Monthly Archives: May 2012

Best of the Prem: Starting XI

Arguably the Dutchman’s finest season… but can he repeat his success at the Euros?

As the Euros start swinging into full-gear, the Premier League season continues to fade in the rearview mirror.  But after such a compelling season, we can’t sign off on it without telling you about our picks for Starting XI.  I would have posted these earlier but I was in the UK for the last week, doing (ahem) research…

Here we go!

Hart: World’s best keeper?

GK: Joe Hart (MNC)
The England number one had the lowest goals-against average in the league. That’s no surprise, since he faced the fewest shots, and I’m sure the Citeh keeper is happy to have Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott in front of him.  Still, his save percentage (a stat that involves him actually touching the ball) was only second to David De Gea.   I’m tempted to pick Michel Vorm, simply because the Dutchman had more to do.  But even Hart’s fellow keepers are saying that he is close to being the best in the world.  England fans everywhere are singing, “we thank God that he’s ours”.

On the bench:  Michel Vorm (SWA), Tim Krul (NEW)

Difficult season for the Frenchman

LB: Patrice Evra (MNU)
Evra’s involvement in the Suarez racism affair has overshadowed a strong season for the Frenchman. He was the one constant on an unsettled United back line, and took the captain’s armband when Vidic blew his knee.  Evra was a tackling machine, and was almost omnipresent on SAF’s team sheet.

On the bench: Gael Clichy (MNC)

City’s defensive giants

CB: Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany (MNC)
The pair were instrumental — vital, even — in Citeh’s run to the title. The Citizens’ league-lowest goals-against tally had as much to do with having possession as it did with defending. But these two were monsters in the backfield, with Kompany serving as the club’s “quarterback”, while Lescott cleaned up.

On the bench: John Terry (CHE), Jonny Evans (MNU)

Ivanovic channels Al Jolson

RB: Branislav Ivanovic (CHE)
The Serbian was rough and ready, leading the league’s right backs in balls won, as well as crosses.  The fact that he scored a few goals and set up a couple more doesn’t hurt either, all while keeping his bookings down from last year.

On the bench: Danny Simpson (NEW)

A Song and a prayer helped Arsenal to a CL spot…

DM: Alex Song (ARS)
This may be a little unfair, since the Cameroonian had more of a “playmaker” role this season: 13 assists in all competitions.  But Song was also a winner when it come to breaking up opponents’ attacking runs, winning back possession deep in Arsenal’s own end and then turning the counter on a dime.  Throw out the Gunners’ horror show results against United and Blackburn early, and you see how Arsenal’s defence actually came around… and Song was a big part of that.

On the bench: Gareth Barry (MNC)

Toure led City to its first title in 44 years…

AM: Yaya Touré (MNC)
Of all the millionaires on Manchester City’s squad, Touré may have come closest to earning his £250,000 per week.  He was a menancing presence, muscling his way through the middle of the pitch to set up his teammates.  But he is not without finesse: witness his two goals against Newcastle in Citeh’s penultimate game this season, followed by a nice little tap to Zabaleta against QPR.  Man City were accused of being hired mercenaries without any fire in the belly.  But if there is a heart to this team, it lies between the “4” and “2” on Yaya Touré’s jersey.

On the bench: Mikel Arteta (ARS)

Spanish Imposition: Silva made his mark this season

LW: David Silva (MNC)
If Touré was Citeh’s heart, then Silva was their brain.  As I mentioned last week, Silva was the league’s ultimate playmaker. He led the league in assists, showing incredible control both on the ball, and with his crossing and passing.  With David Villa out of the Euros, look for Silva to move up front to lead the Spanish armada in Poland.

On the bench: Gareth Bale (TOT)

The Heart of the Mata: Spaniard has a bright future at Stamford Bridge

RW:  Juan Mata (MNC)
Another Spaniard on the wing and another speedy midfielder with the artillery to feed his teammates.   One of the players that will become a huge part of the new Chelsea.

On the bench: Antonio Valencia (MNU)

With RVP’s success, Rooney flew under the radar this season

F: Robin Van Persie (ARS), Wayne Rooney (MNU)

Let’s not beat around the bush: a forward’s job is to either score goals… or make sure someone else does.   That’s what these two players did this year.  Van Persie kept relatively injury-free to take the league’s Golden Boot with 30 markers (36 in all competitions), while Rooney was neck-and-neck for most of the season with 27 (37 in total).  The Rooney numbers are impressive, considering he was hurried into midfield for a time before Paul Scholes came out of retirement.  But RVP might have single-handedly pulled Arsenal out of its early-season nose dive.  Champions League football may keep the lanky Dutchman at the Emirates for some time yet.

On the bench: Emmanuel Adebayor (TOT), Sergio Aguero (MNC)

ATR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Robin Van Persie
ATR YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Sergio Aguero

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Swansea City to Wolverhampton

Roy Hodgson does his best George Bailey impression: “Well, I don’t have your trophy. It’s at Roman’s house… and Alex’s house… and Roberto’s house…”

Part Four takes us to a team that squandered their European dreams, another side that dropped like a stone, a third that pulled away from the edge of the precipice, and then two more that found the soft, creamy middle of the table.  Let’s have a look at their best, shall we?

The Dutchman did his part…

SWANSEA CITY
Michel Vorm (NED) – The first Welsh team in Premier League history was the mirror image of its fellow Championship graduate, Norwich.  Just like the East Anglians, the Swans’ gaffer opted for a wide-open system that had trouble on the counter.  Good thing Swansea had Michel Vorm.  The Dutchman faced a barrage of shots, but his save percentage remained in the top flight’s top five.  That’s why he will compete for the honour of being the Oranje ‘s No. 2 in the Ukraine this summer.

Ade wants to stay

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Emmanuel Adebayor (TOT) – I know that many Spurs fans — along with several neutral observers — will take issue with this pick. Why not Gareth Bale, or Luka Modric?  But the stats are pretty clear: more goals, more assists in the league, more possession, more clear chances on goal.  Sure the big man up front was a bit of lazy git at times, and Tottenham fans are worried that they have another Berbatov on their hands.  But the Togolese striker was lethal for the Lilywhites and, more importantly, he wants to stay.  The same might not be said for his teammates in midfield.

The Baggies’ Foster child…

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Ben Foster (ENG) – Beware when your best player is a keeper.  WBA finished a positively decent 10th place under a positively decent manager, Uncle Woy.  Peter Odemwingie had a decent season with 10 goals in the league.  The Baggies were 12th in scoring, 14th in defence.  Foster was decent in the middle of the goalkeeper pack when it came to saves and goals against.  All of this bodes well for England, doesn’t it?… Doesn’t it?!?

NOT Gary Caldwell…

WIGAN ATHLETIC
Gary Caldwell (SCO) – Hey Wigan! Come here, you! No, go away! No, come here! No, go away! The Latics channeled the ghost of Alexei Sayle by dallying with relegation for the entire season (Editor’s Note: Alexei Sayle is not dead).  Wigan were bottom of the table as late as St. Patrick’s Day, so it was apropos that a former shamrock-wearing defender led the charge to safety.   Gary Caldwell’s team posted a record of eight wins and only two losses in their last nine matches, while only letting in seven goals.  That’s as many as the eventual champions, Manchester City.  (Ed. Note: Caldwell didna kill his brother — and former Wigan teammate — Stephen.  He’s at Birmingham City… )

Wolves say they won’t let Fletcher go…

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Steven Fletcher (SCO) – One of the only above-average players on a very sub-par squad, Fletcher had more goals than Frank Lampard, Rafael van der Vaart, Chicharito and Gareth Bale.  ‘Nuff said…

Brent Lanthier

Up Next: Season’s Starting XI and ATR’s PoY!

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Best of the Prem: Newcastle United to Sunderland

Mere seconds later, Chelsea staff tried to explain to Frank that there was no chocolate inside…

Part three of the series comes in the shadow of some event that occurred in Munich, where Chelsea won some minor trophy or other.  Congratulations to the Blues on their European victory (he mumbled, with his head tucked into his chest as he half-heartedly kicked at stones).

And now for something completely different…

Demba, take a Ba… er, bow…

NEWCASTLE UNITED
Demba Ba (SEN) – When the Geordies sold off Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and local hero Andy Carroll, the St. James faithful screamed for owner Mike Ashley’s head.  Fast forward a year, and Ashley looks like a genius.  Part of that is down to the arrival of Alan Pardew.  But the purchase of Senegalese forwards Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse for a pittance was a revelation.  And while Ba’s production tapered off with Cissé’s arrival in February, it was because Ba was willing to play the no. 10 that created Cisse’s industry in front of goal.  Note that you didn’t hear as much as a little Ba peep about the position change either…

Canary at the goal line…

NORWICH CITY
Russell Martin (SCO) – You have to give credit to Paul Lambert.  He could have parked the bus and hope that Norwich hovered above the relegation zone.  Instead, the Canaries played the same free-flowing football as they did in their Championship campaign, finishing a very decent 12th.  The downside was that their defence had to endure a few humiliations.  But right-back Martin was ever present, playing out of position in the centre, where he withstood more than one onslaught.  Sure, Grant Holt scored the goals but Russell Martin typifies Norwich City’s season… and he hasn’t requested a transfer either.

Thumbs down for QPR, indeed.

QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS
Bobby Zamora (ENG) – Zamora was having a decent season… until he moved up the road to QPR during the transfer window. But who else do we pick? Helguson, maybe? Cisse showed flashes of brilliance when he wasn’t sitting out suspensions. Taarabt or Barton? I think not…  Zamora it is, then.

Etherington’s bored face

STOKE CITY
Matthew Etherington (ENG) – I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Stoke City aren’t that good.  The myth that they are tough to break down is bull. Their defence was in the lower half of the table, and their keepers faced a barrage of shots. Meanwhile, their offence was the worst in the league, save for one of the Potters’ bright lights: Matthew Etherington.  The winger ran at defences and provided crosses… well, as much as Tony Pulis let him.  Etherington should have received at least an invite from Roy Hodgson, especially when you consider who will be playing on the left for England this summer.

Sessegnon loves Sunderland… and jazz hands.

SUNDERLAND
Stéphane Sessègnon (BEN) – When Steve Bruce picked Sebastien Larsson from the ashes of Birmingham City’s season, I thought it was a shrewd move… and the Swede didn’t disappoint.  But Sessègnon (who is from Benin.  Where is Benin? It’s not quite Togo, it’s not quite Nigeria… but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end) was the engine for Sunderland.  He scored the same amount of goals as Larsson but set up many more, including two in an effort against Manchester City that almost derailed the Citizens’ championship run.  The club awarded him Player of the Season and it was well-deserved.

Brent Lanthier

Up Next: Swansea City to Wolverhampton Wanderers

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Best of the Prem: Everton to Man U

Fergie has something stuck to the roof of his mouth. It might be crow…

Part Two features players from both sides of Merseyside, along with the two big sides from Manchester.  Part of what made this season so great is that these big clubs — along with the North London clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham — finished right next to their derby rivals in the table. Greatest Premier League season, indeed.

Baines and Jelavic: Goodison’s best

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) – If that season began on January 31st, then Nikica Jelavic would have been the obvious choice, scoring 13 goals since his arrival, while the Toffees went 10-6-3 in all competitions.  But the season is of course long and arduous.  Typical Everton then, who were awful in the first half of the campaign… except for Leighton Baines.  The first name on David Moyes’ team sheet, Baines is everything a manager wants in a full-back.  He can race up the wing but still served as a member of one of the league’s stingiest defences.  The Scouser is also a superb deliverer of crosses and is a set-piece specialist.  If he can stand a month in the Ukraine, then he may actually get onto the pitch under Roy Hodgson.

Dempsey OK for USA

FULHAM
Clint Dempsey (USA) – Who else could it have been? The Yank has been a revelation since the 2010 World Cup, leading the Cottagers in scoring over the last two seasons by a country mile.   This year, Dempsey set the single-season record for Premier League goals in a Fulham shirt.  He has taken over from Landon Donovan as the global face of American soccer, and Jurgen Klinsmann will need Dempsey firing on all cylinders as Team USA begins its World Cup-qualifying campaign.  Another player who is so good that he may be wearing different club colours, come August.

LIVERPOOL
Jose Enrique (ESP) – To be honest, the Spanish fullback is the best of a bad lot.  While King Kenny forked out millions for Andy Carroll, the “other” former Newcastle player was the shining light on an underachieving Anfield side.  It is telling that Enrique’s decline coincided with a reversal in Liverpool’s fortunes after the Christmas break.  In fairness, he has brought some consistency to a position that seems to have been a black hole for the Merseyside club.  As well, he was ever-present in the squad sheet and the Liverpool defence still managed to be one of the league’s best.

Silva has lots to cheer about this season.

MANCHESTER CITY
David Silva (ESP) – On a team deep with expensive talent, this £30m man has proved to be worth every penny.  The league’s ultimate winger, speedy Silva led the league in assists.  Kompany may hoist the trophies, and Aguero/Tevez/Balotelli may find the back of the net, but Silva might be the best playmaker in the league.  A Spanish midfield of Xavi and Iniesta in the middle, with Silva and Mata on the wings, is a formidable thing indeed.

MANCHESTER UNITED
Wayne Rooney (ENG) – Quite possibly the most frustrating man to ever put on an England jersey (apologies to Paul Gascoigne).   The man (still only 26 years old) seems to have an infinite supply of talent.  After a season-long post-World Cup hangover, Rooney rebounded in 2011/2012 with an astonishing 34 goals in 42 games for United.  That includes 27 in the EPL, where he pushed Van Persie for the scoring title right until the end.  In fact, it’s hard to believe he has yet to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot.  How frustrating then, for both the players and the fans, that he must sit out what will surely be two critical games for England this summer.

Brent Lanthier

Coming Up: Newcastle United to Sunderland

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by | May 16, 2012 · 9:07 pm

Best of the Prem 2012: Arsenal to Chelsea

No waffling for this Belgian as his team takes their first title in 44 years.

This season produced some crazy football results, where old dynasties stumbled — in Liverpool’s case, fell hard — while Premier League stalwarts faded from view.

As always, there were some players who simply shone over the entire season.  Some were the brightest jewels in a champion’s crown, while others were gold pieces in a pile of iron slugs.

Here then is the first in my annual series of the Premier League’s best.

RVP to leave ASAP?

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) – After his injury-marred 2010/2011 season, the Dutchman stayed healthy for an entire season… and it paid off in spades for the Gunners.  Thirty-seven goals in all competitions, including 30 to win the Premier League Golden Boot.  Only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more times in a single EPL season; lofty company, indeed.  In fact, it may be too lofty for Arsene Wenger to hold on to him.

Frustration for Warnock at Villa

ASTON VILLA
Stephen Warnock (ENG) – The biggest club in Birmingham endured a dreadful season under a dreadful manager.  But to his credit, the newly-departed Alex McLeish kick-started Warnock’s career again, after former Villa boss Gerard Houllier had consigned the Scouser to the bench.  Warnock featured in 38 out of 42 matches this season, starting all but one of them.  A defending left-back on a drearily defensive side, Warnock is the best of a lifeless bunch that sorely missed Young, Downing, Milner and Walker.

Will the Yak be back?

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Yakubu (NIG) – He’s too fat.  He’s past his prime.  He’s too old to play as a centre forward.  Almost everyone — including me — wrote off the big Nigerian.  Why on earth would Blackburn pick up a 29-year-old player who has just spent half a season in the Championship?!? Turns out Steve Kean actually did something right.  Yakubu scored 18 goals, including a magnificent four-goal slaughter of Swansea City, as well as a brace that helped defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford.   Now that Rovers have done the drop, will the Yak be back in the Prem?

Despite Davies’ best efforts, Bolton still dropped.

BOLTON WANDERERS
Mark Davies (ENG) –  Owen Coyle put his faith in the former Wolverhampton player, after leaving him on the bench for most of Davies’ first two seasons with Bolton.  Davies wasn’t a prolific goal scorer, but he was the anchor of the Bolton midfield, starting plays that would lead to others finding the back of the net. The highlight of his season was a great run against Liverpool, scoring after just three minutes. He should get picked up by a small Premier League club.

One of these players didn’t cost 50 million pounds…

CHELSEA
Juan Mata (ESP)– The gifted winger was brought in to help bring the title back to West London, and win the Champions League honours that has eluded Roman Abramovich after nearly a decade in charge.  Mata has held up his end of the bargain, bombarding opponents’ boxes with cross after cross, and helping his teammates score.  He started more than any other Chelsea outfielder and had an astonishing on-target ratio.   As Chelsea’s old guard fades, look for the Spaniard to help the Blues get back to former glories.

Brent Lanthier

Next: Everton to Manchester United

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The Falcao Final

Skittish Colombian…

Wednesday night’s Europa League final between Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao was billed as an all-Spanish affair between two teams that live off the scraps of La Liga’s big dogs.  Their kits are almost identical, as are their names.  Both have Argentinian coaches and both teams have been hovering around each other in the league table for some time now.

The similarities end there.

A look at the Bilbao team sheet showed a side that was unabashedly Basque.  Even the sole player born outside Spain is named after a Basque town.  Contrast that with Atlético, who took to the pitch with only four Spaniards, only two of whom were native madrileños.  In fact, no member of the starting XI had taken part in the team’s victorious Europa League campaign two years earlier.

So even though one team was full of young giant killers playing for ethnic pride (remember that Bilbao took out a full-strength Manchester United), they faced a side of able-bodied “mercenaries”.  In particular, they were forced to defend against a man who has put a definitive stamp on European nights.  This night was no different for Radamel Falcao.   The Colombian tormented Bilbao’s back eight throughout the match, and needed just seven minutes to find the net, switching feet to find space in the box before unleashing an absolutely lovely effort .  His second came from inside, more of what we have come to expect from the man who has lifted two Europa League trophies over the last 12 months, breaking scoring records in the process.

Heroes, old and new…

It remains to be seen how long he remains at Atlético Madrid.  Despite Falcao arriving only last year from Porto, the man who turned his club’s fortunes around — coach  Diego Simeone — may have a tough time convincing the board not to cash in on the player, even if the continental giants come calling.

But tonight, Falcao remains a Rojiblanco, as yet another trophy begins another year residing in the Spanish capital.

A couple of side bars:

– Atlético captain Diego Godín must be riding high.  Not only has he won the Europa League, but he is coming off a calendar year where he won the Copa America with his native Uruguay, as well as a semi-final finish at the 2010 World Cup.  At 26, the central defender is coming into prime time.

– Chelsea will be both excited and relieved at the efforts of their goalkeeping protégé, Thibaut Courtois.  The Belgian has been on-loan to Atlético all season.  After a shaky start, Courtois — like many of his teammates — seems to have settled down with Simeone’s arrival mid-season.   He wasn’t tested much in the final because of excellent Madrid defending.  But Courtois did make some impressive saves in a major European final, despite not turning 20 until Friday.  Ladies and gentlemen, the heir apparent to Petr Cech…

Brent Lanthier

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Gov for Sale

Image

After a decade-and-a-half of complaints about the oligarchical (big word alert!) domination of the Premier League by four or five clubs, you have to love the drama going into the last week of the season.  Mancunian rivals competing for the title! Three teams scrambling for the final Champions League spots! Chelsea threatening to throw it all into the wind by winning the Champions League! Merseyside clubs competing for… well, isn’t it wonderful?

But if you dig a little deeper, you find a stumble to the finish.  Clubs have taken a hot potato approach to the league table, with the teams falling over themselves trying to acquiesce table positions, often to their most hated rival.  And no side is more guilty of this than Tottenham Hotspur.

When he lasted posted, Our Ian wrote about Harry Redknapp’s acquittal and how the Spurs boss was riding high in the table.  On paper, Tottenham had a formidable team.  On the pitch, Spurs were more fun to watch than Barcelona.  Players like Bale, Van der Vaart, Lennon, Adebayor and Modric followed ‘Arry’s advice to “just run about”, while the starting fullbacks — Walker and Assou-Ekotto — joined in the rush.  It was “all-hands-on-deck” and the Warriors of White Hart Lane did not disappoint.  While they were scoring and winning, they were also keeping one of the stingiest defences in the league.  Quite simply, Tottenham were feared.

But the last third of the season has not been kind to the club.  At one point, Tottenham sat 13 points above their Highbury rivals.  They are now a point below.  Talk of Redknapp’s automatic coronation as the England gaffer was obviously premature and rightly so.  Three Lions’ supporters around the globe have taken a look at the Old Wheeler Dealer and wondered what all the fuss is about. Despite his heritage (obviously something that he had nothing to do with), his credentials are thin.  One trophy and a possible penchant for leaving when it seems to suit him.

Over the last eight matches, their London rivals seem to want Champions League football as little as they do.  Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea have all gone 3-3-2 with the same goal difference. It’s a wash, with Arsenal and Tottenham trying to avoid fourth place in the unlikely event that a born-again Chelsea actually beat Bayern in Munich.

But if Arsenal manage to sack the Woy-less Baggies, and the Blues actually complete their Bavarian putsch, then the Lilywhites’ support will look towards the dugout for answers.  Answers on why a team that spent more on average per year than Manchester United is still trying to find a foothold in the Champions League.  Answers as to why the gaffer says the club should spend even MORE in the summer.

But more importantly, the club’s heart-and-soul support should ask themselves why they would tolerate such a mercenary to lead them into the future, after he seemed so willing to abandon them at the drop of a contract.

Brent Lanthier

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