Monday, December 12, 2011

Nouvea Riche on a Monday Night

After a relatively uneventful Premiership weekend, Sky in their infinite wisdom have chosen to move the biggest game of the round to Monday night.

One suspects it is a bigger game for Chelsea than it is for Manchester City and the onus will certainly be on them to win the game in front of their home fans. Whether they are capable of doing so however is far from certain.

City's form in the league this season has been irresistible whilst Chelsea's has simply been erratic or possibly even just plain poor. City will go into this match full of confidence knowing they have the attacking tools to dismantle most sides in Europe. The likes of Aguero and David Silva are players of the very highest calibre whom could both step into the Barca side and the supporting cast is not bad either. If Mancini decides to be positive - he isn't always in away fixtures - then Chelsea could have serious problems on their hands.

AVB is enduring a tough start to his reign with a team that is neither here nor there. The established old guard isn't quite what it was and the new arrivals are seemingly not ready to take their place either. Despite a seeming resurgence in his form during previous months, AVB has lost faith with Torres and with David Luiz having hand grenades strapped to his ankles (not literally Jamie Redknapp) there are many selection dilemmas for the Portuguese to ponder.

Terry and Cole will certainly start but Frank Lampard it appears is being eased out gradually so there can be no surety of his presence. Drogba that reliable battering ram who is also so much more seems be the player currently in favour up front and one would expect him to start. Chelsea will want a forward with whom the ball will stick as they could face large spells of possession from City's midfield.

Despite their contrasting fortunes in the Champions League, one would expect City to have the edge in confidence going into the game and for that reason they have to be favourites for the match. Stamford Bridge is far from the fortress it used to be and one suspects that AVB would take a point ahead of the match, the writer of this blog certainly would - No Nonsense.

No end in sight to the reign in Spain

Another El Classico and yet another victory for this imperious Barcelona side for whom another European and League double this season would back up the calls for their crowning as the greatest club side ever.

For Barca, it was business as usual despite falling behind to an astonishingly quick Karim Benzema goal. Composed and confident they simply went about their usual domination of possession and carved out three goals in response.

These games are also marked for comparison between Messi and Ronaldo and yet again there was little to compare as Messi again produced magic and Ronaldo remained a largely peripheral figure, it is a constant theme in these matches.

There were always whispers during his time at ManYoo that Ronaldo was simply a flat track bully, too quick, strong and powerful against lesser mortals but rendered more impotent against top class players. Certainly his goal scoring record when playing against Ashley Cole (CR9 being employed as a right winger back then) would back up those stats. Since joining Real he has incredibly nearly averaged a goal a game but against Barcelona that number drops to around one in five. Against the best, you need your best players to stand up and be counted, last night instead Ronaldo was again profligate. If there is a weakness to this Barca side it is defensively and Ronaldo has done nothing to exploit it.

Messi enjoys similar goal scoring stats to Ronaldo and whilst that may be the case, the thing that is setting him apart currently rather than the aesthetics is his performances in the big games. Right now there should be no debate as to whom the best player in the world is.

For Mourinho, the next couple of months will be key. He appears to have hit a brick wall against Pep Guardiola since overcoming him during Internazionale's Champions League winning heroics. It appears a similar situation to the one he endured at Chelsea with Rafa Betinez who seemed to have a way of second guessing the supposed tactical master. It may just be that Barcelona are simply too good for anyone right now but there does seem to be a psychological problem currently with playing the Catalans.

What Mourinho must cling on to is that to win La Liga he doesn't necessarily need to beat Barca. Even after this defeat, victory in their game in hand would see Madrid go three points clear at the top. They still have to visit the Nou Camp where it would appear they should expect to be beaten, but even then the Spanish league is short on quality and Real have the team to beat everyone else in that league comfortably.

Guardiola will continue to do what he is doing and let his players and their football do the talking. They have had the odd wobble this season but their home form has been astonishing and they will certainly drop few points for the remainder of this season. It will probably be a fight all the way to the finishing line but Guardiola will be sweating little by the time he gets there we suspect - No Nonsense.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Grim Up North

So the saying goes and so it was with a double Mancunian disaster in the Champions League last night as the Premiership's top two crashed out in the group stages.

For City, it is not an unmitigated disaster as their priority this year is almost certainly securing the Premiership title for the first time since the wheel was invented. The biggest annoyance for them will be falling into the Europa League and the Thursday nights followed by Sunday fixtures that it brings which is less than ideal when chasing the title. They will however draw comfort from the fact that the red half of the city will be enduring Thursdays in Bucharest also.

For United however it is a huge blow. They are a club that associate themselves (overly so we would add) hugely with the Champions League and there has always been the suspicion that this is done so to paper over their inferior record in the competition to the true legends such as Real, Milan and Liverpool.

Writing off Manchester United under Ferguson has always been an entirely silly thing to do and there will surely be a response from the players. The question however with Manchester United at the moment is regarding the true quality of their personnel.

After their chastening defeat to Barca in last year's final, Ferguson embarked on a summer spending spree and there is no doubt that the squad has been enhanced and looks far fresher. The reality is however that not one of the players purchased in the Summer would get into the Barcelona first team and in that respect they are no closer to them.

Ferguson has proved a master of ushering out one great team and bringing in another, he for instance would not have allowed the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Ashley Cole to all grow old together without first class replacements being weaned in to the team gradually. He has however failed to replace the central midfield axis of Scholes and Keane in any remotely adequate way and it is the lack of quality in the centre of the park that is the problem for United.

The reality of the focus for ManYoo this season has in any case been stopping City's apparent march to the domestic title. Ferguson would hate to see his reign come to an end with either City or Liverpool on top of the pile and there is a very real possibility of that happening in Citys' case as they have the financial muscle to dominate almost at will if they so wish - financial fair play aside.

Another huge problem for United earlier this season had been their defence with De Gea coming in for all sorts of bombardments without an adequate defensive shield in front of him. The superb Nemanda Vidic had done much to remedy that since his return to the side. His injury last night looks to be a serious one and if so could have serious ramifications for his team's title challenge.

Going out of the CL is a major blow to United and not least in financial terms as there are huge monetary benefits in remaining in the competition until the latter stages. Whatever Mancini and Ferguson might both have to say about the Europa League, the reality is either manager would be happy to get knocked out at the first possible opportunity. Suddenly the FA Cup third round tie has taken on new meaning and importance - No Nonsense.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Premiership Axe Has Swung

December is upon us and so is the traditional start of the culling of Premiership managers. As the ownership structure has changed so has the short termism of thinking throughout football as a whole with few managers on average lasting more than two seasons.

One has gone and two other Premiership managers in particular have reason to feel threatened in Steve Kean and Andre Villas Boas with probably only Sir Alex, Kenny Dalglish, Harry Redknapp, Arsene Wenger, David Moyes and Tony Pulis feeling genuinely secure. The likes of Owen Coyle and Martin Jol will also be feeling a distinct lack of seasonal cheer unless results improve.

For Steve Bruce, his position had become untenable as the fans had turned badly against him with Saturday's latest debacle against Wigan (who he ironically left in the lurch) a bridge too far. Whilst chairman all too easily turn to pressing the eject button, it cannot really be said that Bruce hasn't had the support in either terms of time nor money and the way he has handled the bizarre situation with Asamoah Gyan left much to be desired.

One major issue that has perennially vexed this blog about Bruce is his obsession with fawning to Sir Alex Ferguson in the lead up to matches against ManYoo. Other ex ManYoo players such as Keane or Hughes have been respectful without doing a disservice to their own clubs. In the lead up to any ManYoo fixture it is the norm to hear Bruce foaming at the mouth about Fergie's greatness and putting your mortgage on ManYoo to win the fixture is a no brainer. He has also been ready to pick up their cast offs such as O'Shea and Wes Orange. It's almost as if he felt that by assimilating himself with Ferguson he could gain similar stature.

Whilst it is never nice to see someone lose their job, it seems that few will shed a tear for Bruce's leaving and especially not the faithful on Wearside.

Steve Kean has it seemed been a dead man walking since he first got the job. Venkys made a gross error sacking Sam Allardyce and they have compounded it with little investment and seemingly learning nothing about running a football club. Kean has been the vessel for the fans' ire and with Blackburn rooted in the relegation mire it seems simply a matter of time.

Chelsea face yet another quandary of their own making. The premature sacking of Ancelotti was followed up with a huge compensation payment for the initially very successful but very young Andre Villas Boas.

Several months on and Chelsea are struggling and the knives are already out for AVB in the press. It is hard to pin down what the true problem is at Chelsea and the truth is that there are many issues that need to be resolved.

Chelsea do not possess either a first team nor a squad to truly compete with the two Manchester clubs. That being said they should be good enough to comfortably finish third. Looking at their form and the table it is far from clear that they will do so.

AVB has inherited a powerful dressing room that is physically in decline. Terry, Drogba and Lampard are way past their best and Cech has never been the same since his dreadful head injury. All four are sucking huge wages from Chelsea however and hampering the finances team building for the future whilst at the same time contributing less and less to the cause on the pitch.

AVB has also inherited two expensive purchases in David Luiz and Fernando Torres who were both bought in January. Both are hugely talented players yet AVB seems neither to trust them nor know how to obtain the best from either player.

The likes of Mikel, Malouda, Bosingwa, Alex and Kalou are simply not good enough for a club aspiring to win Championships and Champions Leagues and whilst the likes of Mata and Sturridge have made excellent fresh contributions, there is not enough consistent support from those around them.

Chelsea's squad has been allowed to decline because of the short term merry-go-round (no manager has been around long enough to focus on re-building due to the short term need for results). Manchester City would have paid nigh on 40M for John Terry three seasons ago and there have been several opportunities to sell Drogba.

This blog is not suggesting that either has been anything but a magnificent servant to the club but over 50M in transfer fees received and probably another 10-20M in wages saved would have allowed significant rebuilding and possibly allowed Chelsea to compete for the likes of Ashley Young and Phil Jones. To do that a manager needs to be in place for several years and for that reason AVB should be persevered with - Chelsea's problems are of the board's doing and not his, it is time to plan for the future and not for the now.

Only one team can win the league, only three more can reach the holy ground of the Champions League and of the remaining sixteen sides, only a lucky thirteen can stay up. It is mathematically impossible for all the clubs to achieve their minimum targets for a season especially given the unrealistic ambitions of many chairmen. The likes of Bolton and Blackburn are nowadays small clubs, clubs such as Sunderland are big only in their own mind and Chelsea have been the architects of their own downfall - No Nonsense.