Tag Archives: sport

Man. City pick out another

So, after spending a million pounds a day in the summertime and still failing to win their opening match of the season (rescued by the true England’s number one, Joe Hart, in a first-half barrage at White Hart Lane), Man Citeh’s wealthy owners have reporedly dipped into their pockets once again and inked Villa’s James Milner for 26 million pounds, sending Stephen Ireland back the other way. You’ve got to love these guys. It hasn’t even been a week since they threw 22.5 million quid down on Mario Balotelli, and they’re back at the buffet table. This is now the most expensive lineup in Premier League history.

To relieve their glut, City have rid themselves of Craig Bellamy, now bound for the bright lights of Cardiff. Can’t wait for that Doncaster Rovers clash this weekend, I’ll bet. With Hart’s glittering performance, Roberto Mancini seems willing to let Shay Given leave, possibly for the capital, where two teams are interested.

There’s none of City’s financial largesse at Anfield, where Uncle Woy says Javier Mascherano will be allowed to escape Merseyside as long as someone can meet the price. If you had Liverpool’s debt problems, you’d feel the same way.

City weren’t the only team making a splashy signing today. With just under two weeks left in the transfer window, German playmaker Meszut Ozil is leaving Werder Bremen for Real Madrid.

It’s Learn your Lesson day in France, where Nicolas Anelka has been banned a whopping 18 matches for his central role in les follies du Coupe de Monde, while co-conspirators Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery and Jeremey Toulalan got five, three and one games. Maybe Eric Abidal, who walked away without punishment, ratted them out. According to the BBC, the Learn your Lesson part was lost on Chelsea’s Anelka, who “did not show up at the disciplinary hearing … his international career now appears to be all but over.” Let us not forget that Laurent Blanc has vowed to quit if he can’t reach Euro 2012 with this team, now rather weakened (or strengthened, depending on your point of view). Bonne chance, mon frere.

Ian Harrison

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Premonitions for the Premier League

Will it be two in a row for the boys from Stamford Bridge?

By Kevin Hoggard & Brent Lanthier

It seems like only yesterday that Chelsea beat out United on the last day of the season, while Arsenal sputtered through the last six weeks without Fabregas, and Spurs squeaked into the Champions League… pushing out the other so-called “Big Four” team all the way into seventh place.  

Not much should change at the top this year. For the last seven seasons, the Blues and the Red Devils have swapped Premier League honours. Can we call them the Big Two now? The newest Manchester millionaires — City — may beg to differ.  

Here then are our picks for top eight:

Kevin’s picks Brent’s picks
1. Chelsea 1. Chelsea
2. Manchester United 2. Manchester United
3. Manchester City 3. Manchester City
4. Arsenal 4. Tottenham Hotspur
5. Everton 5. Arsenal
6. Tottenham Hotspur 6. Liverpool
7. Liverpool 7. Everton
8. Aston Villa 8. Aston Villa

Chelsea – Kevin, Brent: Champions  

Kevin: Liverpool, ManU and Arsenal just haven’t strengthened their squads to challenge Chelsea over a long season.  The Blues are old, they’ve lost Ballack… but Essien is back to full fitness. Drogba is one of the best strikers in the world in Drogba.  Lampard still puts out 20 goals a season. What other big clubs are getting that output from a midfielder? An experienced and settled squad who just know how to get the job done.  

Brent: Essien’s return will more than compensate for Michael Ballack… but the real story with Chelsea is goals. 103 of them, actually.  It was a veteran squad that broke the Premier League record for goals in a season… and it was a veteran squad who shelled West Brom this weekend. Potential problem: what to do with the squad’s stable of foreign stars under new League quotas.  

Manchester United – Kevin, Brent: Runners-Up  

Kevin: Ferguson has failed to fill a glowering hole in the centre of midfield. Scholes and Fletcher are good… but they’re far from world-class, and beyond them the cupboard is a bit bare.  The defence is creaky with perma-crock Ferdinand and lumbering Vidic (what’s the over-under on his red card count this season?).  Strength in attack with Rooney, Nani, Valencia… with Berbatov and new signing Hernandez in to give some relief.  

Brent: Scholes and Giggs showed this weekend that they’re not ready to hang up their boots just yet.  But Giggs came off the bench, and Scholes certainly won’t start every game. Which Rooney will show up this season? Valencia should shower him with crosses… and Berbatov looks like he has something to prove.  Defense is worrisome.  Last year, they were the league’s stingiest.  But Rio is hurt, Vidic is undisciplined and got caught looking several times last season.  Good… but not good enough.  

Not this year, Roberto

Manchester City – Kevin, Brent:3rd   

Kevin: The title is a step too far for Man City at this early stage. You can’t buy a complete squad and expect them to be cohesive. Another couple of years before they are truly challengers for the title but it will come, barring any financial meltdown. You can’t spend this much money and be disappointed forever. Although Amsterdam 2001 springs to mind… but I blame that on the beer.  

Brent: Not cohesive, but check out the parts of the sum. City poached other supposed “big clubs”, offering untold riches to those who came to Manchester proper.  But who will see the pitch on a regular basis… and who will see the back of Mancini’s fine Italian coif? Besides, the manager used three holding midfielders on Saturday and three forwards, begging the question: who will feeding the ball to the attack? Shades of Maradona… which worked out well for Argentina, didn’t it?  

Arsenal – Kevin: 4th; Brent: 5th  

Kevin: It’s hard not to like Arsenal unless you’re a yiddo.  Their fluid attacking football is the closest thing English football has to Barcelona.  But Arsenal’s downfall is Wenger’s reluctance to open the purse strings and buy some bloody players.  He needs a decent goal keeper and a quality center-back to partner Vermaelen before they can challenge for the title. Arsenal are being fiscally sensible and and paying off debts from the new Emirates. But Arsenal fans must be tearing their hair out, knowing that until the debt is paid, they’re forever the bridesmaid and never the bride.  

Brent: Arsenal looked ordinary this weekend at Anfield. Almunia is, well, Almunia… and they lacked the flowing football they’re known for.  Their two best players — Fabregas and Van Persie — are perpetually hurt… and Fabregas doesn’t even want to be there.  Arsenal were in the title hunt last season until Fabregas picked up an injury in the last six weeks, and I don’t see his replacement yet. Wenger’s only edge may be in the new league quota rules, due to his long-standing policy of scouting young players. But I don’t think they will be playing in the Champions League next season.  

"Why won't anyone sign?!?"

Everton – Kevin: 5th; Brent: 7th  

Kevin: David Moyes might be the best manager in the Premiership.   Despite dealing with a lot of injuries and poor early form, Everton still managed to finish two points behind Liverpool.  With more luck this year, I think Everton can push on.   They have a solid settled side that are just hard to beat, and with Cahill fit they have a match winner on any given day.  

Brent: The Prem’s third-longest lasting manager, Moyes can wring the best out of his players.  After an awful start to last season, Everton were among the best after Christmas: only Chelsea and Man U had better records. But they are still a small squad and can’t seem to sign anyone.  They will fatigue and drop off, as better teams push for the finish line.  

Tottenham Hotspur – Kevin: 6th; Brent: 4th  

Kevin: I like this Spurs team a lot. They have flair, creativity and one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership.  If they get past the Young Boys (and that’s never easy: ask my uncle!),  they’ll be fighting on four fronts and I think it will be a stretch too far.  They have a big squad — thanks to their massive spending in the last few years — but I think inexperience will tell and the Champions League will affect their league results.  

Brent: No one expects Spurs to win the Champions League.  But everyone on this North London team expects to be back in it next year. ‘Arry hasn’t signed anybody (except for Sandro?!?) but Tottenham has a solid and offensive-minded starting eleven.  If they can get some super-sub performances from Keane, Pavlyuchenko, dos Santos and Palacios — along with regular displays from Defoe, Crouch, Bale, Lennon and Huddlestone — look out. Let the kids play in the cups… these boys have gotten a taste and they like it.  

Liverpool – Kevin: 7th; Brent: 6th  

Kevin: I’m going to stick my neck out here and predict another season of struggle for Liverpool.  Unless the Chinese take-over is imminent and Roy has oodles of Yen to spend, I just can’t see them being better than last year.  I know the Scouse fans are optimistic but I just don’t like their side.  They are a Torres injury away from trouble.  He is the class act in a workmanlike team.  

Brent: Liverpool were not that bad last season.  Their defence was top-notch: only Chelsea and Man U allowed fewer goals. But off the pitch, the team was in turmoil and on the pitch, they relied too much on Torres and Gerrard.  Worse, the team only scored 15 times away from Anfield.  Hodgson has done some nifty little bits of business, bringing in Joe Cole and a cast of others. But this is not a squad of title winners… and other teams are catching up. Liverpool pride will return this season… Liverpool’s form might not.  

Aston Villa – Kevin: 8th; Brent: 8th  

Kevin: Martin O’Neill transformed Villa into perennial contenders for Europe.  They have finished 6th for the last three seasons.  But O’Neill has gone, the coffers are bare at Villa Park and Milner has to be sold before acquisitions are made. The team has a huge wage bill and must trim their ranks, but they can’t unload those players to create some wiggle room.  I think this will be Villa’s worst season in a while.  

Brent: Saturday’s 3-0 victory over West Ham must seem like a cruel joke to Villans. Wantaway Milner scored the final goal, showing why he would (will?) be missed in the Midlands.  But Villa is not known for its goal-scoring and their huge wage bill doesn’t make up for their shallow squad.  They are playing without a manager… with his replacement rumoured to be the biggest court jester in all of football.  It might be generous to pick Villa at eighth, when all is said and done.

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Living the Tangerine dream

By Colin Wood

The Premier League kicks off this Saturday with a proper old fashioned derby, a Lancashire derby.

Never mind champions Chelsea hosting West Brom, Liverpool’s opener against Arsenal on Sunday or Manchester United hosting Newcastle’s return to the top flight on Monday. The ‘derby’ match between Everton and Blackburn is irrelevant too (they both used to be Lancashire clubs until Liverpool was given its own Metropolitan authority of Merseyside).

No, the match of note to kick off the world’s most popular domestic football competition will take place in the unglamorous surrounds of Wigan (ok, so that’s inside the boundaries of Greater Manchester these days but who cares?) as the newest Premier League team, Blackpool, travel 38 miles from their seaside home to whatever the Latics’ stadium is called these days.

Last time these two sides met in league competition was in English football’s third tier just seven years ago. Having seen the Lancashire rivals play out a 1-1 draw in February 2003, nobody in their right mind would have dreamt that both these teams would have been promoted twice since then to duel in the Premier League in 2010.

Ok, so Wigan started their march up the Football League pyramid being bankrolled by Dave Whelan – they finished the season top of the then ‘Division Two’ on 100 points – but Blackpool were destined for another uninspiring mid-table finish. Their half-renovated stadium was a jumble of the past and the future – one side and one end were decrepit and falling apart and the Stanley Matthews Stand and Mortenson Kop had been opened in 2002 as a hopeful sign for a brighter (orange) future. The second half of the redevelopment has ground along like a tortoise going the wrong way on a treadmill.

Six years on in August 2009 those ‘new’ orange seats were pretty faded when the Tangerines, then in the Championship (having been promoted after a third-place League One finish in 2006/07), notched an impressive 4-1 League Cup win over their Premier League counterparts from across the county. It was one of those results that, if Wigan had been any other Premier League team, could have been described as a giant killing.

Blackpool went on an impressive run of results though and were contemplating the dizzy heights of the Championship playoff zone by Christmas. Everyone expected their season to implode or fizzle out, even those within the club were not dreaming of the Tangerines reaching the Premier League. The attitude was more ‘Let’s get 53 points to avoid relegation and then we can relax.’

But Blackpool kept marching on, they finished in the top six, beat Nottingham Forest in the playoff semi-finals before a 3-2 defeat of Cardiff City at Wembley sent the Seasiders into the promised land of Premier League football – and all this was done on one of the lowest budgets in second tier football.

So, Saturday’s match at the DW Stadium will play host to the minnows of the world’s most televised club football competition. But this is why English football is just so enticing – it proves you can afford to dream, whatever your perceived level.

Just like last year, Blackpool will be favourites for relegation. This year they will be playing a league higher than before, in a league they shouldn’t logically have contemplated playing in. Blackpool are in the Premier League! They’ll be playing at Bloomfield Road, which still hasn’t finished being built, a stadium that averaged around 8,600 spectators last season. Can the reality of this really kick in?

The Tangerine dream may not last long but it will be worth indulging every minute for those Seasiders fans who have not seen any top level success since Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson steered Blackpool to one of the memorable FA Cup wins of all time in 1953.

Much has changed in 57 years since and the 2010/11 campaign will now expose Blackpool’s unpredictable, erratic and entertaining manager, Ian Holloway to the world. Now that will be worth watching…

A former newspaper reporter in the UK, Colin Wood spent more than a decade working in communications & media relations for his hometown club, Colchester United, the A-League’s Perth Glory and Sheffield Wednesday. He lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife and infant son. Read more of Colin’s thoughts on footy at his blog, Off the Woodwork.

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Capello’s Dilemma

Fabio Capello announced his team selection on Saturday, his version of England Redux for this week’s friendly against Hungary that no one seems to want. The thinking was the game would prove to be cathartic for players, fans and the gaffer himself… a chance for brave Albion to regain their dignity and confidence.

But of course, no one is happy. Capello brought in several players who didn’t make the trip to South Africa, including something we haven’t seen for years: the selection of more than one Arsenal player.  However Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, and Jack Wilshire weren’t exactly starters last year. None of them played more than 16 games apiece.  It’ll be interesting to see how Capello uses them, especially after Walcott’s uninspired performance this summer.

The media had called for wholesale change after the Bombing of Bloemfontein.  But Capello was as defiant of the pundits as he was of John Terry’s “rebellion”, keeping Captain Schtupping and Co. in the side despite his insolence.  Don Fabio also tried to soothe feelings… but some players didn’t forget their World Cup snub.  Both Wes Brown and Paul Robinson said “Thank you, no”.  In this writer’s opinion, no big loss.

Capello has found out that being England manager is a thankless task… trying to appease a nation full of unrealistic expectations with a team of mediocre millionaires.  Some sections of the media already believe that Capello is a dead man walking.

O'Neill's Villa frustration boils over

Those rumours are given even more weight because his supposed successor is suddenly free of  his club obligations now that Martin O’Neill has quit Aston Villa just five days before the start of the Premier League season. The bookmakers have him at two-to-one odds that he will be next to lead the Three Lions.  But he may find Randy Lerner’s stinginess preferable to the smothering expectations of the top job in England.

Brent Lanthier

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