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City Kill England’s World Cup Chances

In case you didn’t notice, it’s a Champions League week. We’re currently into the second of two days of match-day four. Without having to watch a single minute of football it is very easy to tell that the Champions League is back.

Glorious montages are everywhere (well on Sky Sports and ITV anyway. Sometimes even Sky1) and the main difference between these montages as opposed to the regular ones is that Darren Bent is replaced with Cristiano Ronaldo and Chris Brunt is now Lionel Messi. The other great giveaway is in the twitter behaviour of our most boring British journalists.

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David Conn takes the boring biscuit this week. As Manchester City qualify to the glory stages of the Champions League for the first time, he can only find regret. Regret that with this achievement City couldn’t find it in their hearts (hart pun here) to start an English player. And thus Manuel Pellegrini is to blame for England’s future failings. No doubt he’ll point to the several Spanish starters for Barcelona tonight. A mere coincidence that they are also world class footballers, of course. Or maybe he’ll make a similar comparison to Bayern Munich, as they seem to be very popular these days.

The thing is David, like so many others, for whatever reason, would rather see a team of English men (and perhaps one starlet Spaniard) fail to get a single win in Europe than see an English club progress in any other possible scenario.
What Mr Conn doesn’t realise is that if Manchester City are successful in Europe their squad value raises as a whole. Their academy, blessed with English players as well as others, will have a higher standard to reach and the benefit will be felt all the way through the club. A young 15 year old academy kid, English or otherwise, will have to further develop his skills to reach the level required to be a Manchester City player in the future. As Diana Ross would say; it would create a chain reaction. A positive one too. But of course, what’s that in the face of a bit of short term panic, eh?

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Spurs’ Bale Out

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Gareth Bale is all but a Real Madrid player. The player has not returned to training after being given an extended break from the club, despite Andre Villas-Boas being pretty open today saying the club is working on the final details of the transfer. AVB and Tottenham seem to be getting on with things and although the transfer has taken longer then what Bale would’ve liked he still should show respect to his current club as they are to him.

Tottenham should be admired for the way they went about their business. As soon as negotiations entered the final stages (early last week) they set about reinvesting the large sum they were about to receive on players like Capoue, Chadli and Lamela with some journalist also reporting Eriksen could be arriving too, these signings come in after the club already purchased Saldado and Paulinho earlier in the summer. Maybe by default or maybe by design, Bale’s transfer will also only be official in the final few days of the window. This meant clubs didn’t look to tempt Real to recoup the money they spent, an Arsenal £30 million bid for Benzema may be easier to accept after just spending £90 million+. The other, more obvious, upside is that without the £90 million in the bank clubs can’t justify inflating transfer fees for Tottenham, they’ve really handled the situation. The handling of the situation stretches further than just their transfer dealings as Spurs let Bale have two weeks off, as the club started their Premier League campaign and as Levy sorted out the transfer itself.

Whatever way you look at the Bale transfer; whether you think Real have over spent, Spurs have been unnecessarily stubborn or the gashtly images of the Welsh-man on holidays, Tottenham have definitely got a stronger squad this season then they had at the end of last season: Bale or no Bale.

Tottenham’s summer dealings:

IN:

Roberto Saldado £26 million
Paulinho £17 million
Etienne Capoue £9 million
Nacer Chadli £7 million
Erik Lamela £30 million

*fees sourced from transfermarkt.co.uk

A Micro Guide to the Irish Team

They may play in England but they’re not that well-known, a micro guide of the Irish XI for English fans.

David Forde: Plays for FA Cup semi-finalists Millwall and at 33 looks unlikely to be a Premier League goalkeeper anytime soon. He came in during Ireland’s match against Sweden and put on a competent display showing strengths in dealing with corners and crosses.

Seamus Coleman: That full-back at Everton that isn’t Leighton Baines. NO NOT TONY HIBBERT. Good right back and this season has been more consistent a weakness he had which made Trap reluctant to play him initially.

Sean St Ledger: A typical Irish international who plays better for country than for his club. Released by Leicester he has stated he intends to use this game to win himself a new club. Plays best alongside Dunne – struggles in his absence.

John O’Shea: Played every big game club football has to offer but is error prone at centre back and could be a weak link that is exposed by England.

Stephen Kelly: Ireland’s left back was – once upon a time – an average right back but is not anymore and a glaring weakness as McGeady will do his best not to track back.

Jon Walters: Annoying for a left back to mark but not difficult. A Stoke player so you know what you get.

James McCarthy: Has a fractious relationship with Trap but his talent cannot be ignored, relegated with Wigan but will probably follow out going manager Martinez to Everton; or a stronger team.

Glenn Whelan: Our defensive minded midfielder that struggles to create on the ball; will concede free kicks, ideally around the centre circle.

Aiden McGeady: 200 step-overs and a poor cross, McGeady continues to frustrate. A talented lad that never matured into his own abilities; would rather be part of Soccer AM’s Showboat rather than be on the winning team.

Shane Long: Like West Brom this season Long also surpassed people’s expectations of him. A difficult to mark striker who has energy and enthusiasm in abundance; without saying he has fantastic ball control he has a knack for making defenders foul him – will probably win a penalty.

Robbie Keane: Our all-time record goal-scorer a legend and his experience is crucial. Will understand the significance of this match and could be doing a 90th minute cart-wheel & tumble.

 

Alex Ferguson Calls Time on Career

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The most decorated and greatest ever manager Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of the season, 26 and a half years since his appointment to Manchester United in November 1986. The news that a 71-year-old is retiring shouldn’t be as big a shock as it is but Ferguson never alluded to retiring at all during the close of the season and even was actively planning for the next season. In his last program notes – against Chelsea – he said, “This team of Champions is not going away, we are here for the long time!” unfortunately, when he used the term ‘team’ he didn’t see himself in it.

Ferguson will leave United after guiding them too 13 League Titles 2 European Cups and 5 FA Cups. But his most outstanding achievement is his longevity. A week is a long time in football and Alex Ferguson has been at the helm of Manchester United for well over 1,300 weeks. Compare that to current Spurs’ manager Andre Villas-Boas 39 weeks in charge of Chelsea and you can begin to appreciate the time dedicated to United Fergie has given.

He came to the job in November 1986, Manchester United were 19th (out of 22 teams in the league) and it was 20 years since United last won the league, the club always hailed itself as one of the best in the country but at the time couldn’t back it with trophies during that period. Ferguson adamant to change set out a challenge for himself; the challenge was to make Manchester United the best team in England once again. It was something he achieved in 1993 when United won the inaugural Premier League title and were champions of England for the first time since 1967. But Ferguson’s drive, fire, and ambition was bigger than this. To be the best team in England you can’t just win the league once, you have to dominate and dominate he did. 10 years in to the re-branding of the top flight of English football United won it seven times. But Ferguson’s success didn’t stop short at the league, Fergie added to league successes with five FA Cups, two European Cups four League Cups an Intercontinental Cup and a World Club Cup.

Ferguson’s proudest hour came in Barcelona in 1999. Trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the 90th minute United scored two late goals and completed one of the greatest comebacks in European history. But this mentality wasn’t a once of for Fergie’s team, it was something he instilled into all his sides and late winners have been a hallmark of United under Ferguson and it certainly wasn’t coincidental. Fergie added a second European Cup in 2008 when his United side headed with Ballon d’Or winning Ronaldo won 6-5 on penalties to Avram Grant’s Chelsea. This second European success confirmed Ferguson as the best manager of all time as some critics questioned his sole European success. Ferguson has since had a stand named after him at Old Trafford and a statue outside of it also.

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Of course Ferguson’s tenure is not just at Manchester United, his first step into management was with St Mirren a role that eventually led to him getting the Aberdeen job where he would make his name. At Aberdeen he won three league titles and a couple of SFA Cups too, his first title with Aberdeen meant for the first time in 15 years a side other than Celtic or Rangers were crowned Champions of Scotland. Ferguson also made it aware that his talents weren’t restricted to Scotland winning in Europe twice, the Cup Winners Cup and The Super Cup. He also had a spell with the Scottish national side when he stepped in after the untimely death at manager Jock Stein.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s honours list: fergie treble

Premier League titles – 13
European Cups – 2
Fa Cups – 5
Scottish First Division – 3
Scottish FA Cups – 4
English League Cup – 4
Scottish League Cup – 1
European Cup Winners’ Cup – 2
European Super Cup – 2
Community/Charity Shield – 13

Is The Title Race Over?

Robin van Persie rounded keeper Tim Howard twice and only scored once. Despite this uncharacteristic flaw in the flawless character that RvP is United managed to overcome the traumatic experience and beat Everton 2-0. With that win Manchester United extended their lead at the top to 12 points with just 12 games to play.

Is it all over? Well considering what happened last year, United collapsing within a month despite holding an 8 point gap over their city rivals, it is likely that the title is still there for United to through away. Were lessons learnt? Did the young Smalling, Rafael, Cleverley, Jones, and Welbeck learn enough from last seasons experience? United fans are praying that they are as the most optimistic of City fans are clinging to the thought that United could blow a commanding lead two seasons in a row.

With 12 games to play the gap between United and City could be as much as 17 points before the two face each other in April, or if City have an upturn in form and United have a complacent two months the gap could be dwindled down to just 2 or 3 points. But United, especially with Ferguson in charge, rarely make the same mistake twice. Fergie said that if it wasn’t for the opportunity to move 12 points clear he probably would have made 7/8 changes to his side; resting players ahead of the Champions League clash with Real Madrid.

(Worst case scenario for City fans would be 30 points behind United before the derby. With the best case being that they would be 6 points ahead. Although these scenarios are so unlikely it probably isn’t worth passing a second thought on them)

The difference between United this year and last is evident in their big games, last season United dropped points to all their rivals (competitive and historical) bar Arsenal. This season they’ve only dropped points too Tottenham (4) winning all their other big matches. The impressive points haul by United in these big games comes down to one summer signing. Robin van Persie. van Persie has scored 6 goals in 7 of these matches. An impressive return and exactly the reason why Fergie was desperate he didn’t end up with title rivals City. So with these extra points coming in United have managed to pick up three points when previously only one would be their reward. If this continues in the remaining 12 games, it would be impossible to look past United winning the league, despite it only being early February.

Bookmakers Paddy Power and Bet Fred have already paid out punters on United winning the league with the latter doing the same last season only to have to pay out twice when United gave up their 8 points lead with a month to go.

Dan Sturridge; Two Sides of the Coin

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Daniel Struridge has completed his move from Chelsea to Liverpool and is move that has been met with a lukewarm reaction from the supporters of Merseyside club. Sturridge has had a mixed career to date and at the age of 23 it really is time for Sturridge to step up and prove he is more than just wasted potential.

There is definitely two ways to look at this transfer. It is either a positive move for both Liverpool and Sturridge or Liverpool are banking on potential talent that simply isn’t there.

Well, lets not be too cynical about it and take a look at the positives first.
It is no secret, that when it comes to the goal-scoring side of the game Liverpool are far to dependent on Luis Suarez. Suarez has weighed in with 13 league goals this season in 19 matches which is 42% of clubs goals coming from the Uruguayan. Suarez, with Borini injured, has been the only central striker at Liverpool at the moment and he cannot be expected to continue at his current goal-scoring rate. If he picks up an injury or a lengthy suspension like last season, Liverpool would’ve been forced to play either Shelvey, Sterling or Gerrard in the central striker role. So Sturridge has been brought in and the burden is lessened on Suarez but what will he add to the team with Suarez? As I’ve said previously Suarez has scored 13 league goals this season, but, those 13 goals have come from a mammoth 116 shots. There is two ways at looking at that stat, a) Suarez is a wasteful or inaccurate shooter or b) that he is forced into shots because of lack of passing options. I said I’d save the cynicism for later so lets focus on the b) option first.
Unlike other strikers with 10+ goals this season, Suarez plays as the only natural forward. van Persie has Rooney/Hernandez, Demba Ba has Cisse and Michu often has Danny Graham. But Suarez doesn’t have this luxury when Suarez looks up in a position where he should probably pass rather than shot he’ll probably see a very promising yet equally very inexperienced Raheem Sterling, after Sterling he may see a slightly more experienced yet still massively inexperienced Jonjo Shelvey. Shelvely’s runs will often come from deeper so his decision-making in what position he takes in the box is key. Two exciting young players yes, but at the moment still learning and can’t be expected to read a game like a forward, especially like an experienced one. So, now Suarez can expect to look up when in these position’s and see another striker looking for the ball, probably taking up a cuter position and a more inviting pass will be on.
On the ball what can be expected of Sturridge? he is a skillful player although like most young players sometimes over does a piece of skill instead of laying a simple pass off. He is a player who if given no thinking time, his instinct can be enough to score a vital goal where others may have panicked. His time at Bolton proved he can be effective through the middle where he netted 8 goals in 11 starts. He has a shot accuracy of 44%.

 

A more cynical look.
Daniel Sturridge has being playing Premier League football for 6 seasons now with his best spell being two years ago with Bolton only playing 12 games, can that seriously be used to evaluate a player now? When he returned to Chelsea the following season he was given plenty of opportunities under initial boss Andre Villas Boas, in the 2011/12 season he started 31 games (Total 63) but only scored 13 goals, what Suarez has managed in half a season. AVB then lost his job and Di Matteo taking over leading Chelsea to a Champions League and FA Cup double, but Sturridge hardly featured under Di Matteo. This season he has only started one game but has played in 7 and has only managed the one goal. He is said to be a selfish striker, which in itself is not always a bad attribute to have as a striker, but Sturridge can be overly selfish at times, and simply makes the wrong decision, often shooting form 25 yards rather than passing the ball and trying to create a better goal scoring opportunity. This Liverpool side has Suarez already and when looking for a second striker would be better suited to find a target man than a selfish, one-minded type striker. With Suarez needing 116 shots to score 13 goals, can Liverpool afford another striker who will squander a lot more of his chances then convert them?
Sturridge is a player whose attributes far suit him to being a winger, right midfielder to be exact and with Sterling being only 18 he could do with longer period of rest between games then he is currently getting, in order to develop and also not to burn out to soon. As a right midfielder Sturridge would be simply asked to provide width, and when he receives the ball beat the full back before passing the ball back inside to the vacated space between himself the midfield and the striker. But alas this isn’t the role Sturridge wants and when AVB played him out there on numerous occasions, he murmured some complaints about wanting to play through the center and even his dad backed him up on his complaints saying “in terms of potential, we have to see him play in that (central) position to see how far he can go” so it can be inferred that Sturridge, in his contract negotiations with Liverpool has stressed the importance of playing as a striker.

All in all, it is a transfer that needed to be made by Liverpool, then needed a striker, Sturridge is a striker, he is also young and English which is sticking with Liverpool’s tradition (Bar Rafa’s). But as much as this transfer appears to make sense, it could easily backfire. At 23 he is no longer a kid and if he doesn’t hit the ground running, the term flop will soon float over his head.

Ballon d’Or 2012: A Case For Ronaldo

Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the three nominees for the Ballon d’Or this calendar year. But of course only one of them can win the award. The Ballon d’Or is meant to be awarded to the most outstanding player of the year and not given to someone who may be the best player on the planet. Of course team achievements are a huge part in the selecting of the winner. But ultimately it is down to personal achievements.

The obvious favourite is Barcelona’s Messi who is about to break Gerd Muller’s goal scoring record for a calendar year. The Argentine has, at time of writing, 84 goals with three league games remaining a Champions League fixture and a Copa del Ray fixture. This is a phenomenal achievement and one we will not see again for a long time. Unless the little man has a similar year in 2013. Despite this spectacular landmark Messi isn’t in a one horse race for the Ballon d’Or which he has won three years in a row. The two other contender’s have just of much of a chance of winning the prize. This is mainly down to the European Championship that took place this summer, which of course, Messi did not partake.

First up, his teammate, Iniesta. Iniesta is part of what could be considered the greatest international side there is. He’s the linchpin in Spain’s dominance of world football at the moment and was named player of the tournament of the European Championship. Iniesta also won UEFA’s Champions League best player this year, where Messi and Ronaldo were the other nominees, but many saw this as a mere token gesture to a fantastic career. Alas Iniesta is the outsider of the three and when the best player in the world today is argued it is argument between Ronaldo and Messi and not Iniesta.

Ronaldo Silencing the Nou Camp

Ronaldo Silencing the Nou Camp

So then the man from Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo had probably his best season since his 07/08 season with Manchester United, which saw him win the Ballon d’Or. With Real Madrid he won the La Liga title as Jose’s men finally toppled their Catalonian rivals. He also was instrumental in Portugal’s Euro campaign as they were knocked out on penalties in the semi-final to eventual champions Spain. In that semi-final for 90 minutes it was Portugal that were more dominating and looked the more likely to grab a winner. In extra time tired legs showed and the game eventually went to penalties. Ronaldo, who always wants to be the hero, elected to take the fifth peno but it never came to that as Spain went through after their fourth penalty. Ronaldo who has similar percentage of importance of goals as Messi does at Barca has scored a remarkable 58 goals this year but even that number is dwarfed by Messi’s 84. But sometimes stats alone can lead you down the wrong path. What is 84 goals if they are all the third and fourth goal in a 6-0 win? Compared to a 1-0 winning goal? The difference is simple, one is a goal that boosts the goal difference and the other is changing one point into three. Of course, that is a very harsh statement and an exaggerated one but nevertheless can serve a purpose in deciding the Ballon d’Or winner.

Lionel Messi, The Current Ballon d'Or Winner

Lionel Messi, The Current Ballon d’Or Winner

Alas I am not going to sit down here and go through all 84 of Messi’s goals and 58 of Ronaldo’s but I will look at the key games of the year. When the El Clasico took place last season Real were four points clear and a victory would all but guarantee the title, the match took place in the Nou Camp and after Alexis Sanchez cancelled out Sami Khedira earlier effort. The match was perfectly poised, until Ronaldo got on the end of a Mesut Ozil pass and slotted the ball past Victor Valdes silencing the 90,000 Barca fans. On a night that ultimately decided the title where both Messi and Ronaldo were playing only one of them scored the winning goal. The other two defining games of the respective player’s season was their Champions League semi-final. Barca faced Chelsea and Real Madrid faced Bayern Munich. Both players saw their teams behind after the first leg and both where playing at home in the second leg. Barca drew 2-2 with Chelsea and Messi missed a penalty which saw Chelsea through 3-2 on aggregate. Real Madrid won 2-1 (levelling the tie on aggregate) and it was Ronaldo who scored both for Madrid, Madrid were eliminated on penalties. The other time Messi and Ronaldo faced each other throughout the year (bar the super cup) was in the league this season where both Messi and Ronaldo were on target twice in a 2-2 draw.

So despite Messi’s soon to be record goal scoring year, The Ballon d’Or may not fall on his lap and the Portuguese man may just take home the award four year’s after first winning it.