Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Villa Breaking the Mold

As exciting and popular as the Premier League is, recent years have seen a steady and consistent top four domination by Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. The strangle hold has raised arguments that however thrilling the Premier League has become, it is some what predictable, especially from the point of view of the neutral or "lower" league team.

Manchester City may have accelerated there ambitions with now limitless financial backing that puts them ahead of any team in the world, let alone in the Premier League, but its Aston Villa who look most likely to break in to the top 4 the earliest.

Martin O'Neill's has slowly built his Villa squad since leaving Celtic back in 2005. In comparison to the top 4 teams, and quite a few teams outside that elusive group, O'Neill's has spent more conservatively. At the time, when O'Neill bought Ashley Young from Watford for around 10 million pounds, it seemed like yet another over inflated price for a young, unproven English player. However, with O'Neill's patience, Young has slowly began to provide a return on that investment, and is knocking on the door of the England senior team.

The theme of young English players runs through the Villa side, with players such as Curtis Davies, Zak Knight, James Milner and Nigel Reo-Coker all bought for reasonable figures, are now ever present starters for O'Neill's team. In addition to the purchases of these players- and more, we have seen the emergence of Gabriel Agbonlahor. O'Neill's has nurtured, and more importantly given the opportunity to Agbonlahor to graduate from the youth setup which is now providing dividends, with Agbonlahor currently the clubs top goal scorer in the Premier League with 10 goals.

Not all of the players at Villa fit in to the defined specification of young and English. The squad has been balanced with experience and flare with the likes of Petrov, Friedel, Carew and Heskey. Emile Heskey may prove to be a bargain and will provide a great foil for Agbonlahor's pace. While Heskey has never really been a prolific goal scorer, he more than makes up for it with his physical presence which others feed off. Just ask hungry Amr Zaki at Wigan, who's goal scoring touch seems to have deserted him, since Heskeys departure, an unlikely coincidence.

O'Neill's shrewd dealings in the transfer market, and his sheer stubbornness to keep the highly influential Gareth Barry, has proven that it is possible to assemble a team that can finally challenge the top 4's monopoly, without having to rely on the loose purse strings of an Oil Tycoon. They may have American entrepreneur Randy Lerner instead, who is by no means shy of spending a few quid, but the purchases have been reasonable and strategic.

All Villa's concentration is now focused on pinching 4th spot, which was further exemplified by the reserve team that played in the Uefa cup defeat to CSKA Moscow. The policy to treat the Uefa cup like a inconvenience and not an opportunity of silverware, echo's the kind of arrogance demonstrated by the very managers who O'Neill is trying to rub shoulders with. And, rightly so. I'm sure a few die hard fans who made the trip to sunny Moscow will be disappointed, but the priority has to be on the Premiership.

Can they hold on? Arsenal are back on form and have the timely return of Eduardo and Walcott, to help selvage their season, as they try to restore order in the top 4 elite. I hope for O'Neill's sake, that the gamble in Moscow pays off, and Villa are not left out of the final Champions league spots, and not left to wonder what might have been in the Uefa cup.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Fergie avoids kick in the teeth

Unfortunately for Liverpool and any other supporter hoping that United's ridiculous, but annual end of season good form is about to suffer from complacency, think again.

Talking about the Blackburn game, Ferguson describe the encounter as one that might need serious dental attention afterward. "This game can kick you in the teeth".

United lost a 12 point lead to Arsenal back in 1998. Ferguson's wealth of United title experience, allowing him to draw dressing room inspiration from over a decade ago. Its a great reminder for the united squad, not to take a rest, although Ferguson claims his side do not need one, "We don't need one anyway. These lads are young, fit and fresh. They can go the distance."

We come to expect this kind of posturing from Ferguson, especially as we get to the business end of the season. Its hard not to remain confident for United, who have not even conceded for 15 games, let alone loose. The almost arrogant, confidence will inspire his side and deflect pressure to United's title rivals.

Ferguson and his troops avoided the dental work, after one of Ronaldo's signature freekicks ensured the 3 points, giving United an 8 point gap at the table summit.

All eyes now turn to Anfield, where Liverpool take on United's neighbours, Manchester City. For a rare 90 minutes United will be supporting the sky blue half of the Manchester.

Ferguson is using the 12 points lost to Arsenal in 1998 to motivate his team, Liverpool will have to take the thought of loosing the bragging rights of the most league titles as their inspiration. The pressure is on, the manager mind games are in full swing and we still have over 30 points to squabble over.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

17 More to go for Beckham

Given that the highest capped player for England is former Goal Keeper Peter Shilton with 125 caps, its unlikely that David Beckham will eclipse the remarkable record.

Shilton reached the figure by playing into his 40's which by today standards, at least for outfield player, is pretty unheard of.

Due to the time difference of living in to Toronto, I unfortunately missed the Spain v England game, as I was still sharpening pencils at my desk. From the coverage the following morning, the general consensus was that, Although England hadn't played particularly bad, they were missing that cutting edge that would put them in to the same bracket as the European champions, Spain.

After what has been an impressive start to Fabio Capello's England term, a defeat at the hands to Spain will keep the over inflated England expectation under control. There is still some way to go for England, but the images of the "wolly with the brolly" are slowly being erased.

What ever the result in Seville, the moment will be remembered for Beckham equaling the legend, Boobby Moore's record of 108 caps. 8 years a go, England played Greece at Old Trafford, in what was one of the worst games I have ever witnessed. All we needed was a draw to qualify for the World Cup, and despite never scoring on English soil, Greece had managed to score twice and were leading England 2-1, two minutes in to injury time. As Motty says in the commentry, "Beckham has vertually played Greece on his own" was not an over statement. Enjoy...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Manic Monday for Tony and Luiz

Little did I realise that with barely 5 minutes left on the Clock at Fratton Park, Liverpool would not only turn a game around, but by the time I had started sifting through my email the following Monday morning, would I discover that both Tony Adams and Luiz Felipe Scolari were both picking up their P45's.

I joined the Portsmouth v Liverpool game just as pompey had taken the lead for the second time after a in swinging cross, turned shot, (full disclosure, I am Liverpool supporter!!) got the slightest touch by Hreidarsson to leave the Liverpool zonal defence preoccupied with white space, while Reina was left an innocent bystander.

While Reina lay flat on his back, head in hands, I expected Portsmouth to go on and get the win which would have left Liverpool's chances of Premiership glory highly unlikely, even amongst the most optimistic of Liverpool supporter, and would have given Portsmouth the valuable 3 points they so desperately needed to climb out of relegation.

However, with Liverpool's big guns now on, and with considerable possession throughout the half, Torres setup Kuyt for the equalizer before getting on yet another good cross to head home with precision in injury time.

After the equalizer, Adams smashed his boot in to one of the seats in the dugout, one only knows what damage the groundsmen has to fix in the changing room.

So, after little over 20 something games in charge, Adams has been shown the door at a critical point in the season. I have to say that I feel sorry for the former Arsenal captain. Yet again we see a young manager barely given any time to build a team. Adams inherited a squad which was recovering from loosing a hugely influential figure in Harry Redknapp. The lack of investment since Diarra's £20m move, further amplifying the difficult task dumped at Adams' desk.

Luiz Philipe Scolari's dismissal on the other hand, is equally ridiculous, but for very different reasons. A similar amount of games in charge as Adams, Chelsea are still in the Champions league and are still placed well in the prem, albeit below Villa, which I had not expected at the start of the season when they were playing free flowing football straight out of Rio. The 0-0 draw at home was a far cry from that football, but even with the booing at full time at the bridge, I didn't anticipate Ambramovich would be so quick to drop the sword. Some will say that Scolari was better suited to International Football, and struggled to adjust to the hands on, everyday management of club football, but the man won the world cup! And, came very close with Portugal in the Euro and the World Cup. He has the pedigree.

Ambramovich's management interaction has left the Club managerless at the most of inappropriate times. Jose Mourinho left unexpectedly and at a premature start to the season. Ambramovich, a long with so many other club owners need to take a look at the 3 longest serving managers in the Premiership currently; Ferguson, Rafa and Wenger and see how stability has paid off, with a trophy cabinet to prove it. It is the owners job to appoint the right manager, therefore even though it is the manager who loses his job, they need to be accountable for the miss fortunes of the club. Knee jerk reactions in terms of appointments or dismissal is no way to run a club, and I hope, for there own sake both Portsmouth and Chelsea bide their time, instead of making part time appointments.

The weekend results could have yielded very different outcomes, but the fickle owners of football clubs have left both Tony and Luiz wishing it was Sunday.

Sport Bullet Open for Business..

.....Well Almost!

www.sportbullet.com will, eventually be online, hopefully within the first quarter of 2009.

The purpose of www.sportbullet.com, is to provide an open platform for the sports community to collaborate and produce sports related news articles and data, enhanced with pictures, video and wit. Whether it’s reporting on the World Cup Final or the local Sunday league pub team, all are welcome. All of the content is produced by the sports community, unrestricted from the editor’s pen.

In the mean time, until the site is online, I will vent my sports opinions (with heavy emphasis on football) here on this blog.

Stay tuned for further posts.
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