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Monday, February 25, 2002

Eleven Men, Noble and True

And just before we get to team of the week, I can't believe I forgot a little match that went on yesterday in the land of leeks, dragons and a disproportionate number of world class snooker players. Congratulations to Blackburn Rovers on winning the Worthington Cup. Now he's left the confines of the Old Trafford bench I'm beginning to like Any Cole, particularly his rant at Glenn Hoddle (who left him out of the World Cup Squad) and Teddy Sheringham (who in four years as teammates barely exchanged a word).

“It makes it all the sweeter to score because it was against Hoddle. The thing that annoyed me about him was the way he went about it and told the Press before he told me. That's his style.

“As for Sheringham, it was a definite dive and he should have been booked.”

Ohh handbags. Don't you just love rubbing it in?

Now for the all things footie team of the week…

Performace of the week : Blackburn vs Spurs
Player of the week © : Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
Goal of the week : Thierry Henry (Arsenal vs Fulham)
Team of the week :
Brad Friedel
Blackburn
David Weir
Everton
Nikos Dabizas
Newcastle
Alan Stubbs
Everton
John Arne Riise
Liverpool
Lauren
Arsenal
Roy Keane
Man Utd
Patrick Vieira
Arsenal
Christian Ziege
Tottenham
  Thierry Henry
Arsenal
Matt Jansen
Blackburn
 

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Monday, February 25, 2002

Derby Day

It struck me that there seemed to be an improbable number of derby games over the weekend. The biggies; Liverpool - Everton and Newcastle - Sunderland. Lest not forget another London derby, between Arsenal and Fulham or the triple derby at Filbert Street (by location, position in the Premiership and of course, by name.)

The Merseyside clash turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, a major factor surely the fact that only two scousers were on the pitch (Alan Stuubs and Steven Wright if you were wondering.) Even the most passionate Livepool fan must agree that in the year 2002, Liverpool's real derby is with their fierce rivals and fellow title challengers Manchester United, for both players and supporters. Even their clashes with Arsenal generally show more ferosity and determination than those with the blue half of Liverpool. Anyone who's seen Monsters Inc must surely agree that we now know where the Abominable Snowman monster has been banished to — he's playing right back for Liverpool.

Likewise the Sunderland - Newcastle match turned out to be a fairly mellow affair. Newcastle's rise and rise this season is contrasted bleakly by Sunderland's slippery slide down the table, there was only going to be one winner, and both players and supporters seemed to accept that. That attitude and performance is not good enough for Sunderland — though I doubt they'll be in too much trouble by the end of the season, it may be too much for the fans to ask them to place their continued confidence in Peter Reid. His head looks ripe for chopping.

Leicester City

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Derby are not a particularly good side. Nor did they play out of their skins at Filbert Street. They still however, murdered Leicester. Nationwide first division mid table mediocrity looms large for the Raw Dykes Stadium.

Robbie Savage proclaimed last week that if (ha!) Leicester are relegated then he may have to move on, he simply must play in the Premiership. He's clearly suffering with delusions of Jamie from Footballers Wives size proportions. Would any Premiership team take Savage? even on a free?

If this weekend has taught me anything it's never underestimate Thierry Henry. The man was phenomenal (a word that gets bandied around too much in football) on Saturday. Bearing in mind that at kick off, Fulham had condeded less than a goal every other game, Henry scores two, sets up one and is instrumental in a third. Add to that the fact that his all round play was superb and you have a very frightening prospect indeed. If he takes just some of that firepower into the midweek clash with Bayer Leverkusen at Highbury then Arsenal's place in the quarter finals of the European Champions Cup will look significantly closer. More astounding than Henry's performance however — with Uriah Rennie refereeing as well — was the absence of a red card for an Arsenal player.

Though Villa conceded a scrappy goal I think Graham Taylor can be proud of the way his team performed at Old Trafford, Thomas Hitzlsperger looked particularly lively in the half hour he was on the pitch. Vassell also put in another assured display that will do his England chances no harm at all.


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Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Big Cisse

If you need the definition of a transfer race, look no further than Boulogne's Stade de la Liberation a week ago. In the first 45 minutes no less than 12 premiership clubs' representatives (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds, Tottenham, Newcastle, Fulham, Southampton, Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Charlton and West Ham if you're interested) oohhed and aahhed at 20 year old forward Djibril Cisse. The two goals from Auxerre's forward also impressed scouts from Parma, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund but he's professed a desire to play in England.

Lucky us. Not for the Chairman who has to try and negotiate down the £30m asking price. His idol is Thierry Henry, here's hoping.

It's aki time again, if he wasn't a footballer he'd be a football journalist — Aki Riihilahti interviews himself…

Q:Wazuup?
A:Wazuup!

Q:How are you?
A:Bit hungry
Q:Me too but is that all?
A:No, some existential ups and downs but fundamentally confident

Q:Ups and downs, yet confident?
A:Sometimes in life there can be light machine errors and unexpected speedbumps. It just slows down the speed a bit but does not mean that the road or driver aint right

Q:How about football then?
A:It is rounder, but same principles

Q:Yes, and why did we lose against Coventry?
A:They scored three goals and we scored only one
Q:Stupid answer that was
A:Was it?

Q:Good away victory in Sheffield?
A:Why there is a question mark?
Q:What do you mean?
A:Question tries to answer itself already. So I can only confirm it otherwise I would violate questioners opinion or smartness.

Q:Are you mental?
A:In terms of who?
Q:Forget it.
A:Whatever makes you happy

The rest of the interview is just as funny, go here to read it.

I've not updated since the England game so I think that a word of praise must go to Darius Vassell who was not only superb for the whole game but scored a wonderful goal too.

Anyone who's heard Arsené Wenger moan (probably quite rightly to be fair) about the scheduling of the Newcastle vs. Arsenal FA Cup Quarter Final 2 days before the London club are due to play Deportivo La Coruña may be interested to know that the FA agree and the game has been re-scheduled for the Saturday afternoon.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has praised Niall Quinn for deciding to donate the proceeds from his forthcoming testimonial to charity. In true Smashie and Nicie fashion the big Irishman will don his disco pants on May 14th to attempt to raise £1m for a local children's hospitals. Good on you big man.

From schoolteacher to inaugural England manager Sir Walter Winterbottom has died at the grand old age of 89.

78 wins, 33 draws and 28 defeats from 139 games in charge between 1946 and 1962.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Dutch Courage

I'm glad Sven Goran Eriksson has had the nerve to pick an experimental squad. It's quite possible that a number of ‘first choice’ players will be injured come June (what is wrong with Kieron Dyer?) and it's worth testing out some promising youngsters like David Dunn, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole rather than just resolving to take Nicky Butt.

I like the theory that Darius Vassell and Michael Ricketts inclusion in the England squad are to put the frighteners on Alan Smith — sort yourself out or forget Japan and Korea. I don't think it holds a lot of water though to be honest. Despite his unremarkable start to his career Vassell has been England U21's best forward over the last year or so, and has been equally impressive for Aston Villa.

Michael Ricketts has been incredible for Bolton this season and one of the Premiership's most lethal forwards, he has developed an outstanding all round game. For a start he is easily as good as Emile Heskey — more prolific, more skillful, stronger — his only downfall is that he plays for Bolton and not Liverpool. Heskey was a lumbering oaf with a poor goalscoring record at Leicester, his England prospects were laughed at. He is a lumbering oaf with a poor goalscoring record at Liverpool but he's almost guaranteed a place in the England line-up. I think Ricketts deserves a real chance, no fifteen minute cameos and two touches.

I hope Wayne Bridge gets a good run out on Wednesday too. Between them he and Ashley Cole could solve England's left sided problem, both are capable defenders, comfortable going forward, hard working and naturally left sided. The interplay between the two could well confuse any markers and provide a genuine threat down the left.

I don't know, and I'm not going to guess, what team Eriksson is going to play in Amsterdam. I do know he intends to use all eleven substitutes, which should make the second half annoying. If I were going to pick England's strongest team assuming everyone was fit, I think it would look something like this…

David Seaman
Arsenal
Gary Neville
Man Utd
Sol Campbell
Arsenal
Rio Ferdinand
Leeds
Ashley Cole
Arsenal
David Beckham
Man Utd
Steven Gerrard
Liverpool
Paul Scholes
Man Utd
Wayne Bridge
Southampton
  Michael Owen
Liverpool
Robbie Fowler
Leeds
 

The hardest decisions…

Keown or Campbell : Both have performed well this season but Campbell's superior disciplinary record just edges him in.
Bridge or Le Saux : I'm not a fan of Le Saux but his crossing is exemplary and he's been playing well for Chelsea, the dodgy temper and Wayne Bridge's superior defensive ability win the day for me though.
Neville or Mills : It's the lesser of two evils but discipline dictates this one.
Fowler or Heskey : Only kidding, easy choice.

There's got to be a subs bench too; I would take Martyn (g), Keown, Dyer, Sheringham and one of Phillips/Ricketts/Smith/Heskey/Defoe depending on how they do in the run up to the summer. It would be nice to have cover for right back but England are seriously short of quality players in that area, Mills and Phil Neville practically the only choice. Don't even mention Jamie Carragher, that would be embarrassing.


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Monday, February 11, 2002

Team of the Week

I couldn't make my mind up last night so I've left the awards until this morning, I also got an e-mail from sporting odds about their latest promotion. I think they've made a mistake. Place a £5 bet on the England Holland game and if England win they'll give you £20. Is it not a case of buying money? A tenner on Holland at 11-10 (current odds) and you either net an £11 profit or £15 profit. It's not millions but it'll buy a round down the pub. Go to the betting page for more information and to register.

Enough money making schemes — I noticed something in Telegraph Sport today, they've only started a ‘player of the week’ award, bloody thieves. As if that wasn't enough, they've gone and given it to the same player as me as well. Here are the one and only all things footie awards ©...

Performace of the week : Liverpool vs Ipswich
Player of the week © : Emile Heskey (Liverpool)
Goal of the week : Laurent Robert (Newcastle vs S'ton)
Team of the week :
Mark Crossley
Middlesbrough
Warren Barton
Derby
Sol Campbell
Arsenal
Rio Ferdinand
Leeds
John Arne Riise
Liverpool
Steed Malbranque
Fulham
Steven Gerrard
Liverpool
Stig Tofting
Bolton
Laurent Robert
Newcastle
  Craig Bellamy
Newcastle
Alan Shearer
Newcastle
Emile Heskey
Liverpool
 

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Sunday, February 10, 2002

Six Of The Best

OK, we get the picture — Liverpool are contender's for the title. It's typical though that just as Robbie Fowler is playing some of the best football of his career, Heskey grabs a couple of goals in games where the whole Liverpool side have murdered their opposition. No matter that it took him five months to score them, and that in the meantime — even when he's been playing badly — Fowler still clocked up goals. I think we all know who Sven Goran Eriksson will have foremost in his mind.

Yesterday was another day at the office for Fowler, he capped no more than a decent performance with an assist and (to disagree with Guy Mowbray, ‘training ground’ he thought) a superb instinctive finish from an Ian Harte free kick. I've never been Robbie's greatest fan but his all round game has really improved with his fitness, and there really is no arguing with his goalscoring record. To be honest — devout scouse scally or not — I'd have been mightily unimpressed at a donkey like Emile Heskey keeping me out the team.

The most significant result of the day for me was Newcastle's win at home to Southampton, I could see a slip up on the cards but Newcastle put in an emphatic performance — the really do seem unbeatable at the moment. It's non footballing matters that are foremost for me though, I have a simple question to the moral guardians of the Premiership (News of the World, Sun, Mirror, Daily Star) who so readily crucify John Terry, Jody Morris, Desmond Byrne, Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Duberry. Craig Bellamy was charged with assaulting a woman and received a police caution less than week ago. Not allegations, not pending a court case, but charged. Is it simply because he is not English? Or is it because he isn't a player pre-ordained as a trouble maker?

If the FA feel it necessary to step in on Bowyer et al then the only reason there's no fuss about Craig woman beater Bellamy is that the red top's aren't calling for his head.

Anyone who saw Fulham's first goal could not fail to be impressed by the strength and persistence of striker Steve Marlet. Fighting off challenges, rough body-checks and leaving a score of Blackburn players in his wake, he worked in a way that's rarely associated with foreign — least of all French — imports to the Premiership.

It's good to see Graham Taylor back in management. I think some of his principles and methods are more suited to football without the money and influence it has in the Premiership but that shouldn't be too alien a concept at Aston Villa. How well he copes will depend on motivation and tactics rather than the judicious use of his chairman's check book; I reckon he'll do alright.

Sunday's football gave us an almost inevitable win for United, 2-1 at the Valley, and a bizarre victory for a severely depleted Arsenal against a good Everton side. David Ginola was lively on his Everton debut but the highlight of a dour, dour game was Thierry Henry showboating/timewasting in the last 5 minutes. After walzing down the touchline with the ball at his feet for 10 yards and sauntering Kanu-like looking at his feet an astonishing change of pace completely bemused Peter Clarke and Henry raced to the touchline yards ahead of the Everton defence. Like most of the rest of the game, the move ended unspectacularly — a poor cut-back and nothing even resembling a test for Steve Simonsen.

Written word is not written word at the moment without a mention of Pop Idol, so I'll just say well done Will. You were always better than Gareth in every aspect but I thought his cutesy charms would weight the vote of the young girls who are the motivation behind the show (why else get bloomin' PJ and Duncan to present it?)


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Monday, February 04, 2002

Who's idea…

…was it to put the Leeds — Liverpool game on at 12:00? After struggling to shake off the mother off all hangovers by 4:00 and making the journey to the pub for an afternoon of top class Premiership football; I'm greeted with Middlesbrough — Charlton. It made me want to go back to bed (no offence Boro but you're awful, and Charlton away from home are nearly as dull.)

It sounds like I missed a blinder as well, Liverpool seem finally to be getting over the headache that has been the last month or so. It looked like their well organised, counter-attacking and (lets be honest) boring football was about to go down the UEFA cup tube; credit to them for pulling it back. Leeds on the other hand are watching their season melt like yesterdays ice cream.

To be fair to Leeds they're having nothing but a blip in an otherwise fine season, so long as they have the fight to come out the other side they'll still be up there come May. Things are seemingly going pear shaped for Arsenal though. Firstly a truly terrible new badge (who chose that font!) and then a mediocre performance against a team that they should be beating 3 or 4 nil. This was the kind of result that for the last few months Arsenal have been avoiding, it's the kind of result that gives Man Utd the league, and the kind they've been getting far too many of for the last three years.

There have been a number of games over the last month or so, that Arsenal would normally fail to get a winner, or concede a sloppy equaliser with a minute on the clock. But they've been resolute on a number of occasions, and shown a determined and committed side of their game that has been lacking since they won the double. But all of that will be in vain if they suddenly remember what it is like to be sloppy. Arsenal still have a game in hand, and joint top of the premiership awaits if they can take advantage of it, United will have to fight for it.

Hopefully

Speaking of United, they found another three points easy to come by when Sunderland came for a visit. Peter Reid's team need to be careful; a couple more performances like that and they really will be in trouble.

Enough nattering, here are this week's all things footie awards...

Performace of the week : Liverpool vs Leeds
Player of the week : Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Goal of the week : Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink (Chelsea vs Leicester)
Team of the week :
Jerzy Dudek
Liverpool
Aaron Hughes
Newcastle
Hermann Hreidarsson
Ipswich
Christian Dailly
West Ham
Wayne Bridge
Southampton
David Beckham
Man Utd
Steven Gerrard
Liverpool
Robert Pires
Arsenal
  Paulo Di Canio
West Ham
 
  Craig Bellamy
Newcastle
Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink
Chelsea
 

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