for the the Portuguese he spent the early part of his time in Madrid getting beaten by the team people from Madrid really don’t like getting beaten by. One such defeat was in the Spanish Super Cup where a late Messi goal meant that Barca added another shiny thing to their already impressive collection of shiny things. Some Madrid players were sent off, I can’t be bothered checking how many, and the team was about to come in for a lorryload of criticism, until Mourinho committed possibly the most unselfish act of all time, he poked one of the Barcelona coaches in the eye. Any criticism of his players was forgotten as the world, as one, went “OMFG HE’S JUST POKED THAT BLOKE IN THE EYE”  and then spent the next week watching gifs of said poking. Mere mortals cannot comprehend a thought process that goes “well this is going tits up…….. I think I should go over there and poke that guy in the eye”. I’m getting teary just thinking about it.

Terry missing his penalty in the Champions League final

John Terry is a successful man, he is at the peak of a profession, he won ‘dad of the year once’ and he’s a had a lot of sex (some would say too much sex). He is also * ****** **** (let’s go for ‘not particularly likable’ and not what you said because that would get us sued – ed) so when he not only missed the chance to win the greatest prize in club football for his team, but also fell on his arse in the process the nation almost exploded with joy. Man United went on to win the shootout and all that awful tit could do was sit on the ground and cry. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop laughing.

When that bloke phoned the police after Nani got sent off

A footballer on the television was sent off, admittedly harshly, a grown man in his home many miles away, could think of no more an appropriate way to react than to report this to the authorities as a crime, an emergency in fact (he dialled 999). That makes my heart sing with joy.

That time my brother overhead kicked the ball into his own face

I accept this is slightly less well known than the rest of the entries on this list but what it lacks in mass market appeal it makes up for in genuine hilarity. I laughed so much I was sick in my mouth a little. It needs no explanation, he literally overhead kicked the ball straight into his own face.

Aguero’s last minute title winner

As we approached the 94th minute, the final moment of not just the game but the season, it looked as if all the money in the world would not be enough to cure Manchester City of their ‘Cityitis’, an entertaining but crippling disease that had always been a part of the club. The title was basically gone, unfathomably losing at home to a dreadful QPR side, Mancini swearing at everyone and at no-one. Until the brilliant little Argentine wriggled through a tired defence and slammed home the most dramatic of winners. In that moment no-one who supported City could possibly have been any happier, it was joy unconfined. and that is a wonderful thing. Then the camera cut to Phil Jones making a funny face and an incredible moment achieved something approaching perfection.

I’m finished now but we can continue this discussion over on twitter if that’s the kind of thing that turns you on https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

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