Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Thursday, September 6, 2012

English Premiership – Break Time

Break Time...
Ah! We can take a brief pause to catch our breath! The international break is here and the English Premiership is off for a week’s break. In all honestly though no one wanted that to happen, such has been the excitement we’ve enjoyed since the resumption of the world’s most popular league – especially this past weekend.

There are a couple of points I want to touch on before I wax lyrical and lose the plot…

The Mighty Gunners of North London
I am super excited about the Gunners, so much so that I’m ordering a brand new replica jersey... I will admit I was thrilled to see Song leave Arsenal. I have nothing against him, he’s a wonderful talent and I truly believe he will go on to reach great heights at Barcelona. But to me Song was one of the main reasons for Arsenal’s downs last season.

It’s still too early to go around claiming vindication but the early signs are encouraging.

Yes, the season is only three games old, but the midfield of Arteta, Diaby and Carzola is looking scrumptious. Their performance against Liverpool was simply outstanding. They nullified Liverpool’s midfield and were able to set a platform for one of Arsenal’s finest league wins in recent seasons. The Gunners did ride their luck a bit; there were a couple of penalty shouts that could have easily gone the other way on another day, but after 90 minutes there was no arguing who were the better team.

Diaby. Well, what can you say? He was amazing.

When he arrived at Arsenal seven years ago from Auxerre he was said to be the new Vieira. This, however, never really materialised because he was unable to consistently play in his favoured position – frequently being deployed on the wing or further forward – while injuries also hampered him greatly.

Abou Diaby, midfield powerhouse
Although he showed glimpses of his immense talent he was never settled so was never a nailed down player.

Thankfully Diaby’s back to full fitness and on Sunday’s evidence could be Arsenal’s most important player in their quest for silverware.

I really believe Arsenal can challenge for the league title this season.

That midfield trio of Arteta, Diaby and Carzola is comparable to any in the league and the defensively the team suddenly looks pretty solid.

I’m happy with Jenkinson. He’s not the most refined player, but he has won me over in the last two games – games which have not been easy tasks, and have posed different challenges.

In dealing with the physical threat of Stoke and then the pace and guile of Raheem Sterling against Liverpool, Jenkinson has shown he can be a resourceful option at rightback. He’s still nervous, yes, and this coupled with his relative lack of technique means he’s prone to mistakes in possession. Nevertheless, I would like to see him get an extended run in the team.

The Mertesacker-Vermaelen combination also deserves to continue at the heart of Arsenal’s defence. Despite shaky moments from each against Liverpool both were generally outstanding. I felt they complimented each other well, and Vermaelen’s all-action style is well-matched by Mertesacker’s composed approach.

It’s often pointed out that the most effective centreback partnerships are ones which comprise of differing personalities; the cool guy and the crazy guy – for example Carvalho and Terry, Ferdinand and Vidic, Pique and Puyol.

You would hope this partnership is given a chance to flourish because so far it hasn’t let the team down.

Upfront there remains a slight worry in terms of where the goals will consistently come from. But, for me, the most important thing is to keep this group together. Fingers crossed then that Arsenal doesn’t suffer any injuries over this international break.

The Paul Scholes Conundrum
There’s still no convincing explanation why Paul Scholes doesn’t start more often for Manchester United.

Scholes himself has frequently said he wants to play more. Ok, he is 37, so maybe he can’t play every game, but he should be used as much as possible.

There are perhaps games where Scholes won’t be suited; a Stoke perhaps, who are more physical and where his tackling would be called into question more often. Maybe a Newcastle away too on the evidence of their victory over United last season which was underpinned by a frenetic pace and direct approach.

Probably against such styles you would require more mobility, stamina and force in midfield.

But otherwise it’s clear that Scholes should play every game. He changed the game on Sunday against Southampton.
Malome Paul Scholes: The Midfield Master
United look a much different team when Scholes is on the pitch. His passing range is remarkable and, what's more, he always seems to pick the right pass. That’s what makes him special. Scholes also brings a sense of calm and direction to the team; and because he’s a midfield guru from youth he knows all the tricks of the trade.

And Scholes should be played in his favoured role as the creative fulcrum, not as at Everton where he was the deepest of United’s midfielders.

Scholes in my book is key to whether United will compete this season.

Swansea Splendour
Swansea are the story of the league so far. Continuing on from they left off under Brendan Rodgers, the Swans are third and flying after three games.

Apart from their lofty ranking Swansea are also an illustration of how English football has evolved in the last ten years – the passing and technique-based football, with a sprinkling of tactical discipline.

You could see it with Southampton (against United) as well while teams like Wigan and Fulham have an emphasis on quality possession at the core of their philosophies.

There’s a place for the other side as well as Carroll showed brilliantly with West Ham, as Stoke do so effectively and as the variation Newcastle and Everton have to their strategy.

It just makes the Premiership that more intriguing because there are so many different styles.

It also means this will be the toughest season yet. Year on year this league is getting tougher and tougher. There is no side you can say are obvious favourites for relegation, nor can you say playing a certain way will guarantee success as opposed another style.

Southampton may be pointless after three games, but they were five minutes from beating Man United and gave City a real fright on the opening day of the season.

While Rodgers’ old team is going great guns his new team Liverpool have some problems.

Firstly, I believe they’ve tried to change things a bit too quickly. Rodgers has attempted to revolutionise Liverpool’s style into a technique-based, meticulous one. It doesn’t completely suit all the players at his disposal, for example Gerrard. Stevie G is a world-class footballer, full-stop. However, Liverpool’s new style more often than not entails measured build-ups while Gerrard is an explosive player, always looking to add tempo. At times this means he’s not on the same wavelength with the system, as evidenced by a couple of personal errors so far on his part.

Most of Liverpool’s transfer activity also hasn’t made sense.

One thing that’s a blessing is Suarez is now the undisputed main man and there’s no distraction of Carroll (even if it’s still a bit of a blunder not to have had a replacement for Carroll in place). A three-man midfield with Gerrard supporting Suarez is Liverpool at their best, something akin to the deadly Torres-Gerrard combo of 2008-09.

Good times at Swansea...
Not so much at Liverpool
The only problem, though, is that Suarez is not a prolific scorer. This puts pressure on Liverpool’s other attackers to find the net, and if you look at the team-sheet there are no other scorers except for Gerrard. At the moment I see Borini as a bit of a weak link. Both he and Sterling are not goalscorers, but Sterling offers sharp penetration which Borini hasn’t so far.

Liverpool need someone out-wide who can score. This is where an Afellay might have been an option, and is what Kuyt used to do.

Signing Owen would have helped too. It might have meant changing the system a bit but Liverpool would have had the goal threat they are missing.

Other parts, though not yet perfect, are fine. Without Lucas Liverpool lack a presence on the defensive side in midfield. Nevertheless, the midfield group as a whole has real quality, and with Shelvey lately making himself a good option, it is likely serve Liverpool well.

The defence and keeper are also proven Premiership quality.

It will take some time, however, for Liverpool to be transformed into a winning team that also plays to the manager’s philosophy.

AVB and Spurs…
Another man of change is Andre Villas-Boas; the man tries to change things too much whenever he lands! He looks to be repeating the same mistakes he made at Chelsea. The jettisoning of Dawson for example makes little sense to me. He has been one of Tottenham’s best defenders over recent seasons and he understands the club. Vertonghen, to me, has been thrown in the deep end.

Although Tottenham endured a poor finish to last season under Harry Redknapp they did finish fourth. The previous three seasons Spurs have finished 4th, 5th and 4th, a pretty incredible sequence. This is the standard that’s been set by Harry’s superb work and, sadly, I feel Spurs have taken a step back so far.

That’s not to say AVB will not have success at White Hart Lane. He may well do, but it’s unlikely to be this season.

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