Which Premier League manager will get fired first

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Jupiter’s Icy Moon

Europa is a far distant world, covered by thick ice and a small chance, if any, of life there and from his comments this week it would seem Harry Redknapp feels that you may as well be playing there if you finish 5th and that he would sooner finish 6th in the Premier League rather than enter the EUROPA League next season. If Spurs fail to beat Liverpool this weekend he will get his wish but is playing in Europe's 2nd tier competition as bad as he thinks it is.

The Europa League is a bit strange as clubs sped all season qualifying for it and then complaining about being in it yet it provides opportunity for extra revenue, a chance of silverware and the opportunity to play against some of Europe's top clubs (and some not so good ones as well). Whilst Stoke and Birmingham fans are overjoyed at the prospect of playing in Europe some Tottenham and Liverpool fans seem less than overjoyed by the prospect even though (if they approach it properly) they have a decent chance of winning it. After all Fulham reached the final last season, Liverpool reached the semis and Spurs did well in this season's Champions League so they should be looking forward to it with some confidence of picking up another trophy instead of wondering whether they can cope with that and their league campaigns. On that premise why bother trying to get into the Champions League? In fact why bother entering the FA Cup or Carling Cup and see if you can win the Premier League while only playing those games.

In reality those who blame the Europa League are just looking for an excuse to mask their own performances. The current Premier League leaders reached the FA Cup semi-final, Carling Cup quarter final and are in the Champions League final yet I don't hear any complaints from Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge about the number of games played. Winning becomes a habit no matter what competition it is in and you give yourself as many chances to win as possible. Cup runs breed confidence and players who may never get a league winners medal get a chance to win something. Fulham, Rangers, Celtic, Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Arsenal have all reached the final in the last 15 years and although only Liverpool have emerged as winners the fans of all those clubs have enjoyed the experience of reaching the final and would not trade the memory for anything. Ask Spurs 1984 UEFA Cup winning side what they think of the trophy's importance and you will likely get a positive response of it being one of the highlights of their career and likewise the 2001 Liverpool cup winning team and I daresay the Rangers, Celtic, Middlesbrough, Arsenal and Fulham players would likewise all speak of it favourably. The last 8 winners (including this season) have been from Spain, Italy, Russia and Portugal with 4 British finalists in that period. It is a great chance of a trophy and clubs should not be regarding it like a trip to the outer reaches of the solar system because ultimately whilst success breeds success the same can also be said of complacency and indifference, two things that are a far greater threat to Spurs than Thursday nights on Channel 5.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Up and Down

We are at the sharp end of the season again where the relegation and promotion spots tend to be in the mix and there are this season 4 teams who are running away with their league titles, a couple in strong positions and several in the play-off and relegation mix and I am going to stick my neck out and make my predictions as to who will go up and who will be back down a division.

The easiest place to start is the Blue Square Premier simply because Crawley Town are already champions. As for the play-offs the winners of Luton v Wrexham should decide the order and Fleetwood Town's meeting with Kidderminster who the 4th spot will go to. As for who will be promoted the smart money will be on AFC Wimbledon as they have an excellent squad and have been strong all season but the play-offs don't always go according to plan and all the play-off contenders have taken points off Wimbledon this season so I think Luton Town will be making a return to the Football League in the summer.

The Scottish Leagues are also up for grabs although Livingston's 21 point lead at the top of Division 2 is enough for them to win promotion, Arbroath have a 5 point lead and should win Division 3 but Division 1 is a tight race which Dunfermline are my bet to win simply because they have a 1 point lead and home advantage when the top 2 play each other at Easter. The SPL will see Hamilton relegated and Rangers are my bet for Champions due to sentimental reasons as it is Walter Smith's final season before retirement and it would be a lovely send-off for him.

League 2

Chesterfield are running away with the League 2 title but the places below them are still really tight. Only 5 points separate Wycombe in 2nd and Accrington in 8th and Port Vale have a chance at the play-offs still as they are only 3 points adrift of Stevenage in 6th. I actually think Bury & Wycombe will be promoted and Gillingham will drop out of the play-offs in favour of Accrington Stanley. Both Bury & Stanley have games against Barnet & Burton so they will be decisive when it comes to the relegation battle and it will be Burton's game in hand that saves them as it comes against an out of form Bradford City. Torquay are my vote to win the play-offs as they are on a decent run of form and will just pip Shrewsbury in the final.

League 1

Once again this is a division with runaway leaders in Brighton & Hove Albion. The Seasiders are making real progress under Gus Poyet and have led from start to finish needing only 1 more win to secure promotion and 3 more for the title with 6 games left. The play-off picture is close but Southampton's 2 games in hand should see them pip Huddersfield to 2nd although they have to play Rochdale and Brighton away with both teams hunting wins (Brighton to seal the title and Rochdale to sneak into the play-offs) but with games away at Plymouth and at home to Bristol Rovers both at the wrong end of the table they should have just enough to do it. I think Rochdale will beat Bournemouth to the last play-off spot as Bournemouth are struggling and Rochdale are coming into form at just the right time. It would be nice for them to win it and get higher than they have ever been but I think Darren Ferguson will repeat his promotion feats with Peterborough again this time. Relegation will be tight but the bottom 3 will be as they are now with Bristol Rovers surviving despite Notts County having 2 games in hand and a new boss in Martin Allen.

Championship A few weeks ago this looked cut and dried but 1 win for Swansea and an FA charge over player ownership has made it less so. QPR are 9 points clear at the top but allegations over 3rd party ownership of a player could see a 10 point deduction which shouldn't stop them going up but on current standings would put them in the play-offs. The fight for 2nd is intriguing with Swansea, Cardiff & Norwich fighting it out for the other promotion spot. All 3 have to play Portsmouth and Cardiff have to play QPR who will desperate to win so as to minimise the impact of any FA sanctions. I fancy Swansea to take 2nd as Norwich have a local derby which Ipswich will be desperate to win and a tough games against Forest. The play-offs will be won I believe by Cardiff as they have an excellent strike force with Chopra, Bothroyd & Bellamy. The bottom 3 will be as is with Sheffield United doomed and Scunthorpe and Preston finding form too late to escape.

Premier League.

Whilst many would like to pretend otherwise the Premier League title will be heading to Old Trafford for the 19th time barring a major collapse. Arsenal, Chelsea and City will make the Champions League with goal difference being City's saviour. Spurs will join Birmingham in the Europa League and I think Stoke City will make up the quartet after losing the FA Cup Final to Manchester United. Relegation is almost too close to call with everyone from Sunderland down in danger. If Blackpool beat Wigan on Saturday then the picture will become a lot clearer but a lot will ride on Wigan's game against West Ham. Wolves have an excellent chance to save themselves as West Ham have the hardest run in playing Chelsea, City and Villa. Add to that the probability that the Hammers and Wigan will cut each other's throats then they have a great chance to stay up but I still believe in the Tangerine dream so unfortunately every relegated club this season will start with the letter W and not be called Albion.

Champions League

I'd like to be biased and say Manchester United will win this season but while I think they will make the final I believe Cristiano Ronaldo will make the Special 1's year and make him the first manager to win Europe's Premier trophy for a 3rd time and with his 3rd different club cementing his reputation as one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Something Special

I want it now, My chance has come and I will grab it I want to be something special

Wayne Rooney certainly delivered something special in a weekend that swung the title race firmly in the favour of Sir Alex Ferguson's team. at half-time it looked like 2 West Ham penalties and chaotic defending had thrown the doors open for Arsenal and Chelsea but Rooney's hat-trick coupled with the London clubs failure to overcome their opponents has slammed it shut in their faces as Manchester United extended their lead to 7 points at the top of the Premier League to close in on their 19th title. Whilst United have for many years mastered the art of the fight-back this one was special even by their standards although helped by Lee Mason inexplicably failing to send off Nemanja Vidic for a professional foul on Demba Ba. Rooney's goals were excellently taken and add a tidy finish from Hernandez and the Red Devils were happier ahead of their Champions League quarter final than Chelsea will be.

The question is where has it all gone wrong for the Blues. Double winners last season with a blistering start to this campaign it should have been all over in their favour but it hasn't worked out that way. Several factors have contributed to this, the injuries to Frank Lampard, Drogba's malaria and the strange dismissal of Ray Wilkins all destabilised the team at a time when the league seemed to be there for the taking. It hasn't helped that Fernando Torres has yet to justify his price tag and doesn't look like doing anytime soon for his new employers. In fact given the fact that he was under-performing at Liverpool makes you wonder why Ancelotti spent £50M on him. His only effect has been to alienate the other strikers who have regularly performed for the club and, as happened when Kevin Keegan signed Tino Asprilla halfway through the season, created uncertainty just as things are looking up.

At the weekend Stoke seemed to be warming up for their cup meeting with Bolton as they started brightly and took the lead. Chelsea responded well and could have won the game although a draw seemed a fair result on balance. The Blues do not look like they are firing on all cylinders and although it would take a 6 point swing in Tottenham's favour for them to fail to qualify for the Champions League I don't believe fourth place in the table is where they envisaged being at the end of the season.

The Arsenal experiment has failed and there is a real danger that Manchester City could overhaul them by the end of the campaign and finish in 2nd. On too many occasions the Gunners have failed to beat opposition that they would normally expect to beat comfortably. In the past the accusation has been that they are too soft away from home whereas this season their most damaging results have come at the Emirates. While United have only dropped 2 points at home all season Arsenal fans have endured draws with Blackburn, Sunderland and Man City, defeat to West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and add to this away draws at West Brom, Wigan and Newcastle (the latter after leading 4-0 at half-time) and this is where the damage has been done to their aspirations rather than defeats by Manchester United, Tottenham or Aston Villa.

It has been the same old story this season as Arsenal somehow contrived to lose any chance of winning a trophy. Outmuscled by Birmingham, Outplayed by Barcelona and undone by Manchester United they tumbled out of 3 cup competitions in a month and now their title ambitions have taken a fatal blow. Arsenal need to inject the steel and killer instinct into his side that Ferguson has into United, a belief that they can win every game regardless of how the opponents play. It is something that made Mourinho successful at Chelsea and that Wenger inherited from George Graham's players that he left behind at Arsenal.

Considering the fact that Manchester United drew 5 of their first 8 league games this season the fact that they are now 7 points clear is testament to the fact that unlike their challengers they have taken advantage of others slip-ups and if they win their 19th title (which is looking increasingly likely) take advantage of a good chance to lift the FA Cup (assuming they can see off Man City which won't be easy) and can achieve a 3rd Champions League for Ferguson that truly will be something special.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Competition

The Champions League has a strong Quarter Final line up this season and the draw has produced some intriguing ties that may provide some surprising results with no easy route of passage to the final.

Whilst Barcelona seem to have got the easiest draw with Shakhtar Donetsk they have struggled against Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev in recent seasons so the Ukranians may not prove the easy passage that some Barcelona fans anticipate. If they do negotiate the cold of the ex-Soviet city they could well come unstuck against Real Madrid who will have a point to prove following their thrashing in the El Classico match earlier in the season.

Whilst Tottenham have done extremely well in this year's Champions League I expect Cristiano Ronaldo to prove the difference between the two sides as he has played against Spurs on several occasions whilst at Manchester United and while Van Der Vaart will want to prove a point against his ex-employers and Gareth Bale will force them to defend deep Sergio Ramos has a good goal threat as well and may well force Bale to start deeper than he would like. The two matches between Spurs and Madrid will be exciting and entertaining but I think the Spaniards will produce one or two moments of special skill that will ultimately turn the tie in their favour.

Spurs will be a side that Inter Milan will be glad to have avoided and the defending champions will (with some justification) really fancy their chances against Schalke but while the Germans have struggled in the league this is a competition that Raul loves and will want to win again before retirement but I think it will be Milan who progress.

The tie that stands-out though is Chelsea vs Manchester United simply because of the rivalry between the teams and the controversy surrounding refereeing decisions within recent meetings between the two at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea will want revenge against United for their defeat in Moscow whilst United will want to ensure that Chelsea remain without any silverware this season.

The key in this match will be the battle between Didier Drogba and Nemanja Vidic. Whilst Torres has historically been a difficult opponent for Vidic he seems to have forgotten where the goal is and turned the tide of the league match at the Bridge when he came on as United were in cruise control at that point. That is not to say that Chelsea are a one-man team but for all the skill of Essien, Lampard, Malouda and Cole, Drogba is the natural outlet and a player that causes every opponent problems. United need to get a grip on their midfield which will be helped if they can get Fletcher and Ferdinand fit. If so I fully expect a 4-5-1 line up with a midfield of Nani, Giggs, Fletcher, Scholes and Valencia with Rooney leading the line on his own.

As a United fan I am going to be biased and say that United can reach the final as they do have the ability to see off either Inter or Schalke, but it is Real Madrid not Barcelona who I think will ultimately stand between Sir Alex Ferguson and a 3rd Champions league triumph at Wembley.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Kuyt Flying

Yesterday was possibly the worst day as a United supporter that I have endured for a long time. Dirk Kuyt scored what is likely the easiest hat-trick he will ever get as United's defence fell over themselves to gift 3 points to their bitterest rivals. After the manner of their midweek defeat against Chelsea they needed to shake off the cobwebs and get back to winning ways and unfortunately failed to do either. Missing both 1st choice centre-backs Ferguson selected an attacking line-up hoping to extend their lead at the top of the table after Arsenal had been held by Sunderland but it was not to be. Liverpool were full of industry, pressing and harrying their opponents all over the pitch forcing 2 defensive errors out of their opponents back four. Luis Suarez showed the skills that convinced Liverpool to pay over £20M for his services and that Andy Carroll is grossly over-priced at £35M. In fact after an hour we were left wondering whether he was actually needed as the shadow of Fernando Torres was swept away in the run that set up the opening goal. It left people asking why Kuyt has been shunted out to the wing for so long. He was full of hustle and bustle and his fortune was in stark contrast to those of Dimitar Berbatov who hit the post and had a chance cleared off the line by Suarez. Apart from letting Jamie Carragher and Rafael stay on the pitch after a couple of shocking challenges there was not much controversy for Phil Dowd to deal with.

There will be an inquest into what went wrong for United and people will point to probably 3 areas.

Formation, Midfield and Personnel.

It is unusual to criticise a manager for setting out his stall and going for the jugular and if United had won I wouldn't be but given that Wes Brown and Chris Smalling are not 1st choice for United a 4-5-1 may have been better utilised to stifle Liverpool and then switch to 4-4-2 later in the game to take advantage of that.

This game was one that really needed Darren Fletcher rather than Carrick in Midfield and the Scots' presence on the bench as Carrick and Scholes were overrun underlined how much they are missing Owen Hargreaves and Anderson. The midfield did not perform and when Nani went off they had to move Rooney to the left as Valencia is still unavailable through injury. The United engine room needs an overhaul in the summer before it conks out.

This brings us to personnel and there will need to a be a lot of changes in the summer. Van Der Sar will likely be followed into retirement by Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen as the persistent injury problems to the two Owens may mean they have to call it a day and Scholes will probably recognise as did Gary Neville that he is starting to decline.

Also needing to be cleared out are Kusczak, Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan and replaced by higher quality players. Danny Welbeck may provide some striking options when he returns from Sunderland but the following signings would help United dominate the Premier League further: -

Manuel Neuer, Brede Hangeland, Lassana Diarra, Romelo Lukaku and Bastian Schweinsteiger would be good replacements for them and wouldn't cost a fortune although a winger to replace Ryan Giggs has to be high on the agenda with Gareth Bale a natural target along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

High-profile signings like Kaka, Ribery or Benzema would certainly be interesting and welcome but are not very likely.

United will probably still win the title despite this result, especially if they overcome Arsenal and Chelsea in their upcoming matches, but if they want to stay at the top the Glazers are going to have to spend big in the summer.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Wings and Faith

With wings and faith
you can fly, into the sky

Wayne Rooney certainly did that on Saturday afternoon with an excellent overhead kick that settled a tightly contested Manchester Derby that looked set to be a draw until that stunning intervention. The effect of this result on the Premier League table is significant in many ways.

Firstly in terms of the title race although United still have to travel to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea it is fair to say that this match ended any hope Manchester City had of winning the title this season. Mancini threw off the defensive approach that his team is perceived to have but in the end it was to no avail although one wonders how the game would have turned out if Silva's early chance had been taken and if he had started with Wright-Phillips instead of Kolarov. City now sit 8 points behind United having played a game more and even the most blinkered BlueNose will accept that only Arsenal have a realistic chance of stopping the relentless march of Sir Alex Ferguson's team to the title. Although at times playing like the United of old this season's team has, in general, played more like Stoke City grinding out narrow results rather than the expansive United teams of recent years.

Secondly the more pressing problem for City is holding on to 3rd place. If Chelsea win this evening they will close the gap to 2 points alongside Spurs and City will not want that margin to be the same when they travel to Stamford Bridge next month or when Spurs come calling in April. Ironically the blue half of Manchester needs a United double over Chelsea as much as the red half. Key fixtures also involve trips to Anfield and the Reebok and a visit from Sunderland who are chasing a European spot. It is not inconceivable that after a season that has promised much they could once again finish 5th and outside the Champions League.

Another impact will be on the FA Cup a trophy that City are taking very seriously and will need to cope with a resurgent Aston Villa assuming they can get past Notts County. United should be confident of seeing off Crawley at Old Trafford a match which should see starts for Hernandez, Michael Owen and several other squad players who haven't had many opportunities to impress this season.

United have tested the faith of their fans this season with an inability to regularly pick up 3 points away from home and with some hard matches coming up they do need to improve on their travels especially as failure to take 3 points from Chelsea and Arsenal will open up the race again just as it is starting to look closed off. I would say this season we have seen the end or near end of some fantastic careers. Ronaldo and Gary Neville retiring within a week of each other is something that is disappointing but had to happen given the decline in their games and if United win the title I suspect Paul Scholes will also hang up his boots. We are also I think seeing the end of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba at Chelsea.

At £50M there is no way Fernando Torres will not be first choice striker and as he and Drogba are very similar players I expect the Ivorian to move on probably back to France although quite a few Premier League clubs would be interested (Newcastle anyone). Terry has a direct threat to his position from David Luiz compounded by Ancelotti's very public statement that he will need to accept being rotated could lead to him moving on as well. Whilst Lampard has no threats to his position at the moment, at 32 he may well have to settle for a bit-part role as a younger player comes in or move to a club where he is more likely to start. Again Newcatle, Sunderland, Villa, Fulham or even Everton could be good moves for him.

This is a fascinating season that may yet have some twists and turns and with Liverpool playing City, Arsenal and Spurs 3 wins coupled with maximum points from their meeting with Sunderland could yet prove decisive. What chance that the table may look like this at the end of the season: -

1. Manchester United

2. Arsenal

3. Tottenham Hotspur

4. Liverpool

5. Manchester City

6. Chelsea.

7. Sunderland

8. Bolton

With Arsenal, United, City and Chelsea still in the FA Cup and Arsenal have a chance to win the Carling Cup 6th and 7th place could yet yield a Europa League spot so will see some tight games towards the end of the season.

As for relegation anyone with 30 points or under still needs to be concerned although West Brom are in the worst position with them still playing Wolves twice, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool , Sunderland and Tottenham and in all fairness it is hard to see where they will pick up a total of 4 point from those 7 games. The games against the top sides are consecutive and with the 3 preceding and 2 subsequent matches being local derbies (Wolves, Stoke, Birmingham, Villa and Wolves again) they could well be relegated before their May meeting with Everton.

They more than Manchester United need Wings and Faith over the next few weeks.

Monday, 24 January 2011

How I Learned To Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll

Someone states the obvious
Someone sneers at all you love
Someone preaches ugly manners
excluding some, including me

This is how I learned to hate rock 'n' roll

Rock 'n' Roll a phrase which conjures up various images from long haired hippies with flowers in their hair sitting in the grass strumming their guitars and singing catchy ditties while talking in a drawn out manner like Neil from the Young Ones or people in leather trousers and tasselled leather jackets bawling out songs accompanied by loud guitars, heavy percussion and the occasional keyboard (Aerosmith, Whitesnake etc). As Depeche Mode put it this is Music For The Masses (although their music was primarily electronic).

So why do I hate this type of music?

The easy response would be that rather than hate it I have simply have never liked it as my earliest musical exposure was to New Romantics and Mods, groups like Duran, Duran, Madness, The Jam, Adam and The Ants and then into early Hip Hop/ Electro but that would only be a partial explanation as my musical tastes used to drift along without much focus in the early 80s until the mid-80s resurgence of the synthesiser. An instrument outwardly despised by rock musicians and seen as a necessary evil to produce some of the sounds they needed for their tracks coupled with the perception that a 'real musician' wouldn't need one as they were for people like me who don't play the piano very well and need to sequence their music. This led me to take the opposite view that Rock Music was for hippy communists or middle aged losers who can't dance and still want to be John Lennon (who managed to fit both images of the typical rock musician in my eyes). This was further emphasised by the rise of Indie Music and the sudden desire of everyone in Manchester and its surrounds to dress and play like sub-standard Beatles throwbacks.

Now given the fact that I do own and like some albums and singles by Rock artists you may well be justified in asking how I can claim to hate rock as a genre and it is difficult to explain as it is more due to being contrary and reactionary rather than down to any musical critique. The holier than thou patronising attitude that some rock aficionados have in respect to dance music and anything that uses a keyboard as its main instrument went a long way to polarising my attitude to it. Now that is not to say that Pink Floyd, Metallica, Queen and countless other rock groups have no talent in fact the complete opposite is true in many cases but I just can't bring myself to like them. Part of the problem is the idea that some artists have that they just have to pick up a guitar and they are suddenly rock musicians whilst churning out something which it would be kind to describe as ordinary. During this period of dislike and musical transition certain sounds started to stand out and lead to the path of electronic music. 3 records were instrumental in achieving this, Blue Monday, Two Tribes and It's A Sin. The sounds of these records were completely different from most other synth-based sounds of the mid-80s and pioneered what a good dance track could sound like. Yes there had been good synthesizer groups such as Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Ultravox and the Human League but whether it was (in the case of Two Tribes Trevor Horn's production, the fact that Blue Monday was completely different to anything New Order or Joy Division had previously done or the strident chord structures and bass-line of a Stephen Hague produced Pet Shop Boys I decided by the mid-80s that synth-pop and dance were the way forward and stayed with it.

Having decided on my musical direction you would think life would be simple and yet the opposite became true. For every Music For The Jilted Generation there was a Use Your Illusion For every Very, Introspective, Fundamental, Wild, Technique or Yes there has been singles by U2, Aerosmith and others that have sought to tempt the listener back towards rock. Added to that the decline of genuinely good pop music in favour of R&B and Simon Cowell induced rubbish a particular problem has become prevalent. Do I stick with my chosen genre risking the fact that only 1 or 2 decent albums may come out a year, listen to rap music embrace mediocrity or start dusting off the electric guitar and admitting defeat.

All feelings blunted, all passion spent
Everybody does what everybody does

That is what embracing current chart music would bring me, with rap I am always reminded of some dialogue from The Last Boy Scout

Bad guy - You think you're so cool, don't you? You think you're so cool. Well just once, I would like to hear you scream, in pain. Bruce Willis response:

Play some rap music.

Rock music won't make me feel much better although a listen to U2's greatest hits album is always good but I thankfully (due to having to use tapes in the car at the moment) am reminded of one of the central tenets of my musical tastes

don't like country-and-western
I don't like rock music
I don't like, I don't like rockabilly or rock 'n' roll particularly
Don't like much really, do I?
But what I do like I love passionately

Listening to those thumping Chris Lowe bass lines and chord structures reminds me of what I do love passionately music-wise and it does not involve leather pants and long hair.