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.