Archive for June 1st, 2011

That Was The Prem 2010-11 That Was

Sclerosis – Pass Me The Enema Bag Stupid

The whole season, whether in football or society in general, seems to have been about finally purging oneself of that gargantuan blockage. Whether it was the sight of FIFA suddenly realising that not only did the emperor have no clothes, but that he was also a corrupt venal old fartbag, or the entire North African Middle East rising up against, er, a legion of corrupt venal old fartbags, or SKY finally moving past the anal lads culture entrenched by the likes of (venal old fartbags) Keys and Gray this felt like a watershed period. The end of an era.

On a football level, the season felt like a continuation of the malaise offered by the World Cup before working its way up to being something of a watershed moment. Man U (always ahead of the curve) began the umpteenth process of regeneration, with the Hernandez/Valencia/Rooney forward axis only being stifled by the long term injury to Valencia early in the season. The retirements of Neville (seamlessly eased out by the Fabio/Raphael twins) and Scholes, reinforced both the demise of the early 2000’s team and the transitional nature of the season. Man City continued their permanent revolution, establishing themselves as a top four team, while teams like Liverpool, Chelsea et al began the process of dispensing with tired, older (dare we say more expensive?) players like Gerrard, Lampard, Carragher etc. Meanwhile we watched the decline of the likes of Essien, Mikkel, Cech, Defoe, Crouch and the entire Man U midfield.

With all this decline and precious little improvement or additional excitement (at least until the import of Champion Cheat Dirty Suarez in January), this felt like a season of removal.

Get Stuck In! It’s All About The Defence Stupid

Strangely for a league that seems to be all about goals, good, solid defences seemed to be the key to success. Teams with poor defences (hello Arsenal, Blackpool and West Ham to name but three) lost out big time. Admittedly, Boremingham showed that a good defence in the early part of the season is no compensation for having zero teeth in attack. Unlike attacking partnerships, which can be forged relatively quickly, defences are built over time, not simply pre-season. Arsenal in particular paid the price for having no really settled back three. For them having one settled member of the keeper/central defence axis would be an improvement.

It’s clear that there are far too many journeyman defenders in the Prem. These are players capable of muscling opponents off the ball, obstructing them or failing that injuring them, but who are fundamentally unable to actually tackle properly. This was typified by the succession of ‘horror’ tackles early in the season which robbed the Prem of the likes of Zamora, Ben Haim, Jones and Valencia for large parts of the season. Certainly the English obsession with ‘physical’ football is a massive detriment to both the Prem and English football in general. The Prem needs to decide which it wants to protect, the old skool physical ‘get stuck in’ defensive mindset or creative skillful players. There’s little evidence to suggest that they will get this one right.

It’s clear that there are far too few good defensive coaches, and those who are perceived as the most ‘successful’ are promoting a hideous basketball inspired style typified by obstruction, holding and intimidation that might work in the Prem but which is heavily penalised in Europe (just compare Mau U’s foul rate to that of Barcelona in the Champions League final and consider that Barcelona seemed like the better defensive side). I’d rather players were taught how to defend legitimately rather than encouraged to ‘get stuck in’, but there seem to be no effective defensive coaches in the Prem.

As their progress in Europe and the Champions League final in particular demonstrated, Barcelona for all their diving and playacting are still a better,  more effective defensive playing team than practically anyone in the Prem. Consider their record against Arsenal and Man U and how few shots either had in three matches. Too few Prem players know how to defend at all or get the ball back when the opposing side has it.

Goals Win Games

No coincidence that once again the winner of the Golden Boot should come from the Champions (Berbatov) and the most industrious tyro in the league (Tevez). Van Persie’s 18 goals in 25 games kept Arsenal in the big four, without them it’s doubtful they’d even be playing in the Europa League. Boremingham and West Ham’s lack of bite led them to inevitable relegation.

There’s Bargains In Those January Sales

Normally January is a time for two kinds of transfer, the ‘save us from relegation’ panic buy and the ‘building for next season’ bargain, neither of which usually leads to anything approaching an immediate impact. This season, however, it felt like the January transfer window began the process of transition, removing the logjam of the past 4 or 5 seasons. Liverpool’s season was transformed by the arrival of Champion Cheat Dirty Suarez, who brought much needed goal threat and inspiration. Without him they maintained their appalling form and playing style in the Europa League.

Only time will tell if Andy Carroll and Torres were good January signings, but they both seem to have been ‘building for next season’  purchases. Arsenal’s dramatic slump in form illustrates the need for occasional surgical strikes in midseason.

The Importance Of Key Players (And Keeping Them Fit)

Arsenal’s progress was undone by Vermaelen’s season long absence – he’s played fewer games than notable crock-master Ledley King, who as every fule kno has only the one knee. Arsenal badly needed both a serious defender and some kind of leader and Vermaelen was a possibility. They were also undone by Van Persie missing the first half of the season. You sense that if only Van Persie managed to play an entire season he’d be the league’s top goalscorer (although his run of scoring in 9 consecutive away matches did coincide with Arsenal’s worst run of form for a number of years). When Arsenal were winning the Prem and challenging, Thierry Henry was regularly the Golden Boot winner.

Fulham weren’t helped by the assault on leading scorer Bobby Zamora. Their form notably picked up dramatically once he returned.

Birmingham might have gone to sleep having been gifted the Carling Cup, but the injury to Scott Dan in December (in their Carling Cup semi final) was every bit as effective in their slide down to the Championship.

West Ham lost Hilzlesperger to an international injury for most of the season, then, when he came back, they lost Scott Parker. Carlton Cole’s season long fitness streak was no consolation.

Man U didn’t look likely to win games, much less the Prem until Vidic and Valencia regained their fitness.

Tottenham haven’t looked good since Bale first did his hamstring over the winter. Van Der Vaart’s injuries helped eliminate any threat of a Top Four finish.

Chelsea usually get 40 – 50 goals a season from Drogba and Lampard. This season they’ve got around half that. Lampard, like Gerrard, is hitting that stage in his career where he’s more often injured than fit. Drogba added to his repertoire by catching malaria.

Man City weren’t the same team without Tevez.

Liverpool weren’t the same team without Torres (the exception that proves the rule perhaps?). But they were still terrible without Suarez.

I’ve Got The Sweetest World Cup Hangover

I can’t think of a single Prem player who came back from the World Cup and had a good start to the season. For some the malaise lasted well into the season, others still haven’t recovered

  • Rooney – dipped in form from spring 10 – spring 11 (never mind the World Cup)
  • Drogba – didn’t show for the world cup, still hasn’t regained his form, caught malaria
  • Torres – has been poor for the last 12 months, if not longer, a descent longer and deeper than that of Rooney. Still managed to win a World Cup – go figure
  • Lampard – yet to regain form, largely injured
  • Gerrard – yet to regain form, injured, unclear where he fits into the new RedSox world
  • Fabregas – poor, injured, yet to return to form, won a world cup. Go figure
  • Essien – missed the World Cup through injury, not seen his form since
  • Vidic – found form around turn of the year – although he seems more prone to fouling these days

Bad Foot Rising (Studs  Up)

This season has seen the continued rise of the American football/basketball style defence, holding, manhandling, shoving, obstructing seen as an ‘acceptable’ alternative to real defending. The legacy of Fat Sam and Tony Pulis, who seem to have totally misunderstood the concept of turnover.
Really bad tackling was a key feature of the early season – bad studs up sliding tackles, two footed diving tackles and the ‘oh shit I’ve just given the ball away’ redemptive leg breaker. Hang your heads in shame everyone concerned, including Jack Wilshire, who ‘did one’ on Birmingham’s Zigic.

Genuine Class Conspicuous By Its Absence.

Flattered to deceive –

  • Elmander – two nice goals, a long silence and a move to Galatassary
  • Nasri – two or three lovely (very lovely to be honest) goals and then nothing for most of 2011
  • Bale – one great game against Inter Milan, snuffed out the following week when he was played out of the game by Phil Neville
  • Van Persie – 18 goals scored doesn’t compensate for 13 games missed
  • Rooney – just beginning to find his form and the season ends. Did win the Prem for Man U at West Ham
  • David Silva – only beginning to find his form
  • Yaya Toure – only beginning to find his form, although he won the FA Cup for Man City
  • Adam – lynchpin of Blackpool, his loss after being sent off probably cost Blackpool their place in the Prem. Without him they’d have been relegated in the spring

Genuinely class

  • Tevez – thoroughly inspirational. The driving force behind City
  • Champion Cheat Dirty Suarez – welcome to the Prem, may have to amend our opinion of you. Inspirational team changing player
  • Jack Wilshire – lots of promise and he’s both Arsenal and English
  • Joe Hart – not dodgy keeper
  • Blackpool – great attacking football, suicidal defending, great attitude, there are shitter teams still left in the Prem
  • Javier Hernandez – Another welcome to the Prem. Proves the value of buying genuine proven talent rather than potential (cf Carlos Vela)

Good fucking riddance to

  • Fat Sam Allardycé – now’s your chance to show us how good you could be in Europe (in your dreams) or (in reality) the Championship
  • Birmingham – now’s your chance to show us how good you could be in Europe and the Championship
  • Gold, Sullivan and Brady – not likely to be seeing you three muppets any time soon
  • Ryan Babble – did Loserpool really get £6 million for him? Sale of the season no question
  • Gillette and Hicks – is it really only this season that you were turfed out?

Just think, the three relegated teams are being replaced by teams who’ve played consistently good football in the Championship.