Posts Tagged ‘Van der Vaart’

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.

The Six Pointer – Complacency, Financial Burdens & more…

23/11/2010

That was the weekend that was.

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1. I don’t know where to start with the north London derby. Cruising at 2-0 going in to half-time, Arsenal had run rings around their neighbours in the first period. A smart tactical change by Redknapp at the break coupled with a complete mental collapse from the Arsenal players resulted in a famous Tottenham comeback.

You can’t even say this was a massive shock, as it’s happened too many times in recent years for it not to be a serious problem. A very good analysis can be found over at Arseblog while there was an interesting post on Arsenal Vision which documented every game where a lead had been lost and Arsenal had not won the match in the last five years.

Déjà vu.

I think it’s a touch unfair to include every instance where 1-0 ended 1-1 but what I found telling was in the last three seasons alone there have been 11 occasions where Arsenal have taken the lead and gone on to concede at least two goals. There in lies the crux, be it through complacency or the fact they haven’t held on against a top side when gaining the advantage.

The fact another game comes tomorrow will give the players an immediate opportunity to make partial amends but this side has a long way to go before it can be considered winners.

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2. Chelsea were pretty unlucky not to have beaten Birmingham with Ben Foster making at least five or six top saves while the defenders in front of him stood firm.

Like Ancelotti said, their problem at the moment is they’re not firing on all cylinders going forward which means they’re vulnerable when conceding (which in turn is currently more likely with their centre-back woes). Drogba has not scored since October 3rd (while admittedly recovering from malaria) while Malouda also has just one goal since late September.

I feel in part this is down to the midfield three they’re forced to regularly play at the moment – Mikel, Ramires & Zhirkov. There’s not much creativity there nor the control that is offered when Lampard and Essien are fit. Lampard’s absence has been perhaps a little easier to cope with but it’s no coincidence these three recent defeats have been without Essien in the side.

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3. Bolton were very impressive in beating Newcastle 5-1 and it will be interesting to see what happens in January if they are still riding high in the top half of the table.

Admiring glances are being aimed at the likes of Lee, Cahill, Holden and even Owen Coyle himself and with the club recently announcing a debt of £93million there may be some pressure to sell a star to ease the burden.

But for how long?

Another twist to this is the impending expiring contract of Johan Elmander, who is having by the far the best of his three seasons at the Reebok. He finally seems to have adapted to the Premier League but now Bolton risk losing their record £8m signing for nothing next summer.

Unless I’ve missed the Swede professing his undying love for the Trotters, I suspect we may see a gentleman’s agreement when a one year deal is signed but with him being sold in the summer.

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4. I don’t see Blackburn’s new owners pumping too much money into the Ewood Park coffers but it would be interesting to see what Sam Allardyce does with a bigger budget. He claims he’d win the double every year at a top club, but I seem to remember him being something of a flop the last time he had a bit of money to spend when managing Newcastle.

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5. Roberto Mancini has been saying for a while that a big part of  his tactical plan was to have full backs who bomb forward and support Tevez/the notional front three. We saw a glimpse of that in the victory over Fulham with both Kolarov and Zabaleta consistently getting into the Fulham half and attempting several crosses and four of their 11 shots on goal.

Shoot!

I think while Mancini is at heart a cautious manager, we will eventually see a relatively attacking side with Milner and Toure in the central midfield trio and Silva and Balotelli properly supporting Tevez. Reasonable upcoming fixtures should provide opportunity to experiment.

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6. Fulham have lost just four times but are 17th. Chelsea have lost four times and are top of the table. An extreme example perhaps but it shows how destructive draws can be to your league position. Mark Hughes should remember that a win and a loss is better than two draws. Of his last 27 games with both Man City and Fulham, Hughes has overseen 15 stalemates.

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T.

Champions League Preview – Real Madrid vs Liverpool

24/02/2009

cl draw

Probably the tie of this round, Real Madrid against Liverpool pits two of the most successful teams in Europe against each other for the first time since the boys from Merseyside beat Los Merengues 1-0 in the 1981 European Cup final.

At the end of 2008 Liverpool were flying high at the top of the Premier League, while Real Madrid were miles behind Barcelona in La Liga and suffered two defeats at the hands of their European rivals Juventus  in the Champions League. Fast forward to 25 February 2009 and the stats tell you that the Reds now trail Manchester United by 7 points while Real Madrid have won 9 consecutive matches and have managed to close the gap to 7 points and put doubts in the minds of Barcelona fans that they will win the league so easily. After hitting 6 past Real Betis at the weekend, Real couldn’t feel more confident.

Nevertheless, let’s not forget that Rafa Benitez has got Liverpool to two Champions League finals, winning one with Djimi Traore in the team. He knows Real Madrid inside out from his time there as a youth coach. Rafa knows more about Spanish football than Real could possibly know about the English game. His analytical preparation and tactics make him the most fearsome of cup coaches. I may sound like I am talking up Rafa Benitez like Indiana Jones does for Marcus Brody in the Last Crusade. Therefore, I hope Rafa doesn’t mistakenly walk into the back of a Nazi truck (which metaphorically means tinker his team into a formation/line-up in hope that he can further boost his credentials as a super tactician).

My point is, Liverpool have beaten the best of Europe over the past few years and will feel confident taking on Real Madrid, especially now baby G has been confirmed in the match squad, even if only one of his legs is working.

 

Respected in Spain

Respected in Spain

Gerard Factor

This is not exactly the most ground-breaking insight into the way Liverpool play but I will repeat it anyway – Gerrard is crucial to Liverpool winning anything. He is their talisman, creator and scorer of important goals and alongside Fernando Torres, the best player in the team.  Having just returned from a short holiday in Spain where I talked with a few futbol fans, I can inform readers that Steven Gerard is a highly respected player over there. Undoubtedly his presence on the pitch for Liverpool will instill some fear into the Real team. If not then there is always Dirk Kuyt’s face.

 

Are you Raul in disguise?

Are you Raul in disguise?

The Legend of Raul

Raul could be referred to as the Steven Gerrard of Real Madrid but that would be tainting the reputation of the man that has recently become Los Merengues’ highest EVER goalscorer. He also happens to be the Champions League top goalscorer EVER with a phenomenal record of 64 goals in 127 matches, 4 more than his horse-headed team mate.

Raul has been back to his top form this season, his 19 goals in 23 games compensating for the loss of Ruud Van Nistelrooy to a freak show jumping accident. Being the only player to have scored in two different Champions League finals, this man knows what the competition is all about. If Real Madrid play well over the two legs, he will have made a crucial contribution.

My personal favourite of all Raul’s goals this season has to be this peach against Zenit St.Petersburg in the Champions’ League group stage.

Expected to break down every few months

Expected to break down every few months

Robben Reliant

Mentally and physically crushed under Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea regime, Arjen Robben has finally realised the quality at Real Madrid which I never doubted he possessed. He is now Los Merengues’ most potent attacking force, terrorising opposition defences down the left hand side or cutting in from the right, as he did to great effect with a recent winner against Villarreal. Liverpool’s full backs are the weakest area of their team and I fully expect Robben to give them a torrid time at the Bernabeu.

I hate to endorse anything that Alex Ferguson has to say but his criticism of Real Madrid being too slow is probably an accurate one. Van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder are not exactly slow but are not the type of players to inject some direct dribbling into a game. If Real go into the second leg playing on the counter, this could prove problematic. Especially considering my next point…

 

Lack of striking options

Raul is on form and Real have a plethora of scorers in their midfield, with the impressive Gonzalo Higuain providing a threat either from the right wing or up front. Nevertheless, with Van Nistelrooy being injured, Real Madrid’s coaching staff may rue the decision to not register Jan Klaas Huntelaar for the Champions League knock-out stages. In tight games such as those we will likely see between Real Madrid and Liverpool, a poacher can make the difference. Ramos, like his predecessor, doesn’t seem to fancy Javier Saviola (who has never been a poacher anyway) so I am not sure where the options lie.

On the other hand, Liverpool could be accused of suffering the same lack of strength in depth up front. Kuyt has scored some decisive goals in important matches this season but will Ngog and El Zhar be able to do the business should Torres get injured? I think not.

 

It didn't work at Spurs but he has solved the mystery at Real

It didn't work at Spurs but he has solved the mystery at Real

Defensive Assessments   - Ramos discipline and the new Makelele

Even the most ardent Real Madrid supporter will tell you that their team hasn’t been that impressive or convincing so far under Juande Ramos. But what he will tell you is that the former Spurs manager has brought discipline, organisation and stubbornness to the side which has allowed them to win nine La Liga games in a row, conceding only two along the way.

The back four of Sergio Ramos, Fabio Cannavaro, Pepe and Gabriel Heinze is finally looking as impressive as the names do on paper. As always, Iker Casillas will provide world class goal keeping and leadership. However, we know good defending depends on the rest of the team doing their part and in Lassana Diarra and Fernando Gago, Real have two midfielders who are able to protect their defence while possessing the highest technical qualities and ability to distribute ably. Comparisons with Liverpool’s Mascherano-Alonso duo are understandable but I think Real have the better two.

The decision to register Diarra for the Champions League over Huntelaar may well be justified should Real progress. I don’t like the dolphin-headed little bastard but he is a world-class player (better than Makelele) that will thrive on the big stage.

 

Shaky Liverpool

Renowned for their tightness under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool’s defensive record has been some-what surprising this season. They have only managed to keep one clean sheet in the past 7 games. The man named by the Football Guy as the Son of Rafa or old man/young man will be called upon and required to meet the high standards of his counterpart at the other end.

I nevertheless expect Liverpool to get ship shape for the ties against Real. There is certainly more pressure on them to come out in the league and Rafa knows the art of two-legged Champions League ties, especially when away from home first.

 

The Call

This is an extremely difficult tie to call, as I don’t think recent form will bear too much on how this encounter plays out. Both clubs have respect for each other but will also be quietly confident. Juande Ramos pitting his wits against Rafa Benitez will be an interesting tete-a-tete of tactical nous represented by funny hand signals.

The fact that the second leg is at Anfield could prove decisive and therefore I will predict that Liverpool will edge this one. A Torres away goal at the Bernabeu is so on the cards that I won’t even claim I said so when it happens.

Here is our 12th player

Here is our 12th player

 

P.

 

Other previews: Chelsea v Juve, Barca v Lyon, Arsenal v Roma, Inter v Man Utd.


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