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Sunday, December 30, 2001

The Ghost Of Christmas Future

It's Christmas 2002; United (managed by David O'Leary) are struggling to pick up points at home to the teams they're battling with against relegation. England have nearly finished parading the World Cup around the country, and 60m world record signing Patrick Vieira is having a great season at Arsenal (after an unsuccessful spell of three weeks at Real Madrid—for tax purposes.) It's a dream, but the way this season is going I'm forced to suspend my disbelief every Saturday as the results come in.

The way it's all unfolded couldn't help but conjure up the old cliché regarding fat ladies and singing — I was one of the many writing off Manchester United's season only a few weeks ago. I stand by my comments, a team that defends as badly as United will not win the league, but the important point is that anything can and will happen. Liverpool, who've looked unstoppable most of the season, are dropping points and playing poorly. Leeds have been battling away but the quality of their performances switch between sublime and clueless in an instant.

It seemed after their defeat at home to Newcastle that it was the same old story for Arsenal — second place here we come. Uncharacteristic wins over Liverpool, Chelsea and Middlesborough have put to bed any ideas that it's under-achievement on the menu again. Newcastle have suffered a touch of vertigo and slipped up, but they are now considered contenders more seriously than when they reached the summit.

For me the title race is as open as I've ever seen it, I do think that simply looking at the sides will clarify the real competition though. The most serious challengers are Arsenal and Liverpool; both have winning squads and in Thierry Henry and Michael Owen they have the two most potent attacking forces in the country. With truly world class players in midfield and defence to compliment the forwards they are the two best footballing teams in the country and only nuances will separate them.

Chelsea and Leeds are only a fraction behind though. Both have good all round squads, and players capable of winning matches are all over the pitch; however they both have similar flaws. Both have rock solid defences, Chelsea in particular, and Ian Harte just manages to counter his defensive frailties with his aggression going forward. Prolific scorers are not in short supply for the two either, in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Robbie Fowler, Chelsea and Leeds have proven finishers at this level and players capable of winning a game single handedly. The weakness' that I believe will foul up their challenge are a lack of true strength in depth and key midfielders that don't really cut it in the illustrious company of Vieira and Gerrard (think Petit, Lampard, Batty, Dacourt.)

Outsiders in my eyes are Newcastle and Man Utd. Both have serious deficiencies in crucial areas, United's defence is poor at best in comparison to any of the other contenders. The quality which separates Premiership sides from their poorer counterparts in the Nationwide league is the defensive rigidity. United can just about muster a Nationwide defence and if it wasn't for Giggs, Beckham, Keane and Scholes, they would be in very dire straits.

Newcastle have a more general problem of players that just fall short of their contemporaries at the other top clubs. Craig Bellamy is in the midst of a spell of good form but in comparison to Owen, Fowler, Henry and Hasselbaink; he's simply not up there. Shearer is goalscoring personified, but no longer world class, and the Magpies can't rely on his goals all season (especially with his dodgy back). Players like Nol Solano, Gary Speed and Laurent Robert are all quality but fall short of the likes of Giggs, Pires, Gerrard, Kewell, Keane, Vieira etc.

The way this season is panning out anything could happen, Leeds' togetherness could overpower the big(ger) guns, Chelsea may string together three wins, Laurent Blanc may try defending. Whatever happens it will fun to watch, and highly stressful if you support any of the top six.

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Monday, December 24, 2001

(London) Pride and Prejudice

This week's awards were not easy to choose, again. Both United and Chelsea scored an improbable number of goals, I do think the scorelines in each case were a little flattering however. It is also worth noting that both were at home and playing very poor sides. The same cannot be said of Newcastle, who performed superbly to overcome Leeds in such determined form — but I find it difficult to applaud a team that concedes three goals. Which leaves Arsenal's victory at Anfield.

Against an injury-less Liverpool, missing captain Patrick Vieira and nevermind the Anfield jinx — you have to look back nine years for the last Arsenal victory — everything seemed to be going alright until Gio Van Bronkhorst was sent off for slipping on the snow. I don't believe he dived, he got up again far too quickly and at no point made that ‘so where's my penalty’ gesture. Paul Durkin's tragic case of Little Ginger Man Syndrome™ made it impossible for him to do anything other than brandish an undeserved red card.

The ten men of Arsenal going one step further than hanging on at nil nil, winning the game 2-1 and playing some great football makes them the strongest contenders for the accolade. Player of the Week was nearly as hard to decide, but Ray Parlour's tireless hard work in midfield and his determination to the end just about outshines Ruud Van Nistelrooy's first decent game for United.

Performace of the week : Arsenal vs Liverpool
Players of the week : Ray Parlour (Arsenal)
Goal of the week : Mark Viduka (Leeds vs Newcastle)
Team of the week :
Matteo Sereni
Phil Neville
Man Utd
Martin Keown
Danny Higginbotham
Ashley Cole
Kieron Dyer
Paul Scholes
Man Utd
Ray Parlour
Finidi George
  Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Man Utd
Eidur Gudjonsen

With that done, all I have to say is Merry Christmas everybody, enjoy yourselves and I'll be back boxing day! Don't drink too much though, Arsenal vs. Chelsea is an 11am kick off on the 26th ;)

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Saturday, December 22, 2001

Disgraceful Is The Only Word

I'll get the controversy out of the way briefly as I'm sure you're all sick of hearing about it by now. I think it's not in doubt that Lee Bowyer and Jonathon Woodgate are guilty as sin of helping to beat the living daylights out of Safraz Najeib, and the only reason they aren't in prison is because they have a lot more money than Paul Clifford. I don't think that either of them should ever play for England (and so long as Sven Goran Eriksson is in charge I doubt they will), I don't think either would add much to the squad anyway.

I would also be interested to know if either of them (Woodgate in particular) will suffer any kind of censure from the FA. Thierry Henry is to get a three match ban and ‘have an example made of him’ by the FA for having a barney at a ref, not to mention a catalogue of players having the proverbial ton of bricks dropped on them for minor offences. Will either of the Leeds thugs get any kind of punishment from the body so afraid of being ‘brought into disrepute?’ I doubt it.

Return Of The Brat

A wry smile came to my face as I heard of Nicol-ah Anelka's arrival at Liverpool. One wonders whether anyone at Anfield have been paying any attention to the Frenchman's career…

His first manager as a high profile player couldn't have been a more amiable and respected man, a man who does everything to defend and protect his players in all circumstances. Winning the domestic double in his first year and with a first team place in the bag things couldn't have been looking better — London's hardly an unglamorous location either.

Despite this, he refuses to return to the club after the summer and throws a wobbly of petulant three year old proportions leading to (after a fall out with Lazio and Juventus officials) a move to Real Madrid. He had a fairly short spell at the Spanish club, marked mainly by poor performances, refusal to train with his team-mates (they're just not good enough to play with me!) and arguments with referee's and his manager(s). Then a ‘dream’ move to his boyhood club PSG (from whom Arsenal signed him as a precocious 17 year old). Same old, same old at PSG, arguments, refusal to train and fall out's with players and officials led to his (always helpful) brothers/agents requesting a move.

I don't care if he plays like Pelé (which he doesn't — by a long way) he's just the kind of person to steer clear of at all cost's, I thought Houllier had more sense. If Liverpool had paid any money for him I'd (confidently) proclaim it the worst signing since £10m Chris Sutton. I had to laugh when John Barnes offered this pearl of wisdom on football focus this morning;

‘If he's happy to be a bit part player there won't be any problem—but if he expects to play every week…’

Just a hint of irony?

I'd be interested to know what you think of the new logo. If you feel like sharing your view, leave a message using the comments system (just click ‘have your say’ below). Thanks in advance.

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Monday, December 17, 2001

Red Flag Flying... Half Mast

A little slip up on the way to the Championship is one way of looking at it, a door left open for Man Utd is the favoured opinion of hacks up and down the country. Both are off the mark as far as I'm concerned, the former is closest. It will certainly make the top two's encounter on Sunday compelling and essential viewing for anyone who considers themselves football fans. The latter can only be considered a desperate glimmer of misguided hope for the people clinging to the dream of ‘Fergies final fling’. That's only my opinion of course.

It has to be said that Chelsea were superb on Sunday—tearing the wannabe champions to shreads with astute passing, world class defending and a desire that just wasn't present in a Liverpool minus the boy wonder Michael Owen. It sounds an exaggeration, but Liverpool without the injury prone duo of Owen and Gerrard are not even close to being the same team.

Meanwhile I hear a call (echoed by myself) to Sven, John Terry for England. He knocks spots off Wes Brown and Ledley King in every department and I can't see any reason for not taking him to Japan and Korea. The questino is, have I jinxed the poor lad? Something like a friend of mine proclaiming — ‘McAllister, never misses’...

What's happening to Leicester? 0-4 at home to Southampton one week, a (score) draw at Elland Road the next. Dave Bassett has to be given credit for pulling the teams collective socks up and inspiring surely one of Leicester's performaces of the season. If they keep this up the team might not wake up in the building society come August.

Another determined performance from West Ham stopped Arsenal exploiting the slip-ups of their two main rivals. It was a day blessed by Thierry Henry and encompassing admirable supporting roles for the two left backs. Ashley Cole and Sebastien Schemmel shone, marauding down opposite flanks with ease and scoring/setting up the only goals of the game. If it wasn't for Sundays magnificent performance by the blue quarter of London the Hammers may have clinced a second performance of the week (if only to get another mention on the fine site

Enough waffling, how about some awards...

Performace of the week : Chelsea vs Liverpool
Player of the week : Roy Keane (Man Utd)
Goal of the week : J-F Hasselbaink (Chelsea)
Team of the week :
Carlo Cudicini
Sebastien Schemmel
West Ham
John Terry
Gudni Bergsson
Ashley Cole
Darren Anderton
Roy Keane
Man Utd
Anders Svensson
  Marian Pahars
J-F Hasselbaink

In case you're wondering, I do have an opinion on the Woodgate/Bowyer malarkey, expect my ranting to boil over later in the week. Probably around the same time Newcastle break their London hoodoo against the unlukiest team in London. It's probably also worth noting that the ‘have your say’ link below doesn't direct you to the all things footie forum, but mereky a little pop up messageboard where you canb leave feedback or comments.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Did I Miss Something?

Or did Spurs and Blackburn mistake last night's games for competitive fixtures? You'd be forgiven for thinking so, but it doesn't detract from the fact that players who should have known better failed to perform. Blackburn hammering 4 past Arsenal can never be a good thing for the gunners, especially if this team is supposed to have a chance at winning the F.A. Barclaycard Premier Reserve League. Even Bolton seemed stunned as their second string lost out by six goals to Spurs' first team. You'd expect a bit of maturity from managers like Glenn Hoddle and Graeme Sourness but I guess they're just desperate to win something even if it is the Worthlesston Cup.

Seriously though, why did Arsène Wenger feel it necessary to remove Arsenal's best midfielder (the—surely ready for a run in the first team—Jermaine Pennant) when Kanu and Sylvain Wiltord were doing their level best to make Ade Akinbiyi look like Maradona?

Why do we still pretend that the League Cup is worth anything to the top Premiership teams? I for one think it is probably time for the league cup to live up to its name and be exclusively for clubs in the football league. That way at least it may be treated with a little respect and cease to be a place for reserves to gain a little experience. Premiership clubs have more things to worry about, especially those not in Europe—survival in the Premiership is much more important both financially and in footballing terms.

A new feature now, shamelessly stealing the idea from a popular footballing magazine named after George Grahams favoured way of lining up his troops. In some cases, a footballer running his own personal website is a good idea, interesting gossip and personal views on controversial issues minus an agent. Sometimes (I'm looking in your direction Jaap) it's just plain boring, but foreign players (particularly northern European's for some reason) seem to insist on writing some of the most bizarre and profound statements of modern times. Ladies and gentlemen this week I present to you the wonderful world of Crystal Palace striker Aki Riihilahti

“November is a useless month. Always a dull weather, bad results, small problems and even the girl calendar has a left-over babe on it.”
“December instead is the month full of suprises, fit calendar girls, joy and belief in many things. In this month I believe in two things: Crystal Palace and X:mas calendar.

“One of the best childhood memories was to wake up every day with full of enthusiasm and belief that today there is chocolate in the X:mas calendar. Same goes now with football, we need the chocolate.”

Deeply profound I think you'll agree.

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Monday, December 10, 2001

Hammer and Tong's

West Ham certainly had a battle on their hands to hold down a 1-0 advantage at Old Trafford, and credit must be given to them for hanging on. Although at some points hanging on was not the case, in the words of the great George Best ‘West Ham were taking the mikey out of United...’ how long have I waited to hear such sweet words.

Anyone who saw Arsenal's 3-2 defeat of Aston Villa yesterday will have experienced one of the most thrilling matches so far this season. Villa had the run of the green in the first half and came in after 45 minutes thinking Christmas had come early. A combination of sloppy defending and a ref with his morgage on an away win left Arsenal all over the place at the break. I don't know what Arsène Wenger said to Thierry Henry at half time but he came out for the second half with a newfound passion and desire. Everywhere the ball went Henry followed and with George Boateng being shown up for the Coventry reject he is by a classy Patrick Vieira the half was Arsenal's—but what about the game? Some clinical finishing from Henry and a blast from Sylvain Wiltord's first (proper) touch snatched the game from under Villa's noses. They must have known it was coming though, Arsenal had nearly 80% of posession and I've heard about managers watching a different game to the rest of us but...

“Did the best team win John?”
“Do you really mean that?”
“ [long pause] ...yes”


Dave Bassett summed up Leicester's current situation, after watching his team lose woefully 4-0 at home (against relegation rivals Southampton as well), he gave us his thoughts on the game...

“Our man of the match was Trevor Benjamin, and he didn't get on.”

Ade Akinbiyi was absolutely terrible, I have no idea what he's doing in the Premiership. To quote Roy Collins of the Daily Telegraph—he seems to posess ‘a kind of perverse genius’ for missing sitters, Andy Cole would be proud.

Liverpool clocked up another convincing win over a poor Middlesborough side, Patrick Berger scoring a beautifully crafted curler from 25 yards. Leeds produced a strong performance away from home to overcome Blackburn 2-1 and Fulham impressed against Everton in their 2-0 win. Kevin Lisbie nutmegged Neil Sullivan twice to give Charlton a superb 3-1 win against North London rivals Spurs and Newcastle took adavantage of not playing in the capital to beat Ipswich 1-0.

Now for the all things footie weekly awards...

Performace of the week : West Ham vs Man Utd
Players of the week : Thierry Henry Arsenal
Goal of the week : Patrick Berger (Liverpool vs Middlesborough)
Team of the week :
Carlo Cudicini
  Rio Ferdinand
Sami Hyppia
Alain Goma
Steed Malbranque
Patrick Vieira
Anders Svensson
Harry Kewell
Joe Cole
West Ham
  Thierry Henry
Kevin Lisbie

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Thursday, December 06, 2001

About Arsène Time

Surely to co-incide with one of Arsenal's finest European performances M Wenger has finally signed an extension to his contract, keeping him at the club until 2005 when the new stadium should be opening.

Notable performaces on tueday night came from just about everyone playing (in a red shirt anyway) and Alessandro Del Piero reminded everyone just how good he is.

Ashley Cole put in a fine performance and surely convinced the watching Sven Goran Eriksson that there is only one choice fro England's left back position. Patrick Vieira was magnificent in midfield as was Ray Parlour keeping some big and immpressive reputations at bay (just exactly who is Edgar Davids?). There's no need to say anything about Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires was equally forceful and dangerous on the left.

Stuart Taylor handled himself magnificently, making at least two crucial saves and was desperately unlucky to have a last ditch clearance (by Sol Campbell) rebound off him into his own net. Campbell and the young Matthew Upson are forming a solid partnership and the only weak defensive link seems to be Lauren. He looked every bit the midfielder as he was skinned repeatedly by Del Piero and at the other end danced past three defenders to set up Arsenal's first goal. Problem area, bring back Lee Dixon.

Last night Manchester United executed probably the easiest win they'll have all season. Boavista lay somewhere between terrible and shocking—looking only marginally more threatening than a tranquilised beagle. One important goal by December, not a bad return on £19m eh Alex?

Some credence has to be given to reports that Liverpool bored Roma to death but you have to concede it was a good result. From what I saw of the game, Jerzy Dudek kept the reds in it and Roma were just not effective enough to break down his defence.

I've been meaning to plug them for a while but if you do anything on the internet now, visit danger here one of the funniest football sites I've ever had the joy to read. The Ron-glish section is hilarious, visit—you'll see.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2001

As Promised

here is team of the week...

Performace of the week : Chelsea vs Man Utd
Players of the week : William Gallas Chelsea
Goal of the week : Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink (Arsenal vs Man Utd)
Team of the week :
Thomas Sorensen
Chris Riggot
William Gallas
John Terry
Graeme Le Saux
Freddie Ljungberg
Patrick Vieira
Paul Gascoigne
Gary Speed
  Kevin Phillips
Les Ferdinand

As usual have your say by clicking below, plus something interesting I found on the web...

If I was a James Bond villain, I would be Francisco Scaramanga.

I enjoy good food, monopolising the world's energy supplies, and sex before assassinating people.

I am played by Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Who would you be? James Bond Villain Personality Test

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Monday, December 03, 2001

Weekend at Fergies

That would be an interesting place to be right now wouldn't it. In the meatime what happens if you put together the first letters of the five teams that have beaten Man Utd in the Premiership this season?

Bolton liverpool arsenal newcastle chelsea

It's good to see Alan ‘elbows’ Shearer is up to his old tricks again. Whether he caught Jon Fortune or not I don't know-TV replays were inconclusive-but I can't see anyone else getting away with it. Daviiiiide Ginola has also gotten himself in a bit of bother shouting at fourth official Clive Wilkes, he will be reported to the FA and is likely to get a three game ban plus a bit else for bringing the game into disrepute. His manager John Gregory wins quote of the weekend;

“It was a crap result...”

What insight, what an intricately analytic mind that man has. Other good quotes include big Ron assessing possible solutions to Manchester United's defensive problems;

“United should buy some big, ugly bruiser...”

Didn't they just sell one? It's good to see Ron is keeping up with the current trend for cultured, ball playing centre halves anyway.

Team of the week will be up later, I'll just wait for Ricketts to score a hat trick against Spurs tonight so there's someone to partner Thierry Henry up front :o)

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Saturday, December 01, 2001

It's a Fix!

Argentina, Sweden and Nigeria - the most difficult group by a mile. Three teams who won their qualifying group by a comfortable margin ‘top of the continents’ to quote Mark Lawrensen. At least France and Brazil have got it easy—even though Brazil struggled to qualify, finishing 4th in the South American group—heres the full draw.

group A
  • france
  • senegal
  • uruguay
  • denmark
  group B
  • spain
  • slovenia
  • paraguay
  • south africa
group C
  • brazil
  • turkey
  • china
  • costa rica
  group D
  • south korea
  • poland
  • united states
  • portugal
group E
  • germany
  • saudi arabia
  • ireland
  • cameroon
  group F
  • argentina
  • nigeria
  • england
  • sweden
group G
  • italy
  • ecuador
  • croatia
  • mexico
  group H
  • japan
  • belgium
  • russia
  • tunisia

Englands fixtures are...

There's some fantastic and scary games in prospect, if we finish second and France win their group then we get the current champions in the second round—it only gets better. It's also been confirmed by FIFA that from now on tournament champions will have to qualify for the next World Cup Finals. It's an interesting idea which will probably make no difference in the long run, it will however help the champions get a proper warm up rather than play a succession of meaningless friendlies.

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