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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.

Everton vs Swansea: Preview

Wednesday 8pm, Goodison Park

Everton 8/13 Draw 13/5 Swansea 5/1

Maybe I should just copy and paste the preview I did for Everton’s game against Norwich on Satuday? This will be similar, but with fewer goals.

Seamus Coleman and Jack Rodwell are out for the home team, while Angel Rangel returns for the visitors to hopefully shore-up the troublesome right-back spot.

The problem Everton have, is that they have to work so hard for so long to achieve so little. It’s not that they’re wasteful at home, it’s that they don’t have any dynamism – or the little they do have is sporadic.

Enigmatic as he may be, I’d like to Royston Drenthe start tonight – because you have to do something if you’re David Moyes. Drenthe gives a team pace and a direct approach, and yes, while he’s undeniably hit-and-miss, he would make Everton less predictable. That may sound harsh, but only Wigan and QPR have scored fewer goals.

You know what you’re going to get with Swansea. Everything will be neat and tidy, the approach play will be patient, and they’ll work extremely hard for Brandon Rodgers. Unfortunately, Nathan Dyer is missing tonight, who’s certainly a player capable of getting beyond defenders and causing trouble.

Swansea have scored, like Everton, a paltry 16 goals this season, and with the draw-orientated approach that they’re likely to take to Goodison Park, probably don’t expect a scoring-fest.

Goalless draw.

Interesting Fact: Based on away fixtures only, Swansea are bottom of the league table.

Best bet: 0-0 draw at 9/1

Things we’ve learned this weekend – Wigan, Blackburn, Manchester City, Swansea

Blackburn are improving

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It’s a funny thing; once a crowd have decided that they don’t want a manager, it’s almost impossible to convince them otherwise. Lose the crowd, lose your job – that should almost be the LMA’s motto.

Like many others, I’ve said for months that Steve Kean isn’t the right person for this club at this time. I’m starting to change my mind, because under almost unbearable pressure, he actually has his team performing quite well. Plus of course, given the state of the club’s ownership – or lack of clarity regarding it – he just can’t be shouldering all of the blame.

On a good day, they would have taken points of Tottenham, Chelsea, and beaten Norwich. That would leave them in 13th.

While the circumstances around Kean’s appointment still rankle, and while his transfer dealings have been largely underwhelming, he’s got this Blackburn team playing at quite a good level – which in the circumstances is miraculous.

Swansea aren’t getting enough credit

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All the talk coming out of Anfield on Saturday was of a profligate Liverpool who should have easily dispensed with Swansea. Yes, Michel Vorm made several outstanding saves to preserve a point for the Welsh side, but equally, the visitors created enough chances to have won the game.

How many times have we seen a newly-promoted side go to a signature ground like Anfield and shut-up shop, play as negatively as possible, and simply aim to preserve morale rather than accumulate any points? Not so with Brendan Rodgers and his side, whose expansive – yet neat – football is seemingly capable of opening up just about any side in the league.

Man-management is also clearly an attribute of the Irishman’s, because there are many who would have feared for Swansea after they threw away a two-goal lead at Molineux. Not so, they’ve rebounded nicely and that deflating experience seems thoroughly out of their system – four points out of six since their trip to Wolverhampton.

David Silva is a true example to aspiring professionals

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Not something that was learned over the weekend, but definitely still worth mentioning. A World Cup winner, an incredibly gifted player, and an extremely wealthy young man. But without a shred of ego. A joy to watch, but also a credit to his profession – it’s a mark of his upbringing and general integrity that you’ll never hear a word from the Spaniard in the press, or see so much as a sour expression when he sits on the bench.

On top of which, and the real reason for including him here, his first-touch for his goal against QPR was sublime. A highlight of the weekend.

Spitting is always unacceptable

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No excuses for Antonlin Alcaraz, none at all. I don’t care what the provocation is, I don’t care about ‘pressure’, or heated atmospheres – you can never spit at another player. Alcaraz has already, rightly, been charged by the FA, and hopefully he’ll get something akin to the six games handed down to Patrick Viera all those years ago.

Unfortunately though, I’ve read in a couple of places this morning that ‘players overreact to spitting’ – and by ‘places’ I actually mean ‘Football365′. Now, I know that deliberately taking a contrary and hence provocative view is part of their MO, but really – you can’t defend something like that.

Bad player, bad professional – this is supposed to be the Wigan captain.

Swansea vs Bolton: Preview

Saturday 3pm, The Liberty Stadium

Swansea 13/10 Draw 9/4 Bolton 5/2

It’s the kind of naivety that Swansea showed against Wolves last week that could undermine their attempts to stay in the Premier League. This is a crucial game in their season, because it’s the first time they’ve had to rebound from adversity. You can’t lose two-nil leads away from home, or if you do you can’t feel sorry for yourself afterwards. Wolves were dismal last week, and should have been killer off long before Kevin Doyle got on the score sheet.

Bolton are not good. In fact, any team that loses at home to Sunderland is pretty questionable. Owen Coyle’s side find themselves in the relegation zone after three, which is where they thoroughly deserve to be – no cutting edge, bad defending, and not a lot of confidence. Not a great combination.

If Swansea can play the type of football that they’re capable of, then they’ve got the tools to carve Bolton up tomorrow. The only cloud of doubt, is over their ability to defend set-pieces. They’re not in any way convincing in their own box, and Coyle will be fully-aware of it.

Keep the ball well and don’t concede too many free-kicks in their own half, and Swansea should have enough here – and the 13/10 is really tempting.

2-1, home win.

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Home fan negativity a product of crowds turning into audiences

This is not a new phenomenon, but it’s one that doesn’t stop grating. I’ve just watched the first-half of Wolves against Swansea, and the most notable aspect of the game – other than the visitors’ expressive football – is the torrid time the home fans are giving their own players.

‘The fans pay their money so they’re entitled to voice their discontent’. Is this true? Surely audible discontent is acceptable if there’s a flagrant lack of effort on the pitch, but not just because of a lack of success. Wolves’ industry in the first-half has been clear, but a fragile confidence in defence has undermined them. How is that solved by jeering?

If you go to a live football match, you’re going as a ‘supporter’ – quite literally. This is not like complaining to the BBC over the use of the license fee, you actually have a choice over whether to go to the stadium – there was moment of decision where you bought your ticket, or your season ticket.

In Wolves’ case, they’ve lost five straight games, so what kind of condition do you expect morale to be in during the sixth.

This is a product of the commercialism in the game. As The Premier League has developed, and as the talent pool that take part in it has grown ever more global, the disconnect between players and fans has grown. These are not local boys putting on the shirt of their community anymore – fans feel not empathy with the eleven players that start for their side on a Saturday.

That’s why crowds have turned into audiences. The previous romanticism of the game has been sacrificed and willingly so for the sport’s greater good, but the by-product of that is a more demanding crowd – one that expects entertainment.

‘If we can’t relate to the players, then we damn well better be entertained by them.’

This is just a rant, but it’s such a horrible aspect of the modern game. If you’re not playing well, and you’re struggling for confidence, we’re go to boo you. That sense of entitlement is a nonsense.

Don’t even get me started on the fans seen leaving Molineux after Swansea’s second goal in the thirty-fifth minute.

Things we’ll learn this weekend – Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Swansea

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Are Arsenal genuinely in recovery?

Wednesday’s win against Marseille was important for another reason other than just the Champions League points it earned – it showed Arsene Wenger’s side that they were capable of winning games in a different way. Gritty, determined, and dare I say it – ugly.

Ironic then, that those are the very qualities a side usually needs to have to beat this weekend’s visitors to the Emirates Stadium, Stoke City. A clean sheet in France is one thing, but a strong defensive performance against the most awkward attack in the league would be quite another. What have Arsenal have gained from their trip across the channel? Hopefully a restored sense of belief and a renewed sense of calm in their defending.

How ruthless are Liverpool?

Norwich at home is exactly the kind of game Liverpool have struggled with in recent seasons. Can Kenny Dalglish’s side produce a performance of the same verve as they did against Manchester United? This is the footballing come-down; the atmosphere won’t be as intense, the Sky cameras aren’t there, and there’s no hostility to feed off. However, fail to win tomorrow and Liverpool might as well have lost last Saturday. Stoke need to be put away with efficiency, and three points is a must here.

Will the occasion get to Manchester City?

I just have a nagging feeling about this. Would you be surprised if City scored an early goal, played all the football, but concede two late goals as they try and hang on?
Old Trafford does funny things to teams, and referees, and the worst thing you can possibly do there is play passively. How many points have United won over the years because teams have set-up to play for a point and invariably got breached?

On paper, this should be a City win – they’re so strong in every part of the pitch. Play football and they’ll win, but focus on where they are and what’s at stake and it’ll go wrong and United will pick them off. That’s exactly what happened last year.

How brave will Swansea be?

With the pace they have up front, and the movement, Swansea need to go to Molineux tomorrow lunchtime and attack Wolves. Roger Johnson and Christophe Berra are good defenders, but they’re not mobile – you have to work Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer in behind that back four. Do that, and the Welsh side win tomorrow. This is a league where, as mentioned in the paragraph above, a sensibly positive philosophy is usually rewarded.

If you’re facing a team that have lost five in a row, then the slightest hint of adversity will make them very, very nervous. Mick McCarthy knows that his team desperately need to win, because a loss to Swansea would leave them in a very deep morale hole – and if they concede early, Wolves could disintegrate.

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Wolves vs Swansea: Preview

Saturday 12.45pm, Molineux

Wolves Evens Draw 12/5 Swansea 14/5

Obviously there’s not an awful lot of recent history between these two sides, as they haven’t played since 2008 in The Championship.

Wolves haven’t registered a Premier League point since the draw with Villa in late August, and have now lost five games in a row. Not exactly encouraging either, is that they’re averaging under one goal a game at the moment – a true rut.

Swansea have looked in patches decent at the Liberty Stadium, but on the road they look every bit as vulnerable as their hosts tomorrow. An average of three goals conceded, less than a goal scored.

Even at such a early stage, what would a loss do to Wolves’ confidence through the rest of the season – if you’re Mick McCarthy, you’re telling your players that they simply cannot afford to lose here. That’s a task made harder by the doubts over the fitness of top scorer Steven Fletcher, who’s unlikely to feature because of a calf problem.

Stephen Dobbie, Alan Tate, Kemy Agustien and Steven Caulker are unavailable to Swansea, but Vangelis Moras has been added to the squad.

I like the amount of movement and pace that Swansea have up front, because the Wolves backline is not really equipped to be turned around – that’s what might win this.

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4 things we’ve learnt: Adebayor, Swansea, Stoke, Manchester City

Emmanuel Adebayor is a mercenary

Obviously something that wasn’t learnt over the weekend, more that it was just reaffirmed.

Adebayor was interviewed after the game, and made it quite clear how little concern he has for anybody that views his club-swapping with a frown.

This is what the rest of his career will look like; single seasons for different clubs, a hired gun brought in to provide short-term goalscoring solutions. Striker for hire.

Emmanuel Adebayor the player can be as good as it gets – his debut goal for Spurs’ was ironically exactly the type of chance that Harry Redknapp’s team would have spurned last season – but Adebayor the person will only ever be interested in Emmanuel and Emmanuel’s bank balance.

If he plays regularly he’ll always score goals, but even at twenty-seven he’s in danger of being remembered as a case study into what might have been for the want of a little humility.

Only two things are certain with Adebayor, and those are that he’ll neither be playing for Tottenham or Manchester City next season. His ego has burnt all bridges with the former, and his exaggerated self-valuation will obstruct any permanent deal with the latter.

A betting man would say that he’ll be the next high-profile player to sell his soul to Anzhi Makhachkala.

Swansea are in trouble

Before the season started, making a case for Swansea’s survival hinged around what they might be able to do going forward. After four games their ‘goals for’ column is still blank, and that’s after the relative ease of home games against Wigan and Sunderland.

During the Summer i said that Brandon Rodgers’ side looked lightweight, and that’s still my belief. Okay, Danny Graham has joined the club to add a little bit more presence, but he’s just not a good enough finisher to score goals at this level.

Travelling to Emirates Stadium is a daunting task, but it’s never been as easy as it is right now. A very shaky Arsenal should’ve been punished at some point, and that they weren’t – and that there’s still no real evidence of a cutting edge – is cause for real concern.

Without Michel Vorm, Swansea would have no points at all this season and their lack of readiness for this level of football would be starkly apparent.

Steve Bruce personifies the myth that predicates that good ex-players make good managers

Stoke have become the new Bolton…

…In that they don’t get nearly enough credit.

Like the early-to-mid-00s team that Sam Allardyce created at Bolton, Tony Pulis’ Stoke are too often dismissed as just a physical team that feed off feed off direct football.

That’s deeply unfair, and I suspect it’s the product of those who watch only highlights packages and goal round-ups. Truthfully, they play good football, but Tony Pulis also has the nous to recognise when a direct approach can unsettle teams with greater resources than he has. That’s to be applauded.

It’s irritating that the media jumped so willingly on the back of Kenny Dalglish’s ‘conspiracy’ claims over the weekend – where was the praise for Stoke? This is a team that has only conceded one goal all season, and is fourth in the league.

Yes, Liverpool were incredibly wasteful, but accusations of poor refereeing really shouldn’t detract from what was an incredibly committed defensive performance.

One suspects that a lot of the criticism that Stoke receive is based on outdated opinions about their style of football – outdated because these same critics are clearly not watching ninety minutes of the games. People need to start accepting what this team is, and that’s a bona fide top-half side.

One note on the refereeing, you could certainly make a case for saying that every decision Mark Clattenburg made on Saturday was correct – maybe some of them were contentious, but none of them were outright mistakes.

Actually what doesn’t get applauded enough is Stoke’s ability to switch their way of playing when necessary, how many teams in the league are actually able to present a physical and footballing threat simultaneously? Very few, well done Tony Pulis.

David Silva is the best player in the league at the moment

It’s becoming increasingly en vogue to say it, but the little Spaniard really is a pleasure to watch. Sergio Aguero’s pyrotechnics may write more headlines, but Silva is more valuable to Manchester City.

His first touch, his weight of pass, and his awareness of what’s around him when he receives the ball are all exemplary.

Most impressive of all though, you never hear a word from him. In the contemporary game, not to have someone agitating for respect, more money, or more praise is genuinely refreshing. The rebuttal to that is of course that Silva’s wages would probably already make Caligula blush, but it’s all relative – that didn’t stop Tevez, Rooney, Modric, Torres etc.

Remember also that Silva had the traditional settling-in period that goes with being a dainty playmaker in this league, but still there was no moaning – just an adjustment of his game, and probably a little time spent in the gym. Probably an absolute pleasure for Roberto Mancini to manage.

A likeable Premier League star and an outstanding footballer, I’d almost forgotten what those looked like.

Missed highlights from England or around Europe? They’ll be on the Facebook page.

Premier League Betting: Manchester City Vs Swansea

This might get ugly.

Given the way they play, Swansea are most likely to prosper this year against teams that play open and attacking football – but you just can’t see them doing anything against such a robust unit as City, and equally, it’s not likely that they’re going to emerge from Eastlands with a particularly flattering goal-difference.

There’s some speculation doing the rounds that Carlos Tevez might play on Monday, but whether the Swans’ defence comes face-to-face with him or the other extremely expensive and talented Argentine in City’s squad, it’s a pretty daunting assignment for Brendan Rodgers. It’s been said elsewhere on this site that Swansea lack physicality upfront, and you have to believe that without any kind of target-man they’re going to really struggle to hold the ball up and prevent City from just launching attack after attack.

No value exists in the Win-Lose-Draw market, so get creative and look at the 12/1 on offer for a 4-0 home win, or take the total match goals at above 2.5 for 4/6.

Early Morning Notes: Swansea, Bolton & Jerome, Tevez interview, and Roberto Martinez

Roberto Martinez has been given permission to speak to Aston Villa, and is now an even money favourite to be their next permanent manager. The sooner Villa have a bit of stability at their club the better, the uncertainty around the team’s future direction certainly didn’t make Ashley Young’s decision to leave any harder.

Another Villa player, Stewart Downing, has seen his odds of joining Liverpool slashed in the last twenty-four hours, the England winger is now a very short 1/3 to be at Anfield next season. On the basis that this happens, Kenny Dalglish’s transfer policy is a little bit underwhelming so far – Downing’s a good player, but like Jordan Henderson he’s not going to get you anywhere nearer the league title.

Marcos Senna‘s Villareal contract is due to expire in July, and Swansea are apparently eager to bring the 34-year-old along with them on their journey into the Premier League. That’ll certainly be a good way to test the resiliency of your club’s wage structure. Not the most sensible reaction to getting promoted.

Another playing is leaving the Liberty Stadium, Darren Pratley confirmed yesterday that ‘after five years I feel the time is right for a fresh challenge.’

The Ewood Park penalty spot has sold on eBay for a frankly pretty silly £6,100. What recession?

The Carlos Tevez interview in which he tells a chatshow host that he’ll ‘never return to Manchester’ is up on the BBC website – watch it here. The normal ‘misquoted’ excuse is probably on its way from Kia Joorabchian.

Bolton want Birmingham forward Cameron Jerome, but are only willing to pay £5m for him. Rightly so you say, but unfortunately Birmingham believe his value to be closer to £8m. Frankly, if Bolton agree to pay £8m for him then they deserve to follow his current club through the trapdoor. Silly money.