Saturday, 23 November 2013

Lampard Haunts Former Club Once More

Both clubs on show in the evening Premier League kick off were in need of three points for very different reasons with Chelsea being seven points adrift of leaders Arsenal and West Ham looking to get back on track after throwing away a result to Norwich before the international break.

After failing to convert numerous chances against Norwich in their last premier league game, it was very surprising to see Sam Allardyce persist with the same system, with no recognised striker. Any West Ham fan must be extremely frustrated with such a system after seeing only one win at home all season against Cardiff City. You have to feel sorry for Big Sam with so many strikers injured, but it is difficult to comprehend his decision to leave Carlton Cole on the bench once more. Any Sam Allardyce team in the past has always been known for their direct (long-ball) approach playing off a tall, lone striker, so there must be an underlying reason for Cole's continued exclusion. Allardyce was probably not the first choice for many fans when he first arrived at the club and although he has done a fantastic job at West Ham, football is an unforgiving world and a poor result could see some West Ham fans start to turn on their manager.

It was great to see Mikel brought back into the Chelsea line-up to allow Ramires more freedom to attack. I am a huge fan of Ramires and believe he is one of the most underrated players in the premier league. It has been bewildering this season to see him played in a defensive role at times when he has such fantastic pace and energy to really run and punish teams on the counter attack. The striker crisis at Chelsea seems to have disappeared lately with Eto scoring 3 goals in the last 2 games, but life is far from perfect yet for Chelsea with no clean sheet in their last 6 matches. With Winston Reid, West Ham's best defender, absent from the squad, there was no doubt Chelsea would go after West Ham for the 3 points.

Despite Chelsea dominating possession from the start, the game was very sterile for the first 15 minutes with West Ham comfortably dealing with any Chelsea attack. With only 9 goals in 11 premier league games, it is obvious where the problems lie for West Ham, but Allardyce has always instilled a great team spirit and one outstanding feature this season has been their defense. This was shown in their previous outing against Norwich until they gifted a goal to allow the canaries to win the game, and unfortunately on the 18 minute mark the Hammers did the same again through a very poor and short pass-back from Demel to allow Oscar to nick the ball from Jaaskelienen and force the foul and win the penalty. An argument could have been made for the keeper to be sent off, but with Oscar moving away from goal, it was never a red card in my eyes. Step up Frank Lampard, who smashed the ball down the middle to score for the third consecutive against his former employers. After showing good defensive qualities, West Ham once again give away a poor goal through a moments lapse in concentration.

The goal saw Chelsea begin to ooze with confidence and looked more and more dangerous. On 33 minutes, a ball from the back to Hazard was brilliantly flicked on from the Belgian to Oscar who only had one idea in his mind when running at the West Ham defense and shot low into the bottom corner to make it 0-2, leaving the home fans stunned. The West Ham system was simply allowing Chelsea to dominate the game and after 39 minutes Allardyce had seen enough and made two substitutions bringing on Diame and Maiga in order to do something about the easy possession Chelsea were having. The clear frustration of the home fans was clearly expressed through the boos which greeted the substitutions, due to the continued resistance to bring on Cole up front.

The second half began with Chelsea looking comfortable on the ball still, but signs were showing of the half time team talk ringing in the ears of the West Ham players, who were starting to hold the ball better and create a few more openings. However, Chelsea looked keen to put the game to bed and a header from Cahill on 50 minutes from a corner was cleared off the line and was a warning to the hammers of Chelsea's intent. Great one-touch football and 73% possession at the beginning of the second half were clear indicators of how comfortable Chelsea were and looked to be enjoying the themselves. Eto was excellent throughout the match. There was lots of debate over the decision to bring in Eto and send Lukaku out on loan, but Eto looked sharper and fitter than ever before this season and has justified Mourinho's faith in him. Apart from a chance for Maiga on 65 mins, you would struggle to reflect on a clear chance for West Ham where they really tested Cech and on 81 minutes, Lampard finished off the game with a low-driven shot from just outside the box to haunt his former club once more and make it 0-3.

Ravel Morrison is a name which certainly hasn't been far off the minds of many England fans in recent weeks and you felt that, with this game being live on Sky, it was a great chance for him to showcase his potential and stake a place in the squad for Brazil. He certainly showed glimpses of class and certainly has excellent potential. However, I feel he still has a lot to prove to gain a place in the England squad and will be interesting to see his progression through the remainder of this season.

Only achieving one goal on target in the whole game, which came in injury time, it is clear that West Ham have a tough road ahead. Without a recognised striker, there is no pressure on the ball and there is no option of that long ball which has proved so fruitful for Allardyce throughout his managerial career. With Caroll reportedly 4 weeks away from fitness, you feel they need him now more than ever. There was plenty, however, for the special one to smile about gaining their second away win of the season with West Ham helping them all the way. After a poor result to Newcastle, Chelsea are certainly back on track not only through the win, but the manner in which they gained the victory. With their upcoming fixtures against teams lower in the league, nobody can rule Chelsea out of their equation yet for the premier league title.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Hughton Survives Another Day...For Now

One team conceding eleven goals in the space of a week and the other team holding the third-best defensive record in the league, it was clear in the build up to the #SNF clash between Norwich City and West Ham United which manager was under the spotlight.

Under Paul Lambert, Norwich fans were spoilt with an attacking and positive style of play, which produced lots of goals and exciting football. If Norwich were losing a match with 10 minutes to go, Lambert would throw on four forwards to get a goal. The team would never give up on gaining a victory and was one of the main ingredients for promotion to the Premier League back in 2011.

However, Hughton has a completely different philosophy. A more defensive-minded approach, crowding out the midfield with a 4-1-4-1 formation and setting out the team to be hard to score against rather than a free-scoring team . This was a tough change for canaries fans to accept, but a strong end to last season and the summer influx strikers such as Van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Elmander showed a possible change of intent and allowed Chris Hughton to keep Norwich fans on his side.

However the stats speak for themselves this season. Failing to score more than one goal in a single game since the opening game of the season, only one goal scored between three strikers and playing most games with only one striker...Norwich fans certainly haven't had much to cheer about this season. There was such a buzz around Carrow Road surrounding the summer signings and a real high expectation that the new strikers would allow Norwich to challenge higher in the table. A large amount of money was spent on strikers, but Hughton has refused to play more than one striker. Why spend a fortune on strikers if you are not going to play them?

Norwich fans would probably accept the more defensive approach under Hughton if it yielded positive results. As we know, football is a results-based business. 1-0 wins or 0-0 draws would be
adequate as the realistic aim for Norwich City is survival. However, this has not been the case. We have set a team out week in week out this season to defend and not concede, but the system just hasn't worked. The 7-0 loss against Manchester City was the breaking point for many Norwich fans and has left the Norfolk outfit humiliated for the past week. Something had to change.

The #SNF match against West Ham United was certainly D-Day for Chris Hughton and was a massive game for Norwich City Football Club. Defeat could see Norwich's season unravel and could see the media and fans turn on the players and manager which would have a detrimental effect on confidence and morale. Defeat could more crucially see the chief executive David McNally wield the axe on Hughton, knowing an international break is on the horizon after the game to give any possible time for change in management. McNally is a ruthless businessman. After sacking Bryan Gunn after one game in charge, which infamously saw Norwich lose 1-7 to Colchester in League One, I would not be surprised in a quick and decisive action being taken by McNally if Norwich were to lose to West Ham at home.

The first question most canaries fans were wondering before this game: 'Will Hughton play two strikers?' To my astonishment, he had decided to go with Elmander and Hooper up front. However the reality was that Hughton had no choice. He had to go against his core beliefs and go for broke as he probably knew himself that anything less than defeat just wouldn't be accepted after the mauling at the Etihad Stadium. West Ham United had striker issues of their own with Carroll still injured and Vaz Te also out through injury, forcing the manager to make the bold move of playing with no recognised striker. It was therefore inevitable that West Ham was going to dominate the midfield and possession, which is what exactly happened as Norwich City and West Ham United kicked off. West Ham looked comfortable on the ball throughout the first half. Norwich looked nervous. Possession was yielded too easily throughout the first half and Norwich lacked confidence or ideas when trying to attack the West Ham goal. Hooper and Elmander were showing glimmers of a promising partnership, but were let down by the midfield who just had no clue when going forward. West Ham deservedly took the lead through Morrison's tap in after good spells of pressure and had plenty more chances to add to their total. The end of the first half was greeted by a chorus of boos and Hughton's half time team talk was probably the biggest one of his managerial career.

The second half resumed in similar fashion to the first half. However, a fumble by Jaaskelienen allowed Hooper to snatch the ball and force the foul. Penalty given, which was hammered down the middle by Hooper. Confidence is a massive aspect in any job and after the penalty the Norwich players were simply brimming with it. They were moving the ball around with purpose, Snodgrass looked a completely different player from the first half, Redmond was taking on any West Ham player in front of him and Hooper and Elmander were linking up more and more. Suddenly the game had changed completely, which was evident when a long range shot by Howson smashed against the bar. Snodgrass was immediately fouled to earn a free kick in a dangerous position. Only one man was a contender to take it. As soon as it left Snodgrass' foot there was no doubt where it was heading and the goal sent Carrow Road rocking. A late Fer goal added a gloss to the score and the full time score was greeted by a sigh of relief in Norwich, with the biggest relief coming from the manager.

West Ham simply threw away their good work from the first half  and Norwich edged the game through a bigger desire for the result. The game was after all probably bigger for Norwich than for West Ham. Seeing two strikers up front was fantastic and it is important for the canaries to now build on this result. However I feel the international break won't do any favours for Norwich. The last win for Norwich came against Stoke in September, just before another international break, which in my opinion loses a bit of momentum you gain from winning a premier league game.

The result will obviously mean Chris Hughton will live to fight another day. I am just concerned as a Norwich fan that he only played two up front through desperation and will now revert back to his old tactics when he visits his former employers Newcastle United. I feel Norwich must be more ambitious when going into the next few games and allow a striking partnership to form and develop. I really like Chris Hughton as a person. He speaks very well to the media, seems to have the right attitude and I feel he really does care about Norwich City Football Club. There is nobody that wants him to succeed at Norwich City more than I do. Norwich fans simply want to see more attacking ambition and I hope Chris Hughton can deliver this and take the club forward.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Spurs favourites for Europe, but will miss out on top four

After the attention being on the red half of North London yesterday, it was time for Tottenham to show their North London rivals their own European pedigree. A win for spurs would mean qualification into the knockout stage, with the Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol needing at least a point to avoid crashing out of Europe for the third time in this competition.

There was lots of talk before the match had even started, with the controversy of Lloris finally easing off, the possibility of Defoe taking over Martin Chivers' all time goal record in Europe for Spurs and Brad Friedel setting a new European record as the oldest player to play on the European stage.

Many Spurs and Premier League fans have been wondering about the same question this season...'Why doesn't Defoe play more in the Premier League?' With 6 goals this season, 4 arriving in the Europa League, it is hard to figure out why Defoe has not been given the chance to play more in
the premier league. Nobody, including the man himself, seems to know why. Some argue that it is
because of the system Spurs now play with one up front. However Defoe has played on his own up front in  Europe and played up front on his own for England once against Bulgaria and scored a hat trick, so it's hard to convince me that there are tactical reasons behind his lack of action in the PL. Its not as if Spurs have been hitting teams for six every game too, with their last premier league match against Everton ending goalless only highlighting that Soldado has not yet had a big an impact as someone like Negredo has had at Man City yet. Defoe is one of those players who I would trust 100% to score when through on goal and has an excellent goal scoring record for England. It is difficult for me to see why Defoe shouldn't play on the weekend and I hope for England's sake that he starts earning some more minutes on the pitch as I believe he has a lot to offer England going forward in the world cup next summer.

A massive congratulations has to be sent out to Brad Friedel. At 42 years of age, he has become the most senior player to ever play in Europe and is a record he fully deserves. Many still feel that he was extremely unlucky to lose his place last season to Hugo Lloris. However, with fantastic displays fro
m the frenchmen this season, the decision by AVB has proved to be justified. However despsite losing his place, Friedel has continued to train hard. After training he goes straight on the treadmill to continue training and apparently follows Giggs in regards to the amount of yoga he does. An excellent professional and a great ambassador for the sport.

It was always expected for Spurs to dominate the possession at home in this match, and so they did in the first half, but the best chances fell to Sheriff Tiraspol in the first half who showed potential to hurt Spurs on the counter attack with a shot deflecting onto the post on the 25 minute mark and then a lose square ball by Eriksen offering a golden opportunity for Ricardinhnio who could only shoot just wide of the post.

With a heavy price tag of £26m, Spurs fans will naturally expect big things from Lamela. Due to 
the in-form Townsend keeping him on the bench, tonight was an important night to showcase
his talent. Despite taking time in the first half hour of the game to get a feel for the ball, Lamela didn't take long to show glimmers of class with a few tight penalty shouts being waved away by the referee. He was the most influential player in the entire match and competition is rife on the wings despite the departure of Bale in the summer. AVB certainly has a selection dilemna for the weekend. 

Chances were far a few between for Spurs, unable to provide that decisive ball in the final third. Credit has to be given to Sheriff Tiraspol who had 7-8 yellow shirts behind the ball on every spurs attack and simply crowded out any spurs player with the ball in the final third. Defoe was simply a spectator in the first half due to the lack of service available to him and virtually didn't have a touch throughout the whole first half. However right on half time Defoe had his chance only to completely miss the ball on the front post. A lack of action during the first half for Defoe possibly meant a lack of sharpness when attacking the ball at the near post.

The second half started in very similar fashion, until a cross on the hour mark from Spurs rebounded off the hip of a FC Sheriff defender only to fall on a plate for Lamela who cleverly gave the eyes to the keeper and slotted the ball at the front post. 1-0, Lamela's first goal for Spurs and just like the first leg, Sheriff Tiraspol had lost concentration on the hour mark.

With a blanket of anxiety finally lifting over White Hart Lane, spurs started to swagger with confidence. Eriksen looked more positive on the ball showing that he can challenge the impressive Holtby for that number 10 role in the premier league. Lamela started to run more at the Sheriff Tiraspol defenders and shortly after the first goal, quick feet from Lamela were simply too good for the defender who could only leave a trailing leg for Lamela to stumble over. Penalty and of course there was only going to be one man to take it. Step up Jermain Defoe, who confidently dispatched the ball into the roof of the net to beat Martin Chivers' all time goal scoring record in Europe of 23 goals.

Sheriff Tiraspol needing a point from this game to stay in the competition had nothing to lose now and had to go after the game more. With 15 minutes to go, a shot outside the box caught Friedel by surprise and could only parry it to Isa who gladly slotted it in on the rebound. 2-1 and finally after 593 minutes of clean sheets in Europe, Spurs had finally conceded a goal. However, spurs comfortably held on with very little threat from the Moldovan team towards the final whistle.

Despite 9 changes being made by Spurs, a patient spurs performance eventually causes Sheriff Tiraspol to crash out of the competition and for Spurs to progress to the last 32 with two games to spare. Using the Bale transfer money to add depth to their squad has given spurs the luxury which they didn't have last season of picking almost a whole new side who can be more than competitive in Europe. However it was concerning to see the lack of service Defoe got in the game, with a similar situation for Soldado against Everton. Its fantastic for Spurs to have such a great depth in their squad, which perhaps their North London rivals Arsenal lack, but spurs need a play maker who can really change the game with a fantastic pass or an inspired run. The lack of real creativity is why I think Spurs won't have enough this season to make the top four with all their rivals having a player who can really change the game instantly. However the depth of their squad and the quality they do have, for me, makes them favourites to win the Europa League and I will be cheering them every step of the way.

Please comment below and let me know what you think, especially spurs fans! Do you think spurs DO have enough to make the champions league this season? Are you really that interested in the Europa League?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Gunners finally showing maturity

To begin with, it must be said firstly what a pleasure it was to watch Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal yesterday evening. The quick passing and fluidity throughout the match was unbelievable from both sides and was a great showcase to all young players of how the beautiful game SHOULD be played. Certainly both Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal will be two clubs every team in the champions league will want to avoid when the knockout stage draw is done.

Over the past decade the Arsenal faithful have seen it all. Seeing their team with the likes of Pires, Henry and Viera establish themselves as the 'unbeatables', reaching the champions league final only to lose the match in the first few minutes of the game, moving to a brand new stadium which consequently restricted finances, having to sell key players like Van Persie and Fabregas and the question which has been hovering around especially in the past few it time for Wenger to go?'. The Arsenal fans could certainly argue that they have been through the mill more than most, especially over the past few years.

It is admirable to see the amount of quality young players Arsenal bring through the ranks. However, due to lack of finances, Arsenal have had to depend almost too heavily on these youngsters, with very little experience and maturity to draw upon. This to me is certainly why Arsenal have been deprived of trophies since the era of the 'unbeatables'. It has almost been drawn on as an excuse from time to time in the past that Arsenal is a young team and needs time to develop, which has tested the patience of the gunners fans over the years. However, achieving champions league football and showcasing an attractive style of play as allowed Wenger to hang on in during the rocky times.

This season's performances, and especially last nights performance over Dortmund, is clear evidence in my mind that the Arsenal youngsters are now showing signs of maturity and are repaying the faith and time given to them by their manager. The likes of Ramsey, Gibbs, Wilshere did not come into the first team as superstars. They have needed time to develop. Each of these players were sent out on loan and then given the opportunity to flourish in the first team, but this development has taken time as Arsenal fans know and now the decision to give these players time to develop is paying off at last. This is why there is so few English talent out there. The english players are not given time to develop on the big stage.

As well as these young players finally flourishing, there is much better communication across the team, especially in the defensive ranks. Arsenal have found a solid partnership in Koscielny and Mertesacker. It was fantastic to see Mertesacker and Arteta having a bit of a 'spat' in last nights match. It showed to me that there is more communication in this Arsenal team. Arsenal seem to have found a talent in Giroud after never really being able to replace Thierry Henry. And of course, every team needs that one match winner who can turn a game around and they certainly found that in Mesut Ozil. There is much better understanding across the team. Most of the players in the team have played with each other for more than one season and the young players certainly do not lack experience anymore. The show of maturity by Arsenal this season is enough to get any Arsenal fan dreaming of trophy finally.

However, the show of maturity is only the first step and Arsenal fans must stop themselves getting too carried away. Arsenal lack depth in their squad and really lacked a player on the bench last night that could come on and turn the game around. Giroud has proved an excellent goal poacher this season and holds the ball up well, but he lacks pace to really go past a player which is crucial in such a fast and furious league as the Premier League. Arsenal have made an excellent start, but I believe the January Transfer Window must be used by Wenger to bring in a lightning-paced striker and a winger who can give Arsenal another tactical option which I feel they lack at the moment. Arsenal must avoid injuries for this new mature Arsenal team to remain consistent throughout the rest of this season.

Let me know what you think of the post guys and whether you agree or disagree. Especially would like to hear from Arsenal fans as i'm only a fan looking from the outside.