Premier League Review Round 20

31 December 2007

Well as I beat the clock to get this in before midnight so I can celebrate the New Year, I’m back with something I plan on doing on Monday nights until I am able to resume full match reviews. Let me know what you think of this and based on your feedback, may use this format for half the games on the weekend and devote the full match review for the other half of the games. I would like to invite all of you into The Third Half Chat for the New Year Day’s fixtures. I’ll be around the entire day and hope to meet more of you throughout the day. I will be back shortly with the first rant line of 2008.

Birmingham City v Fulham: Fulham yet again this season let a lead slip in the second half, as Sebastian Larsson cancels out Carlos Boacanegra’s opener to finish honors even at St. Andrews at a goal a piece. Birmingham City will be ruing the fact they had chances on goal, but were unable to convert on them. However over the balance of play, 1-1 was the right result. Fulham now have nine draws on the season along with only two wins. That number simply isn’t good enough, epically when you are playing a side who is in the bottom six. Fulham have to start getting wins from somewhere, and with a new manager in charge for the New Year’s day game against Chelsea they will need a full workmanlike effort in order to grab even a point.
Golden Chance: Gary McSheffrey beats Paul Konchesky to the pass from Mikael Forssell and despite only having the keeper to beat, blasts the ball over the crossbar from eight yards out. 0-1: Off a Fulham corner, Simon Davies goes near post and Carlos Bocanegra beats Franck Queudrue to the ball and heads home near post. 1-1: Counter attack pays off for Birmingham City. Cameron Jerome plays the ball to Fabrice Muamba. Sebastian Larsson was in all alone and turning to the inside of Elliot Omozusi, uses the defender’s foot to carry the ball past Antti Niemi who was expecting a shot drilled right at him. Instead the ball bounces in going to the keeper’s right. Great Save: Free kick to Birmingham City and it’s McSheffrey who makes Niemi punch clear, but only to Frank Queudrue. Queudrue goes near post and Niemi was very lucky to save that second effort. Red Card: Hameur Bouazza with a stupid yellow card for saying the wrong words to Mark Clattenburg. The second yellow card was for a late tackle on Franck Queudrue studs up.

Chelsea v Newcastle United: Newcastle United were simply robbed of a point that they deserved based on their play in the second half as Chelsea despite missing six or seven chances that went straight at the keeper, found aid in a referee who needs to be checked for color blindness. Kalou was obviously offside, Claudio Pizarro was in a blue kit and not in a Black one, but it was a goal that stood at Chelsea win under colorful pretenses 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Now for all those who say Chelsea did not look good, well explain why according to the stats they out shot Newcastle by a 4 to 1 margin? Granted yes their finishing has been poor, but considering the amount of chances they are getting, that stat is being skewed. Seven goal they have scored so far over this Christmas period and so far seven points to go along with them. This is a team that right now has without a doubt four key players not completely fit in Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba not fit and really they lost to Arsenal and got some lucky breaks in drawing Villa. If anything right now, Chelsea could be the luckiest club in the Premier League, something you just have to be at times.
While Chelsea maybe the luckiest club in the Premier League, Sam Allardyce has to be the unluckiest man. His side have only scored one point during this festive period and with Manchester City coming to town on Wednesday, it maybe their best chance at grabbing points (considering Manchester City’s away form this season has been as poor as those sides sitting in the bottom five) before the FA Cup Third Round. If Newcastle don’t then, one would almost think Allardyce won’t make it to the FA Cup Third Round as manager. That though would be an ultimate shame, though he’s brought a lot of it on himself being insistent he stick with the same tactics he used at Bolton, while not adjusting to the players he has with club he currently manages.
Golden Chance: Obafemi Martins gets between Alex and Bridge, but loses the ball under his feet which gives Alex all the time he needs to get back and block the Martins shot. 1-0: Poor defending from Newcastle. Wright Phillips shot is blocked and Nicky Butt miss kicks the ball clear. Kalou gets the ball off his hip and it lands at the feet of Michael Essien who from point blank range with a keeper down, rarely misses…and this time he does not. Golden Chance: Off a Shawn Wright-Phillips center ball on the edge of the eighteen, Nicky Butt nearly scores an own goal had Shay Given not parried over the crossbar. 1-1: Perfectly placed counter for Newcastle. N’Zogbia gets through the challenge of John Obi Mikel on the byline perfectly and sends the ball into the onrush inside the six. The ball is flicked on by Martins right to Nicky Butt. Butt benefits from a poor first touch as Bridge is unable to clear and Butt finishes what he was trying to start. 2-1: Boy this one will cause all sort of talking points. Mikel’s shot goes through traffic and touches off Claudio Pizarro. Kalou, who was a full three yards offside rushes to the ball as the flag stays down. Kalou then puts just enough pace on the shot to slide it under Shay Given to give Chelsea a great escape. Now before I go on, there this goal must be discussed. I am under the impression that the linesman was convinced the ball was deflected by Michael Owen. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Pizarro’s flick off was taken by Kalou who was a full two yards offside thanks to Habib Beye not moving. That linesman should not be on the pitch for at least two full weeks, which looks unlikely as the FA Cup Third Round Proper is about to start.

Portsmouth v Middlesbrough: For the seventh time this season at home, Portsmouth have failed to scored. Two of the last three have resulted in 1-0 losses, as was the case today. Sylvain Distin failure to mark Tuncay after James had made a finger tip save gave the Turk all the space he needed as Middlesbrough get lucky off a couple of missed chances by Portsmouth in escape Fratton Park with a win. Portsmouth are just in free fall at home, only 2 wins on the season to go along with 5 nil draws and another 1-1 draw. The sad thing is you knew this game was over after an hour when David Nugent was brought on for John Utaka. Nugent in his time in the Premier League is showing why he will always be a Championship striker. Middlesbrough keep getting results when you least expect them to and as long as they can get points against teams at the bottom, will end up staying in the Premier League season another season. You also have to wonder how long it will be before Tuncay ends up at greener pastures playing for a European club.
0-1: Off a long ball played into Stewart Downing, the ball is crossed across the face of goal to Gary O’Neil who’s one timing volley is tipped by David James, right to Tuncay who makes sure the ball was going across the net. No one picked up Downing while Sylvain Distin left Tuncay all alone after the ball was crossed into O’Neil, something he should have known better to do. Golden Chance: Centering pass into Diop who should have put the ball on the frame of goal, instead went well over the cross bar in what would have made an NFL field goal kicker proud. Golden Chance: Off a Portsmouth free kick, Kanu is unable to convert on the near post as his shot from point blank range goes off the woodwork.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers: Sunderland score three for the first time in the Premier League in over six years as Kenwyne Jones was involved in all three goals as Sunderland shake off a poor Bolton side 3-1. Sure there were not many chances in the game, but Sunderland capitalized on their chances, Bolton did not. Gary Megson still has problems in the midfield, the area of the park that ended up responsible for all three goals given up on the day. For Sunderland this was just the type of day they needed to stay around in the Premier League another season. They simply outplayed a side they had to beat at home, a job they did and did very well. Kieran Richardson is a type of player that if given chances, will eventually fine a vein of form similar to the one Roque Santa Cruz is on. Kenwyne Jones also had a day not to forget, something Roy Keane will need to see plenty more of as the season starts to wind down.
1-0: Kenwyne Jones does extremely well in the midfield to break past Joey O’Brien and spot Kieran Richardson unmarked on the edge of the eighteen. From there it was the true definition of a one timer by Richardson that gave Jaaskelainen any time to make the save. 2-0: Off a Sunderland corner, Kenwyne Jones beats Joey O’Brien to the spot Richardson put the ball to and with a flash header beats Jaaskelainen’s hands to the spot right over the Bolton keeper’s head. 2-1: After Liam Miller concedes a free kick, El-Hadji Diouf gets the free kick past Paul McShane who makes another mistake trying to clear the ball and despite Gavin McCann looking to touch the ball, Craig Gordon was unable to stop that one from going in at the far post. 3-1: Kenwyne Jones in the midfield flicks on to Daryl Murphy who out muscles Danny Guthrie in a shoulder to shoulder challenge to slot home going far post. Jones sets this one up beating McCann in the air at the edge of the attacking third to play the ball onto Murphy who uses his strength to finish off Sunderland’s win in stoppage time.

Tottenham v Reading: Dimitar Berbatov doubled his Premier League scoring output on the season by scoring four goals as he sliced Grahme Murty and Ibrahima Sonko to shreds as despite winning the game 6-4, there should have been controversy as to how Tottenham scored their fifth goal. Taking a look at Berbatov’s stats this season, the only time he has scored goals that have won games are against Portsmouth and in the game Saturday (the other three games he scored goals in resulted in two draws and a loss). It’s pretty apparent that Berbatov is going in January, the summer at the latest. Really the key to this game boiled down to Robbie Keane’s missed penalty. It should have been retaken and Defoe given a yellow card. Given Keane’s form from the spot lately, that retake would have been a major doubt. Reading will be just fine, but the need to look into at least picking someone up who can solidify the central defense and at the rate Marcus Hahnemann is conceding goals, it maybe time to give Adam Federici a shot between the sticks to see if Reading over the summer need to make a decision on who their number one keeper will be.
1-0: Berbatov slices through Murty and Sonko and takes Keane’s centering pass perfectly slotting home far post. 1-1: Free kick that Paul Robinson did not clear properly. Given right to Cisse who from the edge of the penalty area slots home near post. Robinson couldn’t see through traffic. 1-2: Ivar Ingimarsson takes advantage of not being marked by Tom Huddlestone properly off a corner kick. 2-2: Berbatov takes advantage of Murty’s pathetic attempt to clear the ball as his clearance went right to Berbatov who scores near post. 2-3: Shorey’s corner goes to Kitson who beat Berbatov and Kaboul to the ball near post and scores across the face of goal. 3-3: Berbatov takes advantage of Chimbonda’s high ball off the corner and the fact Sonko went to kick the ball clear instead of marking Berbatov. 3-4: Poor pass from Boateng that sparked the break. Dave Kitson gets in between Lee and Kaboul to take Hunt’s pass. 4-4: No marking in the penalty area as Huddlestone’s pass to Malbranque is in space and all he has to do is turn Sonko. 5-4: Penalty decision to Spurs after Sonko trips Robbie Keane. However Robbie Keane misses going across his body, but Jermaine Defoe races to the ball first and scores, however that penalty should not have stood. Defoe was inside the penalty area when the penalty was taken. No wonder Reading didn’t move, they thought the penalty was going to be taken again. However, they have to know better and simply play on. 6-4: Berbatov beats Ingimarsson to the long ball from Kaboul.

West Ham United v Manchester United: Goals by Anton Ferdinand and Matthew Upson after a missed Cristiano Ronaldo penalty gave injury riddled West Ham United a deserved, yet shock 2-1 win against at the time table leading Manchester United. West Ham may have scored both goals on set pieces, however they took advantage of the weak marking from Darren Fletcher on the first, and an unmarked Matthew Upson on the second. It’s the kind of marking that loses games, and it’s marking that is completely unforgivable. Vidic should have went out to mark Upson on the second goal, as had Upson had to do a little bit of work, he wasn’t going to get too the ball. West Ham have to simply be estatic despite being the walking MASH unit of the Premier League at present to get a result of this magnitude while it appears that Manchester United are carrying one hell of a hangover from the after effect of Rio’s party that saw Jonny Evans arrested.
Golden Chance: Mullins and Noble should have scored on seven minutes, Mullins off the woodwork staying onside well, and then Noble has an empty goal mouth to score in. 1-0: Simply a Ronaldo gift, Neill is baited in which gives Ryan Giggs all the space he needs. Then Ronaldo does extremely well to get into the space George McCartney should have gotten into and takes the Giggs cross home at the near post. Missed Penalty: Jonathan Spector makes contact with the ball on his arm, but it does not look inside the penalty area. However Ronaldo puts too much power into his shot going across his body and it ends up going out on the far post. The word poor doesn’t do that penalty justice. 1-1: Noble’s corner ends up to Anton Ferdinand who simply rises over Darren Fletcher to get the ball. 2-1: Patrice Evra concedes a bad free kick on John Pantsil. Late challenge and despite all his protest, that will always be given a free kick. Mark Noble takes the free kick and it’s Matthew Upson was unmarked from the start and then rose above Nemanja Vidic to the ball and slots home back on the upper near post. Vidic was hamstrung by the fact Upson ran into the right spot to make contact, and there was a mass of people where Vidic needed to jump from.

Wigan Athletic v Aston Villa: Wigan continues to concede goals when they shouldn’t as Curtis Davies and Gabriel Agbonlahor cancel out Titus Bramble’s opener as Aston Villa come from behind in the second half and beat Wigan Athletic at the JJB 2-1. Wigan did poor in the second half being responsible for anyone and were eating once off a set piece and then bitten on a well worked counter attack that saw Wigan’s back four look completely lost. It’s amazing to me how Wigan played decently in the first half and were so woeful in the second. Full credit has to go to Martin O’Neil who made the changes at halftime and opened up the game more, something that on a pitch as dire as the one at the JJB was on the day, was enough to do the business.
1-0: Off a Wigan corner, Titus Bramble takes the header over Carson as Martin Laursen and Gareth Barry get in each other’s way. Poor job between those two as Laursen should have gotten into the space and headed the ball clear. 1-1: Off a Villa Corner, Curtis Davies gets in behind Mario Melchiot and heads the ball between Chris Kirkland and Denny Landzaat who was on the far post. 1-2: Ashley Young does very well to keep the ball in on the byline while beating Mario Melchiot and crosses into Gabriel Agbonlahor who gets in front Titus Bramble and heads the ball on and in off the far post. Nigel Rio Coker does the business in the midfield to set this goal up.

Everton v Arsenal: Everton gets busted by their ridiculously high line as Arsenal go long not once, but three times as Arsenal changed their plan at halftime and in the end overcame Everton in a game that saw two red cards 4-1. I have to give David Moyes credit for the fact he said it was their mistakes that cost Everton the game, tactically playing a high line that Arsenal broke down with ease. It also didn’t help that Phil Jagielka didn’t play up to his potential in the match. What got me about Everton’s play is they really didn’t create any quality chances on goal, something that Arsenal did plenty of. Also losing Mikel Arteta is going to make the team more reliant on Tim Cahill, something that will be considered a massive drop off in terms of chances that will be created. It truly is a blessing they play Middlesbrough, Oldham Athletic, and are in the League Cup against Chelsea in the first leg for those three maches. I do have to give credit to Arsene Wenger for spotting that high line at halftime and changing his style accordingly, even getting a true Arsenal goal in second half stoppage time to rub salt into Everton’s wounds.
1-0: Off an Arteta corner, Nicklas Bendtner makes a mistake in not clearing the ball and it ends up between Yakubu and Cahill. Yakubu goes to head and Cahill uses a high foot to tap the ball in where Bendtner should have stayed. Dive That Should Have Been Called: Yakubu goes down way too easily off a Kolo Toure touch. Just for the over exaggeration on the effort, that should have seen Yakubu booked for simulation. 1-1: Long ball played into Eduardo as Everton gamble with too high a line. Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott the two well out of position as Eduardo fills the space they should have been in as he slots the ball home far post. Golden Chance: Arteta gets into space and the cross into Yakubu has to be headed on goal, instead it goes well wide of the near post. 2-1: Clichy long ball that takes a touch off Bendtner. Again Eduardo takes advantage of a high line produced by Everton as he beats Phil Jagielka to the ball, the goal should not have counted as Eduardo used the arm to handle, however Eduardo slots home near post on a goal that should not have counted. Red Card: Nicklas Bendtner is taken out of his misery. The first yellow card was for a stupid push on Joseph Yobo and I think Martin Adkinson would have forgiven him except he had a few choice words after the fact. The second yellow card in all honesty could have been a straight red. A one footed stomp high on the leg of Andy Johnson and the second yellow card was never a doubt. 3-1: Another long ball played in that bounces over the high line Everton produced. Emmanuel Adebayor gets to the ball as Joseph Yobo and Tim Howard were caught between two minds who would play the ball. Adebayor simply rounds Howard and taps into an empty net. Red Card: This is unforgivable from Mikel Arteta. After being beaten fairly to the ball by Cesc Fabregas, Arteta sticks an elbow in below the eye of his fellow countryman. 4-1: Beautiful passing sequence from Arsenal. Instead of playing the ball into the corner which is what it appeared they would be doing, Adebayor plays to Diabo who lays off to Tomas Rosicky who was left to his own devices by the Everton defense. Andy Johnson goes to try and play the ball, however it was well too late. Rosicky just scores in the space Howard had vacated.

Derby County v Blackburn Rovers: A missed Steve Howard penalty ended up being the turning point in a highly entertaining affair at Pride Park as Derby County give up two goals in four minutes after the penalty miss as Blackburn end up with a comfortable 2-1 win. You have to give Derby credit for not giving up and getting plenty of chances in the second half to at least equalize, however they didn’t take advantage of those chances, unlike Blackburn. What gets me about Derby is while their defending has gotten better, it is still miles off being anything that would qualify as Premier League standard. There were four chances that I can remember that Blackburn were unmarked in the penalty area and Lewis Price did everything he could too keep Derby in this game. For Blackburn, it must be nice to know they have Roque Santa Cruz on their side.
Golden Chance: Off a corner, Roque Santa Cruz nearly scores on the near post save the fact that Lewis Price and Giles Barnes were there to deny. 1-0: Completely against the run of play, Tyrone Mears ball into the penalty area makes it’s way to Giles Barnes who lays off to Matt Oakley who was completely unmarked due to Ryan Nelsen not staying with his man. Penalty Miss: A howler from Ryan Nelsen as he trips Kenny Miller inside the penalty area. He was going to be beaten. Steve Howard takes and it’s Brad Friedel who saves. Howard went across his body and didn’t even get the ball on the near post. 1-1: Long ball that makes its way to David Bentley. Bentley turns McEveley and then crosses into McCarthy. McCarthy’s shot is saved by Price but right onto Roque Santa Cruz who saw Claude Davis go for the first shot instead of staying with the man he was responsible for. Poor defending all around and that will sting even more as it came only a moment after the missed penalty. 1-2: After some head tennis in the midfield, The ball ends up at the feet of David Bentley who then turns and causes Claude Davis to go to ground and using Michael Johnson as a guard, shoots on the near post. Lewis Price never had a chance. Missed Decision: Aaron Mokoena gets studs up on a challenge of Matt Oakley. Despite getting the ball first, the nature of that challenge should have seen a yellow card, which would have been red for him. Golden Chance: Warnock goes across the face of goal to Bentley. Bentley finds Roque Santa Cruz completely unmarked seven from goal and Lewis Price has to make a great reaction save to prevent it from being 3-1 to Blackburn.

Manchester City v Liverpool: Joe Hart and Richard Dunne play the games of their life as Liverpool attacked with vigor, yet were unable to capitalize as Manchester City’s tactics held firm and despite not capitalizing on the counter, they will feel glad to get a nil draw against Liverpool. The only thing I have to question with regards to their 4-2-3-1 formation. However the biggest issue on the day was the physicality that the man in the middle allowed. Really Richards was questionable early on for a red card (it should have been a foul yes, and possibly a yellow, but it was not a red). However Manchester City are doing just what their manager is asking of them. Liverpool though have to finish one of the twenty chances they got on goal. It’s amazing to see that Alvaro Arbeloa and Yossi Benayoun were the only two players who really got good chances on goal. It was a bit embarrassing that Torres only got one legit chance he got put off on by the keeper, and that Dirk Kuyt only got one chance that happened to be cleared off the line. If you’re a team of Liverpool’s stature, you have to win games like this if you want a prayer of winning the title.
Golden Chance: Elano’s cross into Vassell bounces high and Darius Vassell forces Arbeloa to head out for a corner. Golden Chance: After a poor ball from Joe Hart, the ball lands at Fernando Torres who looked offside. However Torres lets Joe Hart’s put him off and get the best of him as his poking effort goes just wide of the near post. However you don’t think it would have gone in as Richards and Dunne were there to make sure it didn’t. Off the Line: Carragher’s ball onto the edge of the six goes right to Dirk Kuyt. Hart does well to save it and give Dunne just enough time to get back and clear that ball before it goes over the end line.

Until the first rant lines of the New Year, may the debate begin!

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Rantlines: Joey Barton, Rolando Bianchi, Two Footed Challenges, and More

29 December 2007

First off as I've done plenty of lately, a quick updated about my old man. He's home now and doing alright would be the best way to do it. Right now he's having a good day where he can move about well about once every three days. One day he'll be alright, and the other just downright awful. However he is in very high spirits mostly because he's home and can eat proper food and watch his Matlock and Perry Mason on Hallmark Channel.

Three things have dominated the press over the last few days and tonight I intend to look at those in my own ranting style. Before I do that I would like to make a couple of announcements.
1: 'The Third Half Chat' has now been moved over to my blog page. To see it, click on the Matchday Chat tab on the main page, and on each matchday that I can remember (which should be every match day), I'll post a note up saying the chat is live and putting it on the main page.
2: My intention starting on January 1 is to wake up and post more of a daily rantline with a couple of big rants, and a couple of smaller one/two liners based on what's in the papers. Thursday night will hopefully be my weekend in preview where I give quick thoughts on the weekend's matches.
3: Depending on how my dad is doing, I intend after the first of the year to resume doing the full length match reviews I was doing. As always, I will let you know and as always, my intention is to review every game that is shown on TV.
4: Stay tuned soon for an announcement regarding The Third Half Show. I'm hoping within the next two weeks to be announcing details regarding this exciting venture.

With all that said, it's time to rant away.
So Joey Barton will be spending the new year in probably the safest places he can be...in the comfort of a jail cell. Joey Barton was arrested Thursday for assault and affray (thanks to dictionary.com for this one...'a public fight; a noisy quarrel; brawl'), and thanks to a judge who has sense, refused him bail and remanded him to custody. If you are to believe the story in the Independent, prior to Newcastle's 1-0 loss at the JJB Stadium, Allardyce and Barton had a falling out regarding Barton not being on the team sheet. Either way that is no excuse for his actions.
Joey Barton is the truest definition of a troubled player. Let's take a look at some of the trouble Barton has been in.
December 2004: Barton was fined six weeks wages after during a Christmas Party, stabbed Jamie Tandy's eye with a cigar.
Summer 2005: Joey Barton was sent home from a preseason tour of Thailand after assaulting a 15 year old Everton fan.
September 2006: Joey Barton was caught by TV cameras mooning Everton fans after a game at Goodison Park.
May 2007: Suspended by Manchester City after allegedly assaulting Ousmane Dabo during a training session. The attack was such that he was arrested and questioned by the Greater Manchester Police. He pleaded not guilty to that charge.
December 2007: Arrested and kept in jail on assault and affray charges.
Just my honest opinion, but Joey Barton needs to simply retire from the sport and spend plenty of time getting his head sorted. He is a man who is on the road to eventually spending the rest of his life in prison. What's even sadder is when he is played in his proper position, Barton can be a very effective hard nosed (boy is that not an ironic word to use in these circumstances) player who gets the job done. However despite being a decent footballer, his personal demons outweigh any benefit he has on a football pitch. Barton is one who does not realize the gift he has and players like that have no need to ever see the light of first team football on any level. Joey for your own good, retire and go get your head sorted... it would be much better for you to lead a normal life than to be the powder keg you are as a footballer.
This comes on the heels of what honestly is a very difficult period for anyone at Newcastle United, particularly Sam Allardyce. If Barton's arrest wasn't enough, the fact they only got one point off of Derby County in the league (and they were very lucky to get that one), and their loss to Wigan has Newcastle fans all demanding that Sam Allardyce be shown the ax. It hasn't been that long when fans were chanting during their disastrous loss at home to Portsmouth, and results like they have seen over this week (and they have Chelsea at Stamford Bridge today), a convincing loss at Chelsea could spell the end of Sam Allardyce at Newcastle and the great debate. That debate wouldn't have been a debate until today, but now Martin Jol has thrown his name into the hat. I read a line somewhere today and I wish I remembered where it was, but it was along the lines of when the money starts being thrown on someone to be sacked, it generally isn't long. I remember when Jol was sacked at Tottenham, a quote from Sky Sports Through the Night went something to the effect of the media making bets on Jol being sacked. My guess would be if Chelsea beat Newcastle by two or more goals, Sam Allardyce will be sacked by Monday afternoon.

Another story that has hit my nerve is the reports that Rolando Bianchi is ready to leave Manchester City. In an interview with La Gazetta dello Sport, he admitted that he wants to leave. Some quotes I want to take a look at...
Quote One: "I want to become a European top scorer. After the 18 goals I scored with (Serie A side) Reggina, I want to reach double figures in the Premier League too.
Then I'll pack my bags again and go in search of new adventures. I'd like to wear the shirt of Atletico Madrid and score 15 goals in the Primera Liga too." Look Rolando, you're only on four goals this season, good luck getting up to 10 this season. The fact you are already naming the next club you want to play for while still under contract is a joke. If I was Sven, you wouldn't see a first team match until next season, if at all. I would make you rot in the reserves until you learned that you play for the club you're at, not for the next club you want to play for.
Quote Two: "I have raised the white flag with English food. I don't like it". I honestly can't fault him for saying that, most cannot stand the English diet. Maybe Rolando Bianchi and Florent Malouda can start the 'I hate the English diet club'.
Quote Three: "In Italy the referee whistles as soon as a defender brushes against you. In the Premier League you don't get a free kick even if the defender runs you over with a tank." Give me a break here Bianchi. What did you expect when you came to England, to be treated like you were a piece of crystal? Did you think that football was that easy that whenever you get touched you drop to the ground thinking that a referee will give you an instant decision in your favor? Look mister you never had to agree to come to Manchester City, so shut up about the fact there is a little bit of physicality in this league. If you want to be a fairy, go back to Italy...the country that now leads the way in diving.

It is amazing to me. You would think that after a rash of two footed challenges, that people would not bother using the challenge anytime soon. Despite the fact that the referees are denying the fact they are clamping down on two footed challenges, there were two red cards shown for the nasty challenges on Boxing Day in the Premier League. Steve Coppell can cry all he wants to, but let's be honest about it, referees are finally applying the law regarding these tackles. What players need to understand is they were getting away with way too much and the only way referees could wake players up was to get strict (some could debate overly strict) and do their job sending players off. Maybe if some of these players realize that a three match ban isn't worth it, they will start playing by the rules.

Quick Rants
I'm amazed that it took injuries to Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard before Chelsea realized that they needed to strengthen their squad. However would that be conceding the fact their signings simply are not up to snuff? Granted Ballack and Shevchenko finally showed some promise against Aston Villa, however form shows that is a one off deal.
You may not like Sir Alex Ferguson, but you have to love the fact that he has laid down the law regarding his players partying and outright banned it. Well done sir, very well done!
Michael Ballack can say it all he wants, but the 'foul' that resulted in Zat Knight being sent off was a dive. How can you go down like that when there was next to no contact?
Chris Baird can be stunned all he wants, however the appointment of Roy Hodgson was a great one for Fulham. Hodgson is the type of manager who can pull a Coleman with this squad and keep them up. However I just don't see it happening.
Don't ask me why I like this column, but I always love the Independent's column from Neil Warnock simply titled 'What I've Learned This Week'.

Until I write again (hopefully soon), may the debate begin!

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Boxing Day Madness

26 December 2007

First off I hope you are enjoying the Christmas period. Mine could be alot better, but for the fear of saying something I shouldn’t say about a particular hospital, I’ll keep my mouth shut.

Having to work today, I was only able to catch the first half of the Chelsea/Aston Villa game and could do two things, curse Chelsea’s ineptness and praise the Villains for simply outworking Chelsea. However I was just about to turn the TV off and spend half an hour in the car slagging off everyone wearing the Chelsea kit, an extremely dubious penalty decision sees Zat Knight sent off for what looked to be the tiniest of contact on Michael Ballack. In reality and in real time it looked more dive than penalty, but nonetheless the game turned with Andriy Shevchenko scoring from the spot with was in essence the last kick of the first half.
The second half from reading the text commentary was nothing short of maddening. Shevchenko scores again, Chelsea take the lead only for Villa to level again. Then Chelsea see Ricardo Carvalho sent off for yet another lunging two footed challenge. Chelsea then somehow take the lead through Michael Ballack only for Ashley Cole to then screw it up with a deliberate hand ball red card and for Villa to level in second half stoppage time. Follow all that, it only gets better.

How on earth did Fulham come into the game with Spurs so unprepared? Did the hangover of Lawrie Sanchez finally get to them? I know Juande Ramos has Spurs playing much better football, but allowing five is simply nightmarish. Thanks to Wigan defeating the Hyde in Newcastle, Fulham are back in the relegation zone. It’s really beginning to look like Fulham’s years of escaping the drop may have finally come home to roost.

I really feel bad for Derby County, and I even feel more for those who were at Pride Park. Rafa Benitez fielding a B+ side (I can’t call them a B team as Reina, Carragher, Gerrard, Alonso and Torres were in the side) were given everything they could possibly handle and them some by Derby County. Something tells me by just following the text of this game (memo to self, enjoy catching up on 20 hours of football) Liverpool took their foot off the gas and when Derby County equalized scrambled to restart the engine. You really have to question what would have happened if Gerrard would have been subbed in this one.

Other quick thoughts:
While Everton didn’t score in the first half, was their match with Bolton ever in doubt?
Is it looking more and more obvious that Middlesbrough’s win against Arsenal was merely a one off instead of something they could have used to gain momentum into this busy season?
You have to give Reading all the credit in the world for hovering just above the threat of relegation. As long as they continue to nic the odd result here and there and gain points on the road, they will be just fine.

Look tonight for the ‘Match Reports’ page to be updated sometime between 9 and 11 eastern time. Until then, what were your thoughts on this wacky and crazy ride we saw this morning? May the debate begin!

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Rantlines: Sol Campbell Fights Abuse, Crouch's Alleged Racism, Al Bangura and the Dreaded Work Permit, Liverpool Broke...Say it isn't So, and More!

23 December 2007

Just a quick update on my old man before I get started. It looked like he was going to be released from hospital today, however a negative reaction to antibiotics he is taking intravenously along with the fact he's having a big issue with using the bathroom has kept him there, and it's looking more and more likely he will be in hospital for Christmas.

Oh well enough of my depression, let's get on with why I'm staying up until heaven knows when to write this out.

Is it safe to say we can officially call Sol Campbell this week's world biggest hypocrite? On Wednesday, Campbell went on BBC Radio 4 and declared that not only has the violence gotten out of hand, Campbell made the most moronic comment made in recent memory when he declared that the fan abuse violates the players human rights. Sol Campbell's complaints of the fans going too far saying that the fan abuse goes too far, Harry Redknapp (whose words right now ring more hallow than wood consumed by termites) had something else to cry about by backing up his defender saying the abuse Campbell got from White Hart Lane was vile and unacceptable. There seems to be only one footballer on the face of this planet who gets this (and it could be the fact he plays for the side who's fans gave Campbell the stick), as Robbie Keane came back and gave Campbell the virtual knockout when he simply said it's nothing more than a bit of banter.
I could have so much fun with this one. Sol, can I ask you a simple question (just one because it would shut you up on the spot). That question is this (and please note this is going to be one long run on question so bear with it), do you feel that the referees take more abuse from players running right at them when they don't get a decision correct? Do you feels referees get more abuse when players immediately run to them trying to influence the decision trying to be made and then getting more vile when players do not get their way?
The more I think about it I have more questions to throw at Sol. Sol do you not realize that your lucky you don't get more stick when after telling Arsene Wenger to let you out of your Arsenal contract (after having a mental meltdown to end all mental breakdowns during a game) so you could go abroad...only to sign for Portsmouth?
It is fairly obvious that Sol doesn't have the toughest mental makeup in the history of society and it is almost pathetic to think that Sol cannot take any verbal taunting from home fans when he's playing on the road. Now if Sol cannot take any taunting (I could understand 100 percent if Sol was coming out about racial abuse) he needs to simply retire and find another profession to get into that is entirely away from football. I honestly cannot figure out what is more funnier to all of this, that Campbell did this on BBC Radio 4 (instead of on BBC Radio 5 Live where he would have gotten grilled over his comments) or that Sol Campbell of all people said this.

So what do you do if you have been sent off for a ridiculous two footed challenge that gets you sent off? Do you admit fault? Do you apologize for your manager's stupid comment remarks and then apologize to the player? Or do you just blame foreign players branding them cheats? The comments were branded as such that there was a small investigation into if what Crouch said was racist. The quotes in question...well here they are and you can judge them for yourself. "Would someone like Carra [Jamie Carragher] have gone down like that? I think it's safe to say that he wouldn't.
"Foreign players have brought a lot to our game but that's something you don't want to see. I didn't catch him but he's gone down like he's been shot."
While Crouch escaped having to face a probe over this matter, I have to say that Crouch looks like the worlds tallest dunce over this. Crouch, I'm not sure your aware of this, but the team you play for is full of foreign players. I'm sure they opened their newspapers on Thursday and Friday and just shook their heads in disgust at the nature in which these comments were made. Look Crouch, the two footed challenge you threw up was not only ugly to watch, but dangerous as hell. The fact your feet didn't land on Mikel was comical at the time but the way you ended up falling on Mikel was the reason 'he acted like he was shot' as you say.
Really in essence the story here was the fact we saw three red cards for the same type of foul in two days. Frank Lampard can cry all he wants about how referees are killing the art of tackling, but the rules are plain and simple for players to read (that would imply they understand basic English and have sound reading comprehension). If you are judged to go in two footed with the intent to seriously injure a player, you are going to be sent off and you will receive a three match ban, possibly more if you appeal. At least Sir Alex Ferguson gets this. Players have to wake up and realize that horrible challenges are going to at the best see only a yellow card. Crouch can say it's all foreign players, but the reality is if that challenge would have been on him, he would have rolled around the pitch acting like he would never play again.

Maybe I am the only who feels like this, but does the Home Office in England saying that Watford can apply to get Al Bangura a work permit seem an extremely hollow gesture? The crutch of this development is that the Home Office has agreed to an independent panel made up of those from within the home office and the footballing world (as Bangura cannot apply for a work permit as he's never played for Sierra Leone nor do Sierra Leone rank high enough in the FIFA Rankings for Bangura to apply) to determine if Bangura should be given one so that he may stay in the country and play football.
The 19 year old just became a dad to women he is engaged to, and that's the least of his worries. I don't know what some morons in government think, but Bangura is damn right to be scared to go back to Sierra Leone. What gets me even more is to me the Home Office seems to using this token move as a way to go 'see we tried but our hands are tied'. Well I'm sorry, but it's a farce when you grant this kid stay, and then revoke it. I'm sorry, but it shines an extremely negative light on your country when you show yourselves to be hypocrites. This young kid has worked his rear end off to get where he is at professionally and to rip it away from him because you think he's lying about a very serious harsh reality in African Nations is quite frankly a slap in the face to anyone who understand world politics. I was reading my home town paper the other day, the Florida Times Union, and in their little two cents column hit it right on the money and I wish I would have kept the paper. Basically what the writer said was if the UK is stupid enough to deport him, that the United States should welcome this kid with open arms along with his soon to be wife and kid so that he can continue his dream of playing professional football. It really irks me when politics go bad and this one has left a very bitter taste in my mouth.

I think most supporters thought Liverpool were in crisis mode, but really until the events of the last few days the extent of which was truly not known. However now that we do know, it honestly doesn't look good at all. On the heels of having to announce that plans to get money to fund the building of Stanley Park have been postponed until 2009, now questions are being asked about Hicks and Gillett's staying power after a deadline was missed to refinance 220 million pounds borrowed by the Liverpool owners. Now the Royal Bank of Scotland will not allow the club to go under, but something tells me they will be making some serious financial demands on Liverpool that will certainly not help. Another thing this does is bring Dubai International Capital back into the equation as they could pretty much swoop in and purchase the club at a bargain basement price should Hicks and Gillett not get this debt restructured.
I won't lie. When Manchester United structured their purchase of Manchester United in the manner they did, it honestly didn't look good. However the Glazers seem to be doing just fine. When Hicks and Gillett before the Champions League final admitted they used the same blueprint to purchase Liverpool that Manchester United did, I was honestly worried as hell. I don't know what the books look like, but something tells me that Liverpool each match day severely lack capital gained from tickets that Manchester United can generate though the turnstiles. The situation doesn't help either that credit is getting extremely hard to get thanks to a credit crunch globally due to the foreclosure rate on homes that were purchased on sub-prime loans.
What this does show is how dangerous trying to finance a club on debt truly is and what happens when the money isn't there that you thought would be. You would have thought that lessons from Leeds United not so glorious collapse would have been learned, but it seems that the Liverpool owners never heard about it. What makes this story even more ironic is that Queens Park Rangers have become the richest club in the world after Lakshmi Mittal has bought into the club co-owned by Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.

The Quickest of Quick Rants:
So Manchester United are going to try and make a play for Henrik Larsson for a few months again. I guess if it worked once, it'll work again and with the propensity for Rooney to break a metatarsal you may as well get him.
In staying with the Manchester United theme real quick, is anyone surprised that Rio Ferdinand is taking the blame for the party that saw Jonny Evans be bailed on a rape case?
So the man who was manager opposite McClaren on the day England crashed out of Euro 2008 is a candidate to be the manager at Fulham. If I was him, I would take it just to rub it in those over priced players faces.
So it looks like Eidur Gudjohnsen could be coming back to the Premier League after he was pretty much Chelseaed at Barcelona. It's sad really as this player can be someone special if given the chance.

Before I go, I would like to point you in the direction of the Match Reports page. Nightly after match days, I go find all the match reports from the UK papers and put them all there for one stop searching. I hope you enjoy the page.

I'll be back over this busy Christmas period with more rants, and hopefully some match reviews. The latter will be based on if my dad is home from hospital. Until I write again, may the debate begin!

You can comment on this article here.

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Rantlines: Rafa and Money, Good Bye Yeung, Capello Overload, Team Parties and More

20 December 2007

I apologize for not writing over the weekend. My priorities ended up being about a twenty minutes drive from where I am typing this as my dad was in (and still is in) hospital. The gamut of emotions I have experienced I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. The short version of the story is they thought my dad has the MSRA strain of staff infection, and until Sunday was in contact isolation (had to gown and glove up before entering his room). Then Sunday, his doctor ordered a CT scan to see if his body was rejecting one of the shunts put in during surgery around a month ago. That came back negative so finally the concluded he just had a post operative staff infection. It appears to finally have cleared up, and dad's doctor may release him within the next 24-48 hours. It all depends on some test results. When he does come home, he will be on IV antibiotics for six weeks after his release. I know I sound like a broken record, but I sincerely want to thank everyone for their encouraging words to me during this time.

With that said, I've got twenty-nine stories I pulled up over the course of the weekend until present, enough of the gab, more of what you come here for.

Rafa Benitez continues to amaze me. However I have to say that English media's reporting as a whole of his meetings with the owners regarding money in the January transfer market amazes me more. Let's take a closer look at the chain of story events.
Sunday Night: Meetings ease Rafa's mind.
Monday Night: Rafa's ability to spend is tightened to the point where he will have to sell first buy second. This comes on the heels that the proposed new stadium will be redesigned in order to save money.
Tuesday Night: Rafa Benitez slams all this transfer ban talk as rubbish while Tim Rich in the Telegraph reports that the stadium redesign was done to create funds in order to strengthen the squad.
All of this 'will he, won't he' talk has quite frankly done my head in. Let's all be honest about it, with the rotation policy Rafa Benitez has in place (meaning anyone coming in will immediately be parked on the bench and if they do not believe what I'm writing...just ask Fernando Torres), why would you go there to rot? Why would any player in their right mind go to a club where the manager has more excuses than tactics and is generally one move behind when it comes to key situations. Sure Rafa over a home/away will get you results (see his Champions League success), but over the course of the long haul season it isn't the kind of man you can truly put faith in. And if you're a player, would you want to go to a club where the status of the manager in charge is up in the air? All they would have to do is phone a friend at Chelsea to see how that went. By the time it's all said and done, I think the question that will be asked is why Rafa broke the monopoly at the top of the Spanish table, yet couldn't do the same exact thing at Liverpool.

So Birmingham City have lost their patience with Carson Yeung? Quite frankly I don't fault them one bit as Yeung's procrastinating in providing the funds he promised only goes to show one simple thing...he didn't have them in the first place. So why would you if your David Gold and David Sullivan, why would you continue to wait when you know it's never going to happen? The only analogy I can come up with is that relationship has turned into one where one is waiting patiently by the phone for a phone call that never comes. The biggest problem with investing in a club like Birmingham City is simple. How much money can you realistically put into the club before you start getting any money back? St. Andrews only seats thirty thousand and with the budget Birmingham City are currently on right now, will struggle to make the top half of the Premier League table. With the bottom seven clubs fighting to stay in the top flight, the first order of business will be to secure a squad that will stay clear of relegation. I don't expect we will be seeing any talk of a take over at Birmingham City at least until this season is over. The talk of one has already cost them one manager and it could very well soon start costing them players, something they cannot afford to lose.

I doubt the English media reads this. However in the odd event that they do, I have one simple request. WILL YOU FOR THE LOVE OF GOD QUIT ALL THIS FABIO CAPELLO TALK. Just reading the media from over in the United Kingdom, the impression I get is that they did not want Capello as manager nor do they want to give him any chance of succeeding. It also seems like everyone writing a column right now also has the same tactical astuteness that has seen Capello win trophies wherever he's gone. The only column I'm going to poke a little fun at is the one where Emily Dugan questions Capello's ability to learn English in one month. I actually have to agree with her. I don't know how many people can truly learn a second language in one month's time. However if you Capello, the one thing you need to realize is if you can learn English, you'll more than likely be one step ahead of most English players. The reason you were brought in is because of your footballing mind. Look I know he is going to need to learn some English, however for Capello to make a statement saying he will learn in one month's time is simply put absurd.

It's Dream Team over at Manchester United. The only thing that Dream Team hasn't done though is a rape on their airways during a Christmas Party. Manchester United, the club shamed for having an escort sell her story to the Sun about an evening of pleasure at Cristiano Ronaldo's mansion, now has another item to be shamed about off the pitch. Jonny Evans, aged 19, was arrested and bailed in the investigation of this rape allegation. Now I do not want to comment too much until I know all the facts. However I will state my case like this. If it is indeed true that it was Evans that raped this woman (and I say this about any man who rapes a lady), they don't deserve to live and I hope he gets everything coming to him in prison. If this woman is fabricating in the manner that happened in the United States regarding the Duke Lacrosse team (use google if you haven't heard about it), then this woman needs to be jailed for filing a false police report.
Tony Cascarino in the Times makes a great point in his column that's it is time for clubs to get rid of these parties altogether, at least under the club's official banner. There are many reasons for this to happen. One being that more often than not these parties end up with some disaster happening. Disasters like a rape allegation hanging over their head is something that clubs simply cannot have. Hell if this woman wanted to sue Manchester United, she would have one hell of a case and would walk out with one giant lump sum of money. Look I'm not saying that the players shouldn't do something to take their mind off the fact they have four games in such a short amount of time, all I'm saying is the club cannot have sponsor it or have anything to do with it.

Quick Rants:
Am I the only one who finds it odd that Butters (that's Mark Clattenburg for those who are seeing that reference on CSRN for the first time) wants a holiday break during the middle of the season? Hey Clatters, if you can't take the pressure of being a referee, find another profession...if your qualified to even flip my Big Mac and Fries with a Diet Coke.
And speaking of odd statements, so William Gallas says he will stay on the wagon until Arsenal wins the league? So you are not going to drink anything if Arsenal doesn't win this season?
That's just what Chelsea need, Roman sponsoring another spending spree. I wonder if Rafa is giving Abramovich a call going 'please oh please let me borrow some money'. Who has wasted more money, Rafa or Chelsea under Roman (it maybe closer than you think).
Memo to Clive Clark...just retire. Your health is more important than your ability to play football ever again.

Until I write again, may the debate begin! You can comment on this article here.

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Rantlines: All Capello All The Time

14 December 2007

This is a special rantline devoted to the soon to be named England Manager.

I have to admit from a personal standpoint I pay lip service to the England National Team. I also say the same about Australia. I will always support the US National Team first because...well what can be said about being an American. I am American and I care about the National Team to the country I am a citizen of. The main reason I like to follow England and Australia is because (and I know this is going to sound corny) they are English speaking countries so it's easier for me to read stories on them. I will always support the US Team first and foremost, any other national team will always get second billing to me.

With that out of the way, this Capello signing has become a big deal.
The ball really started on this move Monday night in the UK after Jose Mourinho said no to the job. As I said this morning, and has been talked about elsewhere, it was the right thing for Jose to do. He can choose whatever big job in the world he wants right now, and to be honest if Jose is patient and really wants to manage internationally, he will probably have a chance to do so once Portugal are eliminated from Euro 2008. By the time it is all said and done, managing Portugal despite having Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal will probably end up being a major overhaul as well. The players in the National Team set up there are older and they will need someone that can work around Ronaldo's strengths.

The cries of Capello not being English have already come out and they are not being kind at all. The League Managers' Association are crying foul about going foreign in the appointment of the England Manager. Steve Coppell of all people are leading the cries of Premier League managers about Capello becoming manager, a quote from Tony Adams states "I would have preferred an English manager. There are lots of them out there; Harry [Redknapp], Terry [Venables], Glen [Hoddle], Sam Allardyce and Steve Coppell." To English managers crying about this I say this, if you didn't say no from the start, or were fighting to get your side into the top four in the Premier League table, you may have gotten a better chance. Hell Harry Redknapp had a chance at the job, but ended up being questioned by police on bungs ending his hopes. The crying may have brought the best out of Robert Philip who has it spot on in saying that English managers are just simply out of favor in the rest of the world.
Other Managers across the world are giving Capello a resounding endorsement in taking the job. Claudio Ranieri feels he will end up becoming the most popular Italian in England, removing him from that perch. Even Marcello Lippi, the man who has led Italy to World Cup glory, had admitted that Capello was the better of the two men. While Ruud Gullit is more cautious about the appointment, he realizes the man is a winner. In a more wacky endorsement, the former England Manager Sven Goran Eriksson thinks it's a good signing. And in something that could only be in the Sun, the paper went to one of Fabio's many homes in Milan to wish him all the best in the job, to which Fabio responded “Thank you for your message of support.”
Players use to the coddling they received under Sven or McClaren will definitely be in for a culture shock once Capello begins his job. Theo Walcott got baited by the Sun, and ended up taking the bait about wanting an English boss. I think Theo realizes that it maybe just a little longer before he gets a recall to the side. While it surely nothing but fighting talk from the Times, they feel that David Beckham will still be in the fray for recalls to the national team. I think the most honest way to say things are if you do the business, you will stay in the team. If your form drops even slightly, expect to sit a while. As for this whole Beckham mess, if I were England, I would schedule a friendly with the United States sometime before qualifiers get into full swing next year and give him a token one-hundredth cap. That way he gets what he wants and you can market the game to the hilt as a one off that will never happen again.
It's pretty clear that Capello wants this job. While the FA may still need to work out some of the finer points, it's clear that by the Premier League kicks off on Saturday, Capello will be manager.

So now that you've seen all those stories, what do I think of this appointment. Well let's be brunt about it. England needs someone who is going to come in and point blank tell these players that they simply aren't good enough right now. They need someone who is going to be tough on the keepers and shore up the back. England needs someone who is going to devote his time to finding eleven players that will work as a team and mold them into a team. We don't need to go Capello's fine record as a club manager because it's second to none. The biggest questions that will surround him are simple enough. One being can he replicate his club form nationally and can he become the first manager to be a foreign manager to win a World Cup? While I question the ability of the players, Capello maybe the best person to realistically give them a fighting chance, only time will tell that tale.

Before I go I would like to give a quick update on my dad. He was admitted to the hospital this afternoon with an infection in one of his incision sites from surgery a month ago. They are currently fighting the infection with IV antibiotics and it looks like he will be in the hospital at least until Monday. I would like to thank those who have kept him in their thoughts and I thank everyone for being understanding about the off-on blogging schedule I've been keeping. I hope tomorrow night to be able to do another set of rantlines, but I will apologize in advance if I am unable to do so.

Until I write again, may the debate begin!

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The Weekend in Review: Aston Villa v Portsmouth, Manchester United v Derby County, Chelsea v Sunderland

10 December 2007

Well I am back for the first of two rounds of match reviews. What I am unable to get to tomorrow night will still get a write up. I hope you enjoy and remember all feedback is welcomed and encouraged.

Aston Villa v Portsmouth
: Sulley Muntari's double proved too much for Aston Villa to handle as despite constant pressure throughout, Portsmouth show why they are the top goal scorers away from home as they leave Villa Park with a decisive 3-1 victory.
Aston Villa bit themselves in the backside with some horrific marking and overall bad defending on the day. They gave Portsmouth way too much space coming on the defensive and the center backs simply forgot what was to tightly mark. Going forward they did create a few decent opportunities, but were simply lacking a vital final touch. Once 3-0 down, their decision to throw conventional tactics out the window should have cost them more.
Portsmouth on the day really had one major flaw and that being the quality of their first touches and passes. They defended rather well considering the threat they were under and David James made a string of very fine saves. They could have done a little bit better job marking. However on a day when their opponents are trying too hard, you can get away with minor things. Another thing you can take out of this performance, should he stay consistent, is the fact Sulley Muntari is starting to look like another dangerous threat from the midfield. This will give Utaka more freedom to do what he does best on the wing and should give Benjani more touches forward. One thing you would have to also show some concern about is the fact that despite four chances to counter late, they didn't score on any of them. Those chances should have been taken as great in game training but instead looked something you would do on a training ground.
Defining Moments
Minute 4: Yellow Card John Carew. Sol Campbell out muscles Carew to the ball and in retaliation bends the ankle back on a late rash challenge. Stupid booking to get early on as it would have just been better off to tick it off as a lesson learned.
Minute 9: GOAL PORTSMOUTH, OWN GOAL CRAIG GARDNER. Off a corner, the ball is played to Noe Pamarot. The shot from Pamarot ends up off the foot of Bouma and as Benjani goes to play the ball, Gardner's attempted clearance ends up in at the far post. Everything up to playing the ball to Pamarot was perfect, after his shot it was all luck. Sometimes it's just better to be lucky than nothing at all. Aston Villa 0 Portsmouth 1.
Minute 18: Off an Aston Villa corner, Martin Laursen loses his marker Sol Campbell, but had too much time to think about his header and didn't put much pace on it going far post. David James did try to make the save more dramatic than truly was. You have to wonder if Gardner overcompensated for the weather conditions.
Minute 20: See Minute 18, instead substitute free kick for corner kick, and Gardner was totally unmarked. Of the two chances from Gardner, that one should have been the equalizing goal, no excuses.
Minute 26: David James more lucky than skillful to deny Gabriel Agbonlahor from scoring at the near post. The angle on the Agbonlahor's shot wasn't the best in the world, however Sol Campbell's deflection was what forced James into action. In the end, the fact James kept his foot grounded on the near post was what prevented that from going in.
Minute 40: GOAL PORTSMOUTH, GOAL SULLEY MUNTARI. Simply pathetic marking for Aston Villa. Muntari takes the pass from Johnson on the wing and with two touches gets Martin Laursen to ground. Nigel Rio-Coker was next closest and he doesn't bother trying to get to the ball. Muntari simply sets and fires from 25 and scores going to the upper ninety far post. Simply perfection from Muntari, dreadful from Villa despite taking the game to Portsmouth most of the first half. Aston Villa 0 Portsmouth 2.
Minute 43: Yellow Card Papa Bouba Diop. The camera doesn't really show what he did.
Minute 45+1: Gabriel Agbonlahor forces David James into a point blank save. Agbonlahor beats Sylvain Distin and on the volley blasts right at James who had just barely enough time to react and parry out for a corner.
Minute 55: Niko Kranjcar gets past Olof Mellberg and has a shot that looks to be going in at the far post, but the ball hooks past the near post. Those are the efforts Kranjcar are the most dangerous in and he showed it there.
Minute 61: GOAL PORTSMOUTH, GOAL SULLEY MUNTARI. This all starts from a poor Scott Carson punt. Muntari dispossesses Nigel Rio-Coker in the midfield, takes three touches while nutmegging Zat Knight. Muntari simply sets and blasts the ball in at the far post. That has to go down as one of the top goals we'll see this season. Scott Carson has to be put to blame for this goal as had he gotten a better ball forward, we're not debating this one. Aston Villa 0 Portsmouth 3.
Minute 67: Yellow Cards Glen Johnson and Patrik Berger. Glen Johnson and Patrik Berger share some words and a shove after Berger comes in late and is fouled. The referee has no choice but to give a yellow to both.
Minute 71: PENALTY TO ASTON VILLA, GOAL ASTON VILLA, GOAL GARETH BARRY. Sylvain Distin is beaten by Ashley Young and clips him as he gets by. No play on the ball and only got the leg from behind. Obvious penalty. Gareth Barry goes to his upper right and scores while James goes to Barry's left. Stupid mistake from Barry as with the way Aston Villa had been performing on the afternoon would have probably bottled the cross. Aston Villa 1 Portsmouth 3.
Minute 74: Yellow Card David James. Time wasting before taking the free kick. Almost comical in the way James thought it shouldn't have been a booking.
Minute 76: Yellow Card Noe Pamarot. Takes out Gabriel Agbonlahor from behind. Considering the space Agbonlahor had, it probably was the wisest thing Pamarot could do.
Minute 80: Yellow Card Niko Kranjcar. Fouls Berger from behind before he could play the ball in on the wing. Portsmouth are defending like they're the side two goals.
Minute 84: I think we have the miss of the season here. Mendes finds Diop wide open at the far post with Carson rooted to the near, but Diop gets too fancy with the finish and the ball ends up in the side netting. Diop had everything working for him...but the finish.
Minute 88: Patrik Berger nearly makes things interesting late with an open shot from 20 yards, but goes just high of the crossbar. Got too much of the ball and had just a little too much power.
Minute 90: Gabriel Agbonlahor from close range off the woodwork. Harewood does exceptionally well to get the cross in and had the ball been about six inches lower, Villa pull a second back.

Manchester United v Derby County: Derby County defended well...for the first thirty-nine minutes of the game. After that, questionable marking give Manchester United two quick goals to end the first half. After that, the Red Devils coasted through the second half, and though extremely questionable at the end, Cristiano Ronaldo's goal from the spot gave Manchester United a comfortable 4-1 victory.
Manchester United looked in the first thirty-five minutes to play simply in first gear, however once they upped their tempo, they put the game out of reach. Granted they didn't have to do much work breaking though a back line that leaks goals, but to still get multiple chances the way they did is to be admired. Carlos Tevez showed again how he can punish you should you give him the proper space. Congrats to Ryan Giggs for his one-hundredth Premier League goal, but Cristiano Ronaldo is again a major bone of contention with me. Twice he should have been booked for diving and the fact he wasn't is disgraceful. I guess the Stretford End is that intimidating.
Derby County despite putting everyone behind the ball looked extremely lost defending. They looked caught in two train of thoughts, the old style man marking of the new zonal marking that Paul Jewell is trying to establish. Claude Davis and Darren Moore look like they should be languishing in the lower leagues instead of embarrassing the Rams in the Premier League, and I for the life of me cannot explain what Dean Leacock was thinking giving Tevez space inside the penalty area. I have to credit the midfield and forwards at they at least tried to get forward and create chances, and congrats to Steve Howard for getting his first Premier League goal. Honestly why Howard and Miller isn't the partnership up front is beyond me. The sadder thing is had the pitch been pristine and it been a sunny day in Manchester, instead of the muck and mire of a torrential downpour, Manchester United would have put more than six past them, and that is unacceptable.
Defining Moments
Minute 15: Claude Davis very lucky to not see a yellow card for his clumsy tackle of Ryan Giggs that conceded a free kick 22 from goal. They are also very lucky that the free kick from Ryan Giggs didn't bend but straightened out as it reached it's peak.
Minute 24: What a challenge from McEveley. The pass from Ronaldo to Giggs is centered to Tevez. However from two yards out that should have been 1-0. However James McEveley gets the faintest of deflections that causes the ball to deflect off of the foot of Stephen Bywater. There is no excuse why Carlos Tevez did not bury that ball and cause the back of the net to burst.
Minute 32: Yellow Card Claude Davis. The second ridiculous challenge from Davis, this time in the midfield giving a hip check to Wayne Rooney. Perfectly fine for a hockey rink, will eight times out of ten be a yellow card on a football pitch.
Minute 40: GOAL MANCHESTER UNITED, GOAL RYAN GIGGS. The worst defending you can imagine. The ball to Evra is deflected to Ronaldo. Ronaldo's shot is saved well by Bywater, but no on clears and Ryan Giggs beats James McEveley to the ball and scores from five yards out. Derby County may have had everyone behind the ball, but their reaction to Ronaldo shooting inside the box was woeful, the fact no one tracked back to attempt to clear even worse. Derby cannot give Manchester United second chances. Manchester United 1 Derby County 0.
Minute 43: Claude Davis is a beaten man again he goes after the pass from Rooney instead of playing the man. Rooney gets in all alone with Bywater, and his chip ends up off the far post. Rooney has to capitalize on that mistake.
Minute 45: GOAL MANCHESTER UNITED, GOAL CARLOS TEVEZ. Off a Manchester United free kick, Ronaldo's pass into the penalty area ends up at the feet of Carlos Tevez. Tevez whiffs on his first attempt on goal, which may have been to his benefits as it causes Andy Griffin to dive over the ball. Tevez takes, and scores past a flat footed Bywater. James McEveley was the man who should have marked Tevez better. Either way, good job by Ronaldo to get that ball where chaos would ensue. Manchester United 2 Derby County 0.
Minute 52: Yellow Card Andy Griffin. Challenged Ronaldo and ends up giving up a free kick that should have never been given. Griffin rightfully so is upset and says the wrong words to the official, and sees a yellow for dissent.
Minute 58: Ryan Giggs goes in off the post after Tyrone Mears gifts him all the space he needed near the six yard box. Again Derby County seem caught between two trains of thought at the back.
Minute 60: GOAL MANCHESTER UNITED, GOAL CARLOS TEVEZ. Off a spell of controlled Manchester United possession, Wes Brown gets a perfect pass to Tevez. Tevez uses the first touch to freeze Dean Leacock, uses the second touch to set, and uses the final touch to go in at the far post. What in the world was Dean Leacock thinking not bothering to get up on Tevez before he gets the ball? It surely was mind blowing stuff. Manchester United 3 Derby County 0.
Minute 71: Can anyone explain to me what Gary Teale was doing? Why was he passing the ball back to Bywater when that should have just been launched forward? Stupid mistake.
Minute 76: GOAL DERBY COUNTY, GOAL STEVE HOWARD. Complete shock from Derby County. The ball play from the midfield to Tyrone Mears. Mears then gets by Van Der Sar and centers to Howard. Howard was able to fight off Patrice Evra to get just enough on the ball to carry it over the line. That attack completely threw Manchester United off guard as it was truly route one in every sense of the word. I don't think Steve Howard will mind that to get his first Premier League goal. Manchester United 3 Derby County 1.
Minute 90+1: PENALTY TO MANCHESTER UNITED, GOAL MANCHESTER UNITED, GOAL CRISTIANO RONALDO. For starters that is a yellow card for diving, but from the angle the man in the middle saw it from, Mears stuck his leg out. That's all Ronaldo needed to fall to ground. Ronaldo takes it instead of Tevez which is the next disgrace, and scores going lower left. Bywater went to Ronaldo's right. It should have never been a penalty and the fact Ronaldo took the kick is a slap in the face to Derby County. Manchester United 4 Derby County 1.

Chelsea v Sunderland: An Andriy Shevchenko strike along with a very questionable penalty decision was enough for Chelsea to squeak by Sunderland 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
So much for more expansive football from Chelsea. They had a very difficult time breaking down Sunderland and that was despite them being dared to attack. They failed to really create decent scoring chances. Chelsea were also very lucky to earn the penalty to make the scoreline more deceptive than they play dictated. The back line were about the only positive on the day.
Sunderland played their game plan to perfection save one moment mid way through the first half. Roy Keane picked the right moment to up their tempo and make Chelsea sweat, however they simply didn't get the ball to Kenwyne Jones enough to make a difference. They just seemed one pass too late which didn't help matters either.
Defining Moments
Minute 10: Dean Whitehead gets away with an obvious shove on Shawn Wright-Phillips. The only one it wasn't obvious to was Peter Walton. That should have been a penalty as Whitehead was only concerned with the player, not playing the ball.
Minute 23: GOAL CHELSEA, GOAL ANDRIY SHEVCHENKO. The ball played into Kalou down the left wing beats Greg Halford. Kalou then crosses into Shevchenko who had beaten Danny Higginbotham and scores with the head at the far post. Poor defending after a promising start from Sunderland. Kalou beat Halford way too easily and then Higginbotham assumed where the ball was going, he assumed wrong. Chelsea 1 Sunderland 0.
Minute 33: Kenwyne Jones despite the ball being on his weaker foot, turns John Terry. However his shot wasn't the strongest and Cudicini was there to collect. He probably would have been wiser to try and turn Alex while getting the ball on his stronger foot.
Minute 40: Yellow Card Ross Wallace. Misses the fifty-fifty ball against Belletti and then runs right through him. Petty booking really.
Minute 74: PENALTY TO CHELSEA, GOAL CHELSEA, GOAL FRANK LAMPARD. Off a Lampard free kick, Alex gets in behind Higginbotham. There was next to no contact there and Peter Walton gives the spot kick. Stupid decision to me as it was going on all around in the box. Lampard steps up and scores lower right, Darren Ward going to Lampard's left. Stupid penalty decision. Chelsea 2 Sunderland 0.
Minute 88: RED CARD LIAM MILLER. Talk about losing your temper. Claudio Pizarro ups the knee to Miller's groin but stops before doing so. Miller gives Pizarro a prompt shove and right in front of Peter Walton. That's always going to be a red card. Pizarro should have seen an early shower as well and hopefully since nothing was done, the FA will do something retroactively.
Minute 90+2: Frank Lampard off a deflection out of the penalty area nearly makes it three with a bouncing shot that goes off the far post. That would have simply been extremely harsh on Sunderland.

Until I write again, may the debate begin. Comment here.

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A weeks worth of Rantlines: Malouda fights nutrition, Champions League Reforms, Everton's Proposed Move, and Other Quick Rants.

06 December 2007

Well it's been a week since I've done one of these, so the best way to say it there is plenty that has gotten under my skin that I feel you will enjoy hearing about. Again, all comments are welcomed and greatly encouraged. If I don't hear back from you, I assume you just agree with everything I've written...something I know simply isn't possible.

I want to start with Chelsea's Florent Malouda. All I know to say is in the span of twenty-four hours, he pulled a Petr Cech and Didier Drogba without the threat of wanting to leave the club. Actually the more I think about it, the more I think what he said was actually worse than what those two did. As I'm sure you have already heard about, Malouda decided to simply rip into Chelsea and the English game regarding food, training, and schedule. Well Malouda let me open up on you by saying this, did you do any (and I stress the word any to the utmost) research before coming to Chelsea? You mean to tell you couldn't give a ring to the many French players playing in the Barclay's Premier League to see what they had to say about training and how to properly deal with the schedule? You mean to tell me that it's wrong to actually do a little bit of work in training to keep your skills fresh? You mean to tell me that you never took your time while you were playing in France to see the some Premier League action over the busy season to see how demanding it could be? Or did the money signs in your eyes make you forget...until you realized you were fixing to be a part of it.
Now notice I haven't even hit the nutrition portion of what he said because that hit the biggest nerve with me. Now I am sure that these clubs all have nutritionists on staff that carefully craft their diets while they are on club grounds. However to say that Chelsea football club doesn't is simply put an insult. Florent you are a grown adult, to tell me you cannot control your own urges is simply astounding. While we're at it, with the salary your getting paid weekly, if your not happy with how Chelsea is dealing with your nutrition, wouldn't you be able to afford a nutritionist of your own? The fact you have backtracked, and now saying you're happy at the club is simply a slap in the face to anyone who has a brain, as well as to those you currently play aside. Just hope that one of them doesn't get the itch to make life a little more physical on you during training.

Taking a look at the Champions League reforms, I honestly can say I am not happy with how they have turned out at all. Yes I can see where Michel Platini is wanting to go with the competition in trying to get more of the under dog clubs into the competition, but the reality to me is he's only made the competition only more top heavy. That is simply never good for the game. How on earth can Platini justify the fact that the top three in England now get in? Over the past three seasons, the point difference from first to third has been eighteen, nine and a whopping twenty one points. I know we'll never see it back to the way it was and it truly be a 'Champions' League, but anyone finishing no lower than second should not be guaranteed a spot in the competition. I do like the fact that five teams from the lower UEFA top divisions will get into the competition, but that number still has room for improvement. If it were up to me, only first and second from the top eight leagues in Europe would get automatic qualification. Of the other sixteen spots available, I would put all the clubs that didn't win the league into one pool for eight spots and then the champions of the other UEFA leagues into another pool for another eight spots. Granted yes this would take the luster off seeing all of the big clubs, but to me in this day in age would be the closest thing to a true champions league.

You almost have to feel for Bill Kenwright. He really is stuck in a danged if you do, danged if you don't situation. You can either go with the vote and negotiate with Tesco regarding a new stadium, or you redevelop the ground your in now. Part of me (a huge part of me) doesn't believe the 150 million that is being floated out there to build a new 50,000 seat stadium and that it will be higher, but a part of me doesn't believe the 250 million that is being floated to remodel Goodison Park. I'm sure it's been done sooner than this example, but if I am not mistaken, Chelsea remodeled Stamford Bridge and continued playing there. Coming closer to home, I know Oklahoma State is adding onto it's college football stadium and they are still playing there. What gets me is why can't there be a middle ground here. Make Tesco the sponsor on your shirt, and have them help you rebuild Goodison Park section by section. Keep your history where you've played most of your football, and keep the club in Liverpool proper. It would be a shame if they moved outside of the city limits, and in essence kill the Everton/Liverpool derby.

The long England Cricket Tail of quick rants.
I don't blame Ronaldinho for wanting to know if he'll be staying at Barcelona or moving on. However I would tell your brother to shut up about using vague rules to get you out of the club, even if he is your agent. Honestly if I'm Chelsea, why have yet another attacking midfielder. Don't you have enough worries with Lampard and Ballack possibly coming back into the same starting eleven?
I saw this on a couple of forums and upon looking a little closer for stories, this is frightening. Coventry City have already filed Pre-Administration paper work and Cardiff City may as well be in Administration. With Coventry City, I wonder if many of their money problems is the fact they built Ricoh Arena and haven't seen the cash flow they expected. Don't you realize you spend what you can, not what projected numbers will be. Haven't you learned anything from the Leeds United tale? Speaking of Leeds United, why on earth did Cardiff City let Peter Risdale anywhere near their club. And they have the money to build a new stadium? Oh wait that's right they had to make a deal with a Rugby Union club to secure building the stadium.
So Interpol has given UEFA matches they have investigated to be fixed. Instead of coming out and saying that Liverpool's 8-0 was rigged, why not just spare us all and tell us which matches are. Because that makes too much sense that will never happen.
If you have three other officials, should you as a referee be able to consult with them before making a decision? I've noticed this when I watch Rugby where officials will actually stop the match to go consult with a linesman when a key decision needs to be made. FIFA simply make the rule clear. State unequivocally in the rule book that the referee can consult at anytime he wants with his assistants. Maybe, just maybe, Robbie Keane wouldn't have seen a red card. Now that is of course if you believe the Professional Match Game Officials spokesman, which I do not.
If your a player who just signed a new contract, and then have the miss of the decade, why would you say you should be playing for a great club? Memo to Nicolas Anelka, be thankful Bolton has given you a good contract and that your manager didn't slag you to end all be all after that miss of misses against Liverpool.
An interesting column from Jim White about how under fire gaffers love to see the BSkyB cameras show up. Yes granted Rafa Benetiz gets a key win against Porto and then Sam Allardyce sees Newcastle play better than they have in a long time. However if they screened Middlesbrough, it may be to Southgate's sacking.
So Rafa Benetiz is telling his players to worry about rest instead of watching Ricky Hatton's prize title fight with Floyd Meyweather. Hey players if your so intent on watching the match, you don't read the papers, you order the PPV and then set up a DVR to record it. It's not that difficult. Or better yet Rafa, set up a private screening for the players before training. If your wondering what I think the result of the fight will be...look for a bonus preview in my weekend in preview column to come up tonight.
Am I the only one who feels that this sudden revelation that Didier Drogba had a knee scan and shows he needs surgery just a massive ploy to keep him from joining up with the Ivory Coast for the African Cup of Nations? Yes it is entirely possible he may need to clean up some damage in his knees, but I would almost be willing to make a small wager to the charity of your choice that Drogba would be back on the team sheet the first game after the Ivory Coast play their first game.
I give the Premier League all the credit in the world for giving permission so Manchester United can wear a special one off kit to remember those who perished fifty years ago in the tragic Munich disaster. I also have to give Manchester United credit for saying they will not sell the kit they will be using.
Tim Howard is half right when he says Everton relies on Tim Cahill too much for crucial goals, but wouldn't you also have to say that you rely too much on Mikel Arteta to work the ball from the midfield down the wing? Watching Everton this season the plan is just so simple to nullify them, shut down Mikel Arteta because no one else seems to be able to get service to the forwards.
At least UEFA is willing to keep an open mind about safe standing sections that are all the rage in Germany. Let's hope they do give the green light for them. Anything to bring a little more atmosphere back into the ground is only a plus.
And finally, it must be nice for Avram Grant to have the teacher come to him instead of having to fly to Israel to go through school to get his badges. It's amazing what having lots of dosh around will do.

I will be back tonight with a look at the weekend's fixtures. Until then, may the debate begin!

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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