Monday, 30 April 2012

Barcelona just could not pass

There was only one way to sum up Chelsea’s performance against Barcelona in the Camp Nou - World Class.

Petr Cech in goal.

World Class.

Ashley Cole at left back.

World Class.

Didier Drogba at left back.

World Class.

Ramires’ finish.

Frank’s pass.

Fernando’ goal.

All World Class.

An expression that is overused in the extreme when it comes to football expletives.

But not when used to describe this match.

It was quite simply the best night of football in many a year.

The first leg set it up perfectly.

Didier Drogba scoring the only goal of a game Barcelona dominated in possession.

But that was all Barcelona could manage - possession.

The goals that usually appear from this much time on the ball just never materialised.

Lionel Messi.

Xavi Hernández.

Andrés Iniesta.

The greatest attack in the world.

Able to unlock almost any defence in the world.

They have done so for 4 straight seasons now.

But then they hit Chelsea.

Only one team has come close to stopping Barcelona in this time - Inter Milan.

They went on to be crowned European Champions that season and indeed completed a treble.

That’s how good that team were.

Real Madrid have come up desperately short in that period against their main rivals - even under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.

Manchester United were the best team in Europe until Barcelona knocked them back into second and then created a considerable gap between them.

Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Arsenal couldn’t touch them.

Yet Chelsea did.

They not only defended superbly - they attacked superbly.

They didn’t get many chances over the two legs, but when they did - they took them.

World class passing and world class finishing from Frank, Ramires and Fernando were needed.

But Chelsea had that in them.

Barcelona did not.

When their chances came they found an imperious Petr in goal.

When he was beaten - they hit the woodwork.

Not bad luck.

Just bad finishing.

And good defending.

For even when Barcelona found space, it was closed down so quickly by the Chelsea defence that their usually composed finishes were rushed time and again.

It was incredible to watch.

It was heroic.

It was romantic.

It was one of the greatest feats of defending in a long time.

It is why I love football.

Why people love the underdog.

And why the underdog believes.

It was not lucky.

It was not anti football.

It was a team with limitations telling superior opponents that they shall not pass.

And as ironic as it is for a team who hold onto the ball better than any team in the world, they could not do just that.

Barcelona could not pass.

Even when Chelsea went down to 10 men.

Even when their second centre back went off injured.

Even when they conceeded a penalty from a dive.

Barcelona could not pass.

A team that had won 13 out of the previous 14 tournaments they had entered.

A team that was on course to become the first team to ever retain the Champions League.

This is how good a team FC Barcelona are.

World class.

They just weren’t as good as the Chelsea defence...

Monday, 23 April 2012

Who cares what Liverpool Supporters think

Liverpool 0 West Bromwich Albion 1.

Yet another defeat at Anfield for the mighty Liverpool.

They now sit in the Premier League in a group of teams separated by 3 points that include Norwich, Swansea and West Bromich Albion.

With only a couple of games left to go in the season, I see that as a disgrace for a club the size of Liverpool considering how much they have spent in the last year and a half.

However, I am not a Liverpool supporter.

I have enjoyed watching what I consider to have been great football under Rafa Benitez.

I have enjoyed watching the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher over the years and would hate to see them retire without winning the Premier League.

And I have enjoyed numerous epic European nights over the last decade.

But I am not a Liverpool supporter.

And I say supporter, as opposed to fan.

For it is they who support the club.

They who pay the entrance fee.

They who are the ones who experience the emotions of both the clubs successes - and failures.

Not me, nor other neutrals.

Who cares what they think about their club - It’s their club.

So as most Liverpool supporters have been staunch in the defence of Kenny Dalglish - most neutrals think it is blind nostalgia towards a hero of yesteryear who is so far out of the game he should not be allowed near a club the size of theirs.

Liverpool supporters believe that because Andy Carroll scored 2 important goals recently - he starting to prove his worth.

Most neutrals think Andy was a colossal waste of money and at €40m, consider him to be one of the greatest flops in the history of the Premier League.

Liverpool supporters believe Charlie Adam is an acceptable signing because he cost only €8m.

Most neutrals think he is nowhere near good enough to even grace the bench of a club that size.

Liverpool supporters believe Luis Suarez is in the World Class bracket.

Most neutrals look at the record of Luis this season - 8 goals in 28 games - and think why?

Van Persie has 27 in 35.

Rooney has 26 in 31.

Even Yakubu has twice as many as Luis and played a game less.

But again, us neutrals are not Liverpool supporters.

The way Kenny brought shame onto the club with his handling of the racism row was again something that we didn’t agree with.

We also didn’t like the handling of Roy Hodgson.

Sacked after only a few months, Roy now sits 1 point behind Liverpool despite not spending €130million.

Most neutrals laughed when Liverpool won the Carling Cup.

We think it’s a trophy that lost all its prestige when big teams, and Liverpool were one of them, started using the cup to blood youngsters and allow recently injured players get back to full fitness.

As Real Madrid defeated Barcelona on Saturday night to almost guarantee them La Liga - I couldn’t help but wonder what has happened in the 3 years since Liverpool destroyed Real Madrid 5-0.

I miss that team.

That for me, was where Liverpool belonged.

Not winning Carling Cups with Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing in their team.

Hammering the greatest club in Europe with World Class players like Torres, Gerard and Alonso.

But alas, as I said, I am not a Liverpool supporter.

It’s them and only them who can make their judgement on their club and where it should be.

If they support Kenny and Charlie, Andy and Luis, plus the Carling Cup and feel all that is good enough for their club - they will get what they deserve.

I just feel they should be aiming a little higher...

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Size Doesn't Matter on Big Decisions

Old Trafford.

Sunday afternoon.

14 minutes gone.

Wayne Rooney slips a little throughball for Ashley Young to run on to.

Big chance to score.

Big chance to put one hand firmly on the Premier League trophy.

Enter Shaun Derry.

The QPR defender inexplicably hauls down Ashley, giving away a clear penalty and earning a stone wall red card.

Usual complaints ensue from the offending players teammates but all falling on deaf ears.

However, as the match is being televised by hyper detailed coverage of Sky Sports, the viewer is about to be afforded the opportunity to review the situation from the best of 24 different angles.

Just as conclusive as Sky is at having an angle to find unequivocal proof, Ashley was a yard offside.

Another big decision.

Another big mistake.

Another example of the decision going in favour of the ‘big’ club when in opposition against the little one.

Only one day before had Branislav Ivanovic taken advantage of this ‘occurrence’ by slotting home for his big club from an offside position even more overt than that of Ashley’s.

Two weeks ago, Manchester United were 1-0 up against Fulham and with only seconds remaining, Michael Carrick upended Danny Murphy in the box.

Again, at first viewing it appeared Michael won the ball as it had clearly changed direction.

Thanks to Sky though, the viewer was able to see upon closer inspection that the referee had again made a mistake.

A goal for Fulham here and the title race might have swung in Manchester City’s favour.

But again, another big decision goes the way of a big club.

However, what most people seem to forget was that Patrice Evra had a clear penalty in the first half not given.

It wasn’t deemed as big a decision as Manchester United went on to win 1-0.

But it was a decision that went against them and it would have been a big one had Danny Murphy denied the leaders 2 points.

The 75,000 shouting at Michael Oliver couldn’t convince him to give Patrice a penalty.

Likewise, I don’t believe the 75,000 influenced the decision not to penalise Michael Carrick.

Instead I look to the attacking statistics in the game.

Manchester United had 60% possession with 21 attempts on goal compared to Fulham’s 7.

Against QPR they had 72% possession with 28 attempts compared to QPR’s 9.

The more possession a team has and the more chances they create on goal, the more likely they are going to give the referee a big decision to make.

It doesn’t matter what size the club is.

It matters how successful they are.

Because the more successful they are, the more time they spend around the oppositions box.

Liverpool are a perfect example.

One of the biggest clubs in the world yet right now they are going through an extremely poor patch.

Suddenly, all the big decisions seem to be going against them.

If the big clubs are getting all the big decisions then Liverpool Football Club must be the anomaly.

Focus on the referees failure to send Mario Balotelli off against Arsenal and the landscape changes further.

One big club got the decision in their favour that time and another one didn’t.

And as most of the decisions they have to make seem to be when the bigger clubs are attacking - they’ve created this stigma around the leagues best.

It’s not the big clubs that get all the big decisions in their favour - it’s the successful clubs.

The more times you ask the referee to make a decision about a penalty incident, the more times you’ll be awarded one.

It’s the law of averages.

Something all the successful clubs have in common.

None more so than the team at the top of the league...

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Less Fashionable Managers are Setting the Trend

When the manager of the year award gets handed out at close of play - Sir Alex Ferguson will be pretty close to top of mind again this season.

And deservedly so.

Should he take this team to their 20th league title, it would be enough to win him the MOTY award 9 times out of 10.

But while his usual competitors for the crown are nowhere to be seen, it’s the less fashionable names that will come closest to knocking him of his perch.

The Chelsea manager, the Arsenal manager and the Liverpool manager will be more focused on trying to keep their jobs than winning the manager award.

And while Manchester City’s manager would usually have a shout if he took his club to second place, he will now see that as a failure considering the amount he has invested in the squad.

Instead, this seasons contenders will come from managers punching above their weight.

They may not have come close to winning any trophies.

They certainly didn’t do well in Europe.

But they did all exceed expectations at theirs clubs this season.

Who would have thought Brendan Rodgers would be 3 points behind Liverpool after 31 games.

Same can be said of Paul Lambert and his Norwich side.

Both only promoted to the Premier League this season.

And should Blackburn survive then Steve Kean should get an honourable mention.

But for me the MOTY so far has to be Alan Pardew at Newcastle.

Many people scoffed at Alan’s appointment just over a year ago.

Especially considering Chris Hughton had been doing such a good job.

Alan had relative success at teams like West Ham United and Reading but never had he the chance to work at a club the size of Newcastle United.

The club was in a sordid mess since Mike Ashley had began his reign and the way he treated Chris only fuelled belief that things would continue in the same vein.

Alan comes in on a 5 and a half year contract as a show of stability from Mike and all most people could think was - that’s going to be a big payday when he gets fired.

Not only does Alan have to deal with the circus that surrounds Mike but over the coming months and subsequent summer he had to watch arguably the 4 best performers of last season leave the club.

Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique headed to Anfield.

Joey Barton left for Queens Park Rangers.

And club captain Kevin Nolan joined up with West Ham United.

Take the top 4 performers out of any side and they would struggle, let alone an average team like Newcastle were.

Alan had other ideas though.

He wanted to put his own stamp on the club.

The talent in the departing 4 was obvious.

But there was a question mark over the character of at least 3 of them.

Alan obviously felt the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and aimed to spend the transfer fees recouped on players he wanted at the club.

Demba Ba was picked up on a free transfer.

Demba has scored 16 goals in 26 games so far.

£9m was spent on Papiss Demba Cissé to partner him up front.

Papiss has scored 7 from 7 so far.

Add to this a central midfield partnership of Cheick Tioté with Yohan Cabaye and the team that Alan built was really starting to take shape.

So much so, that after 31 games, Alan finds himself level on points with Chelsea in 5th place.

Still in with a shout of a Champions League place.

And well clear of the chasing pack for European spots.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team only promoted to the Premier league last season.

Even more remarkable considering Mike Ashley is still in charge.

Alas, there is still a lot to play for this season.

And if Sir Alex does win the league title this season, it will be hard not to hand him the MOTY award.

But should Alan catch the 2 London clubs to secure Champions League football - the decision might not be so foregone...