Football: Prem 2012 Week 4


Back To The Grindstone

After the inexplicably arranged International Week, this marks the end of the phoney war and the real beginning of the season. The transfer window has shut, the players are off holiday time and focused on the season ahead and that first juddering gap in the Prem schedule is over. Now it’s back to business. And what a great set of matches there were.

Southampton have been given what you can only refer to as the ‘shitty stick’, with matches against Man U, Man City, Wigan and now Arsenal. Unlike both the Manchesters, who were given a bit of a game, Arsenal gave Southampton a 6-1 stuffing. And while they may be missing the full on threat of Van Persie, all their new boys are looking full of beans. Podolski and Carzola look to have midfield sewn up, while Gervinho looks like a man who’s been released from indentured servitude, his first (and Arsenal’s third) was fuelled by 12 months of frustration. Add to that the threat of the Ox, Wallchart and Giroud and a new found defensive solidity and it seems that, as last season, Arsenal have actually improved on the previous season. Only the butterfingered Szczesny really let the side down. I suspect a spell out of the team with some kind of ‘strain’ will follow. Southampton can now begin their season. Their next game, at home to Villa will have a massive impact on their season.

It’s only week 4, but the table is taking on a familiar look, what with the top four already in place and Liverpool down among the dead men

Chelsea managed to go to QPR and amazingly no one got sent off or arrested and no criminal charges are pending. Admittedly there were no goals and precious little in the way of excitement. The whole game was overshadowed by questions about what would happen when John Terry attempted to shake hands with someone. What is it with Terry and handshakes? Chelsea’s 100% record was sacrificed on the alter of preparation for the visit of Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday. Still, they’re top once again. The only other note was the appearance of Brazillian keeper Julio Cesar in QPR’s goal. That’s a long way from Inter. He must be on a fair hefty wedge methinks. I wonder what former Engerland keeper Rob Green, signed only this summer and having played just one, calamitous game, will make of that.

Wigan might have done better had they built on the success of saving a penalty they conceded when yet another Man U player took a dive in the box. This time it was Welbeck who played the ‘trailing leg’ gambit. What with Ashley Young’s antics last season it’s clear that there is someone at United who trains players to take a dive at every opportunity. Which is a shame given the quality Man U have in the side. They were good value for a 4-0 win with their new boys settling in well. Buttner, their left back, scored a fabulous goal after a great dribbling run, Van Persie looks to be everything that Ruud Van Nistleroy was and Kagawa looks controlled in midfield. And even newer boy Powell scored a great fourth goal. What with Cleverly, Scholes and Giggs all playing well you wonder what Wayne Rooney will have to do to get back in this side.

Arsenal were castigated a bit for drawing 0-0 at Stoke a couple of weeks ago, but their performance was put in context when Man City went behind before stumbling their way to a 1-1 draw. Again, possibly, their minds were on the upcoming Champions League and their away trip to Real Madrid. Mancini made a bunch of changes, giving debuts to Javi Garcia, Maicon, and Sinclair. While the former looked excellent, I can’t help feeling the latter two are vanity signings (although Mancini did manage Maicon at Inter). Stoke were their ever-present schizophrenic selves, combining admirable defensive will (epitomised by Ryan Shawcross’ last minute off the line clearance) with diabolical cheating and fouling (Crouch’s hand ball in the build up to the goal, Wilkinson’s deliberate elbow in the face of Ballotelli and a general malaise of kicking, shirtpulling and niggly fouls). As with the Man U diving training, Stoke’s apparent embracing of the illegalities of the game is unpleasant to say the least.

Swansea continue their plummet down the table by recalling last season’s poor away performances and losing 2-0 to a resurgent Aston Villa. As with their performance at home to Sunderland, they never established the control of the game that typified their games at the end of last season. Villa, like Sunderland, moved to disrupt Swansea’s style and the latter were not able to adapt. Villa look a million miles away from the painfully tedious side so carefully assembled by Alec McLeish. Their new keeper, Guzan, has been excellent, way better than the failing Shay Given. Laughton’s goal was a fabulous strike from outside the area that dipped savagely and gave Vorm no chance. Less edifying was Ashley Williams attempt to head back to Vorm, which set up Villa’s second.

Paul Lambert’s former side, Norwich haven’t yet reacquired their strength of last season. Holt hasn’t begun to threaten and it’s unclear where their threat is going to come from. Still with visitors as one dimensional as Fat Sam’s West Ham, this game had 0-0 written all over it.

Fulham could have been forgiven for crawling into their shells and sulking, what with the loss of both Dembele and Dempsey to Spurs. Instead they’ve bought wisely and Dimitar Berbatov rewarded them with two lovely goals against West Brom, one a classy curl into the net, the other a great penalty. Berbatov was his languid best. He is going to enjoy being the big fish at Fulham.

Liverpool continue their miserable transition from King Kenny’s Komedy Klowns to Brenden Rogers’ fast passing fancy boys. As is his wont, Suarez took a dive in the box (and was booked). But unusually he actually managed to score from open play. Sterling was excellent on the wing and Liverpool look to be getting a little more to grips with the way Rogers wants them to play. Sunderland seem to have inherited the mantle of Wolves, along with a number of their players. 1-1 was about right.

Also getting to grips with a new system, Spurs seem to be acclimatising to the world of Villas Boas. Their 3-1 win over Reading showcased everything that Villas Boas is trying to encourage. Reading look more worrying than Southampton, they’ve played less dangerous sides and only secured one point. They’ve scored fewer goals and it’s unclear where their threat really comes from.

Perhaps the most schizophrenic game of the week was Everton‘s 2-2 draw with Newcastle. For the first half, Everton were totally dominant, repeating the constant threat they displayed against Man U. They should have been 3 or 4 up by half time. After that Pardew made some changes to Newcastle, bringing on Demba Ba, who transformed the game. Sure Everton should have had a couple of penalties and a clear ball across the line wasn’t given as a goal. But to lose it (or draw it) in the 90th minute must have been even more annoying.

 

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Football: World Cup 2014 Engerland 1 – 1 Ukraine


Classic Man U Play… Or Nearly

They say it’s the mark of champions (or championes as we apparently say round here nowdays) that they can play badly and win. Less lauded is the ability to play very badly and scrape out an undeserved draw. But that, it appears, is the Engerland way. Faced with a side that had a little more spine, ability and tactical nous than the 146th ranked team in the world, Engerland began to show their true colours – and they were as drab and empty as the white of their Umbro shirts (soon to be replaced by new spangly super white Nike ones as the FA rakes in another lotto bag of cold, hard cash).

Sure there were moments of genuine hope. There was significantly less aimless hoofery as Engerland tried gamely to pass the ball around on the floor. And, yes, some of the passing was more incisive than the usual redundant back four recycling we have come to know and detest from Ferdinand and Terry. And, yes, there was the attempt to bed in youth as once again Cleverly and Ox formed the bedrock of the new spine. But these were fleeting moments of surprise in an otherwise depressingly familiar performance.

Brazil World Cup 2014 logo.

Among the many bad points were Engerland’s inability to deal with the tactical movement of Ukraine. The Ukrainians were constantly sharper both on and off the ball. One of the principle irritants of Englerland performances is the awesome lethargy with which players move when off the ball, rarely breaking sweat and almost never creating space and opportunity for others to exploit. Ukraine weren’t great, but they were head and shoulders above Engerland for large chunks of the game, even if the stats appear to show otherwise.

Engerland’s key faults are clear. An inability to deal with the ball when passed to (those ricochet shinpads are still working a treat). General tactical incompetence. The concept that heading the ball is something that inevitably involves the use of the arm (principally to bash your opponent’s head with) – that’s not heading, that’s call a foul. The concept that thrusting your hand into someone’s face is somehow a legitimate defensive move – also better known as a foul. Astonishingly poor positional play. Inability to defend, track back or regain possession effectively. The list, I’m afraid, goes on. And on.

Principle culprits are the Engerland Old Boys. The Lampard Gerrard Axis once again failed to ignite, which amazingly did not come as a surprise to anyone bar possibly Uncle Roy. However, thanks to Gerrard’s ability to get himself sent off it won’t be tried in the next match. Defoe, once again, was penalised for his inability to understand the fundamental Laws of the Game (this time it was facepalming your opponent rather than his usual offside shenanigans). But the main bad boy was Glen Johnson. His positional play is, frankly, atrocious. That’s not to say he isn’t dangerous going forward, or that he doesn’t contribute to Engerland’s attack. It’s that he’s supposed to be a right back. Not a winger. And that implies a certain degree of responsibility for actually getting involved in the frankly tiresome business of defending. In particular getting back into position fast once he has lost possession.

Johnson’s failure to do this destabilises Engerland massively. It drags the defence out of position, creating a vacuum either on his right side (where he is supposed to be), or on the left (as centre backs and left back move over to accommodate his adventures). And often it pulls back a genuine attacker who is forced to cover for Johnson’s escapades, removing them from the attacking threat. You wonder why Walcott gets such a bad press when playing for Engerland? Just look at how often he is pulled out of his normal role and forced to cover for Johnson. The fact is, for all his attacking threat (and these days full backs have to have some), his defensive behaviour is a catastrophe. Hodgson needs to decide if he wants Johnson’s attacking skills enough to actually play him as an attacker, because playing Walcott and others as emergency defenders to cover for him is idiotic. Compare Johnson’s behaviour to that of the left back Baines, who was just as much an attacking threat but actually also managed to defend, and you see what a liability the Liverpool player is.

As far as the new boys went, faced with a better class of opposition, neither Cleverly nor Ox were able to make the impact they had against Moldova. It’s credit to Hodgson that he kept faith with them, and valuable experience for them, but it’s illustrative of Engerland’s paucity of talent that there weren’t more experienced challengers for these positions. Still it’s clear that these two, along with Sturridge, Welbeck, Bertrand, Wilshire (if he ever gets fit) and Walcott will be the future for the Engerland team. So the more time they get the better.

The downside for Engerland is that it’s hard to make that transition when you need Lampard to get the final, equalising, penalty for you. Four points from two games puts Engerland joint top level with Montenegro and Poland. The group is still, essentially a mini-league of these three and Ukraine. So far it’s honours even.

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Football: World Cup 2014 Maldova 0 – 5 Engerland


Not Nearly As Bad As It Could Have Been

Brazil World Cup 2014 logo.

Let’s face it, pretty much all the omens were against this game. We’d only just got over the Great Euro Olympic Summer of Sport hoo-ha, barely scraped our way through the stomach-clenching tedium of the transfer window, just about got used to the idea that the Prem was back in action, and we’re faced with this, an international World Cup qualifier away to the 147th best team on Earth.

Oh and it was live on ITV, with all the terrifying mateyness and crap bonhomie Adrian Chiles brings, coupled with the tactical insight of Andy Townshend and Gareth Southgate, and 10 minutes of ads slapped in at half time.

So there we were, bored, disillusioned and patronised to as the whistle went. Surely things could only go downhill from here?

But if you overlooked all of that and just concentrated on the football, it wasn’t all bad.

Sure Engerland started with many of the old skool ‘golden’ generation, and, sure, Hodgson was the latest in a long line of failed Engerland managers to believe that, just this once, Lampard and Gerrard could actually play successfully in the same team and that all evidence to the contrary, that John Terry was still good enough to ‘man up’ our central defence. But there were strange, vaguely reassuring moments.

First, in starting with Cleverly and Oxlaid-Chamberlain, Hodgson confirmed that if you’re good enough, you are old enough and that he’s not totally averse to taking risks. Both played well, reaffirmed his selection and looked to build on their previous good performances.

Second, to a large, often disturbing extent, Engerland played the ball on the floor. Sure there were 50 yard hail mary hoofers every now and then, but they weren’t as painfully abundant as in previous games, and some actually had purpose. But generally Engerland mixed it up on the grass, passing and moving their way through a very poor Moldovan side. And when they did pass, they actually looked like they were trying to accomplish something rather than get rid of the ball to a teammate.

So, a big win, a good smattering of new players, some purposeful movement and tactics, not bad for an evening’s work in the furthest tie away from home in qualification.

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Football: Prem 2012 Week 3


Still Too Early For All That Anaylsis

Still too early to really bother to actually have a table, but here it is.

The problem with this part of the season is that it’s too much like foreplay. You’ve spent ages getting to the bedroom, ripping your clothes off and getting all tactile. It’s great and everything you remember, but really, deep down, you want to get onto the main event. Post-match analysis at this point, however attractive, is somewhat counter-productive.

So as we see a Man U side storm away from their early season defeat at Everton with something of a hailstorm of goals from Robin Van Persie (where had he been hiding all these years?), as Chelsea continue to fascinate with a rejuvenated midfield and another exciting new striker, one Fernando Torres, as Man City combine steam-roller imperialism with cack-handed defending, it’s oh-so tempting to begin to review the season so far.

And, yes, there are some slivers of certainty beginning to emerge. Stoke‘s inexplicable purchase of Charlie Adam and loan signing of Michael Owen show that, finally, hubris has captivated Tony Pulis, while QPR‘s purchase of every unsigned Premiership has-been reveals that, despite himself, Mark Hughes cannot change the habits of a lifetime. It’s as if neither of them has been told that transfers can go down as well as up.

Meanwhile, over at Liverpool, they have managed to turn what was always going to be a difficult transition period into one of utter chaos. They finally offload Andy Carroll to his spiritual home alongside Fat Sam Allerdyce and his former curfew supervisor Kevin Nolan, but mysteriously fail to actually sign anyone to replace him (although given the vitriol they received the last time they offloaded a striker and bought a replacement, can you blame them?). Then their manager gets a bit snippy, their board publish an open letter to fans saying, in effect, it’s all the old regime’s fault and we’re not putting in any more money, and they embark on their worst start to a season since records began. If that’s not a cue for a season of comedy capers I don’t know what is.

Those Games In Full

Arsenal must be delighted. Their 0-2 win away to Liverpool saw them begin to solidify their new side – far faster than they managed to solidify last year’s new side. Like Everton they seem to be getting more adept at the annual rebuilding malarky. Not only that, but Liverpool’s hilarious failings have moved the spotlight away from another season of selling not one, but two of their best players. Given their success last year, imagine what Arsène Wenger could do with a settled side, which he could build on. The midfield of Diaby, Cazorla and Arteta looked excellent and cut Liverpool to pieces.

Man U‘s purchase of Van Persie and Kagawa seems to be inspired. The two have hit it off and there are goals aplenty. However, just as with Everton, their 3-2 win over Southampton was typical Man U, with a hattrick for their striker, but with goals in the 87th and 90th minute. Southampton must wonder what they have to do to actually get a point.

Man City relived their famous last season championship winning game against QPR. And while the latter weren’t as provocatively rubbish as last time, they were still overwhelmed by the champions. And you could forgive them a bit given Hughesey had signed 12 new boys since the two last met on the final day of last season. City’s 3-1 win might not have been beautiful, but it was comprehensive.

Swansea appeared to get a bit of a nosebleed, given their high position in the table. A home game against Sunderland should have been a bit of a home banker, but the latter’s recruitment of Steven Fletcher seems to have given them the desire to actually get past the half way line. A case of Swansea playing poorly and Sunderland overreaching themselves resulted in a 2-2 draw.

Like Sunderland, Stoke‘s ambition seems to be limited to avoiding defeat away. They really are poor. Even against a Wigan side that appears to have rediscovered their usual early season form of ‘disaster mode’, they failed to do more than the minimum required. 2-2 really flattered the away side.

Another team facing a sense of deja vu are Spurs, only their search for times past seems to encompass both manager Villas-Boas’ poor start last year with Chelsea and Spurs’ own disastrous period under Juande Ramos. Still they’ve signed some really good players in Dembele, Vertongen, Lloris and Dempsey, and retained Adebayor (in the sense that he’s now a Spurs player, but Man City have paid all his wages), so they should be OK. Quite how they then let Norwich back into the game and a 1-1 draw is uncertain. Crap defence is the most obvious answer.

Fulham must be praying the transfer window closes soon. They’ve already lost Dembele and Dempsey, so like Arsenal, they appear to be significantly weakened. However, unlike the gunners, they haven’t recruited effectively and don’t travel well anyway. So an away trip at West Ham was never going to be easy. Add to that the appearance of Andy Carroll for the Hammers and it was a defeat waiting to happen. 3-0 pretty much says it all for Fulham.

West Brom continue their excellent home form. 2-0 against a very strong Everton is an excellent result, although Everton were a shade of the team that really took the game to Man U earlier this season. New manager Steve Clarke seems to be continuing Roy Hodgson’s good work, although this has to be a reality check for David Moyes.

Another team facing a bit of a reality check are Newcastle. Fresh from a European outing away in Greece, they looked a bit jaded as they faced an Aston Villa side that actually looked like they wanted to pass the ball, albeit to get the ball out wide for someone to lump in to the big man. Still even that has to be better than the shite served up last season by McCleish.

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Football: Prem 2012 Week 1


Hi Ho, Back To The Grindstone

Wow! That Sergio Aguero goal seems like it happened in geological time, the Euros feel like ancient history, those Olympic imposters just so last century baby. We’ve gorged ourselves on some of the best football the planet has to offer – the first half of the Euro 2012 final was simply fantastic, we’ve snored our way through another utterly unimaginative and depressing Engerland campaign and thanks to them Olympics we’ve inadvertently discovered that actually we’re quite good at doing the international super spectacle.

But enough of that. The Prem is back in all its flush-banker cash wagging glory. Swearing, check, gross overpaid monstrosities whining for penalties, check, fat ugly managers doing one on the touchline, check. Yup, with skills at a premium, it’s all back to kicking lumps out of one another and shouting at the ref.

Yet this Prem has more going for it than any season for the past 4 years. It feels like there has been something of a release. The old has been expunged, Chelsea’s old boys, fresh from giving Abramovich the prize he craved, have departed for all parts of the world, replaced by young whippersnappers like Hazard and Oscar. Liverpool and Spurs have kissed goodbye to the octogenarians and chanced their arms on a pair of young ambitious managers. We’ve got rid of droopy faced Mick McCarthy and replaced Wolves, Bolton and Blackpool with a bunch of smart teams with, dare I say it, actual tactics and footballing philosophies.

Oh and Fat Sam Allerdicé and Stoke are still there. So nothing’s perfect.

Week 1 Games

Week 1 games were actually pretty good.

Normally no one would bother with a table at this time. But what the heck eh?

Man U began their attempt to wring back the title from rivals City by pillaging Van Persie from Arsenal and, hilariously, losing 1-0 to an inspired Everton. Despite United having a bunch of great new guys like Kagawa and Van Persie, they were thoroughly dominated by Everton’s old skoolers. Fellaini, in particular, was outstanding.

City, meanwhile, hardly made things easy for themselves, surrendering a lead to new boys Southampton and then going behind, before turning things around and winning 3-2. Yet, despite this potential setback, City looked very menacing, effectively continuing where they left off last season and never forgetting to put their fans through the wringer at every opportunity. Yaya, Kompany and Nasri were excellent. Southampton looked far more competent than most of last year’s new boys, not least because they actually have goal potential in them. If they carry on like this they should have no problems in the Prem.

While for many change was in the air, for Arsenal it was plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose – same old same old. They’d lost their captain (again) along with, shortly afterwards, their most influential midfielder (again) and were faced with yet another rebuilding season (again). Not to mention a match against one of their bogey teams, Sunderland. But this time Arsenal had prepared (or at least attempted to prepare) and had gone shopping early.  Admittedly they couldn’t actually break through Sunderland’s unambitious bus parking philosophy, although new boy Giroud screwed a great chance wide. Still anything is better than the nosedive of 2011 eh? Sunderland look like being in a lot of trouble.

Also out at the shops were Chelsea, only they didn’t go bargain hunting like Arsenal, they just went out and spunked all the money they’d made on their Champions League winning run and then some. And this time, the big money signings came good pretty quick. With 2 penalties, 2 assists and a backheel attempt that went specially wrong in the Charity Shield, Hazard looks well worth the £32 million, slightly overshadowing the potential that is Oscar. Wigan continued their usual atrocious early season form by going 2 down in double quick time. Later in the week newcomers Reading would also fall to the power of the blues. Chelsea haven’t looked this threatening since they went and blew the Prem back in 2010.

Of the chasing pack, both Liverpool and Spurs have changed manager and, one would assume, their tactical approach in a desperate quest to break back into the top four. Both moves looked sensible, Rogers’ approach at Swansea looks perfect for a Liverpool wallowing nostalgically for the dream passing of the late 1970’s, while Villas Boas seems far better suited for Spurs than he ever was for Chelsea, the fast flowing attacking play of his Porto side almost tailor made for Spurs’ classy passing aspirations.

Yet neither one is going to have it easy. Rogers faces many of the same problems Villas Boas faced at Chelsea – an aging squad of fading A-listers determined to hang onto their positions, along with a set of fans who are more than prepared to give their idols the benefit of the doubt. In addition Rogers has a squad of also-rans who don’t seem up to his close passing game. If we needed any proof that Liverpool were in for a tough ride, it came away at West Brom. Fronted by yet another new manager, Steve Clarke having replaced Roy Hodgson, West Brom should have been ripe for the taking. Yet they took the game to Liverpool and thoroughly deserved the 3-0 win. For Liverpool it was a familiar story, a lacklustre midfield, poor defence and a spectacularly misfiring Suarez. Their worst display since they went fully abject at Spurs last season. West Brom, meanwhile, look to have lost none of their midtable mediocrity.

Spurs are hoping to emulate last year’s unexpected success at Newcastle. Yet they’re going to have to change a lot, having apparently lost Modric and Ledley King and failed so far to sign Adebayor. They have no one as special in midfield as Cabaye, no goal threat as potent as Cissé and Ba, and no defence as solid as the Magpies. So it was unsurprising that they lost 2-1. Newcastle continue to look good, but Spurs’ hopes of a top four finish this season look a tad ambitious. More realistically they will be fighting it out with Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton for the lesser Euro places.

Three other teams, Villa, Norwich and Swansea had new managers. And each looked to have their own special challenges. At Villa Paul Lambert has inherited a team that would have been relegated if only Alec McLeish had lived up to expectations. Still short of strikers, midfielders and a defence, Lambert’s choice to move from Norwich feels like an odd one. Nothing seems to have changed over the close season as Villa lost 1-0 to an equally abject West Ham.

Norwich‘s managerial change was enforced by Lambert’s move and Chris Hughton should bring them the same lower midtable stability he brought to Birmingham and Newcastle. Yet his side was comfortably outplayed by an inspired Fulham, who duly stuffed them 5-0. If Fulham can hang on to players like Dembele, then they might also challenge for those minor Euro places.

Swansea‘s Michael Laudrup looked to have the greatest challenge. How would they fare with the loss of Rogers and players like Joe Allen. Still we needn’t have worried. Laudrup’s appointment is starting to look visionary as his side comfortably crushed QPR 5-0, with both his new signings bedding in successfully and the team retaining its class. QPR, in contrast, looked abysmal.

The final newly promoted team, Reading, are another team with a clear playing philosophy, yet they weren’t able to apply themselves against a typically tedious Stoke. 1-1 doesn’t really describe the misery of this fixture.

So, on the basis of a whole week’s worth of matches, who has been naughty and who has been nice?

Nice

  • Swansea
  • Fulham
  • Chelsea
  • Man City
  • Everton
  • West Brom

Naughty

  • QPR
  • West Ham
  • Norwich
  • Liverpool
  • Sunderland
  • Stoke
  • Man U
  • Villa

Not Sure

  • Arsenal
  • Spurs
  • Reading
  • Newcastle
  • Southampton
  • Wigan
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In The Studio


That That’s Harsh Susan Stone

We’ve been in the Miloco Garden studio recording the drums for Harsh Susan Stone.

The studio has a whole load of old skool vintage analogue gear, which makes a nice change from doing everything in the box. We spent less time micing up the drums than The Clash did onGive ‘Em Enough Rope, although that took them three days and we had about 7 hours to do everything.

Now the whole thing is back in the box and ready for a bit of mixing malarky.

The well-Essex Neve desk (all that blue UV stylee lighting). Who wouldn’t want to play with that?

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