Thursday, November 22, 2012

Roman's Latest Gamble

As the dust settles over the shocking events that have rocked Chelsea Football Club over the past 24 hours, the question now shifts to whether Rafa Benitez is indeed the right person for the job or whether he, like many before him, is destined for an unceremonious exit from Stamford Bridge.

Back when Benitez' name was first floated for the job in March this year, I deduced that Roman Abramovich was becoming desperate and in some ways, that still holds true. I believe Chelsea had very few managers to turn to after dismissing Roberto Di Matteo.

Pep Guardiola may be Abramovich' ideal manager but the former Barcelona man is unlikely to sacrifice his legacy by becoming another statistic under Chelsea's erractic and demanding owner.

So, yes, Chelsea had very few options. Well, there was one. Not firing Di Matteo would have probably been the best option but we're passed that now.

To be fair, Benitez has a CV that would be the envy of most managers in the world and in his six years in Liverpool, the Spaniard guided the club to two Champions League finals including their fifth Champions League title, an FA Cup and a second place in the league.

And while that may have convinced Chelsea they appointed the right man, it should be noted that Benitez isn't a quick turnaround expert like Guus Hiddink. Instead, Benitez is a firm believer in long-term plans and takes a while to build a teams that can adapt to his tactics and style of play.

It's true that Benitez won the Champions League with Liverpool in his first season but the club only became title contenders in his fifth season. And I think it's pretty well-documented at this point that patience is not one of Abramovich' virtues.

But perhaps Benitez arrival at Chelsea has more to do with the misfiring Fernando Torres who enjoyed the best football of his career under the former's management at Liverpool.

In fact, I wouldn't be too surprised if Torres was a big factor that led to Benitez' appointment. It won't be the first time Abramovich has reunited a goal-drought stricken overpriced Chelsea striker with his former boss. Remember Andriy Shevchenko and Carlo Ancelotti?

And perhaps that's all Chelsea need. Thanks to Benitez' predecessors, he comes to a Chelsea that has the likes of Edin Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar not to mention an aging but still very relevant, Frank Lampard. If Benitez gets Torres to rediscover his old form, Chelsea would be in a extremely strong position in the title race.


Chelsea Appoints Benitez

As speculated, Rafa Benitez has been appointed as Chelsea's interim manager until the end of the season following Roberto Di Matteo's dismissal.

In a statement on the club's official website, Chelsea said Benitez will manage the Blues until the end of the current season.

"The owner and the Board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives," Chelsea said.

The Blues added that Benitez is set to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow.

"The two-time UEFA Manager of the Year comes with outstanding pedigree. He began his managerial career in his homeland, most notably at Valencia where he built a reputation as one of Europe's top coaches by winning the Spanish League twice and the UEFA Cup. He then spent six years at Liverpool and led them to their fifth European Cup and an FA Cup," the club said.

Benitez' appointment sees the Spaniard reuniting with striker Fernando Torres who has struggled to live up to his GBP50 million transfer fee Chelsea paid Liverpool for him in January 2011.

As I had noted in yesterday's posting, Benitez initially considered by Chelsea in March this year when Andre Villas Boas was sacked but a deal wasn't reached at the time as the Blues wanted an interim manager while the Spaniard was looking for a longer-term contract.

I guess being out of a job for nearly two years changed his mind this time around. I will be posting more on this soon. It also makes you wonder the role Torres played in bringing Benitez to Stamford Bridge.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reactions to Di Matteo Sacking

Here are some of the reactions to Roberto Di Matteo's shocking exit from Stamford Bridge:

"I’m very disappointed for Roberto, I know him very well, he’s a close friend and that so it is disappointing when you hear that a manager has lost his job, especially when you know them. But like even more so when you feel like you know what I mean I don’t know what more he could have done, I’m hearing Chelsea fans saying they weren’t happy with certain tactics.

"But at the end of the day at the start of the season everybody was enthusing about how great he was. But I suppose when you’ve got an owner like Abravomich who is ruthless, he knows what he wants and he does what he wants, it’s a precarious job to take, you know it still makes me laugh." - Ian Wright, in an interview with Absolute Radio.

"I'm astonished, really. It just goes to show you how precarious we are as Premier League managers, and you can't take anything for granted.

"The shock that should be there for the fans and the media should sound something to the owner of that football club because I don't know if that's the ninth manager or whatever it is in so many short years. It's just not fair.

"As far as I am concerned, he has done absolutely nothing wrong. His philosophy was to perhaps change the look of the team, which he has tried to do - that doesn't happen overnight - and he's won two competitions in less than a year, so it's unbelievable.

"He should walk straight into another job - probably at someone else's misfortune, unfortunately." -  Alan Pardew in press reports from the manager's pre-match briefing for Newcastle's Europa League encounter with Maritimo.

"Wow, Chelsea have sacked their manager!! I'm a bit late I know but its a madness." - Rio Ferdinand on his official Twitter account.

"John Terry has now seen off his ELEVENTH manager at Chelsea. Can you name them all? - Mirror Football's official Twitter feed.

"HAHAHAHAHAHA!" - Andre Villas Boas (Ok, I made that one up. The rest are real.)

On a side note, as we await news of Di Matteo's replacement (all signs seem to point to Rafa Benitez), there's some other weird rumour about Didier Drogba returning to Chelsea. Can things get any crazier?

Di Matteo Sacked; Benitez to takeover?

In a bizarre twist of events, Chelsea have sacked manager Roberto Di Matteo following the Blues' Champions League defeat to Juventus with former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, reported to be keen to fill up the vacancy at Stamford Bridge.

Di Matteo was fired by the Blues several hours after the club fell 3-0 to Juventus at Turin which left the Champions League defending champions third in Group E with an early exit from the competition a genuine possibility.

Yesterday's defeat follows a 2-1 shock loss to West Bromvich Albion in the Premier League over the weekend.

In a statement on its official website, Chelsea said: "The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the Board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season.

"The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions. Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts."

 So, it appears as though winning Roman Abramovich' holy grail - the Champions League - and the FA Cup last season wasn't enough to convince the Blues' owner and his board to stick it out with Di Matteo.

The Italian must surely realise the bitter irony over the fact that managers who achieved far less than he did managed to hold to their job at Chelsea much longer than he did. And while the Blues have performed poorly in Europe, the same can't be said about their domestic performance.

With only two defeats - one of which was against Man Utd following some highly dubious refereeing - in the league, the Blues are in third place and four points behind league leaders, Man City.  You could have forgiven Di Matteo for thinking his job was safe. (Mark Hughes, if you're reading this, consider yourself the luckiest man alive).

But what Roman wants, Roman gets. I only wonder if Roman really knows what he wants.

Reports suggest that Chelsea intend to name a replacement soon and the first few names to be brandied about have been - you guessed it- former Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola and Benitez, both of whom are currently unemployed.

According to, Benitez flew back to London from Abu Dhabi for a meeting with the Blues and that a deal to make him manager until the end of the season is in the works.

Benitez was previously rumoured to be interested in the job in the summer before Di Matteo was given a two-year contract after winning Chelsea's first-ever Champions League. Di Matteo was earlier appointed as the club's interim manager in March this year following Andre Villas Boas' dismissal from the job.

Guardiola, on the other hand, has long been on Abramovich' wishlist and some reports suggesting the Spanish manager was lined-up as Di Matteo's replacement before the Juventus defeat.

That's not too hard to believe when you consider the fact that Di Matteo was never the preferred choice for the job. The Italian was merely picked as an interim manager at a time when the club's preferred choices weren't available or in Benitez' case, unwilling to take up an interim job.

Few believed Di Matteo would have succeeded and many believed the club's FA Cup victory wasn't enough to warrant a contract extension. But then the Italian did what so many before him failed. He won the Champions League and Blues' had to offer him a new contract.

But would Guardiola be crazy enough to take this job? Would a manager like Guardiola who's won everything actually risk his legacy by taking this job? Considering that, Benitez seems to be the most plausible replacement.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tevez Slams Neville

Man City forward, Carlos Tevez, has criticized England manager, Roy Hodgson, for picking former Man Utd defender, Gary Neville as England's assistant coach.

In particular, the Argentine striker questions the wisdom in appointing a television pundit such as Neville for such an important role at the England national team.

"And it's difficult to believe the country doesn't challenge more successfully at the Euros or in the World Cup. But maybe England have to look at the structure of its coaching staff.

"Which brings me to Gary Neville. I can't believe that any of the top countries would employ a television pundit as a part-time coach.

"Can you imagine Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland, Brazil or Argentina employing a manager's right-hand man whose day job is a television pundit? I can't ever see it happening," Tevez said in his column for the Sun.

Tevez and Neville were both teammates at United although there's been very little love lost between the two. In 2010, Tevez called Neville a "sock-sucker" (or "boot-licker" depending on the translation you use) in an interview in Argentina.

So I guess it comes as no surprise then that in Tevez' seems to have drawn the conclusion that the English can't compete in the Euros or World Cup is down to the selection of Neville on Hodgson' coaching staff.

I'll admit, it's a rather boneheaded decision to bring in someone with no coaching experience to the squad but that hardly seems to be the real reason why England hasn't won a World Cup since 1966.

Still, Tevez does make a valid point that England's assistant coach can't be a full-time television pundit at the same time as, let's face it, his got some real work to do.

"He’s happy to make jokes about players referring them to a PlayStation game but I’m not sure many World Cups have been won on PlayStation — so I think Gary needs to stop playing games and concentrate on his coaching.

"I know Sky is a high-profile and lucrative job and must pay well but he has to decide whether his first loyalty is to them or the FA," he said.

The Playstation remark is in reference to statement Neville made in 2011 on Chelsea's David Luiz when he likened the Brazilian defender to being controlled on a Playstation by a 10-year old in the crowd.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Trouble With Referees

There's no doubt that we've seen some questionable refereeing this season and if last weekend's matches are anything to go by, it's spreading like a disease.

First up was Arsenal's 1-0 win over QPR courtesy of a contentious goal by Mikel Arteta. Rangers boss, Mark Hughes claimed the Gunners' midfielder was in an offside position prior to scoring the only goal of the match and video replays seem to suggest Sparky was right.

Had the referee made the right decision, QPR would have deservedly ended the match with a point.

Next was Everton's clash against neighbours, Liverpool on Sunday. At the dying minutes of the match, Luis Suarez appeared to have netted in the winner in a pulsating Merseyside derby only to have the linesman rule the goal offside. Replays indicated otherwise and Brendan Rodgers side were denied three valuable points at Goodison Park.

Nonetheless, it wasn't the only contentious decision in the match that affected the score. Everton's second goal in the first half, which levelled the score, originated from an Everton throw-in. Replays however, indicated that it was a Liverpool throw-in.

But if that was bad, it was nothing compared to the comedy of errors that marred Chelsea's match against Man Utd. After leveling the match to 2-2, the Roberto Di Matteo saw his side reduced to nine men as a result of two red cards.

The second of those two red cards, awarded to Fernando Torres after the Spaniard picked up a second yellow for diving, has once again brought out allegations of a bias by Premier League referees towards Man Utd. I think it was just another case of poor, and at times, incompetent refereeing by Mike Clattenburg.

Replays show that Johnny Evans indeed made contact on Torres left foot as the Spaniard was trying to get past the Man Utd defender. Some seem to argue that Torres went down easy. Who cares? The fact is Evans caught Torres' foot and not the ball which is a foul. And if Torres was diving, why did Evans go to ground as well?

Completing the refereeing madness was Hernandez' goal, which seemed to have been from an offside position, which gave Utd all three points. The Blues were, as expected, livid with the decision and replays do show that the Mexican striker was in an offside position when Rafael shot the ball towards Petr Cech's goal. And even Sir Alex Ferguson's post-match comments on the goal seemed to indicate that the Man Utd gaffer agrees with this assesment.

"They say that the winning goal came from an offside, so that's the bit of luck I think we got," he said.

Chelsea have apparently lodged a complaint against Clattenburg although it was to do with alleged racist and xenophobic remarks made by the referee at Jon Obi Mikel and Juan Mata. But it's high time the clubs come together and lobby for the introduction of video technology in football.

As I've often argued, it makes little sense for football to reject instant replays to assist the refereeing of matches. It's used in almost every other major sporting event and there's no reason for the football world to pretend as though it's still being played at an era where the television hasn't been invented.

With the use of instant replays, decisions won't be contested, penalties won't be wrongly awarded, illegal goals won't count and red cards would be issued at players that clearly deserve them.

With video technology, somebody could have even told Graham Poll in the 2006 World Cup that you can't award a player three yellow cards!

But most of all, with video technology, Liverpool, Chelsea and QPR would have had significantly different outcomes to their respective matches.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Koscielny Calls Suarez A Cheat But Likes Drogba?

Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny has become the latest individual to voice out an opinion on the ongoing diving furor surrounding Luis Suarez but miraculously praises Didier Drogba in the same interview.

According to a report by L'Equipe, which has since been carried by the British press, the Gunners' defender has branded Liverpool's Suarez as a 'cheat.'

“He is tiresome to defend against. He cheats. He pulls your shirt, giving small blows. You always want to give him a kick but you have to be careful not to be red carded," Koscielny said in a quote translated by Soccernet.

But in the same interview, the Frenchman praised former Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba, a player who's just as infamous as Suarez for diving.

"He is strong, he is good when he plays with his back to goal, a great header of the ball and good in the gaps," Koscielny said.

No one doubts Drogba's strength of skill but it seems a little bizarre that Koscielny admires the Ivorian striker so much despite his distaste for footballers who 'cheat.' You would think that someone

Perhaps the following videos will refresh Koscielny's memory on some of Drogba's more theatrical moments.

Here's another one (please excuse the poor quality)

No one denies that Suarez has a tendency to go down easily but as I've argued before, he isn't the only footballer guilty of doing so and many before him as well as his current peers hit the ground with the slightest of touches. To single out Suarez on this issue is akin to claiming he invented diving in football.

But people seem to be talking about this subject with some pretty heavy blinders on. Take Stoke City boss, Tony Pulis, who suggested Suarez be charged retrospectively for diving while not volunteering the same treatment for Stoke defender, Robert Huth, managed to remain on the field despite stamping on the Uruguayan (an offense far worse than diving).

Then there's Sir Alex Ferguson who claimed earlier this month that foreign footballers are the biggest diving culprits. Age seems to be catching up with Fergie as he apparently has no recollection of Ashley Young's diving antics last season (It may have been a bad a day for the Man Utd gaffer. He went to claim that Nani isn't a diver).

Or, he may well have a point. Some of the EPL's biggest divers over the years have worn the red of Manchester - Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov to name a few.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Quote of the Day: Luis Suarez

"This guy (Boyce), I've no idea who he is. I don't know why he has been talking about me. He certainly can't be well-known and he wants to get publicity. Let him carry on talking. My job is to play football and to try to do so in the best way possible," - Luis Suarez, as quoted in the Sun, on FIFA vice-president, Jim Boyce, who had earlier accused the Uruguayan striker of diving in Liverpool's Premier League tie against Stoke City.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Diving Controversy Continues

Looks like the controversy revolving around diving is not going away anytime too soon. The latest figure to jump in the fray is FIFA Vice President, Jim Boyce, who is also Great Britain's representative to football's global governing body.

According to a report by Soccernet, Boyce said: "I have seen several incidents recently, and I watched the latest Suarez incident two or three times, and to me it is nothing less than a form of cheating."

"It is becoming a little bit of a cancer within the game and I believe if it is clear to everyone that it is simulation then that person is trying to cheat and they should be severely punished for that.

"It can be dealt with retrospectively by disciplinary committees, and it is done so in some associations, and I believe that is the correct thing to do.

"It can at times be very, very difficult for referees to judge whether something is a foul or a fair tackle and if players are diving then it makes their job even harder."

This talk of retrospective punishments on players for diving was mooted over the weekend by Stoke City boss, Tony Pulis (see below for my take on that). And the diver in question here is none other Luis Suarez.

To be honest, it seems odd that FIFA's vice-president wants to weigh in on an issue like this. If diving can be punished retrospectively, then it's safe to say that lots of players will be carrying lengthy suspensions.

If FIFA's intention here is to curb diving, then surely there are other means to do so and one that the football world seems to stubbornly reject: instant video replays.

Just about every major sport in the world uses instant video replays to ensure that referees don't get to decide an outcome of a game based on a miscalculated decision.

Perhaps FIFA and national football associations believe that the introduction of video replays will lengthen matches as it could take time to review the replays before making a decision. This is turn brings up the next question: would referees use video replays for some or all of their decisions? And if they did use it for every decision, wouldn't matches get longer?

These are certainly valid questions but hardly enough to reject the notion of introducing video replays into football. For one, each match is officiated by four officials and very often, the fourth official's responsibilities include pausing the matches for substitutions and announcing stoppage time.

But another crucial responsibility for the fourth official is in assisting the match referee. If the fourth official is given a monitor that shows him the video replays all of us get to see at home, then he would clearly be able to advise the referee on matters such as diving. And it doesn't even take a minute to review the footage.

Furthermore, video replays would not only point out diving, it would also ensure that illegal tackles don't get away unpunished. If video technology was present at the recent Liverpool - Man Utd match, we could have very well had a different outcome.

Speaking of Liverpool and Man Utd, let's be honest about Suarez. He isn't the first footballer to go down easily although you have to admit that he is often subjected to some rough tackles. Just about every footballer seems to undergo some severe gravitational pull every time he enters his opponent's penalty box.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is Pulis kidding?

Tony Pulis is certainly a manager I admire. He got Stoke promoted to the Premier League in 2007 and is still in charge of the Potters. He's made them a permanent fixture in the Premier League and has transformed the Britannia Stadium into one of the toughest grounds for visiting clubs.

But the Welshman's comments following the 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Sunday is way off the mark. Perhaps it came out of frustration from watching his side spend much of the second half at Anfield behind the ball. Or maybe it was the fact that Luis Suarez made life for his back four a living nightmare all game.

To suggest Suarez' dive in the penalty box in the second half warrants a three-match ban. There's no denying that the Suarez went down easily but Pulis seems to have conveniently forgotten the numerous other occasions in the match when his players escaped severe punishment for manhandling - and in some occasions making reckless tackles - on the Uruguayan striker.

Case in point would have been Roberth Huth's stamp on Suarez which left stud marks on the Liverpool striker's torso. Huth escaped punishment for that incident. But since his manager is getting all righteous about fair play, Pulis can put his money where his mouth is by banning Huth for Stoke's next three games.

After all, isn't stamping someone a lot worse than a dive?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pandemonium at Anfield; Drobga and Owen to the rescue?

If there's a university out there with a course on the basic tenets of wheeling and dealing in the transfer market, I'd recommend Liverpool sign up both its manager and owners for it.

Both Brendan Rodgers and John Henry have recently tried to downplay Liverpool's lack of success in bringing in a new striker and neither wants to pin the blame on the other.

But the fact that Liverpool are now desperately considering moves for Michael Owen or Didier Drogba can only mean that someone's pushed the panic button.

Perhaps both Rodgers and Henry are telling the truth. Perhaps Rodgers is still a little new when it comes to working the transfer window and hasn't figured out the fact that clubs like Liverpool will always be quoted a higher price than ones with less prestige and history.

Besides, a precedent was set last season under Kenny Dalglish who thought nothing wrong on spending GBP35 million on Andy Carroll or GBP20 million on Stewart Downing.

As such, perhaps Henry, after investing GBP100 million in last season, has become a little too apprehensive when it comes to spending more cash. Having seen his investments yield an eighth place finish last season, it isn't all that surprising to find the Boston Red Sox owner getting a little frugal with his cheque book.

But even with all that under consideration, just how on earth did they commit one of the biggest blunders in the footballing world. If signing Carroll for GBP35 million was ridiculous, this was far more absurd: letting Carroll go on a season-long loan to West Ham without procuring a replacement first.

I can't think of many managers or club owners who would have made such a novice mistake but these two men, somehow, saw it fit.

I can understand if Rodgers was trying to remove the deadwood in the squad. Lord-knows it's been a long time coming. But even then, his decisions have been bizzare. He has so far sold both Dirk Kuyt and Charlie Adam, two players who may not be the most consistent but are at least capable of scoring goals.

And while these two players were considered to be surplus to requirements, Downing and Jordan Henderson still remain on Liverpool's payroll.

Thus, with no back-up strikers, Rodgers may have sealed his fate. Luis Suarez may be one of the most gifted footballers in the world but as evident last season is not one of the greatest goal scorers.

Instead, the Uruguayan international plays best behind the striker but with no one there, he's once again left to his own devices (much like how Fernando Torres' last years at Liverpool were).

As evident in the defeat to Arsenal, his supposed new striking partner, Fabio Borrini, is still unconvincing in front of goal and was eventually brought off for Downing, who, if you're counting, amassed a total of zero goals last season.

And now that the panic button's been pushed, will Drogba and Owen be able to rescue the Reds and Rodgers from what could be a disastrous question?

To be honest, I'm doubtful both players would come. Owen would appear to be the likelier of the two to come to Anfield (if an agreement can be reached).

Should both players arrive, the club's confidence would receive a short boost but keeping them injury-free would pose a significant challenge to the club's medical team. If anything, they may be able to stave off the slump and get the Reds out of the danger zone until January when Rodgers and Henry can get another crack at the transfer window.

Otherwise, this story will once again end in more turmoil. Rodgers will most certainly be doomed for an early severance package while Henry will attain unpopularity levels in the same vein as George Gillette and Tom Hicks were, giving rise to yet another anti-American wave at Anfield. And we all know how that panned out for the club the last time it happened.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Faces, Old Results

A new manager, a new project, a new vision. The result? More of the same-old same-old.

No rewards here for guessing which club is the topic of today's piece (the photo on the right was a dead giveaway itself).

Yes, meet Brendan Rodgers, the man whose arrival at Liverpool was greeted by bemusement laced with the mild-optimism that is reluctantly bestowed upon every new manager that has been appointed to the hot seat at Anfield.

With the exception of Kenny Dalglish, of course, who incidentally was the man Rodgers was brought in to replace. It's no easy task filling in the shoes of a fan favourite. The task is made all the more harder when your managerial resume only includes Swansea and Reading.

Still, there was some reason -even if it felt foolhardy at times - to believe Rodgers had what it took to turn things around or, more importantly, accomplish what Dalglish, Roy Hodgson and Rafa Benitez had all failed to do.

Rodgers' ability to instill a formidable playing method at Swansea with much success played a big role in convincing John Henry and the rest Fenway Sports Group that the Northern Irishman was the manager they needed to revive an ailing giant.

Nevermind the fact that the comparisons of Swansea's passing game to Barcelona's were a tad bit exaggerated. The fact is, Rodgers was able to create a style that was more continental than English at a newly promoted club and led them to an 11th place finish in the league.

More impressive was the fact that Rodgers was able to achieve this with a team that largely comprised - sorry Swansea fans - mediocre footballers. To FSG, the potential was limitless. If Rodgers can do this with the players he had at Swansea, imagine what he'd be able to do if he was given a couple of stars and a competitive budget?

In theory, Rodgers made absolute sense to FSG instead of someone like Louis Van Gaal or Fabio Capello or even Pep Guardiola.

Unfortunately, as Rodgers and FSG were to later find out on the opening weekend of the new season, that there's no real easy fix at Liverpool. Sure, there were some fleeting moments of fluid passing but as soon as the first goal went in, along went the team's confidence.

Once again, the team on the pitch resembled the same team under Dalglish, Hodgson and Benitez: wasteful and bereft of ideas.

Rodgers can surely lament some of the questionable decisions that went against his men but the truth of the matter is that Liverpool once again failed to convert their dominating possession to goals - a popular theme at the club over the past three to four seasons.

Reds captain, Steven Gerrard is right when he says it's too early to push the panic button but given the way things have started, Rodgers must surely be wondering what he's got himself into. And with just over a week left of the transfer window and Europa league qualifiers and a Man City home game coming up, he doesn't have time on his side. He may just end up resorting to a famous tactic of Dalglish' last season - pray that Liverpool's luck on the pitch miraculously changes.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mixed Signals On Carroll

The news of late surrounding Andy Carroll's future at Liverpool has been, well, mixed. On the outset, it appears as though both club and player are willing to part ways.

The popular theory out there is that the Liverpool's new manager, Brendan Rodgers, is no big fan of Carroll. And he may not be equally popular with the Reds owners in Boston who have yet to see any returns on the massive sum invested in the England forward.

Carroll, for his part, is apparently frustrated at a lack of opportunity to prove himself to Rodgers, especially after some impressive displays in EURO 2012.

Seems straight-forward doesn't it?Almost.

Soccernet reports that Liverpool have accepted a bid of GBP 19 million from West Ham for the striker but Carroll has rejected a move to Upton Park. In fact, Carroll's rejection comes a day after his new manager revealed that the striker wants to carry on at Anfield and that the former Newcastle forward could fit into his style of play.

If that's so, why did they accept a bid from West Ham especially when it comprised of a GBP2 million season-long loan payment with an option to permanently sign the striker for GBP17 million at the end of the season.

So, even from a financial perspective, this wasn't a deal that would have benefited Liverpool whose transfer budget this summer seems hinged upon their ability to raise cash by offloading some expensive and ineffective players.

What gives? Is there a communication breakdown between Rodgers and his new employers?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Martinez or Van Gaal?

Amidst the countless rumours this week, it appears as though the leading candidates for the top post at Liverpool is between Wigan's Roberto Martinez and former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach, Louis Van Gaal.

Of the two, Martinez is apparently in the lead for the job and is currently in talks with Liverpool owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) in United States.

One can only hope that this is just another formality in the long and arduous search for a new manager and not a prelude to an appointment. If appointing Kenny Dalglish after sacking Roy Hodgson in 2011 was a PR victory with the club's supporters, bringing Martinez in would be nothing short of a disaster.

There is already a considerable amount of opposition to the fact that Martinez is even being considered for the job and one can only imagine the criticism and pressure that will be leveled at him each game Liverpool dont win.

For someone more accustomed to fighting relegation battles, this will come as both a shock and a sobering reminder that expectations at Liverpool are far different from that at Wigan.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Van Gaal has recently emerged as a strong candidate for the job. Initial reports indicated that FSG wanted the Dutchman to assume the role of technical director, which was vacated by Damien Commoli towards the end of the Reds' torrid campaign last season.

The idea of putting Van Gaal in that position seemed to indicate that FSG wanted the Dutchman to implement a new transfer policy and bring in some fresh talent to provide some much needed change to the squad.

It also meant that high profile managerial candidates - Fabio Capello, Rafa Benitez - were out of the equation. Van Gaal is quite the imposing figure (he's also 60) and only a young an inexperienced manager like Martinez would be able to work with him.

Besides, Van Gaal would be some sort of insurance for FSG should Martinez fail and could be called in to step into the manager's role if needed.

But as it turns out, Van Gaal has indicated that he is more keen on the manager's position at Liverpool than the technical director's post.

Despite being sacked by his last club, Bayern Munich, Van Gaal possess an impressive resume that includes a Champions League trophy, UEFA Cup and several league titles in Holland, Spain and Germany respectively.

Simply put, if the choice boils down to either Martinez or Van Gaal, it should be a no brainer.

As for Capello and Benitez, reports suggest that both are keen on the job but haven't been approached by Liverpool. I've suggested several times that Capello fits the bill perfectly.

Just as successful as Van Gaal, Capello has a keen understanding of the English game and would not need time to settle in.

And if all else fails and you're left with just Martinez, I would rather go with Benitez who at least knows what it takes to compete at the highest level (and FSG wouldn't have to pay him to relocate. He already lives in Liverpool!).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hansen Wrong On Dalglish

As speculation mounts over who will take over the reigns at Liverpool, former Reds defender and BBC Sport pundit, Alan Hansen, has come to Kenny Dalglish' defense over the latter's sacking.

Hansen's defense of the former Liverpool manager should not come as a surprise as the former played alongside and latter under fellow Scotsman, Dalglish. But much of his piece, which can be read here is sheer hypocrisy.

Before I go on, I will admit that it is sad to see Dalglish' second stint at Liverpool end in such a way but as I've argued before, his time at Anfield had run out. Legend or not, the Reds endured one of their worst seasons ever in the Premier League and Dalglish had to shoulder much of the blame.

Now, on to Hansen's column.

My first beef was with the following:

"Dalglish himself would have been disappointed with the final Premier League position, but he did win the Carling Cup and if you are winning trophies this should ultimately give the manager some leeway. When you are rebuilding you have to start somewhere and winning silverware is not a bad place, no matter how highly or otherwise people regard the Carling Cup." 

First, the only clubs that don't think highly of the Carling Cup are the ones that don't win it. And while winning the Carling Cup would be sufficient enough for a mid-table club, Liverpool aren't one or, rather, aren't supposed to be one.

Instead, despite the Carling Cup success, the Reds endured one of their worst seasons in the Premier League by only winning six home games all season and scored a total of 47 goals all season, nearly half of what champions Man City scored.

But even that would have been palatable had Liverpool won the Carling Cup in a convincing fashion. Instead, the slogged and won it over penalties against Championship side (I reiterate: Championship side), Cardiff City.

"Liverpool's owners, the Fenway Sports Group, have set the bar high here because it was always going to be incredibly difficult for Kenny to come back, rebuild the team and restore them to the Champions League in one full season."

Set the bar high? Three seasons ago, Liverpool were in the Champions League and finish second in the league. Many of those players in that season were still in Dalglish' squad. Furthermore, let's put some things into perspective. Liverpool FC is expected to compete for the Premier League title, not just a Champions League qualification spot.

Moreover, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) gave Dalglish GBP100 million to invest in new players for the club. Even when you consider the sort of money Man City and Chelsea splash in the transfer market, GBP100 million is quite a substantial amount.

As such, it's not surprising that FSG felt a little bit of disappointment when their team finished eighth in the league and below Everton. And did I mention that the club they paid GBP35 million for Andy Carroll finished fifth? The irony would've been too much for FSG.

Dalglish sacked!

As expected, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have removed Kenny Dalglish from the managerial post at Liverpool after the Reds endured one of their worst ever seasons in the Premier League. I believe assistant manager, Steve Clarke, will be the next one to be shown the door as he too played a significant role in Liverpool's demise this season.

By firing Dalglish now, FSG will give themselves enough time to find a new manager who can start rebuilding the team and possibly offload some expensive flops.

That being said, I can't for the life of me comprehend how Wigan's Roberto Martinez has become the favourite for the job. Can anyone remember what happened the last time Liverpool appointed a manager who was more accustomed to battling for survival than fighting for the league title?

Apart from him, the other names being brandied about are former Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas, and former Reds manager, Rafael Benitez. Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp has also been mentioned.

I still don't know why Fabio Capello hasn't been thrown into the shortlist. Considering his experience in winning league titles (both in Italy and Spain), he would seem like Liverpool's best choice.

But I'm sure the rumour mill will start popping up new names in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dalglish To Leave Liverpool?

The rumour mill on Kenny Dalglish' future has been heating up with speculation rife that Kenny Dalglish' second stint at Liverpool will be coming to end soon.

The rumours follow news reports that Dalglish and assistant, Steve Clarke, recently travelled across the Atlantic to Boston to meet the club's owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG).

Some reports suggest Dalglish made the trip to clarify the situation regarding his position at Liverpool which increasingly come under scrutiny following what can only be described as a dismal season for the Reds.

Then again, the meeting could have been a reaction to the events that unfolded over the weekend. While most of the headlines were dominated by Man City's dramatic victory against Queens Park Rangers to seal the Premier League title, the Reds succumbed to their 14 defeat in the league, this time at the hands of Swansea City.

City may have won the league by a mere goal difference but the irony of the matter is the fact that Roberto Mancini's men scored nearly twice as many goals as Liverpool did. And perhaps the worst record of all was the six meekly wins the Reds managed to muster all season at Anfield.

So far, except for sacking Damien Comolli, FSG has remained silent over Liverpool's poor showing this season. Perhaps we'll finally hear something now. In the meantime, as previously reported, Fabio Capello's looking for a job. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Capello Wants Premier League Job

Fabio Capello has indicated that he's interested in managing a top Premier League side, days after the FA named his successor at England.

The Italian's statement should come as no surprise. After spending four years in England, Capello is well-versed with the English game and would certainly feel that he has something to prove following the tumultuous manner in which he left the England national team.

Capello has so far indicated that he would be keen on managing a side that competes in the Champions League and wins trophies. He's also reported to have said that moving to a cash-ride side wouldn't be a priority although that in itself is somewhat of an oxymoron. Any side vying for trophies or Champions League glory needs to have money and there's a considerable amount of evidence that the big clubs in England have plenty of cash.

The big question now is, which club? We might get an indication once the weekend is up.

First up is the FA Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea. Defeat for the Reds could spell the end of Kenny Dalglish' second stint at the club and open up a vacancy that would certainly be appealing to Capello.

Should Liverpool win, however, an opening may show up at Stamford Bridge although Capello may to wait until May 19 when the Champions League final is played to get a clearer idea if his next boss is going to be a demanding but very rich Russian. If Chelsea do beat Bayern Munich in the final, we can expect to see Roberto Di Matteo installed as the Blues' permanent manager.

Then on Sunday, the result of Man City's clash against Newcastle could very well lead to another job opening. Defeat to the Magpies could spell the end for Roberto Mancini and City could look to another Italian to wrest control of the Premier League from the red half of Manchester.

Among the possible options available, Liverpool and Chelsea would seem as the most likeliest of destinations. Even if City lose to Newcastle and hand the title to Man Utd, the club would be better of keeping Mancini who was made City one of the strongest sides in England and Europe.

As for Liverpool, even if Dalglish leads the Reds to an FA Cup victory, there is still a chance that his services may not be retained for another season. This week's abysmal defeat to Fulham, which follows a long line of defeats this season, was yet another indication that Dalglish is simply not the right man for the job.

In Chelsea's case as I mentioned above, a lot will hinge on the outcome of the Champions League final in Munich on May 19.

So how would Capello fare as a club manager? Based on his record, pretty good.

He has won seven league titles in the Serie A, two in the La Liga and a Champions League trophy with AC Milan. Not too shabby, eh?

Another plus point for Capello is the fact that he wouldn't be confined to just picking English players. Now that would make a difference.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fiorentina Manager Punches Own Player

We've all heard about Sir Alex Ferguson's infamous hair-dryer treatment of his players when they don't perform up to expectations. Well, Fiorentina's Delio Rossi took it up a notch when he punched midfielder Adam Ljajic during his side's 2-2 draw with Novara.

According to various reports, Delio Rossi 'lost his cool' and began thumping Ljajic after the latter sarcastically gave his manager the thumbs up for substituting him. You can check out the video below.

Following the incident, Fiorentina sacked Rossi.

I haven't seen any report which details how Ljajic had been performing on the pitch prior to his substitution but my guess, based on Rossi's reaction, was that he wasn't very impressive, to say the least. Perhaps this could serve as a warning to other players who frequently under-perform on the pitch. You never know when your manager is going to lose it (yes, Mr Jordan Henderson. I'm talking about you).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Has the English FA gone mad?

Blimey. And you thought it couldn't get any worse.

As you're probably aware, the English FA have finally appointed Roy Hodgson to replace Fabio Capello. And in case you were wondering, Capello left three months ago (talk about urgency).

Hodgson's appointment has certainly baffled many when the odds seem to indicate that Harry Redknapp was the favourite for the job. In fact, speculation was rife that Redknapp's mind had been on the England job ever since Capello resigned (it's been the most common excuse used to explain Tottenham's dismal run over the past three months).

But instead, England went shopping in the bottom half of the Premier League for a new manager and landed Hodgson who has guided West Bromvich Albion to 10th place in the league.

And so the big question: what were they thinking? 

Wasn't Hodgson's abysmal run at Liverpool last season enough of a preview of his capabilities at the top level? I've often argued that Hodgson has time and again proven to be an exceptional manager at lower tiered clubs.

But at every one of those clubs, WBA included, Hodgson has not had to contend with high expectations. In many of those clubs, the primary goal is often to avoid relegation. Something tells me England's expectations are going to be a lot more different than WBA's.

Then there's the fact managing England requires the capability to manage a squad full of egos. Considering how Hodgson struggled at this at Liverpool, where there were fewer egos, he certainly has his work cut out for him. Worst case scenario? We could find Rooney and Gerrard giving the pre-match tactical briefings instead of Hodgson.

To be fair, it's hard to see any one at all succeeding at the England job which makes you wonder just how far Hodgson's going to go with England (or if he'll remain at the post after EURO 2012).

Then again, stranger things have happened. Another former WBA manager, Roberto Di Matteo, is currently looking at the very real prospect of being the only Chelsea manager to have ever won the Champions League.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Does the PFA read this blog?

Okay, I'm amusing myself here. I highly doubt the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) checks out random football blogs when determining the winner of its annual PFA Player of the Year award. All the same, its nice to be right once in a while.

If you're not sure what I'm getting it, check out my previous post on why Robin Van Persie was my favourite to win the PFA Player of the Year award for this season. And even though he'll never read this, kudos to Van Persie on a well deserved award.

But as far as predictions are concerned, the PFA Player of the Year award is the only one that's gone right for me.

My earlier estimation that the title race was a done deal seems to have been, shall we say, premature? Man Utd's shocking 4-4 draw with Everton has blown the race wide open and made the club's match against City at the Etihad Stadium next Monday a potential title deciding match.

Nonetheless, even if City defeat Utd, there's still Newcastle to play. Alan Pardew's men have been the most impressive side this season and a third place finish in the league is very much a possibility.

My other prediction calamity was a Real Madrid - Barcelona final in the Champions League. It's still a possibility but what were the odds of both Real Madrid and Barcelona losing their respective first legs in the semifinals?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Van Persie for PFA Player of the Year

It's hard to believe that Robin Van Persie is finally approaching his true potential in his eighth season at Arsenal. I guess it speaks volumes of the kind of player he's evolved into over the years while it extolls the virtues of being patient.

With much of his career at Arsenal blighted with injuries, there were many who suggested the Gunners would have been better off by cutting their losses with Van Persie and bringing in someone a lot less injury-prone. But Wenger kept the faith with his Dutch striker and today, Van Persie is arguably the most lethal striker in England.

Wenger's gamble couldn't have been easy. Two seasons ago, Van Persie only managed to amass 10 goals, his lowest tally since the 2007/08 season when he ended the campaign with nine goals (which marked the only time the Dutchman has failed to score double-digits in a season for the Gunners).

But with only 10 goals to his name in 2007/08, Van Persie followed up with a career high of 22 goals in all competitions the following season and the Gunners striker narrowly missed winning the Golden Boot. Nonetheless, it became clear that Van Persie had finally become the striker we always knew he was capable of being.

Still, none of that prepared the footballing world for Van Persie's performance in the current season where he's already scored an amazing 34 goals. His exploits this season has made him a favourite for the PFA Player of the Year award and there's no doubt that there's no player out there more deserving of the award than Van Persie.

Man City's David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Joe Hart have also been nominated. Of the three, I believe David Silva has the strongest case against Van Persie while Aguero has all the makings of a great player and is perhaps the better candidate for the PFA Young Player The Year award.

The other nominees for this season's PFA Player of the Year award is Tottenham's Scott Parker and Man Utd's Wayne Rooney. Of the two, I can't quite understand how Parker's made the list. Then again, I can't understand how Parker was made England captain.

As for Rooney, the England forward has had a typically-good season by his standards. In total, he's scored 31 goals already this season (although his league tally is at 24 which puts him three goals behind Van Persie's 27).

With a few games remaining, Rooney has a genuine chance to beat his all time best of 34 goals in a season and, perhaps, even pipping Van Persie to the Golden Boot. Having already won the PFA Player of the Year award in the 2009/10 season, Rooney certainly has a genuine case to win the award again this season.

I just hope Van Persie gets it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Difference Between the Men and the Boys

Man City's 1-0 defeat to Arsenal yesterday and Man Utd's contentious 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers yesterday has all but ended Roberto Mancini's sides' hope of wresting the Premiership crown from Man Utd.

Despite all the promise and six-goal thrashings, City will most likely, barring a major meltdown at Man Utd, end the season the same way they began: under the shadows of their more illustrious neighbours.

And at the end, what prevented the supposed seismic shift in power came down to experience and maturity. While Sir Alex Ferguson's men widened the Devils' lead at the top by defeating QPR, Mancini's boys fell apart against the Gunners.

It is perhaps a little unfair to label the entire City side as immature. Except for Mario Balotelli, most of City's players kept their composure. But at a time when they needed to rise to the occasion, they failed. And this is where experience counts the most. You can assemble a side full of superstars but you can't buy the experience Man Utd has when it comes to winning league titles.

It also goes to show you can't buy your way to instant success (unless your manager is Jose Mourinho).

The Devils weren't exactly enthralling against a 10-man QPR but still did what they do best: the ability to collect three points no matter the performance. On another night, it could have been a much larger scoreline but as Fergie will tell you, winning on your off days is what wins league titles.

Utd may have taken the lead against QPR in an acrimonious manner (Ashley Young may have been auditioning for a place in Great Britain's diving team for this summer's London Olympics) but it is highly unlikely that they were going to leave Old Trafford last night without a win.

Speaking of Balotelli, it appears as though Mancini's had enough of the Italian striker and may transfer him out in the summer. Then again, much of this depends on whether Mancini himself is at the club after this season.

And as one title race comes to a close, two others blew wide open over the weekend. First up was in the Serie A where Juventus leapfrogged over rivals, AC Milan. The Turin-based club's 2-0 victory was enough to take them to the top of the table after Milan lost 2-1 to Fiorentina at home.

Next, in Spain, league leaders Real Madrid's previous six point lead over second-placed Barcelona has now been reduced to four after Jose Mourinho's side could only muster a 0-0 draw against Valencia after Barca defeated Real Zaragoza 4-1 courtesy of yet another brace of goals from Lionel Messi. The el-Classico between Barcelona and Real Madrid in two weeks is starting look even more interesting.

Over in Germany, the two contenders for the Bundesliga, current league leaders, Borussia Dortmund and second-placed Bayern Munich will face each other on Wednesday in yet another match that could tip the balance. Dortmund currently lead Munich by three points.

Last but not least, the quote of the week goes to Arsene Wenger who said the following when asked whether City's title aspirations ended after losing 1-0 to the Gunners (as reported in Soccernet):

"Not completely, no. They cannot afford to drop any points now. Once the team 'smelt the stable', it's difficult for them to drop points. In French, you say when a horse smells its stable, it's difficult to stop them."


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is sacking Kenny Dalglish the answer?

Following Liverpool's dismal showing against Newcastle last weekend, many pundits now believe that Kenny Dalglish' second stint at Liverpool is set to expire soon. Some believe it should be done sooner rather than later to salvage something out this season.

Dalglish, for his part, seems unperturbed by the speculation that he'll become the next high profile manager after Andre Villas-Boas to get an early severance check from his employers. But then again, Dalglish seemed unperturbed when his side was falling apart at St James Park last weekend. It's hard to say what's really going on in Dalglish' head.

One thing is for sure, however. Liverpool have lost six out of their last seven games and have only won twice in the league in 2012. That's an abysmal record by anyone's standards and certainly warrants a closer examination on whether Dalglish is the right man to lead Liverpool.

In fact, I've compiled a list of reasons why Dalglish could get the boot:

1. Liverpool have lost six out of their last seven games. When that happens, it's time to push the panic button. And it doesn't matter if you're chasing a Champions League qualification spot or fighting relegation. Losing that many games is a sign that something is seriously wrong with the team. And in most cases, the managers end up being the casualties.

Popular opinion is that managers make easy targets for owners when the going gets tough. But what are the alternatives? You can't fire your players because if you did you would be left with no team. Unlike managers, players can only be traded during transfer windows. Managers on the other hand, can be changed at anytime.

Then there's the fact that changing the manager does work at times. One only has to look at Chelsea's revival under Roberto Di Matteo. And let's not forget that Dalglish himself came in mid last season to replace Roy Hodgson and managed to turn things around with the same group of players that failed miserably under the latter.

2. I don't think anyone disagrees over the fact that a major percentage of the blame for Liverpool's current woes lies with the club's players. But who bought these players? Once again, all roads lead back to Dalglish. Of the GBP100 million spent on new players, only Luis Suarez, Craig Bellamy and Jose Enrique have proved to be good buys. The rest - Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam - have been consistently voted into "worst buys of the season" lists all over the Internet.

3. Team selection. A common complaint leveled at Rafa Benitez during his time with Liverpool was his tendency to constantly rotate the squad which in turn led to inconsistent performances week-in week-out. Dalglish is no different and I can't quite understand why no one has pointed this out. Every week, Liverpool's midfield and forward line changes. Last weekend's pairing of Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing in the centre of midfield is perhaps one of the worst decisions Dalglish has made this season.

4. Goals. At one point this season, Liverpool were known as the club with one of the tightest defenses in the league. Oh, how quickly things change. Since Jan 1, Liverpool have let in 18 goals in 12 games. At the other end, they've only managed to score six goals over the same amount of games. If this doesn't concern Dalglish, nothing will. Not even relegation.

5. Club legend, John Alridge has labelled Liverpool a "laughing stock" and that's something many Liverpool fans can agree on which is not something John Henry and the rest of the gang at New England Sports Ventures want to see. Once the staunch Reds fans start to abandon the team, there's a likelihood viewership will drop.

It will interest you to note that Alridge was signed by Dalglish to Liverpool back in 1987 but the former Irish international has no qualms hitting out at his former boss' side. When your former players start to turn on you, it won't be long before your current players follow suit.

Ok, now that we've gone through why Dalglish could get axed, let's examine why there's still a case for him to stay.

1. If Dalglish goes, who will replace him? There aren't many highly-rated candidates out in the market in the moment with the exception of Fabio Capello or - you guessed it - Rafa Benitez. I don't think Capello is interested in spending more time in England. Benitez on the other hand could very well be an option. The Spaniard is still a favourite among the Anfield faithful and would get along well with several players in the squad. That being said, Benitez would definitely want a long-term project to work on which leads us to the next point.

2. A new manager means a new project which in turn means more money and a three or five-year plan. Ultimately this translates to a longer wait for Liverpool's owners and fans before they will see a title number 19 or a sixth Champions League trophy. For these reasons alone, John Henry could choose to stick it out with Dalglish and pray for divine intervention instead to alter Liverpool's fortunes.

3. Dalglish is still a legend. Rule number one of hiring a legend is that firing him, no matter the circumstances, will be a major PR disaster for Liverpool's American owners with the fans. Yes, sports fans can be incredibly unreasonable. On one hand, they crave success and admonish you when it isn't achieved and when you do the one thing that could help the club, they turn against you. Hey, no one said owning a football club is easy.

4. He's the last guy to have won a league with Liverpool. That's gotta count right?

5. It's not Dalglish' fault. Really. It's those damn players who just can't get it right! I know I went through this in the earlier list but you have to feel for Dalglish. Who would've thought Carroll would be the flop he is? No one believed he was worth the money Liverpool paid but still, three goals a season? And let's face it, Downing can be an outstanding winger when he wants to. Last but not least, what the hell's up with Adam's set pieces? Was Sir Alex Ferguson high when he said Adam's set pieces alone were worth GBP10 million?

Ultimately, there are no easy options at the moment for Henry and New England Sports Ventures. But something needs to be done soon and for Dalglish' sake, he'd better hope his players show up this weekend for Liverpool's home match against Aston Villa. Another defeat and the club's owners may have no choice but to remove him. And that would indeed be a pity to see Dalglish ending his second stint at Liverpool in such an acrimonious manner.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is The Title Race Over?

How quickly things change. It feels like it wasn't too long ago when Man City seem to have a firm grasp on the title and on their way to a historic season.

Instead, Roberto Mancini's men are now trailing Man Utd by five points with seven matches to go. And out of those seven include ties against Arsenal, Man Utd and Newcastle.

As for the Devils, with the exception of City, their toughest matches in the run-up to the end of the season would be against Everton and Swansea.

Yeah, that five-point gap is starting to look a lot larger than it is.

City have themselves to blame, though. Drawing 3-3 against Sunderland (after trailing 3-1) and 1-1 against Stoke aren't the scores of a club that's going to be lifting the Premier League trophy in May.

Why the sudden fall? Let's agree that form is unpredictable and even the best teams in the world can have off days and in this case City have had two big off days that is costing them dearly.

But at the same time, the on-the-field problems between Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolorov in last weekend's match was not only appalling and downright stupid but a hint that all's not well in City's dressing room.

To make matters worse, several reports say that midfielder Yaya Toure and the Italian striker clashed in the dressing room following the Sunderland draw.

At a time when Man Utd are growing with confidence that a 20th league title is within their grasps, Mancini needs his men to refocus on the real prize and not behave like overpaid children on the field. And if he needs to drop Balotelli, he needs to do it once and for all and bring someone like Carlos Tevez back into the fold. Egos don't win titles, winners do and Tevez is a winner who knows what it takes to win the league.

Last of all, he needs to stop Patrick Viera from engaging in amateur-level psychology warfare against someone as experienced as Sir Alex Ferguson at a time when his team is starting to fall apart.

Barca vs Madrid Final?

If Real Madrid defeat Apoel Nicosia in tonight's Champions League quarterfinal clash in the Bernabeu, there is a strong likelihood we could see Jose Mourinho's men tee up against bitter rivals Barcelona for an epic final in May.

Barcelona's 3-1 win against Seria A leaders, AC Milan, at the Nou Camp last night has raised the odds that the Spanish giants will be making it to their third Champions League final in four years. Of course, Barca will have to defeat the winner of tonight's quarterfinal clash between Chelsea and Benfica before making hotel reservations in Munich for May 19.

Still, there is an air of inevitability with Pep Guardiola's side. You just know they're going to go all the way.

As for Real Madrid, the jury really is out on just which one of these Spanish sides is the best in Europe. The Special One's side has been in spectacular form this season and should be favourites for the final as well.

However, unlike Barca, Madrid will have a tougher team reaching the finals as they - in the likely event they defeat Apoel Nicosia - will be up against Bayern Munich, whose home ground will be the venue for this year's Champions League final.

The Germans have been a force in this season's Champions League and certainly won't be easy to dispatch. Furthermore, the prospects of being the home side in the final will only fuel Jupp Heynckes' side to go the extra mile in the semifinals.

Interestingly enough, both Barcelona and Munich share some similarities going into their respective semifinals. Both clubs are currently in second place in their domestic leagues. Munich is three points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund while Barca trail Mourinho's side by six points.

In addition, both sides have won four Champions Leagues prior to this campaign. If either one makes it to the final and wins, they will become the only other side to have won five Champions Leagues (the other being Liverpool).

Nonetheless, a final between Barcelona and Real Madrid will be one for the ages. While Guardiola's Barcelona will undoubtedly be the favourite in the final (only because they've won it twice in the last three years), the Special One has seen his fair share of success in Europe's most prestigious competition.

After all, if I'm not mistaken, he's the only manager to have won it with two different clubs and he just might get a chance to break his own record. All the same, he's never really had much luck against Barcelona and tempers tend to flare in these matches. Still, it would make for an exciting final.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Del Piero to Arsenal?

Alessandro Del Piero may finally leave Juventus. After two decades at the Turin club, Del Piero, 37, is now looking at ending his career elsewhere and Arsenal is being named as a possible destination.

Unverified reports claim that Arsene Wenger is a fan of Del Piero (who wouldn't be?) and intends to bring the Italian to the Emirates Stadium once his contract at Juventus ends.

According to a report citing the player's agent and brother, Stefano Del Piero, the Italian striker has not been offered a new contract at Juventus and is seeking a move away from  the Serie A.

If it's true that Arsenal have made a bid and a deal works out, Del Piero would be able to offer Wenger's young side a wealth of experience; not many players possess similar technique, vision and creativity as Juventus forward.

Usually deployed as a support striker, Del Piero has scored over 200 goals out of over 500 appearances for Juventus. Del Piero's talents and experience would certainly be welcomed at Arsenal or at any other club, for that matter.

Besides the Gunners, other clubs reported to be in the running for Del Piero is cash-rich Paris Saint-Germain. A move there would reunite him with former Chelsea boss, Carlo Ancelotti, who coached Del Piero when the latter was manager of Juventus from 1999 to 2001.

PSG has been linked with many stars lately including Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Napoli's Edinson Cavani. Even Didier Drogba was rumoured to be interested in a move to Paris. Should PSG go on a shopping spree this summer to strengthen the team, Del Piero may be tempted to be part of the project.

Or, in a third option, Del Piero may choose to end his career earning big bucks at less competitive leagues in the Middle East, the US or China. I just hope he doesn't think of moving to FC Anzhi.

There will be more to come on this in the months ahead. But I'll leave you with one of my favourite Del Piero goals of all time. This beauty was struck in Juventus' Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund in 1997. At 2-0 down, Del Piero was brought in as a second half substitute and the striker scored a sublime back heel goal. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to bring Juve back into the game as the team went to lose the match 3-1.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Has Chelsea finally found its new manager?

And no, I'm not referring to Roberto Di Matteo. If you managed to catch Chelsea's stunning 4-1 comeback against Napoli a few nights ago you'll know who I'm referring to. It was the guy who stood next to Di Matteo barking out orders to the players on the pitch. But for those who missed it, here it is again:

So there you have it. John Terry has now become Chelsea's new manager. You can even see Di Matteo following Terry's instructions. As Robbie Savage pointed out in his column for the Daily Mirror, John Terry has become what Alan Shearer was to Newcastle.

And just as how Shearer became too big for any manager at Newcastle, Terry seems to have assumed a similar role at Stamford Bridge. All future managers at Chelsea who don't get on with Terry will probably face a similar fate to the one that befell Andres Villas-Boas.

Granted, Terry wasn't alone in getting AVB ousted. The other senior players in the team such as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba seemed to have played a significant role too. How else do you explain Chelsea's sudden reversal of fortune? The team that took on Napoli at Stamford Bridge this week almost bore no resemblance in character to the one that played under AVB.

I would find it hard to believe Di Matteo managed to somehow turn things around in the last few weeks when he was unable to do so as AVB's number two.  So was it player sabotage that got AVB sacked?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gerrard returns!

Well, OK, this wasn't Steven Gerrard's return to the side. That was last weekend at the 1-0 defeat to Sunderland. But Liverpool's 3-0 victory over Everton marked the return of the Steven Gerrard that was once considered a colossal in English football.

The Liverpool skipper's hat-trick was one for the record books with all three goals executed with perfect precision. And Luis Suarez -who's been able to maintain his own record of being in the news for the wrong reasons - played a hand in all three goals.

In fact, goal number two was created by the Uruguayan striker while the third goal was the result of a neat link-up with Gerrard. It certainly makes you wonder if he would be a better striking partner for Suarez than Andy Carroll or Dirk Kuyt.

I'll post more later but here are some interesting (and really funny) tweets from the Daily Mirror and its readers during the match.

"@MirrorFootball Everton's right-back is a bit apprehensive about going forward...he's feeling a bit inHIBBERTed."

"I bet he feels like a right Pienaar after that miss"

 "If this game was a Beatles song it'd be Revolution #9. Loads going on and very loud but not sure what any of it means"

"Note to Andy Carroll: That's the sort of chip you should be interested in. Brilliant goal from Stevie G. 1-0"

"Watching Merseyside derby on Sky 3D. Every time Andy Carroll tries to trap the ball I instinctively move to protect my living room windows"

"For those not watching: Shot of Stevie G wincing as he left the pitch there"

"@MirrorFootball It's the weight of nine mediocre players on his shoulders."

"@MirrorFootball if Andy Carrol scores he'll hold up his shirt and his vest will say "why never me?" "

You can read the rest here

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Song Remains the Same

How quickly things change. Eight months ago, optimism reigned at Anfield. There were new signings and the return of its most celebrated son, Kenny Dalglish. At a time when bitter rivals Man Utd were celebrating a record 19th league title, there was a new sense of belief at Liverpool.

It's now March and after GBP100 million spent on new signings, it appears as though nothing has changed. The faces may be different but the results are the same.

Dalglish' supporters may point to the club's recent Carling Cup triumph as an indication that the Scotsman is bringing Liverpool back to its glory days, which ironically ended after he left in 1990.

But even the staunchest Liverpool supporter will find it hard to include Liverpool's Carling Cup final against Cardiff City into the club's pantheon of legendary finals. The Reds slogged it out against a Championship side for the most of the 120 minutes played at Wembley.

Simply put, would have Man Utd or Man City struggled as much against Cardiff?

So where has it gone wrong?

The club certainly can't be faulted for not having an attack-minded approach this season and yet Liverpool have scored a paltry sum of 30 goals this season which isn't even half of what either Man Utd or Man City have scored so far in this campaign. Even worse is Liverpool's unenviable record of 194 shots off target.

Much of the blame certainly lies with the players. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson can barely justify a place in the first 11 let alone their transfer fees. Then there's the supposed set piece genius in Charlie Adam and yet Liverpool's conversion rate of set pieces still remains abysmally low.

In fact, out of the GBP100 million spent by Dalgish, only Luis Suarez (when he's not getting himself banned), Craig Bellamy and Jose Enrique have impressed at Anfield. And the three of them only cost the club GBP30 million, which is a bargain for three quality players.

So ultimately, Dalglish has to shoulder the blame when his players don't perform. The same goes for director of football technology, Damien Commoli who seems to have the knack for buying expensive English players with a penchant of underperforming at a larger club. Anyone remember David Bentley's stint at Tottenham?

What's the most surprising aspect of all may have been the club's refusal to do any business in January when it was quite clear then that Liverpool needed some new faces to rescue their season.

Perhaps Dalglish believes that sticking with the current lot he's got will bring in dividends sooner or later. Perhaps he believes that Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson will at some point this season justify their their hefty price tags. And, perhaps, he truly believes that Carroll will score a goal before it's too late.

Speaking of Carroll, it's baffling that he gets 10 minutes of playing time each game (when it's usually too late) and hoping he salvages something. The only way Carroll will ever improve for Liverpool is by giving him more time on the pitch.  Furthermore, Dirk Kuyt may be a hard and industrious worker but he has proven to be much more effective coming off the bench this season than in games in which he's started.

Then there's Liverpool's midfield which has been a weak ling all season long. Last weekend's forgettable display by both Adam and Jay Spearing would have triggered fond memories of the Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano years for many Liverpool fans.

Liverpool still have the FA Cup to play for and, mathematically speaking, there is a chance - albeit a very slim one - of making it into fourth place. But for the time being, until something drastic occurs, Dalglish has a team that doesn't belong in fourth place. Now, doesn't that seem all too familiar?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Rumour Mill Goes On Overdrive

Speculation over the managerial position at Chelsea seems to have intensified over the last 24 hours. And if any of these rumours are to be believed, it won't be cheap bringing Jose Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge.

The Daily Express claims Jose Mourinho would be willing to move back to Chelsea only if the Blues offer him a salary of GBP12 million a year. Mourinho is currently the highest paid manager in the world with a reported annual salary of GBP11.2 million.

But Roman Abramovich will have more to worry about that just Mourinho's salary. The Daily Express further claims that Mourinho will want full control of Chelsea's transfer policy and the first player he'll bring in will be compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.

If you recall, Ronaldo cost Madrid GBP80 million in 2009. Judging by the Portuguese star's form of late, a potential transfer to Chelsea would cost Abramovich in excess of the GBP80 million Madrid paid Man United.

Still, Mourinho and Ronaldo at Chelsea would certainly turn things around.

But there's more!

In addition to Ronaldo, the Daily Star say Mourinho would return to Chelsea for a second term only if the club acquire Napoli's highly-rated Edinson Cavani.

Cavani, if you remember, scored a goal and created another in Napoli's first leg Champions League last-16 fixture against Chelsea. I guess the new philosophy is if you can't beat them, buy them.

The Daily Star also says that Mourinho has another pre-condition to returning to Chelsea: Fernando Torres needs to be sold first. Talk about being demanding.

Last but not least - and this is just for laughs - another former Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, has decided to defend Abramovich amidst the various criticism being hurled at the Russian billionaire in the wake of Andre Villas-Boas' (AVB) sacking.

"Chelsea it is not about training and playing games and then going home, it is about so much more than that.

"Abramovich does not like sacking managers. But he is passionate about football and as much as he wants stability, if he can see the club is not going in the direction he wants he will act," he said, according to a report in the Sun.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Who wants the job in hell?

Former Chelsea manager, Phil Scolari believes the Blues' next manager will face hell at Stamford Bridge, much like he did during his short tenure at the club.

Scolari, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, was unceremoniously sacked after a string of bad results in 2009. And now with Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) becoming the latest victim in Roman Abramovich' favourite past time of changing managers, Scolari believes the next person to take up the hot seat at Chelsea is in for a 'helluva' a time.

Well, I don't think AVB will be describing his time at Chelsea any differently.

Another former Chelsea player, Gianluca Vialli, has questioned the wisdom in appointing Roberto Di Matteo as the Blues' interim manager until the end of the season. Like I pointed out in my previous blog posting, Vialli thinks its odd that Chelsea are looking to AVB's deputy to straighten things out despite the fact that he was part of the coaching staff that oversaw Chelsea's decline.

Some other reports suggest that Di Matteo's appointment could have an adverse effect as he's disliked even more than AVB was by the players.

I'm sure Abramovich and the Stamford Bridge hierarchy realise that Di Matteo may not be the man to turn things around and unless they bring in someone else, they may end up with the unenviable record of sacking two managers in a season.

Of course, there is the possibility that the man they want isn't currently available. It's hard to imagine either Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola leaving their respective jobs at Real Madrid and Barcelona mid-season to tackle an endless array of problems at Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea's saviour in the past, Guus Hiddink, currently has commitments at Russian side, FC Anzhi.

So that leaves very few candidates that would meet Abramovich' standards. Rafa Benitez and Fabio Capello are two adequate managers available who could salvage something for Chelsea this season but it remains to be seen if the Blues will consider hiring either one.

No matter what decision is made by the club, one thing is clear at the moment: Di Matteo is not the answer to their problems.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AVB sacked!

As expected, Chelsea have sacked Andre Villas-Boas following the club's defeat to West Brom on Saturday. The Blues have appointed assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo as its interim manager until the end of the season.

Reports by Soccernet indicate that the former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, was the favourite to take up the job. However, there were apparently some disagreements over the length of the contract with some reports saying Chelsea were looking at a contract for the remainder of the season while Benitez wanted a longer contract.

Still, it would be a surprise if the club decides to hold of its search for a new manager until the end of the season. No one knows how Di Matteo will perform but considering the fact that he was part of AVB's coaching staff that got the Blues into the mess they're currently in, I'd say Di Matteo won't be bringing in the results.

Speculation is rife that Abramovich wants Barcelona's Pep Guardiola at Stamford Bridge. Indeed, the Russian billionaire has wanted Guardiola's brand of free-flowing and attacking football implemented at Chelsea for a long time and who better than Guardiola himself. But would Guardiola leave Barcelona for the Blues? And unless Abramovich is willing to grant Guardiola a sizable transfer budget, would Guardiola be able to turn things around?

Let's not forget the fact that among the managers Abramovich has fired since Jose Mourinho left include a World Cup winner (Phil Scolari), a two-time Champions League winner (Carlo Ancelotti) and a Europa League winner (AVB). Just hiring another big-name manager with an extensive trophy cabinet is not going to change things.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rafa for Chelsea?

Yup. The Blues are getting desperate. With Andre Villas-Boas' days at Stamford Bridge numbered, the question now is when the Portuguese manager will get the sack and who will be brought in to salvage Chelsea's season.

That man is apparently Rafa Benitez.

The former Liverpool manager has been unemployed for the last 15 months and would offer Chelsea a wealth of experience and a keen understanding of the English game, something that seems to be severely lacking in the current man in charge of the Blues.

Furthermore, Benitez' penchant for rotating players may actually work at Chelsea which has a large (albeit aging) squad.

And perhaps that most attractive proposition of bringing Benitez in - at least in Roman Abramovich' eyes - would be in reviving Fernando Torres career at Stamford Bridge. To date, Torres most successful period of his career was under Benitez at Liverpool.

In my last blog posting, I wrote about the similarities between Torres' and Andriy Shevchenko's tenure at Chelsea. And just like how Mourinho got sacked for failing to utilise Shevchenko, it looks as though his Portuguese compatriot and former assistant is about to get the boot for failing to get the best out of another marquee signing.

I'm sure there will be more on this story in the coming days.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Further Down The Spiral

Someday soon, Stamford Bridge is going to be known as the place where world-class strikers go to become shockingly bad.

It's been over a year since Fernando Torres' record-breaking move to Chelsea and in that time, we've witnessed a truly class striker disintegrate into yet another one of Roman Abramovich's expensive flops.

Perhaps Alan Shearer put it best in his column for The Sun when he said Torres, of late, has avoided placing himself in goal scoring positions for fear of missing them.

"He looks shot and needs a cut-price move away," Shearer added.

All strikers need to score to keep their confidence level up and Torres is no exception but by agreeing to that ridiculously expensive move to Chelsea last January, the Spaniard voluntarily signed up for a world of pressure and expectations.

Very few players have managed to get through the pressure unscathed. Zinedine Zidane was one. And more recently, Cristiano Ronaldo, has certainly lived up to his billing as the most expensive player in the world.

But some players aren't just meant to be record-breaking signings. Just look at Andy Carroll who was brought in to replace Torres. 

And as if things weren't bad enough, the internal turmoil plaguing Chelsea at the moment is set to delay a potential career-reviving return-to-form even further down the road. You almost feel as if Torres is part of some strange reenactment of Andriy Schevchenko's disastrous tenure at Stamford Bridge.

The similarities are uncanny.  Like Torres, Schevchenko arrived at Chelsea on the back of a record-breaking deal and a goal-scoring record most strikers take a lifetime to achieve.

Furthermore, both players were bought by Abramovich and not their respective managers.

Schevchenko, or Sheva as he is fondly known, was forced upon Jose Mourinho and some believe his refusal to give the Ukrainian more time on the pitch cost him his job. In Mourinho's defense, he saw little reason to play a striker who didn't score goals.

Similarly, it is believed that Torres was signed by Chelsea without Carlo Ancelotti's recommendations. Ancelotti, like Mourinho, ended up losing his job not too long after (although in his defense, he gave Torres more game time than Mourinho ever did with Sheva). 

If anything comes from this, one hopes that billionaire owners stay out of the transfer business and just let their managers make the decisions. In fact, it's time they stop meddling and treating their football clubs like they would in a fantasy football league.