Player-power.

Published: Wednesday, 01 November 2017

There is something very wrong at Chelsea again. Well, I say ‘again’, but there’s no need really is there? There’s been something very wrong at that club for the last decade.

That Chelsea dressing room dominates everything at the club. Time and again ‘it’ has seen off one coach after another. The personnel might change in there, but attitudes don’t. If they don’t like you - you’re out.

Somehow Chelsea fly in the face of the generally accepted formula that any club looking for success must have stability in the managers’ office. Arsenal have got that and yet stutter from an occasional FA Cup win to the next. On the other hand, Chelsea have won as many trophies as they’ve had coaches in the last decade! How? It defies logic.

What did I read after the CL defeat Tuesday? ‘Roma Ruins’ was the most popular headline. Conte told us there was ‘no fight’ in his players.  Chelsea are nine points behind City in the PL. This season has been littered with red cards and surprise defeats. All of a sudden Conte’s ‘unplayable’ 3-5-2 looks very suspect. Jose Mourinho must be laughing his United red socks off right now. So too AVB, and a whole lot more X-Chelsea coaches. Have the boys at The Bridge ‘downed tools’ again?

We hear stories about them not enjoying training anymore. That Conte is too hard on them. That there’s no recovery time between sessions games and sessions. That some have phoned Steve Holland, last season’s No. 2, to express their frustration. Chelsea deny this. ‘Ask Holland’ they say - he’ll deny this too. What’s the old phrase? Oh yes ‘well he would wouldn’t he?’

Look back through these blogs and you’ll find a piece I wrote when Conte took over. I warned then that the relief the guys felt about ‘outing’ Mourinho and getting Conte the job would be short lived. I said the that Conte would prove to be worse in his demands of players - that there would be no hiding place and certainly no rest. I said Conte was an obsessive - that he’d be up all hours and text training schedules while players slept, always wanting to keep the guys on their toes. I suggested they’d soon get fed up of his antics. Well?

Read more: Player-power.

Miseryside

Published: Monday, 23 October 2017

First an admission. I stole the title of this piece from the Mail today! Well done boys, nice one. London 9 Miseryside 3 - it kind of sums Sunday up doesn’t it?

Everton were woeful against Arsenal. Koeman had to go. I’d heard that the club wanted to limp to the international break and make a decision about the Dutchman’s future then, but they had to act after Sunday. The Toffees were awful.

Koeman was convinced he could fix it. He couldn’t. He divided the club every which way. He’s old school in his approach - ‘my way or the highway’. He was high-handed, dismissive and arrogant. I don’t think he ever understood Everton and what makes it such a special club.

I’ve always believed it’s one of those clubs where you’ve got to have had a ‘touch of the ball’ as I call it - if you’re going to manage there - ala Kendall, Harvey, Royle. I wish Peter Reid had been given a chance as well. He’d have been terrific for them. Having said that, David Moyes got it. He arrived calling Everton ‘the people’s club’, much to the annoyance of those across Stanley Park! The longer he was there the more he understood it.

Koeman, like his predecessor, Roberto Martinez, made it too much about himself.

I watched those players Sunday and saw nothing to suggest they wanted to play for him. He lost them. It was time to go.

This. as I’m constantly reminded, was a season I genuinely thought was going to be rewarding for Everton. I had them down for a top 4 finish. Mind you, I had Leicester down for relegation the year they won the title! Still, you can’t get them all right!

I did add that I thought Everton could finish above Liverpool so I’ve got something to cling onto there. The Reds leave the weekend in 9th. I’ll repeat that. 9th. It’s extra-ordinary.

Read more: Miseryside

Paris in springtime is beautiful Jose

Published: Monday, 16 October 2017

I can’t have been the only one absolutely stunned by Jose Mourinho’s comments Sunday about PSG. ‘In Paris at the moment there is something special’ he said. Adding ‘magic, quality, youth, it’s fantastic’. 

He told us that his son, who lives in London, recently went to Paris to watch a PSG match instead of Manchester, for all of the reasons above. Well - after witnessing what we did from his dad’s team at the weekend, who could blame him? 

Ramon Calderon, the former President of Real Madrid once called Mou (as they address him in Spain) ‘an enemy of football’. I saw that phrase used again this weekend. I saw words like ‘turgid’ and ‘tedious’ used to describe United’s performance at Anfield. I wouldn’t argue with those descriptions but - Mourinho is a serial title winner and had every right to set his team up as he did. He had every right to play as he did. He knows he could easily have won the game. Lukaku spurned a golden chance to do just that. If United win the title this season no-one will remember Anfield. No United fan will care about how dull their team were at Anfield. They know better than most that a title win is pieced together in a series of building blocks. Saturday they laid another block. 

Let’s not pretend that Fergie’s teams ALWAYS swept the opposition away. They didn’t. I can remember many many miserable afternoons at Old Trafford watching ordinary 1-0 wins. I can remember many wonderful afternoons as well, but it’s churlish to suppose a team can perform well every week. 

I was as disappointed as anybody that the game this weekend fell way short of what we hoped for. But we in the media have a lot to answer for in that respect. The ridiculous hype that went into the week preceding the game was way over the top. No match anywhere in the world could’ve lived up to it. 

So for me Mourinho didn’t do a great deal wrong. His priority is to win the title for United this season any which way he can. And let’s not forget the 21 goals United had scored coming into the game. Only City have got more! Entertain when you can - not every week, perhaps ultimately to your cost. Ask Kevin Keegan about that. 

Read more: Paris in springtime is beautiful Jose

Food for thought

Published: Tuesday, 03 October 2017

I love reading newspapers. It’ll be a sad day when a combination of rising costs, new media and a fading interest in traditional methods of delivering news eventually brings about the collapse of this medium.

Let’s not get into how much of what I read I actually believe! That’s another issue entirely, but every now and again a little nugget leaps out.

That happened at the back end of last season. I saw a line in The Telegraph that a PL club in the north of England was exploring the possibility of moving their training HQ south. Seriously. I checked the date - no - it wasn’t April 1st.  I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was reading - but no surprise there eh? No, sorry, I’ve already said I’m not going down that route!

It was something we discussed on beINSPORTS the following weekend. Colleagues thought I’d gone completely mad, but I’d made a few enquiries and sure enough it was true. It wasn’t easy putting a name to the club and I don’t want to compromise good sources by naming it. I never tweet or write something I haven’t checked although I would admit to getting a few predictions wrong! For example, I can’t see Everton finishing in the top 4 this season now! 

But why would this club - (no longer in the PL, that’s all I can say!) want to move their HQ south?

I was told the thinking was that they believed the nearer they were to London the better quality player they could attract. Mad or not?  They had no plans to abandon their city, nor their stadium - and crucially not their supporters - but by taking such a decision would they actually be doing just that?

I can understand the thinking. Of course there are exceptions - the two Manchester clubs do all right - but by and large a lot of the best foreign players want to live near London if they can. It gives the capital city’s clubs a huge advantage.

The subject came up again on Sunday when we came off air. A couple of glasses had been consumed so as you can imagine, the conversation got lively!

Read more: Food for thought

PL loans distort the competition (2)

Published: Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Just a few quick words here because I always feel guilty if I'm not writing at least once a week.

I hate saying 'I was right', but those of us from the media that engage with the social media get such a pasting at times that when the opportunity makes itself available - we have to!

Right about what? Right about Premier League loans - to each other -  distorting the competition. I mentioned this early season and the usual torrent of abuse followed, but I can't think of a better example of what I'm saying than we saw this past weekend.

Stoke had a horrendous injury list that left them unable to pick a first choice centre-back v Chelsea. Well, a horrendous injury list and a centre back that they couldn't play because of the loan regulations. Kurt Zouma - although fit - had to sit and watch as Alvaro Morata ripped Stoke to shreds.

I don't want to take anything away from either Morata's performance - or Chelsea's - let's face it, winning

4-0 at Stoke is a rarity for any team and it makes a real statement. No, what I'm saying is how different might the result have been had Zouma been allowed to play? The man he would've been designated to keep an eye on got a hat-trick! Look, I appreciate that he might have done anyway, but, I happen to think not.

Read more: PL loans distort the competition (2)

Beauty v Beast

Published: Tuesday, 19 September 2017

It's game on at last between Guardiola and Mourinho and it's going to be fascinating.

For the first time in recent memory we've genuinely got two teams 'joint top'. There's nothing between City and United. Nothing - and were the league to end today we'd have a play-off for the title. Can you imagine that? Wow. What a game that would be. Let's hope both can stay the course and that others can get involved.

From what we've seen so far Chelsea will be around. I still have a sneaky feeling that Arsenal will do better than most people think, but I don't see too many more challenging - certainly not Everton! My goodness, what a start they've made. My pre-season prediction that they'd go well is looking as good as my call that Leicester would go down the season they won the title!!!

So let's concentrate on the top two for a while. What exactly is it that wins titles? The P Lge has to be harder to win than any other league in the world, so you need staying power for a start. You need to be able to dig in and nick results when the wind is blowing hard on a wet, miserable night at Stoke!

For sure, a giant share of luck is required. You need big decisions to go your way at the right time - but that's generally a given for the big teams. 

You need to keep players fit, so this is where the 'sports science' dept comes in. I also think that you've got to know what you're priority is - and target it. If that means dropping out of the domestic cup competitions, then so be it. For Mourinho they served their purpose last season and I can't see United going after them again this time.

It's a given that top players are required - with a mentality to get over the line. This is where it gets interesting for me.

Read more: Beauty v Beast

What a mis-judged storm

Published: Monday, 11 September 2017

What a load of fuss over something that was so obvious. Sadio Mane had to go off. And let me say straight away - that is not an 'anti-Liverpool' verdict. It's a simple fact and Jon Moss should be applauded for the decision he made - and the calm manner in which he made it. I've said it already a couple of times and I will again, I think our officials are having a really good season so far, although I'm sure Mike Jones' guv'nors will want a quiet word, because Matt Ritchie should also have seen red!

A couple of things on the Mane sending off which my beINSPORTS colleague Andy Gray mentioned on Saturday. Mane definitely knows Ederson is coming for that ball - that's why his foot is so high, and why he's trying to nick it over him. And here's a thought, what if the situation had been the other way round and Ederson had flattened Mane? Exactly. There would've been calls for the keeper to have been arrested for assault!

Very simply, Mane's challenge met all the criteria for red. The law states clearly that a tackle or a challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent, or uses excessive force or brutality, must be sanctioned as serious foul play. I've really no idea how anybody can argue that Mane was unlucky.  One last word on the incident - if Liverpool were convinced they'd been hard done by they would've appealed. They haven't because they would lose.

But it's what happened after the sending off that stunned me. Liverpool fell apart. They were better than Arsenal at Anfield a fortnight ago, but only just. They went onto concede four goals in a total capitulation, yet there was no screaming from the rooftops his week about their attitude. Some of the criticism that followed that Arsenal performance was a disgrace. Look - it was poor and I said so myself, but when it gets as personal as it did - because Arsene Wenger is an easy target and not a 'pundits' favourite, it's totally wrong.

As good as Liverpool were on that day - and I said in my last blog that it was difficult to judge them in some ways because Arsenal were so poor, the same can be said of City this week. They ripped Liverpool apart with some scintillating football - as good as I've seen under Guardiola - but they were certainly helped by a totally inept opposition. Incidentally, Liverpool can't hide behind the sending off. As my old mate Jan Fjortoft correctly pointed out on Twitter, Freiburg got a man sent off after 29 minutes against Dortmund at the weekend, but still got a goalless draw. And how many times have we seen 10 men win a game like that?

Read more: What a mis-judged storm

It's time to back Wenger

Published: Monday, 28 August 2017

It was nearly everything and more that every pundit and headline writer was screaming at us this weekend. Arsenal were awful at Anfield. Best headline incidentally - my vote goes to the Daily Mail - 'Kop 4 Keystone Kops 0'. Brilliant!

So now a lot of the immediate hysterical reaction has subsided what are we to make of arguably the most inept performance I've seen from a top 6 side in PL history? There's no hiding from it - it was rank. I watched wondering whether those in Arsenal shirts had downed tools and were beginning the process of playing Wenger out of office. We've seen many examples of it in recent seasons - and there's precedent at Arsenal when the players at the time saw off Bruce Rioch.

Let's not pretend, Arsenal have a massive problem and it's all of their own making, but I don't want to be too critical. Here's why. In an era when we criticise almost everybody involved in the game for a lack of loyalty and respect, Arsene Wenger is unique. He loves Arsenal. It was put to me at the weekend, from a very respectable Arsenal source, that the Frenchman is 'caught up in a love affair' with the club. Well I don't have a problem with that. Good on him, but isn't it often the case that many of us lose sight of reality in that situation?

Wenger changed Arsenal. I'd go so far as to say he did the same across the English game. He's a gentleman and fascinating to listen to, but was he right to stay on last summer?

I never had a doubt that he would. I don't accept the theory that there's 'ten million reasons a year' why he would. Wenger is rich beyond his wildest expectation and had he walked away he'd probably be earning more somewhere else. No. He simply loves Arsenal.

The bigger question is 'should he have been given the chance to stay?' That's another matter altogether. But who was going to tell him it was time to go? And was it?

Football is not a perfect science. There are so many factors that can bite you just when everything seems to be going so well.

Read more: It's time to back Wenger

Watch this space....

Published: Monday, 21 August 2017

Business as usual then - at Chelsea, Arsenal Manchester United, Liverpool - and Spurs - at Wembley.

The crisis at Chelsea certainly didn't last long. Conte made his point last week - dressed in his tracksuit as though he was simply 'the boy' on the touchline. This week it was collar and tie again, almost as though somebody had whispered quietly in his ear about not taking the mickey out of the owner. Conte's team were terrific - they went to Wembley with a plan and executed it brilliantly.

They were a totally different team to the one that Burnley took apart on the opening day.

So two games in Spurs have a better away record than they do home - just as we predicted! Of course it's far too early to draw any kind of conclusion from that statistic, only that it highlights what we said was likely to be the case - and that is that teams will love going to play them at Wembley. Conte said as much after Chelsea's win. Having said that, I thought Spurs played well and as Ray WIlkins would say 'were a tad unlucky'!

United were awesome. They are as good as I've seen wearing United red since Fergie retired. They're big - remember what I told you about Mourinho believing you've got to have at least five players over 6'2" if you're going to win the league? Well he has now - but they're not just lumps, they can play. They dug in, did a job on Swansea and when it felt right, put their foot on the gas and took them apart. Here's a little stat to keep an eye on - United have hit four goals eight times under Mourinho but have yet to manage five. Chelsea scored four 11 times under Mourinho before they finally managed five. Thank you Bill Edgar.

Read more: Watch this space....

What a start...

Published: Monday, 14 August 2017

What a start. What a cracking weekend. The next 37 rounds probably won't be as good, but let's celebrate as good an opening weekend as I can remember.

We're very lucky in our part of the world because we see ALL the games 'live' ALL the time on beINSports.  Before I talk about the games let me compliment our officials. To a man I thought they were terrific. Craig Pawson had a really good day at Stamford Bridge, although I did think the second yellow for Fabragas should've been red. It was a shocking challenge. But Craig made big calls all day.

Antony Taylor and his team got all the big calls correct at Watford. What a good decision they made on the pen - no panic, Taylor waited, gave himself thinking time, obviously spoke with his assistant, they were spot on. Bearing in mind the direction that the ball travelled after Gomes' challenge it would've been easy to get that one wrong. So who needs VAR? Oh, there was another cock up with the system - this time in Belgium. Please, let's think long and hard before we rush headlong into this.

https://twitter.com/HLNinEngeland/status/896977847151206400

So to the football. I thought United were terrific. Of all the contenders they looked the most likely, although City did a really professional job at Brighton. They weren't 'pretty' but they were effective and there's nothing wrong with that.

At Old Trafford Lukaku looked worth every penny of his fee - but how good was Matic? I saw a line Monday that he was worth 6 points - 3 at Old Trafford and the 3 that Chelsea lost at The Bridge. I agree. What were Chelsea thinking when they sold him to United?

I was disappointed in the Hammers. I said in my last blog that I liked their summer transfer business and I still do - so give Bilic a bit of time eh before we jump all over him? That he's favourite, with Conte, to get the sack first astounds me.

Read more: What a start...