Sunday, September 11, 2011

Find Us At Our New Home

For mainly technical reasons, INFTH has moved from here to a new home -

Make sure to change bookmarks, links on your site or anything else leading to our old .blogspot address.

Thanks for bearing with us!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fickle England Continue To Confuse

Frank LampardAs the goals flew by in Sofia, something happened. A drop, a loss, a departure. Memories wiped blank, evaluations reset and hopes freshly kindled. With Ukraine emerging into view, Bloemfontein faded - unhappy recollections usurped by a new wave of optimism.

And then the hit, the check, the end. Had one of the ninety nine times out of a hundred that Rob Earnshaw tucks balls into open nets come up, then a disastrous night would merely have been underlined.

But this is why we love England. The groans a melodious complement to Lightning Seeds albums, songs of eventual English demise sung with pride, then dismay, then desperation. Quick rises and drops both in the big picture and the small - Owen's masterpiece, offset by Beckham's nadir; the joy of Munich, a misleading preface to failure in South Korea.

Last week was no different. Another externally successful one for statistically the World's fourth best team, yet another disappointing one for a crowd statistically the largest that has entered any English ground so far this season. They will continue to flock though, England's disciples seeming undeterred by what is fast becoming a predictable tale of mediocrity and mayhem.

As Capello, fans and the media hype the latest generation, expected changes are conspicuous only by their absence. Slow, stodgy, anemic play - nothing unusual, the replication of old habits. Pigs are already beginning to resemble men.

The correlation between international tournaments and the rust of a once vaunted set of players, is a decay already apparent in opinions of Capello's new crop. Rooney the dazzler, now Wazza the pretender, Downing too, suddenly an inferior footballer to the one so impressive in Bulgaria.

Egged on by a vociferous, unforgiving press, England's Sofia heroes are well on their way to completing an obligatory transformation. The promising destined to disappoint, the consistent to lose their magic. Capello claims to have foreseen Tuesday's under performance - pointing to his head, he assured journalists that he "knew." A highly successful manager, but Nostradamus won't be wetting his pants - Capello less a divinator than a careful observer, aware of a trend inherent in the English footballing psyche.

Here we make legends only so that they can fall. Lampard's past contributions are blurred when viewed through the lens of current form - arguably the best of England's golden generation castigated beyond belief. Failure in Ukraine and Poland will mean a similar fate for this "new dawn of talent." Joining Rooney '04 and Walcott '08, promise will be considered unfulfilled.

England's match against Wales was no different. Hope quickly cancelled out by a harsh surge of reality. Within on week, within one year, within a four year cycle, England's activity is nothing but highs and lows.

The sickeningly positive among England fans are already turning towards Cleverley, Jones and Wilshere, the more jaded stuck with a fatalistic attitude. Patterns tend to go on forever, for England failure is inexorable.
Rise, fall, rise, fall.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Favorite Goals And Treble Recollections

What with the international break and such, it's been a little quiet on the article front over the past couple days. Needless to say though, I've still been hard at work and wanted to cite a couple recent posts for your enjoyment during this most painful interim.

As part of The Equaliser's  historical series, I penned an article on Manchester United's 1999 treble. Read it here.

With nostalgia rushing through me, it was no problem at all to reminisce again - this time for brilliant tactical blog Ghost Goal. My piece for them forms part of the wonderfully entertaining "Favorite Goal" series, and can be read here.

Also, don't forget to check out our book review section, recently updated with Jonathan Wilson's fabulous Behind the Curtain.

For more of my work away from here, check out The Chairman Elsewhere.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

INFTH Book Review: Behind The Curtain

Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football
Author of the universally acclaimed Inverting the Pryamid, Jonathan Wilson's lesser known debut book details the history, culture and idiosyncrasies of thirteen nations' footballing landscapes.

Treks through the forgotten streets of Sarajevo, cups of coffee in Belgrade and late nights in Sofia, at times Wilson's account of Eastern Europe can take on a sort of action adventure personality. For the writer though, this was part of the appeal.

"Something in me warms to eastern Europe, and I rather suspect it's related to my affection for the classic thrillers of post-war espionage," Wilson writes in the introduction. The statement is indicative of the book's attitude towards eastern Europe, one both loving and curious, melancholy and honest.

Through extensive travels in the area behind the old Iron Curtain, Wilson compiles a comprehensive history of football in Europe's backwaters, accounts focusing on the effects of the fall of Communism on both the domestic and international game.

Football in this part of the world is not so much politically charged as politically electrocuted - often abused, manipulated and exploited by the frightening powers that be. However, as made clear on numerous occasions, the relationship works both ways.

In a fascinating chapter, Wilson describes vividly the role of Red Star Belgrade fans in the expulsion of Slobodan Milosevic from parliament, as well as their tendency to turn political instability into an excuse for a riot.

The level of detail dedicated to goings on in competitions that to most are unknown quantities is quite unprecedented - Wilson's analysis is of a type difficult to find elsewhere.

While it is his work uncovering information in some of Europe's shadiest regions that makes the book unique, vibrant descriptions of more well known phenomena are also plentiful. The Aranycsapat, Hungary's famous 1954 World Cup squad is featured heavily, as is the furor around Soviet Russia's greatest footballer.

The overarching image that Wilson paints is of a society haunted by a pervading paranoia, a distrust of power that could only have been generated in countries once controlled by brutal and corrupt forces. The story of eastern European football is a sad one - a narrative poisoned by violence, dishonesty and exploitation. Struggling to find sufficient funding, success on the domestic front is difficult; unable to hold on to players, clubs fester - a once great product left in tatters.

To weave together such a diverse and many layered collection of issues was a task best left to only the most masterful of writers. Perceptive, intelligent and thoughtful Wilson's attempt is indisputably successful - a well written tale of tragedy, hope and horror, but mainly of football's tenuous existence in a backdrop of political upheaval.

Read the rest of our book reviews.

Buy Behind The Curtain on Amazon.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fantasy Guide: Third Edition- International Break Review, Part One

The international break is always a wearing time for fantasy managers. With often five or more starters making long stressful journeys overseas to play in pointless friendlies or, even worse, semi competitive qualifiers, the prospect of an injury crisis mounts without players ever earning fantasy points. However, for close observers these games can act as vital indicators - key factors in transfer decisions and substitutions.

A Few Fantasy Premier League Notes:

Gary Cahill the goalscorer- On the occasion of his first competitive start, Gary Cahill opened the scoring for England with an effort from close range. Interestingly, that goal was actually atypical of Cahill, more often than not his strikes are from long range, that opening day sucker punch against QPR an obvious example.

Rooney's continues to pick up momentum- Wayne Rooney is fast becoming a must have fantasy player. With five goals in three Premier League games, he is the league's second top goalscorer and is showing no sign of a drop off. Two against Bulgaria merely served to underline his classy displays of late - only a fool would leave him out.

Van Persie scores four- It's difficult to know how much to read into this given that the opponent was San Marino and the final result 11-0. However, Van Persie will nevertheless savor his four goal haul; the striker has struggled for consistency over the league's opening weeks. With the transfer window concluded, the sense is that Arsenal are ready to move on from August's horror show, and maybe even start churning out a few wins. Any pick up in form is likely to be a function of Robin Van Persie goals, especially if new signings Benayoun and Arteta bed in well.

Park Chu Young scores three- Arsenal fans desperate for encouragement will have been relieved by Young's performance here. Three goals in what is technically "The World Cup" is not to be scoffed at, even though the opposition was Lebanon. Young represents a fascinating, if perhaps risky, option up front.

Part Two coming after the second round of international fixtures.
In the mean time, enjoy the rest of our fantasy coverage.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time For England To Forget Messiahs

To ask English football to learn, is usually to ask too much. In the cycle of perpetual misfortune, England have carved themselves a comfortable little place - one festooned with cushions, lights and running water by the very men and women who pray for better everyday.

Wayne Rooney and Jesus Christ have a lot in common. Both are featured in best selling books - Rooney's albeit, of a more recent publication - both have faced trials and tribulations, births and resurrections and both at one point or another have offered hope to a group of disciples, disillusioned with the current state of things.

Both are messiahs. Just as Jesus rose, quickly, stealthily from anonymity, Rooney did too. Rooney scored, Jesus preached. The parallels are there for all to see, the overlap between the lives of two seemingly polar opposite characters.

But then again, it isn't really a shock that comparisons have been made. Religious undertones are an ever present in modern day football reporting - symptomatic of the way religion has been used to articulate the feelings of fans, players and clubs over the last century.

Gathering together en masse on certain days, chanting in unison at the behest of goings on in a central arena it is easy to see why football is fixated with the pseudo-religious role it occupies in the lives of millions.

In England messiahs roam free. They start out, usually, as poor, uneducated sons of laborers only finding the concentration which deserts them in the classroom on the street or pitch or grass. They ascend, gradually up the ladder, reaching first professional and later celebrity status. Invariably though, this is where they fall.

Theo Walcott reached this place with a hat trick in Zagreb, he hasn't scored for England since.Wayne Rooney's performance in Euro 2004 made him a national hero - his slump in later international tournaments emblematic of England's culture of false dawns.

On the eve of two vital European Championship qualifiers, England can no longer afford see their stars fail. Now is the time to abandon messiahs.

Where was Spain's messiah when they triumphed in South Africa? Nowhere. There was no stand out star, no figure, constantly pulling the team to victory. Spain's success was bred of a philosophy, a group of players so together, so harmonious that no savior was required. If England intend to copy Vincente Del Bosque's team, then it is this that they must replicate.

The seeds have already been sown, ironically, by a Scotsman. At the helm of Manchester United for over twenty five years, only now has Sir Alex Ferguson brought together a core of English players able and ready to represent their country.

A center back pairing of Smalling and Jones will likely figure prominently in 2014, a creative tandem of Rooney and Cleverley also sure to be key. Up front, Danny Welbeck continues to improve, come the next World Cup fans should expect the finished product.

"They have done well at a very big side and they have come into the England squad and felt very assured - and rightly so because they are huge talents. They've got an awful lot to give," said Terry of Jones, Smalling and Cleverley.

"You don't go into the Manchester United side if you are not ready and they have showed some great individual performances." Ringing endorsement from a man who has done his fair share of messianic duty.

Delve further into United's youth system, and a slew of talent emerges into view. Ryan Tunnelcliffe is highly regarded and, should he shake off personal problems, Ravel Morrison's future will be bright as well.

Writing optimistically about England's prospects is always risky business, but even the most jaded of fans  appreciate the reservoir of talent set to irrigate English national team football for the next decade. If, and it is a big if, United can develop the kind of relationship with England that clubs like Honved, Barcelona and Ajax have made with their respective countries, then perhaps all those years of hurt might come to an end.

Fantasy Football: Five Interesting Deadline Day Deals

1. Peter Crouch to Stoke- It seems that Tony Pulis has given up on any kind of reformatory notion. The signing of Tuncay two years ago was supposed to herald the start of a revolution - no longer would Stoke be a long ball team, no longer would every throw-in won be greeted with roars from the vociferous home fans. Now, in 2011, Tuncay plays for Bolton, Delap's still going strong and the Potters are likely to start both Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch in their next match. Effective, yes. Pretty, no. Needless to say, Crouch will thrive in the Stoke system. His ability in the air should produce countless numbers of goals and assists, and available at low, Spurs bench warmer type price, fantasy potential is there.

2. Nicklas Bendtner to Sunderland (loan)- Nobody seems to rate Nicklas Bendtner, but his statistics aren't really that bad. A career haul of fifty-eight works out to about a goal in four, and considering most of his appearances have been off the bench, that record is quite impressive. At Sunderland, Bendtner is guaranteed more playing time and it will be fascinating to see whether he can develop a relationship with Asamoah Gyan. For Denmark, Bendtner has always been dangerous, so perhaps he is big fish-small pond type player, and will only succeed when it is he who has the highest profile.

3. Yossi Benayoun to Arsenal (loan)- Of Arsenal's two creative signings, this one presents the most fantasy intrigue. Benayoun has always been a crafty little player, and I can see him fitting in well with the Arsneal way of doing things. At Liverpool, Benayoun was able to develop strong relationships with players like Gerrard, Torres and Kuyt, so if equivalent bonds can be forged, perhaps the Israeli might prove just as useful as the departed Samir Nasri.

4. Shaun Wright-Phillips to QPR- After two excellent seasons in the mid 2000s, Wright Phillips' professional career has tailored off a bit. A disappointing spell at Chelsea, was followed by failure to adjust in Manchester City's new financially charged environment leaving the England international cut adrift. At 29 though, he still has plenty to offer. Very tricky down the wing, SWP will have ample targets in the penalty area - both DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd are adept converters of crosses. Again, like Peter Crouch, Wright-Phillips is available for a knock down price - certainly one which will rise as the season continues.

5. Royston Drenthe to Everton (loan)- After going the entire summer without once dipping into the transfer market, Everton signed two player on deadline day. Headlining their business was the acquisition of former Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe, a speedy player with the potential to make a big difference in the Premier League. As of now, Drenthe's price hasn't been confirmed, though I'd be shocked if it was any more than six million.

Enjoy the rest of our fantasy content.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hargreaves' Story All Too Familiar For United often caught on the wrong side of the moral spectrum, Manchester City will relish this opportunity to make their rivals look just as base.

Known for his charitable work, and reportedly willing to play for free, United threw Hargreaves to the wayside, presumably believing that injuries had finally overwhelmed the once great player.

 A two time Champions League winner, Hargreaves is about as cosmopolitan as an Englishman can be - fluent in German and an expert penalty taker. During his time at Bayern Munich, he gained legitimate respect from more broadly versed European football observers, his talents appreciated as being many varied and translatable to more than just the parochial atmosphere of English football.

At the 2006 World Cup, a series of dynamic performances - culminating in a penalty conversion against Portugal - earned Hargreaves the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson and, eventually, a move to Manchester United in the summer of 2007.

"It has been a long time coming - it was probably the worst kept secret in football." said Hargreaves after sealing the switch. Certainly, no similar claim could be made about his move to City.

So dire was Hargreaves' situation, that he was forced to post fitness videos on YouTube to convince potential suitors of his worth. Clearly, Roy Hodgson and West Bromich Albion were impressed by his ability to weave in and out of cones, as it was they who registered a first major interest.

"We believe he is capable of playing top flight football and we are very interested in him," said Hodgson. Having passed a "minor medical" at the Hawthornes, a move to the midlands seemed a certainty only for football's transfer juggernauts to once again steal the show.

Rumors breaking Tuesday were confirmed by images of Hargreaves apparently undergoing a three hour medical at Manchester City's Carrington training ground, with a view to a move before the transfer deadline. For Manchester United, the story echoes of Carlos Tevez.

The last player to breach the divide, Tevez was also cast away having failed to earn the full trust of Ferguson. United were frankly lucky that Tevez's role as City's star striker never effected their own fortunes particularly greatly, but what it did do was change the perception of Fergie's "noisy neighbors." From Chelsea wannabees to Champions League contenders, City's meteoric rise will eventually see United unseated.

The part Tevez played in the drama should not be undervalued, even if his ties with both clubs are becoming increasingly strained. His is the story of a player who left Old Trafford and excelled, contradicting Ferguson's oft stated rule in most ironic style.

Now that the Mancunian battle is becoming a title tussle as well as grudge match, United cannot afford to see their rejects perform across town. In Owen Hargreaves, City have found just the player they need, a much, much richer man's Gareth Barry - the midfielder who might have made two Champions League finals interesting.

Grasping for motivation to succeed, Hargreaves like Tevez will not have to look far. The nature of his departure from Old Trafford - complete with patronizing good luck wishes and dismissive shrugs from impatient fans - should be enough to get blood flowing.

The challenge is immense, but the prospect of success will keep Hargreaves going. After three years of turmoil, the end is in sight; the reward for lonely hours in the gym, and countless slices by the surgeon's knife.

United though, must pray that their midfield crock doesn't turn into City's final jigsaw piece.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Patronized Berba Deserves More Than He's Getting the midst of United's attacking wildfire, one forward was removed from the rest. As in most things, Berbatov was on the outskirts.

He has always been different from the others. Quiet, withdrawn, Berbatov refuses to be sucked into the loud, effervescent public life of Rio Ferdinand, nor the wild, sex driven antics of Wayne Rooney. When United players are asked to describe their Bulgarian teammate, the answers tend to be vague or mumbled. To an outsider, it would seem as though nobody really knows Dimitar Berbatov. He is said to sit far from the rest on away trips, and rarely join in on raucous games of cards in the wee hours during those infamous tours abroad.

Lackadaisical, languid, lazy. Berbatov's playing style has generated cliches of its own. Wishing to criticize, no wide range of vocabulary is needed, merely a group of synonyms that any would be TV pundit learns in their crash course to being unoriginal.

Even when he achieves, Berbatov's accomplishments are derided. A golden boot made impure by the distribution of goals - heavily on one or two games against low level opposition - and a second title win in three years, more the work of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

Now the criticism seems to have worked. The Bulgarian Berbatov is further away from first team football than ever, on the outskirts both personally and professionally.

Interest from PSG and Juventus though was rejected, despite his apparent distance from the starting eleven, Berbatov holds some value in Ferguson's eye. What value though? Has he just been shelved away, kept only to save face, to show that thirty million pounds wasn't wasted? Berbatov is fast turning into another object, kept only for the sake of stubbornness, cursed by no fault of his own, but by the failure of those around him to understand his footballing importance and by a price tag which many see as at its most useful when tied around the striker's metaphorical neck.

The 2011 Champions League final looked to be his nadir.  Left out of the squad entirely, Berbatov was forced to take a watchers on role while the constantly injured Michael Owen claimed a place on the bench. That season Owen had netted twice in the league. Berbatov was top scorer with twenty.

"There was no more disappointed man that night (Champions League final) than Dimitar, there's no question about that." said Ferguson. "I made a decision that I didn't want to make, putting Michael Owen on the bench, but I felt it was a positive one."

Since then, the World has seen little of Dimitar Berbatov. He scored in a pre season friendly against the Major League Soccer All Stars, and is often caught respectfully watching games from his position on the sidelines. According to Ferguson, his performances in training post Champions League rejection have been inspiring - one wonders then how much stall is set by training these days...

That Berbatov hasn't moved is a crime only the humblest could commit. Berbatov knows that from Manchester United the only step is down, but he doesn't regard himself highly enough to see first team football as a god given right. It is Berbatov's personal underestimation, his modesty and his loyalty that are pulling him down.

In Manchester, a city marked constantly by waste of talent, one player on the red side festers quietly. He is driven though not by money (he could have got more at PSG) but by his own belief in English club football's most vital mantra. No player is bigger than their club. Berbatov appreciates that all to well. Instead of quietly retreating, accepting the situation and fighting to regain lost acclaim, maybe Berba should have thrown a fit after that Champions League final refusal. Maybe he should have cried, complained and left.

At some point he should have given up. Tired of being patronized by a man who is fast losing interest in a one time chief transfer target, he should have asked to leave.

The World is losing a prodigious talent, but Berbatov would never admit it. He's too humble.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday's Fantasy Review

Ryan Shotton Ryan Shotton of Stoke City celebrates his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City at The Hawthorns on August 28, 2011 in West Bromwich, England.Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal- An absolute obliteration, I couldn't dream of covering all angles. Assists and goals were in bountiful supply, with Rooney and Young the chief perpetrators.

On the other side of the coin though, villains were everywhere in the Arsenal team - shameful performances from all their defenders, a penalty miss by Robin Van Persie and a red card for Carl Jenkinson.

MOTM: Ashely Young- Two goals, a number of assits and now the game's most valuable midfielder.
FOTM: Johan Djourou- Many would have thought Jenkison, but he was saved by an assist.

Tottenham 1-5 Manchester City- Another sensational result, attacking point scoreres were once again prevalent. Dzeko netted four and Aguero one, while a hat trick of assists for Samir Nasri earned him is first major fantasy haul of the season.

A goal from defense for Younes Kaboul made his score respectable, with Van Der Vaart's corner making him Tottenham's most dangerous attacking player.

MOTM: Edin Dzeko- Need I explain...
FOTM: Benoit Assou Ekotto- Five conceded and a yellow card.

Newcastle 2-1 Fulham- Newcastle get their second consecutive win, but no clean sheet for early front runners Ryan and Steven Taylor. Leon Best was the undoubted attacking hero, scoring two goals.

For Fulham, Clint Dempsey scored his first of the season, while popular defenders like Riise, Hughes and Hangelaand remain stuck on one clean sheet.

MOTM: Leon Best- Two goals, an easy pick.
FOTM: Brede Hangelaand- Could have been any Fulham defender, but he is the most popular.

West Brom 0-1 Stoke- West Brom's unfortunate start to the season continued with another unlucky loss. Ryan Shotton was the hero, in a game - interestingly - without a single yellow card.

Shotton took advantage of a Ben Foster error, consinging the former Manchester United keeper to a third match without a clean sheet.
MOTM: Ryan Shotton- Scorer of the winning goal.
FOTM: Ben Foster- Not terrible in fantasy terms, but it was his mistake which lost the match.
Enjoy the rest of our fantasy coverage.

Links Of The Day: August 29th, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Manchester Sends Out A Remarkable Message

Somewhere, an Arsenal fan just hanged himself. The malaise which the Gunners have slipped into over the past couple weeks was one that most saw coming - a function of questionable transfer business and an unfortunate series of injuries.

However, to concede eight goals, even at a venue like Old Trafford, is an unprecedented feat of self destruction. If he stays, Wenger better make sure he hasn't got plans for Thursday nights anytime over the next eighteen months.

In many ways, playing in the Europa League is more manifestly demoralizing than not participating in Europe at all. Every week critics are reminded that their favorite punching bag dropped down a tier or so - just look at pre Kenny Dalglish Liverpool...

For all the goals and excitement, Sunday was a somber day of football. On the East coast of the US at least, all that happened was engulfed in the surreal atmosphere of a New Jersey hurricane, one which managed to deny this writer his fill of Premier League action. Moreover, the nature of North London's demise was anything but pleasurable. What was once a set of closely fought fixtures began to gravitate towards the farcical - Roy of the Rovers stuff from Edin Dzeko but just the opposite from Arsene Wenger...

Both Spurs and Arsenal will seek comfort in the other's annihilation - Tottenham fans pointing to the six goal margin, Arsenal ones to the White Hart Lane venue. Neither set of supporters can take much solace in their teams' transfer activity though. If Harry Redknapp plans to replace a clearly unsettled Luka Modric with Scott Parker then, possibly, Park Chu Young won't be labeled the least able replacement of the summer.

Clearly, there are problems in key areas that need solving. Spurs have yet to be vindicated in their purchase on loan of Emmanuel Adebayor, while Arsenal continue to toil in their quest for a central defender. In certain Manchester nemeses, no such weaknesses are apparent.

Rather than expose new signing David De Gea, Manchester United's supposed "crisis" at the back resulted in the delivery of an ominous message. Jones and Smalling are both in Fabio Capello's England squad for qualifiers coming up next month - two savvy buys by Ferguson, more proof that the Scotsman will never let his team grow stale.

Danny Welbeck too has made waves, now tied as the league's second most prolific Englishman, the academy product is just a hat trick off teammate Wayne Rooney. His rise over the last seven days has been remarkable, unfortunate then that he was omitted from the England squad due to an injury

Across town Manchester City's depth comes from money rather than development, with new acquisitions like Aguero continuing to shine brightly, and old ones like Dzeko just starting to. Their attacking fluidity is reminiscent of Arsenal at their best, though the support which Fabregas and Nasri never had at The Emirates is provided by a healthy backbone of Toure, De Jong and Kompany.

City may have taken multiple tries to get to the top, but in the end their hit and hope approach to market usage has trumped Arsenal's measured and conservative one. Perhaps the success of Mancini, Sheikh Mansour and Gary Cook is indicative of the modern game - the long term rewards that City's money will bring should stretch out farther even than Wenger's infamous six years.

At the Etihad Stadium, City are poised for a shot at greatness. They have well and truly out muscled their adversaries. No longer will Spurs catch them at the death to claim Champions League qualification, no longer even will Arsenal worry them in pursuit of prizes yet grander.

And in that truth, there is sadness. Call it nostalgia if you will, but the destruction of two teams once celebrated is one not worthy of jubilation. Many find joy in others' misfortune - the Germans even have a word for it - but no matter how many goals Manchester racked up, there was never going to be any happiness about Sunday's striking bonanza.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday's Fantasy Review

Charlie Adam and Jordan HendersonAston Villa 0-0 Wolves- Defenses on top as both teams continue a run of fine defensive form. Between them, only two goals have been conceded thus far, with a slue of fantasy managers benefiting from the form of Roger Johnson and Richard Dunne.

In an attacking sense, Villa were disappointing - N'Zogbia is still to live up to his pre season billing.

MOTM: Richard Dunne- Solid. A second clean sheet of the season.
FOTM: Jamie O'Hara- Popular fantasy option, but sullied his performance today with a yellow card.

Blackburn 0-1 Everton- Tim Howard is the clear star, saving one penalty and seeing another hit the post. A clean sheet too makes the American man of the match.

Both Mauro Formica and Junior Hoilett were guilty of missing from the spot, while Mikel Arteta kept his cool in the closing stages.

MOTM: Tim Howard- Clean sheet, penalty save.
FOTM: Junior Hoilett- Penalty miss and a yellow card.

Chelsea 3-1 Norwich- Chelsea have failed to live up to expectations so far, and were flattered by a three-one scoreline. Grant Holt got off the mark for Norwich, while Bosingwa, Mata and Lampard also scored their first goals of the season.

After coming on mid way through the second half, Mata was terrific, linking play well and scoring the third goal.

MOTM: Frank Lampard- A goal and an assist edge him ahead of Bosingwa.
FOTM: John Ruddy- Sending off was harsh, but still, he's flop of the match.

Swansea 0-0 Sunderland- I thought the Swans were supposed to be entertainers! - another 0-0 draw for the newly promoted side.

Michel Vorm is fast becoming one of the league's stand out goalkeepers, this his second consecutive clean sheet. A new look Sunderland side continues to struggle though, now they're winless in three.

MOTM: Michel Vorm- Great saves, great player.
FOTM: Danny Graham- He just keeps on missing.

Wigan 2-0 QPR- I never thought I would say this, but Franco Di Santo actually had a good game. Two goals makes him a clear MOTM, though Emmerson Boyce also deserves a shout for an assist and a clean sheet.

QPR have been very inconsistent thus far, still nothing to write home about from star creator Adel Taarabt.

MOTM: Franco Di Santo- Two goals, an easy choice.
FOTM: Danny Gabbidon- Most popular, so he edges out all the other QPR defenders.

Liverpool 3-1 Bolton- First goals made this one interesting, with Henderson and Adam both getting off the mark for their new club. A goal from defense for Martin Skrtel also worth mentioning, though his performance was sullied by Klasnic's late consolation.

The form of Klasnic this season has been spectacular - three goals in three games make him the league's top scorer.

MOTM: Charlie Adam- A goal and an assist.
FOTM: Gretar Steinnson- Three conceded and a booking to boot.

Friday, August 26, 2011

INFTH Premier League Prediction

This week we're doing things a little bit differently, with one extended preview as opposed to ten mini ones.

Tottenham vs Manchester City-

Why Spurs will win-

Modric's return- Back after missing Tottenham's loss at Old Trafford, Luka Modric seems set to remain at White Hart Lane. The attitude players put out after having transfer requests rejected has varied over the years, but Harry Redknapp should be confident in Modric's maturity, and expect the utmost professionalism.

City's experimentation- The biggest transfer news to come out of England mid week was City's deal for Samir Nasri. The talented Frenchman has proved himself as one of the most potent attacking threats in European football, but it will be interesting to see how City manager Roberto Mancini chooses to deploy him. Out wide or through the middle, it's hard to say, and fans of the Sky Blues will just have to hope that their new acquisition doesn't throw a cohesive attack out of sync.

Why City will win-

Tottenham's striking disaster- With new loan signing Emmanuel Adebayor ineligible to play against what technically remains his club, Spurs are left with only limited options up front. Both Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe have struggled for form over the last twelve months, while Peter Crouch remains inconsistent at best.

Depth in attack- Quite simply, City have more options than anyone else. Even if one raft of attackers fail, another wave is available on the bench. Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli are all top quality strikers, while the support from midfield and the wings is equally imperious.

Conclusion: I'll go for a draw in this one, as Spurs should be fired up on the occasion of their home opener - capable of stealing a result against unquestionably superior opponents.

Over the last few years, this fixture has been defining in the race for Champions League qualification, and while it no longer holds such significance, I expect an exciting game.

Prediction: 2-2

Live streaming of the game.

Quick Predictions:
Aston Villa vs Wolves- 2-2
Wigan vs QPR- 2-1
Blackburn vs Everton- 1-1
Chelsea vs Norwich- 3-0
Swansea vs Sunderland- 1-2
Liverpool vs Bolton- 3-1
Newcastle vs Fulham- 1-1
West Brom vs Stoke- 2-1
Manchester United vs Arsenal- 3-0

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scotland's Clubs Slip Further Away From Past Glories

Rangers playersJock Stein must be turning in his grave. The man who engineered possibly the greatest ever single achievement by a British team in Europe may have failed to leave a legacy worthy of his brilliance, but never in his wildest nightmares would he have foreseen the eventual fate of Scottish football.

In a sporting world seemingly bereft of romanticism, the release of financial irons have prevented men like Stein from creating teams like the Lisbon Lions. Never again will a side composed of players all recruited from within miles of the ground ever reach European nirvana, but most Scots would have expected even their most monetarily handicapped to at least salvage a scrap of dignity.

Dignity was never the watchword for Hearts though, who lost 5-0 at home to Spurs, and while Rangers and Celtic both took two legs to be defeated, their failures are almost even more appalling.

After humiliation in Sweden, Ally McCoist's Rangers side needed to offer disillusioned fans a boost - something they never came close to achieving; an away loss and home draw put pay to that.

The same formula of results conspired to knock out Celtic - one time champions more sheepish than anything else. Tonight's loss in Switzerland, a far cry from Lisbon '67.

"It's a real low point for the Scottish game," said SFA cheif executive Stewart Regan. An admission of defeat, followed by a statement of the sort of pomposity that epitomizes Scotland's, and in particular Glasgow's, naive approach to the modern European game.

"You look at some of the teams still competing, and they are the minnows of Uefa." For the Scotland which greeted feverishly the return of Stein's champions, denigrating rivals was a prerogative they had worked hard to deserve - for the country now listed below Iran in Fifa's latest world rankings, the right to call others minnows has been long dissolved.

Scotland's place alongside the big fish of European football has been usurped by other, savvier, opponents. Left behind in a maelstrom of change, Scottish football tonight find itself at its lowest ebb - its too premier clubs financially incapable of keeping up with rivals across the border, and now fast sinking below fellow competitors in nations as far a field as Sweden, Switzerland and Slovenia.

What the big wigs atop Scottish football don't seem to understand, is that no longer is it the job of their football teams to hold the national flag proudly in a battle against the English. A different set of standards must now be applied. England no longer fear Rangers and Celtic, their attention is focused much more acutely in the direction of Spain, where the exodus of talent from the Premier League to La Liga is fast mirroring England's steady leech of managing talent from up North.

The Scots must, for now at least, content themselves with their current position in the game - one far off that which they seem to feel God graciously endowed upon them. Rangers and Celtic are no longer realistic challengers on the European platform, lacking the sufficient talent to beat even teams from countries that hadn't yet gained independence back in 1967.

The conundrum that a once proud footballing culture find themselves ensconced in is not one that will be solved with a band-aid of optimistic words. For all the talk of gradual improvement, patience and a long term plan, it remains unclear whether those in charge really know what they're doing.