Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Defending the Dive!

I don't generally enjoy just posting links of stories with nothing to add to it, but this defence of diving and other such things and the Italian's expertize at it is hilarious. Notice how well the difference between 'cheating' and 'guile' is described.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tottenham v Portsmouth, January 18, Premier League

This should be titled “Why Tottenham are not too good to be relegated”. Playing at home with two strikers against a currently struggling Portsmouth side in what was described by commentators repeatedly as a thrilling end-to-end game, they had as much attacking instinct in them as monks in meditation.

But to begin with, balls to all those football experts who called this thrilling end-to-end stuff. Just because the ball travels from one end to the other every forty seconds, never once threatening to cross below the bar, does not make the game thrilling. Poor quality football can be thrilling but only when all the shoddiness leads to chances and excitement. Here it was bad football with little end product with maybe five moments of going “ooh” over the ninety minutes.

Just to dwell on the game for a bit. There was not much happening when Sean Davis mis-passed to Defoe who had only the goalkeeper to beat when he shot wide. Some time later Lennon made probably the only inspired Tottenham run to reach the by-line and cross the ball for Defoe to head a ball which was well saved by James. David Nugent found himself one-on-one against Gomes as Ledley King limped behind him but he shot too close to the keeper who on his worse days would have conceded in this situation but did well to get down and save. Another James save led to a counter where Traore carried the ball across the length of the pitch (the best individual effort throughout the game) and saw Corluka tackle the ball into the oncoming Nugent who fired in his first Premier League goal thanks to a deflection from Bale. Tottenham equalized from a well taken shot from Defoe after he was set up by Modric on almost the only occasion the Croat got to the edge of the box. And then Spurs could have won if Bent would have scored the easiest of headers from a Bentley cross, but that didn’t happen so it ended one-one.

By description a standard premier league game between two typical English sides but I guess that’s why I don’t rate English football too highly. But not too much point discussing a very ordinary game. Which brings me back to my original point about Spurs not being too good to go down and here’s why I think so.

I think that for the players they have they have the formation and system all wrong. Then again for the formation and system they do have, they have the approach all wrong. After experimenting with a 3-5-2 which seemed like a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1…(11 times over) they switched back to a 4-4-2 but did it so pathetically. Playing at home against a team which is also in some shit, they chose to never let their fullbacks move forward and had their wide men bombing poor crosses as soon as they touched the ball without a thought of what the cross would do for them.

The central midfielders didn’t know what to do and for long periods, the strikers were hardly involved. That Pavlyuchenko still managed to pick up an injury would be maddening for Harry Redknapp, but given the intent his team has been showing recently I don’t think it should matter too much if it is Pav or Bent or the Queen up front, because there is very little for that guy to do.

The central defenders are ok, even though King got injured again and maybe out again for a few weeks. But between Dawson, Woodgate and King, if they can keep two fit, it should work. Bale and Corluka are also not bad individually (Corluka in fact has been known to be impressive) but unless they go out and support the attacks, their role is very limited and they will always struggle to create good chances, especially as their right and left midfield is so lacking in tooth.
Lennon has pace and can beat defenders but his crossing needs to improve and O Hara works very hard but does not have a clue about what he needs to do when he gets the ball. His solution is to cross it into the box no matter where he is and invariably all crosses are met by defenders because they float into the least lethal of areas.

But the biggest joke is the central midfield. Anyone who has seen Modric play at the Euros knows that he is capable of carrying a team on his own and is very very skilful. He is the sort of player who defenders find difficult to stop and when he gets into the box, he is bound to cause some confusion. For Spurs against Pompey, Modric hardly ever got close to the box until the moment when he finally was there to lay the ball up sweetly for Defoe. For Spurs, Modric seems like a show pony in the midfield who knows some tricks but adds little value. But I’ll blame that on Zokora. Zokora has strength, pace and on occasions works his balls off but he won’t get any life time awards for being a team player. There is no coordination between the two midfielders and it seems that there is no proper role definition done for either. Which is why you see Modric always stuck somewhere playing dribble against opposition counter parts when he should be in and around the box creating chances for his strikers.

What I would love to see Spurs do is move to a 4-2-3-1 making Modric the focal point of their attacks. Jenas or Huddlestone when fit, could partner Zokora with Modric playing behind Defoe. Two of Lennon, Bentley, O’ Hara, Bent, Pavyluchenko or dos Santos could play on either side of Modric and of course, with two men protecting the defense, Bale and Corluka would have complete license to join in attack. It is unlikely though that this will happen. In which case, here’s how they should prioritize:

1. Sell one of Jenas/Zokora and get a top-of-the-line holding midfielder
2. If Bentley is not good enough, sell him and get a better left sided midfielder
3. Sell Bent and get Peter Crouch. At least we know that Crouch and Defoe work well together

But Spurs hardly do what’s logical and though they are out of the relegation zone for the moment, only 10 points separate the bottom fourteen clubs! And on evidence of what I have seen of Spurs this season, I am afraid that when the Men get separated from the Boys, we are more likely to see Tottenham go to boarding school than the army.

Bolton v Manchester United and Chelsea v Stoke, January 17, Premier League

Stoke, Sunderland, Middlesborough, Wigan and Bolton. These are 5 games which Manchester United have won one-nil since December and three of them have been through injury time winners (one of them was a first minute winner – Wigan and the fifth was a seventieth minute winner – Boro). Also they have made a mockery of my assertion that games in hand would not translate to points on board and they now sit on top of the table and I sit facing cheap thrill smirks from Man U fans from FC NGV.

So am I now willing to concede that Man U are the favorites for the title? I will say yes. But only just. Their game is still miles away from where it was last year and if they are to win playing at the same level, they will have to depend big time on everyone else continuing to suck as well. Also, if one (or more) of the big four get eliminated early in the CL this year, it could actually help them in the title race by allowing them to be more focused and less stretched and could tilt the balance in their favor. Fact is that the lead is still not big for the top two and unless teams drop nine points or more below the pace come April, I will still be saying that they could win the league. Even if it is just to keep my options open for a ‘told-you-so’ moment in case the improbable becomes real – i.e. Villa or Arsenal nick it at the post.

Having said that, you have to be impressed by their ability to get those injury-time goals. This week against Bolton, it was a lucky roll of the ball that let Tevez keep possession, run with it to the by-line and cross it low for Berbatov to head in. But you can’t credit luck for this happening over and over again and you can’t credit luck for every Man U player having the composure to score when they know it’s the last opportunity even though they may have been shit for the rest of the game).

Chelsea also had a happy ending to their weekend but even though their come-from-behind last-gasp victory may make you think that they are getting back to their best, if you saw the game, you would not be so convinced. From win-machines of a few seasons ago, Chelsea have now turned into slick midfield passers. Though there is always a chance that the two can co-exist as we saw in the beginning of the season, too many stars in the same positions and a complete lack of confidence up front and at the back have meant that Chelsea rarely look like scoring and always look like conceding.

While Man U’s ability to conjure up winners in struggling games inspires awe for their determination and resilience, Chelsea’s comeback against Stoke felt more like a drug that would keep a dying man alive for a few moments more. Yes, for a change they showed some fight which was strangely lacking from their 3-0 capitulation against the Red Devils, but the confidence seems so drained from Chelsea that any long ball played into their area means wet underpants for their defenders and any chance to score for their forwards makes them as shiver like a school kid facing a stern class teacher without his homework done. For evidence, see how easily Beattie was allowed to chest the ball into Delap’s path for Stoke’s goal with none other than Ricky Carvalho standing and watching three feet behind. See also the header that Ballack glanced wide when he should have scored saying hello to a Japanese tourist.

While Man U as I said earlier, can still harbor hopes of retaining the title by continuing with their current form, Chelsea will need to improve dramatically to stay in the hunt. For starters, they will have to last a few matches without conceding silly goals to any ball played in the air and that needs to be addressed in training. Secondly, they will have to make some tough decisions and one of these may mean playing only one of Ballack, Lampard and Deco in the starting eleven and pairing Drogba (after some good motivation sessions) and Anelka up front. If they intend to stick to a lone striker formation, they will need better players out wide. Whatever it is, they need to address it over the next couple of games and get a run of six to seven games going where they pick up all the points or else….

Friday, January 16, 2009

Transfer Talk

Mad money is being offered by Man City for Kaka as I write this and yet another transfer season has brought the same old set of gazillion rumors with occasional true activity. Since I am desperate to add my two bits to the transfer season I think I will try and see the players I would have bought in and/or shipped out if I were the manager (of Director Football…as and where applicable) at these clubs. Will restrict myself to clubs I have seen a bit.


The Gunners’ injury list and lack of depth have become repeated stories these past few years and it feels like déjà vu this January. And then there is the whole philosophy of getting them young, keeping them versatile and making them play fluid etc. which often means that a number of players sought after by other clubs do not fit the Arsenal profile.

Arsenal’s search is for some players who are required to beef up the first team and then a few to provide cover (and very decent cover) to some of the other positions where the regular getting crocked leaves a gaping hole.

For the first team, the first player I would look for is a strong holding player who can not only mould to the passing game but provide the perfect foil for Fabregas and a lot of steel. Now you can look for a very good young midfielder to do it or look for someone with a lot of experience while one of the current crop (Diaby/Denilson) gets more time to grow into the role. My pick – Go with a veteran and a man of unquestionable experience. Without a scouting network (and this is a problem I will have throughout the post and hence the last time I am mentioning it), my pick is one of Sergei Semak (captain of Russia, currently with Rubin Kazan) or Marcos Senna (Spain international, captain of Villareal).

There are no other obvious first team spots available, though many may talk of a right sided midfielder and a creative midfielder and a centre back. But if and when Walcott, Fabregas and Gallas+Toure are available, they are strong contenders for the first team. The question is about shipping Gallas out and getting a replacement. I think there are enough other holes to fill and it would be better to see if Gallas wishes to continue after the end of the season rather than now. The Fabregas hole can be filled (though not adequately of course) by Denilson, though after his cameo in the last game against Bolton, I would think Nasri would probably be the best choice to replace Fab, which in turn would leave a gap on the left.

Arshavin, being pursued so actively, does present a versatile option but that could been displacing one of the current squad. I think he could do really well in the Fabregas (centre-creative), Nasri (left-attacking) or Van Persie (behind the striker) role, but it is to be seen if he can adapt well enough in England to be able to displace any of these players when they are fit and available. If Arshavin can also play right midfield then I think, he may pip Walcott to the position, because good though Walcott is, I think he is still at least one season (if not two) away from being a really class player.

The full back positions need cover (and better cover than the Hoytes and others around). For the right, I would suggest letting Eboue develop and evolve. He is not such a bad player but he has not had any position for himself these last two seasons and while he may not be an immediate threat to Sagna, I think a stable position will make him a more consistent performer when he gets the chances. For the left, again I would look at a senior citizen who wouldn’t mind being on the bench for periods but who could be relied upon when called on an emergency. Silvestre does meet the requirements but since he is also a cover for the central positions, I would be looking out for players like John Arne Riise.

That leaves the Arsenal attack and with Eduardo coming back, it is one of the areas of least concerns for Arsenal. However, an injury to Adebayor or Van Persie could be critical. However, the Arshavin signing will provide a new dimension here as well and Vela and Bendtner are evolving back-ups and with so many other priorities, there is not much need to tinker around here.

Manchester United

Very very difficult to improve this team. Maybe, you could think of getting in a cover for Evra, a youngster, though John O Shea is not too bad a cover. And maybe you could think of a better central defensive cover than Johnny Evans (very good for someone with his experience though a little inconsistent). In terms of a squad, even Barcelona are nowhere as good.

The one position where they probably do not have a current best-of-line is in the goal. Van der Saar is probably still amongst the best in the game, but since we are speaking about Manchester United and ‘probably still among the best’ is sometimes not good enough for them, step forward the goalkeeper number two of last year (Casillas obviously number one) – Igor Akinfeev (Russia and CSKA Moskva).


Clearly Frank Arnesen who was supposed to bring in players to the youth team who should have been breaking into the first team by now, has not done a great job. Of course there’s the young defender who was out on loan to a championship team and who made it to Capello’s England squad, but there’s some saying about exceptions telling you what the rule is and that applies in this case.

Of course Chelsea’s problems of the moment are not down to the players they have but more to what these players are doing. Yet, it cannot be denied that the balance is quite lacking in the squad and with Wayne Bridge’s departure, the fullback positions look not so well covered if Ashley Cole breaks a leg or so. Balletti as cover to Bosingwa may not be the greatest, but right back is still not such a problem.

The most glaring weakness is out wide and though Joe Cole is a more than decent pick for the left, he is not the player who provides true width. Then there is the right flank, where Kalou is really the only real option at the moment and the best thing you can say about him is that he can be dangerous on his day.

So here’s my Chelsea prescription: One of Schweinsteiger (German International, Bayern Munich), Kazim Richards (Turkey, Fenerbahce) or Antonio Valencia (Ecuador, Wigan) for the right flank. Kazim Richards is a little iffy but he has premier league experience and if you can get the performance out of him which we saw at the last Euros, he will be a much celebrated player in a line-up like Chelsea.

Then of course is the cover at left back and if no youngster is in sight, how about Fabio Grosso (Italy, Lyon)? Only problem with Grosso maybe that he’s 31 and Italian defenders want to be in the first team till they are 92, so he may not like being second choice, but if the money can be shown, then Chelsea could end up with a kick-ass defender who could match any of their other stars move for move.

That leaves one more player to get and that for me would be Lucas Podolski (Germany, Bayern Munich). It’s true that he seems set to go to his childhood club Koln, but I think he is just the player Chelsea need. A striker who can also play on the left. That means you have intense competition with Joe Cole for that left midfield position and someone who can easily step into the shoes if Drogba and/or Anelka is not available.

Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea are in a position to offload some players and Paulo Fereirra and Florent Malouda have to be top of that list (especially if someone like Podolski comes in). There are talks about letting Drogba go, but I think that would be stupid as when he is the mood, he is easily one of the best in the world. Keeping him in the mood is a managerial challenge and what’s a manager who doesn’t like some challenge!


Another very settled team with few glaring weaknesses when their first eleven is fit. Yet, it would be farfetched to compare them to Manchester United who I feel are clearly superior.
The most invisible players in the Liverpool team are the fullbacks and while I wouldn’t rate Arbeloa and Aurelio as amongst the best in the world, I think it’s unfair to say that they are not good. Benitez uses his fullbacks quite like Mourinho did in England, and if you tell your fullbacks to be very restrained all the time, they can look very average. E.g. Ashley Cole who seemed half the player he was at Arsenal until Scolari came in at Chelsea. So I wouldn’t hurry to get new fullbacks for Liverpool (though second choice left back Dossena seems not so up to it on first evidence).

The position I would be looking to ring in a change is the wide right player. Yes, Kuyt is a work horse and he does chip in with the occasional useful goal, but seriously, if you want to win the title, you need a player with a better touch than a ping-pong table and more creativity than an excel sheet. Of course, the set of options present for Chelsea are also available for Pool (Valencia/Shweinsteiger/Kazim Richards) but given the Spanish factor, I think David Silva could be someone who could fit right in.

The other hole in the shape of a misfiring Robbie Keane and a virginal Bruno Ngog is the replacement striker. I would think that in Ryan Babel, there is someone who can be called as backup for both Riera on the left and Torres up front (if all trust has been lost in Keane).
But in case you want to be more covered, how about one of two options? One – sell Keane for what you can get and get an A-plus in his prime striker like Vucinic (Montenegro, Roma) or Guiza (Spain, Fenerbahce) or Tuncay (Turkey, Middlesborough) or Nihat (Turkey, Villareal) or indeed Michael Owen (England, Newcastle). Two – keep Keane but also get a supporting veteran like Christiano Lucarelli (Italy, Parma) now 33. Parma is currently in the second div in Italy and Lucarelli is still as prolific as ever and should not come for too much money.

Who not to get? Emil Heskey. Not another strong hard working player who can’t score goals.


If they get any better, it will be unfair on everyone else. Yes, they may have some chinks in defense and al that, but hey let the playing field be level. Also, for the players they have, there is no cover. Who can be a replacement for Messi? Thing is their backups might not be as good but even then are some of the best in the world. Henry backing up Eto is any manager’s dream. And if your bench can be Iniesta, Bojan, Gudjhonsen, Busquet, Marquez, Keita etc., you really need to save on agents' commission for the year.

Real Madrid

I thought Madrid sucked as the Schuster era ended and Juando Ramos, the Tottenham failure has come in and started well enough to make observers believe that the squad itself is not inadequate. The Hunter and Diarra have come in for valuable roles and the only positions you could really think of improving personnel wise are left back and the wide left player in the 4-2-3-1. Heinze (not bad but not Real Madrid standard anymore) and Drenthe are good but lacking and a player in the name of Yuri Zhirkov (Russia, CSKA Moskva) could easily improve either of those positions. And that’s where I think Madrid’s January exercise should end.

Manchester City

They may spend a 100 million on Kaka now, but that won’t help them too much this season. Man City are many players short of being title contenders which is undoubtedly what the objective is. Bringing on 7 players in the winter might not be a great idea because if they fail to bed in quickly enough, given their current position, a relegation struggle might be a distinct possibility.

So my objective for this season would be to remove glaring weaknesses for the remaining half of the season and try and climb up the table before going in for complete overhaul and celebrity shopping in the summer.

Clearly the central defenders are a problem and clearly Man United won’t sell Ferdinand or Evra. My pick would be Daniel Agger (Denmark, Liverpool), especially as he is looking unsettled and has proven English experience and quality. Denis Kolodin (Russia, Dynamo Moscow) may be a good option who could chip in with frequent goals as well.

The other priority positions are a good midfield partner for Stephen Ireland and a striker who is an improvement over the likes of Darius Vassell and Jo. Orlando Engelaar (Holland, Schalke) could be a great option as well as someone like Altintop (Turkey, Bayern Munich). If they want to spend really big, they should go for Diego (Brazil, Werder Bremen).

Of course Kaka is an option which they are pursuing and is preferable over the others, but without the defenders and other players around him, don’t expect him to change Man City into a consistent winning unit just yet. Which would mean that by summer the media could well be on Kaka’s throat and prompt a panic sell-off in these days of opinion-forming in ninety minutes. And what an unfortunate dent on Kaka’s reputation that would be!

As for a striker, well they have the money to of course try and get anyone from Torres to Drogba to Eto himself, but it is highly unlikely that a Champion League playing striker would want to come here mid-season. My choice be Michael Owen (England, Newcastle) who is itching for yet another big money deal at a high profile club.

And then leave it at that till the summer, when they can build the latest Galactico collection on the planet and go after the likes of Ribery, Kaka and others from that planet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Manchester United v Chelsea, January 11, Premier League

Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and Diego Maradona were some of the people supposedly at the venue for this one and Alex Ferguson thumped Scolari to let everyone know that big as the manager legends on the stand (as indeed in the opposing camp) were, the knight from Scotland is probably the first among equals in this elite group.

The final score was three nil with goals from Vidic, Rooney and Berbatov humiliating a Chelsea team, whose ex-Manager must have not recognized the same players that he made almost unbeatable a few seasons ago.

There are of course two parts to the story: Man U were better than they have been recently and Chelsea were appalling.

A midfield of Giggs, Fletcher, Park and Ronaldo was being considered a bit lightweight by the TV pundits but it more than did its job in holding as well as attacking. The Red Devils were not really vastly superior over the ninety minutes, but they were definitely more clinical and less error prone than their opponents. They used the wide areas well and Giggs-Fletcher brought to the central-midfield pairing something that Fletcher-Carrick does not – creativity. Finishing off the opportunities was something that has been lacking for Manchester United but not this Sunday night as they found the net four times of which three goals were given.

We know what we get from Rooney and today was no different, though good plus points to him for scoring in such a critical game. Ronaldo and Berbatov in spite of this thumping are far from their best, but today they had more good moments than they have been having on a per game basis recently. Berba in fact seems to be just one good game away from hitting top form while Ronaldo may be just a little humility away, though I think last year’s heights may be too unattainable even for him.

Chelsea though have lost it. It’s a crisis of confidence in the defense which has now spread up the field. Add to that a problem of one striker too many to choose from and Scolari is not sure of the formation to use or who to start and who to leave on the bench. It’s no use analyzing their performance too much because it was clearly a case of players not being able to do their jobs rather than some tactical deficiency. The only plus in their performance was some neat mid-field passing, but even Arsenal have never looked so unsure of what to do with such skills. Drogba had a nightmare and the easiest way to score against Chelsea now is to float balls into the box. How times change!

So can Chelsea, keep their challenge alive? Yes, they can but they don’t have too many games to do it. More than the points lost in this game, it is the confidence that has drained out, that may be a bigger issue and they don’t need new players to solve it. What they need is great work behind the scenes to fix their defense, strong decision making by the manager which could begin with a clear preferred formation and starting eleven with players kept on merit and no other criteria and the strikers finding form.

Wigan v Tottenham, January 11, Premier League

It’s very frustrating when you go through full games without getting to know the names of some players because commentators just don’t mention them. So if it’s not a team that you follow every week and if you miss the pre-match show…and owing to domestic pressures – the half-time analysis, then you need to spend considerable energy on post-match research to figure out exactly who the delightful right back was, or other such details.

And so it is with Wigan. Let’s see who is it that I remember: Zaki, Heskey, Palacios, Valencia, Melchiot, Bramble, Figeroa, Kirkland and a balding mid-fielder who I am familiar with but whose name I can’t recall now. And yet this team of little-knowns or not-top-of-the-heads has taken 18 points of their last 21 (or something crazy like that), including three against a Tottenham display which can only be described as Redknapp’s presentation to the board to get transfer funds.

But this was really not about the players that Harry does not have. This was about how little the players he does have did throughout the game and whether the manager is really trying to make the best use of the team he currently has. There was a lot of discussion from the commentators regarding some invisible “revolutionary tactics” that HR was using but I couldn’t figure out what they are at that time and I don’t care if I never do. For all he achieved was a big zero.

It was a typical ordinary English game and there was really nothing to really marvel at apart from sporadic instances of going ‘wow’ if you were managing to pay attention. Most of them involved Valencia, the very talented Wigan left winger and some came at seeing Ledley King playing a quite superb holding (and holding only) role. The highlight however, had to be Heskey who wins every…I repeat every...ball that is played his way. If Zaki finds his beginning of the season form then Wigan will be scoring a lot many more. Zokora’s work rate caught my eye for a few fleeting seconds and Palacios had some great moments until Figeroa finally gave Wigan the win they deserved, heading in an injury time corner.

Wigan were impressive because they believed they could win and tried to make things happen. Tottenham, in spite of Harry’s protests about the squad, a much stronger team on paper, kept their superiority to the paper. Modric, Pavlyuchenko and Defoe hardly saw the ball and whenever they did, they had little to offer. It was supposed to be some 3-5-2 formation for Tottenham but it seemed more like a don’t-know-what-to-do formation. O’ Hara added nothing, Bale was outplayed and King too defensive.

Spend or not, I think Spurs are better than relegation candidates but just being better does nothing to save your season. Playing better does and that is the manager’s challenge, or at least a challenge more important than the transfer market. The transfer market will give you an over-priced Jermaine Defoe and teams don’t become title contenders by having Jermaine Defoe as their lead striker.

Wigan: Europe was something that was mentioned and with such form why not? I think they will hold on to Heskey as unless a big club is looking for a non-scoring striker, there’s not too much value he has for them. Valencia could be a problem keeping hold of and may end up with some big guy or Tottenham by the summer if not February. By the way, I checked and the three players I could not remember the names of are Scharner, Cattermole and Taylor. Ordinary individuals, impressive team.

Arsenal v Bolton, January 10, Premier League

There is a lot of discussion and debate about the tactics that teams in the EPL employ on their travels and especially against the stronger sides. Arsene Wenger has been a long standing critic but clearly he is not causing a change of heart amongst his manager rivals since they love taunting him by doing it to his team over and over again.

If Bolton had any plans to score, they ended with the injury induced replacement of lone striker Elmander. Bolton did not earn a reputation for being Arsenal’s bogey team by keeping it nil-nil, but how they would ever score even if they kept a clean sheet for eight days is beyond me. The only attempts to get the ball forward were through desperate clearances, greeted by chants of “Hoof” at the Emirates. And the lone striker who scores from such chances would not last seven days with Bolton in a transfer window!

For the attacking team, the challenge in this situation is clear and there are approaches to reaching the objective but media comments criticizing the strategy is not one of them. Yes, in the ideal world, all teams would play all games to win them, but idealism these days exists in only Wenger the team tactician (Wenger the witness of fouls is another case all together). Football Managers today have clear cut objectives and as long as they are developing strategies permitted by the laws of the game, their approach and tactics are a matter of personal choice. No one gives them the flexibility to address ethical and spiritual issues when it comes to results. Give them the job security that Wenger has and then demand an end to anti-football.

Having said that, some time before Bendtner’s late winner was scored, as a spectator you wished that Arsenal would score. For a long time there was no fire power in the Gunners but that changed once Nasri moved into the centre of mid-field after Vela came on for Diaby. Adebayor had been having an ordinary day and though Van Persie is continuing the good form, there was nothing in midfield. That changed when Nasri got there and his pass to Adebayor should have been finished, but Ade took the amount of time I take to cover 100 meters before he shot and it was blocked off. It seemed bleak for Arsenal when their last hope for three points was in the shape of Bendtner but the tall Dane (who looks Romanian to me) for once scored after having nodded a similar chance to the goalkeeper with his first touch. It all felt all the more like an exhibition by Lady Justice as the crowd had started to semi-boo Bendtner for some mis-passes.

It may end up being a critical goal in the larger scheme of things and in spite of yet another not so great performance, they still quietly keep themselves in the title race. Yes, I insist they are still in it and dropped points for Chelsea and Liverpool over the weekend strengthen my argument. It’s a five team race to the finish and should stay so, depending on Villa keeping their form and Arsenal getting in some players. To begin with a holding mid, a creative mid, a wide right, a central defender…

The Away Ground Syndrome: January 10, FC NGV

FC NGV has been around for a little over three years and that has meant spending time on the ground kicking the ball fairly regularly for a decent amount of time. My game though seems to have taken a few steps backwards.

Here’s the problems I continue to have with my game: can’t trap, can’t pass, can’t dribble, can’t shoot, can’t finish and can’t move. I think I was a much better passer two years ago and there have been phases in between when I have been able to finish moves with some consistency, but other than that I seem to have no footballing skills. Worse still, I seem to show no capability for improvement. Funnily enough, I think that’s a problem with our entire team, with hardly anyone having improved over the years. Some though don’t panic near a football like I do and are decent players even though they are on the same no-growth path as me.

But this post is not about how to improve. This is about how the ‘worst’ players can get ‘worster’ in unfamiliar conditions. Take me. Saturday we played at the RSI ground on MG Road and it was a proper 5/6 a side on the best field that we can get. And what happens when there is space, some grass and a stage set for a contest? I play like I have loosies and left my diapers at home…shitting all over the place and stinking the game for my team.

The funny thing is that more than any other factor I think it was the ground that did it to me. Somehow not seeing the NGV dust bowl and a million cricketers surrounding my teammates took away any little comfort I have in the game. Everytime I looked up the surroundings seemed uncomfortable and alien and before I could say NGV I would have fucked up whatever I was doing. Maybe if I have people cheering against me if I’m playing, it may make me collapse with pressure.

On another note, the value of dictating the area of play in our type of 5-a-sides is immense. Somedays its better to sit back and let the opposition come on to you so that you can score on the counter. Somedays you need to stop their attacks before the goalkeeper completes a pass or you will never get the ball out of your own half. Depends completely on who’s on the team and how many players can hold the ball and not lose possession but it is the most important thing to be keeping an eye open for.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A start of two-halves

Early morning on the first of January, I left with a group of friends, wife and mum-in-law for an extended weekend break. Whistle thrushes, bee-eaters, fly catchers, deer, wild boar, elephants and more kept the mind and body off football as the year kicked in, though there was time for some entertainingly contested pool. But the seven hour drive back through increasing traffic and the first few seconds of channel surf brought me back to mundane planet and football. One I dread and the other is joy. Let’s stick to the joy.

Southampton v Manchester United, FA Cup, January 4

Sony Pix shows movies and out-of-the-blue football games. Just as the drive and dust and the dawn wakeup effect were putting me to sleep, Man U walked out at Southampton. Andy Penders of ESPN Star Sports described these two as the best and worst teams in the world in his blog and though the Saints were not THAT bad, they were definitely not looking like the genie who makes the Cup magical.

Nerves, lack of ability and a complete mismatch is talent were enough for Southampton to be in deep trouble, they also got a very non-controversial red card which the commentator kept insisting was controversial. All that in the first half. But by the time of the red card, Danny Welbeck, a very decent looking striker had already put United ahead. He looked offside though. There would be moments when the home team would attack but not know what to do after a while. For most of it though, it was the red Devils game.

Without Ronaldo, Rooney or Tevez, Berbatov led the front line and did it brilliantly. Went deep to collect the ball and start attacks. Touched and flicked around the box to set up finishes. Dribbled and beat men to bring a smile. Anderson, started out in the middle then went to the left and was creative. So was Giggs, who moved from left to the centre and tried to reach the flanks or play through balls. Carrick continued to fail to impress me with his creativity though he hardly ever lost possession and showed some good movement. Welbeck had pace and looked a decent enough threat. The defence all did their job, though Evans clearly is not at the level of others…and justifiably.

This ended three-nil eventually and Riley gave a penalty to Man U when there was none. Didn’t see any of that because at the same time that half-time happened in Southampton, it was also half-time in Madrid.

Real Madrid v Villareal, La Liga, January 4

Robben had already scored and Madrid led one-nil at half time. It was difficult to believe if you only saw the second half. The Yelllow Submarine dominated for a long long period even though Marcos Senna was not at his best. But Cazorla, Pires and later on Cani were very impressive. If de Rossi had been on fire, Villareal would at least have equalized.

But in the end Juande Ramos, continued the feeble turnaround, eeking out another win, almost Mourinhoesque in nature.

For the first ten minutes of the second half, new signing Huntelaar was paired with Raul up front. Apparently he had a decent first half though he missed an easy chance. But from minute 46-55…when he was substituted…Hunt did not have too much to do and was substituted by Drenthe. Real improved after that and Juande Ramos’ 4-2-3-1 style was a little easier to evaluate.

Gago and Diarra lined up in deep midfield and L Diarra quickly showed that he was an addition of value. Produced a great moment when he relieved Senna of the ball and looked more energetic than all Madrid players put together from a few weeks back. Gago played a slightly more adventurous role. The key for this pair will be to balance attack and defence and keep the supply lines open for the front four, because up front Real could have the potential now to play with some fluidity.

Raul played as the target man and did a decent job of winning long balls played by Casillas and setting up Sneijder, though he may be better off playing behind the target man. Sneijder, who was in that role, was active and involved but lacked the finish. Robben on the right was enjoying himself when he got the ball and Drenthe tried to the best he could on the left but he is quite obviously not so much a wide player.

The Real defence was appalling and as usual Casillas had to play savior. Individually they range from decent to very good but as a unit they are a disaster. Definitely a coaching challenge to get this one right.

I think the formation is fine and offers a lot of scope for creativity as well as the option to defend tightly, though some positions need shoring up. The defense can certainly be improved, namely through a centre back and a better left back than Heinze. Then there are Diarra, Diarra, Gago, Guti, de la Red and Van der Vart for the two central positions and the competition for the places should improve performances here. I think Drenthe is also suited to this bucket of players, though I’m not sure how well he marks and tackles.

In the forward line, you have Ruud, Huntelaar, Raul, Robben, Higuain and Sneijder and ignoring the injuries again for a moment, the quality is there. The problem is that the injuries are real and with Ruud absent, it is critical that Huntelaar quickly settles down as target man and excels, because Raul I feel will be better playing behind the target man. How many of these are suited to the wide right and left positions is the question.

Signing off with some pics from my trip.