Friday, December 01, 2006

Sanford’s Premiership Predictions

Arsenal v Tottenham

Is the North London Derby just what the doctor ordered to stop the rot at Ashburton Grove? It’s obvious that without Henry the Gunners face an even more severe test. But how will his comrades perform after the misery of their last tow outings? Is it just a rot or a true crisis? Jol had his lads up for this fixture last campaign and there’s no better time than the present for Spurs to pick up an away win in this juicy local derby. A wounded beast Arsenal may be, but the beast appears to have been declawed.


Blackburn v Fulham

I like the Rovers here, simply because after their big win against Arsenal the trip north will be difficult for Fulham. Ewood Park is tough for the London sides and I can’t see Fulham replicating the stellar form they showed at Craven Cottage a couple of days later on the road.


Portsmouth v Aston Villa

Villa were humbled last time out and a trip to the south coast won’t be smooth sailing. That said, I like Martin’s Men to pick up a point. They’re still draw specialists in my book and I think Pompey have been overachieving just a smidge too much of late. ‘Arry’s due a disappointment in the form of two lost points.


Reading v Bolton

Reading have been awfully consistent this campaign and I think Bolton might show some fatigue after facing Arsenal and Chelsea in succession. I like Reading at home here – they’re proving to be the strongest of the promoted sides and appear to have the necessary components to avoid the drop.


Sheffield United v Charlton

It’s another excellent opportunity for United to pick up all three points with Charlton coming to town. I still don’t see the wisdom in dropping Ian Dowie so soon but the backroom antics may have been too much, who knows? Still, it’s only Darren Bent that can knock them in with any regularity for the Addicks and that won’t be enough on this trip. Look for Sheffield United to do the business.


Wigan v Liverpool

This is a tough fixture for Liverpool at a time when their injury list requires extra hard drive space. It’ll be a patched squad for them at the JJB but they’ve still got the quality to snatch a draw. I remain impressed with Paul Jewell’s work – his men always bring their game. It’ll be no different against the Reds.


Middlesbrough v Manchester United

Might a trip to the Riverside trip up the table toppers? Chelsea lost here already and Sir Alex has had trouble with Boro over the years. Boro are like James Bond’s morning shower: first ice cold and then burning hot. It’s never in between with these lads. It’s an intriguing fixture that offers more than you would think at first glance. I like Boro for a point.


Everton v West Ham

West Ham seem to have turned things around but the blue side of Liverpool has become a tough place for opposing squads to visit. This will be a grind it out affair, with a dubious call from the ref the possible decider.


Manchester City v Watford

Suddenly City are rolling and Watford will feel the pain. Not many have come to Eastlands and left with something, and Watford will be no different. They just aren’t scoring and with City suddenly in the mood, it could be a long afternoon for Bothroyd’s Boys.


Give the Gift of Soccer This Holiday Season!

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ronaldinho's Goal vs. Villarreal

OK, here it is. The one everybody is screaming about...

Arsenal in Crisis?

After yesterday’s match at Craven Cottage, it’s not far fetched. The Gunners looked completely lost and out of their league against a side they’ve handled with ease for the last 40 odd years. Wenger’s squad selection didn’t help. Song was simply awful and was deservedly replaced by Cesc at halftime. And I must say that the idea of Rosicky and Hleb in the side together hasn’t been working. Both like to turn inside and don’t provide any width. The have a couple of nice moves and then lay the ball off. If they happen to get free, they often take the extra pass instead of having a shot.

But mainly what Arsenal lack is steel. Toughness. They’ve already been knocked off more balls this season than a cheap hooker. The players that like to get stuck in and have a go just are not there anymore. And it shows. The Arsenal players are continually bounced around and beaten to the 50/50 balls, especially in the middle of the park.

For some reason, Wenger has not sufficiently addressed the lack of effective defending on set pieces that has dogged his team for the last eight years. Time and again opposing players are first to balls, be them from corners or freekicks. It’s amazing to me that he hasn’t addressed this issue – “OK, this has been a problem for us for a while now, and we’re going to end it.” But that hasn’t happened.

Sadly for Gunner fans, I think the lack of experience is catching up with the players. They need a few older players (other than Lehman and Henry) to lead by example and take charge. Freddie has been injured too much and beyond that there is no one. There is not even an old rock like Ray Parlour or Gilles Grimandi to come off the bench. It’s simply another young player without the grit that comes from some solid years in the EPL or other top leagues in Europe. And that’s where the lack of squad depth comes into play. What striker is available behind Henry and van Persie? Adebayor? He’s proven incapable of establishing himself as a regular threat. All the other true strikers are on loan and all that’s left is the mass of attacking midfielders that haven’t adapted or had any substantial minutes (Hleb, Rosisky, Walcott, Denilson, Baptista, etc). In the midfield I don’t see anyone who can cover for Gilberto should he go down and Fabregas is the exception rather than the rule when t come to young middies.

In the back the loss of Lauren has been a real blow. Eboue can make wonderful runs but doesn’t have the toughness that Lauren exhibits. At least not yet.

This is a true test for Wenger. He continues to insist that he has the squad he wants and won’t be doing any buying come January; if his squad doesn’t get their act together and toughen up, ’06-’07 could be disastrous. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. -Sanford

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hans van der Meer

European Fields: The Landscape of Lower League Football

There are some stunning photographs here. Many thanks to Kyle Smith for sending the link my way. I think my favorite is Celerina, Switzerland... Sanford

Phil Ball in Spain

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For the second successive Saturday I decided to stay indoors and watch the live match at 22.00 hours, between Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad. Besides, the missus was out with her mates and the kids needed babysitting. It's not so tough when there's a live game to accompany you in your solitude. I also like this particular fixture, illustrating as it does the fact that no game can take place in Spain without its own particular form of needle as backdrop, its own private history...

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Monday, November 27, 2006

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