Author Archives: thepremierleagueowl

Liverpool – The season so far

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Manager

It would seem that the feel-good factor that surrounded the club following Kenny Dalglish’s succession of Roy Hodgson has started to melt away. I wrote in the pre-season that I didn’t think Dalglish had shown through his transfer dealings that he was equipped to mount a modern day title challenge, and I still maintain that.

Given the ailments of our national team, surely the logical conclusion has to be that a concentration of English players anywhere tends to be a bad thing – and Liverpool is the living and breathing proof of that right now. There’s only so long that you can tolerate either the ‘Roy Hodgson damaged the club’ or the ‘Rafa Benitez left a legacy of sub-standard players’ arguments as mitigating circumstances for Dalglish’s record.

Since when is seventh place good enough for a team of Liverpool’s stature? The scaling-down of ambition must be particular galling for fans, as talk of mounting title-challenges has been replaced by ‘progressing steadily back to the Champions League’. That’s fine as an attitude – if you’re a team embedded within the league’s second-tier. Not for Liverpool, not when so much money has been spent.

Another worry has, obviously, to be the team’s home form. As traditional a weakness as this has become, Dalglish has to pick-up some of the blame. Strange tactical decisions, failure to adjust to an alternate approach in games, and naive team selections – that’s the manager’s domain, and simply blaming a string of exceptional visiting goalkeeper’s for a lack of points at Anfield is insufficient.

I like Kenny Dalglish, I like what he stands for and what he represents; he’s a window into the game’s past, and he’s a three-dimensional character in an increasingly 2D sport. The problem is though, that as much as we all love the ‘old guy coming back to rescue his old club’ fairytale, this isn’t going to end well. Nobody wants to see legacies tarnished, and Dalglish is a good man, so he needs to give some serious thought to his future at the end of this season – you suspect that John Henry wouldn’t really have the balls to make that decision for him.

Squad

Meh. It’s all very British and underwhelming. Too much has already been said about Andy Carroll, but Charlie Adam? Stewart Downing? Jordan Henderson? No – those are top 6 players at best, they’re not elite calibre and never will be. Jose Enrique is an outstanding left-back, and the defence does look a whole lot more secure without Jamie Carragher in it – and Glenn Johnson will do for the time being.

I like Craig Bellamy, Maxi is under-used, and and Jose Reina is still on the Mount Rushmore of Premier League goalkeepers, but outside of that there’s not an awful lot that’s fueling any optimism.

I know that this is a team that has beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge two years in a row, but that’s the exceptional to the rule – there aren’t enough match-winners at Liverpool, the kind of players that are capable of jolting their team out of a malaise against a Stoke/Sunderland/Norwich. Luis Suarez is one of those, but obviously he’s not really relevant at the moment. Steven Gerrard is another, but question marks now have to exist over his durability.

It’s all very ordinary at Anfield.

Overview

The club feels like it’s plateaud. There was the slide under Benitez, the free-fall under Hodgson, and then the initial resurgence under Dalglish. But now they don’t seem to be progressing. If, as we’re led to believe, funds do exist for transfer activity this month, then why is nothing happening? It’s quite clear, that without investment – and without shunting a couple of under-performers through the exit door – Liverpool are going to be stuck in the Europa League at best next season. That will not do.

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Newcastle on the verge of Papiss Cisse signing (Video)

The little yellow newsbar is scrolling on Sky Sports again, this time with the news that Senegalese forward Papiss Cisse is on the verge of a move to Newcastle – apparently for around £10m. Cisse is away at the Africa Cup of Nations, ironically with Demba Ba, so any potential debut will have to wait until the end of his country’s involvement.

Mike Ashley seems at long last to be willing to loosen his grip on that Andy Carroll revenue. Shocker.

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QPR new-boy Henrique

Almost a done deal, subject to a work permit he’ll be at Loftus Road on an initial 18-month loan-deal before completing a permanent transfer.

“I know a lot of clubs are interested in me. But when I spoke to Mark Hughes and QPR, they made me feel very excited about their plans.

I want to go to a club with ambition and to play in London would be a fantastic opportunity.

The manager is known everywhere. He played for great clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona.

As a striker, I know I can learn so much from him. I’ve always wanted to play in Europe and, for me, England has the most exciting league in the world.”

A little bit of video:

QPR to beat MK Dons in the FA Cup tonight – 1.83 with Paddy Power. Sign-up today for your £20 welcome bonus.

The Daily Mail prematurely promising Eden Hazard to Chelsea

Too soon, too soon. Beware the validity of any sentences beginning with ‘Sportsmail understands’ or ‘Sportsmail can exclusively reveal’, as lies tend to follow pretty quickly.

The Daily Mail has Eden Hazard ‘provisionally agreeing terms with Chelsea’ according to ‘sources at Lille’. Right, ok.

So, just to recap, one of the hottest properties in European football – wanted by every major club excluding Barcelona – doesn’t wait for the bidding war over his talents, and instead makes an early agreement based on the first offer that comes his way. Probably not.

Apparently also, Chelsea ‘have been forced to move quickly’ in their pursuit of the Belgian. I have no doubt that Andre Villas-Boas is interested in the twenty-one-year-old, but since when has ‘moving quickly’ ever won anybody a transfer war. Is the Mail’s logic that Chelsea could potentially sign Hazard without anybody noticing? For £24m? Have you met football agents – the tend to like to talk a little bit about who wants their players. And sometimes, just sometimes, they play affluent clubs off against each other to manufacture more favourable personal terms for their clients.

Chelsea probably aren’t printing his shirt just yet…

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Arsenal – Thoughts on the season so far

Maybe it would have been better to have waited until after Sunday’s game with Man United before writing this. Still, let’s break it down into a couple of parts…

The Manager

A marmite topic amongst Arsenal fans now, and I can understand why. On the one hand, you don’t want to dismiss his lengthy list of achievements in the English game, but on the other there’s clearly a sense of foreboding about where he’s now taking the club.

It’s difficult to shake the impression that he spent a lot of money in August for the sake of it, and that the players he did bring in weren’t necessarily the right ones. Mikel Arteta maybe, but Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos seemed to represent ill-though out purchases. The German’s a case in point, because staggeringly, it doesn’t look as if anybody really researched his strengths and weaknesses before bringing him to the club. I know that there are similarities between the Bundesliga and the Premier League, but there are also key differences. Mertesacker is a good player, but he’s weak when exposed to pace and movement – so why would you bring a defender with the turning circle of a Lancaster Bomber to the quickest league in Europe?

The Squad

There’s a bit of overlap here with the previous section, but I don’t think Arsene Wenger has been decisive enough with certain members of his squad. Andrei Arshavin has contributed nothing this year, and has lived off the back of his first six months in this country for a long time now. With every passing window, the Russian depreciates in value, yet he remains at the club – he needs to go. Theo Walcott underwhelms constantly – an athlete pretending to be a footballer. That situation is especially frustrating when the potential and dynamism of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is sitting on the bench.

Without over-playing the obvious, this side will look a whole lot better when Jack Wilshere returns from injury. Yes, Wilshere brings a creativity to the side, but he also brings a calming presence in possession – which is clearly helpful given Arsenal’s current issues with ball-retention.

Transfer targets

Is it really worth speculating on something that won’t happen? Wenger doesn’t believe in doing business in January, and no amount of late-season tail-offs will seemingly dissuade him from that mindset. Still, cover at full-back wouldn’t hurt, would it?

Overview

I suspect what’s needed at Arsenal is actually an objective pair of eyes, because Wenger doesn’t really seem to see what everybody else does – this is a club slipping back towards the Hinterland of mediocrity. Too many average components, not enough match-winners. Football is unfortunately a short-term industry, and you really can’t eat out on past achievement forever. Squad re-modeling, re-shaping, streamlining; whatever you want to call it – being ten points behind Tottenham in January and heading for the Europa League is not really acceptable.

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Thoughts on Wigan – Planning survival

Wigan aren’t that bad. Okay, there are obvious deficiencies within the team, but their situation isn’t quite as hopeless as the league table suggests. There’s enough about this side for Roberto Martinez to produce a second successive miracle at the DW Stadium and keep them up.

The Catch 22 here, is that a lot of Wigan’s fallibility comes from their fragile confidence, which in turn will only start building once the results turn positive. The defending is tentative, their forward play even more so; what this side desperately craves is a bit of experience. The quality is there – Hugo Rodallega, James McCarthy, Victor Moses and Mohamed Diamy are all good enough players to compete in every fixture, and in Ali Al-Habsi they have a keeper who can keep them in games. Al-Habsi’s a funny one, and he doesn’t really get the credit he deserves. Too many pundits look at his unorthodox technique and bracket him as a liability, but the aesthetic of goalkeeping is always secondary to its results.

Hopefully, Roberto Martinez has funds for the January window – Dave Whelan is very loyal to his manager, and loves his club’s Premier League status, so there’s no reason why modest financial support shouldn’t be there. The first point of call? A new centre-back. Literally anybody, because Gary Caldwell doesn’t quite have enough nous for this level of football. He works very hard, and is clearly committed, but Wigan need more in the middle of the defence – more size and more ability. An experienced Premier League defender on loan – not even an elite one – would give this team so much more security.

I really like Victor Moses and Hugo Rodallega, they’re capable of creating problems for most teams, but there’s a sense that there’s too much required of them at the moment. They’re both playing from deep so much, that actually seeing them in and around the box – i.e. where they’re most pertinent – is actually quite rare. What a difference a goal-scorer would make to this team, you could play Rodallega and Moses wide, and let them attack their full-backs whilst also encouraging them to drift inside.

A name for you – Nicky Maynard. The contract rebel will leave Bristol City this month, and it will be either to the upper echelons of the Championship or the lower-depths of the Premier League. Wigan need to get themselves involved in the battle for his signature. Yes, the same problems exist – how do you attract a player to Wigan, what guarantees can you give him over sustained top-flight football etc – but Maynard is in need of a chance to prove himself at this level, and Roberto Martinez can provide him with that stage.

…just some thoughts.

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Gary Cahill talks of ‘massive opportunity’ at joining Chelsea

Not to labour a point that’s already been made, but there seems to be a bit of a disconnect here. Gary Cahill, on completing his move to Stamford Bridge:

“Chelsea is a massive club, it is a club that looks to win trophies season in, season out and it is a big opportunity for me to be a part of that.

Opportunities like this, you can’t turn down.

This is the right move for me at the right time and I would like to thank everyone at Bolton because I’ve had a great four years at the football club.

My spell with Wanderers has enabled me to break into the England squad, and I would particularly like to thank the fans for their support along the way.”

Yup, an opportunity so valuable and so hard to turn down that Cahill took two weeks to agree on personal terms. Apparently, Cahill had to eventually settle for just the £80,000 a week – rather than the £100,000 that he was asking for. Tough times.

I know that the ‘players get paid too much’ opinion has been around for a long time now, but is there not an issue when average players are asking for such exorbitant wages? Even more so when players put their demands for cash above the advancement of their careers.

Football fans have a long memory, and if Gary Cahill gets off to anything other than a flying start, those protracted negotiations are going to haunt him. The moment he hesitated, Chelsea should have told him to do one – Andres Villas-Boas needs players that actually want to play for the club, not those that are happy to as long as they’re paid enough to do so. Huge difference. Cahill’s not a good enough player to be behaving like this.

Oh, he’s an England International is he? Well, only sort of – and anyway, so was Matthew Upson.

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Esteban Granero’s agent dropping Liverpool hints

Ah, agents – you have to love their enthusiasm for talking to the press don’t you?

Here are some quotes from Teo Lazaro, Esteban Granero’s representative:

“He’s finding his chances limited at Real.

If he can’t play at Madrid, then he’ll play somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.

He’s keen for a move away – possibly to Liverpool.”

Be wary of this Liverpool fans, because this is an example of how an agent drums up interest in a player. Mention that your man has a grievance with his club’s selection policy, make sure it’s clear that he’d welcome a move, and then drop a well-known and sizeable club into the equation. All of a sudden, your mobile might start ringing.

I don’t think anyone doubts that Granero is available, he’s tactically the odd-man-out in Real Madrid’s talented midfield – and he’s only made 39 appearances in 3 years.

Could Liverpool be interested? Who knows, Granero would offer them something they lack at the moment – i.e. someone adept at anchoring the midfield in Lucas Leiva’s absence – but I’d be surprised if Kenny Dalglish was chasing another midfielder, given the expenditure that’s already gone into that area.

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Wigan vs Manchester City: Preview

Monday 8pm, DW Stadium

Wigan 8.00 Draw 4.20 Manchester City 1.44

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Awkward little fixture for City this – despite Wigan’s deficiencies, it’s not the most appetising venue for a must-win game.

Doubts exist over David Silva(f/g) and Mario Balotelli(f/g) for Roberto Mancini, and the Toure brothers are away with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Wigan welcome back Albert Crusat(f/g), but Mohamed Diame is also on international duty with Senegal.

Wigan are a team that needs momentum, a side that can grind through the gears and cause you problems if you let them. Roberto Martinez has seen his side hit the bottom of the league since Blackburn’s resurgence, and will ensure that his players appreciate the urgency for points.

City have not looked themselves for a while now. The stuttering performance against Liverpool, the refereeing travesty that was the derby game, and the stalemate at the Hawthorns have added up to the first semblance of doubt over their title credentials. Sunday’s encounter with Tottenham may promise bigger headlines, but victory tonight is just as important.

There’s not a lot of subtlety in the way the home side defends, and that promises much for a visiting attack stuffed with guile and creativity. If David Silva’s fit, expect him to enjoy himself – Wigan really aren’t equipped to handle that kind of player. Up front as well, I’m not sure that Franco Di Santo and Hugo Rodallega are capable of exposing the weakness felt by Vincent Kompany’s absence. All signs point to an away win, indifferent form or not.

If this is to be competitive, Wigan have to be forceful in midfield. City undeniably lose something when Yaya Toure isn’t playing, and it’s up to James McCarthy and probably Hendry Thomas to clog-up what will be an unfamiliar Barry/De Jong/Silva axis. Victor Moses has begun to show signs of why he was so coveted when at Crystal Palace, and his form this season has a lot to do with Wigan having as many points as they do – can he make an impact here though? Doubtful.

8/1 on Wigan? Only if you’ve got money to burn – City to win 3-0.

Best & Worst of the weekend: Swansea & Manchester United/Bolton

Best…

Swansea’s performance against Arsenal

Such is the nature of the media in this country, I’m sure that most of the emphasis will be placed on Arsenal’s shortcomings – but really, the visitors were only as good as they were allowed to be.

The criticism of Swansea this season has been that despite their concentration of possession, they haven’t always used it particularly decisively. Not so yesterday; the triangles, the pretty patterns, the two touch play – it all seemed to have far more purpose yesterday. A cutting edge. Swansea were excellent and fully-deserved the three points.

A minor point but an important one; the reflex reaction to Theo Walcott’s equaliser was probably the most impressive moment of the game. There are too many sides in the league, and not just newly-promoted ones, who would have become very negative after such a concession. Passive play in the face of big reputation opposition is a default setting for a lot of teams – but Brendan Rodgers’ side showed the benefits of sticking to an original gameplan. Attack with pace, deploy as much movement in and around a shakey visiting defence, and hassle the opposition when they’re in possession in their own defensive third.

Two lovely finishes from Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham as well…

Worst…



Peter Walton’s failure to send off Zat Knight

Every week.

At least when refereeing decisions are given in Manchester United’s favour there’s a semblance of explanation for them. Not so here.

Danny Welbeck is in on goal – or in ref-parlance ‘has a clear goal-scoring opportunity’ – and Zat Knight impedes him. It’s a penalty and it’s a red card. It’s not even contestable. Had the defender been dismissed by Walton, then not even the most partisan of Bolton fans could’ve found an argument to dispute the decision.

The saving grace of course, is that the decision didn’t effect the result of the game, but that doesn’t excuse it. With every decision like this, a new precedent is set – another example that confuses what should be a really straight-forward issue. Last-man commits a foul? Off he goes.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how difficult the job is, how many cameras there are scrutinising, the pace of the game etc – but sorry, this was just a clear failure to apply the rules. Ineptitude at its worst.

Segue out of that quickly – who read Richard Scudamore’s comments about refereeing this morning? Here, if you missed them.