Posts Tagged ‘pulis’

The Six Pointer – Wounded Challenges, Slippery Slides & more…

07/03/2011

1. Liverpool convincingly dealt with Man Utd yesterday and Dirk Kuyt will never, ever score an easier hat-trick. It was very surprising to see Fergie start with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in central midfield – recent history has normally seen him go with three in the middle in big matches in an attempt to gain control and stop the opposition playing.

Neither Scholes nor Carrick are particularly energetic or mobile in the way Darren Fletcher is, but with the Scotsman left on the bench after his shift against Chelsea (he can only do one big game a week)  it meant United were unable to gain a foothold on the game.

As you can see in the Chalkboards below, between them they won only one tackle and the likes of Meireles would consistently run or pass around them.

Only one interception between them too.

The decision to give Carrick a new contract during the week was greeted with some derision but at the same time I don’t think Ferguson considers him a first choice player. He’s not bad against weaker sides and he has long been found out against the best – playing him yesterday was more out of necessity than want.

Still, with his continued mediocrity, Scholes’ potential retirement, Fletcher’s one game a week effectiveness and Hargreaves and Anderson’s consistent injury problems, Man Utd’s midfield will certainly need some work in the summer.

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2. Yesterday’s match could have easily seen two red cards, and probably should have. Carragher went in high on Nani and created quite the wound (see below) while Rafael was similarly lucky to stay on the pitch following his wild lunge on Lucas. There is something to be said for a referee to take into account the situation and the context, but really Phil Dowd made errors in giving both players just a yellow.

Red drawn, yellow given.

Interestingly, Rafael is developing quite a reputation as someone who may not have the temperament (or indeed the positional sense) to go with his natural talent.

A red card would have meant his third in under a year, while he was nowhere near where he should have been when Suarez tip-toed through the United defence for the opener.

Recently Ferguson has seemed to prefer someone more dependable in tough matches, with Rafael being omitted against Man City, Chelsea and Marseilles. It will intriguing to see when the Brazilian next plays again, I imagine he might find himself out of the team for a few weeks.

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3. In the context of yesterday’s result, it is difficult to say whether Arsenal’s draw against Sunderland is a point gained or more likely two points dropped.

Wenger’s team have struggled in recent seasons against Sunderland having won only one of the last six games, so it was always going to be tricky without out several players and against one of the best defences outside the top five.

Wenger had a similar problem to Fergie in that first choice midfielders weren’t available so he was forced to play Denilson and Diaby alongside Wilshere. They can usually get away with one of those in the team but having to play both meant it was one of those days where the team struggled to get going, Wilshere unable to do all the tempo setting himself.

The weight of the other two on his shoulders...

Sunderland were lucky to get away with Bramble clearly fouling Arshavin in the box and a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside but having said that they also had their moments and drew a couple of very smart stops out of Szczesny.

I would think that once Aaron Ramsey has a bit more fitness under his belt, he will swiftly move ahead of Denilson and Diaby in the pecking order. He might not have the same experience but he makes things happen, and in a game like Saturday’s and indeed for the run in, that could be priceless.

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4. Momentum at this stage of the season is key so it’s fascinating to see who is making a move at the bottom end of the table.

Just nine points separate ninth place Newcastle from bottom placed Wigan but realistically it’s looking like everyone from Blackburn downwards are the ones who should be worried.

Things are swiftly grouping together for a climatic last few games and as the old cliché goes, a couple of wins and “you’re right back in the mix” (© every pundit going).

I’m willing to condemn Wigan already to be honest, they’re tough to beat but they don’t win many either. As I’ve written here many times before, draws can be rather useless at times and a team like Blackpool who either win or lose has a far better shot and getting the points needed to stay up.

Almost good enough, but not quite.

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5. Of the teams not in that bottom group, Stoke are looking a little vulnerable. They’ve won just one of their last seven and still have to play four of the top five. They seem to have a slightly resigned air about them at the moment – certainly away from home where they’ve lost their last six (and not even scored in the last five).

The earlier point about momentum is key – they face Newcastle, Spurs and Chelsea next. Fail to win the first one and you could be looking at mid-April before they are favourites in a match, by which time they could be in a much more serious position.

I do think they should be ok, given the cushion they have, but it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see them need something against Wigan on the last day.

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6. Jermain Defoe has only just scored his first league goals in a year. If he fulfils Harry Redknapp’s wish and gets to ten by the end of the season, then it will go a long way to ensuring Spurs finish in the top four again. As it is, the lack of a striker in double figures for 2010/11 may be what costs them. Van der Vaart’s ten goals should complement not lead.

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T.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Stoke

11/08/2010

Stoke

Last Season: 11th

New Signings: Cuvelier, Nash

Key Player: Matthew Etherington

One To Watch: Tom Soares

Needs A Big Year: Sanli Tuncay

Would Quite Like: To be given credit for something besides Delap —> big man’s head. Might help trying some different tactics besides Delap —> big man’s head.

Just keep wasting 30 seconds a throw.

Prediction: 10th

Thoughts: I find it hard to like Stoke. It’s partly because they know what Arsenal’s weaknesses are and ruthlessly expose them every time the Gunners visit the Britannia. It’s partly because one of their central defenders put one Arsenal’s best prospects out for nine months with a filthy tackle. It’s partly, well, they’re just not a likeable club.

Credit must be given to Tony Pulis, who has slowly been improving Stoke season by season but you feel that until they play some more expansive football, they’re not going to be recognised for their efforts. Stoke should absolutely play to their strengths but they can’t complain if people say they play crap football.

Whilst there are some quite creative players at the club, most notably Etherington and Tuncay, plan A seems to predominantly be to hit it direct to Fuller or Beattie. This has resulted in quite a contrast between home and away form, with just four victories on their travels last season, as home teams dominate possession and Stoke fans can’t play as much of a part.

Stoke do seem to be looking to get the next level, given some of the players they’ve been linked with and some of the transfer fees suggested. Someone like Kenwyne Jones or Carlton Cole would be a good signing given the circumstances (unglamorous club/no European football yet) and they probably will improve, though perhaps only by a place or two.

T.

The Six Pointer – Leads let slip, beached whales & more…

27/10/2009

That was the weekend that was…

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1. Liverpool deserved to beat Man Utd yesterday but I think Fergie was right to have another moan at the ref. For me Carragher should definitely have been sent off for the tug on Owen in the second half. It can be argued that it wasn’t a clear opportunity but I think he would have got a shot away before the other defenders closed him down, they were quite far away.

His hatchet job on Carrick in the first half was a penalty – Carrick just got to the ball before Carragher and you just can’t go lunging in like that in that area of the pitch. He somehow got away with both but once more looked like the weak link in the Liverpool defence. The Vidic and Mascherano reds were both justified I reckon – I can’t believe the Serb has been sent off in three straight games against Liverpool!

It was clear that both managers had gambled with their unfit strikers and from what we saw it was clear that Torres had recovered more than Rooney. The Spaniard took his goal magnificently, both out-pacing and out-muscling Rio Ferdinand. He didn’t do much else during the game but it was enough. It’s a tough call between him and Drogba for title of best striker in the league but I’d possibly veer on the side of Torres right now. A good result for Liverpool but lets see if they can do the same away at Fulham next week.

torres-liverpool-man-utd

Eats Vidic and Rio for breakfast.

Man Utd meanwhile have a few areas of concern. Both centre backs seem currently susceptible to pace (not something you’d previously say for Rio) so what chance Jonny Evans coming in for a bit? In midfield Fletcher was once more missed – the one bright note being that he and the soon to return Hargreaves will be a fearsome partnership. Up front, Rooney can be forgiven for being unfit but he has been out of form regardless. Berbatov on the other hand did his usual thing of nice flicks and passes but no real cutting edge. He doesn’t really do it in the big games does he?

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2. For the third time in a week Arsenal completely switched off in a game where they went ahead and for the second time in a week it proved costly. After getting away with against Birmingham, they conceded a last minute equaliser against AZ Alkmaar in midweek Champions League action. They’ve learnt their lesson said the players. So what should happen yesterday against West Ham? A comfortable 2-0 lead with 16 minute left and one poorly dealt with free kick and one silly challenge in the box later and they find themselves going back to north London with one point instead of three.

The free kick for West Ham’s first was soft but Mannone made the cardinal sin of palming the ball back into the danger area instead of out wide. Cole pokes it home, game on. Then with ten minutes to go Alex Song decides to clip the back of Cole’s heels in the box with no real danger. Cole went down, penalty given, penalty scored. Wenger was rightly furious with his team after the game and it is these kind of games which results in Arsenal not properly challenging for titles. For 75 minutes Arsenal dominated but once again couldn’t close it out. They won’t win anything until they learn how to.

wenger-annoyed

They just never learn...

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3. Man City ensured Arsenal weren’t the only title pretenders to blow a two goal lead. Mark Hughes will be concerned at how his £24m centre back Joleon Lescott is a bit rubbish at the moment – Man City have a definite vulnerability in the air. Their form isn’t particularly good either with three successive draws and one win in five.

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4. Spurs surprisingly lost to Stoke at home and it was particularly annoying for me as I had Abdoulaye Faye’s nine fantasy football points marooned on the bench (I didn’t think Stoke would do anything). My point is that given Spurs have lost just twice at home since Redknapp took over and Stoke were winless away in their first four games, it shows just how good (and unexpected and fortuitous) a result it was for Pulis’ team. I certainly wasn’t expecting it and it confirms Stoke should be pushing for a top half finish this season.

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5. Congrats to Bobby Zamora, who I don’t think anyone will beat for miss of the season award. Wow. I know there are strikers who are lauded for their hard work rather than goals (see Heskey, Emile Ivanhoe) but that was ridiculous. To be fair he has already equalled his goal tally for last season but I reckon it’s a long time since the chant “When the balls hits the goal, it’s not Shearer or Cole it’s Zamora” was heard (not least because Shearer and Cole are retired but you know what I mean). Isn’t it now “When the ball hits your head and you’re sat in row Z, that’s Zamora”?

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6. Chelsea gave Blackburn a spanking and from a fantasy perspective it was good to see Frank Lampard return to goalscoring form with a double. I picked him as captain so was pleased with the 28 points he scored. It’s a little early to say for sure but based on that game it appeared that the return of Joe Cole helped as it allowed Lampard to play deeper and make his undetected runs.

Cole himself was excellent too and should stay in the hole behind Drogba and Anelka rather than on the left. He’s not quite at full fitness yet but I reckon Deco should be fearing for his place. I agree with what the Football Guy says – Paul Robinson is just shocking on long shots. I know he’s fat but it be that hard to shift all that body mass. On second thoughts…

paul-robinson-blackburn-beached-whale

Try as he might, Paul 'the beached whale' Robinson just couldn't shift himself to save the shot...

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Stoke City

13/08/2009

stoke

Last Season: 12th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Dean Whitehead.

Close the door on your way out: Seyi Olofinjana, Vincent Pericard.

Predicted star: Ryan Shawcross and Abdoulaye Faye will once again be dominant in defence while providing an attacking outlet for Rory Delap to aim at.

Needs a big year: James Beattie needs to continue the form he showed after signing in January. Too often in the past he has had good runs of form before drifting away and becoming ineffective and fat. Stoke will need his goals to ensure another season of Premier League football.

One to watch: Liam Lawrence scored 14 goals when Stoke got promoted from the Championship but injury limited his effectiveness last season. Now fit again, he should provide crosses and goals from the right wing.

What they want to happen: Another season where they’re difficult to beat, with home form keeping them safe once more.

Nightmare scenario: The direct tactics don’t work and Stoke’s lack of creativity sees them struggle this time round.

Plan A: Use free kicks and throw ins to supply ammunition to Fuller, Beattie, Faye and Shawcross.

Plan B, just in case: Delap -> box -> confusion -> goal.

Wing Commander Delap launches Stoke's aerial attack...

Wing Commander Delap launches Stoke's aerial attack...

Predicted finish: 14th.

Why? Stoke were never in trouble last season, their unique brand of simple yet effective football causing problems for many teams. As with any promoted side who wants to stay up, they realised that home form was key and they lost just four times at the Britannia Stadium while conceding just 15 goals. 35 of Stoke’s 45 points were gained at home and this compared favourably to all the teams below them as well as several above. It would have kept them up even if they had lost every single away game!

12th place was just reward for a team which was incredibly difficult to break down, with only Man Utd, Arsenal, Man City and Blackburn beating them by more than two goals. This was in part due to a team full of strong players who were 6ft plus and very well organised. Manager Tony Pulis kept things simple and played to Stoke’s strengths. Rory Delap’s throw in skill was one of them and for a while they would cause havoc against every team Stoke played. As powerful as a cross but more accurate, Delap assisted several goals. He wasn’t just a one trick pony though as he also provided hard work and assists from open play.

Got to love a 51 year old wearing a baseball cap.

Got to love a 51 year old wearing a baseball cap.

In terms of this season it’s as you were squad wise with only Dean Whitehead coming in from Sunderland. He’s another defensive midfielder to add to the riches the Potters have in that department. It will be harder for them this round but I don’t see too many problems in terms of staying up for a third season. If nothing else, Pulis can try and repeat the impact of last January’s signings if things are sticky mid-season. I don’t think he’ll need to though as Stoke should finish in around 14th place.

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T.


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