Archive for September, 2010

Book of the Month: California Fire & Life

Cover of Don Winslow's California Fire and Life

I vaguely recall a poster for Natural Born Killers that looked almost identical to this

Bloody Predictable Or What?

That Don Winslow, what a bastard. Just when you thought you were free of him, along comes another brutally compelling book to sink you for a day. I don’t think you really appreciate compulsion in an author until you’ve got a Winslow in your hands. They’re like a race. Once you start you’re committed. You just have to continue reading, even if it’s 4am, even if your eyes start feeling like they’re being grated, no make that have already been grated and you’re using just the stubby end bits of your optic nerve to tear meaning from the pages. It’s that satisfyingly painful.

Knowledge Is Power

Steve McQueen once said, ‘I don’t want to be the guy who learns, I want to be the guy who knows’, and Winslow obviously knows. Everything he writes is suffused with knowledge, places, people, cultures. Once you start reading you start believing. Not just that he’s been there, but that you are there. I once had a friend who was fixated on Lovejoy books (crap antique dealer as mystery solver drivel) because they came away from each book having learned something. Coming away from one of Winslow’s you don’t feel like you’ve learned something as much as been there and experienced it for real, that it’s as much a part of your life as it is part of his characters’. Whether it’s the surf culture of the West Coast, the Mexamerican drug cartels or the mysteries of the insurance investigation process, you come out of a Winslow feeling like you’ve been there, done that, got the expertise.

Unlike so many crime writers Winslow doesn’t pack his pages full of action, they’re not frantic races around seemingly arbitrary destination points. Neither are they filled with ever more bloodthirsty victim porn, with crimes ramped up to ridiculously sadistic levels to satisfy readers’ lusts. Instead there’s background, depth and character. Winslow’s heroes are true American heroes. They are the men who know, whose knowledge and commitment places them to the side of society, half outcasts through their own expertise.

California Fire & Life burns with arson, murder, revenge and a justifiable contempt for property developers. It’s a tale of playing and being played, of international crime and local intrigue and down at the end a smoldering passion. It will light you up in a second.

Over on the East Coast, David Simon pulled together some of the best modern American crime writers, men like George Pelecanos, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane and Ed Burns, and came up with The Wire, simply the most real TV show I’ve seen. If he was doing a West Coast version his first stop would be Don Winslow.

Archive for September, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 6

It’s Coming Home

There are two clear conclusions to draw from this week’s Prem action, which feels like the beginning of the end of the phoney war phase we’ve seen to date. First, we are, at last, seeing the impact of the World Cup in the Prem, namely the rise of the close, pressing defensive Mourinho Discipline that dominated that competition. Dour and tedious as it is there’s no doubting that it is a broadly successful philosophy – the likelihood being that the first team that scores  will win. Man City comprehensively did for Chelski this way and it’s clear that this World Cup malaise lies at the heart of Mancini’s footballing philosophy. It will be interesting to see how many other teams adopt this tactic against Chelsea, not least Arsenal, who play them next week.

The Prem Is Compacting

With the exception of Man City, it’s clear that the Prem has seen an overall exodus of prime quality marquee name talent over the past two years. The result is that the top teams have generally got worse, making the lesser teams more competitive. With squad sizes and talent pools reduced and games now coming up twice a week, the lack of depth in big teams’ squads is becoming apparent. Both Arsenal and Tottingham selected relatively weakened teams and were found out, Chelsea’s defeat also raises questions about their strength in depth, while Man U’s point at Bolton can be viewed as a good result only because the teams around them all lost.

Howzabout Them Games

Possibly the most significant impact of the weekend was Man City‘s bursting of the Chelski bubble. Following their loss to Newcastle in the Not-S0-Useless Cup , this was Chelski’s second defeat in five days and the sheen of invincibility they carried so powerfully through their first five games has now vanished. Man City brutally crushed Chelski’s once dynamic wingplay, neutralised Drogba and exposed the weakness of their central defence. They denied Chelski space to play and the latter had no response. Again Carlos Tevez was the spearpoint of Man City’s attack. Chelski are now, officially, well beatable.

It’s hard to tell whether Arsenal are simply perverse or just really, really annoying. Sandwiched in between a Not-So-Useless Cup match against arch-rivals Tottingham (which therefore became a must win match) and trips to Serbia (for Big Cup) and Chelski (for the Prem), it’s easy to see how Arsène Wenger might have viewed this as the perfect place to play his junior team, but it’s clear that a team without Fabregas, Rosicky and Wilshere and boasting the defence that Arsenal does is clearly not up to the rigours of the Prem and it’s a reflection on how much the Prem has compacted that West Brom (beaten 6-0 at Chelski at the start of September) were by far the better team. By the time Rosicky and Wilshere came on the game was already lost. West Brom now fill that ‘Won’t Be There At The End Of The Season’ fifth spot in the Week 6 table.

Man U simply can’t play this badly that often, but unlike Arsenal and Chelski, they can’t boast a tough, competitive Not-So-Useless Cup match in midweek for their performance. Bolton would have had all three points if only Elmander’s efforts were on target every now and then.

Tottingham are clearly suffering from the pressure of competing on four (now three as they’re out of the Not-So-Useless Cup) fronts and their poor choices in terms of selection. With Ledley King, Woodgate and Dawson all injured, they really don’t have much of a central defence. And with Gareth Bale dragged away from midfield to be a left back they’ve lost the attacking impetus they had earlier in the season. As a result they were dominated by West Ham‘s three big men up front and rarely got an opportunity to attack. It will be interesting to see how Redknapp approaches this week’s home tie against FC Twente in Big Cup, the first real Big Cup match at White Hart Lane. A win here and the last two defeats may be forgotten, a loss and Spurs’ season may start to derail.

Filling up the bumper bucket of Weekend Ho-Hummery were matches between Liverpool and Sunderland (neither of whom boast enough guile to beat mediocre opposition), Birmingham and Wigan (only interesting because it means Birmingham haven’t been beaten at home for a year which is nothing to sneer about), Newcastle and Stoke and Wolves and Villa (Wolves’ much vaunted ‘attack dog’ defence once again bringing them a massive null points – how’s that philosophy working for you eh Mick?).

Blackburn epitomise the junior version of the Mourinho Discipline, only they’re not quite good enough to hold onto a lead. Blackpool pulled themselves level, but eventually lost to a last minute goal that was remarkable only for Fat Sam’s super happy reaction. It was unusual to see the ‘future Real Madrid’ manager without a ferocious scowl on his face, doubly so when he revealed that the win was the result of a clear tactical directive – ‘we knew if they pushed forward looking for the winning goal that there was a good chance we could hit them on the break’.

Finally Everton illustrate the fate of teams without any genuine attacking capability. With no real strikers to think of and no additions during the transfer window, Everton look like a cat with no teeth and you feel that the optimism raised by their rush and grab injury time draw against Man U may actually work against them. Bottom of the table now and with matches against Birmingham, Liverpool, Tottingham and Stoke coming up it could be an ugly October for them too. Fulham, whose main strikeforce has been cynically removed by their opponents over their last two matches, remain the only unbeaten Prem side apart from Man U and are fast becoming the dull draw specialists.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

While Green himself was in excellent form (no really) against Spurs – one save against Modric was an outstanding 3 pointer, some of his companions were not so accomplished. Chief among them the inexplicable Arsenal no 1 Manuel Almunia. It’s hard to say which of his contributions was best, the deflection into his own net for West Brom’s second (not so much a spoon as a classy poacher’s finish), or the ‘walkabout’ contribution to their third. With a keeper like this Arsenal’s chances of silverware this season are pretty slim.

Archive for September, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 5

Top of the Premiership after week 5

Premiership table legitimacy called into question as Newcastle sneak their way into 6th place

Is It Really 2010? I Must Get My Memory Tested

After a mere five weeks it feels like we’ve been bombed back into the stone age (or at least the tail end of last season). Chelski, despite still playing tiddly preseason opposition have ballooned their way into top position simply due to the evil Machiavellian plan of scoring lots more goals than their opponents. Arsenal, despite playing intricate tippy tappy football and still being a little bit flimsy have managed to beat the likes of bogey teams Bolton and Blackburn and score a passle of goals to keep them second. Man U, despite spunking goals and points, seem to have led the scramble for third, while once again Man City and Tottingham engage on the somewhat farcical ‘race for fourth’. Only the suspicious presence of Newcastle as sixth gives the game away and offers an air of unpredictability. So last week it was Blackpool as fourth, this week it’s Newcastle. What’s the betting that real world normality is returned next week as one of the more usual suspects ascends to sixth.

Meanwhile In The Crazy, Crazy, Crazy World Of Fat Sam Allerdyce

Hot on the heels of his remark that “I’d have got the Engerland job if my name was pronounced Allerdichay”, Fat Sam has conclusively got stark raving mental. Aside from the not inconsequential claim that “I’d win something every year if I was manager of Real Madrid or Inter”, a claim not backed up in any way by his lamentable track record, he’s now decided to rewrite the Laws of Football single handed by complementing the Stevie Gerrard ‘Quarterback’ role with the El-Hadji Diouf ‘Linebacker’ role. This involves the tactical cheating of simply attacking the goalkeeper as the ball is played into the box. Normally classified as both a foul and dangerous play, this innovative tactic shows Fat Sam’s moral bankruptcy and his complete incompetence. What a tool.

How’s About Them Games Then?

As the table suggests, did we actually learn anything new this week? Well, Arsenal‘s loss of a last minute goal deprived them of a win up North to Big Brucie’s Sunderland. Hard to tell whether they were upset, given they probably should have won, or pleased that they got a point that they wouldn’t have got last season. Still, weren’t they awesome against Braga on Wednesday? Man U‘s victory over Liverpool seemed to show that Rhino is still not showing up properly, while Berbatov seems to have emerged from his languid shadow and put in a hat trick that will endear him to the Old Trafford supporters. Liverpool were rubbish and their 2 goals totally flatter them. No one expected Blackpool to get anything from Chelsea and they comprehensively didn’t, but they seemed to keep Chelsea at bay for the entire second half. Chelsea, meanwhile, face the prospect of playing a real side for the first time this season when they play Man City next week and Arsenal the week after. With such poor opposition, it’s hard to say whether we have learnt anything about Chelsea this season other than like Engerland they don’t seem to be missing the corpulent presence of either Titface or Lumpy. If I were Titface especially I’d be really worried. I can see him and Man U’s Rio becoming peripheral figures at best by the end of the season.

Man City continue their attempt to become the most incoherent team in the league. Stuffed full of talent, they seem to be wholly reliant on the attack dog tendencies of Tevez, who will worry defences until they are bloody corpses on the floor. Following his football rape of Spain’s Pepe Reina, he did for the miserable Wigan defence to worry a quick goal out of them, before playing a nice assist for YaYa Toure’s goal. However, Manchini’s management of the team and his selections (no Adam Johnson, some Wrighty-Wright Phillips, only one defensive or midfield substitute) are puzzling. Man City should be dominating teams and intimidating them before a ball has been played, instead they’re perceived as a Euro League team at best. All players and no team, in stark contrast to, say, Chelsea.

Like Blackburn, Wolves are a bunch of low-end Premiership players trapped into a negative, unproductive tactical formation. Mick McCarthy’s reliance on ‘hard’ inaccurate tackling, playing the man as well as the ball is palpably not paying dividends. While Wolves’ goal here and their goal at Fulham last week were the results of good play, the fact is they lost both matches through their deliberate policy of physically attacking opponents rather than defending legitimately. Tottingham, like Liverpool against Man U, turned the game around by taking the ball and attacking Wolves, drawing the utterly predictable free kicks and penalty Wolves’ incompetence brings. One point out of the last three games against midtable opposition is relegation form and means Wolves are being found out.

Villa and Bolton, Everton and Newcastle, Blackburn and Fulham, were all thoroughly dull mid-table matches, the sort of dire occasions that Sky puts on on the Monday of a Champions League week to fulfill their requirement to feature these teams in live matches. Only the blatant cheating of Blackburn deserves any mention. On the balance of these matches, none of these teams will challenge the European places. Only Newcastle will see this as an achievement.

Down among the dead men, West Ham have a glimmer of hope, they have two players, Parker and new boy Obinna, who show promise and managed to scrape a point from Stoke, who need to find the ability to be a relatively permanent Prem team. While West Brom managed to get a moral boosting win over their rivals Birmingham.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Unlike last week, this wasn’t a vintage week for keeper errors however much Green himself kept everyone guessing with a string of dodgy efforts. Equally things usually revolve around goal giving fuck ups and there weren’t many of those either. Blackpool’s Gilks, who was excellent against Newcastle, was dreadful against Chelsea, while Wigan simply gifted Tevez with his goal. But Save Of The Day goes to Fulham’s Brad Friedel, a potential target for Arsenal, who managed to not only get clotheslined by Diouf, but managed to make a great two handed tip over the bar while operating a good few yards outside his own area. Alternatively it is defender Paul Konchesky’s lamentable attempt to do a ‘Dirty Suarez’ and stop Berbatov’s third going in with his outstretched arm. He failed.

Archive for September, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-09-19

  • ran 1.31 km @ a 08:32/km pace with Nike+ on 09/14/2010 (run time: 11:11) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.65 km @ a 09:09/km pace with Nike+ on 09/13/2010 (run time: 15:07) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.38 km @ a 08:10/km pace with Nike+ on 09/12/2010 (run time: 11:14) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.75 km @ a 08:41/km pace with Nike+ on 09/11/2010 (run time: 15:11) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.49 km @ a 10:00/km pace with Nike+ on 09/10/2010 (run time: 14:54) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.78 km @ a 08:40/km pace with Nike+ on 09/10/2010 (run time: 15:25) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.67 km @ a 09:07/km pace with Nike+ on 09/09/2010 (run time: 15:13) None #nikeplus #
  • ran 1.81 km @ a 08:26/km pace with Nike+ on 09/07/2010 (run time: 15:15) None #nikeplus #

Archive for September, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 4

Things Are Beginning To Settle Down

What with the distraction of the annual Inconvenient Autumn International Week coming hot on the heels of the start of the season, qualification for the Euro leagues and the end of the transfer window, the early part of the season is always a bit traumatic for English clubs. Four weeks in there are still players who have barely met let alone played with their new teammates (hello pretty much all of Man City) and it’s no coincidence that tight, well knit teams who’ve not changed much and have played and won together last season are doing better than teams making wholesale changes. Now, however, the window has closed and the international injuries that always seem to dog the likes of Arsenal’s seasons at this point (say goodbye to Wallchart, Kuyt, Defoe and Van Persie again) have arrived, the teams can settle down and actually do some training together.

Overall things in the Prem are beginning to gel although the picture is still far from clear. I recall a time when no one would bother to even produce a league table until five or so matches had been played. Now we have a table from day 1 before many teams have even kicked a ball. But once again it’s becomming clear that the Top Three are going to be Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U, that Tottingham and Man City are going to find it hard to accommodate both European football and a genuine challenge for fourth, that Aston Villa don’t travel well, that Liverpool are already downplaying expectations and that West Ham appear doomed.

The Barbarians Are At The Gates

It’s also clear that there is a worrying decrease in the quality of defending and tackling, with some teams basing their entire tactical strategy on the blunt force trauma of intimidatory assaults rather than any footballing ability – that’s you by the way Wolves – and the notion that ‘if we do it often enough in a match the ref will have to let us get away with it’. Now I’m all for maintaining a physical side to football, but there’s a big difference between, say, the skillful confrontational tackling of Carlos Puyol and the ill-timed, uncontrolled sliding through the back of a player’s standing leg tackle we see all too often in the Premiership. This week alone we saw Cahill’s studs up, both feet off the ground leap at Arsenal’s Chamakh that could easily have ‘done’ him for the season, Robinson’s assault on Diaby, which saw the latter taken off after just 13 minutes, and Henry’s classic sliding scissor tackle taking out Fulham’s Zamora from behind. Naturally all these tackles came with disclaimers that none of the offenders ‘meant’ them and that any injuries that happened to arise were ‘unfortunate’. However, it’s clear that these are not isolated incidents and that certain teams are basing their entire gameplan around the notion that if they physically abuse their opponents, they will get some kind of advantage. It’s also clear that this behaviour has to be put down and fast.

The Henry tackle on Zamora is a perfect example. It’s clear from their last two games that Wolves’ gameplan is to assault their opponents at every opportunity until they are physically restrained or consigned back to the Championship where they belong. Henry’s tackle on Zamora comes at speed from behind with little or no control and catches Zamora’s standing leg between Henry’s. This pretty much forces Zamora’s next step to be an ankle breaker, which it was. There’s a reason FIFA banned tackles from behind in the early ’90s and this is it. The only surprise is that so many players, managers and pundits don’t seem to have got the message yet.

What About Them Games Then?

Possibly the biggest developing trend is Man U‘s new tendency to concede goals at the end of their games where usually they tended to score them. So far this season they’ve dropped points at Fulham and this week they embarked on an Oscar Wildean collapse against a persistent but unremarkable Everton (to lose one goal in injury time is unfortunate, to lose two reeks of carelessness). Given Man U lost the title last year by a single point, the four points they’ve dropped so far this season may prove fatal. Certainly they threaten to erode Man U’s sheen of invincibility.

Arsenal meanwhile are displaying a Lewis Carroll side, apparently believing two seemingly contradictory ideas before teatime. They can amazingly combine a new found robustness against the more ‘physical’ sides with an inability to actually defend consistently for 90 minutes. Admittedly this was probably the first time new boy Squillaci had met, let alone played with any of his back four teammates, but once again it was his partner in central defence Koscielny whose focus seemed to slip, allowing Bolton‘s Lee to put Elmander in to score. Still, that slip up aside, Arsenal came out easy 4 – 1 winners.

If Man U and Arsenal are displaying traits epitomise by great Victorian authors, then Wolves are harking back to the 18th Century horrors of Dracula and Frankenstein. Full of beans after their card-happy encounter with Newcastle (which secured them a whole point at home), they once again attempted to foul their way to victory against Fulham thankfully with no success. Wolves’ football is epitomised by the performance of Berra, whose two bookings were for ‘professional’ fouls where he brought down an attacking player with no thought of actually going for the ball. And while Henry obviously didn’t intend to break Zamora’s leg, his violent tackle was clearly the result of a directive from his manager that Wolves ‘get stuck in’, rather than allow their opponents to play football. It’s no surprise that Fulham fans sang ‘You’re a disgrace to the Premiership’ at Wolves. Maybe if the likes of Henry were suspended for the length of time it takes their victims to recover instead of being congratulated for their ‘effort’, we’d see both players and managers being a little more careful with their tackles. Meanwhile, with a grand total of 13 bookings, one sending off and a solitary point from two games to show for it maybe McCarthy will rethink his strategy all by himself.

Another personal highlight of the day came in Sunderland‘s somewhat tedious encounter with Wigan and, no, it wasn’t the sight of Gyan’s fantastically taken goal. It was the sight of Sunderland captain and potentially the least capable defensive midfielder in the country Cattermole being sent off again for two utterly incompetent and unnecessary challenges. So far this season he’s played a total of 66 minutes on the pitch and been sent off twice. Which means he’s been off the pitch or suspended for almost four and a half times as much time as he’s spent on the pitch. No wonder manager Brucie is tearing his hair out.

In contrast there’s no point in West Ham‘s Avram Grant tearing his hair out, for a start he’s got so little of it and there’s no chance it will improve the Hammers in any way whatsoever. They sacrificed their usual three points to Chelsea, who basically didn’t have to get out of first gear to secure this win. More than any team Chelsea have benefited from being essentially unchanged over the summer. Like Man U in previous seasons they seem to have mastered the art of discarding peripheral players (bye bye Joe Cole, Bollocks, Deco and all) and effortlessly integrating one or two new players (hello Ramires and Benayoun). However, they really haven’t been remotely tested this season, so we will reserve judgement on their overall prospects.

In addition to suffering from post-European point-dropping blues, both Tottingham and Man City appear to have joined Man U and added pre-European point-dropping to their repertoire. And while there might be a vague excuse for Tottingham drawing away to an uninspiring West Brom, there’s no excuse for City to drop points at home to Blackburn even if you do allow for Hart’s moment of madness in gifting the latter their goal. Certainly City currently look like a team that’s a lot worse than they look on paper. At this rate they’ll find it hard to get into the European places, let alone the Big Boys’ Club of the top four.

Dullest match of the week was a close thing between the much-unanticipated clash between Stoke and Villa and the unbreachable defence of Birmingham meeting the impotent attacking force of the post-Benitez Liverpool. Ultimately, it was the misfiring attack line of Gerrard and Torres that won the day.

Highlight of the weekend was Blackpool‘s outstanding win away to Newcastle. In the same way that Arsenal’s mullering of Blackpool meant we had to reassess the value of the latter’s 4-0 stuffing of Wigan, so their win here means we have to reassess Newcastle’s chances following the hype of their 6-0 thrashing of Villa in their last home game. The truth appears to be that Newcastle aren’t as powerful as they appeared and that Blackpool have the capacity to surprise everyone and actually make it in the Prem. Certainly they are the most unusual of Prem teams, with way the lowest home capacity (although it will be a toss up with Wigan to see who gets the lowest average home gate) and wages, but they have a fabulous team spirit. For me the epitome of Blackpool was the moment after their goal when they paraded around a shirt marked ‘4 Parky’ to dedicate their goal to the Youth Team Coach who had suffered a heart attack the previous week. It wasn’t so much the gesture, football is full of players dedicating goals to all kinds of tedious causes, it was that the message had been scribbled on in felt-tip pen. So much more real and personal than going to the local Printa-Shirt and having it embossed. It showed that Blackpool are human and all the better for it.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Competition for this accolade was tough this week as the maestro put in another classic spoon for our consideration (aided it must be said by his also-former Engerland colleague Upson’s handy hoof-n-hoper which looped in off Kalou). Now in any other week this would have won it for Greeny, whose bewildered expression is fast becoming commonplace around Upton Park, but it wasn’t to be. This week Joe Hart showed the catastrophic power the current Engerland no 1 shirt bestows on even the most confident keeper as he went on the single most pointless walkabout since the Chilean keeper came out to play in right midfield and gifted David Villa that neat chip into the net in the World Cup. Taking advantage yet again that naughty Kalinic who so neatly did for Tim Howard in Week 1. Next time no going past the 18 yard line Harty.

Archive for September, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-09-12