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Archive for the ‘Talking Points’ Category

In the tone that an underworld criminal might use to refer to a fellow gangster, ‘We’ll deal with it, don’t you worry,’ were the words Sir Alex Ferguson used when referring to Rio Ferdinand, and his latest cause of controversy. The irate manager has opened a debate on whether his comments were justly or not, on a weekend when other Premier League managers supported their players who opted against promoting the Kick It Out campaign.

Opting Out: Rio choosing to ignore his manager and not wear Kick It Out t-shirt against Stoke City

Throughout his career at Old Trafford, Ferguson has been known for his man-management – the ability to deal with high profile players and the determination not to let any player become bigger than the club. His attitude has not come without trouble in the past. Stories of boots being thrown around the Manchester changing rooms have been well published. Ruud van Nistelrooy soon left United after a training ground row with Ronaldo and Roy Keane was shown the door following his criticism of younger players at the club. On the whole though, players who play for United know the score and they know the manager is not to be disrespected.

So how should, or more importantly, how will Sir Alex Ferguson react to this latest tension around the club?

Rio Ferdinand, one of a number of players who refused to support the Kick It Out campaign this weekend, is perhaps closer to the issue than anyone else. After all it was his younger brother, Anton, who was victim of racial abuse from John Terry twelve months ago, Terry who was given a minimal punishment of a four game ban this week. With recent events in Serbia with Danny Rose experiencing racial abuse when playing for England U21’s, and the cases of Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdninand over the last year, fears that this stain on the game is not completely abolished have been heavily sparked.

Club problems: A red-faced Ferguson shows his anger at Rio’s decision

So Rio’s view, along with players like Jason Roberts and Joleon Lescott, is clear, he does not feel the Kick It Out campaign is doing enough to abolish racism in football. An opinion entitled to him. The problem the defender faces is that Ferguson made it clear to Friday’s press that all players would be wearing the campaign’s t-shirts. Either a break-down in communication between manager and player has occurred, or Mr Ferdinand simply stood by his views and ignored Ferguson, either way it has left Sir Alex red-faced and Ferdinand no doubt facing disciplinary action, formal or not.If this wasn’t enough for the English defender, then a shaky performance in United’s defence would not have helped his situation. The 33-year-old was at fault for Stoke’s second goal in Saturday’s 4-2 win when he let midfielder Michael Kightly ease through the centre of Manchester United’s defence.

As well as all of this, his contact expires at the end of this season; do not expect renewal talks to be imminent.

What’s your view on the Rio/Ferguson saga? Who was right, who was wrong, and what actions should now be taken?

Written by Alfie Long. See more of his work at: pitchsidetalk.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter @pitchsidetalk
 
Edited by Charlie Cook @charlie_cook09
 
Thoughts and comments welcome, all support appreciated!

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We suggest putting £10 on each choice at betfair. Our First goalscorer bet on Steven Fletcher won last week at 4/1, leaving us £40 up for the week and £130 up overall.

First Goalscorer: 

Newcastle’s Demba Ba is in fantastic form. He scored two goals against Reading last week including this sumptuous volley. The United defence without Vidic has looked weak, and I am hoping Ba will be able to exploit that.

Demba Ba – Newcastle v Man U at 7/1 on betfair.

Accumulator:

Southampton although soundly beaten are a good side, expect them to pick up the points in a tough game against Fulham. The loss of Berbatov is a big one though, so I think the saints will come through. West Brom have won their first 3 games at home this season, and QPR have lost 9 of the last 10 away from home. Sounds like a no brainer to me. Spurs got a brilliant win at Old Trafford and both they and Liverpool look to have turned a corner of sorts and I think they will both win at home to Villa and Stoke Odds of 9 to 1 on the four is not bad if you ask me.

Southampton, West Brom, Tottenham and Liverpool at 9/1 on betfair.

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Liverpool’s resounding win against Norwich City last weekend was supposed to be a catalyst for change, the fixture that ended a terribly unlucky start to the season and start to the Brendan Rodgers project at Anfield. The word project perfectly fitting because of the long term nature of the task that faces him. In his first few months in charge, noticeable changes have taken place. Rodgers wants to implement a style of play which proved so effective at Swansea, but to achieve this, a revamp is a must. Out with the old and in with the new has been the running theme over the summer in Merseyside.

Long road ahead: Rodgers at the start of his journey at Liverpool

Players like Andy Caroll and Charlie Adam, who were brought in during Kenny Dalglish’s period in charge, have been axed as the new manager seeks to bring in the right footballers for what he is trying to achieve. Changes to any team will always mean a time of transition, it will inevitably mean an unsettled time as new players adjust to their new environment. Having said this, no one would have predicted such an unsettled start to Liverpool’s campaign. Before the weekend just gone, they had played five Premier League games, losing three and without recording a win. Performances have not been bad, but luck has been far from them, as Rodgers continues to reiterate.

A 5-2 win at Carrow Road on Saturday changed that and finally gave Liverpool the domestic win they deserved, after harsh results against ManCity, Arsenal and Man United. It seemed their luck had changed and their season had re-started. Udinese did not read the script though, ahead of their Europa League fixture with the Reds on Thursday. In particular, their striker Di Natalie who’s class and experience lent a hard lesson to an experimental Liverpool team. Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard took their places on the bench before the game – a decision by the manager that will no doubt be argued by many – nevertheless it was a Liverpool team which included quality and more significantly a team of players keen to impress. The first half saw Liverpool boss Udinese in front of an ignited Kop crowd. A 23rd minute goal for Jonjo Shelvey was the first of what could and maybe should have been a few first half goals for Liverpool, who failed to capitalise on their neat play. Their luck worsened within a minute after the break when the timeless classic that is Di Natalie stepped up to equalise for the visitors. Further pressure and unconvincing defending led to a second for Udinese via the headed own goal of Sebastien Coates on the 70th minute mark, and a third two minutes later from Giovanni Pasquale.

Period of transition: Rodgers has had to deal with the problems left by the Dalglish campaign before initiating his own plan

The result proved the hangover from Dalglish’s time in charge remains. The fact is it may not be a physical problem anymore than it is a psychological issue that Liverpool are not winning games that they should. They have often been without luck already this season but that will not hold up for very long with the Merseyside faithful. The issue may be a lacking winning mentality that has been left to linger like a bad smell over Anfield, a problem that Rodgers will need time to fix.

The question is, how long will he have before criticism is directed at him and the lack of luck excuse is no longer in place? Sitting 14th in the league as they go into the third month of the season, Rodgers will know results must pick up soon.

 
Written by Alfie Long. See more of his work at: pitchsidetalk.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter @pitchsidetalk
 
Edited by Charlie Cook @charlie_cook09
 
Thoughts and comments welcome, all support appreciated!

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Following the news that John Terry has been found guilty of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand and that he will no longer pull on the famous white jersey of England, there will be many that see this as a triumph for the decent over the disgraceful. Despite his many controversial mistakes, his footballing ability has never been called into question. While Terry has been on a mission of self-destruction for as long as the mind remembers, there is the argument that we have pushed and harried England’s best defender and leader into early retirement, and our reasons are completely non-football related.

Mark Lawrenson said on Match of the Day 2, “It seems Terry is pre-empting the FA by retiring. He’s almost citing a witch-hunt with his statement. But away from that, he’s always been outstanding for England as a leader and a player on the pitch. They will miss him”.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and defend a man who has compiled a shameful repertoire, which rivals even the infamous Joey Barton, if a little less sociopathic. He is guilty of a multitude of misdemeanours, all of which could have been easily avoided with even the slightest hint of brain power. Problems were clear right from the start of his career; from kicking off repeatedly at night clubs to revealing his sensitive understanding of world affairs by mocking American tourists at Heathrow airport days after 9/11 – it was plain to see from an early age that Terry was, in many respects, a bad egg.

What followed was the Wayne Bridge affair in 2010, a tumultuous period that cost him the England captaincy as punishment. Who would have believed that Terry, having been reinstated, would lose it again less than a year later? The irrepressible cloud that has hung over Terry since the incident of apparent racism against Anton Ferdinand in 2011 has not since dissipated, and Terry has cited the FA’s stance on the matter as the key factor in his decision to retire.

Having been cleared of racially abusing Ferdinand in July, Terry found himself the subject if an FA investigation into the matter. Objectively, you can understand Terry’s evident frustration at this. He was found not guilty, but the FA still pressed charges against him. Their decision to do so, whether you agree with the punishment or not, has been vindicated with Terry found guilty of the FA enquiry. It is evident however that they no longer wanted him to play for England, and his decision to retire will have been met with relief from English football’s governing body, but will there be a cost for their obsession?

Terry is a colossal leader and an outstanding defender. He is, and has been for the best part of a decade, a footballing role model for young defenders the world over. Of this, there is no question. It is worth noting that Terry is no longer the powerhouse defender that he was, but he is still only 31 and in footballing terms a player of his quality will be hard to replace. Fabio Cannavaro led Italy to a World Cup triumph in 2006 at the age of 33 and in an ideal world Terry would play on helping nurture his future replacements.

His two worlds are separate; his ugly, off the field side, and his heroic performances on it. Unlike other bad boys of English football, he has been able to shut out the destructive, and concentrates on leading his team to victory. We all expect a trail of injured players and multi-coloured cards to follow when the likes of Lee Catermole, Marlon King and Ryan Shawcross take the field, but Terry is different, as much as we hate to admit it.

Terry has led Chelsea to three Premier League titles, four FA cups, two League cups and a Champions league since 2004, making him Chelsea’s most successful captain. He was named Uefa Club Defender of the Year in 2005, 2008 and 2009. He was PFA Player’s Player of the year in 2005, and was also in the FIFAPro World XI from 2005 to 2008. As England captain, he always displayed absolute professionalism on the pitch throughout his tenure.

The endorsements from England bosses are endless. Fabio Capello resigned on the eve of Euro 2012 after Terry was stripped of the captaincy for the second time; Roy Hodgson consistently backed Terry, and always picked him to start for England right up until his retirement. Asked whether the Chelsea skipper is a natural leader in 2001, Steve McLaren told the BBC: “Yes, of course he is. I think everyone accepts that, everyone can see it, everybody who knows John Terry behind the scenes knows that.” McLaren was almost right. Yes, everyone can see he is a leader, no doubt those who work with him know that he is (with a few notable exceptions), but the nation cannot and probably never will accept John Terry.

Written by Tom Gatehouse. See more of his work at: http://goodbadribery.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on twitter @tragatehouse

 
Edited by Charlie Cook @charlie_cook09

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Everton provide blueprint that others should follow

In an era when having two managers in a single season is normal, it is remarkable that David Moyes has manged to spend 10 years at Everton. The chairman, Bill Kenwright’s faith in Moyes, and his undoubted ability are the key to Everton’s success so far this season and in the past decade. Moyes has never had much money to spend, in fact he has only had a net spend of £14 million pounds while at Everton. Despite that, he has transformed them from a team battling relegation to one currently sitting in 3rd place in the Premier League.

Everton’s lack of funds has led many to suggest that their squad lacks depth. This is the case to some extent, but every season despite losing key players Everton become stronger and this season they have more quality beyond the first team than many give them credit for. Jelavic has proven himself as an impressive goalscorer since arriving from Rangers, and he has been joined in the attacking ranks by his former partner at Rangers Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas who was brilliant against Swansea. It looked like the absence of Jelavic for that game at Swansea on the weekend would be a big loss, but Anichebe was a more than handy replacement. They are also well stocked in defence too, with Distin, Jagielka and Heitinga an imressive trio of centre-backs. Everton have a number of players that are versatile enough to play in a various positions, meaning that injuries have less of an effect. Phil Neville can play anywhere across the defence and in the midfield, Fellaini can play up front or in midfield and Jagielka can even play in goal, as Arsenal fans will remember when he kept a clean sheet against them back in his Sheffield United days. These are just a few examples.

Admittedly Fellaini and Pienaar are vital to this Everton side. The diminutive South African adds that touch of class, cutting in from the left flank, he is their creative spark and Marouane Fellaini the afro-haired Belgian has the ability to bully sides off the park as he did against Manchester United on the opening day. Like many sides, they will need to be lucky with injuries to keep this brilliant form going, but it would be harsh to say their squad lacks depth.

I am not suggesting that Everton will win the League, or necessarily even a finish in the Champion’s League places, but they have already shown that they are quality side and they will continue to grow under David Moyes. Their success is a direct result of Bill Kenwright’s trust in his manager. He has given him the time to improve the squad and implement his plans and it has undoubtedly paid off. He is the 3rd longest-serving manager in the Premier League and has recently become one of only four managers to amass 150 Premier League victories joining Harry Redknapp, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson. This Everton blueprint is one that other teams in the Premier League would be well served following. It may well be one that their Mersyside neighbours may need to adopt to achieve their former glories.

Short supply of luck in Liverpool

It is clear that Liverpool need a finisher, they are 3rd for number of shots per game yet they are lying in 18th place with only 4 goals. It is also clear that Brendan Rodgers only let Andy Carroll go because he was of the assumption that Clint Dempsey was on his way to Anfield.

Liverpool’s bad luck continued on the weekend. Like the Arsenal and Manchester City games previously, they were the better side for much of the game, but on this occasion their inability to score goals was not the sole reason for their downfall. The key decisions of the game went against them. The referee Mark Halsey, in my opinion was very poor. There were two key decisions that changed the game. The first was the red card for Jonjo Shelvey. It is clear from the photo (above) that if Shelvey deserved a red card then Johnny Evans did too. If anything, Evans’ challenge looks worse, it could easily have gone the other way with Man Utd being reduced to 10 men had Shelvey been the one lying on the floor after the challenge. Even after Shelvey’s dismissal Liverpool looked dangerous, but Mark Halsey came to United’s rescue again awarding a very debatable penalty. Glen Johnson was stupid to put his arm across Valencia’s back, but the contact was minimal and not enough to warrant a penalty.

If the defeat wasn’t bad enough, Martin Kelly suffered an injury that could see his season over, Daniel Agger will be out for at  least a week with a “heavily bruised knee”, and Fabio Borini is out indefinitely. Brendan Rodgers has had a difficult start to his tenure at Liverpool, but he has been unlucky. He is trying to transform this Liverpool side and it will take time. Let’s hope John Henry and Tom Werner take a leaf out of Bill Kenwright’s book and give it to him.

Arsenal 12/13 are better than Arsenal 11/12

It seems that Arsenal have solved all the problems from last season. They looked shaky at the back, they lacked structure in the midfield and they were almost devoid of creativity. These are all overstatements that were toggled by the media and fans throughout the season. The one thing that everyone agreed on though, was that Arsenal had the best striker in the league.

What was clear from the game against Manchester City at the weekend, was that Arsenal are more solid at the back now, Steve Bould has obviously made a big difference. They have only conceded 2 goals in their 5 games as opposed to 14 at this stage last season. Per Mertesacker looks to be the player to have benefited most, his intelligence and ability to read the game was evident with 7 interceptions at the Etihad. Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs have also improved remarakbly, they were a constant threat down the flanks and looked far more composed in defence.

Much was said about Arsenal’s lack of a defensive midfielder to start the season, but Wenger’s choice to replace Alex Song with Mikel Arteta has been a master stroke. Arsenal’s midfield looks to be more structured with Arteta in that role, as he is more disciplined than the wandering Song. He is also more efficient with the ball, he made 100 of his 106 attempted passes against City. Diaby too has been a revelation. On the weekend Yaya Toure only really managed to influence the game when Diaby left the field. Aaron Ramsey also had a good game, he will be hoping that he can finally put his injury hell behind him. Santi Cazorla has perhaps been the most important addition to the Arsenal midfield. He provides the creativity that has been missing since Cesc Fabregas left. Wilshere and Rosicky are back in training too and the talented Oxlade-Chamberlain is currently on the bench so there are more options waiting in the wings.

The problems from last season, seem a long way away. Unfortunately, so does the best striker in the league. The one thing Arsenal didn’t need fixing in 11/12 is now missing in 12/13. Arsenal’s most wasteful player, Gervinho, played up front against Manchester City. It would be hard  not to argue that if a certain RvP had been in his place then Arsenal would have won. The Ivorian’s all round play was good, but his finishing was atrocious. Olivier Giroud has failed to find the target and may need more time to adjust to the Premier League. Podolski seems to have slotted in perfectly forming a brilliant partnership with Cazorla, but Wenger seems reluctant to move him from the left flank. It is clear that Arsenal look a far better team than last season, but if they want to truly challenge for the title then they will have to find someone to “score when he wants”, like van Persie did.

Just one final thought…

Sunderland have drawn their opening four games of the season, but with Steven Fletcher in red hot form and Adam Johnson returning you would definitely fancy them to beat Wigan at the Stadium of Light. Maybe have a save some money for a cheeky bet on Fletcher for first goalscorer too.

Wouldn’t be surprised to see home wins for Arsenal, Everton and Stoke either. May be worth an accumulator.

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The pre-game handshakes should be scrapped

John Terry looks longingly at Anton Ferdinand after the he refuses to shake his hand.

PFA chairman Gordon Taylor suggested yesterday that the row over Anton Ferdinand’s refusal to shake John Terry’s hand could descend into a “Mafia feud”. Having watched the Sopranos I know what a Mafia feud looks like, and this is not about to become one. However, it is rather pathetic that we end up spending half the weekend talking about a handshake, or the lack therof, rather than another brilliant weekend of Premier League football.

These pre-game handshakes have caused more trouble than they are worth. First we had Terry v Bridge, then Evra v Suarez and now Terry again v Anton Ferdinand. Next weekend, we are going to have to go through the whole sorry debace again as Evra and Suarez come face to face. The PFA should have a look at how it’s done in the world of rugby and cricket. In rugby, they belt eachother relentlessly for 90 minutes but at the end of the game the mutual respect is clear. Whatever kicks, punches and eye gouges that are suffered stay on the pitch and that’s it. Similarly in Cricket, they sledge eachother and compete fiercly for 5 days but will sit down in the changing room at the end of the match and have a beer together.

They should scrap the handshake and let the players, who are grown up enough to do so, shake hands at the end of the game. This way, it doesn’t give them the opportunity to ruin what we are all actually all there to see, the football.

How long is it going to take to implement the obvious?

Anichebe’s disallowed goal against Newcastle last night

Ever since Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal, it has been clear, especially in the Englishman’s mind, that goal-line technology needs to be introduced. So, why hasn’t anything been done about it? Unfortunately, last night another fantastic game was marred by a poor decision that could have been easily rectified with it’s introduction. If Anichebe’s goal had been given Everton would have gone 2-1 up with 10 minutes to play against Newcastle.

There is an argument that says football is unique amongst sport because it is the same from the professional ranks all the way down to your average Sunday league kick about, but it no longer makes sense to not use the resources that are available. Enough is enough, the sooner it is introduced the better. Then we can get back to talking about football and what an enthralling match it was on Monday night.

Southampton are not as bad as they look

Rickie Lambert celebrates his goal against Manchester City with Southampton captain Adam Lallana

Southampton are stuck at the foot of the table with no points, but they have played both Manchester clubs and Arsenal and we are only four games into the season. Very few teams would have come out of those games with anything to show for it. It is fair to say that their loss at home to Wigan was the big disappointment, but the performances against the two sides from Manchester suggests they have a lot to give to this season. They were 3 minutes away from victory against Manchester United, and 2-1 up at The Etihad against City only to be beaten 3-2 in both.

They have a young side, with bags of talent. Jason Puncheon and England call-up and captain Adam Lallana terrorised Manchester United from the flanks. Top scorer in The Championship last season, Ricky Lambert has shown that he has the quality to score goals against the big boys with strikes against United and City. 22 year old Morgan Scneiderlin who signed for Southampton in 2008 despite interest from Arsenal and Chelsea, has represented France from U16 up to U21 level. He is a calm head in the middle of park and combined with 17 year old James Ward-Prowse who has started every game this season they look like an exciting young duo. Gaston Ramirez is still to be added to the midfield so they have enough good attacking players to trouble many teams. Nigel Adkins will have to temper his teams attacking instincts with a bit of defensive stability before they can truly flourish, but expect a lot more from Southampton in the coming weeks.

Just one final thought…

Last week we mentioned that Stoke’s run of draws may be worth a punt and they came up with the goods against Manchester City holding on for a 1-1 draw. This week, that run could well end. Stoke have a poor record at Stamford Bridge having conceded 10 in the last 3 seasons and scoring none, so expect a comfortable Chelsea win.

Elsewhere, Manchester United have not won in the League at Anfield since 2007 and Wigan have not beaten Fulham since 2006, both could be worth a dabble.

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It wasn’t very long ago that Belgium were considered relative minnows on the international stage. Stuck in a state of turmoil, with a thin squad of average players and a record that would have most managers shiver at the thought, the future looked bleak, but this is no longer the case. After comfortably ousting Wales, 2-0, last Saturday in their World Cup qualifier, we can see a real maturity and patience growing within their team. Couple this with their outstanding first eleven, and a larger squad size; it could be said that we are witnessing the birth of a European superpower.

Belgium celebrate during their 2-0 win over Wales

When one thinks of the great footballing nations of the world, the mind reels off the obvious: Brazil, Germany, Spain, England, and France to name a few. Modern football has been shaped by these national powerhouses, and it seems that those in the elite will never fall from grace. Every generation brings a new crop of outstanding players and, with the right manager at the helm, these nations always challenge for the top honours. This is even translated into club football, with the leagues of England, Italy, Spain and Germany striding above the rest.

A player will emerge from the smaller nations every once in a while, players with such outstanding ability, that the world looks on and almost pities their doomed exploits on the international stage. George Weah for Liberia and Gheorghe Hagi from Romania are such examples of world class talent coming from nations not generally known for producing high calibre players. What is happening in Belgium however is potentially unprecedented on a footballing level; and with the squad at their disposal, their stock will only continue to rise.

Thibault Courtios, the young goalkeeper signed by Chelsea in 2011, cemented himself as Athletico Madrid’s no. 1 in their Europa Cup winning side last year. In defence they have the captain of Manchester City, Vincent Kompany; as well as Arsenal’s superb centre-back and skipper, Thomas Vermaelen, and Tottenham’s solid new signing Jan Vertonghen.

The midfield is packed full of young, exciting talent, with the mercurial Eden Hazard the stand out player. He has made an impressive start to his Premier League career at Chelsea already topping the assists chart. Marouane Fellaini too has been a revelation at Everton (much to the dismay of Manchester Utd, who fell prey to a Fellaini master-class on the first day of the season). If you add Axel Witsel, signed for £32 million by Zenit St Petersburg, Tottenham’s new recruit Moussa Dembele, and Chelsea’s Kevin De Bruyne to the mix, Belgium are well stocked in almost every area.

Eden Hazard

In the way of strikers, Romelu Lukaku is something of a celebrity for the Belgians, having had a reality TV show made during his rise to fame with Anderlecht. Dubbed as ‘the new Drogba’, he has struggled to make an impact at Chelsea, but he is only 19 years old, and he looks a formidable prospect. He has already played 17 times for his country, scoring 3 times. Kevin Mirallas is another Belgium international to have made a move to the Premier League, and if he can produce the form which has seen him score 34 goals in 52 games at Olympiacos then he could have a real impact. 21 year old Christian Benteke opened his account for Aston Villa on the weekend too. Belgium have a real mixture of styles, Lukaku relies on his size and strength, Mirallas is renowned for his pace and Benteke is somewhat of a poacher.

It’s not a matter of just putting these players on the pitch and watching the results come in though. The win over Wales was followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Croatia. Despite having a myriad of talent coming through the ranks, Belgium have yet to gel consistently. England themselves have seen their so called ‘golden generation’ of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and co. come and go without much impact on the international stage. However, if Marc Wilmots, the Belgian coach, can find the right blend then they have the quality throughout the team to be a real force.

What is most  impressive is that these players are all under 26. There is a feeling of real optimism amongst the Belgian public. Tickets were sold out in a matter of hours for their match against Croatia. While it can be said that greater emphasis has been placed on the development in the youth setups by Belgian clubs, most fans and journalists are putting their apparent ‘golden generation’ of players down to a matter of luck, more than judgement. It is this unexpected rebirth that makes Belgium such a mouth-watering, footballing prospect.

Written by Tom Gatehouse. See more of his work at: http://goodbadribery.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on twitter @tragatehouse
 
Edited by Charlie Cook @charlie_cook09
 
Thoughts and comments welcome, all support appreciated!

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What has become of England’s so called ‘Golden Generation’? Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Ferdinand and others have failed to produce the heroics that were expected of them. They have not gone further than the quarterfinals of any major tournament. After each tournament that ends in failure, the calls for an overhaul of the squad and an influx of youth get stronger. It was no different after Euro 2012 and considering the performances of Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain against Moldova, I thought it would be interesting to assess the future of English football.

This ‘Golden Generation’ was packed full of fantastic players. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand, to name a few, were rated amongst the best footballers in the world. Unfortunately they were not able to play like that for England. One of the most obvious examples of this, was the midfield partnership of Lampard and Gerrard. During the noughties, Gerrard and Lampard were two of the best midfielders in the world. Touted as a world beating partnership for England, they never managed to gel and looked disjointed when playing together.

Words like ‘dynamic’, ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ have been used to describe the top English players in the past. These qualities are vital to the English team, but without some guile and creativity to compliment them they can be wasted. This generation of players lacked a technically accomplished passer of the ball, a Xavi for instance. This may sound like an obvious comment to make considering that Xavi is widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, but so were Gerrard and Lampard at their best. In his prime Gerrard was the driving force behind any Liverpool success, but it is no surprise that he hasn’t been as potent since Xabi Alonso left. Against Moldova, Frank Lampard reminded us how devastating he could be. His skill was in his ability to time his runs perfectly, and had the enviable knack of always being in the right place at the right time.

Both Gerrard and Lampard could pick a pass but they thrived on having a player behind them who would get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. English football needs to develop two or three of these type of players. I am not suggesting that we should endeavour to take on the Spanish tiki-taka style, but we need players to compliment the more English qualities. If you look at the top Premier League clubs it’s easy to see the mix of power and dynamism with guile and creativity working. Last season’s champions, Manchester City, have Yaya Toure and David Silva and more recently we have seen Arsenal beat Liverpool with Diaby and Cazorla combining brilliantly.

Luckily for England it looks like they are starting to produce this type of player. Cleverly was outstanding against Moldova and Alex Ferguson’s refusal to buy a central midfielder suggests he has a lot of faith in the youngster. He is technically astute and an accomplished passer of the ball. Jack Wilshere is another in this mould. He had a brilliant start to his career, including a Man of the Match performance against Barcelona, outplaying Xavi and Iniesta in the process. Wilshere himself said: “Players like Xavi and Iniesta are great players. Who wouldn’t try to model their game on them?” Those role models come as no surprise, considering he has been brought up at Arsenal where they play a possession based game. Wilshere’s technique is superb, he likes to get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game as much as possible. He can pick holes in the opposition by running with or passing the ball. He is a phenomenal talent.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has also shown his quality over the last year. Although he is currently playing on the wing, Arsene Wenger sees him as a future central midfielder. He is more direct and powerful than Cleverly and Wilshere, but the three of them are all technically superb and together will provide the heart of the future England team. With these three in the engine room the future could be very bright.

This is a potential England line up come Euro 2016:

Potential England side in Euro 2016

Goalkeepers:

Joe Hart – Hart was one of the standout goalkeepers at Euro 2012, he has a huge amount of experience  for a 25 year old. He is now a Premiership winner with Manchester City too and has many years at the top ahead of him.
Jack Butland – Butland has also emerged as a contender for the number 1 spot. He has been highly rated for a couple of years, and got his chance on the world stage during the Olympics where he was outstanding. England are in safe hands.

Defence:

Kyle Walker – Walker won the Young player of the year award last season. He is very strong defensively and would have started at Euro 2012 had he not been injured.
Micah Richards – Richards will also push Walker hard for the right back slot and if he could add some discipline to his game then Walker better watch out.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – The pair have been learning from the best in Ferdinand and Vidic at Manchester United. Both are powerful in the air and very comfortable with the ball at their feet. Jones, is perhaps the more advanced at this stage but Smalling is seen as the replacement for Ferdinand at Man U.
Steven Caulker – Caulker could also provide competition at centre-back. He had a great season at Swansea last year and will be hoping to break into the Tottenham first team this term.
Kieran Gibbs – Gibbs has unfortunately had his progress halted by injury, but is still a fantastic talent. He has been thought of as the next Ashley Cole. He has a long way to go but the potential is there.
Ryan Bertrand – Bertrand has also been likened to Cole. He had a great end to last season at Chelsea even starting the Champion’s League final.
The depth of talent is certainly there and with Gary Cahill, who is only 26 added to that group then if they reach their potential they could be a very strong defensive unit.

Midfield:

Wilshere, Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain have already been mentioned but there is also a wealth of talent to challenge these three.
Jack Rodwell – Rodwell has just secured a big move to Manchester City where his first team chances may be quite rare. He is a very athletic defensive midfielder. He has great positioning and is a brilliant tackler.
Ross Barkley – Rodwell’s former teammate is also rated highly at Everton.
Josh McEachran – McEachran was named Chelsea Young Player of the Year in 2011, but has since had a frustrating period on loan at Swansea. Hopefully his stint on loan at Middlesborough will be more fruitful.
Jonjo Shelvey – Shelvey is another who looks like he is about to make his breakthrough. He was Man of the Match for the U21’s against Azerbaijan on the weekend and Brendan Rodger’s tiki-taka style will suit him perfectly.

Forwards:

Wayne Rooney – Rooney is still only 26 years old, despite having made 76 appearances for England. He has had a controversial International career: Sent off at the 2006 World Cup, out of form at the 2010 World Cup due to allegations about his private life and suspended from the first two games of Euro 2012. However, he can become a leader and a role model for the younger generation as he gets older. England have a World Class striker to lead the line.
Theo Walcott – As long as Walcott doesn’t lose his pace, he can only get better. He showed against Ukraine in the Euros how devastating he could be.
Raheem Sterling – Sterling is very similar to Walcott. Lightning quick and a brilliant finisher. He looks dangerous whenever he gets the ball for Liverpool and doesn’t look remotely out of place in the Premier League despite only being 17.
Players like Ashley Young, Adam Johnson and James Milner will continue to improve and are still young enough to play for the next 4 years at least. Add that to the emerging talents of Danny Welbeck, who had a very promising Euros and Daniel Sturridge, who was a regular starter for Chelsea last season and England have a lot of attacking depth.

If we are being realistic, this complete overhaul is not going to happen before the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. John Terry and Ashley Cole will only be 33, and Steven Gerrard will have just turned 34. This will represent their last chance at a major tournament, but by Euro 2016 the new crop will be fully integrated. The most important thing about the emerging players is that there seems to be a common ability. A technical quality, that has been missing from the England teams of the past. The pace of Walcott and Sterling, the dynamism of The Ox and the craft and vision of Cleverly and Wilshere will form a devastating attack. They have a very good blend of power, pace and creativity. The likes of Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard may not have fulfilled their promise, but if the performances of Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain are anything to go by, in addition to Wilshere et al, then we could be looking at a new ‘Golden Generation’ in the coming years. Perhaps, the real ‘Golden Generation’.

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Tottenham lacking in creativity

Tottenham struggled to create chances against Norwich on the weekend. The Norwich midfield was more than a match for Spurs and they deserved their 1-1 draw. Dembele made a difference when he came on, but it was clear to see that Tottenham were missing Rafael Van Der Vaart and especially, Luka Modric. Gylfi Sigurdsson, does create chances and he looks to be a top prospect. He had a great start to his Premier League career with Swansea, but he is still very inexperienced. He now has to deal with the pressure of filling Van der Vaart’s shoes and at Spurs the expectation levels are that much higher. Although he looked good in pre-season he has struggled to have the same impact in the first few League games. This will come as the season progresses and he fits in to his new surroundings.

The real loss for Spurs will be in the centre of the park though. Modric completed over 2200 passes last season, averaging 70 passes a game. None of the new recruitments get close to this sort of turnover. Every Tottenham move went through him, ESPN FC describes him as “skilful, creative, classy, a playmaker with immense vision.” It’s the playmaker in him that has not been replaced. Dempsey and Dembele are more direct players, and it make take a slight change in style for Tottenham to adapt to their strengths. They still have quality throughout their squad and Spur’s first team still looks very strong, but it may take a few more games for them to adapt to life without Modric. We saw at the beginning of last season, when he was heavily linked with Chelsea that they really struggle without him. A slightly more direct approach will suit Dempsey and Dembele better.

Same old problems for Liverpool

Only Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham had more shots per game last season than Liverpool but they still only managed to score 47 League goals. More worryingly, only 5 teams scored less goals at home last season and only 4 won fewer games at home than Liverpool. This is largely down to their profligacy in front of goal. Suarez is a brilliant player, and on his day can produce moments of absolute genius. The hat-trick away to Norwich last season, where he scored a spectacular 40 yard lob, immediately springs to mind. He is not a finisher though. He can be very wasteful in front of goal.

Yesterday, against Arsenal, they once again lacked that cutting edge. They were on top for most of the first half but just couldn’t find the back of the net. They also seemed to be very short of options off the bench. Stewart Downing was the only attacking change that Rodgers was able to make yesterday. He admitted after the game that it was a mistake to let Andy Carroll go and that he was very confident in signing a replacement before deadline day ended. To make matters worse, Carroll had a very good debut for West Ham and showed exactly how useful he could have been to Brendan Rodgers who was obviously under the impression that he was going to sign Clint Dempsey. What is clear is that: if Liverpool do find a goalscorer, whether it’s Owen who Rodgers refused to rule out, or Suarez discovering some shooting boots, they create enough chances to be a force this season. If they don’t, they will be battling for a Europa League spot once again.

Are Manchester United a one man team?

The most common insult thrown Arsenal’s way last season was that they were a one man team. I am not actually suggesting that Arsenal were or Manchester United are, but this season United fans may well come to understand how Arsenal fans felt. Yesterday, Robin van Persie scored a sublime hat-trick to defeat Southampton 3-2. Other than missing a penalty he was at his brilliant best: The first was a classy finish, the second was a real poachers goal and the third a sublime near post header to wrap up the game and his hat-trick.

Van Persie doesn’t have the best fitness record. Last season was his first injury free season in his 7 years in Highbury. Arsenal fans were hoping that the ‘Wenger curse’, that affected Hleb, Flamini and plenty of others who have left would strike Van Persie and that his fitness would maybe be in question after a long season followed by the Euros. If anything he looks fitter than ever. He looks very sharp and every time he got the ball yesterday he looked like scoring. This could well be a long season watching Van Persie for the Arsenal faithful, whereas Man United fans could come to revel in the tag of being a ‘one man team’. Who could blame them, when the one man is that good though.

Just one final thought…

Stoke love a draw don’t they. Since they won their first pre-season game 1-0, they have drawn the next 8 most recently against Wigan on Saturday. They have in fact drawn 14 of their last 19 games. May be worth a punt…

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For many it’s a mystery that why Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey has no hair, the young midfielder suffers from a rare disease known as “Alopecia totalis”, in which there is a complete loss of hair.

In severe cases the disease causes loss of eyebrows and eyelashes too, famous Italian referee “Pierluigi Collina” is another sufferer in the world of football.

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