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SAFE STANDING NEWS PIECE

A news piece on the possible introduction of Safe Standing at football.

A LOVE LETTER TO JUAN MATA

Juan Mata will wear red. The rights and wrongs of it are almost irrelevant to me until I’ve written this love letter. For that I refer you to the thorough and rational musings of Joe Tweeds.

Mata arrived in 2011 from Valencia and from Day 1 we knew we had something special. He had the poise and elegance that was undeniably so very Gianfranco Zola. They share the same vision and eye for goal. Whatever they lacked in pace, they made up for it with their beautiful minds.

The comparisons between the two are obvious and aren’t solely for the pitch. Off the pitch they both have reputations for being true gentlemen with the humility you rarely see in a game ravaged by greed and self-importance.

Mata has also been compared to another Chelsea legend Pat Nevin for his cultured standard of living. You won’t see him leaving a club legless with Helen Flanagan, Juan doesn’t go to Nando’s and he doesn’t use the crying with laughter Emoji. He goes to Jazz clubs in Hoxton and goes for walks wearing his Gazelle’s along the Thames near his Putney apartment where his telescope and a big portrait of Stamford Bridge from the 1940’s reside. He’s also on his second degree.

Does that style and culture blur a maybe logical football decision? Probably. But what are you in the game for? Chelsea fans have always wanted more from their players. Frank is a pleasure and easily the greatest but for a mid-20s male getting ever more disillusioned with the game Juan Mata was everything. He looked like one of us. Say what you like, but add his ability to that and he was us. He was Chelsea.

He meant most during the real low point of many supporters’ lifetimes – the year of Benitez. The disconnect between the club and the fans had reached breaking point and broke many of us. Some terminally it should be said. Frank and John Terry weren’t being picked and Juan was our only real constant connection. He dug us out and gave a shit when pretty much none of us did. Winning another European trophy helped I guess.

He is James Dean. An icon. It’s not about duration – it’s about the quality of time spent. And now, just like Dean, it’s a ‘what could have been.’

A typical scene in Manchester.

A typical scene in Manchester.

I feel for him too. He doesn’t deserve Moss Side, Deansgate, rain,  Phil Neville and Phil Jones.

I’m not into the blame game. I don’t blame him, Mourinho or the club. I love Chelsea and Chelsea comes above anything. But let me wallow for a day more until Stoke tomorrow.

So thanks for White Heart Lane, thanks for Old Trafford, thanks for Amsterdam and thanks for that corner in Munich.

The moral of the story is never have a footballing hero. The game just isn’t cut out for it and neither am I.

IS MOYES TOO PREDICTABLE?

During his Everton reign, David Moyes often received criticism for being too tactically predictable. Much of Everton’s success came from wing play and it appears that his style of targeting his wide men at every opportunity is yet to develop into anything more intricate.

moyes-utd-heat-map

Source: @mattwing79

The heat map contrasting Manchester United under Ferguson compared with United under Moyes makes damning viewing. United have always been a team that favours a variation on 4-4-2 with direct wingers attacking full backs and delivering crosses but it appears Moyes has taken this to the extreme with very little else on offer. Many defend the Chosen One questioning the ability and adaptability of the United squad; which by all accounts is severely lacking in central midfield. But the heat map under Ferguson suggests that while the quality may not have been as desired during his time, he still attacked opposition through central positions. When you take into account very few summer signings were made, the contrast to the heat map for Moyes is incredibly striking. Many of United’s problems have not only been their predictability but also in their delivery and build up to delivery. Crossing to a defence that is in full anticipation is much more difficult that a defence that has been pulled apart by central play and it appears United under Moyes could do with some more variation in their style.

Moyes at United

  • Only time in 27 seasons at United did Alex Ferguson see his team go out in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.
  • It’s been 12 years since Manchester United have lost five domestic home games in a season.
  • 7th is the clubs lowest position at this stage of the season since 1990.
  • Manchester United have 34 points. In the last 10 years, by this stage of the season they have an average of 45 points.
  • The last time United started the season with fewer points was 21 years ago.

PREMIER LEAGUE MID SEASON REVIEW

David Moyes

Source: The Guardian

ArsenalARSENAL

In seasons gone by, it would be easy to write off an Arsenal title challenge despite being top going into the new year – a lack of backbone and leadership when games had to be fought out often evaded them. Something has seemed different this season though. Whether it be a drop in quality of the leading pack or a genuine steel found, Arsenal are well in the title race. Defensively they’ve looked as good as they have for a 5 or 6 years. Given that Per Mertesacker can’t run, it’s quite incredibly how little he gets exposed. Koscielny has looked excellent and Flamini has added some bite that they have been craving in years past. The form of Aaron Ramsay has been well documented and Giroud, while not an out and out goalscorer, plays the functional target man who is comfortable with his back to goal that suits a side like Arsenal. It still seems Arsenal can struggle to break down a rigid 3 in midfield as Chelsea showed in particular – the return of Walcott will provide some much needed width.

Current Position: 1st     Predicted Position: 3rd

Aston VillaASTON VILLA

Villa’s season has been predictably hard to predict. Highs at Arsenal and Southampton have been tapered with loses to Palace, Fulham and Stoke. Paul Lambert’s inherent need to attack teams has caused him to forget that playing at the back are serially spanked Nathan Baker and newboy Antonio Luna. In defence of his defence, highly-rated Jores Okore has been missing for most of the season. Fabian Delph has had his moments and Gabby Agbonlahor seems to be thriving as a senior member of the squad. The undoubted elephant in the room, however, is the form (and lack of it) of Cristian Benteke. He’s been garbage. I have to confess, I’ve never been a big fan, but I’ve always been shut up by his goalscoring which, last season at least, could not be argued with. An opportunity missed to cash in in the summer maybe. Villa still look to have more than plenty to stay up. Lambert is a genuinely top manager and exudes the aura of a man who knows what he’s doing. That confidence may prove vital by May.

Current Position: 13th     Predicted Position: 11th-14th

CardiffCARDIFF CITY

Where do you start? Vinny… Vinny Tan… the mad bastard. For me, the sacking of Malky Mackay was not the oddest you’ll see. Whatever way you look at it, a run of bad results culminated in a sacking. Rightly or wrongly – nothing too odd there. Save your tears for Malky – his reputation grew with every goal conceded. Working with a Bond villain affords you some good will in the football community. The real tears should be shed for the Cardiff fans; and not the ones in red. It’s very easy to sit on your sofa and tell a grown man to walk away from the one true love of his life because they got a nose job. Not only that, but they got better looking when they became Premier League. You’ve got Tess Daly but you know in your heart of of hearts she’s dead behind those beautiful eyes. That’s not easy. Support Swansea? I’m not even sure there’s an AFC Cardiff. Rock/hard place. As for the team, Caulker and Gary Medel have been very good signings. Both the type you’ll need in a relegation fight – and they are in one. Jordan Mutch has looked up to standard but other than those three top performers have been hard to come by. A lack of quality and now sane manager in it for the right reasons may prove the clubs downfall. Ultimately, however, the club fell 27th May 2010.

Current Position: 16th     Predicted Position: 19th

ChelseaCHELSEA

Chelsea are flawed. They lack balance and quality in central midfield and certainly quality up front. While Ramires offers drive, Mikel offers protection and Lampard offers composure – they lack a central midfielder with an eye for a pass who can inject pace and control the tempo of a game whilst protecting the back four. Positionally all three have been caught out at times this season and not even Mourinho knows his best combination. Luiz has been tested through the calendar year with mixed results and the injury to Marco van Ginkel put a spanner in the works. They also don’t have a centre forward who is good enough to consistently lead a line. Plain and simple. Eto’o’s game in the past relied on pace on the shoulder. Torres too – they both don’t have that turn nowadays. Demba Ba can be a nuisance but is nothing more than a handy squad man and will probably look elsewhere is January. And yet still, while sides like City and Arsenal appear balanced and coherent, Chelsea are there. And winning. Much of that can be put down to Mourinho. He knows when to lock up and then when to go. Very few in history have had the ability down to such an art like Mourinho. Defensive frailties have been obvious despite John Terry having an excellent season. Much of this is down to the central midfield conundrum. January signings are more important to Chelsea than any side in the league. If they solve or even stop gap the two major flaws and keep the sensational Hazard in form then smart money should be on West London. As it is, City should have too much.

Current Position: 3rd     Predicted Position: 2nd

PalaceCRYSTAL PALACE

Maybe unfairly, Palace’s hopes of survival were written off pre-season and three months into the show little had been served up to think otherwise. The appointment of Tony Pulis, however, has clearly had a bigger impact than even the club had imagined. Murmurs of preparing for the Championship seemed premature but not all that unrealistic. Here we are now with Palace out of the relegation zone going into 2014 (albeit on goal difference). They lack quality pretty much everywhere. But like the good plucky underdogs they are, they don’t lack heart. The support they receive at Selhurst Park could well go a long way. Up to now, you’d be hard pressed to find a more vocal home support in the league. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but at least they make a racket. The one major stand out has been Joel Ward who would be touted for England if he was playing for a top 4 side. Marouane Chamakh has also looked… well… astonishingly handy. They’ve got a chance. A good one. And that’s more than they would have asked for even two months ago.

Current Position: 17th     Predicted Position: 18th

EvertonEVERTON

Everton’s biggest strength has been their balance. Coleman has been a revelation and Oviedo has deputised impeccably for Leighton Baines; Barry and McCarthy offer some of the best protection you’ll find centrally allowing Ross Barkley to flourish further forward; Pienaar and Mirallas offer width when needed but are more than comfortable tucking in behind a prolific Lukaku when overlapped by the fullbacks. It’s a simple case of playing a system and finding players that suit it. On paper, it’s hard to see where Everton can improve. Lukaku could find more consistency in front of goal and Mirallas in particular could chip in more. The key to Everton’s success will almost certainly, however, depend on the development of Ross Barkley. For me, he’s a better talent than Wilshere and probably the most exciting Englishman since Rooney emerged at the same club. As technically and physically gifted as he may well be, however, it’s unfair for anyone to expect anymore than he’s given already this year. The race for the top 4 will be tight but I’d fully expect Everton to be the mix and as close as they’ve been since they qualified in 2007. Their last three home games of the season could be the decisive in a tight run in: Arsenal, United and City.

Current Position: 4th     Predicted Position: 6th.

FulhamFULHAM

Tourists favourites Fulham go in to the new year in the bottom three after suffering their heaviest ever Premier League defeat at Hull. Quite frankly, it’s not looking good. Up until the Hull game, however, Rene Meulensteen’s men had looked almost competitive and fairly competent when compared with early season performances under Dutch compatriot Martin Jol. Whilst it goes against everything I love about football – the laissez-faire style of Dimitar Berbatov’s link up play has caused Fulham to be slow, predictable and easy to set up against. Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell offer some much needed but often overstated top flight experience, but along with Georgios Karagounis, Fulham set up with three over Thirties in a league that is dominated by pace. Defensively they have also looked a shambles at times. Conceding SIX to a hardly prolific Hull a case in point. They are in trouble. But at least they’ve scored the goal of the season. Call me old-fashioned but an absolute thunderbastard like Kasami’s hit against Palace will always trump the poetry of Wilshere’s against Norwich.

Current Position: 18th     Predicted Position: 17th

HullHULL CITY

From my stand point Hull have been the surprise of the season. A United meltdown and a Southampton run of form was never beyond the realms  but the aptitude and comfortability of Hull this year has been a big shock. Steve Bruce always reminded me of a wet jellyfish during his Sunderland and Wigan days. The world was against him. Loses were never down to picking Emile Heskey. I feared for them pre season and tipped them to be in the bottom two with Palace pretty much all season long. But they signed excellently and all the credit should be given to Bruce and his team. Tom Huddlestone is one the most technically gifted central midfielders in the country. Along with Michael Carrick, he’s one of the few Englishmen who can control the pace and tempo of a game. Along with Jake Livermore, Hull have found a solidity in centre midfield. Sagbo is a handful and Robbie Brady can be a difference maker. They look a genuine Premier League outfit. Just pray that the FA do the right thing and keep them ‘City’. Disregarding fans wishes and 100 years of history and tradition for not a lot in return is a slippery slope.

Current Position: 10th     Predicted Position: 9th-12th

LiverpoolLIVERPOOL

Luis Suarez is good. By ‘good’ I mean ‘easily the best player in the league’. There’s not much I can write or say that hasn’t been written or said. And you’d have to be a Robbie Savage to not know how good he is. Jordan Henderson’s form, however, has gone almost unnoticed until recently. He’s been excellent for a year or so now. He now has the confidence to drive from midfield and attempt passes that he’s always been capable of. His attitude and work rate are also impeccable. He needs to add more goals to his game (a solitary goal so far this season) but his pass completion, assists, and key passes in the final third are all in the top 5 in the country. Much like their Merseyside neighbours, Brendan Rodgers has built a side with extremely good balance. The width offered by Coutinho and Sterling allow the surging runs from Henderson and Gerrard while Lucas provides the stability. Liverpool’s biggest problem is two fold: Firstly they have looked defensively get-at-able. Sakho in particular has looked nervy at best; They also suffer from having a very thin squad. This has been highlighted over the Christmas period where they looked extremely tired at Chelsea. It’s all progress from the Dalglish era though and Rodgers is proving what a great coach he is. Champions League football would be a massive achievement.

Current Position: 5th     Predicted Position: 4th

Man UtdMANCHESTER UNITED

No matter what happens or who wins the thing, United are the story of the season. The perhaps inevitable fall from grace has transpired more dramatically and with more thwack than was possibly imaginable. They looked flawed last year. Van Persie won the league for them. But not finishing in the Top 4 is a genuine possibility and if you believe the bookmakers (don’t – that’s what they want you to do) – a probability. Van Persie’s lack of fitness has had an effect but this was mostly caused by Moyes’ stupidity in rushing him back by playing the full 90 against Newcastle: “I was due to take him off after 60 minutes, but if I had people would have said ‘what are you doing?'” Not sure that’s the best way to pick and run your side, Dave… The midfield problem has been well documented and has been exposed more than ever. Cleverley is a bit rubbish and Fellaini just hasn’t settled. They’ve lacked stability in central defence too. The only real positives this year have been the form of Rooney and the emergence of Adnan Januzaj who looked the real deal. Danny Welbeck has also looked lively in Van Persie’s absence leading the line and doubling his tally from last season in just two weeks. United need to dig deep, get Van Persie fit and firing and of course sign a centre midfielder in January. But there is no quick fit. They’re one of us now. Staring into the unknown with life after a God. This maybe one long transition in mentality more than anything else.

Current Position: 6th     Predicted Position: 5th

CityMANCHESTER CITY

At home, City have looked every bit the side most expected winning all ten they’ve played. Stuffing a dire Norwich for seven was one thing but it’s hard to not tip any side annihilating United for four and Tottenham for six for the title. Aguero has looked the only player close to touching Suarez for Player of the Season and at The Etihad Yaya and Fernandinho have looked as powerful and dominant as you would expect. Away from home has been a lot tougher going though. They’ve lost four and sit 8th in the away form table. The reasons for which are hard to find. There’s clearly a mentality shift from the City players themselves who struggle to adapt to teams that attack with pace and press with intensity. Many of their problems have seemed to come from central midfield where Yaya Toure can be accused of shirking responsibilities by getting caught up the pitch and often leaves Fernandinho exposed and outnumbered. A consistency at left back and Kompany’s injury proneness have also compounded the problems. Joe Hart’s form early season was worrying and Pellegrini was fully justified in dropping England’s #1. (Interestingly David Platt has said Mancini was planning on replacing Hart with Asmir Begovic in the summer had he stayed on) For all their problems away from home, City should on paper win the league. Strength in depth and the quality of Aguero, Silva and an in-form Nasri will mean they’ll score one more goal than you more often than not.

Current Position: 2nd     Predicted Position: 1st

NewcastleNEWCASTLE UNITED

There was a bit of doom and gloom around the Tyne a few weeks into the season. Bad results and a bad interview with Talksport by the newly appointed Director of Football created some tension unsurprisingly. Alan Pardew should be given every credit for stabilising the shambles that Joe Kinnear, or maybe more Mike Ashley, brought to the club. Kinnear’s only contribution was the signing of Loic Remy. You can’t argue it wasn’t a good signing (albeit a loan signing) but if you were to predict any single one move in the summer, this would have been it. QPR needed him off the wage bill, they needed a striker – he is one, Newcastle like French people – he is one. No brainer. He has looked a top striker. So much so, I’d be quite surprised if a Tottenham or an Arsenal didn’t try and pick him up come the summer. Keeping Yohan Cabaye at the club was vital. The midfielder has been superb along with Tiote who has shaken off his terrible season last time around. Santon and Debuchy are solid enough fullbacks and Krul is top keeper. Expect much of the same in 2014.

Current Position: 8th     Predicted Position: 8th

NorwichNORWICH CITY

Possibly because I live here, I have more of an opinion on Norwich than most who seem to treat with them with irrelevance. For me, they’ve never fully recovered from losing Lambert. He suited the club and the city perfectly with his attack at all costs style and trust in unfashionable players. Chris Hughton is the antithesis of this: he is inherently very cautious and values experience over exuberance. While results have stayed the same and league position actually improved – the feel around the club is very pessimistic. Norwich were finally debt free in the summer and were ready to make the push up the league. Investment was made on the training ground and large sums were made available to Hughton. The signings of Fer, Hooper and Redmond seem to have improved the team but results and form have been similar to that of last year. They lack creativity and van Wolfswinkel is yet to settle into life in the Prem. They concede far less under Hughton and while this is a trait that some fans would value – Norwich fans don’t. They want to see passion and drive. Hughton should and probably will keep Norwich up but it’s hard to see genuine improvement from the side even if the club as a whole is significantly improved.

Current Position: 14th     Predicted Position: 14th-17th

SouthamptonSOUTHAMPTON

There were signs of a comfortable top half finish for Southampton second half of last season. The appointment of Pochettino and sacking of Adkins was heavily criticised at the time but Cortese should be credited for having foresight and bravery to improve his club when he sees the opportunity. Southampton are one of the few clubs who have a philosophy and ethos and recruit according to it. They have a plan. A long term one: Passing, pressing and English academy-trained youth. Lallana has come on leaps and bounds, Ward-Prowse is as consistent as he is technically gifted, Shaw will be England’s left back in 2 years and Rodriguez finishes everything offered to him. Add the steal of Victor Wanyama and the craft of Dani Osvaldo and Southampton on their day can beat any side in the country. Their obvious problem is in central defence. Dejan Lovren has been an excellent addition despite the high price tag but he needs a partner. Arthur Boruc can also look extremely shaky. Southampton are the pin-up for running a modern football club within your means. The only other gripe one can have with Southampton is Pochettino’s refusal to speak to the media in English. I get it – he doesn’t want to be misquoted but having a healthy relationship with the media is important, rightly or wrongly. He’s fluent in English and I think he could treat the media with a bit more respect.

Current Position: 9th     Predicted Position: 9th

StokeSTOKE CITY

Stoke are much like they’ve always been. Make of that what you will. Their style certainly hasn’t dramatically changed under Mark Hughes as their fans were promised when he took over from Tony Pulis. Glen Whelan is still getting sent off, Steven Nzonzi is still staring at the referee, Shawcross is still pretending to be innocent and Crouch is still scoring 1 in 5. Hughes has made token gestures in giving starts to Oussama Assaidi, crap-Zlatan-wannabe Marko Arnautovic and Steven Ireland but it’s all very ‘as you were’. In some regards, I don’t mean that too negatively – they look as mid-lower Premier League as ever and should almost certainly survive. There’s rumours of a bid for Adrian Ramos from Hertha Berlin this January: a signing that would certainly make them more interesting to watch if nothing else.

Current Position: 12th     Predicted Position: Somewhere. Not bottom 3.

SunderlandSUNDERLAND

On paper Sunderland don’t look a Championship side to me. Fletcher scores goals, Johnson on his day can be a match-winner, there’s bags of experience with O’Shea and Brown at the back and you’ve seen worse central midfield combinations than that Ki and Colback. The problem they have is Poyet plays Altidore (very much Championship) more often than not, Brown is invariably injured or suspended and Adam Johnson’s day comes every leap year – usually playing against Sunderland ironically enough. The inclusion of Cattermole is contentious too. You can see Poyet’s thinking – play an enforcer in a relegation battle. But the fact is he’s a poor footballer and a poor leader when he’s suspended for the 12th game this season (not actually 12). Poyet’s Brighton were very comfortable on the ball, pressed high and attacked with speed – I haven’t seen any of these qualities from Sunderland. It’s probably fair to suggest that he’s still cleaning up the inevitable mess madman Paolo Di Canio was always going to leave and they just haven’t recovered. I’ve been expecting a change in fortunes all season but all the evidence suggests they’re goners.

Current Position: 20th     Predicted Position: 20th

SwanseaSWANSEA CITY

There’s no doubting the Europa League has had a baring on Swansea’s Premier League form. The amount of games that teams who, by their natures, have smaller squads than the Champions League teams needs to be addressed. But you can only play with the cards you’re dealt and after all Swansea earned the right through winning their maiden domestic cup. The highlight of their season so far was probably the 3-0 win at the Mestalla too. Michu seems to be suffering from the contagious Secondseasonsydrome as well as a recurring ankle injury that has kept him sidelined for 7 of Swansea’s last 9. As always they play attractive football but they seem to lack any craft in the final third and have suffered from a lack of goals despite breaking the clubs transfer record on Wilfried Bony. There have been cameos of a predator from the Ivorian, however, Jonjo Shelvey has played his part particularly in Europe and defensively Chico and Williams still look solid. Their problems have been out wide where rarely Dyer, Routledge or Hernandez find themselves behind the opposition’s back line. Teams find it easier to defend against Swansea these days with two rigid banks. On their day, they’re still very very useful.

Current Position: 11th     Predicted Position: 9-12th

TottenhamTOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

The sacking of Andre ‘loves the high-line’ Villas Boas and employment of Tim ‘loves the banter’ Sherwood has defined Tottenham’s season so far. A summer which saw the sale of Gareth Bale to Madrid resulted in heavy investment for the ‘nearly boys’. They bought in 7 first teamers and while you would expect a period of settling in and transition, their form under Villas Boas was sketchy at best. Thumpings at City (0-6), a 0-3 home defeat to rivals West Ham and crucially a 0-5 thrashing at home to Top 4 rivals Liverpool culminated in Daniel Levy giving the Portuguese his P45. It was always going to be difficult to survive these types of results. Throw on top a prickly relationship with the media, an extremely testing brand of football for the White Heart Lane faithful and a ludicrous handling of the Hugo Lloris concussion incident and it’s hard to argue a case for his stay. The employment of Tim Sherwood was surprising. Many have made the case that Levy is the constant in a growing number of poor relations between manager and board at Tottenham. On paper it looks as though Sherwood has the advantage of being amicable and mouldable: some may call it a “yes” man. It’s hard to predict how Sherwood will do but there’s a noticeable difference in style already with the recall of two up front with a lot more freedom in system and mentality. Whether he’s tactically sound enough to compete with the big boys remains to be seen. But he does love banter.

Current Position: 7th     Predicted Position: 7th

West BromWEST BROM

The dismissal of Steve Clarke at first glance appeared extremely ruthless. He had guided the Midlanders to 8th last campaign – their highest league position since the creation of the Premier League. But when looked in context of the calendar year they had a win percentage of only 20% and had only won 9 of the last 41 games. For a side as talented as they are that’s a poor record. It’s pretty evident that the club had not planned in advance for his sacking, however. It’s almost a month since his departure and the club are yet to name a successor. Jose Luis Mendilibar, former Osasuna head coach, is the current favourite while Malky Mackay’s name is also being banded around. Either way, the squad should have far too much for the other teams in the relegation battle. The pace of Shane Long and Stephane Sessegnon, the experience of Nicolas Anelka and the drive of Youssouf Mulumbu from midfield are qualities very few down there possess. They are, however, most definitely in a race to avoid the drop. Only 2 points separate them and a poor Fulham side. They need a manager and quick. The biggest positive of an otherwise forgettable season has been the emergence of youngster Saido Berahino.

Current Position: 15th     Predicted Position: 10th-16th

West HamWEST HAM

Sam Allardyce is not a popular man around Upton Park and it’s getting serious. They’ve only won three games all season and haven’t looked like winning many more. Their problem is obvious – a lack of goals. No fit or functional centre forwards even meant they had to resign Carlton Cole, who they’d let go in the summer, on a month to month contract. Cole has actually added a focal point to the team but it’s fair to say his release has not looked foolhardy. Serially injured Andy Carroll has not helped matters. The £15 million signing from Liverpool has not played a single minute since his move was made permanent. You have to question the wisdom of Gold and Sullivan spending a record transfer fee on someone as injury prone as Carroll. West Ham started the season keeping 6 clean sheets in 10 – a record any side would be proud of. But they also failed to score in 6 of the last 10 too. Their recent form has been very poor winning only once since their win at Tottenham on 6th October. They lack creativity in midfield opting for width even though they lack genuine quality out wide. Club captain Kevin Nolan has taken much of the flak from the home crowd and Ravel Morrison has only showed glimpses of his talent. With the immanent move to the Olympic Stadium, West Ham cannot afford to take the financial hit that relegation will bring. It could send the club in turmoil.

Current Position: 19th     Predicted Position: 15th-18th

FAN VIOLENCE HALTS BRAZILIAN FOOTBALL MATCH

Source: www.canalfutbolista.com

Bloody violence between rival fans marred an end of season clash in the Brazilian football league leaving several fans severely injured raising concerns over next year’s World Cup.

The match between Atlético Paranaense and Vasco da Gama was stopped for an hour after supporters attacked one another in the stands of the stadium in Joinville. The clashes were eventually broken up by police using rubber bullets.

One fan was airlifted from the stadium by a helicopter that landed on the pitch. Authorities say two other men are in a serious condition in hospital

‘This is not sport’

“This is deplorable,” Vasco da Gama coach Adilson Batista told reporters. “It’s sad to see images like these just before the World Cup in our country. I’m shocked, this is not sport.”

The game was significant to both clubs as Atlético Paranaense were playing for a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores, while Vasco da Gama were hoping to avoid relegation with a win.

‘Deplorable’

It’s been reported that only 80 private security guards were separating the fans before police arrived to disperse the crowds.

The game took place only 2 days after the draw for the World Cup had been made; which saw England drawn in a group Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay. The events will do nothing to soften concerns over gang activity during the tournament next summer.

“We tried to tell the fans to stop because things would only get worse. We looked at the stands and there were no cops. There was nobody there to stop the fighting,” said Atletico Paranaense player Luiz Alberto. “I’ve playing for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. We will have a World Cup in our country and we know these images will be shown everywhere.”

AUSTRALIA WOULD BENEFIT FROM NOT BEING SO AUSTRALIAN

ClarkeAnderson

Michael Clarke was fined for his sledging of James Anderson

Australia’s win against England was their first win in ten test matches. It put the hosts 1-0 up in an Ashes series, that if they lost, will be their fourth Ashes series defeat in a row. A record. Nobody can really argue they didn’t deserve the win: England were out-batted, out-bowled and out-thought pretty much to a man. Like most in our beautiful motherland, I hate losing to Australia. In anything. Be it rugby or cricket. During some channel flicking I saw an Aussie beat a Brit at poker a couple of weeks ago and I found myself enraged. It may have had more to do with his attire and general demeanour: He was one of those chatty ones who wore sunglasses (and probably flip-flops (not thongs)). Thankfully I found some Friends to cleanse myself. It was Season 7 – the best one.

The resounding feeling I took from the test, however, was not that of despair or anxiety for whats to come, but excitement about how good beating them will feel. I would by no means put my house on it, but I genuinely believe England will the thing. Either way, the arrogance shown by Michael Clarke and David Warner before and during the final day only heightened this feeling – as I’m sure it will the England dressing room.

I’ve always like Michael Clarke. The shining beacon in an otherwise very average side for the past couple of year is a genuinely magnificent batsman and, depending on your taste, a very good tactical captain. But a fountain of charisma, he is not. Exhibit A…

Source: Cricket Australia TV

While he is confident that’ll be the eleven – he’s no Jose.

His sledging of James Anderson came across like the witless-good-at-sport-good-looking kid at school hiding behind his much taller lapdog mate. “He’s going to break your fucking arm – I’ll just watch.” Anderson is by no means a saint and has obviously crawled under some skin through his own repertoire of Australian bashing. But Clarke is the captain. And he was also one wicket away from his first win in ten as the captain – you’d think he’d be a little more giddy. Winning didn’t seem to be enough. Not even for first timer George Bailey who seemed keen to make friends on his first day of school. It was all very playground.

Neither was it enough for the most Australian of them all – David Warner, who called Jonathan Trott’s second innings “poor and weak”. Warner’s comments look worse given the events of the last few days. But even at the time the comments seemed arrogant and extremely unprofessional. What was he trying to achieve apart from giving The Courier Mail a chuckle and possibly a headline? In truth – he was wilfully acting the peacock but it almost certainly has given England an extra motivation.

Trott’s departure is of course the main story. Coming from someone who has limited experience of stress-related illness, I don’t feel overly comfortable commentating on what it must feel like or what Trott needs to do from here on in. I don’t even know if Warner’s criticism would impact him – although I reckon I could take a guess. But I do know a sport like cricket does not lends itself to mental illness. Long hours playing a male dominated game that requires temperament must be extraordinarily taxing. Not to mention the prolonged periods of time away from loved ones. It must have been tortuous at times.

While he has giving his sympathies to Trott, Darren Lehmann has naturally done little to defuse the situation by saying, “I like our boys being aggressive” while Clarke has, like the high school house captain he is, defended his comments as “banter”. Australia should of course enjoy their win. They would also do well to remember their recent run of form against England and quite frankly in general. The Ashes hasn’t been won and going about your business is probably the best course of action for their own sakes. In short, don’t be so Australian.

Get well soon, Jonathan Trott.

For one of the best pieces I’ve seen written on mental illness in sport – check out this by Iain O’Brien, a former New Zealand fast bowler. Genuinely excellent read. http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/579767.html

VILLAS-BOAS DEFENDS TOTTENHAM’S TREATMENT OF LLORIS

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/24838814

Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas says he is ‘astonished’ by criticism after his goalkeeper Hugo Lloris played on after being knocked unconscious.

Lloris collided with Romelu Lukaku during the 0-0 draw on Sunday against Everton.

Spurs have been criticised by many for failing to substitute the Frenchman, despite risk of concussion, who appeared to be adamant he wanted to continue.

But Villas-Boas responded: “I stand by the decision I took and I stand by the decision made by my medical staff. They did everything by the book.”

He argued that “a couple of people” had used the incident “as an opportunity to get some publicity”, adding: “They have no experience on the pitch of these situations.”

‘Poorly treated’

The player is said to not remember the incident. However, Villas-Boas defended his medical team: “A medical department and two people who, two years ago, saved the life of a footballer on the pitch have been completely forgotten, poorly treated and badly respected by lots of opinion makers.”

Tottenham medical team had been universally praised when former Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed mid-game two years ago.

‘Irresponsible and cavalier’

There have been calls by the world players’ union Fifpro and the Professional Footballer’s Association to change guidelines to ensure that players are required to leave the playing field if such an incident occurs.

“If anyone suffers severe trauma to the head and loses consciousness, they should be required to leave the field,” said the John Bramall of the PFA. Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer, added “We have a very clear recommendation for doctors if concussion occurs or even if there is a strong suspicion of concussion then the player should be taken out of the play.”

Brain injury charity Headway said the club acted with an “irresponsible and cavalier attitude”.

Villas-Boas also questioned whether Lukaku could have avoided contact with his goalkeeper: “I want to believe that Lukaku’s leg was not left late to clash into Hugo’s head”, he said, “but I think he could have jumped over perfectly.”