Category Archives: Sport

It’s Great That Liverpool Didn’t Win the League

So on Sunday, after a fantastic season of twists and huge upsets, Manchester City wrapped up their second Premier League title in just three seasons. And, even as a Chelsea fan, I’m quite happy about that. Because despite being upset that The Blues let the title slip against the ‘small’ teams, Liverpool winning the EPL would have made our competition look weak. Here’s why…

Put simply, Liverpool are shocking at the back. Of course, I support ‘boring’ old Chelsea, so I would put strong defence before an exciting attack on most occasions. But the stats tell the story – Liverpool kept just 10 clean sheets all year compared to Manchester City’s 16 and Chelsea’s 18.

They even conceded 50 goals, nearly double that of Chelsea and 13 more than City. Even Southampton and Manchester United conceded less, and both also had more clean sheets than the Scousers. For god’s sake, Norwich had more clean sheets than Liverpool and they’ve been relegated.

ImagePhoto Credit: nydailynews.com

For context, no Premier League Champion between 2001-2012 has conceded more than 37 goals. And no champion ever has conceded Liverpool’s 50 (even when the league had 42 games).

That’s why it’s good Liverpool didn’t win the league, they would have made it look weak. A team that ships half a century of goals, and wins just two games against their top four rivals will never make good ambassadors of your competition. And talking about The Reds record against the top four…

POS

1

TEAM

Chelsea

P

6

W

5

D

1

L

0

CS

4

FtS

1

GF

13

GA

2

GD

+11

Pts

16

PPG

2.67

2 Manchester City 6 2 1 3 0 1 12 11 +1 7

1.17

3 Liverpool 6 2 0 4 0 2 10 11 -1 6

1.00

4 Arsenal 6 1 2 3 2 2 7 18 -11 5

0.83

Top Four 2013/2014 Head-to-Head. The less usual stats are clean sheets, failed-to-score and points per game.

The proof is in the pudding – Liverpool didn’t have enough against the big teams. Fine, their potent attack scored 10 goals in 6 big games, but 5 of those goals came in one match against Arsenal in February. City and Chelsea both scored more, and the Pensioners conceded an absurd nine fewer goals in these 6 games.

It comes down to this; Liverpool only scraped 6 points from these half-dozen games because they didn’t keep a single clean sheet , and these are the lost points that cost ‘Pool the title.

Most fans were quick to think that ‘sexy’ Liverpool winning the League would have shown the world the exciting brand of football that England can offer. But they fail to remember most overseas fans only see the big games, so they usually see Liverpool lose.

What’s more, how strong would the EPL look if The Reds, as champions, went to Real Madrid next year and got bulldozed? In my eyes that’s a very real possibility. I’ve respected and admired Brendan Rodgers for years, but if he wants to see domestic success over a 38-game season, he may just have to tone down his style.

I really enjoy watching the Red side of the Mersey play, and watching attractive football is a big draw for a lot of fans. But even more important is success. And success needs more than flashy style; It needs ‘big game’ nerves and an ability to win when not at your best i.e. grinding out a 1-0 win away from home. Liverpool will also need to re-adapt to being in the Champions League, and a plethora of strong squad players is an absolute necessity if they wan’t to keep up with fixtures and remain in the top four next season.

Liverpool may come back even stronger next year, and for the sake of the Premier League I hope they do, but for now it’s best that they remain an entertaining runner-up.

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Whatever Happened to the Player-Manager?

So Swansea have sacked Michael Laudrup, and placed long time club captain Garry Monk in temporary charge of the Swans. This got me thinking, what’s happened to the once popular trend of player-managers?

I’m sure Monk will never put a Swansea shirt on again, but he’s still contracted as a player at the South-Wales side. But other notable examples before this are few and far between. Nicolas Anelka’s short-lived stint as a striker and a coach at Shanghai Shenhua? Edgar Davids at my local club Barnet? Whatever happened to the player-manager?

Whilst on paper it seems an odd idea, ‘playagers’ actually have a strong history of success. Few have been more successful than Kenny Dalglish. Becoming Liverpool’s player manager in ’85/’86, Dalglish immediately led the Reds to the double, including scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final over Chelsea. He won another League title in ’87/’88, and groomed a plethora of young talent into a title winning side. Dalglish went against the common thought that a player-manager would simply select themselves for every game. Instead he made just 21 appearances in his first season and slowly let a new generation take over.

Grahame Souness was equally as successful in the same time frame, when in 1986-87 he joined Glasgow Rangers (ironically leaving Liverpool to join the Scottish side). In his initial season he won the League and League Cup double, beating Old Firm rivals Celtic in the cup final. Back to back championships followed in 1989 and 1990, not to mention two more cup victories in ’89 and ’91.

Image: liverpoolfc.wikia.com

Whereas Dalglish’s success came through cultivating a team mixed with veterans and young blood alike, Souness’ strategy focused on attracting quality players back to the Scottish league. The ‘Souness Revolution’ revolved around signing players like Ray Wilkins, Terry Butcher and Trevor Francis. If Kenny wasn’t afraid to let the kids take his place, Souness didn’t mind sharing the limelight with established footballing stars.

The point I’m trying to make is the player side of being a player manager actually rarely gets in the way of managerial duties. It can in fact make things like team selection and tactical changes easier; playagers have first hand experience playing with their team mates and a hands-on view of the tactical battle on the pitch.

“Being a player manager actually rarely gets in the way of managerial duties. It can in fact make things like team selection and tactical changes easier”

But probably the most famous examples of playagers in the Premier League was the trio of appointments at Chelsea in the ’90’s.

In Summer 1993, Chelsea made Glenn Hoddle player-manager, and he didn’t do a bad job. The Blue’s had a few years of mid-table finishes, but highlighted with impressive cup runs including the FA Cup Final during Hoddle’s first season with managerial duties. He also signed Ruud Gullit, who would take Hoddle’s place as player-manager in summer 1996 when The Hod left to become England manager. Gullit went one step better than Hoddle, and actually won the FA Cup in his first year in charge – Chelsea’s first major silverware for 26 years.

Gullit was the first foreign manager to win a trophy in England, but soon fell out with the Board during the ‘97/’98 season. As a tangent, this began Chelsea’s history of sacking successful managers, as the West London outfit were second in the League and in two cup quarter-finals. In a strange case of things coming full circle, Gullit was replaced by Gianluca Vialli, someone he helped bring in to The Pensioners.

SOCCER N'castle v Chelsea5

Image: thefootballweek.net

Vialli was hugely successful, winning a League Cup, Cup Winner’s Cup, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup and coming just 4 points behind eventual champions Manchester United in the Premier League Season ending in ’99.

What does all this mean? It means player-managers, even when given relatively short stints in charge, can be massively successful. Chelsea had not seen this type of success, barring some cup wins in the early 1970’s, for 40 years. And they’ve grown ever bigger since.

So if player-managers can positively affect the management of the team, and be a success, why have they died a slow death? I think the perceived notion that they’re bad for business wins out over the actual facts – player-managers can be brilliant. Of course there are flops (Lombardo, Romario and Gascoigne come to mind), but also many success stories.

And perhaps even more importantly for us fans, they can be hugely entertaining. Football often needs more personalities, and a manager putting himself on and scoring a 87th minute winner is the stuff footballing dreams are made of.

After years of being a footballing joke, it’s time. Bring back the player-manager!

What are your thoughts about player-managers? Did you think you could possibly read an article that says ‘player-manager’ so many times? Sound off in the comments!

The 5 Most Overrated Premier League Players

Ever watch a game down the pub, or read the back pages, and wonder why everyone’s raving about the ‘hot new winger who’s about to light up the league’? Have to listen to mates go on about their clubs new signing (probably just because they’ve seen some clips on YouTube), and think “what on Earth are you talking about”?

Well I certainly have, so here are the five players I think garner too much credit in the minds of fans and mainstream media:

Simon Mignolet – As a £9m acquisition, and more so as a successor to the great Pepe Reina, Simon Mignolet really hasn’t justified his hype. Liverpool have kept 7 clean sheets this season, around about the league average. But The Reds aren’t an average team. ‘Pool are the league’s 2nd highest goalscorers, and without Suarez and Sturridge hammering them in, Mignolet would be under a lot more pressure.

Also, many of the goals Liverpool have conceded have been either preventable by Mignolet or downright his fault. The Belgian is by no means a disastrous ‘keeper, I actually like him a lot, but he is certainly no top-four contender. And if the Scousers have ambitions of getting Champions League football, or indeed winning the Premiership, they need a better man between the sticks.

Christian Benteke – Keeping on the topic of over-hyped Belgians, Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke has a lot more to learn than people think. He’s good, but also incredibly raw and clumsy, and a long way from being a complete striker.

Coming to Villa for £7m, Benteke has a pretty good League record of 26 goals in 53 appearances. Much of this can be attributed, though, to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Villains chances fall at Benteke’s feet. Villa have scored just 75 goals since his arrival, and often play with the Belgian as the only out-and-out striker.

Time will tell whether the 23-year-old will go on to be a Drogba-like hitman who can also play the ball, but for now he’ll remain overrated and under-developed.

Kyle Walker – For a player who won PFA Young Player of the Year in 2012, Kyle Walker had a lot to live up to. And I bought into the hype. Since that day, however, Walker has seemingly regressed, becoming a more forward-thinking full-back and totally neglecting his defensive duties.

To be an attacking full-back, however, a player needs to be involved in goals – either directly or in build up play. Walker is certainly not a goal-scoring defender, netting just 4 times in 105 top flight appearances. He does get involved in the build up, but invariably decides to attempt a mazy run and shoot from distance. What’s worse, is he’ll bomb forward at the worst times, especially for his country, and leave huge gaps in defence.

Walker needs to mature, quickly, or risk being one of the great under-achievers of the Premier League.

Moussa Dembele – Dembele has played well over 100 times in the Premier League, scoring just 7 goals. Oh, we’ll he’s a playmaker some would say. Well Moussa only has 9 top flight assists in the same period. So what plays is he making, exactly?

Technically very good, but lacking the killer vision a player in his position needs, the Belgian (yes, another one) doesn’t chip in when and where his teams need him to. Martin Jol went as far as to call him “probably the best player on the ball I’ve ever seen.” Martin Jol clearly doesn’t watch a lot of football.

Adel Taarabt/Hatem Ben Arfa – My final position was saved for the unlikeable Adel Taraabt, but for some reason AC Milan seem to like their mid-table Seria A position and bought him. So I’m going for a player I have very similar gripes with, Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa.

One of the most predictable players in the league, Ben Arfa will drop shoulders, step-over the ball and generally try to look flash. But he’s going on his left foot. Every time.

The few times his pace and left foot strike have combined spectacularly have given Ben Arfa a good reputation, but realistically he isn’t much of a goalscorer. The Frenchman scored just 16 times in 127 senior appearances whilst playing in France, and has 13 goals in 70 appearances for Newcastle. As a winger, Ben Arfa has to score goals or create them, but his selfishness and awful decision making means he often does neither.

So there are my picks for the most overrated Premier League players. Far from the worst, just the ones who don’t deserve the level of admiration they often get. Who are your most overrated players? Let me know in the comments!

Relegation Battle Wish-List (Part Two)

I’ve given my views on who the mid-table scrappers should pursuit this January, but what about those right down in the depths of BPL despair? Here’s who the bottom 6 Premier League sides should sign before the 31st:

Swansea City

Despite what many fans think, Michu isn’t a striker. He wasn’t signed as one, and until Swansea were hit with striking injuries last season, didn’t play as one. His lack of goals this season shows his natural position is in the hole, leaving just Wilfried Bony and Leroy Lita up top. Milan’s Allesandro Matri (currently on loan at Fiorentina), has only scored 3 goals this term. But he’s only had 9 first-team starts, and with the service Swansea can provide, I think he could flourish.

Crystal Palace

Frankly, Palace could do with strengthening everywhere. Seriously. It’s hard to think of an area of the pitch where they shouldn’t upgrade. But with the strong defensive style Tony Pulis is employing at the club, I think they will need a much better ‘keeper to keep the barrage of shots out. It’s a long shot, but 35-year-old Buffon is a legendary figure between the sticks. He’s past his best, but at around £4m, he’s still better than most in the Premier League.

Fulham

The Cottagers need a striker to partner Dimitar Berbatov, and one that works a lot harder for his team. Barca youngster Isaac Cuenca is only valued at a few million pounds, but could surely play well around a veteran like Berba.

West Ham

The Hammers should buy a full-back. Their Premier League survival will hinge on the quality of delivery in to the box – as is Sam Allardyce’s game plan – and their ability to hit men like C. Cole and Carroll. Grab Chelsea’s Dave (sorry, Azpilicueta). He can play on both sides, works hard in both attack and defence, and hasn’t got a bad delivery to boot.

Sunderland

The Black Cats have a lack of naturally left-sided midfield players. This is one out of the left-field (literally), but they should approach Chelsea’s forgotten about youngster Gael Kakuta. Once one of the most sought-after youth players in Europe, he’s not getting in to the Blue’s team any time soon. Take a chance on him.

Cardiff City

Another team that could benefit in any number of positions, Cardiff are looking to do just that this transfer window with numerous players linked with a move to Wales. But the man I’d replace doesn’t even step foot on the pitch, but rather the dugout. Admittedly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hardly had time to prove himself; but I don’t see this inexperienced manager digging any team out of their relegation zone ditch. Steve Clarke has the experience of similar positions and the ability to put together a great defensive line, two things Cardiff desperately need.

This won’t happen of course, and Cardiff will get relegated. Sorry, Bluebirds.

So there’s my picks for who the top-flight strugglers should  pick up before deadline day ends. Who do you think these teams should buy? Who will stay up? Let me know in the comments!

Relegation Battle Wish-List (Part One)

6 points separate 11 teams at the ‘bottom’ of the Barclays Premier League table. I find that incredible. If I was a betting man (which I definitely am), I wouldn’t go anywhere near this relegation battle with my hard earned money.

But money is something most of these clubs need to throw at their teams to ensure their top-flight survival. So here’s just one player each team should (realistically) throw all their money at before the transfer window ends:

Aston Villa

Villa have an abundance of strikers, but what the boys up front need is a creative player in midfield. Spurs’ Gylfi Sigurdsson is somewhat out of the running for first team places lately, and could be a great playmaker in the right team.

Hull City

The ‘Tigers’ defenders aren’t bad, but they’re certainly far from the best in the league. Newcastle’s Steven Taylor has tonnes of Premier League experience, and is just a down-right great centre back. With just Prem appearances this term, he could be persuaded to leave Tyneside.

Norwich

Norwich are one of the more well balanced teams in the league. They lack star-power, but they also lack many clear weaknesses. If I had to strengthen the Canaries, I’d do it with a new right back. Steven Whittaker and Russell Martin aren’t bad, but they’re the most mediocre of a mediocre bunch. Sign Micah Richards, who can’t get a look in at Man City, and who would fit in to Chris Hughton’s rough and ready side.

WBA

If I was new Albion manager Pepe Mel, I’d be on the look out for a new goalkeeper. I’m not as big a Boaz Myhill fan as many others, and Ben Foster is as inconsistent as they come. And with both over 30 years old, neither are spring chickens. AS Monaco’s Danijel Subasic isn’t much younger, but at 29, has atleast 5 top years ahead of him. He’s kept 11 clean sheets in 22 league games this season, and shouldn’t cost much more than £3m. A steal.

Stoke City

Stoke desperately need a new striker. The Potters look set to lose out of favour Kenwyne Jones, and Jonathan Walters just won’t do. Crouch is great in a team that plays a certain way, but Mark Hughes wants to play a style of football that doesn’t suit the big man. Even if they gain Peter Odemwingie, his confidence issues make him an uncertain buy. Stoke should grab old boy Diego Milito to play off of Crouch. His age means he’ll like cost between £1-2m, and he’s a proven goal-scorer at all levels.

Part Two Coming Soon…