Posts Tagged ‘ Swansea City ’

A Beautiful Game No More

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In the last number of weeks, we have been treated to a flurry of high-profile football games, with clashes at the top of the Premier League, big name ties in the FA Cup and the return of the Champions League with the first knock-out round. But did any of those big games bring about a truly enjoyable and competitive game? And if not, why not?

This week’s Champions League ties saw Barcelona take on Manchester City and Bayern Munich against Arsenal. All four teams would have to be considered expansive and attacking in their play, and with both English sides at home, the onus was on them to come out and attack. In theory, we were set up for two classic encounters with sides attacking and counter-attacking constantly. Yet the City game in particular was a huge disappointment. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have averaged 3.5 goals per home game, but ceded ground to the Catalan side from the off, which must have been why Aleksandar Kolarov was picked to play from the left wing. They only looked vaguely threatening and hugely dependent on Yaya Toure to roam forward from midfield and David Silva to create the chances. In fairness, it almost came off when Silva played in Alvaro Negredo, who rounded the goalkeeper only to be driven too wide to apply the finish. By and large though, City were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure, and their attacks were few and far between.

They were largely successful in containing Barcelona until their defensive unit were complicit in giving up the lead. Barca won the ball up the field, Vincent Kompany dropped too deep too fast and played on Lionel Messi, and Martin Demichelis brought him down, giving up the penalty and earning a red card, and changing the complexion of the game from then on. It’s almost impossible to play gung ho against this Barca team at the best of times, but with ten men it becomes time to batten down the hatches. It is interesting to note that it was Jesus Navas, as well as Kolarov, who got withdrawn, as he had the genuine pace that could have offered City a swift counter-attacking option.

The Arsenal game was fairly similar, in that it was changed by the red card to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but really by that time Munich had taken hold of the game. But Arsenal did come out and play hard and fast for the first fifteen minutes, making Bayern look like a ragged bunch of journeymen. This spell culminated with the penalty won and missed by Mesut Ozil, who was presented with the chance to answer the bandwagon jumpers who have blamed him for most of Arsenal’s problems of late. Unfortunately for him and that game, he missed and the belief seemed to transfer from the Arsenal players to Bayern’s almost immediately. Arsenal barely had an attack of note after that, and certainly none after the red card.

In the case of Champions League ties, the home tie is a tricky one, given the importance of away goals. Even though the crowd are roaring you on and looking to take a lead for the away leg, it may suit a lot of teams to come out with a nil-nil, knowing a score draw in the next leg would see them through. For instance, if City had registered a scoreless draw the other night, would it have seemed farfetched that they could have nodded in a couple of goals from corners or free kicks in the Camp Nou, and put the game beyond Barcelona? Down a man, it is obviously pertinent to minimise the damage, and the couple of away goals both sides gave up mean they are highly unlikely to overturn the deficit and win their ties.

Pellegrini clearly has a lot of fear when thinking of this Barcelona side. Who wouldn’t? He has seen this team first hand a little too often for his own good in the last ten years, as he managed Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga against them in La Liga during their pomp. It is unlikely he didn’t carry battle scars from all those encounters, and they possess great weapons. But Man City went away from their own strengths in the face of all this, when really they might have been better served by trying to put them on the back foot. Going forward, Barca’s most impressive player was Dani Alves, but he was on a yellow card from early on and is not the most accomplished defender on the planet, could they not have looked to exploit him more? Fortune favours the bold, and Man City had the team that could have troubled Barca a lot more than they did.

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What made these games in particular quite dull affairs was the possession-based game plan of both winning sides. As Bayern and Barca camped out in the English sides halves for the second half of their games, who was visibly enthralled? Toni Kroos smashed in a beautiful goal from outside the box, but Bayern didn’t really carve Arsenal open. Rafinha and Alves as full backs were the most incisive players of the midweek action as they had lots of space when defenders were already sucked in, but Bayern had to resort to lumping on big centre forwards to get the second goal. Nothing wrong with it, but they weren’t exactly cutting holes in the Arsenal rearguard by passing slowly and laterally outside the box. It was dull.

There is a trend in football now, largely thanks to the successes of Barcelona in the last decade, to play possession-based attacking games. Hog the ball, wear down your opponent, wait for your moment when the concentration levels drop, then pounce.  This has seen the rise of the offensive full-back, who is seemingly the player with the most space available to them. In turn, it now seems the centre-back is the new full-back, as the wider areas are closed down and the middle is where the space lies, so if you are lucky enough to have a centre-back with good ball skills they can drive forward and pick a pass, allowing your team to recycle possession effectively. But it is this type of dominant attacking that is making games less open. Opponents are generally pinned back and have to play with a defensive mind-set. There have been examples of teams capable of getting results with strong counter-attacking, such as Gareth Bale’s Spurs (no offense, AVB) and Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan team. These sides were able to take advantage of the major weakness of teams like Barca and Bayern, which is the defensive side of the game. Inter were able to knock out Barcelona and eventually win the Champions League by attacking when the moment was right, and defending solidly otherwise. But teams down the bottom of the league rarely have the speed of thought found in that Inter team’s Samuel Eto’o or Wesley Sneijder, nor the clinical finishing of Diego Milito. Thus, they spend the whole game defending and more or less awaiting the inevitable.

Even away from the elite teams in Europe, this trend can still be the case. The Europa League game between Swansea and Napoli had a similar plot. Swansea were always going to enforce their possession game too, but with all due respect they are not at the same standard as Barca or Bayern. The Napoli line-up was also one that boasted great talent, particularly going forward with the tremendous Gonzalo Higuain and the high profile Marek Hamsik, as well as winger Lorenzo Insigne who has played for Italy and Jose Callejon, who came through the ranks for Real Madrid before making a summer move to Naples. Add in counter-attacking away-leg specialist Rafa Benitez (see; any successful Liverpool European tie during his reign), and this should have been a rip-roaring tie with back and forth attacks. Unfortunately, not the case. Swansea played well but didn’t create too many clear chances, while Napoli were quite poor and resigned themselves to defending from early on.

Liverpool have played Arsenal twice in the last few weeks, with the first game a one-sided slaughter as Liverpool exposed Arsenal’s defence repeatedly in the first twenty minutes. The game was over after those early exchanges, and the second game could have gone the same way, with Daniel Sturridge having two great chances early on. Admittedly, the FA Cup game was a much more competitive game than any of the others mentioned, particularly in the second half. But it still wasn’t an end to end kind of game, as Liverpool dominated possession while pushing for an equaliser. The dross served up in the Arsenal versus Manchester United fixture was perhaps explainable by the frailty of both sides. Arsenal were just coming off the hiding at Liverpool, while United have struggled all year as a particular game plan and style remains unclear.

This is not to say anything is wrong with being a strong defensive side. Some of the best games in history have been based on a strong defensive effort defying a ferocious attack, like the Italian win over Brazil in the 1982 World Cup. There is certainly an art to defending, and it seems to evade the Pep Guardiola inspired teams like Munich and Barcelona. But if opposing teams are unwilling or unable to launch attacks and get at their back four, they will continue to get steamrollered. A fascinating encounter (not unlikely after the first leg results) would be a two-legged affair between these two teams down the Champions League line. None of the other games mentioned were uninteresting in their own right, but a tie between Bayern Munich and Barcelona might give us the furious, frenetic end to end game we’d all love to see.

Images courtesy of uefa.com, uefa.com/AFP/Getty Images

Poyet Chosen To Steady Sunderland Ship

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Sunderland have today announced Gustavo Poyet as their new manager with the former Brighton supremo tasked with keeping the Black Cats from relegation following the acrimonious departure of Paulo Di Canio.

The 45 year-old has agreed a two year contract at the Stadium of Light and will take charge of the Black Cats with immediate effect.

The Uruguayan began his coaching career in England in 2006 at Swindon Town, before joining Leeds United as assistant manager. After a year at Elland Road, Poyet returned to his former club Tottenham Hotspur as First Team Coach, before becoming Assistant Manager to Juande Ramos. Continue reading

Premier League Preview: Jose’s Blues Are The Boys To Beat

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With the new Premier League season fast approaching, it’s hard to look beyond an old foe of many managers and fans alike from stealing the limelight once the season gets underway.

This summer’s transfer window and indeed all of the summer’s talk has been shaped around three men, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Arsenal’s pursuit of the Uruguayan, Wayne Rooney and his transfer request and Spur’s Gareth Bale who is being courted by Real Madrid.

One team, with the exception of a handful of Rooney rumours, has slipped under the radar as they plan to wrestle back a title that they won back to back in 2005 and 2006, and they have Jose Mourinho back to steer them there. Continue reading

Premier League Fixtures Released

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From Wikicommons, user: russavia.

With just 59 days to go until first kick-off, the fixture list for the 2013/14 season of the Barclays Premier League has been released, and whatever computer the League uses to draw the fixtures clearly hasn’t lost its mischievous side. Manchester United’s new manager David Moyes looks to have his work cut out for him; his side will face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in their first five games. The clash with Chelsea will be the Scotsman’s first game in charge at Old Trafford and is a mouth-watering prospect considering it will be José Mourinho’s first return to Manchester as a Premier League manager, and Moyes’ first real test at United’s helm.

Continue reading

Salvation For Domestic Celtic Nation Football In League Unification

celticnationsMark Pitman offers a Welsh football perspective to the potential of a Celtic nation amalgamation.

This month the Champions League once again dominated the football headlines as the knock-out stage of UEFA’s flagship competition matched the biggest, best and richest of the European game against each other. Such is the attention and interest demanded by what is now considered football’s leading competition, the Champions League has grown from strength to strength since ditching its European Cup title for a new image and format, while maintaining the silverware traditions of past glorious with what Jose Mourinho refers to as ‘the cup with the big ears’. The escalating profile and riches now associated with the Champions League justify its revamp, but its new-found status was created out of necessity in order to prevent the creation of the European Super League and the breakaway of Europe’s leading clubs. The idea has since been muted, but it remains an underlying threat to the current establishment, and raises its head whenever there is unrest between UEFA and its clubs.  Continue reading

Clark V Carroll The Key Battle In Our Accumulator

ccInternational matches took centre stage on Wednesday night and some notable results were recorded. Both Ireland and England may have registered wins but the two teams will draw very different conclusions from the results. Whereas the two goal win against Poland left Giovanni Trapattoni with a deepening conundrum about his starting eleven for the remainder of the World Cup Qualifiers, the English media would have you believe that Roy Hodgson has little on his managerial agenda other than to sit back, relax and bide his time away until his team are crowned champions in Brazil in 18 months time. These matches could also have implications for our pockets, and regarding our 14/1 accumulator, it is important to be wary of players who could be affected by fatigue or minor niggles picked up during the course of these matches. Continue reading

Away Teams To Bag Us A Treble This Weekend

berbaOur last treble was a single goal away from landing our 12/1 winnings, so we’ll be aiming to go one better with our 14/1 accumulator this weekend. There isn’t a lot of value available on home team prices on either Saturday or Sunday, so we’re going to avert our attention to the travelling sides. Continue reading

Top 5 Most Under Rated Footballers In The Premier League

World football is full of many talents but some never reach their through potential while others merely live in the shadow of four time world player of the year Lionel Messi and his arch rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

mcThe Premier League has long been regarded as one of the best if not the best league in the world, although recent events such as the world team of the year possessing eleven Spanish based players would tell you La Liga has a huge stake to that claim.

Nontheless despite the snub the Premier League is brimming with talent and here we chart the progress of the top five most underrated players currently plying their trade on English soil.

1) Michael Carrick

Six years ago the vast sum of £18 million brought Michael Carrick from Spurs to Manchester United, a team that were seen to be in a period of great decline. Carrick was handed the number 16 shirt and immediately tasked with replacing former United captain Roy Keane.

His early days weren’t as prosperous as he would have liked but nonetheless his talent was there for all to see as United went on to beat Chelsea to the Champions League title on that faithful night in Moscow.

There have however been incidents where the former West Ham ace was hounded as a scapegoat for United’s defects, none more so than the forgettable 2009 Champions League Final when Barcelona ran out 2-0 winners.

He has however moved on from then and Carrick is now having his finest season to date and is United’s second most influential player behind the potent goal threat that is Robin Van Persie.

The Newcastle born star is not known for his goalscoring ability but his ability to control a game and his precision passing have been at times comparable to the great Andrea Pirlo.

The Englishman, now 31, is the genuine complete article. A model midfielder. His influence on United’s game is more pronounced than ever before. He pulls the strings in attack – dictates the tempo, rhythm and style of their play. His short passing is equally as good as his long. His strength in defence has even resulted in featuring as a make-shift centre back when injuries and suspensions depleted United’s ranks.

It’s a damning indictment of English football that a player Sir Alex Ferguson proclaims is as good as Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard has started only 16 England games in 12 years.

Is Carrick the most underrated player in world football? Arguably so.

2) Steven Pienaar

Everton have a world class left side, with Steven Pienaar combining brilliantly with Leighton Baines this season. The Toffees have been buoyed by the South Africans return from a spell at Spurs and he’s hitting form at the right time.

Pienaar has always flourished under the radar and while not been held in the same regard as other world class wingers his ability is second to none on his day. Passing, crossing and an eye for goal are all key components of his play and he has prospered since returning home to Goodison Park last summer.

3) Mohammed Diame

Diame joined West Ham last summer, opting to move to Upton Park despite many big name suitors including Liverpool. The former Wigan Athletic star is one of the brightest prospects in the Premier League and it’s no wonder that there is increased speculation about another move been on the agenda in this transfer window.

The combative midfielder covers more ground than most players and his tackling and drive have been key components in helping to re-establish Sam Allardyce’s side in the top flight. Indeed his tackling and dribbling abilities far outweigh those of Man City star Yaya Toure and the Hammers will be hoping to keep hold of their prized asset.

4) Leon Britton

30 year old Britton is the only British player whose passing and ball control abilities can ever be comparable to Barcelona magician Xavi. Last January it was revealed that Britton had the highest pass completion rate of any footballer in the world at that point of the 2011/12 season with a 93.3% rate, 0.3% better than his illustrious opponent.

His control, vision and knack for picking out the inch perfect pass make watching Swansea City a treat for any pure football fan. Although this is not to say that the Swans are by any means a one man team.

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5) Ryan Shawcross

Fresh from signing the longest contract in the history of Stoke City, Shawcross is playing the best football of his life, throwing his body on line to block shots. He leads a very stubborn back four with his brute force and physical presence.

His command and reading of the game make him a big asset to any team and Tony Pulis has done well to secure the services of Shawcross, who had been catching the eye of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

At 25 he represents the future of the English national team and 2013 will be a big year for the Stoke skipper to cement his place in Roy Hodgson’s plans.

 

Beat the Budget Blues With Our Premier League Bets

harryHopefully you took my advice last week and backed Swansea to win and for there to be over 2.5 goals in the Spurs match. If not, you can hang your head in shame and grovel for my mercy. Luckily for you of little faith, I am a merciful emperor and am going to let you live to fight another day, a day which offers us many more opportunities to earn tax free money that the pesky budget can’t touch.

Wigan have been on a poor run of form lately but I still think they are overpriced at 13/10 to beat QPR, who are still deservedly grounded in the drop zone despite the arrival of ‘arry. Wigan may have lost 3-0 to Newcastle on Monday night, but had Maynor Figueroa not been sent off early on in the game I think the Latics could prolonged Newcastle’s woes. They were impressive in the second half after Roberto Martinez got them into the dressing room and settled them down and I think the Spaniard, despite having several defenders unavailable, can unlock QPR tactically at the weekend to get his team back on track.

Norwich have won our trust over the last few weeks but this is no place for emotional attachment. Travelling to Swansea on Saturday, they should be defeated for the first time in seven matches. They have proven tricky opponents to get past but I believe that Michael Laudrup’s troops have enough attacking power to undo the Canaries. They will be boosted by the news that their widely acclaimed keeper Michel Vorm has resumed training while Norwich could still be without their No. 1 choice John Ruddy. Although Laudrup has other injury concerns, Swansea should pull through at odds of 5/6.

The third leg of our accumulator is the most adventurous of the three. I fancy Fulham and Newcastle to draw on Monday night. Hatem Ben Arfa could make a welcome return to the away side’s team and Brede Hangeland returns to firm up the Fulham defence. Neither team have inspired any confidence in them in recent matches. This might be convenient ignorance on my part of Newcastle’s victory mentioned above but I’ve explained how the result could have easily been different. The draw is available at 5/2 and I think this is a welcome final addition to our accumulator.

Putting those three bets together will give you odds about 14/1 and if you want to make even more enchanting, we could look at a Carroll-less West Ham to beat a Suarez-less Liverpool at a price of 6/5 with the draw-no-bet option. Also, in what should be a cracking game, I fancy Everton to beat Tottenham in a clash that is enthralling both on the pitch and on the sideline where the man’s man David Moyes comes up against the new-aged metrosexual AVB. On this occasion, the wise old scrapping Scot should crush the slick and smooth modern man. The Toffees are 11/10 to overcome a Spurs side who are without Gareth Bale and could feel fatigued after their Thursday night exploits.

Personally, I’m going to hedge my bets and safely stick to the first three bets but if you want to put your money where my mouth is then these 5 bets combine to give odds of over 66/1. That’ll see you earn a lot of tax free dosh that you can spend on tax, tax and more tax.

Four Games That Could Earn You Big Bucks

Fernando TorresThis weekend we’re going to play by the rules. We’re going to take our beatings and learn from them as the 33/1 and 50/1 bets we previously unsuccessfully attempted are not going to be emulated. We dared to dream of getting rich quick but paid the price and so it is with a heavy heart that we desert the bet of the day which is Swansea to beat Arsenal at 4/1 (draw no bet), or 6/1 for those brave enough to back Michu, Hernandez and co. to stuff the gunners at the Emirates. Not us however, nor are we brave enough to include Swansea in our moderately big bucks accumulator this weekend. Instead we’re going to point our prayers to backing a paltry 18/1 accumulator which, for the most part, comprises of sure things.

We’re starting at the Hawthorns where West Brom face Stoke. The Baggies really should be utterly disappointed with their display on Wednesday and I fancy them to bounce back from this dismal performance. Fan favourite Shane Long is due to return to the starting eleven to bolster their attack against a team who are on the back of two successive home wins, but away form would suggest that Stoke will be on the wrong side of the result this time. West Brom are available at evens to beat the Potters who could be without their main man Peter Crouch.

Onwards and predictably upwards towards the top of the table and we’re going to back both Man City and Chelsea to win their games this weekend. There are quiet whispers of City developing their 14 game unbeaten start into an unbeaten season. Despite the fact that they haven’t been setting the world on fire, they are now looking defensively solid now and have more than enough names up front to bag them a goal or two to secure the three points against Everton, who as it turns out, were the last team to beat them at home. We’re going to conveniently ignore this stat though and back them at 1/2 to reverse that result.

Rafa Benitez is still looking for his first goal as Chelsea manager and, while he has also yet to concede a goal, the Spaniard will be hoping that his infamous number 9 can do something, anything to inspire his fellow team mates to their first win since beating Tottenham in October. I think they should be able to pull it off away to West Ham in the 12.45 kick off on Saturday. Juan Mata should start after being left on the bench against Fulham, and another big plus for the Blues is that the blunder-prone David Luiz will not be available for selection – that’s encouragement enough to back Chelsea at 5/6 to win.

The final leg of this accumulator for those of us who won’t be including the Swansea factor focuses our attention on Fulham’s home tie with Tottenham. We’re going to stick our money on a draw in a fixture which sees two sides who this season have been very effective going forward but not so much when defending.  Both sides had a good result during the weekend and even though Spurs did beat Liverpool 2-1, they were not all that convincing and I don’t feel that they will take all three points off Fulham. The draw is generally priced at 12/5.

Putting those 4 bets together still gives us decent accumulator odds of 18/1 – not the most ridiculous 18/1 bet you could have this weekend. Other bets that could be worth a gamble would be, as mentioned above, Swansea 4/1 to beat Arsenal (draw no bet) and over 2.5 goals in the Fulham match at 4/6.

That’s the Premiership accumulator for this weekend my fellow punters, maybe it’s not as adventurous as other weeks but will you really care when your 18/1 bet comes in and you’re finally able to afford that solid gold house? I think not.