Saturday, 1 March 2008

The pendulum swings again.

A busy day of Premiership action has seen the Premiership pendulum swing once again, with Manchester United now favourites to retain the title. Arsenal just managed a draw at home to Aston Villa, with a last minute equaliser from Bendtner, whilst United took an easy three points from struggling Fulham, with a three-nil victory.

Bookies, knowing that Arsenal still have to travel to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge immediately made United favourites. To hold on now Arsenal will have to hope for more slips up from United, who have already lost 4 games this season or will have to ensure that they do not lose at Old Trafford and would then need to pick up 3points away at Chelsea to ensure that they stay on top of the table.

Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, will be doing his utmost to ensure that United do not drop anymore points and let Arsenal slip away again. Wenger, arguably, has the harder of the tasks. Recent incidents, such as the horrific injury to Eduardo and 'The William Gallas show' will do nothing for his young teams confidence and their season will now depend on Wengers ability to settle his ship in stormy waters.

However given Arsenal's squads average age and the fact that most pundits had written them off before the season had even started (citing Wenger's 'failure' to replace the departed Henry) would a second place finish be the end of the world? Not in my opinion. Arsenal are a great team but I do think that they have weaknesses in their squad, especially when compared to United and Chelsea. A second place finish would inspire Wenger to dip into the transfer market and a world class winger would go a long way to pushing Arsenal on next season. The youngsters will be another year older and another year wiser and they will undoubtedly be in the mix again.

But it's not over yet. In my opinion United, Chelsea and Arsenal are all still in with a shout. Chelsea are the outsiders but both Arsenal and United have to travel to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea will fancy their chances of taking 3 points from both of them. If Chelsea win their game in hand and then beat both United and Arsenal at the Bridge they will be level on points with Arsenal and 1 point behind United.

It really is going to be the most exciting climax to a Premiership season for many a year!
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Friday, 29 February 2008

Premier League Underperformers

This blog was inspired by two pieces of news from the footballing world today, Gerrard's admission that Liverpool just haven't been good enough this season and Owen's comments about how, unsurprisingly, morale is low at Newcastle. For years these two big teams have constantly under performed despite changing owners, changing managers and big transfer budgets.

Let's start by looking at Liverpool. Despite being one of the 'big four' Liverpool are a team in crisis right now. Players should not be affected by the off-field antics but it is clear that they always are. For the supporters and the board to be in such open conflict, for the board to so publicly undermine the manager with their admitted (failed) approach for Jurgen Klinsmann, for senior players such as Gerrard and Carragher to speak out, something is clearly wrong with the club from top to bottom.

For all of Liverpool's short comings they have an awful lot to offer the Premier league. Gerrard on his day is the best midfielder in the league and Torres is one of the most dangerous strikers, whilst in Carragher and Reina they have two solid defensive players . Managers and pundits always talk about the importance of having a strong spine and undoubtedly Liverpool have a strong spine, but it is the players around the spine that are letting Liverpool down this season. Players like Kewell, Kuyt, Veronin just do not cut the mustard as far as challenging for the title goes.

For Liverpool to seriously challenge next season they will need two new wingers along with a new striker to play alongside Torres. I rate Crouch highly, but Benitez clearly does not. Benitez also needs to make the Premier league his priority, as I am sure it is with the fans, rather than dropping points against so called lesser teams by resting players for Champions league games.

On top of this Gillett and Hicks need to come out and either sack Rafa and bring in their own man or publicly state that they are 100% behind him.

Meanwhile, further north, things look even less cheery. Football fans across the country have their fingers crossed hoping to hear 'Keegan Out' from the Toon army before the end of the season. The funny thing in Newcastle is that most fans seem, currently, to be completely behind the owner and the manager (which for a team in turmoil, is almost unheard of.)

Newcastle's problem lies simply in their inability to choose a manager and stick with them. In 11 years they have had 11 different managers (albeit four of those were only caretaker managers, for various lengths of time) and one only needs to look at Arsenal and Manchester United to see the success that consistency can bring.

Admittedly Allardyce's win record of 33% was not good enough for a team of Newcastle's size, but he was in charge for less than eight months and only had 24 games in that time! When he joined the club he stated that it would be a three to five year transition period while he turned the team into 'his own' (read, purchase 8 foot tall monsters and borderline pension age set piece takers). Of course part of the problem here is that shortly after joining Newcastle the club was sold to Ashley and where the manager is 'not the Chairman's man' the danger of the old Spanish archer (el bow) will always linger.

Traditionally, now, part of the Newcastle circus is their clown act (also, sometimes ironically, called their defence). How a team who have changed manager so often in the past eleven years can have such a consistently bad record at purchasing defenders is beyond me; Bramble and Boumsong are the undoubted highlights but the list of tried and failed centre back partnerships is almost as long as their list of recent managers.

Newcastle have the basis of a decent squad, not a squad that can compete for a Champions league place but certainly a squad who could, indeed should, be fighting to get into the UEFA cup. However until they decide upon their man (and who better than Keegan given his status up there) and accept that success will be a long process and not instantaneous they will continue to achieve nothing. They should be too good to go down this season, but football is a strange old game.
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Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Premiership Versus The Championship

As an avid Norwich City fan (yes, let's be havin' you.. Get it all out now) my jealously towards the premiership clubs is massive. Exact figures are hard to find, but rough figures seem to suggest that the team who finish bottom of the Premiership this season (read : Derby) will have received approximately £30million in a combination of prize and television money. Compare this to the championship where the table topping side (A harder one to call, but at the moment I'd have to put my money on WBA) will apparently take away between £2.5-£5million and it is easy to see the size of the gulf that exists. However the point of Hoofball is that there is more to football than money. Football continues to exist thanks to one thing; the fans. This may be simplistic, but if the fans dissappeared the money pouring into the game would soon dry up. Fans may cite a number of a reasons for their total dedication to the game, but at the end of the day (my favourite footballism) they watch football to be entertained.

So what is more entertaining, the Premiership or the Championship? In terms of sheer quality these is no doubting that the Premiership is more entertaining, the footballing joy of watching the creative ability of Fabregas, Ronaldo and Torres week in week out will always beat the experience of watching Alan Lee, Chris Brown and Darius Henderson. What should not be missed though is that there are teams in both leagues who choose to play football, as well as there being teams who choose to play slightly more direct. For every Arsenal there is a West Brom and for every Bolton there is a Watford.

For me, excitment is generated through uncertainity and this is where the Championship has the edge. Realistically, at the start of the season the Premier League title was only ever going to go to one of three or four teams and now, two-thirds of the way through the season, the only suprise is the almost predictable (yes, I know that is contradictory) way in which Liverpool have fallen off the pace. Whilst the bottom of the table is a bit closer, with the obvious exception of Derby, there is a huge lack of excitment, despite the tension. Could it be that the threat of relegation, and the financial penalties that come along with it, simple remove all of the 'fun' from the game and leave room for nothing but nerves?

Compare this to the Championship, where at the start of the season somewhere close to 12 teams would have fancied their chance at topping the table come the end of the season. Fast forward to 35 games into a 46 game season and we find four teams battling it out for the top two spots, with a further ten teams all within ten points of the other two remaining play off places. Couple this with the fact that there are ten teams within ten points of the bottom place and you can clearly see how every team in the league is still fighting for something. In fact, Blackpool, currently sitting in 14th place, are ten points ahead of bottom placed Scunthorpe and ten points behind fifth placed Plymouth. A three or four game winning streak could easily lead to them challenging to play Premiership football next season, where as a three or four game losing streak could see them facing the prospect of being a League One team next season!

For me the Premiership will always be the place I want my team to end up, but in truth pushing for promotion is always a lot more fun than constantly avoiding relegation. I'm sure fans of teams such as Fulham secretly long for a season back in the Championship, to try to rediscover some of the joy of being a football fan.

In short, there is no short answer. The pros and cons of both leagues can be easily seen and it simply comes down a matter of personal preference. Those who enjoy the unexpected will find that the Championship is a place where suprises are thrown up every week, while those who enjoy the experience of seeing sublime talent on show will undoutably continue to be drawn to the Premiership.

Me? I'm somewhere in the middle.
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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Why blog, Dan?

This is the first question I was asked after informing my friends that I was planning to start writing a football based blog on the Internet. So, why blog? Frustration. Anger. Resentment. I'm not too sure. Something about the way the F.A is currently running the professional game in England is making me angry beyond belief. But what will blogging possibly do to correct the F.A's many flaws? Probably nothing, but there is only so long that one can sit on one's hands before deciding that enough is enough.

If I can vent and in doing so find people of similar beliefs then maybe we can make a change for the better. I live very much in a world where I believe in the power of people. The F.A may be about as detached from proper football fans as it is possible to be, but unless fans use all the resources available to them to try to have the F.A understand their viewpoints then nothing is going to change.

I will not just be writing about the F.A. I will be blogging about all aspects of the modern game, from the top, with my views on the so called Big Four, down to the very bottom, with my views on the grass root games and whether, as is currently being argued on Sky Sports News, children under the age of 11 should be allowed to play 11 a side competitive games. I encourage debate and feedback on any posts, however against my own view it may be.

I have played, watched and loved football practically since birth and I hate the path that the game is being led down now. Sadly, I think it may be too late to turn back.
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