Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Things never change

Over the last few weeks we have seen a gentle bursting of the Wayne Rooney hype bubble, whose blistering form during the first month of the season drew claims that he was ‘stepping out of Ronaldo’s shadow’ or ‘taking up the mantle of Ronaldo,’ that he had finally been set free of Ronaldo’s stifling influence. In reality we have seen this sort of form from Rooney plenty of times before, both with and without Ronaldo doing whatever he did that made Rooney bad/good. Acknowledging that would not be in the interests of clich├ęd hack-journalism and punditry though, so instead a five or six game spell was deemed to be more than enough evidence that Rooney had finally become the greatest striker of all time. TMC prefers to look at the real facts, though. So let’s do that.

Between September and October last year Rooney scored eight goals in six games for club and country and then, much like now, followed it up with a seven-game goalless streak and a string of mediocre performances. From January to March this calendar year, he scored six in seven appearances (the goalless game a 5-minute cameo) before another five games without a goal. He ended that run with four goals in five games once more in April before going scoreless in the final seven games of the season. Going back a season further, we see exactly the same trend. In October 2007 Rooney scored seven goals in seven games before, you’ve guessed it, a five game goalless run. The fact is, Rooney always has a hot run around the beginning of each season. This season is no different and his form has nothing to do with the departure of Ronaldo and most certainly nothing to do with being in the centre rather than the wing which, if one looks at the facts rather than the soundbites of pundits, was a position he only played in around 1 out of every 6 games last season. That’s 5 out of 6 in the centre, people! On the other hand, it has everything to do with him being Wayne Rooney and being the player he’s always been.

It is abundantly clear that there is no mystery or sinister reason behind his inconsistency. He is simply inconsistent and that’s it. Pinning his inconsistency on others is desperation. It is a refusal to accept the simple truth. When Rooney was scoring we were bombarded from all sides with the apparently genius insight that he was ‘finally being allowed to thrive in his natural central role,’ but this was nothing more than wild and unfounded pseudo-analysis. Sensationalism. Why did pundits and ‘experts’ see fit to claim, after only six games’ evidence, that we had seen Wayne Rooney become a prolific scorer when he was simply following the precedent he’d set in the previous two seasons? And indeed, a precedent set when his nemesis Ronaldo was in the team. When Rooney scores again in the near future, there is no doubt the talk will revolve around his increased scoring rate this season, ignoring the truth because it does not suit the media’s agenda. Contrary to the received wisdom that Rooney has been ‘unleashed’ this season, TMC would go so far as to say he’s more the same than ever. Perhaps Rooney will find consistency in time and perhaps he will eventually become prolific, but that will become evident over seasons, not four to five weeks. If Rooney’s goal return does increase this season, it will be largely down to his newly inherited penalty duties rather than any significant change in his all-round game.

However, it may be entirely possible that I’m wrong and Rooney’s hot-streak-followed-by-drought pattern is now down to Berbatov being too lazy, Giggs kicking the ball with his right foot too much or the cool winter weather moving in on Manchester. I do have to admit, I think I saw him out on the left a couple of times against Liverpool...

Stats of the Week No. 1: Real Madrid won 7 out of 7 games with Cristiano Ronaldo in the team. Without him, they have won only 1 out of 4.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Nemanja Vidic has been sent off in each of his last 3 appearances against Liverpool.

Stats of the Week No. 3: Against Manchester United this weekend, Javier Mascherano became the first Liverpool player to be sent off in the Premier League since... Javier Mascherano against Manchester United on 23rd March 2008.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Udinese have scored 12 goals in Serie A this season – 9 of those from Antonio Di Natale.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Frank Lampard has hit every single one of his penalties into the left side of the goal this season. More below.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Clint Dempsey scored his first goal of the season against Manchester City with his 29th shot, previously more than any other scoreless player.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Carlton Cole has scored in five games this season but West Ham have won none of them.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Dutch cupcake destroyer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is yet to score a goal this season, eight games into his AC Milan career.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Of Stoke City’s nine goals this season, only one has come from a Rory Delap long throw. That was in their 2-0 opening-day win over Burnley.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Arsenal had previously never conceded more than 11 goals in their first 9 Premier League games. This season they have conceded 13.

"We did it! A clean sheet against the league's worst attack!"

Sweet Plays of the Week: The undoubted goal of the weekend in Serie A saw Antonio Cassano chip the ball forward to striker Giampaolo Pazzini who, having controlled superbly with his chest, turned quickly and lofted a pass into the path of the oncoming Daniele Mannini. With the ball dropping straight down in front of him, Mannini smashed home an unstoppable first-time volley at the near post from the right side of the penalty area.

In the Bundesliga, Andreas Ivanschitz broke through the Freiburg offside trap and managed to get his toe on the end of a delightful lofted through pass to delicately lift the ball over the oncoming keeper and score a fantastic lob.

Seydou Keita scored his first career hat-trick against Zaragoza and his second goal was the best of the bunch. Having won a tackle deep in midfield, fifteen yards from his own box, Keita distributed the ball to Busquets. Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta exchanged a few passes in midfield before an incredible defence splitting pass from Xavi released Ibrahimovic down the left. Ibrahimovic then provided the perfect cross for Keita, who had followed the run of play and made a sixty-yard run into the six yard box to score a comfortable tap-in, starting and finishing the move.

‘The’ Sweet Play of the Week: Pablo Hernandez, take a bow, son! A quick counter attack by Valencia saw Pablo receive the ball just inside the opposition half. Realising he had no support and would soon be closed down by the Almeria defence, Pablo possessed the vision and awareness to spot Esteban off his line and sent a glorious chip over the stranded goalkeeper and into the Almeria goal from forty yards.

Sour Plays of the Week No. 1: Against Wolves, John Carew found himself in an excellent crossing position on the edge of the box, but managed to slice his cross so horribly it eventually went out for a throw-in at the halfway line on the opposite side of the pitch.

Sour Plays of the Week No. 2: During the first half against Liverpool, Paul Scholes took a poor touch in the centre of midfield before poking the ball tamely into the path of Lucas, providing Liverpool with a three-on-two counter attacking situation. Lucas threaded the ball through to Dirk Kuyt on the right who, fortunately for Scholes, dragged a glorious chance wide of the far post.

Surprise of the Week: “McLeish drops plan to sign Wolfsburg pair
Birmingham manager has decided that it would be too expensive to prise Edin Dzeko and Grafite from the German champions.”

Yes, money was the only obstacle preventing Birmingham from signing those two players. It was nothing to do with the fact they play for the reigning German champions, that Wolfsburg are a club currently on course to qualify for the last sixteen of the Champions League, that should Wolfsburg express a willingness to sell they’d face competition from any number of European powerhouses or that Birmingham are a club who can’t even fill their (not even big) stadium for a local derby. Nope, Alex McLeish simply decided they were too expensive. That’s all.

Wii Fit Defies Limits of Human Physiology: In a stunning move of bizarrely ridiculous proportions, the Nintendo Wii Fit Plus has received the official NHS seal of approval as part of its Change4Life campaign. Not only am I shocked by their support for a gimmicky piece of equipment which is drastically less effective and significantly more expensive than simply jogging, but by the fact the NHS is endorsing a product which claims to be capable of doing things which aren’t even humanly possible. Nintendo claim that "If you are worried about your bingo wings or your flabby bum, the game will give you specific exercises to target those areas." That is very, very impressive, as it means Nintendo have apparently invented a means of spot-reducing fat, previously thought to be impossible. Well... not previously. It is impossible. And it’s why Wii Fit is just as stupid, pointless and useless as every other fad ‘health’ or ‘fitness’ product. If Nintendo are happy to release misleading and false statements about the capabilities of their product (capabilities which couldn’t possibly exist), then what can be believed about their material on the Wii Fit? How can we believe any of the PR is true? Quite simply, we can’t. Because it isn’t. Most troubling is that the NHS has fallen for it and is encouraging the use of this sham product. This is an organisation we are supposed to trust to look after our medical needs. What next? The NHS promotes ab-belts and diet pills to children?

"My Story: How I Lost 100lbs by leaning"

Don’t Guess: Many, if not most goalkeepers have a tendency to pick a side and dive when faced with a penalty. This is a bad idea. Penalty takers are well aware of this trend, which is why so many simply wait for the keeper to make his move during their run up and roll the ball into the opposite side of the net. The evidence of this phenomenon is widespread. Witness Frank Lampard’s penalty against Blackburn this weekend – Robinson is already going down to the right side before Lampard even makes contact with the ball! What makes it even worse is that he had not done his research. It should be part of any good goalkeeper’s job to be aware of each club’s regular penalty takers and their favoured side. If you’re going to gamble and dive blindly to one side, at least make it the side the player hits all of his penalties into!

Most critically, by gambling instead of reacting to the shot Robinson eliminated any chance he had of saving it. Lampard let him dive and went the opposite way and while the penalty was firmly struck, it was placed nowhere near the corner of the goal. Had Robinson waited for Lampard to shoot before reacting, making a save would have at least been a possibility. More importantly, he would not have kindly made Lampard’s mind up for him. As I already outlined, penalty takers are happy to let the goalkeeper commit himself and then go the opposite way, but by standing his ground a goalkeeper can create indecision in the penalty taker. Indecision leads to bad penalties. Examples of such penalties are near-endless. See Dimitar Berbatov in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton, Alessandro Del Piero in the Peace Cup or even more famously Andriy Shevchenko in the 2005 Champions League final. TMC has long been baffled that keepers do not take this approach every time.

Next up: Wolves v Aston Villa. Brad Friedel, like his colleague Robinson, was already heading down to the left side before Ebanks-Blake struck the ball and scored the Wolves equaliser. Had Friedel waited to react, he would have already been in position to make an attempt at saving the penalty which was struck right down the middle of the goal. Such was the force with which Ebanks-Blake fired the ball, Friedel would most probably not have saved it anyway. Even if he had got a hand to the ball, the sheer velocity would have been too much for him to resist. This should be a valuable lesson to keepers. While guessing a side and diving provides them with a 33% chance of going the right way, the fact is that against quality penalties they are unlikely to make the save regardless. Top quality penalty takers are those who find the corners with power time after time after time. Guessing is of no help to goalkeepers wishing to save such an effort. Simply pre-empting the direction of the penalty is not enough. So, since they’re never going to save well-taken penalties either by guessing or reacting, they might as well write these off as unsaveable and focus on the penalties which are saveable – the ones they make possible, nay, encourage by guessing in the first place. In summary, guessing is silly and self-defeating.

Sack-watch: Ipswich Town remain winless and rock bottom of the Championship after fourteen games under Roy “Marcus Evans Hasn’t Fired Me Quite Yet” Keane. His predecessor Jim Magilton, sacked for leading Ipswich to an apparently unacceptable ninth position last term, currently sits in the playoff places with his new club QPR.

1485 miles away, Juande Ramos continues to struggle with clubs outside his native Spain, being given his marching orders by CSKA Moscow after only 47 days in charge.

The Crumble-off: Manchester City and Arsenal each squandered 2-0 leads to succumb to draws this weekend, raising serious questions over the resilience of their squads. For City, losing a 2-0 lead at home is particularly disappointing given the heavy investment in their defence over the summer and even more so when you consider that their ex-captain Richard Dunne is now part of an Aston Villa defence which is ranked joint-first in the Premier League. Aston Villa’s entire back four cost over £10m less than City’s centre-backs alone.

In Arsenal’s case, their mentality must come under heavy scrutiny because a team so capable of controlling a match should not have allowed West Ham to come back into it after obtaining a comfortable lead. When West Ham clawed one goal back Arsenal should have got hold of the ball and seen the match out through calm possession play. Instead they panicked and handed the initiative to their opposition, throwing the game away in the process. Arsenal have the ability to push for the title, but must eradicate these costly errors at the back. Mannone’s dreadful parry into the path of Carlton Cole from Diamanti’s free kick was akin to throwing the ball into his own net and gave West Ham a huge confidence lift. And while Thomas Vermaelen has had an incredible impact at the other end of the pitch, it remains unclear what difference he’s made at the end where his real responsibilities lie, defence. Arsenal continue to leak goals and are in fact, as seen above, conceding more than ever.

Monday Night Football Analysis: Leicester’s goal from a corner would not have gone in had Reading defended properly and put a man on the back post. Simple, but crucial.

Overreaction of the Week: “Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is facing up to the worst injury crisis of his five years at the Reds' helm ahead of Sunday's visit of champions Manchester United,” wrote Paul Walker of the Press Association.

"We have just too many problems, I cannot remember an injury situation like this," said Benitez himself. “I have no idea what team I can put out against Manchester United.”

Come matchday, not only was Torres fit to start the game, he scored the decisive goal. Glen Johnson was fit and played the 90 minutes. Of the (three) players involved in Rafael Benitez’s ‘worst ever injury crisis,’ only Gerrard missed out. While Alberto Aquilani was also injured, he had already been carrying an injury for several months when he was brought to the club.

Sweet ‘N’ Sour Play of the Week: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a rocket free kick from thirty yards against Zaragoza but what was the keeper doing? He managed to get both hands on the ball but could still only palm it into the roof of the net. That’s just not good enough, however powerful the shot may have been.

Egg of the Week: This is the award served up every week to the player so profligate in front of goal he is most probably incapable of finishing an egg. There were a number of challengers vying for this illustrious prize and in the end it was too close to choose just one. First we have Real Zaragoza’s Ewerton. Zaragoza, on a quick counter attack, found their strikers two-on-one against a single Barcelona defender. Ever the generous soul, Ewerthon’s strike partner drew the defender towards the ball before playing his team mate clean through on goalkeeper Victor Valdes. In acres of space, under no defensive pressure and with all the time in the world to measure his shot, Ewerthon delicately placed a strike straight into the arms of Victor Valdes. Bravo. It’s not over though, there’s more! Shortly afterwards, Ewerthon broke the offside trap once again and in even more space than he had the first time, with the opportunity to rectify his earlier howler, Ewerthon stepped up to the plate and... did exactly the same thing again.

The second ‘winner’ is TMC favourite Bobby Zamora. Having already scored two (accidental) goals this season, Bobby was in no mood to equal his combined Premier League tally for the last two seasons (three) within seven appearances in the current season. Ergo, it was only logical for him to inexplicably miss an open net from six yards against Manchester City. At 0-0, Clint Dempsey struck a shot from the left side of the area which Given was only able to parry towards the feet of Zamora, standing unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. With the helpless goalkeeper still sprawled out on the deck and an empty net to aim at, Bobby did the seemingly impossible and guided his shot wildly over the crossbar.

Clearance of the Week: James Beattie belied his rather large frame to perform a stunningly acrobatic overhead kick on his own goal-line and hook away what looked a certain goal from Peter Crouch’s header.

Block of the Week: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ cheerleaders were in attendance as QPR took on Watford in the Championship. Their presence seemed to confuse Wayne Routledge as he took a leaf out of the NFL playbook and used his body to physically prevent two Watford defenders from intercepting a pass to Jay Simpson who was able to score as a result. Clever, but illegal play by Routledge, not that the referee seemed to mind.

Internet Thoughts of the Week:
7. At 2:22pm on 23 Oct 2009, bow4fowler wrote:
Interesting article, although I do sense a bit of an anti-liverpol vibe.

22. At 3:00pm on 23 Oct 2009, barca4ever wrote:
Another Liverpool Blog. Nooooooooooooooooooooooo Not again. Phil seriously you are a Liverpool fan. Just admit it.

Above are two comments on a blog by BBC’s Phil McNulty. The same blog.
A football fan’s paranoia knows no bounds.

Deluded Tabloid of the Week: Daniele De Rossi for £10m – The Sun suggested Chelsea could secure the Roman enforcer for a paltry fee, seemingly ignorant of the World Cup winning, 51-time capped Roma vice-captain’s importance to his team. Liverpool signed Alberto Aquilani from Roma for £20m in the summer, who despite playing less than half as many games as De Rossi in the last three years is apparently twice as valuable according to the enlightened journalists at The Sun. And, of course, it completely overlooks De Rossi’s extreme loyalty to the Roman cause.

"Available in bargain bins worldwide"

Christmas Creep: Fearnecotton - just bought some robot xmas decorations. 12:11 PM Oct 24th

Expect the Expected: Fernando Torres has now scored six goals in his last five ‘Big Four’ encounters.

Classless Buffoon of the Week: “McLeish urges Birmingham fans to ‘get on Steve Bruce’s back’.”
We all know football fans like to jeer ex-players and managers and while that’s a perfectly legitimate part of the game and intrinsic to supporting your club, it is simply unprofessional for a fellow manager to actively encourage his club’s fans to abuse his predecessor, particularly one who did such a good job in his time there. The fans will make their own minds up in these situations; there is no need to incite them which is downright disrespectful. The man was simply going there to do his job, the same as McLeish.

You’ll never guess what happens next! In a surprising plot resolution that no-one, sorry, everyone saw coming in Stargate Universe, the good ship Destiny had indeed deliberately plotted a collision course with a star in order to recharge its power resources. It is clear that an ancient starcruiser which has been journeying through untold numbers of galaxies for millions of years would have some kind of energy renewal capability, which is why almost the entire viewership of the show predicted how events would pan out immediately after last week’s cliffhanger. How did none of the characters on board, including an abundance of so-called genius scientists, not even consider this possibility? If you wish to place your characters in mortal danger, you can’t make the resolution so painfully predictable. Not only was the plot predictable within itself, the show’s centrepiece is the Destiny. No-one will ever truly believe that it’s in danger of being destroyed – if it was the series would be over. And that’s not going to happen after five episodes.

On a related and even more sour note, we eventually saw Destiny venture into the star, with its shields capable of protecting the ship and its crew from the immense heat and radiation of the celestial body. However, these are the very same shields which in the show’s pilot episode (that was only three weeks ago, by the way) were incapable of even preventing oxygen from escaping through breaches in the hull. Curious.

Next week: TMC in crisis, facing an unprecedented lack of material.

Thursday, 22 October 2009


The talk of the week has been focused on Rafael Benitez and Liverpool’s struggles, but I think it’s time to reflect on last weekend’s results in the Premier League and hail the newfound depth in England's top flight. Let’s not forget that not only did Sunderland fully deserve their victory over Liverpool, but so did Aston Villa against Chelsea and underdogs Wigan backed up their impressive win against Chelsea with a gritty home draw against billionaires Man City. Remember also that Sunderland could, and perhaps should have beaten Manchester United only a week before and we could be looking at the most competitive year of Premier League action in quite some time, not only in the challengers for the holy grail of the ‘top four’ but throughout the league.

But is that really the case? Manchester United and Chelsea have each won 7 out of 9 games, right in line with expectation and on pace to win 28 games for the season, Manchester United’s title-winning total of 08-09. Do a few surprise results really mean the status quo has changed or should we hold back until the end of the season? After all, Hull won 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium last season and went on to barely survive relegation by the end. Manchester United lost 2-0 to Fulham. Chelsea and Manchester United each drew 0-0 at home with eventually-relegated Newcastle and Liverpool lost 2-0 to equally-relegated Middlesbrough. Arsenal looked to struggle for the first half of last season before comfortably securing fourth place by the conclusion. It would not be at all surprising to see Liverpool do exactly the same. That said, all predictions wrong or your money back.

Stats of the Week No. 1: This week Glenn Hoddle questioned whether Arsenal make the most of the attacking opportunities they create and whether their scoring ‘ratio’ was good enough. Arsenal have scored 27 goals in their opening 8 league games – a new Premier League record.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Continuing on the Arsenal theme, they’ve scored 27 goals from 129 shots. Manchester United 21 from 128 and Chelsea 19 from 155. That ratio doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

Stats of the Week No. 3: Get enough balls into the box and eventually something will happen. Matt Jarvis of Wolves has made 88 crosses this season, one every 8 minutes on average, and created only a single goal.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Frank Lampard had taken 42 shots this season in league and champions league action before finally breaking his open-play scoring duck against Atletico Madrid.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Darren Bent has scored with 32% of his shots this season, as well as being joint top scorer in the league – a better total and ratio than Defoe (6 at 23%) and Rooney (6 at 19%).

Stats of the Week No. 6: 9 of Aston Villa’s 12 league goals have come from set-pieces. Their defeated opponents Chelsea have conceded 8 goals this season, 6 of those from set plays.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Liverpool have the worst record in that regard, with 10 of their 13 goals conceded coming from set-pieces

Stats of the Week No. 8: Jason Scotland and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake were directly involved in a combined 59 goals in the Championship last season. So far they have been involved in 0 in the Premier League.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Bobby Zamora’s goal against Hull means he has already equalled his total for last season – 2. The first ricocheted off his arse, the second off his face.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Jay Spearing, playing as a defensive midfielder in his first Premier League start against Sunderland, didn’t make a single tackle in the 71 minutes he played.

Sweet Plays of the Week: A number, surprisingly enough, from Blackburn v Burnley – Robbie Blake gave Burnley the lead with a thunderbolt before David Dunn tied the scores after being teed up by a delightful flick from Franco Di Santo. Later, Pascal Chimbonda made it 3-1. With the ball switched from right to left, Chimbonda made a great run to get on the end of Pedersen’s knock-down before skipping past Fletcher and finishing neatly.

Moving further afield, Gonzalo Higuain scored a sumptuous first-time chip over the goalkeeper in Real Madrid’s 4-2 win over Valladolid, running onto a tremendous through pass from Xabi Alonso and once again raising the question; does he really deserve to be behind glam-boy Karim Benzema in the pecking order?

While the move ultimately ended without producing a goal, Antonio Valencia came extremely close at 0-0 in Manchester United’s match against CSKA Moscow, rattling the crossbar with a thunderous drive following a stunningly intricate passage of one-touch play between himself, Berbatov and Nani.

Sour Play of the Week No. 1: Dida of AC Milan, in one of his team’s most critical games of the season, decided to fumble an extremely tame shot from Esteban Granero directly at the feet of Raul to allow Madrid to take the lead. Dida’s blushes were spared as Milan recovered and went on to take the game 3-2, largely thanks to...

Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Not to be outdone by his opposite number in the same game, Iker Casillas, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, came rushing out of his area at the sight of a long ball over the top of Madrid’s flimsy defence only to miss the ball entirely and allow Pato to score the simplest of tap-ins and give Milan a 2-1 lead.

These events prompted Richard Keys of Sky Sports to question whether there are any good goalkeepers in Europe at the minute, with not one of his panelists suggesting Gianluigi Buffon, winner of the IFFHS World Goalkeeper of the Year award in 4 of the last 6 years.

Sweet ‘N’ Sour Play: Andriy Arshavin took his opportunity superbly with a delicate finish into the far corner, but why were Arsenal allowed to move the ball from their goalkeeper in their own penalty area to Arshavin in Birmingham’s entirely unchallenged? Fabregas ran forty yards with the ball without being closed down or tackled and similarly the only opposition Arshavin faced was the most pathetic of attempted blocks by a player who clearly could not be bothered, Stephen Carr.

Fortune Favours the Bold? At 1-1 in their Champions League game with Lyon, Rafael Benitez replaced midfielder Yossi Benayoun with striker Andriy Voronin. Seven minutes later Lyon scored the winning goal.

Christmas Creep: Is it ever too soon to describe something as an “early Christmas present”? Sam Allardyce thinks not, describing his team’s win over rivals Burnley as just that on October 19th, the day before his own birthday. In my own hometown Currys and Phones4U are advertising ‘Christmas temp’ jobs “starting immediately.” Today is October 22nd. Perhaps whichever manager lifts the Premier League trophy come May will thank his team for giving him an early Christmas present.

Adventures in Officiating: Mike Jones awarded the bizarre “beach ball” goal at Sunderland, though the Laws of the game clearly indicate it should have been disallowed. What’s more is that on an occasion where a manager would have been well within his rights to decry the referee, Rafael Benitez refused to do so apparently because he, like Mike Jones, had no idea what the rules of the game he’s paid millions to work in are: “It’s a very technical question. It could be a goal, it’s difficult to say. In this case, it has to be a goal.” Steve Bruce was equally philosophical, declaring anyone who knew the rule “a saddo.”

Expect the Expected: What better way to demonstrate that you’re not up for the physical battle of defending than to take to the field wearing a gum shield? True to form, Marcelo went on to lose his man at the far post and give Pato all the space in the world to score Milan’s third and winning goal in the dying minutes against Real Madrid.

Limited Understanding of the Ancient Language: Dr. Rush of Stargate Universe has been seen regularly bemoaning his crewmates’ limited usefulness aboard an ancient starcruiser lost halfway across the universe. He worked himself into a nervous breakdown because he’s the only one on the ship with the knowledge to do anything of worth to help their situation. So why not use your body-switching, unlimited range ‘communication stones’ to bring some more experts onboard at the expense of some of the many useless members of the expedition? It’s got to be more helpful than using them almost solely for visits home to invoke melodrama among family members and long lost wives. But then what do I know, I’m not a supposed super-genius?

Obscure World Score of the Week: Changsha Ginde 2-1 Chongqing Lifan. A vital result which lifts Changsha Ginde out of the relegation zone and, with only two rounds to go, condemns Chongqing Lifan to near-certain relegation.

Cosmic Coincidence: This weekend Manchester United, owned by the Glazer family, face a Liverpool team on its worst run of form since 1987. On the flip side, the Glazers also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are on their worst run of form since 1977 and this weekend face the New England Patriots at Wembley in a game that kicks off directly after Liverpool v Manchester United.

Next week: delayed due to postal strike.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

You lot are pathetic.

75. At 10:04am on 21 Oct 2009, RandomMemorableName wrote: You lot are pathetic. The fact that your so eager to pounce on (a rare) run of poor form says it all. This constant tirade aimed at Rafa and his 'failings' in the transfer market are ridiculous. You cannot judge a player singularly in this situation, you have to assess the bigger picture. The fact that every player signed and sold by Rafa has been sold for a profit suggets he knows what he is doing.
Hmm. A bold claim.
Let's have a look, shall we?

Rafael Benitez has indeed made a number of signings he later sold at a profit, the most notable of which being Xabi Alonso, of course. Here's a list:

Carson £1m in £3.25m out = £2.25m
Alonso £10.5m in £30m out = £19.5m
Bellamy £6m in £7.5m out = £1.5m
Crouch £7m in £10m out = £3m
Sissoko £5.6m in £8.2m out = £2.6m
Arbeloa £2.6m in £3.5m out = £0.9m

Total = £29.75m profit

Not bad. A near-£30m profit on players bought and subsequently sold by dear Rafa.
But wait! Surely there are more than that? Surely he's signed and sold more than six players?! But... he couldn't have, could he? After all "every player signed and sold by Rafa has been sold for a profit." Have a look:

Morientes £6.3m in £3m out = £3.3m loss
Luis Garcia £6m in £4m out = £2m loss
Gonzalez £4.5m in £4.2m out = £0.3m loss
Pennant £6.7m in £0 out = £6.7m loss
Leto £1.85m in £1.3m out £0.55m loss
Keane £19m in £12m out = £7m loss

£19.85m loss

So, indeed a bold claim... and a false one.
Overall, of players bought and sold by Rafael Benitez, he has made losses on as many players as he's made a profit. He's lucky Martin O'Neill priced him out of buying Gareth Barry because in that case he would have sold Alonso a year earlier for £14m and the figures wouldn't look so good at all. So, thanks Martin.
Example: ith our limited budget - check our NET SPEND each year compared to those around us (including the likes of Villa and Spurs) - we couldn't have arrived at Torres without first making a profit on players like Crouch and Bellamy.
You didn't sell Crouch until a year after signing Torres so I'm treating that part as absolute nonsense. Likewise, the net profit on sales of £9.9m is almost entirely thanks to the £19.5m profit on Xabi Alonso, a player who was sold a full two years after the signing of Fernando Torres. I doubt the measly £1.5m profit on Bellamy really made all the difference.

As for the net spend - clickity click here.
04-09, Rafa's period in charge, Liverpool are 3rd. Behind Chelsea and Man City, ahead of Villa and Spurs. What exactly are you trying to claim here?

The rate at which this squad has improved gets overlooked just all too often. Time and time again people fail to see that what we are chasing is not a stationary object. Chelsea, Utd, Arsenal - they are all improving. The fact is however, we are improving at a faster rate.
That is not a fact. Manchester United and Chelsea have been scoring consistently in the high-80s in points for the last 4 or 5 years. There is very little, if any, room for improvement beyond that. It is a lot easier for a team like Liverpool to improve from 68 and 76 points to 86 than it is for Manchester United to improve on the 90 points they scored last season. No team is going to finish the season on 100 points.

We finished over 30 points behind the champions in Rafa's first year in charge. Each year we are getting closer. Miracles we do at once, the impossible takes a little longer.
The first part in italics is indeed true. The second part in bold... is not.
In Rafa's second year in charge you finished 9 points behind the champions on 82 points.
Third year - 68 points, 21 points behind the champions. Incidentally, the champions that year were Manchester United, who had finished the season on 83 points the year before, only a single point more than Liverpool. They went forward, Rafa's Liverpool took a huge backward step.
Fourth year - 76 points. An improvement on the year before, still less than he achieved in his second year.
Fifth year - 86 points. Yes. Finally, an improvement on the second year of Rafa's reign. It doesn't change the fact he achieved less in the third and fourth years than the second.

To summarise, you did get closer last year but to say you have been getting closer each year is clearly untrue.

Good day.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Tales From The Bed Of Scott Bakula: The Lost Memoirs

1. When I was in my early twenties on a trip to East Africa, I saw a gazelle giving birth. It was truly amazing. Within minutes, the baby was standing up—standing up on its own. A few more minutes, and it was walking. And before I knew it it was running alongside its mother, moving away with the herd. Humans aren't like that, Sir Blavalon. We may come from the same island, but we're pretty much helpless when we're born. It takes us months before we're able to crawl—almost a full year before we can walk. Our quest for the forgotten runestones of ju'gar isn't much different. We're going to stumble, make mistakes — I'm sure more than a few before we find our footing. But we're going to learn from those mistakes. That's what being human is all about. I'm sorry you can't see that.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The who's who of World Cup 2010

On 15th October in 1946 Hermann Goering poisoned himself the night before his execution. That was a genuine tragedy as justice could not be served upon one of history’s most evil men. But like the two sides of justice – right and wrong – football is a game of two halves. And it is in that spirit my father, a real football man, always said to me "you can never write off the Germans."

Indeed, going into the world cup the Euro 2008 finalists Germany have been largely ignored despite negotiating a tricky qualifying group containing Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia, with media coverage extending mainly to the exploits of Brazil, Spain and England. A situation perhaps justified because while Germany demonstrated their usual efficiency the question remains whether their side is truly world class?

While the German campaign was characteristically solid, the two most eye-catching performers in the UEFA qualifiers were undoubtedly England and Spain. The European Champions romped home with a perfect 10 out of 10 record, plundering 28 goals in the process and conceding only 5. With a world class line-up containing a number of Barcelona’s all-conquering superstars of 08/09 alongside the world’s best striker Fernando Torres they are unquestionably the team to beat. The splendid Spaniards are a joy to watch with their tantalizing triangles and perfect passing, a pure footballing team. Surprisingly Torres, the world’s leading marksman, failed to notch a single goal in the qualifiers, unluckily enduring a somewhat frustrating time on the fringes of most games, almost ominously quiet in the lead up to the big event - form is temporary, class is permanent. It would take a brave man to bet against them, no question about it, though one must question whether they’ll be up for a proper physical battle should they face such opposition?

Meanwhile, England showed bouncebackability in the wake of their Euro 2008 humiliation by storming to victory in their group despite a number of question marks hanging over the team. Goalkeeping problems remain, with the ageing David James seemingly first choice ahead of the fantastic Bob Green of West Ham, though neither are world class. The timeless left-wing problem remains, with the world’s most complete all-round midfield player Steven Gerrard having been shunted out to the left, much like Rooney for Man U in past seasons, in order to accommodate Frank Lampard who is incapable of playing together with Gerrard in his natural-born central midfield position. Can England really get the best out of Gerrard by playing him out of position?? Gareth Barry partners Lampard in central midfield at Gerrard’s expense, and while the Manchester City grafter will give 110% and cover every blade of grass, is he really a world class performer? At the end of the day Gerrard is England’s best player and probably the best player in the world. England have to acknowledge that Gerrard is the best player and build the team around him. He is England’s Maradona, Zidane, Platini, Ronaldo (the Brazillian) etc. The others have to understand that he is the most talented and most important player. There has to be hierarchy of responsibility and respect for a team to win a major championship. The outstanding player has to be given the freedom to influence games and perform to his best. England have to get the message through to the Lampards and Rooneys etc that they have to play for Gerrard and England.

Up front, England are as conflicted as ever. Emile Heskey provides physical presence and a selfless work ethic but remains incapable of finishing the simplest of chances. You can’t help but feel that in some of the matches where Heskey fluffed numerous opportunities, Jermain Defoe could have had a hat trick! The Tottenham Hotspur sharpshooter is a natural predator who never misses a chance, and in tight games at critical moments, it’s a no brainer who you’d rather have that crucial chance fall to! If Capello must go for a big man up front, then surely Peter Crouch should get the nod with his excellent international scoring record. Moreover, he offers far more than Emile Heskey ever could, with people often forgetting that Crouch has a great touch for a big man as well as an imposing aerial threat. The real problem, as always, is whether any of Rooney’s potential striking partners are really world class? Most of Crouch and Defoe’s goals have come against poor opposition, so if Rooney isn’t firing where are the goals going to come from? Looking through the England team, similar problems are evident. Is the defensively suspect Glen Johnson actually world class? Who will play on the right? Lennon? Wright-Phillips? Walcott? They are full of pace, power, technique and enthusiasm but are any of them really world class? Can Beckham still do it at this level?

England have struggled to become a genuine footballing side to rival the likes of Spain who play the game the way it’s meant to be played, with their passing disjointed and movement often lacking. They play like eleven individuals rather than a team. One wonders whether relocating Steven Gerrard to his natural position in the midfield engine room would help rectify this situation, with his world class passing ability enabling the team to dovetail more effectively. Again, it seems odd not to play the world’s greatest central midfielder in central midfield. England can’t compete with the best without developing a free flowing passing game.

Moving onto South America, perennial world cup challengers Brazil are the main, probably only threat. The samba boys swashbuckled their way through the qualifiers as always, playing the right way and dazzling their opponents into submission with the silky skills of the likes of Kaka and Robinho. They are perhaps not the greatest in defence, but when have they ever been? For Brazil such things are of no concern, with careless defending and dodgy goalkeeping a happy concession to allow for exhilarating attacking play. What more can be said about Brazil than "watch out"? Stopping Brazil, like Spain, may be like trying to resist an irresistible force. You just know they’ll be there or thereabouts come the latter stages.

To conclude, it’s a big ask, but if Capello and England could treat the impostors of triumph and disaster the same going into the world cup, then maybe ours would be "the earth and everything that's in it", as Kipling would say - and "which is more" the England national team would be "a man, my son!"

satirical if you hadn't guessed.
if you hadn't you're humourless