Archive for May 22nd, 2012

Football: Low Grade Prem Losers

Rapid Vienna fans taunt Villa after knocking them out of the Europa League for the second time. Not really related to the Prem, but a gem nonetheless.

Sunderland: A Tale Of Two Managers

It’s a ‘football fact’ (definition: not a fact at all but rampant conjecture) that replacing your manager gives a side a much needed mid-season boost. And certainly there’s the odd moment when things come together and, you know what, the unthinkable actually happens. More so that even Roberto di Matteo’s success at Chelsea, Martin O’Neill’s appointment at Sunderland is likely to keep the myth alive for a long time yet.

However, no matter how good the ‘new manager bounce’ Sunderland got, no matter how much the emergence of McClean will enthuse their supporters, the truth is that Sunderland are simply the best of the losers, a quartet of teams whose removal from the Prem would leave few but their supporters in distress. Unlike the mid-table mediocrities, these are by and large sides who have, fundamentally, no coherent footballing philosophy and little expectation of greatness beyond a decent cup run and the odd win over the big boys.

Despite buying in almost an entire team over the summer, Sunderland have done little to move forward. Cattermole’s consistent failure to learn how (and when) to actually tackle highlights the team’s inability to develop, while you sense that players like Richardson, Brown, O’Shea et al are simply running out of time rather than offering a new dimension to the team. And you sense that there really is no overall philosophy to their game. Still if getting rid of old manager Bruce is the one thing they did this season there’s no denying that it was a good thing.

Stoke: Cheating And Bullying Does Not Make A Philosophy

You can’t argue that Stoke don’t have a gameplan. True it might not extend to being a fully fledged actual philosophy, but there’s no doubt that there is a Stoke way of playing. It’s just that it isn’t playing football. Pulling shirts, barging keepers, kicking opponents and playing for touch is what separates football from the barbaries of rugger. And Stoke are playing rugger on their, specially nursed undersized pitch. You sense that refs give them the benefit of the doubt at their place as sending off the bulk of the side during the first half would be counterproductive. In fact, the only counterproductive thing is continuing to allow Pullis and his boys to play this way.

In Shawcross and Huth, Stoke have players whose enthusiasm for the physical outweighs their footballing abilities. That Koscielny has more bookings than Huth is, frankly, more of an indictment of the Prem’s poor refereeing standards than any indication of the legality of Huth’s actions. Shawcross still hasn’t learnt how to tackle either. Similarly having Etherington and Pennant in your side is no indication of quality. Nor is the ‘long throw’ anything other than a throwback to the era of Chivers. Nor does one great goal by Crouch justify a season of tiresome route 1 football.

Wigan: That’s Not Success, It’s An Indictment Of Failure

Sure Wigan’s escape (yet again) from the predations of relegation was impressive. Certainly their 20 minute mugging of Arsenal meant that the Race For Third went right to the wire. Yet their inability to actually get their act together for the first three quarters of the season and the fact that they survived the season in 15th rather than 17th is another clear indication of the lack of quality suffusing the lower parts of the Prem.

And sure there are things to applaud about Wigan. Unlike fellow losers Sunderland, Stoke or Villa, Wigan have a clear footballing philosophy and they’re capable of adapting it during the season to accommodate their failings. Their move to a back three marshalled by Calderwell was inspired. In Al Habsi they have the second best keeper in the lower half of the table (after Vorm), while Moses is one of the few players who have definitely improved over the season. And manager Martinez has been relatively successful in pushing the squad further onwards. Yet they are still perilously anaemic in front of goal, don’t seem to have that much midfield creativity and look to be severely lacking in any kind of depth.

Aston Villa: Everything That Is Wrong With The Prem

You have to pity Villa. They have had a truly rotten few years. Stuffed by O’Neill, when he flounced out five days before the start of last season (apparently after being told he couldn’t spend £6million of the Gareth Barry transfer money on Scott Parker), saddled with a heartbroken Houllier and then sucker punched by the appointment of Alec McLeish, Villa haven’t made it easy for themselves.

Villa’s path represents all that is dangerous about the Prem. Failure to get into the Champions League has cost them all their best players over the course of three years. Imagine the team if Milner, Barry, Young and Downing were still there (alright imagine the team if Milner, Barry and Young were still there). That’s the nucleus of a decent team right there. A nucleus that the arrival of Darren Bent does nothing to replace.

Add to all this the mind-numbing, brain curdling approach of McLeish and it’s no wonder that Villa’s own players began to wish the season was over some time in late December. It’s a tribute to McLeish’s skills that his every decision actually made the side worse. It’s a testament to how good the side could be that they weren’t relegated below Wolves.

All that said, Villa’s hierarchy have reacted quickly, recognising the danger, removing McLeish and appearing to search for a manager who will develop an appropriate footballing philosophy rather than just appointing one of the same old failure faces. Their ability to find one will go a long way to defining where they are next season.