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The FA need to step up

The news that Burnley striker Ashley Barnes would face no punishment for his tackle on Nemanja Matic this weekend comes as no surprise to fans.  The officiating this season has been at times shocking, and the failure of the Football Association to take any action if the officials saw the incident has become a joke of a rule that the FA tend to hide behind.. Officials seem to be making several high profile mistakes, and the FA seems to not discipline their staff for poor performances, and even if the officials have missed something, the FA tend to not do anything to amend the mistakes that are made. Several incidents have taken place this season where officials have gotten things severely wrong.

  • In the FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Middlesborough, Mike Dean booked Olivier Giroud after he had the goalkeeper had kicked the ball at him while he was running back. The referee may have thought the striker had blocked the ball, but the linesmen could have easily told him that was not the case. Had the referee just assumed that Giroud had blocked the keeper? If so, you can’t simply assume things if you did not see it. So the Frenchmen picked up one of the most bizarre bookings of the season.
  • Liverpool beat Swansea convincingly at home back in December, but one of the main talking points was the actions of Raheem Sterling by the corner flag. After a coming together with Swans player Fernandez, the player raised his arms into the face of Fernandez, right in front of the linesmen. Although no malice was intended, by the laws of the game, raising your hands is a straight red. Nothing happened, which raised eyebrows across the land. The linesmen saw it happen right in front of him, so either he somehow missed it, or suddenly it’s not a red card. The FA took no action saying the officials saw it. Which begs the question, if they did, why was there no red card? Rather than leaving it to the refs to sort out the mess, the FA should have intervened.
  • Wayne Routledge suffered a similar fate as Matic on New Years Day, in the match between Swansea and QPR. Karl Henry lunged into the Swansea attacker with a dangerous tackle. Routledge reacted angrily to the challenge and saw red. With Henry getting nothing. Although it is harsh to get sent off for a natural reaction, its the fact the referee failed to spot the wreckless challenge and punish the player for it.  If players are getting away with dangerous tackles, and in turn, know if they get a reaction out of the opponent, it will mean trouble for them, it only encourages things.

These are just some of the awful officiating decisions made in a season where standards have dropped dramatically. It has gotten to a point where former referee’s head Kieth Hackett has publicly slammed the levels of the officials. At the end of the day, referee’s are only human, and mistakes can be made. It’s up to FA to shake things up. If a mistake is made by officials, the FA should take responsibility to correct it. If a ref has missed something, help them, retrospective action will not reduce the importance of officials, but improve any injustices that have somehow been created. Until the FA start taking the blame for poor officiating, it looks like the levels will not improve any time soon.

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Luis Figo : President of FIFA?

Luis Figo has won several trophies during his illustrious playing career. The Spanish & Italian league wins with Real Madrid, Barcelona & Inter Milan. The Champions League with Real Madrid in 2002. Not to mention the several lavish individual accolades such as the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year. But now he has a challenge which probably looks more imposing than what he has won in the past, trying to end the 17 year reign of Sepp Blatter for the biggest job in World Football.

Sepp Blatter took office way back in 1998, and has since won 3 consecutive elections in that time. He may not be the most popular choice with fans, but in the world of politics, he knows how to win. The troubles with FIFA have been long documented, and for some, the main source of the ongoing troubles in the man at the top of the mountain. At the age of 78, is he really the best long term option for the future of the sport? The other candidates include Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the current Vice President of FIFA, Michael van Praag, who is the president of the Dutch Football Association. But it is Figo, the final candidate which most fans will recognise.

The manifest for Figo’s presidency was launched this week, among it was several proposals. Such as going back to the ‘old’ offside rule, before the introduction of ‘active or inactive’, the possible inclusion of ‘Sin Bins’ for indiscipline on the pitch, and a larger financial contribution to the grassroots , and potentially increasing the number of teams for future World Cups.

The real question is could he actually win it? He may have the appeal with the fans, seen as a young, modern representative in what has becomes somewhat of a gentlemen’s club in the offices of FIFA in Zurich. But Blatter was won 4 successful terms in office, and at the end of the day, politics is a totally different world. It is not the fans who vote, but the members of the FIFA committee. Who most have a loyal relationship with the leader. There is a reason why he has been so successful, regardless of all the ill judged decisions and gaffes. The people want to see a change, be it Figo, van Praag or Bin Al Hussein. What we will most likely see is a 5th term for the Swiss.

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The North London Derby

Its the Merseyside Derby this week, as Everton host Liverpool. But that’s not the only derby taking place, North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham resume their ongoing battle, and it usually delivers loads of enthralling action. One thing that you can be sure of, is that there will be goals. Games between the two are the highest scoring fixture in the Premier League. There have been several memorable games over the last decade, Arsenal winning a ridiculous 5-4 game at White Heart Lane. Tottenham with their late show to pull back a 4-2 deficit in the dying embers at the Emirates. Not forgetting the back to back 5-2 wins for Arsenal in 2012. Be it a combination of flat out attack, and shambolic defending, as a neutral, these games mostly deliver!

Arsenal’s season has finally got going, and have recorded 3 wins in a row for the first time this campaign. A stuttering start had seen them drop points at home to Hull, away at Leicester, and collapses like the defeat at Swansea. Injuries have as always taken their toll on the Gunners. Only the majestic Alexis Sanchez has really dragged them through a rough period. But with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott finally back,  and players such as Giroud and Santi Cazorla hitting form. The demolition of Aston Villa last week showed what the team can be capable off.  The sluggish start had put them off the pace for the chase for Champions League, but they now find themselves level on points with 4th place Southampton. If they can replicate the disciplined performance at the Etihad, Arsenal could well find themselves in the top 4, and go 5 clear of Spurs.

Tottenham have also recovered from a tepid opening to the season, with disappointing results like the home defeats to Stoke and West Brom. Manager Mauricio Pochettino has done an excellent job at steadying the ship, and taking the club to where they are.  Harry Kane has stolen most of the headlines, the young English striker has taken his chance after some impressive displays in the Europa League earlier in the year, having already scored 20 goals for the team this season. But its another player that Arsenal will need to watch out for, Christian Eriksen has been in awe inspiring form, the mercurial Dane has popped up on several occasions this season scoring late on in matches to give Tottenham the win.  Hull, Sunderland and Swansea have all suffered last minute goals to lose the game. Spurs have proved how devastating they can be at home, after taking apart Chelsea 5-3 on New Years Day. They would love to add this particular scalp to their list of wins.

With only 2 points separating the teams as of now, Saturday will go a long way to show if Spurs can finally step up. Arsenal would be slight favourites to win, and a draw would not be the worst of results for them. For Tottenham, a win will prove they may just be ready to finally finish above their eternal rivals.

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City Rue Missed Opportunity

Following 2 consecutive home defeats for Manchester City, the biggest game of the season so far awaited the Champions in West London. The gap between City, and leaders Chelsea was an impressive 5 points, by the end of the day, that could have been cut to 2, or extended to 8. What we got, was an intriguing stalemate, leaving things as it was.

Chelsea for the first time this season, did not have their 2 summer signings in their deck of cards. Diego Costa has been suspended for his foolish actions in the heated League Cup semi final against Liverpool. Whereas Cesc Fabregas had picked up an injury in the same game. It would be interesting to see how the leaders managed to cope with this loss. Aguero spurned the best chance to open the scoring, after being put through clean through on goal, the Argentinian sliced the show wide, chances he usually puts away with relative ease. As it looked like we would head into the interval at 0-0, the intensity picked up. Loic Remy, who has been resigned to the bench, following the impressive performances of Costa, finally had his chance to show what he can bring to the table. He was on the end of a delightful cross from Eden Hazard to tuck home from close range. Mourinho would have rued the fact they could not hold on to the lead for a few more minutes. As City struck back almost immediately. A cross from Sagna wasn’t cleared and fell to Aguero on the edge of the box, he powerful shot was directed into the net by David Silva. Who showed great reactions to divert the shot in. City would have felt aggrieved to go in behind. But it was all to play for in the second half.

It was City who went out for the kill, maybe Chelsea felt like they could play for the draw, or they did not feel they could go for the win without their star players missing. The champions had all the chances, and moments in a second half in which they could not breach the Blue wall. Even throwing on Frank Lampard, for what news-writers would have hoped to be a headline moment, could not unlock a stubborn Chelsea team. City certainly miss the destruction that Yaya Toure brings to the team, who has a tendency to pop up in the final third to score in situations like these. As the final whistle blew, Chelsea would be the more satisfied by the point. They avoided defeat, and maintain their buffer to the chasing pack. Chelsea interestingly did not manage a single shot on goal after Remy’s strike, and only fired 3 attempts at Joe Hart. Their opponents managed 10. Though as we know, stats do not win games, and Chelsea will sleep well. Pellegrini was left annoyed, and rightfully so, City created more, but failed to take advantage of the situation . The title race is no way finished, 5 points is easily surmountable, but this showed there is very little to separate the teams, both games this season between the two have ended in draws.

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Well that was unexpected!

The 3rd round of the FA Cup was fairly routine, in which most of the big teams sailed through, and very little fairy dust sprinkled over for the back pages. The 4th round draw looked straight-forward on paper, but suddenly, the FA Cup has roared back into life!

The stand out result, and probably one of the biggest upsets of all, in the history of the FA Cup, was the 2nd half capitulation of Premier League leaders Chelsea. After going 2-0 up against League 1 Bradford City, a rout looked to be incoming. But a goal from John Stead just before half time did make things slightly interesting. No one would have foreseen what the second half was to have in store, 3 goals from Bradford without response stunned Stamford Bridge, even the likes of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas were thrown on to save the tie. Bradford made a memorable run to the League Cup final a few years ago, taking out Arsenal on route. But beating the current league leaders, away from home, from 2-0 down will surely go down in Bradford City lore!

That was not the only major shock of the day, as Bradford scored their 4th goal at Chelsea, virtually at the same time, Middlesbrough were scoring their second goal, and dumping the Premier League champions out of the competition.  Middlesbrough currently languishing in mid-table in the Championship would not have been given a chance away at the Champions of England. But following their defeat to Arsenal last week, its now 2 losses in a row at the Etihad for Pellegrini.  The void of Yaya Toure looks to be getting more serious as time goes by.  Take nothing away from Middlesbrough, who deserved their win, and spurned several other chances to add further misery to City.

The tone for the day was set up in the early game of the day. Swansea were at Championship Blackburn. Two reds cards for the Swans saw them collapse to a 3-1 defeat at Ewood Park, having had to play most of the match with 10 men. High flying Southampton were given a shock after losing 3-2 at home to Crystal Palace, after taking the lead twice. Tottenham also managed to lose at home, a last minute winner for Leicester taking them through at the expense of Spurs.

Manchester United have been taken to a replay after failing to score past a resilient Cambridge side, and Liverpool will be taken the distance with another 90 minutes at Bolton. With Arsenal still yet to play, it could be a dark weekend for the big boys of the Premier League!

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Arsenal Finally Deliver

6-3 was the result last season at the Etihad between City and Arsenal. A foolish Arsenal side were ruthlessly taken apart by Yaya Toure & Co. in the start of a sequence of away day collapses at their major rivals.  Manchester itself has not been kind to the Gunners. Their last 7 visits in the league to the city had resulted in 6 defeats and 1 draw (including the infamous 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford). The big game mentality of Arsenal was once again under the spotlight this Sunday, and many were expecting another familiar tale of ‘Same old Arsenal’.

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1 point from 21……..

Though what we got was a major surprise, not just to Arsenal fans, but to most neutral fans as well! Taking a note from the Jose Mourinho game plan, Arsenal played with extreme discipline, reducing City to very little clear cut chances, and stealing two goals on set pieces. This was a performance that many thought Arsenal could not pull off, especially under the guidance of Arsene Wenger. Last season, the North London squad were regularly exposed, getting hit on the counter time after time, and generally falling apart before the half time bell! Manchester City may have been missing their star man , Yaya Toure away on International Duty in Africa. But the returning Sergio Aguero, and the magical David Silva were always going to pose a serious threat if left unattended. It seems that the penny has finally dropped, the game was billed as Alexis v Aguero, but it was a collective team performance by Arsenal that stood put. Man for man, every squad player in the 11 played their part.

Alexis Sanchez has been the saviour for Arsenal this season, but it was the other maestro, Santi Cazorla that stole the show. making runs and dribbles the Chilean has been associated with. Monreal, much maligned by his own fans, had an excellent game, winning the penalty, and putting in a real shift. Young Bellarin on the opposite side did not look overawed by the occasion either. The entire defence played as a unit, reducing the champions to having little look at taking the lead. There was no breaking runs from midfield, no wide gaps left to counter in. With the pace of Alexis and Chamberlain up top, Arsenal could afford to give up possession and play on the counter. As Arsenal went in at half time with a deserved lead, surely City would pile on the pressure, Arsenal could not surely last the 90 minutes with a clean sheet?

That was the case for the opening 10 minutes of so, City came out firing, but the goal just would not come, and on 70 minutes, a cheap free kick given away by Jovetic lead to the cherry on the cake. Its usually Arsenal going to sleep on set pieces, but  this time, it was the Champions not paying attention. Some slack marking lead to Giroud heading home the second. if he had not got there, the onrushing Koscielny would have surely put it away. Even with 20 minutes left, Arsenal fans never breathe easy, a quick response from City could have seen a typical Arsenal collapse. City tried to pull it back, as Chelsea appeared to pull out a possible 5 point lead over them before the FA Cup break. It never came, Arsenal had only 35% possession, the lowest since stats were collected some 10 years ago! Francis Coquelin, playing for Charlton a few months ago put in an excellent shielding performance,providing protection to that back 4, and making sure Silva never got away.

So Arsenal finally get that much valued ‘W’ at a Top 4 club, this has shown that Arsenal can play with a Plan B, when taking on a superior team head on would not be the wisest of options. But this cannot be a one off, the club must make this a regular occurrence if they are to be taken seriously any time soon. White Hart Lane and Old Trafford still remain, if they take 6 points from those 2, a change in tide may be closer than we may have thought.

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The Asian Cup 2015

Many Premier League fans will be aware of the African Cup of Nations,taking place later this month. Though another tournament has slipped under the radar for most people, the Asian Cup, which has just kicked off in Australia. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournament is of course no where near as successful as the European Championships (UEFA) or the Copa América (CONMEBOL), but let take an opportunity to have a look at the little known Asian party.

This marks the 16th edition of the tournament, to be held across 5 cities in Australia. The last one being held in 2011, which was won by Japan. Japan are also historically the most successful nation in the tournament, winning the competition on 4 occasions. Iran and Saudi Arabia have won it 3 times, with South Korea on 2 wins. One of the most memorable moments for the competition (and probably sport in general!) would have been the 2007 edition held across 4 nations in South East Asia, Iraq, managed to shock everyone with a magical run to the final, with their captain Younis Mahmoud netting the winner.

Looking forward to Australia, the favourites for this would probably be from a pick of 4. The home nation Australia, will see this as a great chance for them to take the crown, in only their second appearance in the tournament. Having only entered the AFC in 2007, they were runners up last time against Japan, having come so close, they will want to go one step further. Including the likes of Tim Cahill and Miles Jedinak, and the passionate roar of the home fans, they could go all the way!

Japan and South Korea with 6 titles between them, always have a strong show at the Asian Cup, and they will not be far from the final regardless of their final finish, Ki Sung-Yueng of Swansea captains South Korea, Lee Chung-Yong (who many will recall from his time at Bolton) will feature, and Son Heung-Min of Leverkusen, who has attracted many with his performances in the German league. Japan will look to the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa to power them to title number 5.

Iran are the highest ranked team in the tournament, and preformed valiantly at the last world cup. Although they didn’t win a game, they drew to Nigeria, and almost forced giants Argentina to a famous draw, before an injury time winner from Messi broke their hearts, it was a game in which Iran in fact spurned several chances to take the lead. Iran have the most recognisable manager, Carlos Queiroz, of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Portugal fame. Their last win was in 1976.

Among the others involved, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq,UEA and Palestine represent the Middle East with a strong contingent. Palestine making their debut in the tournament, with the tragic situation occurring in Palestine  during the last year, they will want to bring some joy to their people, like Iraq did in 2007. North Korea, China and Uzbekistan make up the rest of the numbers.

The final will be held in Sydney on the 31st of January, to crown the next Champion of Asia, and hopefully, it will increase its profile tot he rest of the watching world!

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No Fairy Tales for the FA Cup

The 3rd Round of the FA Cup is much hyped by many in sport as one of the great weekends (in this case, 5 day weekend!) in the English sporting calender. The magical moments in which a lower league team can take on the giants and win! As nice as that would have been for the romantics, it was a pretty straight forward weekend, with barely as major scalps of note.

Non League were represented well, but non managed to overcome their respective hurdles. Blyth Spartans were on course for a huge upset at the half time interval against Birmingham City of the Championship. A quick fire double before the break taking the underdogs in front. It didn’t last long, as Birmingham City took control, 3 goal in the opening 15 minutes turning the game on its head. Gateshead were dismantled clinically by West Brom, a thumping 7-0 win, with Berahino netting 4 for himself. Southport, probably had the harshest result. Almost taking Derby County to a replay. Only an injury time penalty rescued the Championship side from any embarrassment. Stoke were given a close shave, after recovering from a goal down late on to limp past Wrexham. Alan Pardew’s first goal for new club Crystal Palace got off to an easy start, with a comfortable 4-0 win away to Dover. No real shock was produced throughout the weekend of games. AFC WImbledon had one of the ties of the round, with a home game against Liverpool. Though they managed to bring themselves back into the game at 1-1. a Gerrard free kick proved to be enough to see the Red through.

Most of the Premier League clubs managed to avoid an early elimination from the competition. All the top dogs got by. Holders Arsenal held off Hull in their Cup Final rematch. Manchester United and City are into the 4th round. Chelsea and Liverpool also find themselves with a spot in the 4th round draw. The only Premier League sides to get eliminated were Newcastle (vs Leicester City), and QPR. The West London team were frankly abysmal, losing 3-0 to League 1 side Sheffield United at home. Which was probably the biggest shock of the week.

There were no major upsets, or noticeable eliminations in this round of fixtures. Not the best of results for the broadcasters, who where have loved a huge result after a week of hype. The big boys have been kept apart in the draw for the 4th round as well, so we may be looking at a familiar weekend of games next time around too!

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Premier League : Mid Year Review (Part 2!)

After looking over the top half, here’s a quick run-down through the bottom half of the table at the half way point!

Stoke – 11th

7 wins, 8 losses, it’s the kind of form many would expect from Stoke. Who have been safe in mid table for a number of years.  Though they have changed their style of play since the days of Tony Pulis, the overall position of the team has not changed much. The acquisition of Bojan from Barcelona has typified the ‘new’ Stoke. Big wins against City and Arsenal have seen them achieve some promising results. Though they still seem to suffer from not being able to hype themselves up for the ‘lesser’ games.

Everton – 12th

Disappointing. That sums up Everton’s season so far, after pushing Arsenal so close last season, with a new brand of powerful, attacking football. The team has simply failed to find the same form. Lukaku was signed after a bright season on loan from Chelsea for huge money, and the likes of Gareth Barry sealed a long term deal after his successful loan spell. The team have already lost 8 games, and have a negative goal difference, an world away from their stunning start last year. Any more losses, and it could be the end for Martinez.

Aston Villa – 13th

After an initial bright start, it quickly went sour for Villa. A shocking 6 game losing streak, including a 5 game run without scoring a single goal. The Midlands club found themselves loitering near the relegation zone for some time. Although they had arrested that poor run with a goalless draw to West Ham. The team has only managed 2 wins in all of November and December. Which has left them rooted in 13th. They will have to find their winning ways soon if they want a top half finish.

Sunderland – 14th

It was the Great Escape for the Black Cats last season, managing to beat the trap door with a surging finish to last season. Drawing games seen to be their biggest problem, already recording 11. Its not a defeat, but they will want to turn more of those draws into wins, if they want to avoid last seasons drama. A late winner against rivals Newcastle has so far been the highlight of a moderate season so far.

QPR – 15th

Jekyll & Hyde could be used to describe the season so far for QPR. All 5 of their wins have come at Loftus Road, and the team look capable of surviving this season. It’s a different case away from home. Having lost every single away game they have played. If it wasn’t for the heroics of star striker Charlie Austin, the Hoops could have found themselves in the bottom 3 this Christmas. Their abysmal away record must improve in 2015. It is vital that they hold onto Austin during the January transfer window.

WBA – 16th

Alan Irvine became the second manager to get the sack this season, not many would have thought only 2 managers would have lost their jobs by 2015 in the harsh world of the Premier League. The position of 16th pretty much represents what kind of season they are having, and what many usually expect from WBA. Just doing enough to keep they toes away from the bottom 3. 7 losses from their last 9 games has proven to be the last straw. Tony Pulis has since been appointed to change their trajectory in the new year.

Hull – 17th

Hull stumbled over the line last season, ending up 16th. Only their magic run to the FA Cup final masked their somewhat average form in the league at the time. This season, only 1 win in their last 12 games has seen them end up right on the edge. Although they had a Europa League position for losing the FA Cup final, they were knocked out early in qualifying, so not much of that can be attributed to their sub-par performances. Relegation is a real threat to the Tigers, unless they get a move on!

Crystal Palace – 18th

The Eagles were rejuvenated last season, under the leadership of Tony Pulis, but his departure just days from the start of the season laid the poor foundations for their season. In came Neil Warnock, but gone was the strong, resolute palace from last season. Only 3 wins all season has seen them drop into the trap door. The team is in limbo right now, Warnock has been sacked, and it is not yet known who will replace him. A lot will depend on the new man coming in.

Burnley – 19th

Many fans would have said Burnley would find themselves at the bottom come 2015. The smallest team in the league, with the smallest budget. It was a horrid start to the season, not winning a match until November. But back to back wins saw the team put together a 4 game undefeated streak, which has helped the team grow in confidence and stature. Manager Sean Dyche getting paid back for his belief in his team. The team may indeed go down come May, but an enthralling comeback at Man City from 2 goals down will give the fans much to believe in!

Leicester City – 20th

The Foxes have the unwanted honour of being bottom of the pile as we enter 2015. It all started well enough, taking points off Everton and Arsenal. Capped off by the game of the season so far, the 5-3 victory against Manchester United. Thought the honeymoon period was over soon. Since the United game, they went on an appealing run of 11 defeats and 2 draws. Only managing to finally win a game in the last match of the season against Hull City. Unless results improve, manager Nigel Pearson will be shown the door, and the Foxes back in the Championship.

 

2014 in review!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.