Sunday, 29 November 2009

Who's ready to step up?

(Martin O'Neill and Harry Redknapp are eager to qualify for the Champions League)

We are edging ever closer to the Christmas period where the games come think and fast and the League table starts to take shape. Bookies decide on respectable odds and the heat turns up a notch in the Premier League. I will look at, who I think , can break into the top four

On a rainy and eventful day in the Premiership, which saw three of the so called 'power four" not play, Champions League hunters will feel it was points dropped, not gained.

Manchester United won emphatically at Portsmouth and there is no doubt that they will be in the top two, battling it out with Chelsea for the tile.

Arenal who play Chelsea today have looked more accomplished this season and the likes of Song and Denilson have matured into quality players which has helped the side improve as a whole. The Gunners have started well, but I think they will finish third behind United and Chelsea.

This leaves one side left, who have been poor all season and that is Liverpool. It just shows that having both your top players not fully fit can affect your performance. They rely heavily on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres who in turns have missed a huge number of games this season.

Liverpool have lost five games already this season, three more than they did all of last season. To add to their woes, they have been knocked out of the Champions League group stage, which will heap more pressure on Rafael Benitez.

This is why I feel it is going to be a long hard season for The Reds and instead of looking over their shoulders, they are now chasing the teams ahead of them. Need to improve fast if they are to have a chance of making the top four.

At the beginning of the season, I believed no one could touch the top four except Manchester City, but as is the case with football, you cannot predict anything.

Man City spent over £130 million in the summer on several top Premier players to help aid their push into the top four and after a good start to the season, they have now drawn seven games in a row. The problem with the City side is that it lacks balance and leadership. Yes going forward they look fantastic but they are leaking goals all over the place.

Conceding three goals at home to Burnley and drawing shows you are not world beaters just yet. Results like this has seen them slip down the table and aloud the likes of Aston Villa and Tottenham to sneak in and gather some momentum at the expense of the Sky Blues.

Villa and Spurs met in the late kick off on Saturday and had to settle for point each in a game which could have seen either side take all three. However, Harry Redknapp will be pleased with a point away from home, having seen them last year take just sixteen all season. Harry has turned Tottenham into one of the finest spurs teams in recent years. they are real candidates for the top four and currently lie in 3rd place.

Harry has done this by doing it his way and he doesnt't care who he upsets along the way. He didnt rate Darren Bent(Harry famously saying his wife could have scored one of the chances he missed in the previous season), he left in the summer along with four other players.

This paved the way for Peter Crouch to join up with former Pompey teammate Jermain Defoe. Roman Pavulychenko has been glued to the bench, but this is Harry's team and let's judge him come the end of the season. I think they will Push Liverpool all the way.

Martin O' Neill's men on the other hand came so close to breaking into the top four places but, faded away towards the end of the season. They are very similar to how they were last year, but Richard Dunne and James Collins were top signings who have sured up their back four.

It was also nice to see Stewart Downing on the bench who would hope to prove his doubters wrong and push for a place at next years World Cup. But, he needs to get into the Villa side first. for me Villa will be a hard side to beat, but will not makeit into the top four.

There are still many moments in the season, which could change a teams luck come the end of the season. I do think this is the season the 'top four' will be broken up but, who am I to decide? only the teams can do that.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Let's not judge England on Brazil defeat

England were beaten 1-0 by Brazil in Qatar on Saturday with many critics and fans laying into the team claiming they are not good enough to compete against the top sides in the world.

Let's get one thing straight and that is England put out a second string side, in fact more like a 3rd/4th string side against a top side in Brazil who played their strongest side bar Robinho.

Fabio Capello was missing men all over the park and you can debate whether the injuries sustained by many of his key men were enough to keep them out of the tie but this played a huge role in the defeat.

International friendlies mid season are always a hot topic, with club managers seeing them as pointless and certain players withdrawing through precarious injuries.

From back to front we were missing quality. Ben Foster took up his place in goal and his form has been criticised by many this year which I find harsh but understandable. Wes Brown who is so reliable for Manchester United looked shaky throughout and it was his fault for the penalty which forced Foster into fouling Nilmar. Brown was lucky that Luis Fabiano blasted his penalty over the bar.

As for the centre of the defence, Matthew Upson who has played a key part in England’s qualifying campaign in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, started poorly and found it hard to keep up with the pace of the lively Nilmar who was a threat all game and capped it with a fine header although unmarked.

Wayne Bridge can just count himself lucky that England are not blessed with natural left backs as he would be much further down the pecking order. Against Burnley last week he was all over the place and it surprised me that Capello decided to play him in what was an experimental side which could have seen young Arsenal left back Kieron Gibbs play instead.

In midfield, Gareth Barry was the most senior player on show and he partnered Jermaine Jenas who was making a rare start in the centre of midfield. Shaun Wright Phillips took his place out wide on the right and the improving James Milner started on the left. In my opinion, Milner played brilliantly and he was my pick for man of the match, not just for his technical ability but for his hard work and endeavour in what some regarded as a silly game.

Darren Bent stepped in for the injured Emile Heskey and he can take great confidence in the fact that he started ahead of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. He played alongside stand in Captain Wayne Rooney who played his usual role in the side and that is dropping deep and retrieving the ball, but away from home and against Brazil, it did not quite workout.

He was frustrated throughout which is understandable, but he needs to have more faith in his teammates and expect them to provide him with the ball. By doing this, England reverted back to a 4-5-1 leaving Darren Bent isolated up front and he was eventually replaced by Defoe.

Going back to what I said at the beginning of the article, we should not be disheartened by this defeat as I have shown we were not at full strength. Here’s the list of absentees: David James, Glen Johnson, John Terry (Captain), Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Theo Walcott, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Aaron Lennon and Emile Heskey.

I don’t know if you counted or not but that is TWELVE players missing from England’s team, the majority of which would have started in Qatar. So for Brazil manager Dunga to come out and say England looked flat and uninventive was a tad harsh and I hope we meet Brazil in the World Cup next year and show them how far we have come under Capello.

As with every defeat, you want to take as many positives as you can from the defeat and there were some. I thought Foster played a lot better, more controlling and confident coming for the ball, except the penalty but that was not his fault.

As I said earlier, James Milner was the real highlight of the game and he has given Capello a real selection headache ahead of naming his squad next year. Even though he started on the left, I still feel he would be more effective on the right but at least this shows his versatility.

He will be competing with Aston Villa teammates Ashley Young and Stewart Downing on the left and also Chelsea winger Joe Cole, who is getting back to his best after recovering from his lengthy injury.

In attack, I would still stick with Rooney and Heskey and I do not care about the fact he is not playing much at Villa. He fits into our side perfectly and we rely on him to hold the ball and he allows Rooney the freedom he needs.

I honestly think Defoe and Bent will fade out and their form has only been temporary as is shown with Defoe who hasn’t found the net in ages. Michael Owen will be at the finals without a doubt as Capello knows the importance of having a proven, clinical finisher in games, as huge as they are in the World Cup finals.

I have a good idea of who I would take to the finals next year but it is still far too early to know who’s going to be fully fit for the finals.

I believe in taking the side that got you there and i expect Capello to do this too. As for back up, This is open to whoever impresses over the next year and can be played as a plan B or C.

This would be my squad.

Goalkeepers: James, Green, Foster

Defenders: Johnson, Brown, Terry (Captain), Ferdinand, Upson, Lescott, A. Cole, Gibbs,

Midfielders: Gerrard, Lampard, Walcott, Barry, Beckham, Lennon, J. Cole, Milner

Attackers: Rooney, Heskey, Owen, Crouch

Standby: Kirkland, Bridge, King, Carrick, Hargreaves, A. Young, Downing, Defoe, Cole