Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Yawn, yawn.............then one glorious goal by the Liverpool Towers

Aston Villa v Liverpool in that yawning gap between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, and in the evening, at that, ko 8.45, UK time. It was a keen contest in a snow storm for a good deal of the time. Speccy Martin O'Neill braving the chill in his tracksuit and gloves to show himself to his team and remind then never to falter. Bunty Benitez in his shelter looking twitchy. At 0-0 they go into added-on time and guess what? Who is going to score? Which player needs only a chance, a small space, and can hit the ball without a falter?

There was a tired players episode of table football, the ball bouncing off one player or another but close to the Aston Villa goal. A fair-haired striker without his Alice Band today is in a space on the edge of the box as the ball comes to him. One touch and across the advancing goalkeeper Friedel, the ball travels along the turf and crosses the line just inside the goalpost. 1-0 to Liverpool. The final whistle. O'Neill is on his knees. Benitez in his box does a few tries at confident twitches as if he knew what was going to happen all along.

The long yawn was stifled. Torres ('Towers' in Spanish) provided the moment that made it all worthwhile.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Great Players make Great Games - in Double Quick Time

On Sunday 27th December, 2009, I slept through most of the Arsenal v Aston Villa match on television, the 3rd and 4th teams in the English Premier League. I woke up to a 0-0 score line with Fabregas just starting as a sub in the second half. What followed was the best 28 minutes I have seen this season and maybe ever. He scored from a devastating free kick, curling it over the line of opponents into the far side of the goal which they were defending. He followed this by masterminding continuous attacks on the Villa goal and ended by a dash into space to score his second. In doing this he aggravated the hamstring injury, the reason for his starting on the bench. He was then substituted but had already done enough to be the Man of the Match and the master of his trade in an appearance lasting less than half an hour.
The Sky Television pundit Jamie Redknapp whose garrulous comments often contain some gems - probably overheard from his Dad, Harry, the Tottenham manager - gave me the first part of the title of this piece.

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Cool foot Frank

We already know the bazaar qualities of the English Premier League with flashy foreign imports which often don't work, eg Robinho. This weekend the EPL showed some bizarre qualities.

Bizarre item 1
On Saturday Manchester United had the chance to catch up on points with Chelsea by winning at Fulham. The three points would have brought them level with a faltering Chelsea - with only one win in the last three matches. With many defenders injured and unavailable, experienced manager Ferguson chose midfielders Carrick and Fletcher alongside regular full-back, Evra, and reserve team player De Laet as a back four. Man U lost 3-0. Why, with 9 reserve defenders, did the manager not choose two more of them? This is one of the sports where the young have no fear. They may be less-experienced in big matches but would be orientated to defending. Carrick's instinct is to pass the ball forward. He followed his instinct early on, a short pass forward to Scholes, who lost the ball to Murphy, the Fulham captain, who ran forward and scored. Carrick was too near his own goal to play a short pass but his instincts tricked him. Would a trained defender have done this?

Bizarre item 2
On Sunday, the day after Man U 's defeat, Chelsea had the opportunity  to go 6 points ahead at the top of the table. They were playing West Ham at the bottom of the table. What did they do? They drew, 1-1, and were lucky to do so. They were slow, unimaginative, dull and toothless. They should have lost - particularly as there could have been a penalty for the Hammers when Carvalho of Chelsea jumped on the back of a West Ham player as the ball arrived in the goal mouth from a corner. Chelsea drew level through a penalty when the referee, nearer the players, deferred to the linesman further away over a tackle by Upson. Video replays show it as a risky but successful tackle. Anyway, Cool Hand Frank (F. Lampard) took over and scored from the spot. Whistle, confusion, disallowed: Chelsea players in the box before the kick was taken. Frank takes it again, different part of the goal, scores. Whistle, confusion, disallowed: Chelsea players in the box again. Frank runs up again, and scores at the other side of the goal. Whistle, referee points to centre circle. Goal!
Frank Lampard, playing for Chelsea F.C.Image via Wikipedia

Three penalties for the price of one. Bazaar qualities as well as bizarre? But how cool was that from Frank?

In a live interview immediately after the match, asked about how he felt while going through the penalty ordeal, Lampard said, "I could have done without that!" A great understatement. So refreshing, after the boyish blokes who whip off their shirts and glory about the pitch just for doing their job. In contrast,  this was a real professional!

Thanks to Frank, Chelsea got a point they did not deserve and now stand 4 points ahead of Man U at the top of the table -  having bizzarely won only one of their last four games, and that was close, against bottom of the table  Portsmouth. (Permission for the continued use of the photo of Lampard has been requested by e-mail. The photographer was Aleksandr Mysyakin for Soccer.ru)

Bizarre item 3
Mark Hughes, manager of Manchester City, whose 4-3 win against Sunderland at home was televised by Sky, was sacked after the match. Roberto Mancini, whom the former Chelsea manager, Jose Maurinho, replaced at Inter Milan, took over. Hughes with the camera on him during the match claims he did not know he was being sacked until it was over. In post match punditry on television I heard the remark," Won't this treatment (of Hughes) deter young English players from going into management?"
Roberto Mancini
Like hell it will! Wait until we hear the amount of the pay-off. Hughes will never need to work again, but of course he will. And the next time no doubt he will be chosen by those who run the club and put their money into it. Unlike the Manchester City job where he was the sitting manager when new owners came in with huge funds to spend. He had the wonderful experience of spending it for them. The forlorn experience on the pitch and under the cameras for his last game will soon be forgotten. But it was bizarre viewing as the television screen switched from yet another goal by Sunderland and then the figure of the man in the overcoat on the touchline. Mercifully, Hughes was saved from a final touch of humiliation when his team did actually win!

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Monday, 14 December 2009

Glorious goals v Street-Wise ploys; "Nice" v Naughty

Saturday's match at Anfield with Liverpool at home to Arsenal ended with a win for the away team by 2 goals to 1. Arsenal's Arshavin struck like the proverbial cobra to provide one of those glorious goals that he and other people will remember because it was so economical in action and so far out of reach of goalkeeper Reina.

Of course, there should have been penalties, one in front of the referee when Gallas with the curious habit of tackling with his back-turned to both the direction of the ball and the opponent, unsurprisingly tripped a Liverpool player in the box. It would be interesting to know the referee's reason for letting it go. "Just clumsy," is surely not good enough particularly as it seemed to be Gallas's style of tackle. He did it on at least one other occasion.

I watched  Match of the Day on Sunday morning. The pundits were the two Alans: Shearer, a former forward, and Hansen, a former defender, and the defender it was who drew attention to an incident seemingly incidental to the footage of an Arsenal attack repulsed by Liverpool. "Did you notice Carragher's arm," he said. The video picks up the moment again as Arshavin and Carragher stand almost side by side facing the Arsenal goal some yards inside the Liverpool half. Carragher's arm is held out like an insect's feeler behind Arshavin's back. Its purpose, of course, was to act as an alarm signal if Arshavin suddenly turned to run past him - which he did as the attack began. "Street-wise," Hansen proudly pointed out, "Carragher has been around a long time!"

Another glorious goal this last weekend happened in the match Stoke v Wigan, result 2-2. The referee blew for a free-kick to Wigan for a foul on the left wing inside the Wigan half. "It could be Goal of the Season," said Hansen as the video showed Figueroa take the kick, a long ball over the penalty box - Sorensen out of his goal - and into the net. "Now watch," says smart Alan as the video restarts to illustrate his point. We see that just before the free-kick a Stoke player moves past the stationary ball. "Put your foot on it," says Hansen who went on to make it clear that the quick-witted and  'street-wise' player like himself  would have delayed the taking of the free-kick to allow his team-mates more time to get into position behind the ball. He would have done it simply by standing with his foot on the ball so that the kick could not be taken. We have all seen this done. The referee has to chase the offending player away with the threat of a yellow card or punish him immediately with one. In the latter case even more time can be taken up.

If this had happened Figueroa's glorious spontaneous goal that he will remember for the rest of his life would have been aborted. No chance of  making 'Goal of the Season'! But now it might.

Sorensen, by the way, saved a penalty from Rodallega to balance his account. It reminded me that I failed to turn up for the matches last week and did not report on other penalty saves. There were missed penalties from Arsenal's Fabregas, Tottenham's Defoe and, his first miss "since 2006" (commentator comment), Chelsea's Lampard.

For reports on the two matches mentioned please follow the links.