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Chelsea Streaking Away in Uncompetitive Premier League

The Premier League is routinely described by any commentator that would have your ear as the most unpredictable league in world football. Two weekends ago reinforced this view to an extent, with Arsenal the only team from last year’s top seven to win, while Leicester City’s remarkable 5-3 turnaround against Manchester United will go down in English football folklore.

Last weekend that alleged unpredictability ground to a halt, though Hull City came close to upsetting the apple cart in a thrilling game against Manchester City. The autumnal yellow ball may still lie a few weeks away, yet the final standings in May look grimly inevitable already.

Chelsea are obviously the strongest in the league, they have the greatest depth and the greatest knack for winning right now. Newcastle United are a shambles at present, but they will not finish the season in the relegation places by virtue of the fact there are at least three teams worse than them in the division.

Burnley have not scored since the opening weekend of the season, Queens Park Rangers, who have mustered the two worst displays of the season, and West Bromwich Albion, whose two wins on the bounce have obscured their overall poor start to the campaign, all look doomed.

The height of competition this season may lie in the artificial joust for Champions League places, while the monotony of deciding once again who finishes between eighth and 17th surrounds it. A vacuum of competition has engulfed the upper echelons of this season’s league. The gloom of inevitability. Second season syndrome.

Last season was genuinely unpredictable and brought an exciting edge that had been few and far between in recent Premier League campaigns. Above all it contained that rarest of beasts: a three-horse title race. Combined with the once-in-a-lifetime meltdown at Manchester United and a relegation battle that snaked around until the final weeks, this unpredictability lasted the nine months.

'Liverpool were a fantastic edition to the title race last season'

‘Liverpool were a fantastic edition to the title race last season’

The subplots that so engaged last year do not look like being repeated, although Manchester United have shown they can provide their fill of theatrical drama.

A Premier League season without a title race is a marketing nightmare and a bore for fans. The 2012-13 campaign is not fondly remembered outside of Old Trafford after Manchester United pulled away in December and all but wrapped the title up by February.

The competition at the very top, which defines the strength of a league, is likewise not there at present. Liverpool lack the verve and fluidity of last season and, like Arsenal, are struggling to find their identity this season. Manchester City have started slowly once again, but last year they profited from a lack of a front-runner pulling away.

Chelsea have begun the season in a glaringly ominous mood, and look every bit as strong as a traditional second-season Jose Mourinho team. As any Mourinhista would tell you, it is during these second seasons that his sides excel; FC Porto won a league and Champions League double, Inter Milan the treble and Real Madrid a league and cup double.

The Portuguese’s 2005-06 Chelsea vintage set the standard in the Premier League era, winning all of their opening nine games and dropping points in only two games before late January. By mid-October, with a slow start from weak rivals—ageing Invincibles at Arsenal, and a Manchester United in transition with genuine question marks over Sir Alex Ferguson’s long-term future—the league was boxed off. Eight points separated them from nearest challengers Wigan Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur and Charlton Athletic, and after barely two months, the title race had become a procession; a foregone conclusion.

After six games this season Chelsea have opened up a three-point lead over nearest rivals Southampton, but crucially a five-point gap has emerged between them and Manchester City, their most likely challengers, already. Five points is not cavernous at this stage, but the pressure piles on; slip up and the Blues will claw clear.

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For Mourinho it is vindication for an almost textbook summer of squad-reshaping. Recouping close to £80 million for David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku was canny business. Buying Diego Costa has given the attack a significant upgrade, but marrying that with the overlooked artistry of Cesc Fabregas was a masterstroke. Together, they are the double transfer coup of Premier League history.

On Sunday, Mourinho comes face-to-face once again with arch-antagonist Arsene Wenger. In 11 encounters the Frenchman hasn’t once tasted victory, and few would expect Mourinho’s stranglehold to slip just yet with last year’s 6-0 still fresh in the memory. If the emphatic 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund last month is anything to go by, then the Gunners have not learned the lessons that cost them so brutally in the big match fixtures away from the Emirates last season.

After their triumph at Stamford Bridge in March, Mourinho said, “We came to kill and in 10 minutes, we destroyed.” Within 10 games of the new season, Mourinho has already killed the competition.

Written by: James Dutton

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“Premier League Suited”—Debunking the Mythical, Oft-Misused Phrase

In modern day football, players sprout from every inch of the globe. It happens every summer, with managers of teams looking to strengthen their squads with mercurial talents from all corners of the world.

Whenever a player is signed from an elsewhere country, though, the same questions are asked—questions that have already been answered many a time by on-pitch performances. Regardless of whether the player is unproven, a prospect or an established footballer, people always come up with the same, if not similar, enquiries.

“He plays well for (insert club), but can he do it on a cold night in Stoke with Ryan Shawcross nipping at his ankles?” they ask. “Can he deal with the pace of the league?”

Well, these questions are a farce and, as I said in the title, utterly nonsensical.

The media in Great Britain are extremely proud of their country in terms of football. Despite their frequent sarcastic, cynical headlines, English writers and many of their readers alike legitimately believe that the English Premier League is the greatest in the world. You, reading this, probably agree, too—but I don’t.

I feel that, albeit not as drastically as it may sound, football fans living in Britain have been mildly brainwashed by the one-dimensional, predictable media. The constant claim that this country is the “home of football” gives England fans the feeling that there is no reason to watch teams in other leagues as, simply, the Premier League is superior.

Whilst, granted, football was created in the United Kingdom, people don’t give other leagues a chance. As a consequence, they develop completely incorrect opinions and interpretations of other countries’ leagues—almost dismissing them. This is harsh and erroneous, as common sense confirms that one should only possess an opinion if they have seen what they say with their own eyes, and firmly believe it.

An example of evidence against the frequent opinion of the Premier League being the best league in the world comes in the form of an event that occurred recently. We all know what happened at the FIFA World Cup 2014—England failed, miserably—and one major take away from the tournament was the fact that, in terms of current quality, English footballers are possibly inferior—and certainly not better—than those of elsewhere. The footballers representing us were played off the park by all opponents, leaving the picturesque Brazil winless and without progressing to the knockout stages.

'We won’t be forgetting last summer’s nightmare too soon, that’s for sure.'

‘We won’t be forgetting last summer’s nightmare too soon, that’s for sure.’

This brings me onto my main point, regarding leagues: Surely the divisions where the most successful countries’ best players ply their trade in are the best in the world? Spain dominated world football and created an unforgettable era in recent history, winning the World Cup and European Championships consecutively but, despite this, “Will he be able to do it at Levante away?” was never a question.

Yes, the English Premier League is different and almost unique. Players rely more on using upper-body strength and passion or “fight” than in any other league, especially among lesser teams, but is it really a more formidable and challenging test than playing in somewhere like Spain, Germany, or even Italy? I’m not too sure.

One thing is certain: the emphasis and the way in which the beautiful game is looked at are completely different in those aforementioned countries. In Spain, for example, concentration from coaches, whether managing a youth team or a side in the top-tier of Spanish football, is on the technical and tactical side of the game, unlike in England.

If you were to watch your son’s U-12 team training, the chances are you’ll see them practising how to take a long-throw and swing in a corner. In Spain, it’s more likely you’ll see a two-touch keep-ball drill, or an innovative session to help the player’s tactical awareness.

I’m not claiming this to be a problem. Each and every country has its unique manner of playing football—whether it’s Italy’s catenaccio, Spain’s tiki-taka or Brazil’s joga bonito—and England’s approach isn’t wrong by any stretch of the imagination. It can be described in only one way; an adjective which I have already used and will probably use again: different.

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So, why would a footballer come over to this country and struggle? Different environments are something that people have to go through on a daily basis off the pitch, so why should it be any different on it? If human nature didn’t allow us to adapt to new surroundings, why do children go from primary, to secondary school and eventually to university?

The answer: human nature does allow us to adapt, and—in many cases—it brings with it previous experiences to a new environment to make the person whose environment is changing more suited to its surroundings than those who have been there from the start. I don’t want to elaborate too much on England’s schooling system, however, so back to the main point.

Surely players coming from the likes of Spain should be able to deal with the Premier League adequately, if not even better than those of this country, no? Obviously, as with any situation, adaptations have to be made but, to be honest, I feel that more adjustments are made off the pitch than on it—for it is the same game they’re playing but not the same language they’re speaking or same city they’re living in.

If Wayne Rooney were to move to Paris Saint-Germain, as rumours have suggested, he would have to make as many adaptations as a foreigner coming to Britain. I doubt people would rule him out so early, as people have done with many players such as Mesut Ozil, here in England.

If anything, couldn’t players possibly even find the English game easier than where they came from? As previously mentioned, football in this country is more a physical battle than it is a technical or mental one and, as a consequence, the coaching is emphasised on the physical or more basic side of the game.

Players coming from Spain, who have enjoyed a tactically educational footballing upbringing in their homeland, should–and I say should, as it isn’t as easy as it sounds–in theory be able to come to England and exploit the tactical unawareness and vulnerability of our players.

I said in the opening paragraph that the subject of this title has been proven many a time, so it is time for me to give a few examples. Being an Arsenal fan, the first player that sprang to mind was Santi Cazorla. Although I chose him as he plays for my club, he is conveniently the ideal man to use.

The Spaniard is the opposite of what many would call the stereotypical Premier League footballer: Only 5”6′ and not blessed with much pace, the physical side of the midfielder’s game isn’t strong at all. Put him in a 50-50 challenge or tussle with Lee Cattermole and you can bet your mortgage that he won’t come on top, but it’s his spectacular tactical awareness and superior footballing ability that means that he’ll rarely be in this situation.

Instead, he finds himself running at defences and playing pinpoint through-balls that unlock defences and, deservedly, he gets a lot of praise for his football. In Spain, Santi was almost like James Milner—an international footballer, but someone who didn’t get as much recognition as his international teammates.

The fact that he is regarded so monumentally in this country surely shows that he has had an easier time over here, doesn’t it?

'He may not be the best physically, but Cazorla is definitely up there in the country.'

‘He may not be the best physically, but Cazorla is definitely up there in the country.’

As you know, Cesc Fabregas was made by Arsenal and developed into a sensationally efficient and dazzlingly mesmerising footballer by the North London club. His unbelievable form provoked interest from his boyhood club Barcelona—who were the best football team in the world at the time—so Arsenal, unable to stand in the way of their captain, allowed the central midfielder to make his dream move.

All was set for the new man to shine at his new, favourite club; he had much to offer as soon as he signed, and was there also for the long-term, with Xavi growing older and older. Things didn’t go too well at all for Fabregas, however, and he was sold just three years after he was signed by the Catalan club after an utterly unimpressive stint at the Camp Nou.

'An unimpressive stint at the Camp Nou meant that Cesc had to move on.""An unimpressive stint at the Camp Nou meant that Cesc had to move on.'

‘An unimpressive stint at the Camp Nou meant that Cesc had to move on.’

Things were looking fairly bleak for the midfielder. He was beginning to lose his place in the team more and more frequently, and the Spanish national team began to omit him from the XI on many an occasion due to his poor form. Still a “fan” of former club Arsenal, Cesc thought that he was destined to move back to North London, but was told by “father figure” Arsene Wenger that he wouldn’t start for the Gunners if he were to move back. Cesc, now desperate, did the unthinkable in the eyes of Arsenal fans, and moved to club rivals Chelsea.

We’re only a handful of matches into the season but the 92-time Spain player—back in the familiar English Premier League—has evidently rediscovered his former self. He currently tops the assist charts and is every week leaving pundits, Chelsea fans and more purring after scrumptious displays.

There must be a reason that the 27-year-old has always excelled in England, yet failed to replicate his form back in his place of birth. From the age of nine to 15 before he moved to Arsenal, the No. 4 learnt his trade in Spain. He then came over, smashed up the Premier League, struggled on his return to Europe and is now excelling once again in the Isles.

Playing “on a windy night at the Brittania” and “against Leicester who leave ten men behind the ball’ has proved easier for Fabregas  than playing elsewhere, so the big deal surrounding the formidability of English football is unneeded, untrue and undeserved.

My point of this article is that footballers coming over from elsewhere —no matter what the shape or size—have the ability to do a job in the Premier League. Anyone can “handle the mentality of the Premier League” if they have the right attributes and are good enough, so this terrible phrase and mindset that fans in this country have needs to be kicked out of football, forever.

Written by: Deano Spyrou

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Wayne Rooney Must Learn to Tame his New Found Passion That has Come With Double Captaincy

Wayne Rooney’s passion and desire to succeed at the highest level has been of the highest standard in recent seasons. His defensive work rate coupled with his contributions going forward make him a Manchester Utd legend to be as he begins his 11th season with the Red Devils.

Now having been given captaincy at both club and international level at the start of this season, he needs to make sure his fiery emotions don’t boil over on as consistent a basis as they have at the start of 2014/15 season.

The Sky Sports cameras showed us just how frustrating it can be as Man Utd captain – especially right now – as Rooney laid into his defence during their 5-3 defeat to Leicester on several occasions.

Then again on Saturday, his desire to be an example for the new signings around him lead to his committing of a clumsy, unwilling foul that was well worthy of the red card he received.

While I and many others have no doubt in saying that Rooney is the most deserving of captaincy with both Man Utd and England, he must show maturity with his new position as many of the world’s best captains already do.

'Rooney Is Now Responsible For Nurturing The Youngsters At Manchester United'

‘Rooney Is Now Responsible For Nurturing The Youngsters At Manchester United’

The likes of Philipp Lahm, Thiago Silva, Xavi, John Terry and Steven Gerrard are just some of the world’s best players who have carried captaincy with assured maturity with the world’s best clubs and international teams.

With Man United being one of the biggest football club’s on the planet, Rooney has added pressure others may not experience due to the sheer amount of attention Manchester United receive as a club.

His consecutive bookings – including the red card vs. West Ham – were the first bookings Rooney has received since February of this year. So having gone all of half a season without a booking, the added pressure of leading a team like Man United, seems to have had Rooney underestimating the size of the role at hand.

As well as being a player for the new signings to look at for guidance in their opening seasons, the same can be said for a fresh set of youngsters bursting onto the scene at Old Trafford.

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Whilst lacking depth at the back, Tyler Blackett has earned himself a starting position in the United defence. Others such as Patrick McNair (who started vs. West Ham) and Tom Thorpe have both made senior appearances for the first time this season.

Rooney now has a chance to help Man United’s future stars from within the club grow faster in maturity and experience on the pitch. We’ve seen the likes of Gerrard, Terry and even Jagielka with Everton show leadership while young faces attempt to make their way at their respective clubs.

Rooney’s many responsibilities are adding up to make it a difficult job to hand for any footballer, but he must stay calm in these rough times to prove he has what it takes as a leader for others to continue aspiring to be like.

Written by: Alex Chaffer

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You Needed ‘The Sixth Sense’ In ‘Game Week 6′

Alan Pardew, the second longest-serving manager in the Premier League, could face the sack after his winless Newcastle United slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Stoke – leaving them off the foot of the table on goals scored alone.

Newcatle’s defeat, or is that Stoke City’s victory (?) on Monday night, meant that 6 -players rose above the rest and shared uMAXit’s FREE £2,000 ‘prediction pot’! Each player, on a cold wet Monday night in Stoke, netted themselves £333.33 apiece!

sixth-senseIt was a derby weekend to savour in uMAXit Football’s ‘Game Week 6′ predictor competition!

Phil Jagielka rifled a shot into the top corner in injury time to earn Everton a dramatic 1-1 draw with Liverpool in the Merseyside derby at Anfield, while the north London derby between Arsenal and Spurs also ended all square as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cancelled out Nacer Chadli’s opener.

At Anfield, the hosts looked to have earned what would have been a deserved victory through Steven Gerrard’s 65th-minute free-kick –a record ninth Premier League goal in the fixture for the Reds captain.

But with 91 minutes on the clock, Jagielka, who had not scored for Everton since April 2013, let fly with an effort that gave Simon Mignolet no chance. It still leaves Everton without a victory at Anfield since 1999, but rarely will a point have felt so sweet.

Arsenal and Tottenham battled out a 1-1 draw in Saturday’s north London derby at the Emirates Stadium.

After Gunners captain Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey had both been forced off with injury, Spurs midfielder Nacer Chadli put the visitors ahead against the run of play on 56 minutes.

Arsenal, who go to leaders Chelsea next weekend, finally made their possession count when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain smashed home an equaliser, but Spurs — inspired by a stand-out performance from captain Younes Kaboul – held out for a share of the points.

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Leicester were given a reality check at Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace made sure a memorable week for the Foxes ended in a 2-0 defeat.

Having come from two goals down to beat Manchester United 5-3 last weekend, Leicester offered little to send the travelling contingent back to the East Midlands feeling giddy as the bite of top-flight football saw the visitors punished for a rare off-day.

For Palace boss Neil Warnock, this was a second win in six days as goals from Fraizer Campbell and Mile Jedinak settled the encounter.

Connor Wickham passed up a glorious opportunity to claim a first Premier League win of the season for Sunderland over 10-man Swansea as the match ended 0-0.

The unmarked striker was picked out by Sebastian Larsson six yards from goal with 16 minutes of a tight contest remaining, but sent his header over the bar to let the Swans off the hook. It was the Black Cats’ fifth draw in six league outings.

In the #MAXIFY game Graziano Pelle’s acrobatic volley ensured an unhappy south coast return for Harry Redknapp as Southampton saw off QPR in a 2-1 victory at St Mary’s.

On-loan defender Ryan Bertrand opened his Saints account to hand the hosts the lead before Charlie Austin blasted home on the turn.

Italian striker Pelle trumped Austin’s smart finish with a true showman’s goal to secure Saints’ fourth win in six Premier League ties this term as former Southampton boss Redknapp received a hostile reception after quitting Saints for bitter rivals Portsmouth in 2005.

Congratulations:

Bhawna Bagga
Neil Kimpton
Alan Martin
Mark Thomas
Rhodri Walters
Lucas Williams

Predictions In Numbers:

  • 4 x Correct Predictions – 2% of players
  • 3 x Correct Predictions – 14% of players
  • 2 x Correct Predictions – 34% of players  
  • 1 x Correct Predictions –  36% of players 
  • 0 x Correct Predictions – 14% of players  

Match Outcome In Numbers:

Liverpool 1 – 1 Everton
(23% of all players predicted a draw)

Crystal Palace 2 – 0 Leicester City
(32% of all players predicted a Crystal Palace win)

Sunderland 0 – 0 Swansea City
(28% of all players predicted a draw)

Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham
(11% of all players predicted a draw)

Stoke City 1 – 0 Newcastle
(61% of all players predicted a Stoke City win )

MAXIFY: Southampton 2 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
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The Football Manager Cult is Dying; the Boardroom Has Become the New Dugout

There will never be another Sir Alex Ferguson.

Never mind his personal trophy count, or the number of years he served as Manchester United manager. It’s not just his achievements that will be impossible to replicate, but the power and influence he and he alone wielded at Old Trafford.

Football managers in his image are a dying breed: an endangered species already strangled down into a single-digit population at the highest levels of the game. No longer will these leaders of men and figures of individual destiny stand tall as the figureheads around which the future breaks and is built.

From here on in, grand dynasties and long-term philosophies will sprout from the boardroom rather than the dugout; it is as if managers have become to their bosses what the captain used to be to the man barking orders from the sidelines. Those instructions, to some extent, now often come from the directors’ box.

'There Will Never Be Another Sir Alex'

‘There Will Never Be Another Sir Alex’

It’s not an entirely new idea of course. Directors of football, in addition to the various alternative chains of command that have long prospered over on the continent, aren’t even novel within the English game anymore. Even when such power structures did seem like fresh suggestions from strange, foreign lands it was originality born of local ignorance—much like how the emergence of “the Makelele role” was only treated as news on this side of the channel.

What’s different, however, is how obvious the influence from on-high has become on the pitch, beyond the figures spent and funds made available to the man placed in charge of coaching, team selection and tactics.

Increasingly, it’s the club with the best team of football-literate CEOs, chairmen and owners as well as the best footballers who make the biggest impact on the field of play—even beyond the highlights of the top four and the Champions League.

Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain may not play ball in the same arenas as Yaya Toure, but the two former Barcelona suits were arguably even bigger signings for Manchester City than their title-winning, ex-Camp Nou midfielder. While cake-based controversy may have cast the Ivorian’s short-term future at the club into doubt this summer, the two Spaniards were busy founding New York City FC and buying up feeder clubs around the world.

Their long-term influence over the shape and size of City’s success looks anything but precarious, unlike the prospects of Fulham, who have nose-dived without the stewardship of their former owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.

'Fulham Miss Al-Fayed'

‘Fulham Miss Al-Fayed’

The details of the ownership models at the Etihad and Craven Cottage may have differed, but the implosion that has ensued in West London following the departure of the hands-on Egyptian suggests he provided more than just capital and an eccentric sideshow for the media. Al-Fayed may have been mocked for installing a giant statue of Michael Jackson at the club’s stadium towards the end of his reign, but he would never have allowed the nonsense of Felix Magath and his cheese-based injury remedies to interfere with the smooth running of his team.

Fulham’s competitiveness may have waned over the years due to the loss of players they couldn’t replace—such as Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele—but perhaps their biggest loss came at the very top of the club, where their often derided owner provided the vision and direction that modern managers, constantly under threat, cannot.

Arsene Wenger could be considered the transitional step in this shift of power and influence from the coach to the corporate. While still turning out to run his own technical area every weekend, he has almost become something of a backroom figure on the frontline for the Gunners over the last decade or so.

Preoccupied with finances, philosophy and even the designing of parts of their new stadium, he was at his best when paired with David Dein—the Frenchman’s version of Peter Taylor perhaps, but not in a manner that Brian Clough would recognise or appreciate. Wenger, like Ferguson, has become an image of the manager ascended the status of a quasi-chairman; their clubs turned into personal fiefdoms and bastions of their ideals and values.

On their way up, perhaps the reach of figures such as Dein, and David Gill at United, passed them on the stairs as they made their way down to wherever the identity, style and soul of their clubs reside. From there the direction of the club could be steered and tweaked as it is today by the likes of Soriano and Begiristain at the Etihad, and many others elsewhere.

At Swansea City, Huw Jenkins presides over the team as a chairman, shareholder, chief executive and more. More as in he is one of the leading examples of a chairman who has taken to signing his managers as if they were players brought in to add something to a pre-existing team rather than rebuild a side in their own image.

It’s policy that has so far been very successful for the South Wales club, who have risen from the depths of league football to the Premier League, their first trophy win and European football, while playing a certain brand of football, as demanded by Jenkins and his fellow board members. Brendan Rodgers may have coached the team into the Premier League, garnering comparisons with Barcalona along the way, but when he left he was replaced by Michael Laudrup, and the club barely skipped a beat.

It feels rather fitting that former captain Garry Monk is now the man in charge as the Swans continue to progress under the watchful eye of Jenkins, and the Swansea City Supporters Trust  who now own the club.

Stories about board members influencing the running of their teams no longer start and end with gossipy tales of Russian oligarchs forcing their coaches to play over-the-hill strikers, purchased at great expense. These days, the idea of those in the upper echelons of the power structure taking an interest in working with their managers, or laying down ground rules by which to follow, no longer seems strange or transgressive.

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Negative tales still come to light of course, and when these increasingly intimate and intense relationships between the board and the dugout break down it’s almost always cast as being due “interference,” as was partly the case with Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace. Yet whether it’s West Bromwich Albion’s insistence about Alan Irvine being a head coach rather than a manager, Daniel Levy’s trust in Franco Baldini plus manager at Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool’s transfer committee or Vincent Tan’s autocracy at Cardiff City, the distance between owners and their teams has never been shorter in English football, at least not in recent times.

In some ways, this trend away from dictatorial managers being the prime higher powers at a club seems like a loop back into the past, and the early days of club football. Back then, prior to the emergence of figures like Herbert Chapman, the blazer brigades selected the teams, the players often sorted out their own training, and the manager was little more than a chaperone. Football’s come a long way since, but history always ends up repeating itself somehow. It could be that we’re now living in some upgraded version of what went before, in which managers will become just another important component within the behind-the-scenes team, and the public face of their club.

However, it’s vital that those taking responsibility on-high are people who know their football inside out rather than individuals on a power trip. Johan Cruyff once said “without the ball, you can’t win,” and while it may sadden those who would prefer that football be kept within the white lined parameters of the pitch rather than the black lines of the balance sheets, today it seems that without the right board, you can’t win.

Written by: Greg Johnson

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Against Modern Football or Against Modern Fans?

Over the last two weeks I’ve been a good little fan; attending the Manchester City and Southampton visits to the Emirates Stadium, as-well-as making the trip up the M40 to Villa Park. I’ve seen win, lose, and draw for my beloved side. I’ve booked my flights to Scotland for November’s return of the Auld Enemy and I look forward to my first North London Derby of the season on Saturday. Games are coming thick and fast.

This week I’m having something of a rant, a rant towards a growing supportership who have the audacity to bemoan increased ticket prices – then enter their stadium 15 minutes after kick-off. People who complain about percentage increases, then leave before the match is concluded.

Why do they do it?

“The Emirates was sold out on Tuesday Night, but these were the scenes at kick-off”

“The Emirates was sold out on Tuesday Night, but these were the scenes at kick-off”

As a quick disclaimer, let me pass “rant-amnesty” over those unable to fight the frantic nature of a matchday. Those too old to fight the crowds, those physically impaired, or those with young children under your watchful eye. You’re off the hook.

Everyone else…. Shame on you.

From a statistical perspective, should you leave every game in the 80th minute you will miss 15% of all goals, if you arrive 10mins late to your seat – you’ll miss 8%. Take Liverpool’s Premier League campaign of 2013/2014, and a total of 151 goals. You’ve just missed 35 of them. Congratulations. And for what? Beating the queues?! Come on now.

You were walking through the turnstiles when Martin Skrtel headed past Wojciech Szczesny in the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal. You had already left the ground the season before – when Gerrard’s penalty beat Tottenham Hotspur. You missed Simon Mignolet saving a Jon Walters spot-kick to secure all three points on the opening day. You’re missing all the fun.

Part of the experience of top-level football is scoring a last-minute winner. To watch your team play badly for 78minutes, then steal the points late on. As a “supporter” you’re failing the very definition of the word if you elect to leave the game early. You’re not supporting.

“If the fans give up, should the players?”

“If the fans give up, should the players?”

I attended the Arsenal Members Day in 2013, there was a Q&A session with a selected section of the squad: Mikel Arteta was asked the question:

“Do you notice when supporters leave the ground early?” 

His response spoke volumes to the effect it has on the players:

“Yes of course, it is not nice for the players, it is like the support is giving up on us, or that nobody believes we can win. Sometimes it is nice because they think the game is finished and we already win, but sometimes that can distract us also.”

A full stadium increases your chances of scoring, it motivates the players and encourages them to see achievement when they fear time is eluding them. Statistics show that goals are 6% more common in the last 10 minutes of a match. They also show that 65% of goals within that 6% are scored by the home team. You are valuable.

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So I implore you to see logic. Why would you spend £50.00+ on a ticket only to deny yourself full value for your money? You wouldn’t do this in any other walk of life:

You wouldn’t go to an all-you-can eat buffet for one portion? ….You wouldn’t buy a sports car then drive at 55 miles an hour? ….You wouldn’t go to a hooker for a hug?

…….So don’t leave games early.

 

Over and out.

Written by: @_the12thman

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Flash In The Pan Liverpool May Struggle To Break Top 4

No-one expected Liverpool to finish second last year. Not you. Not me. I would go as far as saying not even Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool became the nation’s mistress. Sure, you never stop loving your own club, but you would take occasional lustful glances over to Anfield whenever they were at the drinks machine….

They swept almost everyone aside in the most surprising way possible. They were by far the most entertaining team and were a lot of peoples champions elect.

They didn’t just achieve their goal of bringing Champions League football back, they annihilated it. Finishing 2 points behind Manchester City meant they not only qualified, they qualified in style. However, let’s not forget that is ALL they achieved. Sure they ran Manchester City close, but for all the 5-0 wins at White Hart Lane, or 5-1 drubbings at home to Arsenal they were no better off finishing second than finishing fourth.

'A Great Result, and unlikely to be repeated this season'

‘A Great Result, and unlikely to be repeated this season’

Finishing second has provided Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers, with something they didn’t want. Pressure.

There is an element of pressure at all football clubs of course and you are always aware of the expected level of performance around Liverpool, you just need to glance at the history books to see a large majority of fans are used to success, but when you arguably come within a slip away from Premier League glory anything less than winning the bloody thing next season is failure right?

So how have they reacted to the pressure so far?

Terribly.

We will always glance back adoringly at last season,at the results, and the performance. The fact is Liverpool were NEVER out of the top 4 last season, from Gameweek 1 through to the final game.

Liverpool lost 2 games at home all season last year, they are halfway there already with no-one of any real note actually having played them at Anfield.

Liverpool lost 4 games on the road last season. Again, already halfway there and were only 5 games in.

Watching, and hearing, the atmosphere at Liverpool home games this season, in stark comparison to last season, is also another strange dynamic. Anfield seems almost lifeless at times. The performances last season were such a wonderful sight to behold, a lesson to anyone wanting to play devastating attacking football, that the crowd were instantly engaged.

'One Thing Liverpool Guaranteed Last Season Was Entertainment'

‘One Thing Liverpool Guaranteed Last Season Was Entertainment’

This season? Not at all. The atmosphere at Anfield on a night of European Football cannot be matched, and shouldn’t be attempted to be, but no-one told the mourners in the crowd against Ludogorets. The very competition Liverpool had been desperate to qualify for returned  to Anfield in the quietest and most mundane way possible. The European atmosphere being obviously placed to one side for the welcome of Real Madrid.

It all boils down to the sale of Luis Suarez. Hundreds of articles have been released saying everything from ‘Liverpool can replace Suarez by buying XXXX’, or ‘Liverpool should make world record bid for XXXX’. But anything they did was destined to fail. As much as we hate to admit that clubs can become one man teams. Liverpool were. They absolutely relied on Suarez for everything they achieved last season.

Instead of investing the fortune received for Suarez on replacing the 31 goals he provided, they set out to completely break apart a squad in Southampton who unsurprisingly accepted every single offer from Liverpool.

They have spent the cash padding out a threadbare squad with players who won’t help Liverpool make the next step. Choosing quantity over real quality. Selling Luis Suarez was a monumental step backwards, and no matter how many Lallana’s, Lamberts or Lovrens you buy you will never bridge the gap.

Putting together a squad is a necessity, of course it is, but using all the money from Suarez to prepare a squad to tackle the gruelling League / Europe schedule, considering the fact Liverpool will probably not even reach further than the 2nd round, and will have a real job on there hands to finish top 4, is misguided.

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Raheem Sterling is the diamond in the rough. His importance to Liverpool  at the moment is on par with Suarez. He is the man they have to build around. However the looming feeling that two more years of Sterling improvement will begin the cogs in motion of seeing Sterling proudly posing in the Bernabeu, shouting ‘Hala Madrid’. Placing Liverpool back firmly on square one yet again.

And there lies the issue, as much as people like to think, Liverpool finishing second was always an overacheivment. Liverpool, as a football club, is no longer seen as the ultimate big club to play for, there are much bigger and much better clubs and Liverpool it seems will always be settled in their role as plucky underdog. This was Liverpool’s season to kick on, and they haven’t.

The next 6 fixtures are vital. An out of form Everton will still be a challenge but the following four games against West Brom, QPR, Hull and Newcastle HAVE to yield 12 points. Anything less and the race for 4th is blown wide open.

Written by: Sam Parker – The Footy Guy

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What’s Next for Juan Mata?

Juan Mata was bought in 2013 under a time where David Moyes’ Manchester United side were drooping along with no vibrancy nor charisma. He became a club -record signing with a fee of £37.1 million, eclipsing the £30.75 million spent on Dimitar Berbatov.

At the time, every Manchester United fan was delighted, signing a fantastic Spanish player was unheard of. Someone who could create something out of nothing, and give the attacking play more of a direct approach with the ability to find even the smallest gaps in opposition defences.

Was it a position United needed to spend on or was it more of a luxury buy? People could say that it was more of a luxury buy with Manchester United already having Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney occupying the No.10 role, with Adnan Januzaj coming up through the ranks.

However, at a time where Man United looked dead and buried with no energy left, Mata came in and changed that. The Red Devils were pedalling along, they lacked creativity and were in desperate need of somebody to create that spark.

'Mata's Signing Was One Of The Few Positives Of David Moyes' Reign'

‘Mata’s Signing Was One Of The Few Positives Of David Moyes’ Reign’

Juan Mata made his debut against Cardiff that following weekend providing his teammates with 3 outright goalscoring chances, where they managed to convert one. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it at least gave the fans something to cheer about.

From January to the end of the season, Mata claimed 14 appearances netting six times. Not a bad ratio by any means, but without the other players performing under David Moyes, Manchester United could only finish in 7th place – outside of any European Club football competition.

Over the summer, Louis van Gaal came in and asserted his authority, bringing in Ángel Di María, Radamel Falcao, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw. A successful window.

A great deal of reports have begun to suggest that Juan Mata’s time as a Manchester United player is now limited with the arrival of Argentinian Di María.

Reports from the Daily Mail have even gone as far as saying in the January transfer window Juan Mata will be shipped out the door. Worryingly, the reports further state that Manchester United are willing to accept a fee of around £20m for the Spanish playmaker, a staggering £17m loss.

Will it be ruthless to sell Juan Mata?

By January, it will only have been a year since United forked out a club-record fee to buy Mata. Not long at all. It’ll not only be rash, but it might also be reckless from the Red Devils. Now that Shinji Kagawa is gone, selling a No.10 with the qualities of Mata, who is still only 26, will be a decision the United board may come to regret.

With the introduction of Falcao, the most likely partnership is that of the Colombian and Robin van Persie – therefore pushing Rooney back into the number 10 role with Juan Mata sidelined.

“I have played Rooney as a striker, before Falcao came, but he thinks his best position is behind. Louis van Gaal said before the match against Leicester. I was not so satisfied with Juan Mata as a midfielder and Rooney as a striker that is why I changed it.

Obvious indications that Louis van Gaal doesn’t seem best pleased with Juan Mata’s capabilities at the tip of the diamond. The Spaniard lacks defensively, which is why Mourinho sidelined him for Chelsea and appears to be the same reason van Gaal is too.

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It has to be said, Rooney has been playing at the top level since he was 16 years old. For 12 years, he has been in the public eye, both for club and  country with one of the biggest clubs in the world and it is no surprise he is slowing down. You can already tell, as the seasons go on, Rooney lacks that pace he once used to have.

It’d be ever so costly if Manchester United did intend to sell Juan Mata, and keep Rooney only to find out in the next couple of months that he has to be sidelined through strains and injuries.

Mata provides you with zest, directness and the class to pick out a player with a pass at any given moment. He may be lacking in a bit of pace, but he makes that up with his vision.s. He’s best used in the No.10 role and it shows for Man United, already scoring seven times in just 17 appearances.

Let’s hope that any decision made by van Gaal, turns out to be right.

Written by: Liam Canning – Offside Liam

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