Friday, 6 November 2015

A good week for English co-efficients

In what was fast becoming a situation of desperate measures for the Premier League's beloved fourth place trophy, ironically the club most accused of treating it as such was the one who did it the most damage this week.

Arsenal's 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich was in many ways a righting of the wrong that occured when the Germans were vanquished a fortnight ago in London. despite having all the territory etc. Any war imagery is unintentional, I swear!

The Gunners' proud record of maximum progression in 15 Champions League group stages is one that is under threat, yet this is one season where Premier League success, or at least the top two, may be within reach. Perhaps skipping their inevitable drawn out hammering by one of Europe's elite will allow their confidence to remain. And hey, there's always the Europa League, a definitely winnable competition.

Man City gave probably the most impressive and polished performance of the week, with a stunning display of speed and savagery on the counter-attack. Brendan Rodgers will have been spitting his well-pruned feathers at the sight of Raheem Sterling's goal and it must be said - could Sterling have been right all along? He certainly seems to have taken to life at the Etihad, like a duck to water you might say. Must stop thinking about ducks...

In all fairness, finishing was always his week point, but to give such a calm and precise conclusion to a thrilling break, and an all-round potent display, is feasibly proof that Liverpool was holding back a talent. It's much easier to initially flourish at anything when you are not immediately looked upon as the main man. Sterling had perhaps one season under the "promising youngster" tag before Suarez was chased out of town and Sturridge self-combusted. At City, Aguero, Bony and De Bruyne, not to mention the likes of Silva, Nasri and Navas, are already top quality attacking options. He is now free to learn, absorb, grow into the top player everyone unfairly assumed he was.

It is also impossible not to wonder whether Sterling would have still been at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp. While it must be said that Rodgers did achieve success that Klopp would be hoping to emulate, his most recent record was worrying. Under Rodgers, Sterling was...stalling, much like the rest of the side. There had been glimmers of the post-Sterling Liverpool sparking into life, most notably in that draw at Arsenal. Yet it was the equivalent of a spluttering engine, soon to burn out completely. The philosophy was tired and, most damningly, muddled.

Klopp, in just a few weeks, has certainly got his ideas across. His ideals of rock and roll football were not a million miles way against Rubin Kazan. As far as 1-0 hammerings go, this was right up there. High pressing, thrilling attacking football - there is a reason why his Dortmund side was so successful.

Man United and Chelsea also did their own bit for the cause, but I am not going to wade into the perpetual Rooney/Van Gaal/Mourinho storms this time. Too early in the morning for that. By all means though, get your fix of superstar soap opera! Don't forget to check out the Facebook page for the Messi vs Ronaldo Great Keyboard Warrior War. I need to get wars and ducks out of my system... This'll do - would you rather face an army of duck-sized horses, or a lone horse-sized duck?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Why this season's Premier League is the most refreshing in years

The self-styled best league in the world has had its issues of late. The top four in particular was seen as a closed shop, with only the rich elite having any hope of inhabiting the money positions. Rightly or wrongly, the ever-more financially bloated top league has extended its money share a touch, to the extent that the newly-promoted Bournemouth were able to drop a cool £8 million on Tyrone Mings from Ipswich. Let's not forget the £12 million the still-Championship Fulham spent on Luke McCormack.

While this money bubble will surely burst at some stage, and the likes of Newcastle and Villa in their frugal ways will rise to the top and laugh from their ivory towers, it's made for a thrillingly open season thus far, as more of the mid-ranking have a bit of dough to outspend their European counterparts with. Mahrez at Leicester, Cabaye at Crystal Palace - these are clubs who are in their second and third seasons after promotions respectively. When you add the fact that they both have managers who are delighting in rubbing the noses of their critics, it's an undeniably nice thing to see.

In addition to this, McClaren at Newcastle attempting to rebuild his reputation, and succeeding on the basis of performances, if not yet results, plus Slavan Billic at West Ham finally attempting to prove that he isn't merely an England national side bogeyman eight long years after that wet Wembley night.

Then you have Southampton and Everton - the Saints riding on the back of a tremendous season last time out, and threatening at least a repeat this time, Martinez living up to his so far somewhat inconsistent reign with an extremely mixed bag of results.

Liverpool are one of the standout cases for me of a bit of dare-I-say-it fun returning to the fray. Rodgers did make a valuable contribution to Anfield's recent history, and will surely always be welcomed back by supporters should he ever return to watch his former side, but towards the end of his reign he seemed lost in his own bubble of motivational-schtick, tossing out cliches that even he didn't seem to believe any longer. Jurgen Klopp's claim of his love of rock and roll football seemed alive and well at Stamford Bridge in their 3-1 win. The odd bum note and leftover feedback was definitely audible, but more than made up for by the theatrics of their goals.

Speaking of which, Jose Mourinho is one man in danger of being left behind by this new element of fun. His sides have rarely been thrilling ones to watch, and when they are, it always seems to have been a temporary phase en route to his idealistic vision of a ruthless cyborg of a team. Even his solid-as-a-rock defensive plans have been ripped to pieces by this more adventurous than normal Premier League, and he must surely recognise this, fight fire with fire, and simply allow his most creative players and supposedly deadliest finishers the room to dovetail and combine as they please.

Hazard, Oscar, Costa, Remy, Falcao - that is by no means the only attacking talent he has, yet he refuses to play to their strengths, and his continuing strangulation of their talents cannot last. He claimed to want to help Falcao back to his best, yet the longer he rots away on the bench, supposedly having to dislodge Costa, the more like a vanity project it seems. Solution - play them both up front together. If this reads like an anti-Jose rant, it isn't, merely a suggestion that he should allow him to be swept up in this newly attacking league, him being the supposedly Happy One this time around.

Louis van Gaal can also stand to loosen up on the pitch if he wants to get anywhere near the league this season. Off the field, his attitude formation seems to be a constant 2-3-5, so a bit more cavalier on the pitch would be nice. As long as one of those five strikers isn't Rooney. Seriously, the man needs a rest. The endless bashing he gets will not do him any good. He needs to remind himself why he loves the game, see how he can move forward a stalled career, and he needs a bit of time out to do that.

Manchester City and Arsenal are definitely doing it right. Could this be the first season in living memory where they occupy the top two spots? I need to employ a fact checker to see when that last happened. Hmm...alright, I'll do it. WHOA - OK, this would be the first time it ever happened. Now, that would be refreshing.