Monday, December 31, 2007

A Memo to Hodgson

Note: This is from HatterDon, a honcho over at

Hi Roy! Take my advice. I hardly ever use it myself.

You've got a bunch of players in the house and 11 positions on the pitch and just because you've done well at club and country level for more than 20 years doesn't stop me from telling you what to do. And you should listen, because I'm one of the few people who is actually older than you. So here we go:

1. Goalkeeper: Today you got to see the yin and yang of Antti Niemi in person. On the one hand his reaction save off Queudrue saved a point for us. It was a save that Paul Robinson could only pull off in his dreams. On the other hand, he continued to put unneeded pressure on his back four because he doesn't come off his line enough, and he sapped the flow of energy we had built up by taking forever to get the ball upfield. So, if you haven't landed a potential number one goalie by the time Kasey Keller gets back to full fitness, pass along the gloves to the bald guy from the Pacific Northwest and keep Niemi on the sub's bench. Oh, and get rid of Warner as soon as you possibly can.

2. Defense: Please keep playing Omozusi. Giving him a shot was practically the only team selection decision Sanchez made that I thought was spot on. Try Baird at centre back. Oh, and please don't sell Volzy. I spent a buttload of quid buying a jersey with his name on the back.

3. Midfield: NEVER let Murphy start again. He's an old Steve Davis. Of the two, I'd rather have the Irishman. And, I know he's thin, but try not to lose sight of Alexey Smertin. Evidently Sanchez couldn't see him through those Kray Brothers glasses of his and kept using Murphy or Seol in his stead. And that reminds me, lose the Korean as well. His game has gone missing so long it belongs on a milk carton. Keep playing Simon Davies and don't give up on Hammeur Bouazza. Oh, and think about Clint Dempsey playing slightly behind the front two. And most of all, send Jimmy the Bull out onto the pitch and just tell him to have fun.

4. Striker: It would be nice if we have one. Dempsey's done a great job there, but he'd be the first to drawl that he's not a target man. You've got Brian McBride there, but you need a pacy hungry greedy poacher to play off him. I'm not convinced that Healy isn't that guy, but I am convinced that we should never see Kuqi in an FFC shirt again. I mean, I like the guy, but he couldn't get a game with Palace and they're in the CCC. You should know that, of course, since you were his coach in the Finnish squad. Unless you've got a January transfer in the bag early on, think about giving Healy and Kamara 90 minutes each as the strike pair for two or three matches, just to see what happens.

5. Youth/reserves: Let's start emphasizing that. Inter certainly did that when you were there. We've got some great kids as well as some promise on the fringes of the first team squad and in the reserves. Let's see them from time to time and build something lasting from the ground up.

6. And lets play football. What you saw today was the first time in forever that we've strung together a sequence of passes. No kidding. I've seen three or four matches this season where we've never had more than three passes before losing possession -- in the entire game. We've got skill players -- Davies, Dempsey, Bullard, uh, ...., -- some other guys. Let's attack and play interesting passing ball. Who knows, it might even wake up some of the fans in the Cottage.

Thanks for listening and good luck, Roy. We're all pulling for you.

The worst of 2007, in 2007-08

Norman Hubbard just wrote a column detailing, in his opinion, the worst players of the season so far. Yet some of those name’s are somewhat “N/A” as they haven’t played enough to display their bust-ness (read: David Nugent).

So below is my ‘Worst XI’ of the first half. To qualify, you need to start in at least half of your clubs matches, and/or appear in two-thirds of the total. My math may be a bit fuzzy, but without much ado here’s the team that could make a run in the MLS Cup:

Goalkeeper: Craig Gordon, Sunderland. Okay, this may be a bit unfair as Sunderland’s defense is terrible and its his first stint in the Premier League. But for 9-million pounds, being a part of the second-highest goals conceded (a whopping 39) is becoming of a flop.

Right Back: Chris Baird, Fulham. Having the characteristics more of a hobbit than a top-flight defender, Baird’s 3-million pound transfer fee from SoHo was suspect. And if anyone watched the ManCity and Spurs matches at the Cottage, it was easy to see why each of Fulham’s opponents ran their offenses through him, and scored 3 goals respectively.

Centre Back(s): The Derby Defenders. This one is rather self-explanatory.

Left Back: Jose Enrique, Newcastle. I gotta agree with Hubbard on this one, so I wont steal anymore from him.

Right Midfield: SK Hyeon, Fulham. Six Starts, eight substitutions and only 1 assist, never passes, hell, never looks up while dribbling. It may not be saying a lot, but Sanchez’s worst signing. Hodgson should do the club a favor and release him in January.

Central Mid(s): Joey Barton, Newcastle and Mohammed Sissoko, Liverpool. One is currently (as far as I know) in a Liverpool jail, the other is currently on the ‘Missing Person’s” List at Liverpool’s police station. Barton’s only goal was a penalty kick in a dour match against Fulham, Sissoko’s only goal was in the first week of the season. Come February expect Barton to play for Liverpool Prison FC; and Momo, well, if anyone knows of his whereabouts please call the proper police hotline.

Left Midfield: I really wanted to copy Hubbard (again) and give it to MG Pedersen, but I think Luis Boa Morte, West Ham takes the cake. No goals, no appearances since early December, and another injury plagued season.

Striker(s): Darren Bent, Tottenham and Jeremie Aliadiere, Boro. Both were summer signings, both have been disappointments. Aliadiere has a mere one goal on a team that only outscores Derby. Bent cost almost 17-million pounds, so anything other than leading the Premier League in goals is disappointing. Yet Bent is fourth on the depth chart. Two of his five goals came in the UEFA Cup, and another two came in routs against Derby and Wigan – yikes.

If you know of any I missed, feel free to add!

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Managerial Key-Party Continues

One festive day ending, another on the horizon, and lots of footy throughout it all.

With Roy Hodgson’s appointment at the Cottage, everyone is looking at Big Sam as the next one to go.

But if anyone bothered to watch ManYoo’s JV team demolish Sunderland, you would notice Roy Keane’s negative body language. Of course one cannot be pleased with a 4-0 defeat by his prior employer. But Keane looked like he didn’t even want to be there. And who can blame him? He’s been a winner everywhere he’s played, and even last year he won handily when he took over the Black Cats’s reigns.

Yet with the exception of defeating Derby, the squad hasn’t won since September. And that was against Reading, who are poor on the road. Of all the teams that still have hope to stay up (i.e. not Derby), Sunderland have conceded a league leading 38 goals, and are tied with Boro in least amount of goals scored.

If this was any other manager, they would’ve gotten sacked months ago. Yet Keane still has his job. And that’s for two reasons: intimidation and low expectations. Who in the press is going to attack Keane-O and not immediately fear for themselves and their family? I sure as hell would go into Witness Protection if I was the sports editor at the Sunderland Echo or Times. And although his position as manager was a good story, and pundits picked Sunderland to finish mid-table, did anyone actually expect them to be anything other than relegation fodder? With the exception of Kenwyne Jones, their summer acquisitions are suspect or flops.

If things remain the same, I expect Keane to step down sometime in the spring. People like him remain ‘winners’ for a reason. You gotta commend him for what he did last season, and although the jury is till out until the end of the transfer window, don't expect him to be around in May.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Premiership Boxing Day Preview

So Facebook has this nifty little application that lets you pick the winner of each Premiership match. Every game as a -0.5 spread, so if you pick the underdog it means that they’ll at least tie or win (thus beating the spread). And because I’d rather not post on Christmas, here’s my Round 19/Boxing Day Preview:

(n.b. this totally rips off Bill Simmons, so I'll probably change the format next week. Home team in caps)

Aston Villa (-0.5) over CHELSEA
The keeper situation for the Blues could be troubling, even though they’re at home. Hilario looked really shaky against Blackburn, and Aston Villa’s attack is much more potent. Even with Drogba and Terry still out, it’ll probably come down to a Zat Knight gaff to determine the outcome.

Fulham (-0.5) over TOTTENHAM
This prediction wholly depends on whether the rumors of Jol going to Fulham are true or not. Although reports have been varied, Al-Fayed may give him a big enough salary that he’ll join. And if so, I expect Jol to be double flipping off the entirety of White Hart Lane for the entire match, and at its conclusion he’ll probably fire a rocket at Daniel Levy’s booth ala the Italian Ultras. If he isn’t hired, then Ramos’s squad should win handily.

WEST HAM over Reading (-0.5)
Reading only has two points on the road, and one of those points came on opening day. So three points for Elijah Wood!

BIRMINGHAM over Boro (-0.5)
McLeish should have the Blues rebound from last week’s embarrassing collapse at the Reebok. And Boro’s run of good fortune has been running on borrowed time for too long.

Liverpool over DERBY (-0.5)
The Reds will probably will handily, further solidifying Rafa’s grand illusion.

...But they could also lay an egg and only come away with a point...

Bah, I hate betting on Liverpool so lets move on.

EVERTON over Bolton (-0.5)
Bolton are arguably more pathetic on the road than Reading, only claiming points against Derby and West Ham. And Everton are probably in the best form outside of United and Arsenal. Arteta’s return should provide a boost.

PORTSMOUTH (-0.5) over Arsenal
Pompey haven’t won at home since that 7-goal fiesta against Reading in September. But this will be Arsenal’s eighth game this month and eleventh since the last international break. Add into the mix Fratton Park’s lack of a friendly confines and it’s a recipe for dropped points.

Manchester United over SUNDERLAND (-0.5)
As much as I enjoy the Keane-o dynamic to this match, United are just unstoppable. Can we just fast-forward to May and (yet again) give them the trophy already?

Newcastle over WIGAN (-0.5)
Honestly, who even cares about this one? There aren’t any Wigan fans, and I’m sure many Geordies are gunning for dropped points so Big Sam can get the axe. The only thing I’ll be looking for is to see whether or not Alex Smith still has the skunk-inspired hairstyle. And then proceeding to vomit, again.

MANCHESTER CITY over Blackburn (-0.5)
Sven’s men are unstoppable at home. Blackburn aren’t playing well. What else needs to be discussed?

On that note, have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

pre-christmas premiership wrap

Another weekend in the Premiership, another string of predictable results and events. Arsenal winning it late again, the relegation dogfight still jam-packed, and Chelsea putting me to sleep. Here’s a quick rundown of what I noticed this past weekend:

  • Although this applies to all candidates, if Fulham doesn’t want to get relegated they need to win matches against clubs lower than them. Last season they collected 9 points against those sent down to the Championship, and barely survived. So far this season they have a meager 4 points – out of four matches. Whoever feels like managing this squad needs to not only improve their overall form but also figure out the (somehow) tricky task of defeating teams worse than you, particularly at home.
  • Maybe Viduka forgot to give Sam Allardyce an actual gift for Christmas, but his late goal against Derby was more than Big Sam could've ask for. Believe it or not, he’s still on the hot seat and if they lost to Derby he probably would have been shown the door. A month ago everyone had him sacked, but Big Sam has been assisted by getting points during a lull in their schedule - albeit unconvincingly. Although they’re away to Wigan on Boxing Day, the next few weeks will really test Allardyce’s staying power.
  • Speaking of canning, Rafa Benitez needs to go. Yes Liverpool just dismantled Pompey, but that is part of the problem: he's the son you ask to mow the lawn, but instead washes the car and hangs up the laundry. You’re not entirely angry at him, but he didn’t do what you told him to. When the season began, one could sense there was a strong push amongst ‘Pool fans to win the Premiership. They may not have said it outright, but its almost 20 years since the club has lifted that trophy and the fans were yearning to. In part because of the rotation system, the title dream was all but over by mid-October. Getting a combined 6 points against Tottenham, Pompey, Wigan, and Birmingham is no way to keep up with Arsenal and Manchester United. Now, they’re 10 points off the pace and even with a game in hand, Rafa cannot defeat the other riders of the Premiership’s four horsemen. And what makes his position all the more frustrating is the squad’s ability to effortlessly romp through The Champions League, and handily defeat the also-rans (excluding Reading, when he practically gave up). He was asked to do one thing, but seems intent on doing another.
  • Blackburn are in a tailspin. They haven’t won a match since before Halloween, and probably wont until the eve of New Year’s Eve. Chelsea not only defeated them at home, but completely frustrated them without even seeming to try or care. Come January they need another striker to compliment Santa Cruz, who is doing everything by himself not because he is selfish, but because McCarthy, Pedersen, et al are not performing well this season. It may sound crazy, but I have a odd conviction that Bentley made be bought by another club in January for a lot of money.
  • I didn’t get the color announcers name of the Spurs/Gooners match – but wow was he a homer. I think he said “we” in regards to Tottenham at least a half-dozen times, and I turned on the match right before Keane missed the penalty.
  • A whopping 6 clubs have zero road wins this season, and 5 of those only have two points. Even Reading, who sit somewhat comfortably at 12th on 21 points, are one of those. Although pundits seem to put Megson’s Bolton squad technically out of the relegation fight, they need to improve their away form. Fulham haven't won away from the Cottage since September of 2006, so there's no reason to believe they ever will again. Sunderland's been suffering from bad luck via the referree's both away and at home. Even with three wins at the JJB, Wigan arguably always play away as they dont have any fans. And Derby are just terrible. Oddly enough Birmingham are 1 point away from the drop and Boro 3, yet both have two away victories.
  • And finally if ever there was a gap between the top-flight and the Championship, newly promoted Bristol City's recent victory places them just one point away from automatic qualification into the Premiership, and three points from leading the Championship. I really don’t know whether to commend the Robins or show my dismay at the CCC’s utter mediocrity. I'll let you decide.