Monday, October 31, 2011

Terry's Chocolate Ordeal

John Terry's career has in general been an excellent one captaining Chelsea through the most successful period in the their history as well as leading his country. He does however have a highly effective self destruct button which he is prone to pushing on occasion. This week has been a prime example.

Whether the truth about what was or wasn't said at Loftus Road will ever come out and whether the FA has the nerve to go after the England captain in a situation that is both a social and moral hand grenade remains to be seen. What we do know however is that Terry ultimately ended up on his backside on Saturday and in doing so condemned all his teammates to the same fate.

For Chelsea it was another dreadful capitulation as AVB attempts to instill a vastly different philosophy to the more pragmatic coaches that have gone before him. They are clearly a team in transition with an old guard slowly being eased out and new players that do not yet have the required level of consistency.

Ferguson has been the master of managing these transitions but the same cannot be expected at the Bridge as the revolving door policy on managers has rendered any kind of continuity impossible. Chelsea are not going to win anything this year and one must hope that in bringing in such a young manager they fully intend to give him the time that is required.

In order to combat what is going to come in particular from Manchester City in the coming years, substantial funds will also be required as Chelsea's squad no longer compares to the very best.

With regard to their vanquishers, no one should be fooled that Arsenal are better placed than earlier this season. They are horrendously open and short of quality at the back and they cannot expect to regularly concede three goals against the top sides and still win. They are overly (Robin) reliant on Van Persie also who is in the form of his life but remains highly injury prone.

The league is as most have already suggested going to be a straight fight between the Manchester clubs. ManYoo have found Goodison an awkward venue in the past but a solid win was exactly what they required. City continue their steamroller and have only dropped two points all season, impressive stuff.

Whilst Arsenal have re-ignited their quest for fourth place, Spurs again picked up three points and appear to have some good momentum as well as potent attacking verve. Liverpool also won much to the chagrin of Roy Hodgson no doubt.

At the bottom, it appears there is truth to the phrase that 'it is grim up North' as three Lancashire clubs occupy the bottom three places. Wigan and Bolton it must be said look doomed and the only thing any of those three can look pleased about is that Wolves appear to be equally as bad - No Nonsense.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Secret Truth at Stamford Bridge

Andre Villas Boas' arrival at Chelsea was much heralded as a coup and certainly in terms of Chelsea's recent hiring and firing patterns, a very forward thinking appointment. It was possibly a little bit risky but a bold statement of intent for long term planning rather than the anticipated hiring of Guus Hiddink who would have been the safe option.

AVB had it all seemingly, a short but fantastic CV, youthful zest and dashing good looks, where could it possibly go wrong? But then the rumours started and whilst no one was willing to utter that dreadful word (especially after nightfall), whispers were emerging that a (less than) dark secret was emerging.

As the beard has become fuller and the wave of blind optimism has passed, it has become very apparent that something was not as it should be. The late afternoon Winter sunshine in West London on Sunday confirmed what previously no one would dare mention, AVB is a ginger.

What this will mean for Chelsea and their young manager in the long run, no one can really tell but everyone at this blog wishes AVB nothing but the best in his personal battle against this terrible affliction - No Nonsense.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Madchester - Rave On

The late 80s saw Manchester synonymous with the rise of acid house that would lead to the wider rave and house music phenomenon that would so define British dance music for over a decade.

Yesterday, football fans over all the world must have wondered if someone had dropped an LSD tab in their beer yesterday when seeing the scoreline from Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams served up a very real nightmare for all the season ticket holders that had made the long journey North from Surrey.

Sir Alex Ferguson looked aghast in the post match interviews and his face would have surely been ashen were it not for all the vin rouge he has consumed throughout his long years. Indeed, he described it as the worst day in his entire football career. It had been a true horror show, they were beaten by only one goal less than they had beaten Arsenal at the same ground a few weeks ago.

That all being said, no one should be overly carried away or talking too much of power shifts, it is only three points after all - or is it? Ferguson has received hidings at several points in his career. There was a 4-0 hammering in the Nou Camp back in the early nineties that prompted him to change his approach to European football.

The writer of this blog was fortunate enough to witness Chelsea beat ManYoo 5-0 at Stamford Bridge over a decade ago which was simply a bad day at the office for his side. Most recently at Wembley, they were played off the park by Barcelona, again prompting Ferguson to make huge changes to his team.

None of these three examples however came at Old Trafford and none were against their noisy neighbours who have just turned the volume up by several decibels. What is important now is how both managers galvanise their teams and harness the result.

Ferguson remains the motivator supreme and he will surely be able to use this result - as bad as it is - to his advantage by being able to serve out one almighty kick up the backside. Hindsight is always 20:20 but a defeat to a good side was coming, so open has their play been.

Against Chelsea, ManYoo were 3-0 up at half time yet should have been pegged back to 3-2 in the second half with most pundits agreeing the scoreline could have been anything. Even Ferguson described it as like watching basketball. A mediocre Basle team managed to put three past them also in a game they were coasting in, the signals have been there.

There are huge questions about the United defence, Jonny Evans is receiving the cat calls today for his sending off and general level of mediocrity with Ferguson being chastised for not selecting Phil Jones. More interestingly is why the fit club captain, Nemanda Vidic was not even in the squad for such a huge game, he was available for selection.

There have been huge plaudits this season for the likes of Jones and Smalling but for all the cavalier swashbuckling runs, there needs to be solid defence. A wider problem for ManYoo is a central midfield that is simply not offering enough cover in front of the back four. David De Gea has made an extraordinary amount of saves statistically this season and there is a reason for that, the back four is simply too exposed.

Come the latter stages of the Champions League, the likes of Madrid and Barcelona will rip them apart unless someone is going to provide that cover. Turning Phil Jones into a true defensive midfielder may just be the answer.

For Mancini, he has the task of ensuring that the team grows in confidence from being five points ahead and having handed out a monumental hiding to their neighbours and biggest rivals but at the same time keeping their feat on the ground. He was keen to play down the significance after the final whistle other than in terms of the three points and that is as it should be.

Mancini tweaked his tactics yesterday with the selection of Milner ahead of Nasri. It proved to be an excellent choice as Milner played a good match and Silva looked to have more room without Nasri in proximity to him. Balotelli ahead of Dzeko was a bold selection, but again neither Italian disappointed yesterday with both sharing centre stage in one of the finest days of both their careers.

The other big winners yesterday should have been Chelsea but they imploded at Loftus Road losing 1-0 whilst going down to nine men in the first half.

AVB was scathing of the referee and whilst in some respects he was correct, in others he was entirely wrong. David Luiz is a rough diamond and needs to learn the art of defending. His barge for the penalty was a challenge that simply did not need to be made. Drogba's challenge was two footed and by the letter of the law you must go.

Bosingwa however was involved in a 50/50 situation that would have been given his way every alternate time. By sending off two players early in the match, the referee sets a tone that he must then continue with and Chelsea should unquestionably have had a penalty in the second half.

Whilst Chelsea's spirit must be commended in the second half, a lack of professionalism has cost them dearly yesterday. You cannot afford to slip up when your rivals are playing each other if you wish to win the league and again whilst it is only three points that were lost, it is a signal that this team isn't quite at the same level of the two clubs from Manchester this season - No Nonsense.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Mancunian Candidate

For the blue half of Manchester, this Saturday presents the ultimate opportunity to steal a march finally on their historically dominant neighbours, victory at Old Trafford would signal that the title challenge from City is very real.

Looking at the relative squads, there is little to choose in terms of size and quality with both boasting a huge amount of options, especially in attack. The conundrum for Mancini as ever in tough away games is how he sets his side up. It is interesting to note that City did not win away against any of the top seven last year, they were also well beaten recently in Munchen, it will be hard for the Italian to break free of his naturally defensive shackles given that record but to beat ManYoo, that is what he must do.

Although Chelsea were beaten at Old Trafford, they showed that ManYoo have a soft centre and as was widely reported, the scoreline could have been anything that day. Ferguson chose an odd and understrength team against Liverpool - possibly to let Dalglish and the rest of Anfield know that he doesn't particularly see them as a threat - but it is for sure that he sees City as real rivals for silverware this season.

For that reason we can expect the big guns from the red half of Manchester on show this weekend. City do not have the players defensively to sit back against that kind of onslaught and so they must attempt to have the bulk of the play and the possession.

Neither side looks particularly convincing defensively and both have fairly workmanlike central midfields, it is the potent attacking options of both sides that will decide the match.

Should Mancini go with what has been successful this season, it will be four from Nasri, Silva, Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko with Johnson only having an outside squeak of a start. Should only three of these start then we will know that Mancini has gone with a defensive mindset.

Ferguson's choices are less clear depending on which formation he goes with but in Young, Rooney, Nani, Hernandez and the seemingly ageless Giggs he has forward players of real flair whilst retaining the slightly more workmanlike options of Park and Valencia. It will be hard for Mancini to second guess what team and shape that Ferguson will go with.

For all City's Championship pretensions, Sunday represents the acid test and in truth it is hard to see them winning at Old Trafford. A draw would be an excellent result for them whilst for Ferguson, this is an opportunity to fire a well aimed broadside at the upstarts from Eastlands. We expect a fiery affair which should be edged (just) by the home team - No Nonsense.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wayne Rooney

This blog preaches 'no nonsense' so when there is nonsense afoot we have to react quickly to stop it.

Wayne Rooney yesterday received a three match ban for violent conduct/assaulting another player for his petulant and malicious kick at a Montenegrin player in England's final Euro qualifier. Members of the media and assorted ex England players have all cried 'foul' but not for the right reasons.

One ex ManYoo and England player tweeted that Rooney was being singled out for special treatment, that there was an anti England agenda from UEFA. This is hypocrisy and stupidity of the highest level.

The rules within football for violent conduct are a three match ban as a minimum plain and simple. Two weeks ago Fernando Torres received (quite rightly) a straight red and a three match ban for a horrible two footed lunge. Did any of these people cry out begging for clemency for Torres? Of course they didn't because he is not Wayne Rooney.

It is THEY who are calling for and trying to hand out special treatment for Rooney, not UEFA. Wayne Rooney has acted with a huge amount of abandon in both his personal and private lives. He has been indulged to a ridiculous degree by the fans, his football club and even his wife because he provides greatly for the most part for all of them.

The fans forgave him for his sending off in the World Cup in 2006 which effectively ended all English hopes. He has now jeopardised England's slim chances at Euro 2012 due to his childishness but it has been dressed up as the fault of UEFA.

For ManYoo, despite much brilliance for much of his career, he endured a torrid twelve months before and after the last World Cup which he rounded off by handing in a transfer request. His reward for this was a record breaking new contract and little of the media lambasting that Carlos Tevez received, cue Johnny Foreigner/Carlos Kickaball thank you Sir Alan Sugar.

On the home front whilst not wishing to sully his long suffering wife's name any further by dwelling on his misdemeanours, he has had paying episodes with Grandmothers and enjoyed himself to the fullest with other company whilst his wife was heavily pregnant. Not many men known to this blog would still be enjoying marital bliss after those escapades.

Wayne Rooney is a fabulous footballer, the best that England currently has but he and those around him need to learn quickly that he is subject to the same laws and censure that we all are. It is easy to refer to it as 'fire in the belly', 'artistic brilliance spilling over', insert your own euphemism in much the same way that players like Eric Cantona walked on the edge.

Rooney however is pushing the boundaries by having his behaviour impact a Nation's chances at not one but two major championships - and most players don't get many more bites at the cherry than that. Rooney will be twenty six in two weeks time and with the amount of first team and international experience that he has he should be unquestionably classed as one of the senior players. Only last week he was talking of becoming the ManYoo and England captain.

It is something that could and probably will happen given the track record of managers indulging him so blatantly. No one is suggesting that Rooney be dropped or sold but only that his behaviour be treated in the same manner that it would be for other mere mortals.

Missing the group stages next Summer should be punishment enough but the message will not be driven home if those around him convince him that it is an unjust sentence. It is however not in the least bit unjust or unfair. Rooney should merely ask any of his fellow professionals what sentences they received for violent conduct, three matches end of story - No Nonsense.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Back to Domestic Chores

This weekend sees the return of domestic football after the 'high drama and nail biting don't miss' last round of Euro qualifiers. Kicking off the Premiership is no less than Liverpool versus ManYoo.

For such an intense rivalry it's been an amazingly lopsided one over the past thirty or forty years. First came a period of Liverpool dominance with United left trailing far in their wake only for the converse to occur since the beginning of the nineties. Despite this mismatch the ferocity of the rivalry is as extreme as anywhere on the globe with the highest of stakes for both teams.

For Liverpool, a promising start has threatened to be derailed in recent weeks and a further home defeat would further widen the gap to those they wish to emulate above them. The return of captain and talisman Steven Gerrard will add further impetus to a team that will need little motivating.

Domestically, United have been irresistible sweeping all before them in true swashbuckling style. There is however a suspicion (amongst the press at least) that they are more open than last season and vulnerable defensively against quality teams. Certainly few have been able to test that theory out but had Torres been less wasteful (cows backsides and banjos spring to mind) then the result at Old Trafford could have been very different.

Dalglish has been attempting to make Liverpool much harder to beat and to a degree has achieved that aim. There is still however a quality gap to the likes of United and how they rise to the occasion may dictate whether they can achieve the victory that the Kop so craves.

Aston Villa's unbeaten start will be put hard to the test at Eastlands and QPR will be hoping to push relegation fears to one side by dispatching Steven Kean's Blackburn at home.

Fulham so impressive against the Rs last time out have a tough fixture at Stoke whilst Wigan versus Bolton will surely be attended by the grim reaper of relegation.

Chelsea will be hoping for a straightforward home win against an Everton side feeling so wronged by events in the Merseyside derby. Newly promoted Norwich and Swansea will play out what could be an entertaining fixture at Carrow Road.

West Brom and Wolves play out an interesting fixture on Sunday with the Baggies desperate to pick up some points. Early season mid table predictions have been confounded by an early run of tough fixtures and for Wolves, the optimism of the first few games has evaporated with a run of defeats that has left them bereft of confidence.

Arsenal badly need to get their season back on track with a home win against Sunderland who in turn have their manager Steve Bruce under huge pressure. A convincing home win would do much possibly to clarify matters for both managers.

The weekend's final fixture is definitely one of the most intriguing. Newcastle have had a sensational start to their season after much predictions (including here) of doom and gloom for their season ahead. After seven matches they occupy the lofty heights of fourth place, the exact position that Spurs so covet.

For both sides it is an opportunity to demonstrate that they are the real deal this season. Spurs have recovered since their absolute hiding from City at White Hart Lane and they must be seen as serious contenders for fourth place if they can win fixtures such as this - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Tartan Army will holiday elsewhere again next Summer

Supporting Scotland has always been a labour of love with a history of glorious failure. The difference in yesteryear however was that we at least got to go for the first two weeks of a tournament before being sent packing by the might of Costa Rica, Peru or Morocco.

This blog has already written about the failings of Scottish football both at international and at European club level and the shortcomings are well known. Scots will lament wistfully over successful qualifications in '74,'78, '82, 86, '90, '98 and many famous names such as Strachan, Jordan, Dalglish and Souness, players of genuine quality. Scotish football has fallen on hard times indeed.

What frustrates about this latest failure is that it could have potentially been avoided. Scotland are clearly no world beaters but this was a poor group in truth and the fact that no one was going to take points from Spain making it a straight shoot out for second place.

Craig Levein points to the penalty awarded to the Czechs at the end of the match at Hampden and whilst he is right to feel aggrieved it is not the cause for the failure to qualify. The real reasons lie at the start of the campaign where a poor 0-0 draw away to Lithuania was backed up by a loss in Prague where Scotland didn't even attempt to win the game with their now infamous 4-6-0 formation.

Now whilst there was probably no disgrace in losing in Prague on the face of it, the lack of ambition shown and the overdose of respect given to the Czechs belied Levein's inexperience at this level and the lack of faith in his squad - possibly due to a lack of familiarity - after the draw in Lithuania.

It's doubtful how much any new international manager would know about the Czechs but presumably someone over a certain age associates the team with the likes of Poborsky, Nedved, Berger, Koller and Smicer. This current team is not even close to their like and Levein made a crucial error in judgement by overestimating his opponents.

It is always could haves and should haves in these instances but as ever it is the fractions that make the difference. There is genuine cause for optimism with the current Scottish team with some real quality in midfield and the emerging talent of Barry Bannan (who could do without the Xavi and Iniesta comparisons it must be said).

Upfront at 24, Steven Fletcher could have an excellent International career ahead of him. Levein needs to do whatever is needed to bring him back to the fold as Scotland have lacked a good centre forward of International calibre for many years now. Scotland had the same situation with Duncan Ferguson and it is to the benefit of no one.

The qualifying group for the World Cup will be tough but it will always be so, especially as Scotland are so far down the seedings rankings, it is however a group where all the teams can take points of each other and a runners up spot is not out of the question which would at least secure a play off position.

There can be cause for genuine hope (rather than just the false variety) of emerging from this group as all the sides are beatable at Hampden, as opposed to when Scotland were placed in a group with Italy, France and Ukraine for the qualification stages for South Africa.

Much will depend on how much Levein has learned from his first campaign in charge and whether he can back up his soundbites with some real tactical victories against teams that whilst being better than Scotland, remain beatable, that is where the manager makes the difference and that will decide whether any flights to Rio are required - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Rugby World Cup starts in earnest.

Despite some nonsensical calls to make the tournament even longer, one of the reasons that the rugby version of the World Cup suffers from a lack of global interest (in exactly the same way that the cricket version does) is aside from the lack of depth of competition and meaningless games, it simply lasts for far too long. For that reason the harsh reality of the knockout phase that took place on the weekend provided welcome respite.

Saturday saw the Northern Hemisphere take centre stage with the battle of the two remaining Celtic nations first up. Wales produced a solid performance to beat a fine but ultimately underachieving 'golden generation' of Ireland players, some for whom it was their World Cup swansong. For Wales who were unlucky not to beat the Springboks in their opening match, the irony has been that failing to do so has opened up the draw fabulously for them and they will hold great hope of making it to the final for the first time in their history.

Standing in their way will be a schizophrenic France side who dispatched a wholly uninspiring England. No one knows which France will turn up this weekend but the reality is that even playing well, this is not a vintage French team and it should be an evenly matched contest against a Welsh side with their tails up.

It is hard (even for a Scot) to dislike Martin Johnson, he comes across as an extremely principled man who has always excelled in rugby and held himself with dignity. Something however is not working for him with the England team.

It may be his pragmatic common sense approach to management, allowing the players to have their boisterous nights out, assuming they will and trusting them to have the same level of professionalism that he did. It could be he suffers like football managers such as Graeme Souness, Glenn Hoddle and Roy Keane who seemingly cannot identify with players who cannot perform to the phenomenal levels that they did themselves.

Whatever the reasons are, England do not look to be progressing as they should under Johnson. That being said however, he is an in-experienced coach growing in the job and should be given time to work things out, it is after all four years until the next one.

Sunday saw the Southern Hemisphere showdown between the Springboks and an emerging Australia team. The Wallabies are certainly far from the best of their previous teams but they have in David Pocock a player to rival Richie McCaw and a solid goal kicker in the young James O'Connor.

For the reigning champions, it was a disappointing end to the tournament and it was a game that they will certainly feel they should have won, ultimately a very poor first half cost them the match much as it did England twenty fours earlier.

The Kiwis endured a nervy hour and the scoreline flattered them somewhat it must be said against the hard working Pumas. Of the four remaining sides, New Zealand are the best team and have the advantage of playing at home. What is not clear however is how much the burden of expectation is weighing them down as they laboured for much of Sunday's match and Australia now loom large.

For Australia, the sight of an All Black shirt in a World Cup Semi Final and on their own patch will provide all the motivation they require. It will however take an excellent performance from Australia to beat the Kiwis who will be favourites for the match. Much may depend on an improved performance from Quade Cooper who was out of sorts against South Africa. The New Zealand loose forwards will be unforgiving and another big performance from Pocock will be required to neutralise that and give his half backs the time and space to play.

On a wider note, the IRB has to wake up to the fact that the 'closed shop' of International rugby is counterproductive to the growing of the sport. Fixture congestion and the sheer number of them in the International calendar is clearly a huge issue. The reality is that the major associations simply wish to keep playing each other in tests to fill stadia to in turn fill the coffers. The sport would benefit far more in the long term - financially too - from doing everything it can to increase the depth of competitive nations.

The bringing of Argentina into an extended Tri Nations is a huge step forward as they currently play around a third of the number of tests that the other leading nations play. Argentina have become a true force in rugby and this increased international exposure will do much to help them further.

Italy whilst not pulling up any trees are competitive within the Six Nations and have been a welcome addition. Much has to be done to help the next level of countries such as Romania, Georgia, Tonga and most certainly Japan for whom the potential is in particular huge. Had it not been for cronyism and a carving up of future competitions, this World Cup would have been held in Japan opening up a vast new audience and with matches at a more suitable time for global viewing.

If rugby wishes to switch away from it's current round robin of half a dozen or so of real contenders then it must be prepared to do away with the narrow minded politics and open its' doors to the World - No Nonsense.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A North London Power Shift?

Arsene Wenger has achieved great things at Arsenal and for that reason alone it is far too soon to write an epitaph for he and his much maligned current team. Injuries to key players such as Jack Wilshire and Tomas Vermaelen have hindered them this season and Barcary Sagna was added to the injury list yesterday with a broken leg.Yesterday's game was however significant for several reasons.

Since George Graham arrived at Arsenal so many years ago, the Gooners have had the upper hand in North London with only brief and occasional respite for Spurs. It is symptomatic of how few games they have won during that period that that semi final of Gascgoine and Lineker is so oft remembered and replayed. Spurs may have won matches against Arsenal but no one at any point felt that they had the better team - until now.

During this period of Arsenal dominance, Spurs have been nothing more than an occasional 'cup team' with a smattering of truly quality players such as Klinsmann, Berbatov and Modric and it is a period that has seen them have their share of (brief) relegation scares.

The relative success of the last couple of seasons has been greeted with much glee at White Hart Lane yet the reality is they have only finished at best fourth and had (and have) no realistic chance of winning the league - and they still did not finish above Arsenal. The change in dynamic this season has come solely from Arsenal's fall from grace.

Having watched Arsenal against Liverpool, ManYoo and Spurs this season, the lack of quality in this current Arsenal team is incredible. Even in recent seasons in regular defeat against the likes of Chelsea, there was always ability throughout the team, it was just a question of character and balance.

Spurs yesterday fielded a team more akin to a side you would associate with Arsenal. Their midfield quartet of Bale, Modric, Parker and Van Der Vaart would compare with most in the world in terms of quality. With three very attack minded players however it also smacked of a midfield that Wenger would covet himself as it was so wholly unbalanced.

Had Spurs fielded that midfield and with two strikers as they did yesterday against Chelsea, City or ManYoo they would have been ripped apart. With Wenger's Arsenal there was always an assumption that they would have huge periods of possession, again that Spurs midfield would not be equipped to deal with that. It seems however that Redknapp looked at Arsenal's options yesterday and came to the basic conclusion that they could and would outplay Arsenal.

It would be folly to write Arsenal off completely but with the injury list that they have and with the brittleness of their defence, their ability to compete for fourth place this season must be hugely under question. Both Spurs and Liverpool will see this season as a golden opportunity to reclaim the hallowed ground that is Champions League participation.

Yesterday's match was significant, not because of the result but because of the manner of it. Spurs in the past have had to cope with the likes of Bergkamp, Henry, Vieira, Overmars et all. They had to field sides to frustrate, defend against and simply cope with the superior firepower of their neighbours. Yesterday they were able to name a side to simply outgun them and they achieved just that - No Nonsense.