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?

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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.

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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...

We're off...

Published: Tuesday, 08 August 2017

It was 1992, about September time, and I was following Ron Atkinson out of a studio. We'd just been recording another edition of the Footballers' Football Show. He was bubbling about the new Premier League era and still excited about football in general.

I say 'still' because as we walked I looked at him and thought 'Wow - even after all these years he's revved up by it all'. I went on to think 'will I retain an enthusiasm like that?' 

I'd known Ron since my time in Manchester. He's a great guy - deeply loyal, great fun and simply football mad. What he isn't, by the way, is a racist.

The reason I was having all those thoughts was because we'd just landed the Premier League contract at Sky and although I too was hugely excited by everything that was happening around me, I was wondering how long I'd retain an appetite for it all. I've got the answer now - so far, 26 years!

As we start again, what should we expect? Well, as Leicester proved, predicting is a mugs game. The year they won the title I had them down for relegation! Maybe it's time to get my own back - they will definitely NOT win the title this year and I'm 100 per cent certain of that!

So who will? With time yet for all the contenders to spend again, it's hard at this stage to make either bold or accurate predictions, but I'll share with you the way I'm thinking right now.

With Gareth Bale United win the title. Without him they are strong contenders, who could muscle their way back to the top, but they're not nailed on. It's a shame to be talking about a United team 'muscling' their way to success, but that's what they are now - big and strong. Mourinho once said you can't win a title with less than five players over 6'2" because you're always vulnerable at set-pieces. Well he's fixed that little problem hasn't he?

Read more: We're off...

PL loans distort the competition (1)

Published: Monday, 26 June 2017

Having burst back into life yesterday I didn't intend to be making my fingers sore again today - but sometimes 140 characters on Twitter just aren't enough.

I've made mention previously how I believe that PL clubs distort the competition when they loan players to each other. Right now, Chelsea have five out and the chances are there'll be more before we kick off again. It's wrong. And here's why.....

Each and every one of those players can play for the team they're with AGAINST Chelsea's title rivals - but they can't play against Chelsea. It remains to be seen if they have any effect on the race by scoring big goals - stopping them - or indeed bossing games that frustrate a point or two from the other contenders. They might - they equally might not - but they're going to have more of an impact against them than they would sitting in Chelsea's bench.

Of course I know the value of sending players out on loan - but it doesn't have to be to the PL. The truth is that too many clubs nowadays run squads that are top heavy and ways of keeping the guys happy - or furthering their education - don't exist like they once did.

Let me give you another example of what I'm saying. We know Mourinho doesn't fancy Anthony Martial. He's not going to be in Utd's starting line up very often this season. There are two options - sell - but the chances are Utd won't make back the ridiculous money they paid for him - or loan him out.

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Just sayin'

Published: Sunday, 25 June 2017

So much has happened since we last shared a few words together. I thought we'd best catch up with some of it or my next blog is going to have to be a monster!

I noticed a line that the Premier League is 25 years old. 25! It's incredible. It's formation brought about a sizemic change the likes of which football had never previously seen - a real revolution. It's largely been evolution ever since - mostly under the brilliant leadership of Richard Scudamore. If there has ever been a brighter, smarter sports administrator than Richard I can't think of him/her.

Every TV deal that's agreed the doom mongers tell us 'that's it, the bubble will burst soon'. No sign of it though is there?

So the spending goes on and there's no sign of it relenting either. So far, City have spent £133m on three full-backs alone! Is it sustainable? According to Scudamore it is 'The most important thing is player costs as a percentage of turnover,' he says. Adding 'We're down in the early 60 per cents and we were much higher 10 years ago. Sixty per cent of turnover spent of player costs is actually very manageable.' Fair point. Interesting as well. So the truth is the transfer market hasn't 'gone mad' at all.

I repeat, there's a lot more spending to come before the window 'slams shut' (Why does the window always 'slam shut' Jim? Why can't it just close?) but who's done the best business so far? Let's use the old boxing adage 'pound for pound' as our barometer. So forget the big money spent - let's have a look round for the bargains.

Here's my top 4, in reverse order.

Read more: Just sayin'

It's a funny old game...

Published: Monday, 29 May 2017

It was Jimmy Greaves who coined the phrase 'it's a funny old game'. A bit like a few other football cliches - 'sick as a parrot' - which Phil Thompson is to blame for - it's over worked and had its time. But, every now and again it best sums up certain situations.

So, after a miserable season, ruined by the uncertainty over Arsene Wenger's future, this dignified man wins the FA Cup for a record 7th time. His team didn't just win it, they won it with all the qualities that have so often been missing from their game - oh, and a huge slice of luck, which every successful team needs.

Let's deal with the luck. Alexis Sanchez handled that ball. Fact. There is no other conclusion to come to. Quite simply Anthony Taylor didn't see it. If he had - he would've given Chelsea a free-kick. Here's what Gary Cahill had to say about the incident. 'It was incredible. I spoke to him (the ref) at half time and he was adamant he kneed the ball through'. Case close. Taylor didn't see it.

And Ramsey HAS to be offside as Sanchez scores. Thibaut Courtois this time 'Ramsey is clearly bothering me. If he's not there I can run out and get the ball before Alexis does. But because he's standing there, I stop, thinking he's going to collect it and shoot. As does the defence. He clearly interrupts the game for me and is taking part in active play'. Correct. It Ramsey continues to leave the box as he was initially doing, he's fine, but the moment he turns to try and play the ball he's offside because he becomes active. He's affecting the play. Case closed.

Having said that, the last word on that incident has to go to Cahill. 'To be honest, Arsenal were better than us. We can't hide behind the first goal'. I love the big guy. He was my player of the season. He was awesome all year long and this isn't the first time I've found myself complimenting his honesty. He's a natural and fine successor to John Terry as Chelsea's leader.

Read more: It's a funny old game...

Nearly done...

Published: Tuesday, 16 May 2017

It's hard to believe we're just about to complete our 4th Premier League season working with the mighty beINSports. It's incredible. When Andy and I first arrived in Qatar - 2022 seemed a lifetime away - this coming weekend the first WC stadium opens for the Emir Cup Final. The country is unrecognisable from the one I first saw in 2008 and now we're racing towards what I believe will be the best 'finals' ever. I know it doesn't suit a lot of you to read that, but my friends here in the Middle East are going to put on a spectacular festival.

Anyway, back to business - we're nearly there, another Premier League season is all but over.

Let's start at the top - well done Chelsea. If you finish top you deserve all the accolades that come your way. In short, you're there because you've been the best. Chelsea have been a champions mix of both entertainment and power. Brilliant. You'll get no arguments from me about their return to the summit.

I'm disappointed for Spurs. They're the team I enjoyed watching this season more than any other, but sadly a poor January cost them. My fear for this group (modern day phraseology!) is that they might never get any closer. I'm with Tim Sherwood - I just can't see them winning a title out of Wembley. Walker is leaving this summer, Eriksen could just as easily go as well and if he does - then what?

Why do I believe he might leave? Well, because it would follow a long standing 'Daniel Levy' transfer pattern. Historically he's always sold a player for the best price - that means at the top of their game and at the right age. He's had Ross Barkley ear-marked as a replacement for some time now, but after a recent meeting with Barkley's representatives in London I'm told Spurs aren't as convinced as they were. Watch this space..... 

I don't see any other 'short term' departures - but another season from now I think there'll definitely be significant movement.

Read more: Nearly done...

VAR will not take us to utopia

Published: Monday, 01 May 2017

Let's start with a few positives from the weekend - and I agree, there weren't too many! I repeat what I've previously tweeted - I love watching Spurs right now. There isn't a more attractive team in the Premier League. I sat with Graeme Souness this weekend (Graeme was with us on BeINSports) and he said 'this is the best Spurs team I've seen'. I couldn't agree more.  I hope they win the title but let me quickly add that I really don't CARE who does. The best 'team' will. It always does. And despite the vicious abuse I get on Twitter - it's not going to affect my life whichever team does. Honestly - I don't care - as usual, I will applaud whoever does.

The only reason I say that I hope Spurs win it is because I think Tim Sherwood might be right. Tim told us on beINSports that he doesn't believe Spurs can win the title playing at Wembley. His argument is that it's not a fortress like White Hart Lane. If Spurs' European experiences are anything to go by this season he's got a point hasn't he? And if they take time adjusting to their new stadium this squad might not be together long enough to win it. That would be a shame.

Anyway, Chelsea were top class weren't they? The win at Goodison was a real statement. They're not 'easy on the eye' like Spurs, but they're 'efficient' and very, very good. A small observation - never mind Kante or Hazard as Player of the Year - what about Gary Cahill? He's been enormous - at both ends - this season. He's adapted to the new system - he's succeeded John Terry in every respect - he fronts up, win, lose or draw - he's a warrior. He won't win the award of course, because Fleet Street tends to go for popular or obvious - unless they're voting for Scott Parker - in the year West Ham went down! Well - apart from Crossy, they all support The Hammers, so perhaps no surprise there!

Now to the unsavoury. Marcus Rashford - sorry, the dive was poor. The kid should be banned now for the rest of the season. We HAVE to stop that kind of thing happening. Oh, and you can put Leroy Sane on the list as well. Both players 'conned' the officials. I don't blame Neil Swarbrick for buying Rashford's dive, his angle wasn't great, but Kevin Friend has NO excuses - he was looking directly at the incident.

Read more: VAR will not take us to utopia