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Monday, 26 September 2011

Stoke love them or hate them, they are an effective unit

When I was in my very early teen years, I played for a team, Doddinghurst Olympics, who were by far the best footballing team in our area at that time. We passed the ball around, kept the ball on the ground as much as possible and we were privileged to have a great amount of speed throughout the team. We never really won anything though, however we were always extremely close season after season. But the area we struggled the most was in the height and strength department. Whether it was something in the water from my village or what, we were never ever the biggest team and 99 times out a 100 we were the smallest team on the pitch. Often this didn't make a difference, until we were put up against a tough tackling, strong, tall team and we always let things slip. These teams that always had the upper hand against us are the Stoke City of our local leagues.

Stoke City have been built since winning promotion to the Premier League on being a tough tackling, strong, tall unit of players, from the back 4 throughout to the forwards. These tactics include playing the long ball and of course those long throws. Tony Pulis has been the pinnacle of this creation and by employing these tactics he has turned Stoke City into a solidified Premier League club, something all promoted teams aim to do. But do you agree with the way they play the game? This is a big question on so many people's lips and it often divides opinion down the middle. On one side, are they playing outside the rules of the game? No. Is this football you would teach your kids to play? No.

There have been times where Stoke have taken this aggressive game playing too far, and none other than the Ryan Shawcross tackle on Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey (as seen above). Ramsey was out for almost a year with a broken leg following this shocking challenge. This is the risk of Stoke's aggressive tactics. We are not talking about bumps and bruises, but about players careers and livelihoods. However, what are the referees doing to clamp down on this? Are they handing out the correct punishments? Are Stoke the only team to deploy these tactics? Well, again there are many divided views on this, but Blackburn Rovers and Bolton under Sam Alladyce were criticised heavily for this in the past. Referees are giving out warranted yellow and red cards for bad tackles by any players in the game. My view on their aggressive nature is that as long as we don't see a repeat of tackles like that on Aaron Ramsey, then as long as they keep inside the rules of the game then why can't they play that way. As a fan, that can get quite exciting watching tough challenging games with a bit of an aggressive nature.

This is my main problem with Stokes tactics and my problem does not just sit with the football club, but also with the officials. The time taken setting up for a long throw is ridiculous. If a normal player stood on the touch line with the ball behind his back for the same amount of time as Rory Delap takes for a throw on, the official would give the player a yellow card for time wasting. I have no doubt about this. But why are they not cracking down on this? It seems so obvious to everybody watching it, but it hasn't seemed to have warranted a discussion by the referee's board. This is something I feel very strongly about. Spectators don't pay their money to watch one play dry a ball with a towel and his shirt for 10 - 15 seconds, walk about and steady himself for another 10-15 seconds, before eventually throwing the ball into the box. You are taking so much time out of game this way.

As regards Mr Pulis and his long throw tactics, would he teach his kids to play football this way? No chance. It is not a good advert for the game of football for children to emulate in my opinion. Also, Rory Delap, a Premier League first team player? I would love to hear the honest truth that if he did not have this consistently incredible long throw, would he be anywhere near the Stoke City starting line up? I believe not.

Until the referee's start cutting down the time it takes Stoke to take long throws, then they will continue to use the extra height in their team to their advantage. With the addition of Peter Crouch to their ranks and their incredibly big back 4, I am certain Tony Pulis will continue to play the game this way. I just hope he can control the aggression of his players so that it doesn't boil over to anymore incidents like what we saw in the Aaron Ramsey case.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Why playing away in Europe is so tough?

I'm sure so many people often wonder why teams in the Champions League struggle so much away from home. We saw Manchester United, last season's beaten finalists, struggle in Benfica and draw the game 1 all. Arsenal really struggled in Dortmund, Madrid won just 1 nil away to Dinamo Zagreb. Lyon couldn't win away and nor could Valencia achieve an away victory and these are top teams in European football.

I believe the intensity of playing in a completely different atmosphere is the main reason for this. The unfamiliarity, the obscurity of these challenging away games make it very difficult for teams to pick up points away from home. The unfamiliar styles of football make a big difference too, as teams playing in the same leagues know each other inside and out, but in Europe it's a different story.

The travelling to these venues doesn't help the situation either, as you incorporate a touch of jet lag, the inconvenience of travel and players staying in unfamiliar environments.

The referee's are also a big factor in the Champions League games and can often influence the outcomes in games. I believe you see more of the referees buckle under the pressure of an intimidating atmosphere and favour home teams. Who could blame them at times? The atmospheres being created in Dortmund on Tuesday night and the barrage of noise teams are put under when they travel to Turkey, as an example, is astronomical.

These are just a number of factors that I believe affect teams playing away from home in Europe. It brings about a completely different game, but a game that also is very exciting for the fan's. The fan's love European nights and the different styles of football that is seen across a week in Europe is fascinating.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The biggest mistake of the season yet?

Tottenham decided after Rafael Van Der Vaart injured his hamstring against Manchester United that the midfielder will be out for a minimum of 2 months. They took the decision, away from the players knowledge, to leave him out of the Europa League squad list. Much to Tottenham's surprise, Van Der Vaart has recovered from the injury in super quick time and is available for selection in Sundays game against Liverpool. How a Premier League club could make that mistake with a player is beyond me, and even more shockingly, with a player of the calibre of Rafael Van Der Vaart.

He along with Modric were their shining stars last season and Tottenham play to go through Van Der Vaart and rely on his goals, his passing and his dead ball ability. He is very influential for the team, with great leadership qualities that are vital when competing in domestic and European games. For the fan's to accept that one of their best players is not available for Europe due to this reasoning will be very hard to take. I can imagine a huge amount of frustration will be apparent and a lot of questions will need to be answered by Harry Redknapp.

But is it a reflection on the attitude of some English clubs to the Europa League? Does Harry see it as protecting a vital player to their team? Maybe he wants him fighting fit for the teams bid to get back into the top 4?

Tottenham fan's would love to hear your opinions on the matter.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The England National Team - One year on from South Africa and still the same problems

I was sat there in the stadium in Cape Town in June 2010 at the World Cup and watched in horror at the horrendous performance of the English National team against lowly Algeria. It was a 0 vs 0 draw that lacked absolutely everything from the England team. No passion, no creativity, no leadership and no inspiration. The England fan's clearly showed their displeasure afterwards and rightly so after so many spent so much money to get out there. I met a group of 5 guys who each spent over £10,000 to be there, and to suffer in watching that shocking game was the biggest waste of money I have ever known. A year later, has it improved that much?

The performances in South Africa couldn't get any worse, and it also made the management shake things up and start bringing through younger players to the team who want to be playing for their country. This is the major problem for the National team. Players in England see the importance of the premier league and Champions League as being streets ahead of International football. It is very frustrating to see this and it is no excuse what so ever and is quite simply down to the mentalities of the players and the manager. The players have no excuse, as other nations around the World such as Spain, Germany and Holland all have players playing in the top leagues in the world and the Champions League and still produce startling performances for their countries. The manager though, being Italian, has not got that underlying passion from the heart for a country that he is not from. This is a major problem for me and the return of an English Coach in charge of the team is essential.

The one thing Capello has shown since taking charge of England is how to qualify comfortably for major tournaments. The team away from home, away from the pressure of the home crowd and the set up of the team has been very encouraging. The media always praises England away from home, as do the fan's. It is at home where the problems occur. Capello, renowned for being defensive and keeping things tight at the back, shows too much of an emphasis at home. The players seem to feel under pressure to deliver in front of a big crowd at Wembley and never seem to be at their fluent best. Also the defensive set up of the opposition causes a lot of problems for the England team to try and break through. But this for me is an emphasis on how short we are in the squad of creative players, who can create chances at an instant.

England are ranked 4Th in the world. I had to rub my eyes a few times and take a moment to read it properly again when I saw the latest FIFA world rankings. England are a long way from this in truth, and big improvements are needed if we are going to compete at the top end of the major competitions again. There are still a lot of concerns surrounding our National team that need to be overcome. We do not want to hear excuses after excuses coming out, especially from Fabio Capello, who continually passes the blame for anything that goes wrong.

The fan's just want the answers, and not on a piece of paper or spoken in an interview, but on the pitch. We want to see the passion back and the players fighting for the true meaning of those Three Lions on their Shirt. We want the blood, the tears, the heart, the cries, just like we did around back in Terry Butcher's days.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Deadline Day Review

Firstly, wow!!!! The excitement of the final day transfer window is nothing short of breathtaking! The rumours, the bids, the rejections, the hope, the pain, you name it, every emotion under the sun comes out during this final day of transfers. And that's just from the fan's! Imagine the stress and tensions of the managers and of those players that are desperate to move clubs? Harry Redknapp when interviewed late last night looked absolutely shattered, and not surprising either. I'm sure most managers were feeling that if they had business still to do.

Where to start....

Stoke City. Not mentioned too much of Stoke in this blog this year and I'm not a huge fan of the team and their style of football. They play an aggressive style, play a lot of long balls and look to bully teams, not something I want young children to emulate. However, it is effective. I am certainly not disputing that, and what a transfer window for the Potters. Tony Pulis has signed Peter Crouch, a fantastic signing for their club and still a very underrated player, with a heap of Premier League experience and of course perfect for Stoke's style of play. Wilson Palacios also another solid signing and some depth up front with the arrival of Canreon Jerome. Add that to the experience of Matthew Upson and Woodgate, you have a very strong Stoke side this year that will be extremely difficult to beat.

QPR have literally brought a new team in this transfer window, including the final day deals for Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand. Very good signings for a club that looked like they were going to be the whipping boys after their first day of season defeat to Bolton.
Bolton will be delighted to have kept hold of wanted man Gary Cahill, which will feel like a success in the transfer window. They have also added David N'Gog to their ranks as a final day deal, which will help bolster their attacking prowess.

Arsenal fan's (like me) delighted with the work put in to the transfers to finally secure some experience throughout the team. Arteta is a great signing and well help fill a creative void in the Arsenal midfield that looked completely bare after Sundays defeat. Santos looks an exciting attacking left back and Benayoun on loan for a year is a positive signing who will slot straight into the team's style of play. The big one for Arsenal fan's and he is a big one at that is the 6'6 German defender, Per Mertesacker. An absolute quality experienced center back that will toughen up the frail Arsenal defence. Very positive transfer window for Arsenal, just the one question, why so late for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in particular to finally bring in some experienced and quality faces to the club? Did Arsene Wenger seriously believe his squad was capable of competing at the top before the United game? Worryingly I think the answer to that question is, yes he did.

Liverpool were very busy and managed to capture Craig Bellamy on a free, returning to his former club and what I believe a fantastic signing for the club. He wears his heart on his sleeves and still has a lot to offer for a top club and should fit in very well to strengthen the Liverpool sign. Joe Cole left to go to French club Lille, a good move for Joe who can look to resurrect his career again and fall back in love with the game. One last minute problem for Liverpool however was the surprising loss of Raul Meireles to rivals Chelsea. Chelsea will be extremely pleased with their business throughout this window and also lie in the positive section.

Fulham managed the capture of Bryan Ruiz from FC Twente, a much sort after striker that will help offer some assistance to Bobby Zamora up front. They will be very happy with their capture.

Top of the list by a country mile is Newcastle. There will be some angry fan's this morning who will be furious with the way the clubs finances have been dealt with. Where is the money received for Andy Caroll? Then they sold Nolan and Barton, their 2 best players from last season and have not replaced them in the market. More importantly no striker brought in. I would be extremely disgruntled if I was a fan and I would be asking a lot of questions to Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew.

Everton another club that will be frustrated with the state of affairs at the club. David Moyes has done a great job at Everton, but unfortunately not a lot he could do to hold on to Arteta and with no money available to spend they could only bring in two players on loan for the season. Difficult to take when Jermaine Beckford also left the club to leicester and Yakubu headed to Ewood Park, leaves them extremely short. It's going to be a very tough season for the Toffee's this time around.

Now Tottenham. A mixture from Spurs and I am putting them in the negative because I know the reaction of the fan's have been negative towards their transfer window activities. Worryingly is how many players left the club, notably Crouch to Stoke, but palacios, Jenus, Hutton and Bentley all departed. The arrival of Scott Parker will help soften the blow for the fan's and the loan signing of Adebayor is positive, but a lot of departures and the failure to sign Cahill is a disappointment to the club.

Finally, Luka Modric. What a saga it has been. He will remain a Tottenham player, but are Spurs fan's happy? He clearly wanted to leave the club and has openly been very unhappy with the behaviour of Daniel Levy. Arsenal sold the players who didn't want to be at the club and we shall see if that works out for them and if it works out for Tottenham in keeping a player that doesn't want to be there. I'm not so sure it will for Tottenham and believe Modric will be gone in January when the saga's and the drama's start all over again.