Posts Tagged ‘relegation’

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




Season Previews 2010/11 – Blackpool



Last Season: Playoff winners, Championship

New Signings: Keinan

Key Player: Charlie Adam

One To Watch: Charlie Adam

Needs A Big Year: Charlie Adam

Would Quite Like: To beat Derby’s 11 point total from 2007/08 coupled with a famous victory over someone.

tangerine men blackpool

Get used to seeing this colour at grounds across the country.

Prediction: 20th

Thoughts: As well as Ian Holloway has done to get the Tangerine Men up I fear it’s going to be along hard season for Blackpool. Yes, he’s a great motivator and certainly has the gift of the gab when it comes to describing his team’s performances but at the time of writing the Blackpool squad contains about 18 players. Whilst I’m sure this will increase before the transfer deadline with some loans and whatnot, the fact remains that very few players in the squad look like Premier League quality.

The likes of Jason Euell and Brett Ormerod have top flight experience but let’s be honest, there’s a good reason why they were in the Championship last year.

A lot appears to rest on Charlie Adam who fired in 16 goals from midfield last season having joined from Rangers. Blackpool will hope his ability from set pieces transfers onto a bigger stage. Perhaps the key thing will be to get too downhearted following inevitable heavy defeats and try and be as solid as possible at home and see what happens.

An unfortunate start/stadium not being ready in time sees four away games in the first five matches. Trips to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge in weeks two and five may well be brutal, especially if Holloway maintains his current desire to play attractive flowing football. It is this desire which will ultimately see Blackpool doomed; they’re not good enough to beat the top teams at their own game while the sides in the bottom half are too experienced and too brutal to be outplayed by a team with no Premier League games under their belt.

Derby’s record low points total has been mentioned and while I think Blackpool will eclipse that, it’s hard to predict anything other than rock bottom. Even so they’ll enjoy the ride.


Season Previews 2010/11 – West Brom


West Brom

Last Season: 2nd in the Championship

New Signings: Myhill, Reid, Tamas, Ibanez, Shorey

Key Player: Graeme Dorrans

One To Watch: Chris Wood

Needs A Big Year: Roman Bednar

Would Quite Like: Staying up playing pretty football.

A bit funny looking but also apparently a bit good.

Prediction: 19th

Thoughts: West Brom have been a yo-yo club for about a decade now, clearly too good for the Championship but just lacking enough quality to mean that their stay in the Premier League usually ends after just a season. It’s difficult to see this changing to be honest, despite what looks like a fairly solid squad.

Di Matteo looks to be a talented young manager but that is probably not going to be enough. While West Brom have done well to keep hold of the talented Graeme Dorrans to play in a midfield which is quite easy on the eye, better strikers than Bednar will be needed if the Baggies are not to suffer an all too familiar fate.

Previously unheralded Championship players will need to perform above their ability while journeymen pros like Shorey and Reid will need career seasons. Dorrans is probably capable of getting into double figures but he can’t do it all on his own. All in all too many things need to align. Sadly down, yet again.


Season Previews 2010/11 – Wigan



Last Season: 16th

New Signings: Boselli, Stam, McArthur, Alcaraz, Al-Habsi

Key Player: Hugo Rodallega

One To Watch: James McCarthy

Needs A Big Year: Antolin Alcaraz

Would Quite Like: To concede a few less goals while scoring a few more. Avoid embarrassing seven, eight and nine goal thrashings.

Less of this needed.

Prediction: 18th

Thoughts: As much as I’d love Roberto Martinez to do well with Wigan I worry for them this season. I was charmed by Swansea’s cup run couple of years ago as he oversaw an attacking, pacy style of play and he has made similar attempts to introduce this with Wigan.

However, the result had been a very leaky defence which conceded 79 goals last season, a figure which only Burnley ‘beat’. Quite why they’ve sold their best central defender in Titus Bramble I’ll never know. His replacement needs to perform straight away.

With this in mind plus the fact that bigger clubs are trying to swoop in on the likes Rodallega and N’Zogbia, Wigan’s prospects look a little grim. Their biggest signing has been the striker Boselli for about £6m and you just feel that maybe part of that should have gone on strengthening the backline.

I have no doubt Moses, Rodallega, N’Zogbia et al will ensure lots of goals but a defence like theirs means trouble. I like Wigan as a club and admire that they try to play football the right way but I think this season will see an end to their stay in the top flight.


Weekly Photoshop – Pre-season Tours


There’ll be lots of pre-season previews coming up soon, both for real life football and fantasy football, but in the meantime it’s time for a quick weekly Photoshop. Pre-season tours are the theme this week, as every club tries to swindle some cash out of some untapped market whilst playing a friendly or two to boot.

Portsmouth in particular thought it would be a good idea to go to the USA, despite having about 13 players on the books and about 13p in the bank. Seems only fair to focus on them then… .

portsmouth championship pre season tour

Portsmouth embark on a fishing trip in a desperate attempt to find some players. I was going to do a net but then thought they probably couldn't afford one.


More here.





Weekly Photoshop – Brian Laws


It’s that high-profile Burnley manager Brian Laws as this week’s Photoshop theme. Yes, the man who smacks of being a Championship manager (his level not the game) has currently overseen just two wins in the 15 games he’s managed Burnley. Their win over Hull on Saturday won’t make a difference, they’re still going down.

With his lack of any discernible history, it was a case of working out who Brian Laws looked like. Part of me thought Jabba the Hut, while he’s not dissimilar to Sam Allardyce either. In the end it was a classic 80’s TV icon that won the day.


brian laws burnley

They could have won a speedboat! Instead Burnley got Bully Brian Laws and the busfare back home to the Championship.


The rest of the Guardian gallery is here.





The Six Pointer – Same old Arsenal, Man Utd’s 2nd best striker & more…


1. It’s getting boring writing the same thing each week but if Arsenal make the same mistakes each week then what choice do I have?! Unlike last Sunday against Man Utd, there was at least something resembling a performance against Chelsea, but once again Arsenal failed to win with their traditional combination of poor defending and not taking chances.

the wanderer clichy

Clichy the Wanderer

Quite where Gael Clichy was wandering to for the first goal I’ll never know but it was really rather stupid to leave your post as the ball was being played into the danger area. One Terry flick on later and Drogba is stealing in at the far post to slot home the opener. As I mentioned last week, Clichy has been in a funk for probably 18 months now but with Traore just as poor positionally and Gibbs injured there’s no other option (Silvestre is NOT an option).


2. When Chelsea smashed Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates in November, Wenger made an interesting point about how Drogba doesn’t really do that much (this was after having scored twice). To a certain degree he’s right but only because so often opportunities are given to him on a plate when facing what masquerades as an Arsenal defence.

drogba arsenal


The second goal was made by Clichy drifting inside as Chelsea were counter-attacking. The failure to realise until too late that Drogba was on the right meant the Ivorian could easily cut inside him and blast a powerful shot past Almunia.

Considering how highly Wenger values pace, it’s distressing to see how devastating counter attacks have been from Everton, Man Utd and Chelsea in recent weeks. I’m probably being a touch harsh in thinking Almunia could have made a better effort but Drogba’s shot was pretty powerful. That said, I think a top keeper would have reacted.


3. Theo Walcott was at least visible in this match. Only for his appalling touch however. What was confusing though was both him and Bendtner have come back from long injuries yet it is only the former who is getting starts at the moment.

You can understand that neither are fit enough to play 90 minutes at the moment but surely someone like Bendtner would be more effective starting, as opposed to coming on when the game is lost. Likewise, surely Walcott is better suited to a sub role where his only reliable skill (pace) could be used against tiring legs rather than fresh ones.


4. Man Utd’s second top scorer this season is Own Goal with ten goals thus far. He scored a hat-trick on Saturday against Portsmouth and now has as many as Berbatov and Owen combined!


5. It’s a little depressing if Liverpool end up as the 4th best team this season. Despite their good recent form, to me they are fundamentally a flawed side but years of finishing in the top four has given them a head start in knowing what it takes. We saw last season how Aston Villa fell away and it seems like no one of Man City, Spurs or Villa can string a set of results together to make a charge this time round.

gerrard liverpool everton

Yay, I play for an average team!


6. The form of the bottom eight or so teams is so poor right now that a win shoots you right up the table. Two games ago Hull were in the relegation zone but a draw against Chelsea and win against Man City later they are up to 14th. Of course it’s still very tight with just four points separating seven teams so it’s anyone’s guess who will go down. For what it’s worth I still think Hull will be one of them.



The Six Pointer – Blue Hughes sees red, Megson’s style (or lack thereof) & more…


1. Mark Hughes has been getting on my nerves recently so it was quite funny to see him fume at Michael Owen’s last minute winner for Man Utd against Man City yesterday. He can bleat all he wants about the amount of stoppage time played but as has been pointed out several times now, the time that gets shown up on the board is a minimum not a maximum. Bellamy scored to make it 3-3 right on 90 minutes and the celebrations took around a minute. Fergie made a substitution and brought on Carrick which added around 30 seconds and Owen scored after 95 mins 28 seconds which if you add all the other stuff makes it perfectly fine.

Almost as good as the Neviller's celebration.

Almost as good as the Neviller's celebration.

If I was Mark Hughes I’d be more concerned about how my near £40 million centre back partnership appears to be a bit rubbish in the air while my right back has atrocious positioning skills. Richards was nowhere to be seen when Giggs slipped Owen through while Fletcher twice out jumped the City defence. Don’t forget all the great headed chances Berbatov had too.

Another issue of concern will be the number of shots Man City are taking. Even disregarding the three strikers they had out on Sunday, only five clubs have fewer shots on goal this season. City’s success thus far has been due to making the most of those shots with the highest on target accuracy of 57%. Given you would expect this to drop a little (the average is 44%), it means they’ll need to be more attacking if they’re to maintain their good start.

A word too for Craig Bellamy who has made a good start to the season and scored two excellent goals. I was arguing with the Football Guy the night before the game over where he stood in the pecking order at Man City. He reckons that Tevez is easily ahead whereas I wasn’t so sure. I think Bellamy’s two goals have added to the argument that he’s just as worthy of a place in the side as the Argetine. For all the talk about the determination and fight Tevez brings, it was clear on Sunday that Bellamy has fight in him too!




2. Chelsea were pretty good against Spurs, with Drogba in particular terrorising their makeshift central defence once King went off. The talking point was Carvalho’s challenge on Keane in the box at 1-0 Chelsea. The Portuguese defender took none of the ball but Keane stayed up for a step before going down. This delay probably cost him the decision though Howard Webb wasn’t in a great position to see it clearly.

Had he been at a different angle Webb would have had no choice but to give it and perhaps send off Carvalho too. Given how Drogba played it may not have made a difference but it certainly would have been more of a challenge for Ancelotti’s side at 1-1 and with ten men.


3. I’ve been thinking for a while that of the three centre backs Liverpool have, more and more Carragher seems to be the weak link. To be fair to him, Carlton Cole caused just as many problems for Martin Skrtel but Carragher is making lots of mistakes these days. Agger is not quite fit but it will be interesting selection choice once he is. I for one am quite happy if Rafa continues to play the Scousest man on Earth.

Luckily for Rafa Benitez he has probably the best player in the league in Fernando Torres who scored his 42nd and 43rd league goal in just 63 games – an awesome ratio that compares with Ronaldo and Henry at their best.

Another goal for El Nino.

Another goal for El Nino.


4. It appears Bolton fans are slowly getting fed up with Gary Megson, booing the team off the pitch after the 1-1 draw with Stoke. Only Matt Taylor’s last minute penalty spared defeat but it’s the manner of play which is at odds with the support. Attendances are falling at the Reebok and it’s in no small part to Megson’s style of play. I imagine it would be bearable if it was bringing good results like last season but there’s just a solitary win against Pompey so far.

Bolton have made the fewest passes in the division and have the fourth lowest shooting accuracy. While the direct tactics may be effective against some, it’s not going to work when you have Kevin Davies on his own against the giant Stoke defenders. Klasnic might prove useful once he fully adjusts to the Premier League but record signing Elmander has not played any part in the last two games. With the promoted clubs doing better than expected it looks to be a long season ahead for Bolton.

Under fire.

Under fire.


5. Just like that Aston Villa have won four straight games and all the talk of crisis after the Wigan defeat has gone. The new look defence has settled well and Agbonlahor has found himself some form again. Three straight clean sheets has shown value in Martin O’Neill’s policy of tending to buy domestically. Players like Dunne and Warnock were established Premier League players before moving to Villa Park and thus could slot straight in without the need to adapt. There’s even a little more rotation going on this season with 20 players already used (just 21 were used all of last season). Once again they look well placed to challenge for that elusive top four spot. With a more open league they could get that little bit closer this time round.


6. Portsmouth have now lost six of six. Even Derby didn’t start off this badly. Might we have a new contender for the record low points tally?



Season Previews 09/10 – Portsmouth



Last Season: 14th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Frederic Piquionne, Steve Finnan, Aaron Mokoena, Antti Niemi.

Close the door on your way out: Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch, Djimi Traore, Sean Davis, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Noe Pamarot, Glen Little, Jerome Thomas.

Predicted star: Hard to pick one when there are hardly any left. A lot will depend on Niko Kranjcar who is the best player still at Fratton Park. He has already announced he will leave next summer but he’ll hopefully give Pompey fans one last season of creative play.

A golden goodbye?

A golden goodbye?

Needs a big year: David James will be very busy this season as a disintegrated Pompey side will no doubt struggle all season long. He showed signs of ageing last season and bear in mind he is 39 years old after all. If he has a good season however, he’ll go to the World Cup. The result of this is if he has a good season, he might just ensure Portsmouth don’t go down.

One to watch: Frederic Piquionne has been signed on loan from Lyon and scored twice on his pre-season debut against Rangers. He might be a good bet to score ten goals this season, which would go a long way to helping Portsmouth fight for survival.

What they want to happen: The takeover to go through, some players to come in rather than go out. Survival.

Nightmare scenario: The takeover doesn’t go through, Pompey go down, administration and the related consequences follow.

Plan A: Find sixteen players to play and form a bench. Try and use the duo of Belhadj and Kranjcar to create something down the left and use the pace and unknown quality of Piquionne to surprise a few people.

Plan B, just in case: Erm, rely on Kanu to produce a random bit of skill? He’s even older than James despite what his passport might say.

He gets stuck in his old age.

He gets stuck in his old age.

Predicted finish: 20th.

Why? I have nothing against Portsmouth and would sooner see many other clubs go down ahead of them but I just can’t see them staying up with the squad they currently have. Since last summer Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, Sulley Muntari, Glen Johnson, Lassana Diarra and Pedro Mendes have all been sold, Sol Campbell released and Sylvain Distin likely to be on his way too before the window closes.

The reason for all this is that after spending big for several seasons and winning an FA Cup, the loans are now due and Pompey have no money with which to pay them with. No team could survive that level of talent leaving and they find themselves going into the new season with just 22 players, four of which are goalkeepers. The defence is old and slow and Steve Finnan will do nothing to improve it. There is some midfield quality in Diop and Hughes but neither of them are as good as Diarra. Kranjcar remains the player on whom they will completely rely on but he only played 21 league games last season having been seriously injured.



In terms of goals, Paul Hart will be relying on loanee Piquionne as you can’t rely on old man Kanu or Championship man Nugent. It’s an interesting signing but not one which will prevent the inevitable. As for Hart himself, you feel he’s only there as he’s cheap. It doesn’t really make sense that a man feted for his work with young players is at a club full of thirty somethings. The only hope for Portsmouth is that the takeover by al-Fahim goes through at some point before January, allowing for desperately needed reinforcements. Without this I think it will be an end to Pompey’s seven year stay in the Premier League.



Season Previews 09/10 – Hull



Last Season: 17th

Say hello to your new teammates: Seyi Olofinjana, Jozy Altidore, Steven Mouyokolo.

Close the door on your way out: Sam Ricketts, Dean Windass and a few others.

Predicted star: Phil Brown if he has it his way. Looking at Hull’s squad if they can get Jimmy Bullard fit and playing again, he could be the difference between relegation and staying up for another season. At the back Michael Turner will look to make a late bid for England’s World Cup squad. To be honest he’ll probably be doing it at another club though.

"All together now: 'There's only one Phil Brown, he's the best'"

"All together now: 'There's only one Phil Brown, he's the best'"

Needs a big year: One of their strikers, none of whom look like scoring more than five goals. Daniel Cousin would be the most likely.

One to watch: Kamil Zayatte was relatively impressive last season and will look to build on it.

What they want to happen: Stay up. Sign a striker, any striker.

Nightmare scenario: Relegation, Bullard’s knees continue to play up.

Plan A: Play like the first of half of last season, where Geovanni ran the show and every player played like their lives depended on it.

Plan B, just in case: Motivate your players on the pitch, at half time, in front of everyone. Yeah, that’ll work.

Predicted finish: 19th

Why? Last season was the archetypal tale of two halves for Hull. A fantastic start with away wins at Spurs and Arsenal led to 6th place as late as December. It then all went wrong and Hull went winless for at least half the season before just surviving by a point on the last day. Hull fans may deny it but a lot of this was down to Phil Brown’s pitchside half time team talk when 4-0 down at Man City on Boxing Day. I would lose all respect for him as a player if that happened and the longer the season went on, the more Brown would talk rubbish to the media.

Listen up lads, I want to make a point. And win none for the rest of the season...

Listen up lads, I want to make a point. And win none for the rest of the season...

Remember the bizarre rant at Fabregas for coming on the pitch, at full time no less, in his own ground? Or the cringeworthy sing song once survival was achieved. These issues result in Hull’s big problem this summer, the failure to sign anyone good. At least four or five players have publicly turned down Hull and you have to think it’s because Phil Brown is manager. Of the players that have come in Olofinjana was not a big piece for Stoke last year but will provide steel in the middle. Jozy Altidore sounds like a sweet for a sore throat and is not the proven striker they need while Mouyokolo is an unknown quantity.

Overall I can’t see anything but a Hull relegation this time round, even with Bullard fit. I think Turner will move on before the transfer window closes and the players they have are generally just not good enough. They were lucky to have three atrocious teams beneath them last season. They won’t be so lucky in 2009/10.



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