In the alternate universe of Galactico, Morata is preparing to go back to Madrid. He is buoyed by the international break having scored a hat trick against Albania and this was followed up with a brace against Israel. Benzema still looks to miss out with an injury and there is no cause for worry and the four previous games without him, Morata has certainly steeped as he scored the winning goal in the pulsating game against Valencia in the 93rd minute. Against Levante, he scored the decisive goal with his first touch of the ball and against Real Betis, his quick reactions ensured Madrid wrapped up all three points despite the fact that Betis pulled one back. He has dragged Madrid to their feet all on his own and are now trailing Barcelona on goal difference alone. There is already talk of a Ballon d’or.
In another universe labelled Mancunia, the fans are camped outside the striker’s home hoping to catch a glimpse of their talisman. He was whisked off in the game against Israel in the 12th minute and was later seen leaving the stadium on crutches. There is talk of him missing three months of competitive football. Twitter has had a meltdown following this rumors. United fans cannot imagine life without Morata. His 14 goals in 7 games places him top of the top scorers’ list comfortably. The premier league has not fazed him at all and United are sweating over his injury and are hoping he can make an appearance against Liverpool.
Coming back to reality, Alvaro Morata is a Chelsea player that Chelsea payed 70 million for. The 24 year old is undoubtedly one of the finest finishers in Europe right now and Chelsea fans have no doubt that they bagged themselves a world class player among their ranks.
Factor in his 20 goals in 43 appearances last season and his numbers certainly speak for themselves. Depending on who you ask, Morata was always Chelsea’s first choice forward. Even this is uttered while paying little attention to the interview with the Guardian in April when Morata was talking about how public rejection impacts a player.
He seems to have put all that behind him and his six goals in 7 PL games shows a striker with an instinct for goal. This has however not been enough to convince his detractors. He started off on the wrong foot in the Community Shield by missing a glorious chance and also a penalty. This clearly got to him as he lashed out about he has played half an hour of football and missed a penalty and everyone is killing him. Perhaps he should have seen the fierce criticism coming considering how competitive this league is.
He did not retreat to his shell but came out guns blazing and it certainly seems like he is coming out on top. There is no one doubting his qualities as he is one of the most technically astute players to grace the field. He is an all rounded player with a turn of pace, ability to beat a man and a heading ability to die for. This is a player quite tidy in possession as he was dispossessed only 1.2 times per game last season as compared to Diego Costa’s 3.4. The one area that he is yet to be keenly tested on is his ability to lead the line. At Madrid, he was often used as a substitute in the dying minutes of the game or in games against minnow opposition.
This was one of the reasons he resorted to move to Juventus in 2014, so as to get more first team opportunities. This did not also go well as during his Italian stint, he scored 27 goals in 93 appearances which in all truth is a paltry return for a striker of his caliber. He struggled to adapt and during a training session he once broke into tears. In his first season, Carlos Tevez was the top scorer and in his second Paulo Dybala was the top scorer. He definitely had a problem dealing with the pressure that his role demanded.
His conversion rate of 27% last season was another talking point for the various critics as it seems erratic for a player of his ability. Of his 20 goals last season, only 5 were scored against top ten opposition perhaps highlighting the kind of opposition most favorable to him. Five of his goals in the PL have come against Stoke, Leicester and Burnley.
For a ‘cameo-man’, 70 million seems like a lot but as it is with players and transfers, needs must. Consistency is certainly key and the jury is still out as to whether he is a 20 goal a season striker. His rejection by Manchester United will perhaps fuel him to prove a point as to why he should be taken seriously and considered to be one of the best. First things first, he has to work on his fitness to come back from his injury and not show any sluggishness or after effects because all eyes are on him. For a player who has never played more than 43% of available minutes in a league campaign, the onus is on him now more than ever to prove that he deserves to be labelled ‘world-class’.
“The true definition of mental illness is when the majority of your time is spent in the past or future, but rarely living in the realism of NOW.”
– Shannon L. Alder
The year is 2014 and Mauricio Pochettino is already under pressure in his new job having made the switch from Southampton to Tottenham a few months back. Its Gameweek 8 and Spurs have only garnered 11 points. Poch pleads for time and makes a pretty bold statement, “In two years Spurs will have won a trophy”. Well its year number three and the trophy cabinet is still quite dusty.
The last time Tottenham got their hands on silverware was in 2008 when they won the League Cup. For those who have watched the premier league for a while, you will certainly remember the Newcastle side under Kevin Keegan in the ’95 season. The side was genuinely lovely to watch in terms of how they moved the ball and the quality of the goals they bagged with Les Ferdinand banging in 25 goals in that season. However come the final day of the season they finished four points behind eventual winners Manchester United. Doesn’t ring a bell for the millennials? well you lads are in luck as Spurs could well be the best new age team to never win the Premier League.
For the last two seasons we have seen a improved Spurs side who have taken it to the league leaders but there has been nothing to show for it. Last season was an improvement to the season before last as instead of disintegrating under pressure, Spurs pushed up to ensure that the league was only confirmed on the penultimate game of the season.
Its not been all doom under Poch. On the contrary there could never have been a better time to be a Spurs supporter. Pochettino has carved out a pretty strong bunch of players particularly their technical ability on the ball. Players such as Erikesen and Dembele have certainly blossomed under the Argentine and are very assured when they are on the ball. Their defence is also something to marvel about as they have been the meanest defence over the past two seasons. Their movements especially the fullbacks when making the transitions from pressing to counter-pressing and from defending to counter attack is nothing short of phenomenal. Before Pochettino’s arrival, they had only finished in the top four only twice in the PL history. He has done it back to back. They also got their highest league position finish last year in about 50 years. You factor in that during that period their net spend has been a paltry 7 million pounds and you only marvel at what the Argentine is doing.
This is the start of Pochettino’s fourth season at the North London Club and the question on some lips is does he need a trophy? Is silverware that vital in the definition of his time at Spurs? Well for one Pochettino himself does not think so. He has often stated that it is not vital for him to win a trophy. The journey to arrive at a position where you win a trophy is more important to him. But the question that still remains is, have they not arrived at the said position? Its hard to think of an intermediate level between Spurs’ current position and a team capable of collecting trophies.
With just about two weeks until the close of the transfer window, urgent business for Tottenham will be to improve their squad depth. Having lost Kyle Walker, a replacement is urgently needed. They do have Kyle Walker Peters but still.. There are four pieces of silverware available to them this season so squad rotation will be very important. Pochettino will need to pay attention to the cup competitions, something he has not been previously fond of. Only 13 players made over 10 starts in the league. This perhaps shows his tactical rigidity and in this season where the pressure may be greater than normal, they will need all hands on deck. Able backups to Kane, Alli and Vertoghen should be acquired as soon as possible.
Keeping a hold of his star players will also be top of his agenda. However that will not be much of a problem as we all know how Daniel Levy is. The man could probably walk into a bar and convince his bar stool to pay for his drink due to his hardheadedness. However his job was not made any easier by Rose’s comments with the left-back suggesting that Spurs should sign players you don’t have to google to know who they are. Everyone lashed out at him but he had a point. Spurs wage cap means they can’t compete with the Manchester Clubs in terms of going for a player. Salaries aside, its hard to convince a world class player to come to Tottenham to play backup to Kane.
Sloppiness is also something they have to avoid in the current season. They have often had slow and miserable starts to the campaign, a fact compounded by the realization that Harry Kane has never scored a premier league in August. the 2-0 win over Newcastle was mighty impressive but Kane will have to show up sooner rather than later if this steady start is to continue.
90min.com stated that a trophy should not be seen as the ultimate yardstick for success at Tottenham by lending a thought to Leicester during their PL winning season and the season after. To them a trophy symbolizes success but it does not guarantee it for years to come. The expectation for silverware should be replaced by admiration and reflection.
Jamie Carragher stated that it would a travesty if this current crop of Spurs players fail to win anything. This is because it is only a matter of time before the big clubs start picking apart this young team with half of them having not even reached their potential. What we have seen recently is that money will turn any footballer’s head. I wouldn’t use such strong terms but in my opinion a trophy represents the transition from a good team to a winning team.
The most weird aspect of all this is that my previous blog was talking about the same thing that I intended to explore; Wayne Rooney. So I have to deviate slightly. After a 13 year association with Manchester United, Wayne Rooney bids goodbye and returns to his boyhood club. Social media has been awash with a lot of tributes thanking the player for his immense contribution but there was one word that formed a lump in my throat every time I read it. LEGEND. Does Rooney really deserve the legend tag?
This question will obviously shock some people. How dare you question the captain! After all he has done for the club? The over 60,000 fans who graced his 2016 testimonial would certainly have my head on a stick. He is the record goalscorer for club and country which is mighty impressive considering the club record stood for 43 years. He is sixth in the all time list of club appearances. He has now won every trophy that he was eligible to play for but it is always the 5 PL medals that stand out.
He forged one of the most lethal counter attacking forces with Tevez and Ronaldo and in his prime was generally unstoppable. He has only failed to reach the 15 goal mark in two seasons illustrating his goal-scoring prowess. He has played all over the pitch except primarily as a central defender demonstrating his selflessness. Playing deep against Barcelona so Ronaldo would have the licence to roam free has always been the go to case for many fans. However there was one incident that would have escaped my eye had it not been for RedDevilArmada when Rooney let Pogba and Martial take the penalties against Fenerbahce because the players needed to boost their confidence and never gave any thought about the goal scoring record he was chasing then.
So why the hesitation on my part? I do not believe Rooney lived up to the hype following his sensational career start. There are feelings that he took longer than he should have to break the record and was generally on the decline. I am however aware that my sentiments may be blinded by the fact that I am a Three Lions fan and he has never really delivered on the international stage so I will shelve that debate.
In 2010, Rooney issues a transfer request to the United hierarchy and asks to leave. He questioned the ambition of the club and the direction the club was taking. United had just sold Ronaldo so perhaps this was understandable. He claimed that he was keen on winning trophies and wanted a challenge. At the time he was flirting with Man City, a club that was in its 34th Season without silverware and were doing a bit of ‘kamikaze-spending’ as SAF put it. He had talked to City behind United’s back. 48 hours later, the Glazers tabled a 100,000 pounds a week contract and Rooney signed. See the connection here? Quite funny that it took 100gs for Rooney to decide United was after all ambitious.
Three years later the greatest manager in the world said his goodbyes and as a parting shot notified everyone that Rooney had once again asked to leave the club. The general feel was that he didn’t take too kindly to losing his striking role to RVP. Mourinho at Chelsea made no secret that he wanted the English international at Stamford Bridge and United did knock back bids from the London Team. Rooney never came out to discourage these reports or to simply assure everyone that he wanted to stay. He was playing the high school girl who’s waiting to go home with the boy who wins the fight. (Un) Fortunately Moyes was desperate enough to offer him a ridiculous contract which included the armband and it was only after this (seeing the zeroes on his paycheck) that Rooney finally came out to state he was always going to stay. United again saved face by not allowing their star player to join a rival and stated that the new era would be ‘built around Rooney’. End result was a long contract that made things awkward within a season and a bloke probably earning what he did not deserve.
What unraveled was that Rooney was past his prime and his move to a midfield role was simply delaying the inevitable by hoodwinking us with those off-pressure cross-field passes. He lost his pace, the ice in his veins in front of goal (or any part of the pitch really) and most importantly his touch. So in my opinion Wayne Rooney was simply a journeyman who simply did not know when to leave.
Jake Lane of FutbolPulse recently stated that stats make someone a great but not a legend. Rooney for me falls in the former. A good player but not a United legend. The hallmark of a legend is someone with a genuine affection for the club and the desire to give your ass and place the club above all else. Rooney never did this and I for one feel he never cared about the club.
So good luck to a loyal *sic* servant of the Manchester United and I sincerely hope your next club is forgiving. The numbers label you a legend, I’ll take a pass.
The Emperor stood out before the parade that he had gathered so that he could reveal his newest set of clothes to his subjects. He had been advised that only those who were elevated enough would see his clothes. So you have to wonder if he thought his subjects were elevated, was he fit to lead them. Everybody bows before him and afraid of contradicting him, everyone agrees that his set of clothes are of very fine quality. However a tiny boy yells, “But the emperor has no clothes!”
In this scenario, the rest of the world is the little boy and Wayne Rooney is the emperor. Everyone sees it but him. Squawka’s reference to him as a headless chicken was the best thing conjured up in the last 24 hours. Rooney’s inclusion against Arsenal was his 750th appearance for club and country and you could tell all those appearances have had a bearing on his legs. Lumbering forward nimbly and strutting about awkwardly.
His supporters will point to his 252 PL goals setting him up as the all-time United top-scorer in tandem with 5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League, 1 FA cup and 3 League Cups. He has 21 appearances this season and has seven goals and 10 assists in all competitions. However my good friend recently alluded to the fact that statistics don’t tell the whole story and not to be selective but that does apply to Wayne.
However if you want to go the statistics way, against Arsenal yesterday he attempted 6 tackles and didn’t win a single one, he had 7 failed crosses, 4 shots off target, 1 chance created and 0 take-ons. This makes for a pained reading especially because the man in focus is Wayne.
The problem is this is not even an isolated incident. Time and time again, Wayne Rooney has been accorded time and space on the team and he has left his team and particularly his manager red-faced at his decision to field him. A significant point of the game was in the closing stages of the first half when Rob Holding squared a slow ball to Cech and Rooney raced on to intercept it. The game and Petr Cech were at his feet but Wayne being Wayne, he simply bumped the ball against the keeper. Mourinho turned away towards the bench and shook his fist, utterly disgusted. That was the perfect symbolism of every united fan’s feelings and frustrations. Perhaps the finish wasn’t as simple as it looked but this was Rooney! 5 years ago you could have bet your house on him burying that one. Scoring seemed like his inherent ability, it was never supposed to sink to these levels. The fact that our linchpin has been a 35 year old and Ronaldo being about six months older than Rooney recently scored European goal number 103 makes Rooney’s fading the more spectacular.
In 2013, Sir Alex alluded to the fact that Rooney had a problem with his fitness and lifestyle. Rooney has become a sort of ogre, round-shaped and short. Struggles to close down on teams that play from the back and is simply exhausting to watch. He has simply lost his tactical discipline. Against Arsenal, he kept dropping deeper and deeper whenever the midfielders had the ball instead of going the other way so there was no attacking outlet. Everyone could see the exasperated expression on Carrick’s face when he had the ball and Rooney causally strolled past him going into his own half. You’re the number ten, freaking open up and give a passing opportunity.
If there’s one thing that United has learnt during the past seasons is that holding onto sentiments can hurt you. He has always been warmly appreciated at Old Trafford with ovations and chants whenever he’s warming up or coming on. However, given the chance to pick the team, how many would actually place him in their starting line-ups? Heck he would barely make my 18 man squad!
The Sun in yesterday’s article called him the ‘ex-England captain’. Whether this was a tongue in cheek swipe or a genuine overlook remains to be seen but such is his position in the national team. His omission has brought barely a whimper from anyone. Southgate claimed Rooney is still his captain and the national doors are still open if he improves his performances this season. However basing on this, that door is steadily being shut and the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly fading.
He has got what he wanted in being United’s top scorer. It’s time to go Wayne. For both our sake. Stop embarrassing yourself and tainting that proud image that you have.
You either leave a hero or stay long enough to become a Steven Gerrard villain.
Gareth Southgate has finally taken charge of games as the permanent manager this week and it was a good week for the three lions. An encouraging display against Germany in Dortmund followed by a good win against Lithuania at Wembley yester night. We can see some aspects of Southgate’s imprint on the team but one thing we are noticing is that there is progress. So what should Southgate sort out before the next round of international matches?
1. A definite style of play.
Southgate has tinkered with the team quite a lot since his appointment but his favoured formation has always been 4-2-3-1 where the front three sort of tuck in and give more space for the fullbacks to fly forward. However after the Slovenia game in October, we felt it proving to be a problem with England as the movement wasn’t that swift and the game was for most parts, dull.
Against Germany, he lined up with a 3-4-3 formation and it was excellent to say the least. It has to be said that England did not deserve to lose. Michael Keane has to be singled out for his performance that night. For you to make your full international debut against the world champions and come out without any blame surely can’t go unnoticed. It will be interesting to watch him in the next few games.
On Sunday Southgate marshalled a 4-2-3-1 formation and there were a few jitters about the formation but to some extent it worked. It’s nice to note that the players are actually flexible to handle the tactical switch. Going forward it will be interesting to see what Southgate sticks to. He wasn’t very outgoing in his post-match press conference by claiming England is at an advantage in that they can shift their formation so it will keep teams guessing.
I would rather the 4-2-3-1 formation as it actually encourages a lot of build-up from the midfield where the bulk of England’s talent lies. It will prove to be a difficult formation to resort to if the opposition actually come out as it means the fullbacks have to go back and the wide players need to track their markers which is probably not their strongest asset.
2. Player Call-ups
There were definitely eyebrows raised when Theo Walcott wasn’t selected for this round of international matches despite being the second highest scoring Englishman. Southgate claimed that Theo had been given his chance the last time and he was unable to replicate his club form. He also added that he had more options in Barkley and Rashford and was looking to try something new. Wayne was also left out though why this was a shock to people I don’t know. Southgate got a lot of stick for selecting Livermore but look around and notice anyone who watched the game against Germany has changed their stance about Livermore. The boy was efficient with his passing and tackling.
Not Mr Nice Guy after all eh? He is a man keen to stamp his personality on the team and the train carrying joyriders seems to be slowing down to a halt. However it will be important for some consistency so as to ensure that partnerships and chemistry are built. He’s got to have a definite spine in the team on which to build the rest of the team. The team will be built around Harry Kane because his outrageous goal return so far demands that. Alli has also started curving his own niche as the first choice number ten and it hard to see him being dropped for anyone else.
However the rest of the squad needs to follow suit.
3. The Rooney situation.
The one thing that has refused to go away for Southgate. I feel it’s unfair that Southgate has to deal with Rooney at every press release yet Mourinho rarely has to deal with the same. Deep down we all know there’s no way Wayne is usurping any person selected to play number 10. Alli and Lallana have excellent movement and Rooney’s lack of pace is definitely something that’s in stark contrast to the rest of the number 10 contenders. A call-up should be as a result of form and not status. He’s captain and record goal scorer but how does that affect England for the 90 minutesif he lasts that long that he is on a pitch?
Southgate however still insists that Rooney has a future role in his team and still regards him as his permanent captain. Whether he is simply delaying the inevitable or is simply according him the necessary respect remains to be seen.
4. Jermain Defoe.
This was definitely a shock call-up. Southgate really took a gamble by placing his trust on the Sunderland forward. He referred to him as a natural and someone who knows his way around goal so there was nothing to teach. Thankfully his plan did not go awry and he was rewarded with a goal early on with Defoe admitting the manager had backed him to score that day. Hats off to Defoe for displaying the professionalism that he’s always possessed. However the hype about his continued presence should be contained.
His last involvement was in 2013 and one might argue his sudden exile from the national team was too sudden. However we need to come to terms with the fact that he is 34 years old. By the time the World Cup will be coming around, he will be a few months shy of his 36th birthday.
Going back to the issue of formation, both the 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 demand a lot of movement across the front three and front four respectively. It’s the only way players e.g. Lallana and Vardy will have a chance at goal. The full impact of the front three was felt in the Germany game where Vardy, Alli and Lallana kept switching all half long and Alli should have done better in trying to beat Ter Stegen and Lallana hit the post. Defoe thrived in the 4-2-3-1 situation but in the event the manager wants something else, he will stick out like a sore thumb.
Not to take away his positives. He is the 22nd player to reach 20 goals for England so surely that has to count for something. He is what you want to be in the box. His poaching instincts are a beauty and he must be applauded for his impeccable positioning but I simply believe England has more to offer than to rely on the 34 year old.
Southgate alluded to this by admitting that they should have moved the ball quickly and the runs in behind the defence were not enough, something that definitely changed once Rashford and Vardy came on.
5. His Back Four
Much has always been made about England’s back four and for good measure it must be said. The pairings have just not been good enough and have been susceptible for individual mistakes or just looked alien. Cahill against Germany was susceptible for Podolski’s goal. Take nothing away from the finish but I think Cahill should have done better than just stand there and be used as a wall and Hart saw it too late. There was simply no way of keeping that out still.
I don’t want to rush it but Michael Keane was phenomenal over the course of the two games. It’s not a system he is used to but he took it like a duck to water. He was also excellent next to Stones yesterday and they hardly put a foot wrong all game long. Cahill is 31 while Keane and Stones are in their mid-20s. It might be seen as too early to decide on this but I think they would make a good base for the national team. Both are comfortable on the ball which will go a long way in implementing Southgate’s all-passing team. Walker is definitely first and second choice RB, probably even third! His movement up and down the right side is a joy to watch and it is simply an honour watching such an athlete doing his job. Keeping him fit is definitely of importance. The LB position is still of worry. Danny Rose is definitely first choice but his deputies need to pull up their socks. Bertrand did a good job this past week. Shaw needs to take the little chance he gets to justify his position if at all he is called upon next.
13 out of 15 points at the halfway stage is not a bad return. The job is far from done as England must learn to replicate its qualification form to the major events that they go otherwise they will simply be regarded as minnow participants. For now, England is far from good enough, but under Southgate, fans have a reason to smile.
It’s been a little over 96 hours since Claudio Ranieri lost his job and I am happy to report that the script is being followed to detail. The owners have already released their statement thanking the Italian for last season but recognizing the need for the shuffle at the helm. Twitter has already had a melt down having the owners for dinner for the unfair sack of Ranieri. The manager has had the customary post-sack visit to the training ground to say farewell to the players and staff before having a 20 second sound byte for the media where he thanks the fans and says his official farewell. and currently pundits and bloggers are out there trading words about whether the decision is right or wrong.so yep.. the camera’s still rolling.
Perhaps the only wrong the chairman did was offer his unwavering support to the manager two weeks ago then go back on his word and let him loose. I for one wasn’t shocked by his dismissal. In fact, if you take away the fact that Leicester were in the knockout stages of the CL, his sack would have come even sooner. I mean this is a club that flogged Nigel Pearson out after guiding them to one of the best great escapes yet without batting an eyelid. How were they expected to keep faith with a man who left them one point above relegation zone and are now in the drop zone thanks to results going against them this past weekend with 13 games remaining?
The one excuse Leicester’s sympathizers will automatically run to is his exploits last season. Given, he orchestrated probably the most romantic football love story ever but that was then and this is now. Most sympathizers are neutrals it has to be said so its probably difficult for all of us to know how the fans feel right about now. We don’t know how it feels to have your team winning the league one season and stare at relegation straight in the face the next. We don’t know how it feels to have your team fail to score since the turn of the year. We don’t know how it feels to see your star players wander about like a couple of blind folks in the dark. So before we start judging, put yourself in their shoes.
This is the harsh reality of modern football. There is no loyalty in football nowadays and I honestly do not understand this unrest. Surely, how long were we expecting Ranieri to be given? Last season doesn’t account for two cents in the present time. as correctly stated in the guardian “A manager who is unable to prevent his side sliding out of a division is unlikely to be the best choice to lead them back in it”.
We can’t act like he did nothing wrong. For one the mistake started with his recruitment during the summer. A big part of this has been contributed to losing Steve Walsh to Everton. They let go of the man responsible for scouting Mahrez and Kante. The loss of Kante set the manager in a panic mood and he sought to bolster up his squad due to CL involvement and he ultimately failed to boost the most important part, the defence. Over the last two seasons Leicester have been instrumental in showing us what a good defence really gets you and Pearson proved that by winning 7 of his last 9 games to set them up for the great escape. Last season Ranieri also had his say as we were treated to what a good back-line gets you and the 1-0 wins during the second half of last season clearly shows us why they won the league. Much of this has to be because of the fact that Kante was screening the back-line and made all the tackles. He is the notable absentee this season but his absence can’t be the sole reason for their current predicament. The average age of their starting 11 back four is 31.25. In the PL? surely that is unacceptable (Gareth McAuley is the exception and not the norm). There has been a genuine lack of pace at the back and its not the same as last season as the fullbacks made driving runs and often started most of their moves.
Their defending has also been comical and in the expert analysis on TalkSport a few days ago, due to the lack of protection at the back, Morgan is actually getting drawn to challenges that Kante was mopping up last season hence being pulled out. Huth meanwhile knows he doesn’t have the legs and tends to fall deep. What happens is there is a pretty big gap left by the players’ alternate movements an its quite easier for forwards to ghost in there and apply the finishing touch to a good ball in.
His reputation was also his undoing. The tinkerman tinkered too much with his squad this season. In the PL winning season, you could name his starting 11 days before a match and there was obvious chemistry there. Due to CL involvement, he’s had to change his team and change his tactics on the way too. This hasn’t worked out so well for him and it’s hard to name his starting 11. Ndidi, Mendy and the likes haven’t been as stellar as they were required to be.
However one can’t help but feel that players had a great hand in this. Reports surfaced about the meeting in Seville after their CL match where senior players Kasper Schemichel, Marc Albrighton, Wes Morgan and Jamie Vardy met with the owners and expressed their unhappiness with the manager and claimed he was using wrong tactics. There was also talk of a falling out with his assistant manager. Let’s hope the sack wasn’t because of the players’ sentiments because if it did, that would be disgraceful and outrageous. COLD. It seems these four players have automatically overtook Fabian Delph as the ultimate EPL snakes. These players are basically championship caliber at best bar Schemichel. For them to go behind his back and do that after granting them the best achievements of their lives? Blimey!
This was another case where the players walked away Scot free yet they are solely to be blamed. They have been so indifferent this year. Mahrez has looked disinterested and it seems relegation won’t be the worst thing for him. He’ll certainly be gobbled up by a PL club at the end of the season regardless. Vardy has suddenly lost his work-rate and can’t seem to get off the pitch sooner. Schemichel’s decision to come out and actually speak to the media the other week certainly didn’t help. The fact that he is such a big dressing room figure and for him to go out and say those things, it showed a certain hint of losing the dressing room as it’s the manager who would be tasked to explain those sentiments. Those are the type of things you discuss behind close doors. Tell your mates not the whole world!
Ranieri was certainly bold in openly challenging the players to got to the chairman if they were unhappy. It seems it did happen and it exploded in his face. As Mourinho put it, Ranieri paid for his success. He was being judged by what he achieved and there’s no shame in that. That’s how it is. The easiest thing to do is always to sack the manager because you can’t sack 11 players. Somebody has to be held responsible and unfortunately for Ranieri, the buck stopped with him. Ranieri was too loyal to his players and he openly admitted that. Perhaps he should have seen the warning signs quicker and not stuck by his star players notably Vardy and Mahrez.
Nothing was changing so he had to go. This is a result industry and the Italian was not just producing them. Everyone is acting like this is the first good guy to lose his job. Mancini won the league and he was sacked, Pellegrini won successive trophies and he was let go, Ancelotti delivered silverware and was sacked, Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez won the two major European trophies and were cast out, Ancelotti delivered La Decima and he was let go and Mourinho delivered the title 18 months ago and he was spit out without any remorse. So boo hoo FIFA Coach of the Year, get in line Claudio. Dilly Ding Dilly Dong.
If there were three words I would use to describe Pardew’s career, it would definitely be chalk and cheese – my new favorite phrase- depicting indifference. His highs have been amazing and his lows have been spectacular.
He joined Crystal Palace in January 2015 and guided the club to the fourth year in the league- a record. He finished the season in 10th place, their first top ten finish since 1982. He was unable to replicate the same form in the following season and the club finished in 15th place. He however managed a positive as he led them to their first FA cup final in 26 years.
The other side of the looking glass offers damning stats. Crystal Palace endured a tumultuous calendar year in 2016. They had the worst record in all four levels of English football. 91 teams had a better record than Palace. Damn. They only managed six wins in 36 games and garnered a measly 26 points in 2016, the second worst total over a calendar year in premier league history. He was finally relived after one win in 11 games. The club chairman Steve Parish went on record after the sack and revealed that Pardew would have saved his job if he would have won his last three games. The three games in question were Hull, Manchester United and Chelsea. He managed a draw against Hull after the most cynical dive ever by Robert Sondgrass who went ahead to celebrate the resultant penalty after scoring it- sickening. Not to use the referees’ decision as an excuse but it was a mental blow to Palace as they were not fragile and the decision simply capitulated them to an already existing slump.
He was expected to beat Man United, a team on the up after Jose had done his thing and Zlatan’s instincts. He was also expected to beat Chelsea, a team that was still on an unbeaten run since switching to a back three and Palace were only undone by a bullish Diego Costa and poor aerial defending. Ridiculous to say the least.
I’m a big Pardew admirer and I’ll be the first to admit the manager was not without his fault. Under Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock, Palace were regarded as long ball specialist and this was one of the things Pardew sought to change. He has always been meticulous (suits aside) and he sought to change Palace to a ball playing team. Ball on the ground, pass and move. That has always been his idea of football. It’s perhaps this type of football that had him making the wrong substitutions. In the build-up to his sack, it could be observed that Pardew did not seem to know when to back down in the fight. In games when a defensive sub would have been enough to ensure a point is earned, he resorted to bring off a defensive player and replace him with an attack minded fellow, a gamble that more often than not exploded in his face. A last minute Ashley Barnes knock down gave Burnley a 2-1 win and that extra ordinary 5-4 loss to Swansea in the dying minutes serve memory best. Instead of gaining two points, they gave away six.
Pardew cannot claim to have been hung out to dry by the chairman and owners. In a disheartening 2016, the club stuck by the manager and the consecutive wins towards the end of the season that led to a 15th place finish plus the FA cup final did enough to hide the scar and because it was not dealt with, it transformed in to a rot the next season. He was given an outrageous amount of money to spend and he broke the transfer record twice in consecutive summers. Shelling out 13 million for Yohan Cabaye before spilling… no gushing out an excess of 32 million for Christian Benteke. This transfer is right up there with Sissoko’s 30million move to Spurs. I dare call it a panic buy. His expansive style of play needs a technically gifted player to finish the move, not just another tall striker with his heading ability and a lazy run up to a penalty as the only outstanding features on his CV. However with the acquisition of Townsend and the presence of Wilfred Zaha, there weren’t any gifts for guessing the style of play Pardew was going to serve up despite his remarks in his usually serious press releases.
The first thing you notice was that Pardew and the whole coaching staff in particular got it horribly wrong as far as recruitment was concerned. This past summer saw a mass exodus that included Yannick Bolasie, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and Jedinak. It was the Jedinak transfer that did not go down well with the fans. Jedinak was an ever present in the Eagles’ team since his inception in 2011 and was hugely popular with the Selhurst faithful during the 2012-2013 season in which he was the captain for large chunks of the season. He captained them to the playoffs which they won and gained promotion and was voted Palace’s POTY. It was surprising that Pardew allowed the most influential dressing room figure to go for 4 million. Speculation went rife about Pardew’s dislike for the Australian and stripping him of the captaincy prior to the beginning of this season was meant to humiliate him. His sale did not bode well with the fans. To top it all off, the replacements for the departed players were Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend and James Tomkins for a combined fee of 50 million. Hardly like for like players.
It can therefore be seen why Palace has always been regarded as very imbalanced. Three different campaigns and it was still impossible to know if Pardew really got his methods across. Last season, they were playing well but the goals just weren’t materializing. This season the goals have certainly been present but their defending leaves a lot to be desired. The team has also been observed to switch off in the dying minutes of the game which has questioned their concentration on matters at hand.
Step forward Sam Allardyce, the best thing to have happened to England as proclaimed byjust about anyone who was in possession of a social media account. Big Sam clearly arrived with a really impressive CV and I’m not talking about his ability to milk a lucrative deal for a keynote speaker (if you get it.. haha?). Simply put, Big Sam has never been relegated. He certainly came close last season with Sunderland. He replaced Advocaat who oversaw 8 games without a win. He did not start so well and endured a 5 game losing streak before he started getting his thoughts across. From February, he only lost two of the 13 games. He secured PL status with one game to spare, humbling Everton 3-0 in the process. It was an almost unlikely escape as they spent 237 days in the relegation zone. He fielded the same starting 11 for 7 consecutive games which highlight his ability to field his strongest side. One of the reasons for the survival was the ability of funds in the winter window. He shored up the defence by signing Lamine Kone for 6 million from Lorient and Jan Kirchoff from Bayern to stem the midfield.
At Palace he had the luxury of a transfer window for him to turn his fortunes around (something Pardew wasn’t afforded) and he spent 34 million this past month notably bringing in Van Aanholt from Sunderland for 14 million to offer an attacking threat down the left flank as we all know he is as effective when defending as a pair of flip flops. MIlivojevic has been brought in from Olympiakos to protect the back four but the jury is still out as to whether he is able to settle into a very demanding league. Schlupp’s arrival was a positive to help out on the wings as Benteke is cutting the figure of a very lonely lad upfront without any service. Sakho’s loan from Liverpool was a shoe in for every Palace watcher this season. The premier league side with a championship side’s defence as uttered by Don Hutchison.
Despite all this, 6 loses in 8 games for Sam and the alarm bells are surely ringing. If they weren’t feeling the heat, then Swansea’s resurgence did enough to turn on the stove, aided by Paul Clement. His long coats make him seem like the type of person you would call if you ever got into trouble. The Fixer.
Palace seem to have had the defensive improvements but they still don’t know what exactly constitutes a clean sheet and the goals have dried up again. The conundrum yet to be solved is their despicable home form. They have just won 7 points from 12 home games. The hall mark of a relegation escaping side is an imperious home form. Your home stadium must be a fortress but it seems to be a neutral ground when any two teams are playing at Selhurst Park. It’s like the players are actually afraid of playing in front of their own fans. A perfect example was their home game against Sunderland when everything was fine until the portcullis were truly opened and they shipped in four goals before half time. The players are mentally fragile and can’t seem to click on once they are on the back foot. The club have resorted to hiring a sports psychologist. Furthermore, Big Sam is contemplating making the team train at Selhurst Park in a bid to make his players get used to Selhurst’s atmosphere. With no fans, I wonder what atmosphere they are getting used to. A large section have admonished them of late for their performances and they should expect more whistles and boos if their slump continues, that’s the atmosphere they should get used to.
Palace have conceded 14 goals in 8 games under Big Sam as compared to 32 goals in 17 games under Pardew. They are however scoring less under Big Sam, with 0.5 goals per game as compared to 1.65 under Pardew. Palace have two clean-sheets in the season– one under Pardew and one under Sam. With one goal in 720 minutes of football, Palace have the second worst form since Sam Allardyce took over.
All in all it seems Palace’s problems have not been solved by a managerial change. Sure they have stopped conceding as many goals but the goals have also dried up for them. A lot of the problems are personnel-based. Benteke is still not putting in his defensive shift and the loss to Everton last month was a clear illustration of the player’s laziness by letting his man slip past him to deliver the ball. Under Pardew he still refused to pick up his man and cover his goal or even challenge for the aerial ball. A managerial change and even admonishment from pundits and former players seem to be landing on deaf Belgian ears. It remains to be seen whether Sam who has always been regarded as very steely will handle the problem. The blame was never supposed to land squarely on Pardew’s doorstep and since he wasn’t afforded a mid-season transfer window, we can only speculate on the season-turning changes he would have made. Mr Perfect Hair will be back soon. Mark this!