And Then There Was Blue

October 23rd 2016. Chelsea V Man United was obviously the standout fixture this early in the campaign. “You cannot delete me from Chelsea’s history.” said a defiant Mourinho. But for United fans, you want to know what the best part of yesterday’s game was? The buildup. With the amazing previews being aired all round, united fans were actually given hope. We were made to believe that for a brief second, we were actually as good as Chelsea. That we could go toe to toe with them never mind the fact that we were winless in seven games (now 8) at Stamford.
The touchy atmosphere was not made any easier by the mixed reaction when Mourinho first walked out. However there was nothing mixed about Chelsea’s performances with Cahill’s man made runway epitomizing the dominance. They were not holding back. A goal 30 seconds in, before any united player had even touched the ball, set the tone. José was definitely not ready. The defensive play was now out of the window. He simply had to go out. That was definitely going to be hard to do with someone like Fellaini in the middle of the pack. A labored midfielder who’s insistence on a first,second and third touch is up against a Chelsea midfield closing down the opposition in a flash.

look ma! no hands
look ma! no hands

The other factor coming into play is Zlatan Ibrahimović. The man has accomplished so much and what he has achieved in club football is nothing short of astonishing. However he seems to have hit a bit of a rut. In the last five premier league games he has as many goals as Assists: 0. He has 23 shots off target, 17 fouls and 2 yellows. The premier league seems to have finally stopped the ‘god to be’. He keeps drifting out of the box where he’s essentially more dangerous. He comes out to an already crowded midfield and 8 times out of 10 he will lose the ball. He needs to pull up his performances or they’ll be a very simple reason to drop him.
Pogba is also not an attacking midfielder and he failed to create any chance in the whole game. We get the whole price tag thing and that is something he has to live with. The banter boys are not going to go away until he actually starts to perform. And FFS man you don’t have to spin before you pass. He’s putting the whole team at risk. Certainly not worth that ridiculous amount. On the other hand, Kante had an 85% passing accuracy, 5 interceptions, 2 blocks and two chances created. Worth every penny. LEVELS
I’ve held this argument before where I’ve described Chelsea as our bogey team. How this keeps getting unnoticed I don’t know because if you look at the statistics, Chelsea have garnered 70 points from United. The next team is Arsenal with 50 point. Mind the difference. This is getting out of hand. Watch us struggle to get a point in the second leg. 0-0
The sore thumb in this scenario has to be United’s defence. Shambolic to say the least. “Mourinho termed it as incredible defensive mistakes. INCREDIBLE to be more precise. However if we are to expound this it would simply be Chris Smalling. He looked out of sorts yesterday but I wasn’t surprised. Smalling has always imploded on the big occasions. He played an active hand in all of Chelsea’s goals. He was definitely Chelsea’s most creative player bar hazard. He failed to deal with the seemingly harmless Marcos Alonso ball which Pedro beat Blind for pace and went past a hapless De Gea, lost his marker for Cahill’s second albeit a deflection, was ridiculously used as a De Gea blind for Hazard’s third and ultimately fell for Kante piece of trickery, not exactly such a flamboyant player and his left foot is the weaker one. What was Smalling thinking falling for that? Nothing it seems. After that performance perhaps life on the bench would have been eagerly waiting for him but an injury to Bailly sets Mourinho’s team even further back.

looks like hes trying to tackle with his eyes
looks like hes trying to tackle with his eyes

Bringing us to our final point; Mourinho. His character will now be tested as his first choice Centre back is now out injured. The games are still coming thick and fast so it remains to be seen if he will look towards Phil Jones or go for last season’s partnership. The Portuguese is also slowly but surely losing it. We knew there was a danger this might happen especially with Mourinho but I guess we didn’t see it coming this early. He started referring  to pundits as ‘football geniuses’. Terming himself a charitable man and if his antics were feeding the pundits’ families, why should he shy away from them. A move that didn’t go well with the British media. Recently he has looked a man devoid of confidence. One must wonder, is the pressure that comes with the united job finally catching up to him? His first press release he looked relaxed, confident and fresh. 8 games in and he looks worn out and shaggy, mumbling to his lonely self across the touchline. His expressions were captured each time Chelsea sunk a dagger deeper into United’s hearts and it was nothing short of disheartening

What’s happened to the Mourinho of ages? The man who would chew your head off for losing a ball let alone being responsible for a goal. He was quick in altering his tactics in real time as problems appeared. Yesterday he had his hands in his pocket, unmoved by Chelsea’s excellence/ United’s woefulness. Hands in his pocket, mumbling away and the occasional sip from his bottle and instructing the substitutes to warm up every ten minutes but did not make a substitution until half time.

pocket

Scenes after the fulltime whistle of him whispering into Conte’s ear didn’t make it any better and when quizzed, “You know me: I spoke to Conte, not to you I’m not the kind of guy to come here and share with you things I don’t want to share. What is between me and Antonio is for us … or up to him to talk if he wants to. That is his problem. I have no comment.”
These antics will certainly not help his quest for greatness and with a dispirited Man City and a dangerous Burnley on the way with Arsenal also on the horizon, Mourinho needs to do a clean-up of his act really quick… really fast.

mou-conte

What is Beautiful

derby

You can feel it in the air. The air is thick. There’s a smog and it has two distinct shades; red and blue. But the colours haven’t merged. There’s a fine line between the two. Almost as if you are being told to choose a side. You’re either Red or Blue,  Devil or Citizen.

If the fact that this is being touted as the most expensive football match in terms of signings is not delicious enough, throw in the Mourinho and Pep factor and the explosion that ensues probably means you won’t have a kitchen left. I still hope this can be achieved.

I’ll stop the jabber. I’m going to let my friend Sam Mulei handle this one. He does a fantastic job I kid you not. Enjoy the read.

 

Celtic and Rangers meet in the top flight of Scottish football for the first time in four years and what should be grabbing attention of more than just the Scotts as a standout fixture at 11:30am U.K time will have a much reduced profile as it clashes with the Manchester derby coverage. ‘old’ firm derby indeed and with fresher things happening at Manchester I wouldn’t be surprised to find more than a few Scotts looking to the south of Britain.

Footballing Hollywood is now at the premier league and Jose takes up cast as the suave, sophisticated, slightly mischievous, elusive but supremely successful manager faces Guardiola another with his own unique repertoire, and like a finely choreographed performance at this point it’s all tied at the top with  both clubs at nine points. Next setting, Old Trafford.

From the appointment of both managers they basically put out their stalls and conducted their transfer business with a clear plan of how they wanted their teams to play and the signings that would get them going in that direction with Mourinho opting  to sign Eric Bailly who was part of La Liga’s second best defence last term, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and as typical of all Mourinho sides a leader who is his own reflection in the pitch a player who fights his battles on the ground and transmits his ideas to the rest of the team as Mourinho himself is relentlessly combative in nature. Zlatan was the ‘infield general’ solution this season.

Guardiola signed John stones,Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Nolito, all players who have a deft first touch and good technique on the ball.  His tactics at times complex in nature and often thought of as being the sole defender of football as if only his style can be deemed legitimate. Isaiah Berlin once categorized great thinkers as hedgehogs and foxes, hedgehogs know one big thing, they know it deeply and use it to guide themselves, foxes know many things, what makes Guardiola so good is that he is by nature a hedgehog but in practise a fox and the two sides are constantly burning with creative tension, the ideal being  that ‘he who has the ball cannot concede. Models ingrained by Johan Cryuff that is the hedgehog in Guardiola, the one bit that never goes away. The fox is in his ability to manipulate tactics to his sides advantage already this season baffling pundits with his tactics pulling fullbacks in the inside to supplement the build up  while  the width of the team being supplied by the wingers who hug the touch-line.

Being a mixture of both he is uncompromising and stringent believing there is a way to football at the highest level and one must diligently strive to do play so and according to those principles. There is a belief we often share that whats  beautiful cannot put up enough resistance to last in a world that can be at times difficult and harsh, it may not be universally subscribed to but quite common in some cultures, in fact it seems we often cherish something for its aesthetic qualities because deeply we know it doesn’t have adequate defences to resist, that its lovely yet cannot stay for very long. Japanese cherry blossoms for example, landscapes painted on scrolls bleached by the sun. Football itself shares this bias and in the unresolved debate in its soul between romanticism and pragmatism there is a notion that the beautiful game simply isn’t robust enough to survive when faced with stern tests even aggression. Guardiola’s Barcelona proved all of this wrong. Bloody clasico’s but more often he got the win against Jose Mourinho which was achieved by mixing romanticism and pragmatism to produce a kind of aesthetic that is equal parts beauty and strength: a new kind of wonder all over again. Problems need solutions and Guardiola continues to find them and deal with the direction the football landscape is taking and that must be what he is trying to achieve with city hence his insistence on more possession, constantly bombarding the opposition back line with attacks giving them no time to recover, in effect punishing the supporters and viewers with pleasure , destruction of the opposition being the objective.

The man in charge of the other club in Manchester sees more gain in an assured result, rather than sizing up to a bigger opposition and getting flattened. One cannot argue he hasn’t won league titles in convincing displays, consider Chelsea 04-05, most goals scored and highest ever point tally recorded by a title-winning side, even his spell at Real Madrid brought similar accolades; 100 La Liga points. He does take an aggressive approach he wants to play well, to bedazzling, to make the fans proud by entertaining, to score goals, to concede less goals than the opponent, he wants the fans to be behind the team because in the last ten minutes they are chasing a result (somebody say hull city !) and he also wants the fans to be behind the team cause in the last ten minutes they are defending a result. Not one afraid to compromise however. premier league is a war of nutrition  however, starting off the season strongly going to the winter break with  good momentum at times dazzling with the play and as the situation gets harder and warmer during march and April while you lose players due to injury you have to know how to stay competitive get dodged  and  be difficult to beat, which is an art that the Portuguese has mastered and both experiences of the season should be ones to give satisfaction.

Man city will have to play without the services of Sergio Aguero and perhaps I feel that will demand too much from their style of play, I see the tempo dying off in their game at certain periods and Manchester united will impose themselves in the game start playing through Zlatan Ibrahimovic and I do fancy the Swede as my goal scorer this weekend. so as on that night at the Nou Camp where Mourinho sat almost motionless in the dugout as Barcelona comprehensively made way with the points and the people’s hearts in his first Liga BBVA clash with the Spaniard it is time for Guardiola to get to know just how intense this league is, who else better than Jose Mourinho to stop him from getting the next three points on offer. Point to note: the big Swede has won the league in every league he has played in  and quite actively participated in that achievement notable exception Guardiola’s Barcelona and as already seen from this season he has a massive role and I don’t quite fancy that being the same next season due to age and other dynamics, man united will also most likely be pursuing interests like Antoine Griezmann to lead the line. Man United Premier League champions 2016-2017? First the derby.

With that I reckon;

Man United 2 City 0

mou-pep

The Curious Case of The Deadline Day

As the big Ben of London chimed away, the numbers flashed across the screen. Over 1.1 billion has been spent by premier league clubs. Boggling to say the least. Trying to wrap your head around such a huge figure makes your head spin. From a moral point of view the plaudits for football at grassroots level will certainly come out holding the placards demanding for home grown players. What’s the purpose of premier league academies then when a minnow promoted club breaks its transfer record fee twice in a month? The championship was also not left behind as 215 million Euros was splashed by the second tier of English football, a record. Of course this was coming due to the TV deals that PL clubs have received. According to the premier league, 5.13bn has been pumped in. 126 games to be televised by Sky while 42 to be televised by BT. The average cost of showing per game would be 10.19m Euros. Jesus. But couldn’t this money be re invested anywhere? The only caveat was on wages .why not use the monies to review the ticketing system so as to allow more fans a chance to watch the games live? Just my thoughts though.
The stand out transfer was undoubtedly that of David Luiz. Flashing back to 2014 when he was penning his farewell letter when leaving Chelsea. Calling PSG a new challenge and a new stage. Well about two seasons later and a measly 8 goals, the geezer makes a sensational 32m return to his London club. First off, the fact that he was taken on deadline day speaks volumes about his priority. All summer they have been linked to Bonucci, Chiellini, and Koulibaly among others but they all turned down Chelsea’s offers. Luiz therefore comes in as their fourth choice defensive cover. He’s 29 years old. Are they really progressing with Cahill and Terry already in their 30s? In two seasons Luiz will be just like Terry. Also he did not force his way out. As an ardent watcher of Unai Emery, he sets his teams out in a possession style of play thereby requires his backs to be good with the ball at their feet. From pre-season, it was clear was Unai was angling towards. Thiago Silva and Marquinhos were his first choice centre backs. He merely gave Luiz a lifeline by fielding him against Monaco. All he got was a horrendous show, a dubious penalty given away and a substitution early in the second half. From that moment on it seemed clear he was out of the manager’s plans; PSG’s Joe Hart. So when Chelsea came knocking, PSG was only happy to open the door (window?). Definite Nay for me.
Another sticking point for me has to be Lucas Perez. Arsenal were playing Alexis Sanchez in that centre forward role which just went on to show how dire the need for an attacker was. After being linked to Higuaín, Lacazette, Mahrez and Vardy, they end up with Lucas Perez. The Spaniard scored 17 goals last season.it was a decent return but then it’s the Spanish League. Not that surprising considering the amount of space Spanish attackers usually have. A look at the numbers, shows you that of the 15 goals that Perez scored from inside the box, he had picked the ball from outside the box and proceeded with it to the box before shooting on 8 of these occasions. We all know how compact PL defending is. Where will he get the space? He’s also used to a counter attacking set up much like Vardy as opposed to a possession-based style of play which Arsenal is notorious for. It’s only the second time in the Spaniard’s career that he has reached double figures in terms of goals. Two season wonder maybe? To add to this, Squawka informs you that 12 of his 17 goals came before Christmas. He only scored 5 goals in the second half of last season. For a team that usually bottles it in the second half of the season, signing a player whose form dips at around the same time, when they need is their stars to show up is certainly not a wise signing. His stature is also not strong in the air and given the physicality of the league, I see him struggling. Di Maria is a notable victim of this physicality. However it’s not all glum for the new boy. He served up 8 assists showing his playmaking skills. He also has the ability to play out wide which will give his manager options and he is genuinely a lovely player to watch going forward.
To the one that really got tongues wagging. Moussa Sissoko. What a roller coaster this guy’s agent has had. To be honest he hardly sparkled to life at Newcastle last season with only 7 assists and a solitary goal which is why the club and his agent set his valuation at 15 million as he wasn’t looking to play in the second tier. The Euros were drawing to a close and yet no club had made a formal enquiry for him. So the man took the law into his own hands and used that starting spot in the Euro final to market himself. Going in for the tackles, winning the ball back decently before making 50 yard dashes wish Portuguese players bouncing off his burly body in the name of defending before blazing his effort over the bar. He did this about four times to the delight and roar of France supporters. Why? I don’t know. By the 30th minute he was spent, sweat running down his face. To his proposers, he was a man who was giving everything for his team. His agent must have been happy with his client putting himself out there. Little did he know Mike Ashley had other plans, slapping a 35m price tag on the Frenchman a few days later. No one was going to pay that right? Well deadline day madness came and reports were that Everton had agreed a deal in principle to pay the 30 million. Personal terms had also been agreed. However one hour to the end of the window, reports flooded in that Spurs and matched the Everton’s fee and it would now go down to the wire. Ronald Koeman phoned Sissoko to congratulate him on his move. To his surprise the call went unanswered. A room had been prepped at Merseyside in anticipation for his medical and with doctors on standby, a private jet had been fuelled and was taxiing on the highway, ready to deliver him to Merseyside: Dead Silence. A few minutes past the 11oo Hrs BST, Sissoko tweeted a picture of himself holding a Tottenham Hotspurs jersey. Wait I thought his phone had a problem? Moussa do you copy? Kudos for Everton for holding out the Enner Valencia announcement. In doing so, they seemed to have at least saved face.
In my opinion, he would have been an excellent signing for Koeman. Koeman is revolutionising Everton with big name signings. He’s strict on training regimes and a strict style of play with barrel chested midfielders. Sissoko would have been a perfect fit right here. At spurs not so much. My first problem with this is that this does not look like a Pochettino signing. Have we ever seen Mauricio sign a 27 year old player?  Pochettino has always insisted on youth and this deal seems kind of forced down his throat. Convincing me that David Levy sanctioned this move will be very difficult. Levy forking out 30million for a 27 year old? Come on! Moussa Sissoko or panic buy? I’m having problems distinguishing the two. This has got to be the biggest panic buy in recent history. How do you even start justifying this? Who does he bench? Definitely not Dier or that Monster Wanyama. Dembele is also on his way back. Sissoko played down the right at the Euros. Last season, he created 51 chances at Newcastle. In the same amount of games. Eriksen created about 150 and Lamela created around 100 chances. More than double what Sissoko did? Over to you Tottenham.
However it was not all glum on the last day. Wilshere to Bournemouth was the standout move for me. I’ve always had my (negative) reservations on Wilshere but this move might be just what he needs to re energise his career. Ten years on and we are yet to see the future of English midfield earlier promised. At Bournemouth he will get playing time. Eunan O’Kane has been chalked off on loan, harry Arter will definitely get his customary yellow card owing to dissent (read overzealous nature) , Surman seems to be in a rut leaving Wilshere to partner new signing 18 year old Lewis Cook in midfield. Exciting times indeed for the South Coast team!
13 clubs broke their transfer fee record. Whether the fans will be singing the names of the new signings or cursing their managers for brainless spending remains to be seen.

But who came up with that #POGBACK hashtag though? Yuck!!

Winnowed

The wheat has once again been separated from the chaff and for the umpteenth time the Three Lions find themselves on the lighter part, being blown by the wind, away from France. It seems the 50 year of hurt will continue. this is the worst defeat England has ever faced. To put it into perspective, Iceland has a population of about 330,000. 8% of their population was in Iceland. Their manager is a part time dentist. This is their first Euro as participants. Yet they gunned down a bunch of overpaid nonces as stated by British media.

However their victory was well deserved. they gave us a perfect rendition of a team sport. No stars in the team but everybody does their job and also stands up for the other; comradeship. There has been a real motivation within the team. They just cannot be shaken.

In the press conference before the game Hodgson stressed about how his assistant coaches had watched Iceland play Austria and how his video analyst had gone over numerous clips on their style of play. (he opted to go sailing instead of watching the Austria game mind you) therefore he knew their strength emanated not only from their set piece ability but from Gunnarsson’s long throw. So it came as a real shocker to see them concede in similar fashion…. The long throw, a flick on from the edge of the area with Rooney beaten all ends up and Ragnar(Lawthbrok?) guiding the ball past a hapless Hart. Walker failed to track his man and Hart failed to rush out in good time: basic closing down actually. According to the script we had, Iceland were at this point supposed to sit back and invite pressure. Surprise surprise when they threw the script out of the window and threw their players right up there… With Gylfi in particular playing God in the middle of the pack dictating play almost at will. The ‘mighty’ England panicked and sat deep allowing that beautiful ball to be sprayed down that right hand side. A quick passage of play outside the area before the ball was lashed past the ignominy we have who by the way apparently doubles up as the first choice England keeper.. Apparently. However Joe Hart is not the only one going to take credit for the goal despite playing a heavy hand in it(sic). The two centre halves stood rooted, as if amazed at Iceland’s passing ability in front of them. They were so undecided about who should go down for the tackle. The end result? A lot of space on the edge of the area for a quit set up and shot.
England has been facing opponents who have been simply put parking the bus and Iceland were not going to be any different. There was simply no space meaning England’s attackers were not going to go anywhere.

The Iceland commentator lost his head once again instructing England to leave Europe and go wherever they like. The Iceland Prime Minister declared today a public holiday. The joke going round is how England have left Europe twice in one week. Well Roy has also left England. He’s overstayed his welcome in my opinion. Hodgson’s four years will best be remembered for the huge overhype yet underwhelming performance that has been categorized with his tenure building up to major tournaments. Perhaps the only credit that can be attributed to him is turning the squad average from 30 to about 25. That’s just about it. Well that’s how far my keyboard allows me to go. In the three major tournaments he has only won three out of eleven games. Utter disgrace. To make it worse he resigned about 15 minutes after the final whistle. Is it possible he had already drafted his resignation letter prior to the match?? That would be a really cowardice act and resigning was a desperate attempt at avoiding blame.
In Hodgson, what England had was a very conservative coach. Too often scared to make a move that will elicit reaction. Harry Kane was a phenomenon last season don’t get me wrong but Roy’s decision to stick by him when Vardy and Sturridge were often offered peripheral roles yet they had already scored in France came as a real shocker to me. If a change works everyone praises you, take the risk!! Kane never showed up for this tournament. He will be remembered for his smart volley against Iceland and also for how many balls he lost blasting them into the stands. (I’d rather not regurgitate the set piece issue)
His decision to also take out Eric Dier and replace him with Wilshere was the most panicky sub I have ever seen. You take out England’s player of the tournament *future captain* and replace him with an alleged attacking player. Who barely featured for his club. England’s midfield was in shambles especially the last quarter of the game. There was no shape. The centrebacks were continously exposed because Wilshere simply can’t hold! He simply left too much space for balls to be threaded through for attackers.
What next for England then? Well the lack of a manager will hang above the FA like a cloud so the sooner it’s sorted, the better for everyone. My position from nine months ago has not changed. My money is still on Gareth Southgate. But we all know he won’t get it. Apparently he’s not ‘qualified enough’. I would really love someone to explain that fact to me. He’s not qualified enough to lose? That’s the part I don’t get. Sterling’s position in the team also needs to be identified. Roy didn’t seem to have a clue on his best position. Left? Right? Bench? Home?
The next manager better bring in the attacking injection that England is missing. So much potency at the front that Roy didn’t know how to work with. It’s time to move on from the possession without intent style of play.
The next manager also has to make up his mind as regards his first choice goalkeeper. Experience aside. Well if you keep making schoolboy errors there’s not much show of experience huh? Time and time again Hart’s has singlehandedly thwarted England’s hopes(pun). In the last three tournaments he has been at fault for at least one of the goals England have conceded with the latest proving no different. Against Wales and Against Iceland, Hart truly showed up. For how long will his carelessness cost a whole nation? Perhaps things would have been different had Jack Butland not got injured.
Another important point is on how to manage the youth. Rashford an 85th minute sub and England’s latest rave completed more dribbles than his entire team. Unreal! Care should be taken to strike the balance between youth and experience. But for now, I couldn’t differ with the “you’re not fit to wear the shirt.” chants that were going around the stadium at full time.

Sidebar : That Will Grigg tune is lit yo!!!

Rapunzel

If there was another word I could use to describe the England national team, it would definitely be Rapunzel. Except instead of letting their hair down, they just let everybody down: their fans to be exact. Fourth on the book markers list to likely win the tournament, having the youngest squad in the Euros and a largely inexperienced but adventurous side, England once again fail to win their first match in a tournament at the ninth time of asking. On a night when The Three Lions could have used this game as a springboard for the upcoming Derby, they in fact took us back to square one.
Hodgson is the oldest coach in France right now and his poor decision making just served to remind us exactly how old he is. As if his decision to put Kane on set piece duty was not enough despite Kane being one of the biggest aerial threats, his decision to withdraw Rooney was even more peculiar.
Wayne Rooney is undoubtedly England’s most experienced outfield player in France and with a new role as a midfielder, The man with the armband took up this new role quite well. He had two chances, two shots on target and completed 100% of his take ons. He dictated play marvelously from deep spraying passes out wide to perfection to spur Walker and Rose further forward. Moreover he always got back to help in defence. You take off this kind of man and sub him for an adventurous midfielder who lacks the discipline to maintain the team’s shape but is a joy to watch going forward. More often than not he ends up losing the ball.

The other peculiar decision was to start Lallana as part of the front three. The lean framed man had the two best chances of the first half that he completely wasted. He didn’t do Roy a lot of favours by skewing those chances. Only bagged about four goals last season. Looking at the bench, almost every other attacker had more!! But with that kind of finishing, it’s no wonder Lallana is still looking for Goal number one in a three lions shirt. My first candidate to be chalked off for the Wales game.
The other sore thumb was Raheem Sterling’s performance. Having made a bright start to the game, he shockingly faded away from the contest. It was as if the game was a replay because everybody knew what would happen if Sterling got the ball. A Drop of the shoulder, instant speed and a straight run up to the byline, a little bit of twisting and turning before being out muscled, tackled but the bottom line is Raheem losing the ball. What follows is the groan around the stadium and the teenager looking down, ashamed of meeting the searing gaze of his teammates and the cycle continues. The one very clear chance was when England were on a counter. Raheem kept the ball well and dashes about 55 yards. Kyle Walker was making a mad dash screaming for the ball to be delivered into the box. It was a 4 V 3 situation. Sterling ended up losing the ball to the disgust of Walker. If looks could kill, Sterling’s body would have been landing at the Heathrow Airport right about now. Scenes of Roy holding up in frustration like every other England fan inside the Stade Vélodrome when he had the power to make the difference was quite amusing for me.

The brightest point of the game came from the man who plied his trade outside England prior to joining Tottenham; Eric Dier. A lot of my friends ranted on about how playing him as DM would be detrimental to the team despite a stellar season with Spurs. I clearly pointed out how Dier is not your average  Englishman. He is very strong in the air and reads the game with flawlessness and against Russia he showed up; unlike my friends for this 11 am class. Dier casually strolls into the record books for being the first Englishman to score a free kick in the 56 years that the Euros have been in existence. 89% passing accuracy, four clearances, three interceptions and a rocket for a goal, Dier was clearly England’s Knight in shining Jersey. I expect the same show against Wales where he will have Ramsey and Allen for company.

However one dicey area regards Harry Kane. Fresh off becoming the first English in 16 years to win the PL Golden Boot, many expected him to carry on this form to France especially since familiar faces in the shape of Dele Alli, Walker, Dier and Rose would be around him. To my disappointment, Harry just didn’t show up. He had three shots all of which were off target and the question has been floated around: should he start? My answer is definitely yes. To be fair the most clearest of chances didn’t even fall in his way. Lallana hogged them all. Wales also look quite the threat with their big men at the back and there’s no player better at holding up play than Kane. That way Alli and Rooney can get upfront just in case he Tees it up for them. He seemed a man under pressure against Russia. Perhaps he felt the need to prove why he was selected ahead of Vardy and why he’s the man for the job. He just needs to concentrate on bein himself and do what he does best. The goals will come. They always do for Kane.

Roy got his subs very wrong. They were so poor. First was taking off Rooney then also bringing in Milner at LW. Take nothing away from Milner’s industrious nature but I felt a pacy player would have been the right man for that wing. Stats show that Russia were at their highest level of attacking immediately after Milner’s introduction. No points for guessing when they scored.
Milner’s introduction meant England were simply going to sit back and soak in pressure. The aim is to hit on the counter…Something that won’t happen without speedsters. A big mishap on Roy’s part. You don’t back down. You simply don’t. After getting the first goal, you put it another attacker to make sure the opposition are pegged in their half and also stems their counters. You maintain the tempo and pressure until either they crack or you hear the final whistle. Hodgson is too Conservative for this group of players. Not that I am shifting blame on Milner but he did let Gorgi cross the ball for Berezutski to Bury it home.

The back four also let the team down. There was always the fear that England’s visibly young defence would be fragile and could easily switch off. And they didn’t prove the critics wrong. Where were the two centre halves when the tallest Russian player was being marked by the shortest England player? This just depicts carelessness that England still have. Smalling and Cahill should have definitely done better. Hart also had a better chance scoring than coming off his line for that ball.
What is agreed upon is that England should have won. Mistakes were made and against Wales this week, they have the opportunity to blow Group B wide again. Let’s hope Roy gets his tactics right and FFS use folders to store the papers where you write on formations and what have you.

The Season that was

I guess it’s quite safe to call this the most exciting season yet. For one the verdict came in long before GW38. Tears were shed by the three teams that were below the red line, a satisfactory grin was evident by Arsenal for the mere fact that they would be finishing above Spurs yet again and the now all too familiar sight, United out of the champions league. But I guess the most incredible story is the Foxes’, they actually did it! And to think they did it using fringe players. They almost made me reconsider my position as regards fairy tales and miracles… almost ….. Almost.

morgan
he finally gets to kiss it

It’s for this reason that I decided to do an end of the season review in a different way. Most of my readers know my stance as regards who should have won the PL trophy. So to avoid being biased I got hold of some of the most enthusiastic people about football and got their views as regards a number of categories. Off we go!

BEST MANAGER

Sam Mulei

Claudio Ranieri

Geoffrey Koech

Claudio Ranieri

Brian Moseti

Mauricio Pochettino

Hanaan Osman

Claudio Ranieri

Eugene Barasa

Claudio Ranieri

Ajawin Lahm

Claudio Ranieri

Peter Mumu

Claudio Ranieri

Antoe Rottoh

Claudio Ranieri

Calvin Njagi

Claudio Ranieri

Ken Matiba

Mauricio Pochettino

Aloha

It’s clearly obvious why most of them chose Ranieri. After all, he did get silverware ey? And along the way captured the hearts of millions across the globe with their unlikely story. However I’m with Ken and Brian on this one. The man in Spurs’ dugout deserves it. Poch devised a very intricate style of play at the white Hart Lane, employing some of the best total football techniques ever seen in the premier league. He also did it using a bunch of very young players. This showed the belief that he’s instilled in the young ones and it is for that reason that a good chunk of them are going to be on England’s first eleven for the Euros.

claudio
Where they first got it right.

 

BEST PLAYER

Sam Mulei

Riyad Mahrez

Geoffrey Koech

Riyad Mahrez

Brian Moseti

Riyad Mahrez

Hanaan Osman

Riyad Mahrez

Eugene Barasa

Riyad Mahrez

Ajawin Lahm

Riyad Mahrez

Peter Mumu

Riyad Mahrez

Antoe Rottoh

Riyad Mahrez/Dimitri Payet

Calvin Njagi

Riyad Mahrez

Ken Matiba

Riyad Mahrez

Aloha

This has to be the most obvious of them all.  Not much was known of the Algerian who was got from Le Havre for 400,000. However, 38 Games, 17 Goals and 11 Assists later, no European club won’t be blessed to have him! His dazzling foot works have put defenders to shame. His pinpoint passes have been a blessing for Jamie Vardy and his range of vision is just impeccable. Whether he stays is a completely different story altogether.

Mahrez

 

BEST GOAL

Sam Mulei

Dele Alli against Crystal Palace

Geoffrey Koech

Dimitri Payet against Crystal Palace

payet ill

Brian Moseti

Jamie Vardy against Liverpool

Hanaan Osman

Dele Alli against Crystal Palace

Eugene Barasa

Eden Hazard against Tottenham

Ajawin Lahm

Christian Benteke against Man United

Peter Mumu

Jamie Vardy against Liverpool

Antoe Rottoh

Harry Kane against Arsenal

Calvin Njagi

Jamie Vardy against Liverpool

Ken Matiba

Jamie Vardy against Liverpool

Aloha

One of the toughest categories for me. I’ve always been a lover of a good piece of skill and instinct. Be it Payet’s up and down curler against Crystal palace that seemed to defy, at least for two seconds, the very laws of gravity, Vardy’s half volley that sent Mignolet reeling on his rear end, Benteke’s acrobatic scissor that rifled past De Gea or Harry Kane’s sublime finish that caused the whole world to erupt but if your heart cannot be set alight by a teenage boy controlling a cushioned header, takes another touch to take Jedinak out of the equation before lashing a ferocious volley past Hennessey from 25 yards out, then you  simply have no heart.

alli

 

BEST GAME

Sam Mulei

Everton V Stoke. The game had it all. It’s a seven goal thriller in the premier league, come on! But what sets it apart is Shaqiri’s second goal. To attempt that kind of skill while at full sprint and just clip the ball over Howard from 18 yards out is what the word sublime was created for.

shaqiriscores

Geoffrey Koech

Arsenal V Leicester. I probably chose this game because we are just about the only side who got the better of the foxes both home and away. For once, Leicester style of play found its match. Sanchez’s match ball was just the peach of it all.

Brian Moseti

Norwich V Liverpool. No words needed. Just have a look at the time stamp on the goals and that tells it all.

Hanaan Osman

Chelsea V Tottenham. Perhaps my most satisfying moment as a Spurs’ opposer. Hazard’s brilliant leveler sparks scenes of violence from the Spurs players. Their reaction was akin to children (wait…. Aren’t they?) In a playground. Still buzzing we piped them for second place.

Eugene Barasa

Newcastle V Tottenham. The score line was really shocking considering the positions in the league of both teams but for once Newcastle showed us that never say die attitude they’ve always possessed, albeit for the last time.

Ajawin Lahm

Norwich V Liverpool. The atmosphere was buzzing and Lallana’s half volley to seal the three points was just awesome. Most pulsating game for me as a neutral.

Peter Mumu

Liverpool V Arsenal. Four goals in 25 minutes just set the tone of how much was at stake for both clubs. Arsenal thought they had wrapped things up but the Welsh Xavi had other ideas netting the equalizer late on. Firmino’s second was an absolute beauty.

Antoe Rottoh

Newcastle V Tottenham. A first hand show of just how much teamwork can count. Newcastle pulled a Leicester though a little too late.

Calvin Njagi

Norwich V Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s spectacles taking part in the celebrations did it for me.

klopp

Ken Matiba

Manchester City V Leicester. Mahrez slaloming through that defense like it didn’t exist, Huth being on a hat trick and Vardy reminding the City fans of the score line. What’s not to like?

vardy

Aloha

I had the unfortunate experience of traveling during the Norwich v Liverpool game and the commentator was going crazy on the radio. Watching the re run made it feel as though I hadn’t missed a thing and the man was right to scream his head off. Goals Galore.

 

BEST SIGNING

Sam Mulei

Dele Alli

Geoffrey Koech

Dimitri Payet

Brian Moseti

Dele Alli

Hanaan Osman

Petr Cech

Eugene Barasa

N’Golo Kante

Ajawin Lahm

Dimitri Payet

Peter Mumu

N’Golo Kante

Antoe Rottoh

N’Golo Kante

Calvin Njagi

Dimitri Payet/ Anthony Martial

Ken Matiba

Wabi Khazri/ N’Golo Kante

Aloha

N’Golo Kante nicks it for me with Martial a close second. The 5.6m signing from French 2nd division side was a bargain! He’s lived far and beyond his price tag by making the most tackles and interceptions in the division. His relentless work rate is just amazing. As Steve Walsh accurately described Leicester’s setup, “We have Drinkwater in the middle and N’Golo kante on either side.”

kante.jpg

 

FLOP OF THE SEASON

Sam Mulei

Theo Walcott

Geoffrey Koech

Memphis Depay

Brian Moseti

Oumar Niasse

Hanaan Osman

Raheem Sterling

Eugene Barasa

Louis Van Gaal

Ajawin Lahm

Eden Hazard

Peter Mumu

Jose Mourinho

Antoe Rottoh

Eden Hazard/Memphis Depay

Calvin Njagi

Falcao… ha-ha?

Ken Matiba

Arsene Wenger/Memphis Depay

Aloha

Depay makes it to a host of lists but Eden Hazard is my pick. You can’t go masquerading for about 35 games and show up in the last minute and expect all of us to join your stupid bandwagon. Then that whole ‘world class’ tag suddenly appeared before his name again. Consistency is the word and Hazard was miles away from that. Remember when Jose referred to him as better than Cristiano? Dare I say the most flaccid reigning player of the year ever? Barney Ronay certainly thinks so.

hazard
Still no.

 

SURPRISE OF THE SEASON

Sam Mulei

Alex iwobi

Geoffrey Koech

Memphis Depay

Brian Moseti

Vardy breaking Ruud’s record. And for it to be done against United. I expect the Reds to do our old boy a favor.

Hanaan Osman

Hazard’s slump. I’m still yet to find the words to describe it.

Eugene Barasa

Sunderland’s fight back. In December, the future looked bleak for the Black Cats but a managerial change and wise business is January have rescued the Black Cats from relegation at the expense of their Tyneside counterparts. They have only spent 38 days out of the relegation zone this season and preserved Big Sam’s status quo of having never been relegated.

Ajawin Lahm

Divock Origi. Took to pressure like a duck to water and delivered memorable moments in the process.

Peter Mumu

Leicester/Chelsea. To sum it up, when the season started, Leicester is where Chelsea hoped to be at the start of the end of the season and Chelsea is where Leicester hoped to be at the end of the season. For tables to turn like this, was shocking to say the least.

Antoe Rottoh

Dele Alli. There’s always something about lads who score on their PL debut. However I knew there was more to him when he also netted in his senior Int’l debut. The lads composure and skill has been amazing as well as his versatility. Should work on his temperament though.

Calvin Njagi

Marcus Rashford. Brought on when the team had no one to look up to and has been a fairytale ever since. A brace in his European debut, a brace in his PL debut and the winner in his Derby debut. Bright doesn’t even begin to describe this lad’s future.

Ken Matiba

Kasper Schmeichel. Vardy’s and Mahrez’s names will be sung all round but kas definitely caught my eye. On the rare moments when the Foxes’ backline was breached, he still stood strong and kept them in it. He’s made crucial saves and most recently is the big left hand keeping out Jese Lingard’s strike which would have put the game beyond Leicester.

Aloha

Daley Blind. I will actually put him here because there is actually evidence of me admonishing him as the ideal partner to Chris Smalling. However 35 games later and Blind has been one of the stand out players this season. In another average and disappointment filled season, the Netherlands’ captain rose up and played for the badge. Given he is not vertically gifted, one would wonder how he dealt with the likes of Lukaku and Benteke. He’s played against Lukaku about four times this season and no one remembers what the big Belgian did in any of those games. He was constantly out muscled by Blind. Blind also had really good tackles and shadowed DDG expertly. And the few times he was gifted with acres of space, he gave us Scholes-esque passes that were a joy to our forwards although more often than not they didn’t return the favor.

 

All in all this has been a very lively season. There was no game worth missing and we fell in love with the game even more. We can’t wait for August!!

The man who merged a wish and a goal to make a dream

“I would love to go to Wembley. I have never been there.” Quique Sanchez Flores(2016)

There is something really amazing about this man.  And not just because his coats seem to have been tailored by the fashion gods themselves or his shrubby  beard that have my female friends asking when Watford are playing next or if Watford are on Instagram.

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A brief look at your Wikipedia informs you that during his playing days, Flores plied his trade as a Right Back. He had spells with Valencia, Getafe and Real Madrid. He also made 39 Appearances for the Spanish National team. He started his managerial career in 2001 with the Madrid Youth Team. He returned to manage Valencia and achieved a  champions league place only to be ousted by Chelsea in the quarter final. In the 2009-2010 season, he won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid beating Fulham.

On the 5th of June 2015, it was announced that Flores would replace Jokanovic. There was nothing reassuring about this position. He was the 5th coach in 12 months meaning his main duty was watching his back.
In a recent interview after their historic FA cup win against Arsenal, club Captain Troy Deeney stated that Leicester’s fairy tale was taking the shine off the 50 year old Spaniard. Looking at the facts, the club Captain got it spot on.
First off, Flores is not your typical small club manager. He won six cup competitions in his first 11 years as a first team manager and this includes two European trophies: The Europa League and the Super Cup. This speaks volumes about his style of play and his ambition for success.

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Liftoff

However the Watford job was not going to be a walkabout. Most people had already elected the Hornets as prime relegation candidates before they had even kicked a ball!! By virtue of the fact that The Cherries had piped them to top spot in the championship, they were deemed not good enough. Their return to top flight football after 8 years was expected to be one full of struggle. However Watford have silenced critics.

Most new comers in the league tend to get their squad depth wrong and when the injuries come knocking, they get overwhelmed. Alternatively, clubs recruit too many players and what you have is team full of nonsense. So in essence you had a decent squad depth teeming with mediocrity. Case in point Newcastle. Mitrovic and Co. Have wasted our time in the league. This is what it looked like when Watford had 16 signings brought in during the summer transfer Window. In total,  the team had about twenty different nationalities!!  Christ how was that ever going to work?
Flores’ first cause of action was settling down the team and make them play the kind of football that got them here. Watford’s brightest month in 2015 was December when they managed three wins and one loss. This was enough to earn the Spaniard his maiden MOTM award. Odion Ighalo also scored 5 goals that month to ensure he clinched the POTM award and grant Watford a deserved double.
In a team where Flores has put the team’s position down to teamwork and hardwork, Ighalo has to be the star turn in the team. 14 goals in his first 18  starts shows his importance to the team. He also scored a total 30 goals in 2015; more than any player in England’s top four tiers of football to cap off the year in style. His pace and power is a nightmare for defenders in the league and I think the sight and sound of the Hornets’ fans signing “you’re indestructible.”  is a fitting tribute for the Nigerian born forward.
He has also forged a decent strike partnership with Troy Deeney. The English forward has contributed 8 assists this season and the pair have contributed 23 of Watford’s 29 goals in the league further showing the chemistry the pair have.
However Watford should not lose sight of the Premier League race. They are currently on 14th place with 10 wins, 7 draws and 12 losses hence 37 points. 40 points has always been termed by most managers as the magical number as regards Premier League survival. If this is the case, then Watford are 3 points away from safety. If they keep doing what they are doing, survival is essentially guaranteed.
Watford may have a – 1 goal difference but they have been quite decent this season.  Gomes is on 10 cleansheets and only three away from Joe Hart. Watford have also conceded 10 goals in 2016 which is the fourth best in the league. Watford need to maintain their shape in terms of tucking in deep when out of possession and being clinical on the counter. Just ask Arsenal. Ighalo’s opener came with the game’s first shot on target: Ruthless.
Back to the magical man. He has to be credited with all Watford have achieved. When they endured that sticky run and in particular Ighalo’s goal drought, the manager remained defiant even when the players had their shoulders hunched. He stuck with his team and tactics and that got them back on track. I believe the most difficult thing about being the gaffer is being optimistic no matter what. You are the only one not allowed to slouch when your team is going on a nine match winless run. How do you get such players up every morning?  Remi Garde is certainly not doing it right. Some tuition perhaps Remi?

image

I can help with that

Flores has the cheeky tendency to keep opponents guessing about his formation. He is very adventurous especially his selection in wide areas. According to fourfourtwo.Com, Flores deployed 7 different wing partnerships in the first 16 PL matches. Looking at some of the results they pulled, you have to wonder how they pulled it off. At first glance most people will put it down on luck but this is where we go back to the importance of meaningful recruitment and the manager having a say on things. The rotation can only be possible because players such as Anya, Paredes, Ake and Jurado can operate in more than one position. It also depends on the opponent they are facing and the form of the players. Flores has never been fazed by big players and he will put you in your place in an instant.
Flores is also very passionate and this gives his players confidence. Having had such a rich football background, it’s not surprising to know where he picked it from. He demands Alot from his players as he knows their potential.
PL fans have also been treated to the image of Flores standing on the touchline keenly following proceedings. It’s possible to count the number of times he is seated down because he rarely does and this keeps the players on their feet(pun intended). He tailors a calm look but will bark orders and reprimand his players; needs must. After games, he casually strolls onto the pitch to acknowledge respect to the opposition, celebrate with his players and applaud the fans. It’s the little things.

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It’s Watford’s first semi in nine years. Whatever happens, Flores has had a satisfactory season and with survival about to be confirmed, having him in the league next season will only increase the excitement. He’s young yet meticulous, respectful yet demanding, withdrawn yet involved, Calm yet catalytic.

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Cool as ice

Cool as ice

Another decent season and surely other clubs will come knocking.
After the Emirates win, he stated that his luck in cup competitions is not so bad. “I have been in six finals and I have won five.” Not debatable but with the FA you have to get to the finals first. All in all Quique Sanchez Flores is one of the brightest stars as regards the new breed of young managers.
felicitaciones and buena suerte senor.

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Sensei