Between The Lines

Between the Lines

Posts tagged football

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Uncapped Ambition - Pulis throws his hat out of the Palace

The first sacking of the season came -2 days into the season, as Tony Pulis left Crystal Palace in the lurch going into their first game. The Palace display against Arsenal bore all the marks of the solidity and organisation that Pulis injected into the side last season, saving them from what looked like being a Derby-style plummet back down to the Championship under the buccaneering Ian Holloway. 

They lost, but made it difficult for Arsenal - or Arsenal looked particularly short of practice, depending on who you’re talking to - and their display with give hope that they remain sufficiently well-trained by the former manager for the upcoming season, though a few weeks of Tim Sherwood or Malky Mackay could let that discipline slip. Whomever takes over will have to work with the same financial restraints that led Pulis to depart, as well as the same players, and the challenge to keep them in the Premier League will be great - though there are plenty of Championship looking sides around them in that particular ‘battle’.

The measly budget given to Pulis to try to avoid the fabled ‘second season syndrome’ was the cause for departure, and there will be plenty of debate among Palace fans about Pulis’ decision. Considering Pulis’ mixed record in the transfer market for Stoke - think Wilson Palacios here - it was understandable for chairman Steve Parish to not give Pulis the most substantial of ‘war chests’. But at the same time, the budget given was minuscule compared to what your average Premier League manager is likely to expect. Pulis understandably had cause to question Palace’s ambition given what the budget afforded to him. As a manager who will be in immediate demand for any struggling Premier League come next week, Pulis’ decision to leave could result in him eventually finding a club that can match his ambition - any slip-ups at West Brom, say, and the rumours will be deafening. 

Pulis is hardly the first manager to make such a bold decision in the days immediately preceding the season. Martin O’Neil did the same at Villa following 3 consecutive sixth place finishes after which he felt the club’s potential under him had peaked. Villa were beginning to sell their players at this stage (the likes of Young and Milner) and investment into new players of a sufficient standard to replace them was not forthcoming. 5 years later and Villa have gone through multiple managers and are now among one of the outside bets for relegation, despite an impressive victory against Stoke on the opening weekend. To further the irony (or is it just merely coincidence?), Villa would be one of the sides Pulis could be linked with should their results slip from now on. 

Steve Parish is no Randy Lerner, however. While Lerner has clearly lost the motivation and desire to take Villa to the ‘next level’ (or that should be, the level they were at under O’Neil), Parish can not be said to not care about his club. Many Palace fans remain grateful for his rescuing of the club from administration, his investment to take them back to the Premier League and his genuine desire to take Palace forward in a sensible economical manner. Pulis clearly has an ambition to ascend the league in a shorter timespan, and as the current in-vogue manager, he should get a shot at doing so.

At a time when there is a growing, if begrudging, acceptance that players no longer should necessarily feel the need to embrace ‘old-fashioned’ values of loyalty to the club, ‘the badge’, the same acceptance is not always felt for managers. Managers are rarely given time by their clubs, who mostly view sacking the manager as the quickest way to redress their bad form, but when managers instead end the relationship, they are often viewed with scepticism by their fans - Everton fans derided David Moyes last season, while O’Neil was criticised after leaving Villa. 

But as Palace fans, as far as I can see, accept Parish’s long-terms strategy but at the same time respect Pulis’ decision and still admire him for his brilliant management last season, the whole situation seems remarkably pragmatic from all sides. The only problem is that Palace have nonetheless lost the perfect manager to keep them in the league, and the managers tipped to replace him will do little to convince anyone that Pulis wasn’t right to take his cap and his ambition elsewhere. 

Ambition isn’t just important for doing well in this league, it’s vital for staying in it - case in point, Fulham last season. By placing a cap on their transfer budget this season, Palace have lost their famous cap-wearing manager, and potentially capped their chances of staying in the league

Filed under crystal palace tony pulis martin o'neill aston villa premier league football

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Chelsea the Favourites, but Hazards Lay Ahead

Following Arsenal’s impressive victory against a distinctly preseason looking Man City, the start of the season proper is now upon us. While the Community Shield rarely gives substantial clues to the destiny of the coming season’s Premier League title, it usually does give an impression of how prepared two of the likely competitors are, going into the the opening weekend. As such, Arsenal unsurprisingly look ready for one of their early season sprints, while City look as though they’re prepared to pace themselves, especially with key players yet to return to full fitness. 

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Filed under chelsea football hazard mourinho eden hazard premier league arsenal man city liverpool man utd totenham everton fabregas willian oscar

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The Importance of Statistics

Recently on the website football365.com, regular pundit John Nicholson wrote a diatribe against the modern obsession with statistics and claimed that they can only illuminate pundits and the fans on the approaches of teams rather than yielding any light on what actually happens. He warned against the obsession to equate possession stats with performance and said that what is important is how the team uses that possession. He didn’t go as far as to extol the age old adage that the only statistic that matters is how many goals each side scored, but he did deny the priority that statistics seem to have taken in modern football analysis when saying that “no stats will ever prove that Team A plays better football than Team B but they can illuminate how they choose to play and what the consequences of those choices are”.

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Filed under football statistics barcelona celtic arsenal chelsea football365

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Sensationalist talk about diving a cancer

So diving is a cancer in football. The other thing that’s cancerous is stupid sensationalist responses to diving. There are two counts of this: firstly there’s the lacking perspective angle of the likes of Tony Pulis who thinks that a yellow card offence is worthy of a 3 match ban, then there’s the ‘blame the foreigners’ angle of any old school “hoof it oop t’ bloody pitch” punter.  Both angles are deeply floored and their silliness dilutes any attempts that football organizations might be making to cure this cancer.

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Filed under football diving pulis stoke fifa fa owen sensationalism refereeing rules

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The long throws of Stoke or the possession of Swansea? Whatever the best approach of Premier League survival is, at least it’s not McLeish.

So it’s back. The Premier League resumes its normal service of thrills and spills with Fulham, Swansea and West Brom thrilling and Liverpool, Norwich and QPR spilling. The annual analysis of who’s going to challenge for the title and who’s going to be relegated, based on just 90 minutes of football, has already begun. Lack of fitness, teams yet to gel and form yet to be really established, various punters will already know that Norwich are going to suffer second season syndrome, City are going to struggle to cope with the added pressure of being champions and Liverpool fans are already beginning to call for Brendan Rodgers’ head. Insane? Yes. Inevitable? Of course. In reality we won’t really know the pattern of the season till the end of October. An Arsenal season ticket holder once told me that there’s no point evaluating the start of the season till the ten match point, by which time the general quality of each team should be beginning to pan out over the isolated dips and flips in form that can happen on any given weekend. But first weekend judgements are inevitable such is the unquenched thirst for pseudo-punditry that has been going unfulfilled for the summer months. So what am I going to do? Yep, here comes some pseudo punditry based on the isolated gameweek one matches which finish with Fulham as the champions and Liverpool in the relegation zone.

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Filed under premier league football english football swansea southampton relegation battle west ham bolton stoke burnley reading blackpool birmingham mcleish brendan rodgers messi

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What are the motivations of top level footballers?

Amid Robin van Persie’s transfer from Arsenal to Man Utd and Luka Modric’s imminent move away from Spurs to Real Madrid, questions are again to be raised over what exactly motivates footballers and the choices they make. The life of a top level footballer seems pretty surreal – taken out of school early to end up being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to play a game two times a week in front of thousands of spectators with their lives lived in the glare of the paparazzi, it’s hardly your average life. More intriguing still is how people, the fans, react to each of their decisions when it comes to their footballing career. Looking at Arsenal you can see varying responses to their players’ fleeing – fans respected and supported Cesc Fabregas in his long dreamed of move to Barcelona but castigated Samir Nasri for a perceived mercenary’s lack of loyalty to the Gooner cause. With van Persie’s departure comes a genuine despondency and slight anger – the man who admirably lead the Arsenal from the doldrums of despair at the start of last season to the relative success of third place this season all of a sudden reveals his ambitions do not match those of the club, the club who spent only around £40 million to buy three international attackers. Arsenal fans seem more perplexed by van Persie’s now infamous statement than understanding or aggrieved. So what actually was it that motivated van Persie to leave? What is that motivates players in any of their decisions these days? It surely can’t be as simple as money can it? Don’t they earn enough?

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Filed under football van persie arsenal man utd modric tottenham real madrid samir nasri man city cesc fabregas barcelona xavi cassillas casillas ryan giggs paul scholes matt le tissier benoit assou ekkoto carlos tevez luckasz podlski cologne

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Has Pearce shown Hodgson the way or is the way Welsh?

I read Paul Little on F365 today bemoan Roy Hodgson’s conservativeness at Euro 2012 in comparison to Stuart Pearce’s more extravagant GB team at the Olympics. The argument was that if Pearce could make a quickly assembled team play winning attractive football, why was Hodgson so adamant that fear induced defensive organization was the way to go for the Euros? Little was particularly keen to point out that such were the low expectations around England going into the Euros that he essentially had a free shot at the tournament – the opportunity was there to experiment with new expressive formations and players rather than revert to a model based on stoic defensiveness. Pearce’s GB side have been refreshing. Playing a possession orientated 4-3-3 with Ramsey, Allen and Cleverly controlling the ball in the midfield and the likes of Sturridge, Bellamy and Sinclair providing pace and guile in the attacking third, GB have been able to control games and employ speedy counterattacks to decent effect. Their defence has been at times ropey but this is perhaps due to a lack of availability of the better GB defenders and Pearce’s insistence on Richards actually being a good defender. But otherwise GB, since their being outplayed by Brazil, have been good to watch and impressive in qualifying top from a tricky group. So why couldn’t England have played a similar 4-3-3 and have been similarly attractive on the eye at the Euros?

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Filed under football team gb olympics london 2012 olympic football euro 2012 england wales hodgson pearce wilshere cleverly allen ramsey

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Malaga in danger of doing a Portsmouth?

Last summer it seemed that Malaga were poised to become the biggest threat to el Classico dominance in La Liga. Sheikh al Thani bought the kind of funds needed to pose a threat to the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona whose dominance is partly fuelled by the disproportionately large shares of television money that the two great clubs annually receive in comparison to other Spanish clubs. With Valencia prevented from genuinely challenging them for a number of years by their perennially precarious financial situation, Malaga had the foreign investment that is probably needed to genuinely challenge. The signings of Toulalan, Joaquin, Mathijsen and Santi Cazorla from Villarreal among others, were a signal of intent. With former Villarreal and Real Madrid Pelligrini in charge, Malaga were certainly building a team to gain entry to the Champions League. And they did. Well they finished 4th allowing them the chance to enter the competition via what can be the tricky playoffs (they may end up having to play Italy’s fourth best team (Udinese) to qualify). So the first step towards challenging for the title should be taken – Champions League football. And yet, this summer has seen zero transfers in with rumours that they are unable to pay wages and owe other clubs money from transfers. There are rumours that they are going to have to sell their best players to raise funds to eradicate these quite serious problems – Cazorla has notably been linked with a move to Arsenal in the last couple of days.

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Filed under malaga portsmouth leeds chelsea man city anzhi psg sheikh foreign investment football la liga santi cazorla joaquin pelligrini toulalan champions league european football

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One month to go, what can be done to stop City?

So it’s a month or so until the football’s back and Premier League 2012/2013 begins. With the England vs South Africa test series, the Olympics and Wimbledon a couple of weeks back filling the football gap between the end of the Euros and the start of the upcoming season, there’s no real cause for complaint.  But after one of the most exhilarating seasons ever concluding with that ridiculous Aguero title winning goal, Chelsea’s fairytale Champions League victory and Spain’s tiki-taka masterclass at the Euros, there’s plenty of reason for excitement. Strangely, in comparison to previous summers, the behemoth that is the transfer window has not been so prominent. City seem relatively content with their title-winning squad, as do Madrid in Spain, Man Utd seem determined to go with youth and the Venkys no longer have being in the Premier League to aid their fantastical attempts to entice Ronaldinho and David Beckham to Ewood Park (Danny Murphy’s a fine coup though and Nuno Gomes!). The biggest money spenders this summer have been Paris Saint German with the bombastic signings of Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic, while Chelsea look determined to build on the European victory and also seem to be attempting to build a new post-Drogba brand of football relying on speed and youth rather than the Drog’s sheer power. It would seem then, apart from Chelsea, we have no reason to expect much change amid the top of the table tussles. How, with a month to go, can this all change?

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Filed under man city man utd arsenal tottenham chelsea newcastle liverpool everton barclays premier league football epl aguero van persie transfers eriksen scholes carroll suarez hazard di matteo ba cisse jelavic pienaar villas boas modric

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The Era of Tiki-Taka Ticker Tape

Even had they lost last night, I don’t think anyone would have denied that the last 5 years have been dominated by the Spanish. Even if they completely fluffed their lines in Poland and Ukraine, Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup coupled with Barcelona’s three Champions League victories in six years (quite a monumental achievement when you consider how difficult it is to win that trophy) would have been enough to allow such an acclamation. There’s no doubt now after Spain won their third international tournament on the spin – an unprecedented achievement, which could be replicated in our lifetimes, but is a rare and impressive feat nonetheless. Considering how many teams could have been worthy winners of each of the last three tournaments, the fact that Spain have somehow kept their heads and their shoulders above the rest (they’re practically looking down at the rest of us on the ground from atop the heights of the famous Sagrada Familia) is undeniably brilliant. Are they as good as the famed 1970s Brazil team? Such talk is often ridiculous mostly for the fact that most people who make such claims were probably too young to remember, or not even born at the time. Furthermore there are other great teams that have been forgotten in the vagaries of time – the ‘Golden Team’ of Hungary in the 1950s were also said to be legendarily brilliant. Certainly the game is more competitive now – the art of defending in particular has improved across all countries while the competitiveness of non-European/South American teams is monumentality greater now than back in 1970. Plus, the athleticism that came with the tricks and possession of that Brazil team which gave them an advantage back then is now a common feature to all teams at the highest level now. So it’s impossible to compare between the 1970s Brazil team and the 2008-2012 Spain team.

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Filed under tiki taka spain football Italy euro 2012 Spain vs Italy xavi possession greatness legendary fabgegas fabregas alba iniesta alonso pique ramos casillas total football cruyff holland barcelona la masia golden team hungary puskas mata alcantara villa torres