One month ago I was one of a chorus of angry Liverpool fans calling for Roy Hodgson to be dismissed as Liverpool manager after a dismal start to the season reached a new low with a spiritless, gutless 2-0 defeat at Merseyside rivals Everton.
Yesterday there was no doubt about the story of the weekend: Liverpool’s impressive 2-0 win over Chelsea at Anfield, where the team performed admirably to a man and players who have failed to impress in recent times including Maxi, Kuyt and most impressively Lucas, were outstanding in their first-half surge and then their second half defence of the two goal lead they had built up.
I was one of the fans who ‘real’ football fans love to hate. Managers need time, they say, look at Ferguson as a classic example. Look at Wenger. Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for years but they’re still challenging. Stability breeds success. Managers can’t perform miracles overnight.
However my point was, and is, that Hodgson inherited a team in disarray off the filed admittedly, but with enough class on the pitch to be guaranteed a top-four spot. A team with a spine of Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Johnson, Gerrard and Torres with the likes of Kuyt, Lucas and new signings Meireles and Konchesky providing support should never have been in the relegation area after the first two months of competition ceased.
I also defended Benitez during his reign despite awful times and performances. I felt he had the right ideas and the tough of arrogance to believe his team would be up there with the best in time. I don’t see the same belief in Hodgson and I think it makes the players nervous as a result.
The problem with Hodgson finally being offered a ‘big club’ deal at the age of 63 was that perhaps there is a reason why the manager had failed to be offered the big ones in his interesting career progression. That he can inspire mid-level teams is not in question, but too many managers have attempted to take on big clubs in the past and lost. And too often it has been because of the clamour of fans for so-called ‘homegrown’ managers. Sounness and Evans failed to lift Liverpool post-Dalglish in the way that Houllier and Benitez did subsequently.
Hodgson is a good manager. The win yesterday was a very good performance but most importantly, Liverpool’s players showed the type of commitment that had been lacking in the derby defeat. That day even Gerrard, synonymous with crunching tackles and 100% derby day commitment whether his team was winning or losing, looked lost. Yesterday Gerrard sacrificed his penchant for the glorious through ball or rallying goal, instead he gave 100% commitment in a professional performance where everyone knew their job and how to execute it.
That they caught Chelsea on an off day is not in question. Hodgson had spoken before the game of the hope that the opposition would fail to hit their customary heights. And herein lies the problem.
Hodgson has assumed the air of a defeated man. The spell of games that ended in dizzying disappointment seemed to take their toll. And while four wins on the trot have brought a smile back to his face, there is still a question over whether the manager has that inherent belief that his team can make it to the top. There was no question of that this year. Hodgson never believed his team could do it and he still seems unsure over whether they can challenge for a top four spot.
Too often he has made a direct comparison between the so-called first teamers and the lack of talent elsewhere in the squad. He said after the Chelsea game that the squad was looking thin due to injuries and illnesses. That can only be a comedown for the likes of Kelly after a great game at right back and the likes of Danny Wilson, signed from Rangers in pre-season and on the bench yesterday. Shelvey and Spearing are willing and able but don’t seem to hold Hodgson’s faith just yet.
This all points to what new owner John Henry spoke about recently when he said that Liverpool needed to start bringing through younger players to challenge for first team places. Shelve and Spearing are unlucky in that they are challenging for places in the overstocked Liverpool midfield but Kelly and Wilson should be pushing for first team places already and especially with three games to play in six days.
Belief starts at the top and filters down. Gerrard and Torres have shown on the pitch that the lack of belief off it affects their game. It is hard to raise your game when you are 18th and another league title challenge has gone for another year before November. Now though, there will be optimism in the side and rightly so. It is in attack and attempting to break down teams that Liverpool have struggled this year. Having Torres back in goalscoring form will help. Whether Hodgson lets this filter down to the players he has christened as perennial reserves remains to be seen.
I don’t believe Hodgson is the right man to inspire a return to glory for Liverpool, What John Henry and co are doing off the field will help though. The club needs to be run professionally off the field to allow it to blossom on the field. But no matter that Chelsea were put to the sword, away games at Wigan and Stoke look tricky this week. Hodgson’s belief seems to run from game-to-game. John Barnes claimed after Liverpool’s win yesterday that it proved Hodgson was the right man for the job. Let’s see how he fares in rallying the troops for a midweek visit to Wigan before he starts being cheered as Liverpool’s saviour in waiting.
Thank god for that we can stop talking about Rooney and his effect on the England team and can start talking about…Rooney and his effect on the Man Utd team…
Everton V Manchester United
After surprising no-one here at TheFC100 by scoring first against Switzerland, Rooney will be Man Utd’s star man against Everton tomorrow in the early kick off on Sky Sports. The Everton fans quite rightly get stuck into Rooney whenever he returns to his boyhood club due to the fact he buggered off just after breaking onto the Everton first team in a big money move to Manchester. However he has stuck the boot in several times since with the usual badge-kissing, Moyes-bashing shenanigans and now the Everton fans will be relishing their chance to chant several brands of filthy at the former Toffee.
This game is more interesting in determining Rooney’s state of mind. The England fans gave him a great reception on Tuesday but tens of thousands will be doing their best to wind him up. That Everton have had a nightmare start to the season makes the pressure fall on both Rooney and Everton. A good start to the game for the home side is crucial, if they can get their noses in front and get Rooney and company frustrated then this could be a bad day for Man Utd fans. In fact, despite their problems so far, we fancy Everton to nick something here and we’ll throw in a card for Rooney at the same time
Prediction: Everton 2 Man Utd 1
Arsenal V Bolton
Arsenal have lost another few players for their game against Bolton (what are they feeding them at Arsenal, cereal with barbed wire?). Walcott, van Persie and Thomas Vaermaelen all miss out this weekend, however Samir Nasri could return from injury sustained against Liverpool on the opening day. Bolton are missing their inspirational keeper Jussi Jaskelaainen though, after the Finn was sent off last time out.
Slightly early perhaps, but as Italy beckons for a week they will have to do.
An interesting weekend to come, an interesting weekend indeed.
While the Premiership has already begun to assume a familiar leaderboard at a worryingly early stage of the season, there may well be slip-ups this weekend.
Starting with Blackburn Vs Arsenal. Wenger’s men never liked a face-off with Sam Allardyce’s Bolton teams of the past. And why would they, starting with Big Sam himself there were some real bruisers.
But now the man who would be England manager (unless the FA start taking things seriously) will put out his Blackburn team against the Gunners, high from a 6-0 rout of Blackpool.
There may be a surprise here though. Blackburn, as expected, are well organised under Allardyce and after a good opening day win were unlucky to lose to Birmingham having taken the lead and missed a penalty.
Fabregas and Van Persie should start (finally) for Arsenal, but may still lack sharpness. While Nasri misses out for Arsenal, they are slowly coming back to their best, but this will be a nice early test to answer the usual criticism that they can’t handle the more physical side of the Premiership.
Man Utd will be confident of getting back to winning ways against Arsenal, likewise Liverpool over West Brom, but Man City may be brought down off their perch following an exhilarating win over Liverpool on Monday.
City will be up against a team desperate for its first three points of the season, and while they were superb against Liverpool at home, City were woeful away at Spurs the week before. Steve Bruce has been arguing that he may have made too many changes to the squad leading to an unsettled atmosphere in the team, but Darren Bent’s two goals in the Carling Cup in midweek will get a bit of confidence flowing again and on Sunday they will look to bounce back, while City have another game tomorrow night in the Europa League to get the team playing as a unit.
The most intriguing game may be at Villa Park, where two teams arrive short on confidence after unsettling starts to Premiership life this season. Everton have only registered a point from two games they would expect to win, while Villa took a 6-0 hiding from Newcastle on Sunday, a game in which debutant Stephen Ireland barely got a kick.
While it is far too early to say it is a must-win game, the clash will tell us an awful lot about the future of both teams.
For one thing, Kevin MacDonald is rumoured to have been given two games to land the Villa job on a permanent basis. This then, is a must win for the man who would be boss. Everton meanwhile are fully fit and would have expected to set a blaze early on. However the blue side of Merseyside tend to be bad starters and this is a very tough game to try to get their season going. With Manchester United their next opponents, David Moyes will be itching to register three points while defeat would leave Everton looking sorrowfully into the distance at the top of the table.
Elsewhere, the focus hasn’t really been on Spurs yet, despite their solid start to the season Their next four fixtures are against the four Ws: Wigan, West Brom, Wolves and West Ham. All four are games Spurs will expect to win, meaning they could be looking pretty come October. For Wigan however, and boss Roberto Martinez, this game is needed like a kick in the nads. Spurs may have had a tough Champions League tie to get out of the way but despite injuries and any fatigue, they will expect a win. Injuries and fatigue may not even matter. Wigan have been woeful to-date and the fans are staying away as the half-empty JJB Stadium showed against Chelsea. Defeat could leave Martinez in big trouble, especially after the lacklustre comments in support of him by chairman Dave Whelan.
Predictions in a semi-serious sort of fashion:
Chelsea won’t beat Stoke 6-0. In fact they will struggle, but yeah of course they’ll win.
Liverpool will thump West Brom by three goals or more. West Brom fans will sing tributes to Javier Mascherano.
Wolves bring Newcastle back down to earth to continue their impressive start to the season. Andy Caroll will be sent off.
Man Utd thump West Ham, including a penalty not taken by Nani. Ferguson will thump a BBC reporter.
Blackburn will beat Arsenal. And Wenger will not be happy with their “physical style of play.”
(1): There are plenty of unhappy strikers kicking their heels on benches.
It was a difficult weekend for some established Premiership strikers. Tuncay is clearly not a favourite of Tony Pulis at Stoke and had to sit on the bench while Jon Walters made his debut just days after signing. Emile Heskey watched on from the bench as John Carew had a stinker for Villa, perhaps wondering whether he should have drawn the line at international retirement. Louis Saha was relegated for Everton and watched Jermaine Beckford being talked up by boss David Moyes after a game in which he failed to score and Everton failed to win. Not to mention the lads at Man City who may never play for the club this season.
But most interestingly, when Javier Hernandez was selected for Man Utd against Fulham, we wonder if Michael Owen
regretted all his media statements about being “happy to be selected less regularly for Utd than selected all the time for another club.” While we understand the sentiment, Mr Ferguson can’t have been particularly enthused to hear that Owen was content to sit on the bench.
Wonder if that had anything to do with Hernandez getting the nod away to Fulham, a team that possess a top-class central defender in Brede Hangeland and are a difficult team to break down at all, for nearly any striker. With Stockdale again deputising for Schwarzer in goal, did Ferguson not think Owen’s experience could be crucial in any one-on-one scenario. Granted, Hernandez looked good in pre-season, but then again it was pre-season. Owen must have been wondering what he has to do to get a starting place while Ferguson must be wondering what he has to do to get a win at Craven Cottage.
(2): A little confidence goes a long way.
-Villa miss a penalty, Newcastle score. Villa are denied a legitimate goal, Newcastle score another five.
-Wigan dominate the first half hour, Chelsea score. Wigan heads go down, Chelsea score another five.
-Arsenal score, Blackpool look dangerous on the attack. Arsenal penalty, Blackpool man sent off, Arsenal score another five.
(3): Any English striker who bangs in a few goals will be “on the verge of an England call-up”.
Andy Carroll was very, very good against Villa. He plundered a hat-trick including a swivel and low shot, left foot volley and one-on-one with Brad Friedel. All very impressive. Unfortunately watching it you couldn’t help but feel that ‘Carroll for England’ would be the inevitable cry from the press. And this morning, true to form, people seem to think he’s worthy of a place in the squad.
Now to be fair, if he carries on that way he’ll be in the 2012 squad as England need a good quality striker. However let’s all calm down for a moment and realise that he scored Newcastle’s third, fourth and sixth goals when Villa heads were not so much dropping rather plummeting. He missed a good opportunity against Man Utd the week before but didn’t enjoy himself as much up against Vidic and co. Had Richard Dunne been employed to mark him, maybe the result would have been different. Excellent performance Andy, now do it week-in, week-out.
And in brief:
- Alex Ferguson has earned Man Utd a £1,000 fine by refusing to speak to the BBC. It is inevitable he will have to speak to them at some point. We cannot wait.
- West Ham were good in the first half against Bolton. They lost 3-1. A bad start to the season, especially when the likes of Bolton, Wolves and even West Brom and Blackpool have picked up early points.
- Theo Walcott is far from the genius people are willing to portray him as this morning. Arsenal could have had 10-12. His final ball and decision is still in vast need of improving. However if it does and he stays injury free, he can rule the world. And he should definitely be in the England squad. Shaun Wright-who?
- If you decided on removing Gareth Bale and Andy Carroll from your fantasy football team in favour of Martin Petrov and Jermaine Beckford, now would be a good time to kill yourself.
Real Madrid’s latest (and apparently final) signing has revealed why Jose Mourinho (and not the delightful wages and weather) convinced him to join the club.
Mesut Ozil has completed his move from Werder Bremen to the Spanish giants for a fee of around €15 million and joins German compatriot Sami Khedira as a new signing at the club after impressing in this year’s World Cup. Ozil has been signed with one eye on the future as he is only 21-years-old with a new and shiny six-year contract in the bag.
Speaking at his unveiling today, Ozil said: “I spoke to my advisers and looked at the options but I always wanted to join the best team in the world, and to play under the best coach in the world, Jose Mourinho. I chatted to him and he convinced me. What we spoke about will remain between him and me but that’s why I am here.”
The move will see Ozil competing against the likes of Kaka to try to replace playmaker Guti who left last month. Kaka is currently injured however meaning Ozil will have a chance to impress sooner rather than later. The playmaker also denied reports he refused to train, like any modern-day mercenary footballer would, with Werder Bremen ahead of their Champions League qualifier with Sampdoria tonight.
Ozil was heavily linked with Manchester United and Chelsea before Real Madrid announced he had signed to play in Spain.
As I sit in the airport waiting to fly to London, it occurs to me that this seems to have been the shortest period without football I can ever remember.
Granted it seemed a lot longer when you were a kid, dying to see your team for the first time in a new season, but with the World Cup, exciting signings and interesting pre-season happenings, it seems the summer break barely occurred. Which in our book, is a good thing.
Tomorrow’s festivities kick-off with a cracker. Spurs V Man City at White Hart Lane is the 12.45pm kick-off. Will City play one or five of their new gaggle of galacticos? Will both sides go for the jugular, aware that an early win against a big rival will do their squad the world of good. Will Spurs look tired as the same team without any new faces, or will they be able to play like a team unlike City’s superstars playing together for the first time.
Our money is on goals, and a potential thriller. City don’t look like they’ll be sitting back this season, with their new signings. Spurs play fast attacking football too and might fancy their chances of nicking it. We’ll go with a 2-2 draw.
Elsewhere this weekend all eyes will be on Anfield as a new-look Liverpool team take on Arsenal. Much has been made of Arsenal’s injury problems this week but expect a strong team with Fabregas involved at some point. However there is something slightly lacking with Arsenal, they still desperately need a new keeper, we’re gonna go with Liverpool to nick it 2-1.
Newcastle and West Brom get the ultimate reward for promotion, trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge respectively. Both will struggle to get points early with these clashes, with home wins in both. Manager-less Aston Villa take on West Ham with their new man in charge Avram Grant. How the past week has taken its toll on the players will be interesting to see.
Enjoy it folks, it’s back and it’s going to be closer to call than ever….
Chelsea have tonight announced that Real Madrid will sign Ricardo Carvalho in a move that reunites the defender with his former Chelsea and FC Porto boss Jose Mourinho.
The clubs have announced a deal is in place, thought to be worth around €8 million, for the Spanish giants to sign Carvalho on a two-year deal. It is the latest big name departure from Stamford Bridge, following the exits of Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti and Deco. What it also shows is that Chelsea are fast becoming a team with financial constraints. Not in the same league as Portsmouth, granted, but the clear out of long-term players shows a need to cut the wage bill to afford the incoming players such as Ramires whose signing should be finalised soon, while Carlo Ancelotti will also attempt to bring a new central defender to the club.
The deal is an excellent move for Real Madrid, bringing a classy, composed defender to a club who have traditionally forgone the defensive side of their game in favour of attack. With Ronaldo, Kaka, Higuain and more, Real have more than enough strength at the back, but are in dire need of a strong centre back like Carvalho to command the defence. Carvalho will now join the likes of Mourinho, Pepe and Ronaldo as fellow Portugese at the La Liga club as they look to wrestle the title from Barcelona.
But what about Chelsea? This could be a crucial change in their squad for the upcoming season. Carvalho had his injury problems in recent years but there is no doubting the fact that Terry and Carvalho were always the first choice pairing at centre back. In fact playing alongside Alex, Terry had his worst season for years last year. While Carvalho at 32 may be past his best, Chelsea fans will be praying that Ancelotti is bringing in new blood, which he most likely will.
There is also no saying how losing big personalities who have been at the club a long time will affect the Chelsea team and morale. Cole, Ballack, Carvalho, these were all players who had been at the club a while, won plenty of trophies and were a throwback to the dominant Mourinho era. Tonight, the Chelsea squad is looking fairly old, and dare we say it a little threadbare? When Liverpool lost Sami Hyypia the summer after their best ever Premiership run it hurt them bad. Not only was he a presence as a footballer but also off it, ditto Man Utd losing Neville to injury and failing to wrestle the title from Chelsea since.
What is clear though is that comparing te squads now, the title race is looking more even than it has in history. Man Utd and Man City fans are smiling tonight at the departure of a natural winner for Chelsea. His replacement has big boots to fill.