Monthly Archives: August 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.

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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 Quiet, withdrawn, Berbatov refuses to be sucked into the loud, effervescent public life of Rio Ferdinand, nor the wild, sex driven antics of Wayne Rooney.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.

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.

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’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.

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

Join the INFTH I Know The Score League.

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. 

Death Of Arsenal Is Not What The League Needs

In accord with all the glee, mirth and column inches dedicated to the demise of Arsenal, observers forget what exactly they are thinking and saying. As Manchester City arrive into English football’s premier habitat, those who once ruled supreme are fast finding themselves flat on their faces – and not necessarily to the benefit of the league.

Gone are the days when a cleverly constructed team, put together and developed by a savvy manager, could rule the roost.

Arsenal are a side run by consummate professionals, an intellectual manager and a group of players molded in a footballing cast that, for all its faults, is admirable. The style inherent in their passing game was one which gave the Premier League something different. Arsenal was our answer to the Spanish magicians battling at the top in Spain – perfect no, but a boon to the league.

Even after their resolute win in Italy this evening though, the jury remains out on a team now shorn of arguably their two best players. While the importance of Champions League qualification cannot be downplayed, those holes – sadly – left by Nasri and Fabregas need filling. Arsenal were terrific at times, but always seemed to be missing something, that extra edge which has served them well further along in European competition. It was players like Nasri and Fabregas who catapulted the Gunners into a Champions League semi final – but more importantly, it was they who orchestrated play, gave Arsenal their creative identity.

Arsenal were always everyone’s first pick to watch on a Saturday afternoon – their stadium a fitting venue for some of the most marvelous attacking football ever played in an English ground.

For all their money, ambition and star quality, Manchester City will never replicate the Arsenal style. In many ways, City are Wenger’s antithesis – the epitome of what football has become, symbolic of changing tides in the world’s game. While Arsenal develop, City buy – stockpiling players and leeching the rest of the league, before poisoning average footballers to the rest with exorbitant wages.

This is not what we as English football fans should want. We shouldn’t glory in the beginning of the end this season, for one of the country’s most storied clubs, but suffer with them – mourn the loss of one of the league’s great entertainers. The Premier League is a lesser place without Cesc Fabregas, and a diminished product without the Arsenal of Nasri’s era.

United will continue to attack with verve and panache, but even at their most swashbuckling they never touch the heights so often frequented by Wenger’s team. On the whole, they are a superior side – certainly a better alternative to Manchester City – but their ethos is too different from Arsenal’s, for the Old Trafford club to act as a substitute.

No side better represents England’s answer to Ajax and Barcelona, than the one set to drop into the league’s bottom three this weekend. A philosophy dedicated to ingraining footballing thoughts and ideas is one that should be savored with the same vigor as title triumphs – even more so now as the financially charged world forces such principles into extinction.

Arsenal for many a year offered the Premier League a different dimension, a breath of fresh air amidst a backdrop so fiery that often the very act of respiration was forgotten. In the end, football is designed to entertain, though sadly, those with goals focused around aesthetic values are fast being alienated by a monster of our own creation.

What is next for Arsenal?