Monday, 23 April 2012

Jose , The Blues are coming to get you !!!!

Can anyone remember that scene from from FIRST BLOOD 2  , when Rambo was tortured , and forced by the Russians to radio base ( Wolf Den ) and confirm he had been caught as a spy in vietnam ? When he finally caved in to their demands , what he said to his boss - Murdoch ,  on whose orders it was to "abort the mission " abandoning him , and evidence that would have ultimately proved there were American soldiers left behind in Vietnam :   " Murdoch " , Rambo called over the radio..... , "am coming to get you !!   " cue mayhem , as Rambo smashed his way out of captivity .

I am sure Abramovich would relate to that scene assuming the climax of the plot i am envisaging comes true -  A  REAL MADRID  VS  CHELSEA  champions league final . Watch out Jose, your old chums would have a nice slice of your bum in munich - pay back time,  baby !!  i can imagine The Chelsea benefactor conceiving , with a wry smile when Captain John Terry holds aloft the greatest prize in European football.
Pay back ? yes ,  for Jose Mourinho has said in the past : he won " a lot of trophies ",  and  Chelsea a " few" since he departed Stamford Bridge . Mourinho has always alluded Abramovich made a mistake sacking him , and Chelsea have been worse of for it . Probably true , but  hypothetically , the stage is being prepared for the Blues and Abramovich to stick-it to their former manager , and say : " we got the one major prize you never could give us " .  In addition , they would have stolen the thunder of  the truculent Portuguese . We all know how Real Madrid covet  The Champions League , and if Mourinho fails to win it this season due to a Chelsea triumph  in the final ,  Abramovich would have gotten even with Mourinho for his jibes before the Champions League semi-final 2 years ago while the latter was still Inter Millan's Manager .

Get real , i hear you blurt !  But strange things do happen in soccer - remember the Danes winning Euro 92 when they were a last minute replacement for Yugoslavia ! More recently , in 2004 ,  we witnessed Otto Rahhagel inspire the Greeks to an unexpected victory in The European championship .  If the Chelsea players dare to dream to the same proportion as their elevated performances lately , they can make their owner's dreams come true.  On paper , they are the weakest of the 4 semi-finalists , and cannot match the pedigree of Madrid , Barcelona , nor Bayern Munich. But under Roberto Di Mateo , they have regained a lot of the elements they had under Mourinho's  tutelage . Notably , being solid , and difficult to beat.  I know Chelsea have to first get past the wounded Barcelona , and if they are unlucky to face a Barca backlash tomorrow night , then this hypothesis would remain just that. But i do have a hunch we are set for some of the most un-usual set of circumstances  this illustrious competition has seen.

As for Real ,  i am almost certain they are going to breeze past Bayern on wednesday night . Madrid's fire power is simply awesome , and the Bavarians shall wilt at The Bernabeu .  Jose Mourinho's team have power ,  pace , and goals....  and the special one has transformed them into a side with an extra-ordinary desire to win . That is till they match-up with Chelsea in the final . Unlikely events lay in wait .

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Have Barcelona peaked ?

Okay ,  I shall do the unthinkable.... I will state what may amount to heresy in some quarters : Barcelona are in decline !!  I am just as enthusiastic an admirer as anyone of this all conquering team , and it's Argentinian maestro LIONEL MESSI . I am not here to recite all  what they have won and achieved in the last 4 years , nor  all the personal achievements and accolades Messi has deservedly won . This current Barcelona team will undoubtedly be ranked alongside the great teams foot-ball history has recorded .

Anyhow , when i take off the rose-tinted spectacles , i do honestly reckon they are in decline . Messi's goals in basket-full has well masked some of their deficiencies as it has kept them winning matches , and maybe we start to repeat the superlatives, the cliches , and  it grows into a chorus that has become automotive ,  perhaps laced with bias . Barcelona's 11 straight La liga wins to date is their best winning sequence this season . It's no surprise they trail Real Madrid in The La Liga standings ,  even though  winning 11 on the bounce has helped cut the lead to 4 points .  Last season , by the 3rd week of January ,  Barcelona had won 16 on the bounce - a record achievement .  Pedro scored no less than 22 goals ( in total ) last season ;  this season ,  I  doubt if he has 8 goals to his name -  being in- and- out of the side due to injury ,  and form  ; not to add David Villa's injury robbing them of fire-power , and goals . Messi has simply taken on more of the goal scoring burden the afore-mentioned have not been able to help out with this term . Very few observe Iniesta is treading water - for me no longer possessing twinkle toes , nor the magic he had to get past players like he did 2 years ago ; So too with Busquets  : Not at the level he was a couple of years back ; the only ones you still give the usual kudos is  probably Xavi , Dani  Alves , and Puyol . Alexis Sanchez has not quite settled- in , Fabregas has been mercurial .  Decay usually starts from with-in , and it's typically unnoticed from the outside . When a great team cannot boast the performance of individuals is continuing to rise , to me that indicates a decline . There is only one player apart from Messi whose stock is on the rise , that would be mascherano . Winning ,  and having lots of plaudits masks these sort of issues , and often people are merely extrapolating in a very subjective  , and misleading way.

Matters shall come to a head starting with failure to beat Madrid tonight . Frankly , i fancy Madrid to win tonight ( even if i cannot stand mourinho ) and go on to be La Liga champions .  Against Chelsea on tuesday next week : i do estimate Chelsea to go on and win the tie after all. I did say  the first game was not going to be easy for Barca , and so it turned out to be. I am thus emboldened to suggest chelsea will make it through . I hope i am wrong , because i love Barcelona ,  their identity , and values  ; but i can emphatically say the team has peaked ,  and running out of steam . Who is on the bench to bring on ? Cuenca , or Thiago ? the depth does not exist ,  the power in the spine of the team  is relatively weaker ,  and i do not see them having what it takes to win La Liga , nor the champions League this season. Sometimes , the more you look, the less you do see . This much  romanticized , and legendary team is set for diminishing returns.  I'll be delighted to eat my words.

WHOLLY TACTICS : Arsene , How about some Salsa on the Flanks !

In the last 2 years or so , i have become one of Arsene Wenger's  harshest critics , especially at the beginning of this current season , and how issues involving sale and purchase of players unraveled . Before i launch what probably sounds like another round of criticism of his tactics , it's only fair to applaud the magnificent run of winning league games especially . To be 3rd on the table with 4 games to go , and a champions' league place arguably in the bag ( once more ) means the Manager deserves a lot of praise ;  he got the team playing quick incisive foot ball again , and significantly with a pretty new  and hastily assembled team  after the shambles of a crushing 8 - 2 defeat at the theatre of dreams last August . Arsenal rose from the ashes of that  nightmare , and that is entirely to his credit !!! .

On monday night , just like many , I  turned-up to view ARSENAL  take on relegation haunted WIGAN.
Surely , Wigan won't stand a chance to the in-form team at the Emirates..... well ,  we all know the outcome.  It was a repeat of what has happened many times when Arsenal  play at home... the less-fancied team takes the lead -  smash and grab style , only to retreat into a barricade . Arsenal then have all the possession ,  but labour in-vain for a break through .  This recurring theme highlights a tactical flaw in Wenger's attacking philosophy , particularly since the move to The Emirates.  I'll spell it out -  Wigan being a case study. They take the lead , The Gunners begin firing in an attempt to blast a hole through Wigan's middle . Yes , predominantly going for one-two's to un-hinge Wigan's centre-halves ;  or recycling the ball from flank to flank , but all in front of  Wigan's  defensive positions . This action was so  repetitive one would be forgiven if they thought they were watching a game they had seen before . This tact is easy to defend against not because it is ineffective , but due  to Arsenal's lack of disguise , and variance in attack. Most of the attacking play is channeled through the middle , the wide players included have to come in-wards too often ;   while  taking the Wigan defense on the outside , forcing it wide , with pace and skill fragments it potentially ;  if Walcot , or Benayoun  took on the full back , took him to the bye-line,  before whipping a low ball in - trust me the barricade is less fortified ;  and most importantly it starts to feel vulnerable . This tact  should have been used in conjunction with attacking at the heart . From this angle , Wenger has been negligent since Jose Reyes departed. Walcot and Gervinho have not mastered this concept . They ought to take lessons from  ANTONIO VALENCIA and incidentally VICTOR MOSES
These two force the issue by pinning the full-back down - teasing and tormenting time after time... . This can be unnerving for the full-back , and consequently the entire defense. There is nothing as terrible for an attack like a defense comfortably repelling it .  It was amazing to see Victor Moses tear Bacary Sagna to shreds to set-up wigan's winning goal ; did anyone see Phlipp Lahm  work on Real Madrid's full back before delivering a cross close to the by-line for Bayern's winner in the champions league semi-final on tuesday.... Wenger certainly needs a bit of this to ally his favoured  approach ,  and unpick well locked defenses at the Emirates .

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Forget about all the talk of controversy surrounding the FA cup semi final clash between Spurs and Chelsea due to Chelsea's erroneous second goal .
Discount the fact that the major match official let a lot of people down with that decision , Spurs would never have beaten Chelsea , even if that match carried on for the rest of the evening .

Here is why : Both teams lined-up to a similar tactical formation - 4 - 3 - 3 /  4 - 5 - 1 ( all the same , really ) The difference being the sort of performance individuals put on  in the first place - notably in mid-field . Chelsea's quintet of Mikel Obi ; Frank Lampard ; Ramires  ; solomon Kalou ,  and Juan Mata   played broadly in mid-field , when Chelsea had possession  , and also ,  maintained sufficient compactness at all times

Then throw in  the ability of Ramires to burst into space ; mata's  poise, guile , and invention - Spurs not only were second best , but could not fashion a counter threat  in midfield .  The icing on the cake for Chelsea being Didier Drogba  , who played like a proper centre forward- with attitude , and effectiveness . His goal being a snapshot of his performance .     Spurs were too wide apart - their wing wizards - Bale and Lennon isolated and sporadic ; Modric , supposedly the  Fulcrum of their attack gave a weak performance..... Van der  vaart  and Adebayor were certainly out-performed  by Mata and Drogba.   Harry Redknaap said Spurs were "too open " in their defeat to Norwich , allegedly because of the formation he employed for that game ( 4-4-2 ) it was much the same on sunday night.  Harry knows best , but  in my humble opinion , Lennon ought to have been sacrificed for Sandro to make for 3 central mid-fielders. Particularly , when you consider Ramires' flight into space , and mata's poise on the ball...... it seemed to constantly allow  Chelsea get behind Spurs' defense - a recipe for defeat .

For long i had wondered how Adebayor compared to Drogba ! On the evidence from a big game like sunday's ,  history lent me a hand too ,  Drogba is certainly the better striker , and he has the capability and attitude to make the difference when it matters. Eat your heart out Manu .

Well done Roberto Di -Mateo ! He has shown that sometimes , management is about dealing properly with simple , but crucial aspects of a team's tactical approach ;  and wise man-management too.  I tip Chelsea to win the FA cup , the care taker manager to get the job full time ;   and folks shall be surprised Chelsea will not be mince meat for Barcelona tonight . I expect a much closer contest , even if Barcelona ultimately prevail on the tie .


That's the pertinent question the soccer fraternity would be asking  on the morning of tuesday , April 17th 2012 ,  after the last 2 rounds of league games , with city taking maximum points.

I'll boldly state that manchester City are actually the best team in in the premiership even if they are 5 points behind man ttd . I do take a somewhat contradictory stance , given that i also believe Alex Ferguson's men shall be crowned champions for 2011 / 2012 season.

My point shall be proved when City triumph over Utd at the Etihad in their clash at the end of the month - meaning City do the double over united . In addition , Man city shall win all their remaining fixtures ; and same United, obviously  bar one.... that keeps them tops ahead of City by 2 points come the end of the season.

Why this crazy prophesy i hear you ask !  Hold on folks , it comes on the back of some analytical work. City topped the league for over half the season , and up to date have scored more , and let in fewer goals than Man utd ;  On the playing side : City are as just as good as Utd ; probably more pleasing on the eye than the Red half. Player for player , i reckon City edge it narrowly.  I hear the dissenters say : " why aren't City in pole-position..... "  simple ,  teams that run into bad weather in februrary / march tend to struggle for between  5 - 8 games .  It can be such a miserable period to be in at that time of the season - with fate dealing you a hard blow. Ask Spurs about it ! confirm the answers with Newcastle ; then corroborate from Arsenal - teams that have sealed their fate by having a good run in this period ;  while spurs spluttered....  Man City have failed to buck the trend , while Alex Ferguson has mastered his destiny in this aspect. My point is - but for this period ! the blue half would have clinched it.

Mario Balotelli has been made the poster-child for Man city's implosion / impending failure. How wrong!  Correct -  that the boy is infuriating , and yes , still only BOY !!!!! , however , it won't be fair to make him the sole scape goat. The owners , the manager , the players have a fair share of blame . Having reached the top of the premier league for a few months , they mishandled the oppurtunity to bring in a player or two , with fire-power in January ,  whilest losing The Toure Brothers to the A.N. C ;  The sequestration of Tevez did not help their cause...... but the catalyst to that was Mancini's publicly stated pre-conditions for reinstating Tevez back in the squad . Such matters ought to have been done in private to avoid the sort of impasse it inevitably created in the end . There was little room for a climb down once daggers are drawn so publicly.  Then there is the players :  they simply lost courage and believe in a strange way  when it mattered most.

This is no way an indictment or  a post-mortem of City's season , as they may go on to prove me wrong ;  but paradoxically a message that : but for small details they did not fulfill their true potential . That says a lot - the glass is half-filled for the club. What Man City have attained from this season is arguably precedent and pedigree . These are essential building blocks for championship success.  Provided all is kept together, heads calmed  , and the owners leave their sword in it's sheath,  if not this season ,  certainly next the premiership crown shall be coming their way.

For United , they must know there is fresh competition again... Fergie has seen-off a few in his time , but it's getting narrower than ever - it is in real terms ,  a dead-heat . An intriguing clash of experience and cash