Monday, April 30, 2012

Hodgson For England?

The FA it was presumed had Harry Redknapp as a shoe in for the England job. Spurs were flying high with even talk of the title a couple of months back. Capello had walked knowing the European Championships were far beyond this current England team's reach. Redknapp had even described the job as the 'pinnacle'.

What the FA had not reckoned on were two things. The first was Daniel Levy who has demonstrated time after time that he will not allow his employees to leave Tottenham on the cheap. Some chairman may 'stand aside' for England but Levy is not one of them.

The second issue is that Redknapp isn't actually that great a manager. Whilst he has admittedly improved Spurs, somewhere around fifth place is where Spurs historically should be and yet again he is destined to probably finish below Arsenal.

Come the big games such as Arsenal and ManYoo in the second half of this season, Spurs were thrashed soundly. Last season they were 4-0 down by half time against Inter with Redknapp in no way responsible for the brilliance of Bale's hat trick in the second half that nearly brought an unlikely draw. For whatever the reason, even if only to smoke him out, the FA outwardly have cold on Redknapp.

Now Roy Hodgson seems a thoroughly nice chap. He also has a very decent managerial CV which includes vast experience across the European sphere at both club and country level and can count both Liverpool and Internazionale of Milan as previous charges. All good so far then?

The problem with Hodgson is that there isn't really one, he's simply too middle of the road and entirely bland. Regardless of the results, the fans at both Inter and Liverpool never really accepted him nor wanted him in the first place and it will be much the same with England.

This current crop of England players is far from vintage with a lack of adequate replacements for players in the gloaming of their careers such as Lampard, Gerrard, Terry, Ferdinand and Ashley Cole. Gaps left by players such as Beckham, Scholes, Neville and Owen have not been sufficiently plugged either.

With the constant and unrealistic expectations on the England team (Eriksson took England to two World Cup Quarter Finals yet was hounded out), now is not a good time to be England manager.

Wor Roy one would expect would almost certainly accept the call should it come and most people in his position would do the same thing. Whilst wishing him all the best it would seem highly likely that he is destined to succeed given how the knives in the press will be out from the start and some daunting fixtures at the European Championships - No Nonsense.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What Next For Barcelona?

It would seem to border on insanity to question the immediate future of what has been heralded as the greatest ever club side yet Pep Guardiola's resignation as Barcelona coach from the end of this season could possibly throw the Catalan club into turmoil.

Under Guardiola, Barca have enjoyed a period of unheralded - even by their standards - success with multiple La Liga and Champions League titles. They have swept all before them and done it in the most incredible style.

Whilst Guardiola remained, so the club even in the face of a most 'weekus horriblus' looked to have a bright future in the short term with planning no doubt being made for another twin assault on the trophies they so covet.

Without him however, one possibly might start to cast a look at Barca's team and suggest that Carlos Puyol needs to be replaced, that the unfortunate Eric Abidal needs to be replaced also and that Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano are not defenders.

Xavi Hernandez is approaching his twilight years and David Villa, even if he were to make a full recovery from injury is already also past his prime. Given Barca's huge debt, replacements will prove expensive even if players are indeed queueing up to play for them.

There is of course the 'conveyor belt' of talent that La Masia produces but whilst there is no doubt that the Barca model is excellent just as Ajax's was before them, there are times when golden batches of players are produced such as the current crop. It is hard to replicate in a short space of time.

In that way, there can be an assumption that anyone who graduates from La Masia is an automatic world beater but it is not always the case. Since Fergie's Fledgings, ManYoo's youth policy has produced little with nearly all their current squad of players being bought in even if at a young age.

For Barca, the question will be whom to turn to. For this blog the obvious choice is Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been chastened by the money thrown around in the Premiership by teams finishing perennially above him.

Whilst his commitment to Arsenal is not in question, the lure of the Nou Camp would be huge especially given the opportunity to play the brand of football he loves whilst actually having an opportunity to win something. The opportunity to coach the likes of Messi doens't come along often.

There will be other candidates such as Marcelo Biesla and Barcelona at least have time to plan ahead of the Summer now that Guardiola's mind has been made up.

For Guardiola, he can leave the Nou Camp an incredibly proud man having produced a team that few could have dreamt of and winning a plethora of trophies along the way. This season will feel like a failure but it should not do as on most other occasions they would again be in the Champions League final next month.

Guardiola has done a fine job and conducted himself magnificently at all times. It is clear however that the stress of the expectation at the club, the Spanish press, even the barbs from Mourinho have simply got too much for him.

There is no crisis at Barcelona, far from it but it might just be that last year was the absolute peak for this particular group of performers especially now that their conductor has left the building - No Nonsense. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Germans win on penalties shocker

Bayern Munich overcame Real Madrid last night to book a 'home' final clash with Chelsea on the 19th May. For Jose Mourinho it will be bitter disappointment as the door appeared to be open for him to achieve a third 'big double' with a third different team.

Having gone two goals up early in the match, Real should have been in the box seat but Bayern have quality throughout their ranks especially in the excellent Robben. They will be strong favourites to overcome what will be a tired and depleted Chelsea next month. The prospect of Ribery against Bosingwa alone should strike fear into the Stamford Bridge club.

For Real Madrid, their task is now to close out the remaining league fixtures and wrest the La Liga crown from Barcelona. It will however not be enough to sate either Mourinho, his paymasters nor the fans. Everyone at the Bernabeu knows they have missed a huge opportunity and for Mourinho in particular, he has lost the opportunity to ride out of Madrid with two fingers in the air to all the nae sayers in the Spanish press with whom his relationship has become untenable.

Bayern's Bundesliga campaign has been poor given the resources at their disposal. They have been soundly beaten by the youthful Dortmund team yet they will care not should they lift the famous trophy yet again in Bavaria - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chelsea Defy The Odds

Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Johan Cruyff, Michael Laudrup, Terry Venables, Stevie Archibald, Freddie Mercury - your boys took one hell of a beating.

Except that they didn't really other than that it will be Chelsea playing in Munich on the 19th May in the final. Barcelona will no doubt be waking up this morning, scratching their heads and feeling entirely sorry for themselves knocked out by a supposedly vastly inferior side. So where did it all go wrong?

The clues have been there this season that not all at Barca is entirely wonderful - incredible side that they are with several draws in La Liga showing that the team can be stopped with good organisation and not a little luck.

It is also possible that Barcelona have become a touch arrogant given that they no longer feel the need to play with either recognised centre backs or a centre forward. Both Chelsea and Real Madrid this week have shown with incisive breakaway goals that solid defending is still a virtue.

For Chelsea it is a quite staggering result and whilst one must wonder whether they have used up all their luck for the next ten years (Messi missing a penalty alone is astonishing) to concentrate on that would be to do them a vast disservice.

Many such as Arrigo Sacchi did will state this is a victory for 'anti' football and that it is a travesty. Does this mean that underdogs should not play to their strengths and simply allow the better team to steam roller them in whichever way they see fit? Barcelona are an incredible team to watch, as easy on the eye as the Ajax teams of the 70s or mid 90s. But football is also about teamwork, endeavour, organisation, defending and sheer hard work - and scoring goals (Arsene Wenger take note).

Given Terry's stupidity last night and the fact that Cahill went off injured early, Chelsea's heroics are even greater and whilst Barcelona will feel mightily aggrieved, Chelsea's win is in many ways justly deserved if even purely for the (much maligned) character that their team showed and quite simply for taking your chances.

The final will be just as tough given the suspensions to Meireles and more importantly Terry, Ivanovic and Ramires who have been three of Chelsea's best performers this season. Ramires was integral to the victory over Barca and Chelsea are usually a different proposition with Terry in the team, their losses will be felt keenly.

For Di Matteo, the question is now whether to give up on fourth place and rest players, the reality is he probably should. Drogba could be wrapped in cotton wool and set forth on both finals whilst allowing Torres a run of league matches that could help to embolden the fragile return of his confidence, physically at least he looks in great shape.

Cahill and Luiz one hopes will both be fit for the final and if so will need at least a game together to try to forge an understanding before facing either Ribery, Robben and Gomez or three from Ronaldo, Higuain, Ozil, Kaka, Benzema and Di Maria, take your pick.

Right back will be a hideous problem for Chelsea but there is little they can do about that now. Michael Essien has performed admirably at right back in previous seasons but his presence may well be needed in midfield now given the absence of Ramires and Meireles.

Di Matteo is now two cup finals away from an unlikely double that would surely push his case for the job permanently. There are however several factors that should count against him, not least does he have the ability to rip this side apart and build a new one?

What Di Matteo has done is simple but clever but is not the sign of a great manager and Lampard's post match interviews tell you a story. Di Matteo, knowing he has three months only to survive has simply gone to the established players and asked them to play and perform as they can and know how. He has given them license within his overall tactical philosophy for any given match and to a degree played to their egos.

Lampard, Cole, Cech and Drogba have all looked infinitely better under him whilst younger attacking players such as Mata and Sturridge have floundered to some extent. It is a short term solution and it has worked well to a degree.

The reason for stating 'to a degree' is because Chelsea's league form is still dire and despite Spurs' implosion they have made little head way and that is where managers should be judged. Chelsea's seat of their pants Champions League ride could easily have gone the other way even against Napoli.

It is however hard to be critical of Di Matteo of whom little was expected. For Chelsea, the final is much like the English Championship play off final in terms of financial importance. Win and they go into next year's competition with the funds to rebuild the team, lose and they do not given the financial fair play regulations.

Chelsea will go to Munich as huge underdogs again but it is a tag that seems to suit them right now - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rangers now able to buy SFA.

The saga at Ibrox is now well known to all and is almost old hat. The latest SFA action against Whyte is an irrelevance given his removal from any say in matters although pursuit of payment of the fine by the SFA might provide some light entertainment in the coming months. That being said the latest sanctions against the club are highly newsworthy as they actually hit Rangers where it hurts.

Given the current state of football in Scotland, points penalties against Rangers would matter little other than handing the title to Celtic who have a few to catch up on in any event. Relegating Rangers would be a two edged sword for the SFA as the lack of Rangers' presence would remove interest and ultimately revenue for all.

It is probably hard to judge the legality of a transfer ban on the Ibrox club but whilst Rangers fans, the Rangers Trust and no doubt all staff and board members will see it as an outrage, the reality is that Rangers deserve meaningful sanction for what is effectively twenty odd years of gross mismanagement.

Rangers fans will blame the SFA but the reality is that they should be looking at the people running the club for whom to direct the blame at. Scottish football is an entire mess and the SFA (belatedly) has to start taking serious action that will have an effect.

For Rangers, the ban is an unmitigated disaster. Regardless of their current predicament, any potential buyer has been scared off by the lack of any ability by the auditors to give any clarity or comfort on a variety of issues ranging from the legitamicy and liabilities of the Ticketus deal to the oustanding tax case.

This is now compounded by the fact that it will be impossible to make any investment for a further twelve months meaning that Rangers are an even less attractive proposition if that is even remotely possible.

Rangers fans will feel this is the thin end of the wedge and may result in the final liquidation of the club. Whilst the SFA have done little to cover themselves in glory over the whole matter, the predicament of the club is not the fault of the SFA. Ten points means little to Rangers and it is time that clubs were held to account - No Nonsense.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Title Race is Back On

Under Ferguson, ManYoo have rarely faltered during title run ins with only Arsenal many seasons back having overhauled a significant lead that the Old Trafford men had held. After losing at the Emirates, City looked dead and buried but slip ups against Wigan and Everton have given City renewed hope knowing that victory at home next Monday at the Etihad would put them in the driving seat.

So what has gone wrong at ManYoo? Ferguson is still there cracking the whip as is normal, driving his team to success and the goals have still been coming in the main but the problems are it seems at the back and with a lack of quality in the middle of the park.

Jonny Evans is much like John O'Shea before him, in anything other than a ManYoo shirt he is a very average player and his lack of ability has a habit of destabilising whomever he is partnering in central defence. The Da Silva twins have not developed in the way that Ferguson had hoped and whilst there seems little doubt that De Gea in time will develop into an excellent keeper, he does not yet exude the influence of a Schmeicel or a Van Der Sar.

In the middle of the pitch, journalists have waxed lyrical about the returning Paul Scholes and there had certainly been a pick up in results since his return. Much of that effect however was a mental one on his colleagues and the reality is that Scholes no longer has the legs to be truly effective at the top level. That is not a critiscism of the ginger maestro, merely an acknowledgement of his age.

For City, it is an interesting position. For so long they were leading and they seemed to suffer - especially in away games - as a result of it being 'theirs' to lose'. Now however, they have been thrown an unexpected and very juicy bone and Mancini will be doing all he can to make sure they pick it up.

Much of City's problems this season are of their own doing. The loss of Carlos Tevez for most of the season, Mancini's belated and woeful entry into 'mind games' and the indulgence of Mario Balotelli. City are labelled as a team of mercaneries - rightly so perhaps - but in players such as Hart, Richards, Kompany, De Jong and even Tevez (once he crosses the white line) they have players with real drive and desire.

Tevez and Aguero have been highly effective since the former's resurrection and their movement and pace will be a handful for Evans and the ageing Ferdinand. City have their tails up but one suspects that Ferguson will have his team primed also for the crunch derby.

The game like most derbies is too close to call and much may depend on Mancini's tactics. With the glittering array of attacking talent that he has and the ability of Yaya Toure to dominate ManYoo's much less mobile midfield, City would be well served to be positive against their neighbours.

These are the games that Ferguson relishes and he usually comes out on top. What he must hope is that his team relishes the occasion too and that it has the ability to deliver the result he so craves - No Nonsense.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Half Time in the Champions League

Two semi finals, two home wins and two finely balanced ties. The majority still see both the losing Spanish teams as favourites - and in the case of Barcelona rightly so - but UEFA will be expecting some bumper television audiences for the return fixtures next week.

First to Tuesday's action and an entertaining and technically excellent  - if not spectacular - game at the Allianz Arena saw Mario Gomez give Bayern a slender 2-1 lead with almost the last kick of the game. The teams looked fairly evenly matched and Real will be hoping to press home advantage next week whilst Bayern will know an away goal will put them in pole position.

For Mourinho it was a case of what could have been having got a priceless away goal and for having controlled Bayern's attacking forays for much of the second half. The slip at the end may prove costly and this blog will take Bayern to progress to the final on their own patch.

Real will be treading a disciplinary tight rope next week with a whole host of their midfield and defensive players picking up yellow cards. With the attacking verve of Robben and Ribery, Bayern will fancy themselves on the break.

Chelsea defied all predictions and even logic to muster a 1-0 home win against the hugely lauded Barca aristocrats. For Chelsea it was as good as they could have hoped for but at the same time one feels the return fixture will hold little fear for Barcelona either. Chelsea however seem to have benefited from little or no expectation after their travails in the league but one has to ask whether the 'old guard' can return to the well once more next week.

Both teams have huge 'must win' league fixtures this weekend, Barca have 'El Classico' and Chelsea face a very tough trip to the Emirates against a rejuvenated Arsenal.
Much for Chelsea will ride on how successfully Di Matteo rotates his players which he has not done particularly well against either Wigan or Fulham. The established Chelsea players seem to have an appetite for the big match however and they will go to the Nou Camp next week full of confidence of getting the result they require.

Barcelona will simply carry on doing what they do best and it is unlikely for Messi to have two Champions League off nights in a row. The team however does look less than complete lacking a centre forward and enough cover at centre back. That being said they should be able to qualify and try to be the first team in the modern era to retain Europe's premier competition - No Nonsense.