Monday, 7 January 2013

FA Cup analysis

The problem a lot of sports journalists must face is the pressure of knowing everything that’s happening all the time. When it comes to reporting on action, this undoubtedly leads to commenting on matches that you haven’t seen, relying on second-hand accounts. In this piece, there will be no stooping to that level, as praise the Lord I had a Saturday off from my part-time job for the first time in many weeks.

My FA Cup odyssey began with the visit of Newcastle to Brighton’s American Express Community Stadium. After last year’s round four upset thanks to a Mike Williamson own-goal, the travelling support was understandably nervous. Myself being a Newcastle fan, I too approached this match from my armchair with a certain trepidation.

Needless to say, the match did nothing to lift my Toon-related spirits. Brighton were first to every ball, and didn’t even play their best football. Two-nil was a scoreline that flattered Newcastle, and Pardew was spot on when he hinted that many of his side shouldn’t have been on the pitch. Of course, Shola Ameobi sorted that one out for himself by getting sent off – rather unlucky to be shown red of course.

As for Pardew’s immediate future, one can only hope that the board show patience. Here is the side that could have been pieced together from those absent at the weekend. Krul, Simpson, Taylor, Collocini, Taylor, Ben Arfa, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas, Cisse, Vuckic (not even mentioning the departed Ba). When you add Sylvan Marveaux into that mix, who was restricted to appearing from the bench after a hectic Christmas period, you can plainly see that Pardew had very little to work with. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the lack of motivation on display, but after such a dispiriting run of late, confidence is not easy to come by.

To lift the spirits I decided to check in on Demba Ba’s new club Chelsea, and their trip to Southampton. The match took a similar narrative to the recent Capital One Cup victory over Leeds, where a 1-0 deficit turned to a 5-1 tonking quite quickly. The likes of Hazard, Mata, Oscar, and Lampard, look tailor made for Ba to continue his incredible goalscoring achievements since coming to England, and his two goals got him off to the ideal start at his new club. Southampton weren’t exactly awful, but Chelsea in that mood will give anybody a game.

I get the sense that Rafa Benitez is slowly winning over his new fanbase. Far from strangling his team’s attacking style, what is now emerging is controlled aggression. A solid base to work from, with Luiz further up the pitch to limit his mistakes, is leading to success, bar the fluke defeat at home to QPR.  With such an array of attacking talent, even the most defensive tacticians around would succeed, as the individual flair on show is second to none. With Ba now perhaps overthrowing the meek and inconsistent Torres as Chelsea’s focal point, we may see an even more ruthless Chelsea as the season wears on. I for one would love to see them make a concerted effort to at least make the top two. Don’t rule out a surprise title challenge.

To complete the trio of viewing, West Ham hosted Man United. In the happiest of homecomings, JC twice assisted another JC as two goal-bound headers threatened to end Man United’s league and cup double dreams at the first hurdle. Sam Allardyce’s side were their usual mischevious selves, as they caused many problems to the ailing United defence.
Then Robin Van Persie happened.

A wonderful pass from Ryan Giggs found Van Persie with a bit of space, and in the blink of an eye, another late show from the Red Devils had come to pass. Even the ITV commentary team seemed lost for words as the inevitable dagger to West Ham hearts was drawn. I am no fan of Manchester United, but their powers of recovery are outstanding, and they play brilliant football.

I have always been one to advocate the leakiest of defences, as long as enough goals are scored to paper over the cracks, as it makes for fantastic viewing. That’s why I would make an awful manager, as I would not have the same deadly frontline as Sir Alex does. No wonder he refuses to quit – he must be having the time of his life.

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