Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Can Rooney Recapture The Glory Days?

It seems incredible that it was 11 years ago when Wayne Rooney announced his arrival on both Manchester United and European stage with a hat-trick to help swat Fenerbahce aside. At 18 years old, he seemed poised to take on the world, having already threatened to make Euro 2004 his own.

Fast forward to 2015, and as Rooney approaches his 30th birthday, he tonight spearheads his and his club's grand return to European competition. Perhaps as a marker of how both have fallen on the world stage, it is not yet September and this is not a group game. Club Brugge stand in the way of that and Rooney will be looking for a serious spark. Now is the time for another hat-trick, or at least a goal, to silence the growing band of naysayers.

Many previous dry spells have been blamed on injury or fatigue, such as a European Championship or World Cup campaign, but with a relatively bare summer, this season has seen an undeniably ring-rusty Rooney. Ironically, it was his own lack of sharpness that probably caused Kyle Walker to put past his own keeper on the opening day, with Walker throwing himself in front of a shot that never came. Aston Villa are a club that Rooney historically loves - an unlucky 13 have flown past their keepers from his boot. We all know the "lies, damn lies, and statistics" quote, but it is impossible to resist the connection. He was, to put it kindly, below-par at Villa Park on Friday night.

An admittedly key element of recent times in Rooney's career has been the growing frequency with which he has been deployed either on the wing or central midfield. For someone who burst onto the scene with such energy, that should not necessarily pose much problem, but it is true that this may have hampered him. Robin Van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo have both been his positional scourges over the years, leading to teams that are not built to serve Rooney. Now that that time has belatedly come, could it be that the fire has long since burnt out?

It was a long-levelled accusation towards Sir Alex Ferguson that he had dulled the sharpness of the Rooney blade in favour of a more defensively-minded selfless team player. Rooney being Rooney, he has (mostly) done whatever is asked of him, and would probably have played right-back if Fergie had convinced him so.

Unquestionably, in terms of end-of-season statistics, Rooney is a relentlessly consistent performer, and can surely have Fergie to thank for some of this. Last season, he became the first player in the Premier League era to score 10+ goals in 11 consecutive campaigns. In only two of these did he breach the 30 mark, and in only one further did he pass 20, Probably most galling of all for him, his most productive scoring campaign was followed by Fergie's Van Persie trophy signing, which admittedly won him his swansong campaign. Even last season, Rooney ended as not only United's top scorer but also leading assist-maker.

He now has the chance to further cement his unquestionable legacy. Yet, the one niggling question remains - did he move to Old Trafford too soon? Did his explosive early promise ever really get fulfilled? Yes, he has scored many goals, and many spectacular ones at that, such as THAT overhead against Man City. But remember the way he ran at and terrorized those defences at Euro 2004. Was it coached out of him? Was his body type and tendency to easily put on weight always going to sand those jagged edges away? Or is it all rubbish? Could it be that he has in fact fulfilled whatever potential he had? His could remain a cautionary tale for the likes of Ross Barkley to stay where you are developing, and not to reach for the stars so soon.

Or tonight may yet be the start of Rooney's late career golden era. The scene is set. European midweek floodlights will be on. He will be central striker for that same team he, lest we forget, is the 3rd top scorer ever for. Perhaps his career trajectory is a lesson for football hacks everywhere to avoid comparisons with the absolute greats of the game, and simply appreciate him for what he is, a solid striker who guarantees goals. Only, he doesn't right this moment. Step forward, Wayne.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Dr Mo, and some Saturday-related Ramblings

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the first Chelsea injury of tomorrow's match. The collective holding of the crowd's breath, the uncertainty of Dr Eva Carneiro's touchline stand-in, before Jose Mourinho himself dons the medic uniform and grabs the ol' magic spray. All of course to distract the wider attention from the 2-0 lead that Manchester City have at the time.

On to the things that actually matter - action! Southampton came massively unstuck against the Toffees of Everton whose performance was pure Werther's Original. I spoke to an Everton fan who said he was used to going to bars in Poole and seeing his beloved Blues get trounced on the south coast year after year. Well, he can go back in next time with bragging rights firmly in his back pocket! It was a really impressive display from Roberto Martinez's men, one at odds with a lot of the accusations of one-dimensional death-by-possession leveled at him last season (and last weekend...).

While one Saints swallow does not make a summer, the ability by his charges to actually construct speedy counter-attacking moves is extremely promising for Everton's seasonal prospects. In his post-match interview, Martinez admitted the need for flexibility in his play, and today resembled the best of the 2013-14 performances. Admittedly, it is when the defenses are packed that Everton have tended to struggle, and the next home game against supposedly middling opposition will be a truer test of progress, but today was a definite step forward. Romelu Lukaku had one of his Superman games, and Ross Barkley reminded us all why he was talked of as the next (sober) Gazza. His lack of consistency last season was alarming, but this opening fortnight will ideally act as a springboard for him, and the side.

Speaking of sobriety, Daryl Jannmat will have needed some Dutch courage before entering the dressing-room at half time to face Schteve McClaren. His senseless sending off was the biggest nail in a coffin that was truly made of nails for Newcastle today against Swansea. Jefferson Montero had a field day against the Toon defence, and another day it could have been four or five. One can only imagine the accusations if John Carver was still in charge, because for Jannmat to indulge in a spot of shirt-tugging in his situation was a bit silly to say the least.

Speaking of indiscipline, new boy Aleksandar Mitrovic is seemingly a throwback to the psychotic days of Duncan Ferguson. The Serb actually showed a couple of nifty touches in his short spell on the Liberty turf. Unfortunately, once more he showed a hotheaded streak that threatens to earn him a reputation. The referee showed him a yellow card for a bit of pushing and shoving - while awarding Newcastle a free-kick, apparently missing a rather nasty high lunge at his Swansea opponent. Had this been spotted, that yellow may well have been red.

Borussia Dortmund and Thomas Tuchel got the post-Klopp era off to the perfect start with an absolute annihilation of Borussia Monchengladbach. 4-0 did not do it justice, with the referee even taking pity on Lucien Favre's men by not even bothering with the stoppage time at the end of the 90. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was in the hottest of form, and the Premier League speculation will no doubt intensify as August reaches its conclusion.

If tomorrow is supposed to be Super Sunday, the Saturday was a more than adequate appetizer!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

More football! Wheyyy

Time to reflect on the opening weekend of Real Football. I may one day change the name of this blog to Mirrorball but if not, in true logical fashion, if I don't have it, no one can!

As a Newcastle fan, one of my favourite weekend titbits was Hatem Ben Arfa's Nice debut, although it didn't turn out so nice for him, I can tell you that! Playing as part of a ten-man patchwork Nice team, in a vaguely right-wing-back role, he let the Monaco left-back, Layvin Kurzawa, ghost into the penalty area and seal a tidy comeback for a 2-1 Monaco win. Cue an immediate substitution of the defence-dodging Ben Arfa! The old classics never go out of style. Enjoy the highlights, complete with atmospheric French commentary.

In more homeward-bound endeavours, Man United got their apparently sewn up title charge underway with a shiver-inducing 1-0 thrashing of Spurs, who were so quaking in their boots that Kyle Walker finished off Wayne Rooney's thought for him. He was so puzzled by Rooney's lack of movement and predator instinct that he shaped to block the shot, only to actually beat his own keeper in the process.

Tottenham were certainly rather disappointing themselves, although Harry Kane was as industrious as ever, while looking a bit ring-rusty. With a bit more intensity, at least a point could have been within their grasp. Mind you, the Spurs pre-season can surely not have helped, resembling a drunken Football Manager fumble at 3am on a Sunday morning. A couple of end-of-season knockabouts, then nothing until the 29th July? Followed by two games in two days in Munich four/five days before an early Saturday kick-off at Old Trafford? Someone was definitely on the absinthe at White Hart Lane this summer.

What wasn't abSENT at Stamford at Bridge was fortune. Both Chelsea goals, in particular the second, had more than a helping hand from the football gods. Not even the sending-off of the alarmingly nervy Thibaut Courtois could steer Swansea to what would have been a thoroughly deserved three points. If you can read anything into this opening week of the season season, it is that Swansea are on the charge. Steve McClaren and co better bring their Dutch courage next weekend...

Arsenal got their campaign off to a typically calamitous start, recalling their 3-1 meltdown at home to Villa a couple of years back. Ironically, both goals were probably down to the one signing that was supposed to finally shore up that pesky defence. Peter Cech gave a quite uncharacteristic display, leading to such online ubiquity as this here link that is highlighted, while Slaven Bilic re-announced himself to English football in a similar party-pooping fashion as his previous London appearance.

Some other things most certainly happened. Liverpool ground their way to a ghost-banishing victory at Stoke via a stunning Coutinho strike, while Yohan Cabaye inspired Crystal Palace to a 3-1 victory at Norwich. Oh, and despite my own desire to see West Brom put up a fight against Man City, that particular team-talk fell absolutely flat - the City boys coasting to a 3-0 win that has seen them crowned Champions of Everything. It was so easy for them that Raheem Sterling even got a chance to further practice his rusty finishing skills in a very Raheem Sterling way.

Oh, and someone needs to (MANY already have done so) tell Channel Five that their Football League Tonight show is terrible. The one positive point was the 9pm start, which gives the lower leagues a much needed jump on their glamorous Premier League competition. But the rest? Endless league-hopping, no mics on their audience participants, no shape or order to the show whatsoever. I did quite enjoy the low-budget league tables, but much work to do ahead of Week 2!

The worst performance of the week has to go to myself, though, hovering around the bottom of both my fantasy league and prediction leagues. I've fined myself a week's wages and sent myself for a run around the block, so I'll be better next week, I promise.

To revisit my opening paragraph - adieu!