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Thursday, March 28, 2002

Better Late…

After a hectic week I've finally replaced my computer, if anyone's visited in the last 5 days I hope the passing tumbleweed didn't get in your way.

Summing up last weekend's results all seems a bit pointless (a bit like United) so suffice to say the whiskey's in the post to Steve McLaren. Well done to Middlesborough whose excellent defensive performance deserved a result — I wonder how many of those smug ‘I've got money on united at 10:1’ punters have reduced their wry smile to a nervous twitch.

Good on Dennis Bergkamp for showing that despite his doubters and a couple of lukewarm seasons there's no substitute for class. Another almost flawless performance from the Dutch master and a stunning display from Arsenal was only soured by the cruciate ligament injury to Robert Pires. The (surely) soon to be player of season will miss the rest of the domestic season and also the World Cup (barring a dodgy French team doctor telling him he's alright.)

For completeness here are last weekend's awards…

Performace of the week : Arsenal vs Newcastle
Player of the week : Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal vs Newcastle)
Goal of the week : Branko Strupar (Derby vs Everton)
Team of the week :
Mark Schwarzer
'Boro
  William Gallas
Chelsea
Marcel Desailly
Chelsea
Gareth Southgate
'Boro
 
Niclas Alexandersson
Everton
Thomas Gravesen
Everton
Patrick Vieira
Arsenal
John Arne Riise
Liverpool
  Benito Carbone
'Boro
 
  Dennis Bergkamp
Arsenal
Youri Djorkaeff
Bolton
 

As for the England game last night, I don't think it told us a hell of a lot. Joe Cole should go to Japan and Korea, sure he'll get some flak from the red tops for getting caught in posession before the Italians first goal — but apart from that he was superb and the only player with any invention on the pitch. I wouldn't blame him too much for the first goal anyway, Ehiogu shouldn't have backed off Montella and it was an absolutely stunning strike.

Owen Hargreaves also looked lively, hard-working and up for the challenge. It's surprising what happens when you play someone in their preferred position as opposed to just thrusting them out left. If he can play right full back too (which I understand he has been for Bayern Munich recently) then we defintaely need him, Danny Mills is a waste of space and playing Argentina with Calamity Neville at the back doesn't bear thinking about.


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Monday, March 18, 2002

Brammaul Lane

Starting outside the Premiership today, the events at Brammall Lane were extraordinary to say the least. What on earth was George Santos thinking of? his lunge at Andy Johnson on another day would have snapped the Albion players leg in two. For anyone who missed it, Sheffield United had three players sent off and two withdrawn due to injury, forcing the game to be abandoned (FA rules decree this if less than seven players from one team are on the field of play).

There's talk of a replay, points being deducted from Sheffield U or simply leaving the result as it stood, 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion. As far as I'm concerned a replay is out of the question. It is perhaps unlucky that two players were injured (though Neil Warnock allegedly issued some unusual managerial instructions to the two players, telling them to feign injury) but I would say hard luck — you shouldn't have had three players sent of first should you? Points being deducted is another option, though I would suggest heavy fines and suspensions for the players concerned — unless Warnock is found to have instructed players to make a late bid for a best actor Oscar, in which case deducting points would be an appropriate punishment.

There is however a more original solution to the problem; how about replay the final 8 minutes (plus injury time of course) with the score at 0-3 and Sheff Utd down to 8 men. I bet a big crowd would turn up.

Premiership matters look pretty boring in comparison, United win again; despite conceding three goals and being outplayed for the most part by West Ham. The ever present Sven Goran Eriksson will not have been impressed by World Cup hopeful Joe Cole but the excellent Michael Carrick certainly caught the eye. All over the field controlling the play and getting the better of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt on more than one occasion — I'd have him in the squad like a shot. It also shouldn't be overlooked that Carrick's personal profile is unblemished, no late night brawls or assault charges hanging over his head.

Arsenal worked out another tight win — an encouraging sign for a team that usually lets results like that slip out of their grasp in the final five minutes. David Seaman once again proved he's head and shoulders above the rest and is no doubt still Englands number one. I heard that the bookies have stopped taking odds on Robert Pires claiming the player of the season award — still, how many players have lobbed Peter Schmeichel from 8 yards?

From the international perspective again, Robbie Fowler is looking as sharp as ever and is the only choice to partner Michael Owen in the World Cup (please Sven, not Heskey, please…)

Goal of the week was again a tricky one, a regular problem as there have been some beauties this season. Nicky Butt's overhead kick I thought was more luck than judgement but David Beckham's chip was absolutely sublime. So close but seeing as I was sitting behind the goal and saw Peter Schmeichel's face close up, I have to go for…

Performace of the week : Derby vs Bolton
Player of the week © : Robbie Fowler (Leeds vs Blackburn)
Goal of the week : Robert Pires (Arsenal vs Aston Villa)
Team of the week :
David Seaman
Arsenal
  David Weir
Everton
Hermann Hreidarsson
Ipswich
Danny Higginbotham
Derby
 
Robert Pires
Arsenal
Michael Carrick
West Ham
Patrick Vieira
Arsenal
Jesper Gronkj?r
Chelsea
  Paul Scholes
Man Utd
 
  Robbie Fowler
Leeds
Marcus Bent
Ipswich
 

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Friday, March 15, 2002

Don't Despair

Just a quick apology regarding the lack of updates this week, I've had a little problem with my internet access. My laptop has decided it's time to retire (after sustaining a rather unpleasant injury falling down the stairs). This has left my squad thoroughly depleted and I'm currently in discussions with the insurance company about signing a replacement. Until it's sorted (which will hopefully be very soon — like next week) then updates will be confined to what I can scribble down at University.

Thanks for your patience. Next update will likely be Monday.


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Monday, March 11, 2002

Revenge is…

Chelsea will certainly tell you how it feels, the blue and white half of North London may offer a different perspective. Tottenham looked as toothless as they did in the Worthington Cup Final, and Chelsea demonstrated with frightening ease how simple it is to destroy a side. Chelsea's ability to play wonderful and effective football like this one week and then get beaten by Charlton the next (no offence addicks) becomes more incomprehensible by the week.

A mesmerising performance of passion, teamwork and a lethal frontman in Eidur Gudjonsen was only spoiled by an all too typical act of lunacy from the (allegedly more intelligent than most) Graeme Le Saux. The challenge that the ex-England international recklessly threw at Maurico Tauricco is the kind of offence that is all to often overlooked as a serious foul. In games where players are sent off for throwing the ball away or falling over their own feet, potential career enders are usually punished with a slap on the wrist and little else.

Which brings me on to a pet-hate of mine, one that reared its ugly head a number of times in another of yesterday's matches. Picture this if you will…

…the ball is meandering towards the touchline by the corner flag and a certain portly centre forward is trying his hardest to reach it in time. He arrives when the ball still has two or three yards to run and attempts to keep it in play. But wait, there's a player positioning himself between said forward and the ball with no attempt to make contact (quite the opposite in fact). The forward adjusts himself and runs around the player to take possession from the side but the defender steps across to be in his way once more…

OBSTRUCTION OBSTRUCTION OBSTRUCTION

West Bromwich Albion can take a lot of credit from their showing at the Hawthorns last night. Some may say that Albion had a lesser task than other teams at this stage as less than a year ago, playing Fulham was merely part of the first division program. Those people would do well to remember that Jean Tigana spent over £1m a day last August and that WBA's best player was injured.

Which side of the fence do you site on? were Newcastle unlucky and did they deserve a victory? or was Arsenal's resolute and accomplished defending coupled with Newcastle's poor strike force worth a draw? Personally I think that despite having the Lions share of possession Newcastle did not deserve a victory for the simple reason that they didn't win the game. With the exception of Laurent Robert and to a lesser extent Nol Solano, Newcastle's offensive play lacked subtlety, guile and a cutting edge. Carl Cort was nearly as bad as against Liverpool and Alan Shearer was marked out of the game by the superb Igors Stepanovs.

Following on from last weeks praise it's worth mentioning (again) the ever youthful Lee Dixon. He turned in another great performace; blocking challenges, winning crucial aerial battles and holding off players half his age and six inches taller. There really is no substitute for experience and commitment.

Performace of the week : Chelsea vs Spurs
Player of the week © : Eidur Gudjonsen (Chelsea vs Spurs)
Goal of the week : Laurent Robert (Newcastle vs Arsenal)
Team of the week :
Richard Wright
Arsenal
Lee Dixon
Arsenal
William Gallas
Chelsea
Igors Stepanovs
Arsenal
Celestine Babayaro
Chelsea
Jonathan Greening
Middlesbrough
Clarence Acuna
Newcastle
Manu Petit
Chelsea
Laurent Robert
Newcastle
  Eidur Gudjonsen
Chelsea
Alen Boksic
Middlesbrough
 

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Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Support Football

A very important announcement for all football fans. Bury have gone into administration and need to find £400 000 within 2 weeks, or the club will be wound up and shut away forever. This of course, cannot happen.

Bury have set up a buy a seat campaign to try and raise the cash. The minimum cost of a seat is £10 but it would be nice if everyone would feel a bit more generous — you can buy as many seats as you want. If they run out of seats, they will start selling the bricks in the stand, brick by brick. I quote the best summing up I have read (from parallax view)…

“If you care at all about grass-roots football, please help as much as you can, including by spreading the word through your website/newsgroup/messageboard”

BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY


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Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Wide Open

It really is going to go down to the wire isn't it. I happen to think — even though there's over a quarter of the season to go — the top four have been decided. The order those teams will be in after 38 games however, gets more unguessable by the minute. The midweek game between Newcastle and Liverpool will be all the more unmissable now that both teams have something to lose. Three points for Newcastle and Liverpool can kiss title contention goodbye (if they haven't already) and the reds will have to work for fourth place. If Liverpool win the day then Newcastle will have to be careful not to lose confidence, they may even begin to doubt their credentials as a top four team. For both Arsenal and Man Utd, a draw would be just right.

A few things from this weekend; of equal significance are Arsenal's grit, determination and brilliance against Newcastle at St James' and Derby's magnificent home draw (not a victory through pure bad luck) against Manchester United. Arsenal were simply stunning against the magpies, with outstanding performances from Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp but a special word is due for Lee Dixon. Running around like a 20 year old (he's 38) he was superb and handled Laurent Robert (of whom I'm a big fan) with aplomb.

Derby — or more accurately Malcolm Christie — handled Manchester United with similar composure. The East Midlands side were in fact (a reality acknowledged by Sir Alex himself) unlucky not to have won the game in the dying moments when Christie completed his hat trick but had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed. Just moments earlier I felt Derby deserved a penalty too when not uncharacteristically, Fabien Barthez rushed out and made a failed clearance. The ball was taken to the edge of the box by Christie and as he was about to cross Barthez flew over desperate to atone for his error and punched the Derby forward in the back of his head. In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, ‘the referee had such a poor, poor game. He had a shocking game.’

If Liverpool finish this season poorly then a candidate for blame is their underuse of Jari Litmanen. The Finn can offer Liverpool the same subtlety of play and cultured use of possession that Dennis Berkamp donates to Arsenal's cause. He would make a natural partner for Michael Owen — the two could split most defences in Europe between them — and Litmanen surely has more to his game than Heskey and Anelka.

Liverpool should also look at their transfer policy for some schoolboy errors; what do Vladamir Smicer, Patrik Berger, Jerzy Dudek, Stephane Henchoz, Milan Baros and Igor Biscan have in common? They are all ‘first team’ players at Liverpool and none of them are EU citizens. In domestic matches only three can be named in the squad (including substitutes.)

It's team of the week time, but I must mention the great difficulty in choosing a goal of the week. We were treated to some absolute beauties from Chris Marsden, Jason Euell, Matt Jansen and Malcolm Christie to name a few. One stood out for guile, speed of thought, audaciousness, difficulty and sheer brilliance.

Performace of the week : Arsenal vs Newcastle
Player of the week : Malcolm Christie (Derby vs Man Utd)
Goal of the week : Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal vs Newcastle)
Team of the week :
Andy Oakes
Derby
  Lee Dixon
Arsenal
Stephane Henchoz
Liverpool
Sol Campbell
Arsenal
 
Graham Stuart
Charlton
Thomas Hitzlsperger
Aston Villa
Chris Marsden
Southampton
Robert Pires
Arsenal
  Dennis Bergkamp
Arsenal
Jason Euell
Charlton
Malcolm Christie
Derby
 

A couple of notes; what is John Terry playing at? answers on a postcard wthout usng the words idiot, fool or waster. Manchester City are about to sign Preston's impressive striker Jon Maken in a £5m deal.

It's sad to hear of the death of Serie A side Chievo's striker Jason Mayele who was killed in a car accident on Saturday. The Democratic Republic of Congo international's shirt number at the club (30) has been retired.

Finally on a lighter note, I'll leave you with the story of the fastest ever sending off in football…

“Cross Farm Park Celtic striker Lee Todd may not be a household name but flick past the longest toe-nails and hairiest women of the Guinness Book of World Records and you'll find him boasting the fastest sending-off in football. As referee Pete Kearle whistled to kick-off the Sunday league match against Taunton East Reach Wanderers, Todd cried: “F*** me, that was loud” and was ordered from the pitch for abusive language. His stay on the field was timed at two seconds. ”

Thanks to itv-football.co.uk


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Friday, March 01, 2002

PSVery Poor

Leeds United's last hope for a trophy went up in smoke last night against a spirited PSV side, but the talking point must be Leeds' inadequacies this season. It seems like yesterday that they were felling mighty oaks in the forest of European football, this season they've had serious problems with saplings. After losing to Maritimo and chancing it with French minnows Troyes they only just squeezed past Grasshoppers — drawing at home to the Swiss side. The first team of any true quality they have faced in the UEFA cup beat last seasons European Cup semi finalists without playing particularly well.

Peter Ridsdale claims that a panicked player clearout is not on the cards, but some whittling must be done to streamline the increasingly unbalanced squad. David O'Leary has spent the best part of £100m and has no trophies to show for it more importanty — with the exception of Rio Ferdinand — I don't think he's spent it all that wisely. Players like Seth Johnson, £7m and a class player, but by no means is he going to win you a Premiership title. If I was Robbie Keane I'd ask for a meeting with O'Leary every morning until he gave me a satisfactory explanation for picking a fat Australian donkey over a quality, proven international goalscorer (for a World Cup finalist). Keane and Fowler would scare the life out of any defence, and if you want a bruiser in there, I'd rather have Alan Smith (he may be little but he'd scare me more than Viduka).

O'Leary needs to bring in some World Class players, but I can't see Ridsdale stumping up more cash. Looking at the bigger picture, with Leeds unlikely to finish in the top four (I'd rate it a certainty, 9 points below with 11 games to go) they don't have the carrot of Champions League football to wave at players. Some may say the club rose too high, too fast; and they might be right. In modern football however, the only way to move is fast, the difficulty is in keeping up the pace. Ridsdale and O'Leary were simply too inexperienced to cope with the situation they found theirselves in; they both made serious errors of judgement at crucial times. With Brian Kidd helping out, a steady ship can be created and maintained and the future should be brighter than it may currently seem for Leeds United.


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