Friday, 28 September 2007

ODF 28 Sept Podcast Online

Hi All,

Our latest podcast is online now.

We discuss:
Fixtures & Results - Premiership, Carling Cup & Champions League

Pub Talk: All the Chelsea fallout, Leroy Lita, Hagi, Podolski, the Match of the Century, Mariah Carey, Almunia and the Gay World Cup

Featured section - which footballers would we like to drink with? See who gets our vote from Starsky & Hutch, Peter Shilton, John Terry & Jody Morris and Jamie Carragher

AOB - we finish the show with some listener comments and respond to accusations of 2nd season syndrome.

We hope you enjoy the show.

Download it:

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Fit of Piqué

JJ here,

What exactly can be learned of a squad in a Carling Cup defeat? Indeed, can anything be learned from a victory? This year, unlike most others, this generally worthless trophy has thrown up a few interesting angles on the top four in particular. Which is damn sight more than it usually throws up – ie, shag all entertainment, feck all viewers and about three column inches in the following day’s papers.

I don’t have any particular gripe towards the competition – except of course when Gerard Houllier referred to it as a ‘major’ trophy to save his job – and whether it stays alive or not doesn’t overly concern me. But, here it is again and like I said, at least this time there were a few talking points.

Looking at the Arsenal match first, their victory over a virtually full strength Newcastle United squad merely confirmed what last year’s demolition of Liverpool emphasised. Arsenal have a shitload of talent heading towards their training ground every day.

Looking at the Liverpool game second, their victory over an under-strength Reading side merely confirmed what every column writer and Liverpool fan thought of Saturday’s game against Birmingham. Rafa is talking out of his arse when he spouts on about ‘space’ to justify not picking Torres. He’s the best striker at the club, as Henry was for years and as Van Nistelrooy was too at their championship-winning teams. Therefore, they played every game. When Torres gets as moody or out of form as the two I just mentioned were towards the end of their careers with Arsenal and United respectively, then Rafa can justify leaving him on the bench. The bearded tit.

Chelsea beat Hull four nil… hmmm… can anything be learned? Yes, Chelsea are better than Hull. That’s about it.

The big story came though at Old Trafford where United lost out to Iain Dowie’s Coventry side, currently languishing in the Championship’s mid-table. Now, I can’t imagine any Man U fan woke up this morning and thought ‘bugger, that’s our Carling Cup dream over this year’ but some might question just how strong United are in their reserves. Even more pressing, they may question the class of Nani and Anderson, both of whom were reported to be brutal last night. Reports of Nani dancing around the dressing room shouting “I am hot, I am hot” in his pants afterwards are as yet unconfirmed.

Johnny Evans, who got glowing reports during his time with Sunderland last year, was taken off after only ten minutes of the second half for Michael Carrick. Not exactly the sign of a first team player of the future and an established international.

It can’t be masked that this was a terrible result, one which left Ferguson “flabbergasted” and the line up can hardly be called ‘weak’ either. Indeed, these are the reserves that, supposedly, would have made sure United beat AC Milan in last year’s Champions League had they been available. Gerard Piqué, so good for Real Zaragoza last year, also turned in a dismal display. But on a plus note, he gave me a headline. Cheers Piquésy, as your teammates no doubt call you.

The United team last night were as follows:

Kuszczak: Supposed to be international class.
Bardsley (Brown 45): Bardsley will most likely never make it, like many of the League Cup players down the years but Brown didn’t cover himself in glory for the second Coventry goal.
Evans (Carrick 56): Most likely a blip. According to reports though, Carrick didn’t provide much when he came on. Future leader of the midfield when Scholes leaves? Hmmm…
Piqué: He has been rumoured with moves to Spain for years. If this is all the reward he gets for not going out on loan this year, how long before he listens to these offers?
Simpson: Again, good at Sunderland last year, shitballs last night.
Nani: Decent so far this season so was most likely caught up in the general malaise against Coventry.
Martin (Campbell 45): I have no idea who either of these are. Mark - any comments?
O'Shea: Self explanatory
Eagles: Apparently horrendous, and after Ferguson said a few weeks ago that he has “come on greatly”. Sits on the United bench often enough for fans to worry about whether he will be good enough in big games. No, that doesn’t include coming on when you’re winning against Everton.
Dong: Happy to be a reserve, and he’ll stay that way.
Anderson: The last world-class Brazilian to come to United in the centre of midfield was Kleberson. He will obviously be better but could his lack of form be due to a draining Copa America?

All in all, it’s hardly doom and gloom but if Ferguson’s stated ambition to win the Champions League is going to happen he’ll need decent people in reserve. Indeed, after this will they get the chance to play before being thrown in at the deep end at the tail end of the season?

Better hope there’s no injury crisis this year Sir Alex.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Who's Da Man For Chelsea?

Avram Grant is rumoured to be a caretaker manager at Chelsea, and his qualifications & experience suggest he won't be there long. So, short of a thrilling fightback for the League or CL, he's doomed, but who will replace him?

Unfortunately, Steve Wigley has ruled himself out, so we'll have to content ourselves with the following:

Marco Van Basten - the legendary striker turned gay-icon manager of the Netherlands in 2004. He achieved a second-round knock out to Portugal in that ill-tempered game, and attracted a lot of stick for playing Kuyt instead of van Nistelrooy. Is sure to fancy Kalou at Chelsea, the Ivorian having tried to gain Dutch citizenship for the last World Cup. Despite his attacking roots, he has shown more pragmatism in his tactics so far, but was seen at the United Chelsea match last Sunday which makes him a favourite.

Jurgen Klinsmann - the ex-Germany manager has declared himself available to work again after his successful semi-final appearance last year. Rumours that his success was more down to the current manager (then assistant) Joachim Low have not been confirmed. Tactics place emphasis on high-tempo attack, seems suited to the English game. Joe & Ashley Cole will benefit from Kilinsi's knowledge of diving.

Didier Deschamps - the ex-Chelsea and France Water-Carrier has enjoyed successful spells with Monaco (CL Final appearance) and Juventus, before leaving citing interference from the board. Hard to see it working out at Chelsea then....

Graeme Souness - the ex-Liverpool, Blackburn & Newcastle manager is not the man to turn things around at Chelsea, or indeed, any other club. The likelihood of a Bellamy move to the Bridge would also decrease significantly, although a future Ali Dia move may be on the cards. The current Ali Dia, Shevchenko, is worried. Guaranteed to make Lampard cry in training with a trademark tackle.

George Graham - like the others, currently unemployed, but his brand of football would certainly be a step up from Mourinho. He negotiation skills in transfers should keep Zahavi (and stationary shops) in business for a while.

Ruud Gullit - a return to the Bridge for the man harshly sacked by Ken Bates? The 'sexy football' would suit Roman and the man has won a trophy there already - the FA Cup in 97

Gianluca Vialla - another ex-Chelsea man who won the League Cup and Cup Winner's Cup in 1998, the FA Cup in 2000. When not writing football books with journalists from the Times, he enjoyed doing a mediocre job with Watford and polishing his head.

John Terry - the man who wanted a nine year contract, with guarantees of him being the highest paid player at the club, and the chance to manage the club on retirement is the outside bet. Rumours of a bust up with Mourinho make him the Brutus to Jose's Caesar, but it will end badly for all....


Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Just the man for the job

Heya folks,
JJ here

Well today was going to be the day that I would aim my wrath at Rafa Benitez for his ludicrous methods of management and demand he be sacked should he not win the league. But fuck it, I’d only bore myself and all of ye by talking about Liverpool so instead I thought I’d look back on some of the worst managerial appointments of recent times. Dunno what got me thinking about it…. Good luck to Chelsea in tomorrow’s Carling Cup game at Hull though.

But anyhoo, here’s a collection of some bad, hilarious and frankly shit managers who found themselves managing a top flight club with little or no idea what to do once they got there.

Christian Gross: The granddaddy of them all. The sheer look of terror on former Spurs chairman Alan Sugar’s face when Gross held up a ticket for the London underground in his first press conference (to prove he wanted to be a real Londoner and travel with the fans) is absolute gold. Sugar knew he had made the wrong appointment before the new coach had even taken a training session. Gross left after several absolutely brutal months in charge as Arsenal fans laughed their arse off at ‘the new Wenger’. Has since resurrected his career back in his home country of Switzerland but his dignity will never be recovered.

Steve Wigley: At first he was an ill at ease caretaker boss when Gordon Strachan left Southampton in 2004. Then it was the fans who felt a little uncomfortable when he was named full time coach after Paul Sturrock had cried off after only a few months in charge. Wigley’s managerial CV showed three years in charge of non-league Aldershot Town so strangely the fans didn’t take to him.
It was of course rumoured that uber-snob Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe had put Wigley in place so that he could fail, thereby allowing him to appoint his first choice, Glenn Hoddle, in the job instead. Wigley’s daily press conferences, where his coaching badges were a constant source of question, became like an inquisition and after 14 games and only one win he was demoted back to the youth team when Harry Redknapp came in. Clearly not up to the job but seemingly a very decent fella. Still funny though.

Howard Wilkinson: The last Englishman to win the league as manager, though Sunderland fans may only remember him as the worst boss in their history. Forget Mick McCarthy’s record (which obviously is worse than Wilkinson’s as he was there longer), Wilkinson’s life-sucking time in charge on Wearside in 2002-03 season was a far less happy time for the Mackems. At least McCarthy had a sense of humour.
In late 2002, Wilkinson received a call from the then Sunderland chairman when Peter Reid was sacked to see if McCarthy would be a good candidate to take over. Instead, Wilkinson suggested himself for the job. The chairman, who had obviously had a few wines before getting on the blower, said yes.
Wilkinson, and this is an exact quote, said the following day “this is as excited as I’ve been in years”. How Mrs. Wilkinson felt about this statement is unclear but Sunderland were a disaster that year with Wilkinson and his assistant Steve Cotteril being let go in March 2003. No one had any sympathy for the annoying old git either.

Atilio Lombardo: The collective gasp for air that greeted Lombardo’s arrival at Crystal Palace in August 1997 was only beaten when the brilliant Italian was asked to manage the side a few months later. Even better, his assistant would be none other than everyone’s favourite chubby Swede, Thomas Brolin. The pair were a shambles though. Palace went down in bottom place, not helped by persistent injuries to Lombardo and the fact that the rest of the team were shit.
Lombardo, to his credit, stayed on for the start of the following season in the Championship, going back to being a player after Terry Venable took the manager’s job. He then went back to Italy, where he won the league with Lazio.

Brian Kidd: Linked to plenty of clubs over his years as Man United’s assistant manager, Kidd had always stayed in the belief that one day he would secure the top job when Fergie left. When it became clear this wouldn’t happen he looked elsewhere and found himself at Blackburn after Roy Hodgson was sacked in December 1998. At the time they were at the foot of the Premiership, something Kidd could do very little about.
The following May a draw with Man United sent them down. Ferguson, in a post match interview, pretended not to realise the result had sent Blackburn to the Championship, while obviously laughing at his uppity former sidekick in private. “Oh is that them down now?” he enquired of the Sky reporter. Yes, yes it was. Kidd has since been assistant manager for Leeds, England and now Sheffield United. His book on career advancement remains unpublished. Possibly.

And those who nearly made the list:

Gerard Houllier: A longer, less funny version of the Gross fiasco.
Gerry Francis: Spurs fans wanted him and my god they got what they deserved. Piss poor football and loss after loss.
Walter Smith: Made Everton into the most boring side in Britain by outlawing the pass. Now back in the comfort zone of Scotland where a ferret could manage a side to the Uefa Cup at least.
Paul Sturrock: Fancy a sandwich Paul? I’ll bet you do.

Your choices folks?

Monday, 24 September 2007

Weekend Reaction

Hi All,
It was unfortunate (not least for Chelsea) that yesterday's Man Utd match was overshadowed by referring errors, 4 major ones in total (sending off of Mikel, penalty given, penalty not given and Cole's snide tackle). Looking past this however and we can see that Chelsea have some big problems. United were far superior, even before the sending off, but this was exacerbated by the non-performance of some of their old reliables. Essien was practically non-existent, Sheva still looks disinterested and off-pace, despite many expecting him to have a new lease of life after being freed from Jose's tyranny. Roman clapped him off the pitch as he was substituted - perhaps he was hoping Kalou would be better, but there wasn't much chance of that!
Ben Haim was ordinary at the back, Ashley Cole was more interested in diving & winding up Rooney than in attacking, and Malouda has lost his form after a good start.
Inevitably there will be rumours of unrest in the camp in the coming weeks, but this will settle down as the players will realise that there is no point pouting over Jose's loss (or crying, as in Frank & Didier's case) and get their act together. I agree with JJ last week, no mass exodus, and a high profile manager to come at some stage in the coming year. Hell, if they bring Jamie Redknapp into the backroom staff, maybe they'll groom him to take over?
Liverpool's game against Birmingham offered more evidence of Rafa's madness, after the folly of leaving Gerrard, Torres and Babel on the bench versus Portsmouth. Leaving Torres on the bench was a masterstroke of insanity and the excuses began after the match that it was for tactical reasons, that he has four strikers and has to play them. This is rubbish and it looks like Rafa will rotate his way out of the title race, and possibly a job, before the end of the season. Benitez has done a lot for Liverpool, but a lot of fans I've been talking to are coming around to the opinion that maybe, despite his success, he won't deliver the league title.
Arsenal continue to play well, Adebayor has been revelation so far, and Fabregas would be a decent bet now for player of the season. After all the doom and gloom of the summer, there is now a lot of optimism and their first major test is 28th October vs Liverpool, followed the next weekend by United, so they have plenty of time to rack up points (West Ham, Sunderland and Bolton up next). If they can get to Christmas in a good position, add a centre back and goalie to the squad, they'll be in the battle for the title

Saturday, 22 September 2007

ODF Podcast Online

Hi All,
we're back in podcasting mode, with a short show today.
We discuss the Champions League and UEFA Cup results, Pub Talk featuring Mourinho's shock departure from Chelsea, Stephen Ireland's problems and we have another dig at Jamie Redknapp.

We hope you enjoy the show.

Download it:

Mark & JJ

Friday, 21 September 2007

Out in the cold

JJ here,

We need to talk about Jose….

Well, it was this or talk about Stephen ‘Daddy Dick’ Ireland which wasn’t really going to stretch much beyond slagging him off for being sad enough to be on Bebo. So here goes.

There’ s any number of things that could happen from here (not with Daddy Dick but with Jose) and Sky Sports News, the BBC, Football365 and every broadsheet have been wetting themselves over what will become of Chelsea and Mourinho in the coming weeks, months and years.

In amongst the mess there is one certainty. Despite the talk of many of the players, we can be fairly sure there will be no mass exodus. Lampard might go and we would all thank the heavens if he went to Spain or Italy and finally got found out for the fundamentally flawed midfielder we all know he is. But otherwise?

Essien; Malouda; Drogba, Cole(s), SWP and more? Nah, these guys have contracts far too large for most clubs to take them on; even sides like the Milans or Real Madrid would struggle to prise them away. In any case, players, as Johnny Giles always points out, are fickle creatures. If they are picked they will play, they will be happy and they will throw their “full support” behind the new manager.

Even if Avram Grant proves to be the “muppet” that the Chelsea fans who staged a protest at Stamford Bridge last night think he is, these players won’t leave. A top class coach will be brought in if the season goes pear-shaped and before you know it, the players will talk about how they’ve “always wanted to work under Capello/Rijkaard/Hiddink/Klinsmann”. John Terry – at Chelsea since he was a ball boy there – won’t leave the club either.

As for Mourinho being on the open market, I had a bit of an odd thought and one that no doubt will raise a few eyebrows. I actually think this could bring excellent pressure on Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez in particular. Okay he might take charge of Portugal for a while, or maybe some Italian club, but while Mourinho may not plan to return to England, he may be tempted in the coming years.

Think about this, what if Rafa Benitez wins nothing this year? A second or third place finish and out before the semis of the Champions League (which is about as much as most expect anyway). How much patience would the American owners have when there is a manager who has won the Premiership out there waiting for a new job? Even Ferguson might feel the pressure.

Okay, it’s far more unlikely than Rafa, but United’s ‘hardcore’ booed Fergie off the pitch only 18 months ago against Blackburn when reports of his demise filled as many columns as Jose is now. Nothing won this year, a bad start to next for United; it’s not outside the realms of possibility. Matt Busby and Alf Ramsey are two famous examples of managers who thought they would decide when they would leave only for the crowds to turn against them. Brian Clough decided when he would leave Forest… and did so once they were relegated.

With Mourinho available and with the general feeling towards him being grudging respect, were he appointed at either United or Liverpool I can’t see too many protests. It happened it Italy whenever Fabio Capello decided he wanted to leave a club – going to Roma and Juve after AC Milan – so why not now?

On a final note, the news that Roman Abramovich might have more of a say in team selection also guarantees some funny moments for the rest of the season. For one, we now know that Chelsea will have two up front every time Drogba and Shevchenko are fit and while it might not become as bad as things are at Hearts, a chairman running a team will never end in a good way. Let the madness begin.

There’s a possibility of a podcast tomorrow though it depends on how well we feel after getting absolutely mangled tonight with a few mates. We’ll be watching Ireland’s glorious exit from the egg chasing world cup so will have to drown the sorrows. If not, we’ll be back into the swing of things come next Thursday.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Bjorn again Kvarme

Howaya folks,
JJ here,

Apologies for the lack of posts of late but as Mark explained last week, tis holiday time in Okeydoke land. In the coming weeks were hoping to make some changes to the site and hopefully improve the podcast sound. It depends on time available to us; getting things sorted while we’re actually sober and trying to get Okeydoke work done while in our real workplaces. So here’s hoping no one we work for is reading this.

I don’t think we missed out on too much though and I was certainly glad to be out of the country and unable to see Ireland play like crap against the Czechs (though thankfully the RTE site have kept the Dunphy rant afterwards online - - look at the bottom right hand corner and you’ll find it).

I suppose any delayed ‘Stan Out’ campaigning won’t float too many boats so thankfully the Champions League got into the swing of things last night and provided some interesting results and the shock return to England of one Bjorn Tore Kvarme. Yes, that Bjorn Tore Kvarme who played a total of 45 games for Liverpool in the late nineties and managed to single-handedly lose two Merseyside derbies for the Pool. He was even outplayed by Danny bloody Cadamarteri. Dark days.

On a far brighter note he came on in the second half for Rosenborg against a ramshackle Chelsea last night. Kvarme was as solid as any of his teammates as they held the two-time semi finalists to an embarrassing draw. Though, let’s face it, this was minnows versus minnows what with Chelsea missing Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.

I mean, what side in Europe could do anything with only Michael Essien, Joe Cole, Andriy Shevchenko and Florent Malouda to call on for inspiration? Sure it was like a Norwegian league game, or so Chelsea would love everyone to believe. It was a horrible start for them… though not as horrible to watch as Liverpool v Porto.

Now, anyone who reads the blog regularly will know I have tried to paper over Liverpool cracks when I can find a defence for them. Last night though was as bad as they’ve played in Europe for a long time. Three years ago they went to La Coruna and got a one nil win and were inspired by a brilliant performance in central midfield. A brilliant performance by one Igor Biscan.

The much-maligned Biscan would have looked like a spark of gold in the mound of excrement that was last night. The defenders played it too long; when Gerrard got on the ball he never did the easy thing and went for 60-yard balls to the corner flag; Pennant was idiotic; Babel never got a chance to show any skill; Kuyt worked hard but his touch was awful and Torres simply never got in the game.

The Monster Mash in the middle tried to get into the action every once in a while – though not often enough – but generally he was bypassed by the atrocious long ball tactics. Even Finnan and Arbeloa were guilty of it, though often this was due to being put under pressure by a midfield that rarely showed for the ball or poor passing from Carragher and Hyppia. In all, awful.

Elsewhere, Madrid continued a great start to their season with a decent two-one win over Werder Bremen, for whom Diego was excellent and will surely start next season’s Champions League for one of the larger sides in Europe. He had a great debut season last year in Germany and won’t stay there too much longer.

Celtic were, predictably, crap. Marseille were lucky. AC Milan looked good in the entire two minutes of highlights that I saw. Olympiacos and Lazio looked turgid in that ghostly empty stadium and Valencia got a good win. It’s very hard to tell much from last night, particularly as this is the first time many of us have seen the clubs outside of the Premiership. Basically, be happy it’s back and avoid Liverpool and Chelsea games.

As for tonight, some quick predictions:

Arsenal v Sevilla: Home win, fuck it 3-2, game of the round.
Barcelona v Lyon: Both have started their leagues in relatively poor form and Henry is now back in his old Juve position of left wing which is frankly quite, quite funny. Home win… barely.
Fenerbahce v Inter Milan: Forza Inter… my pick to win the competition because at this stage I don’t have to rely on logic or form, simply blind hope. Get in. 0-2.
PSV v CSKA Moscow: Guess who’s not watching this game. Hopefully a CSKA win, I’ll go for 1-2.
Rangers v VfB Stuttgart: Guess who’s not watching this game either. Very hard to call as Stuttgart have been poor so far and Rangers decent form halted at the weekend against Hearts. 1-1. Actually two nil to the Germaniacs.
Roma v Dynamo Kiev: 3-0 Roma.
Slavia Prague v Steaua Bucuresti: Hmmm…. You tell me as Stan would say. I’m not even going to dignify this with a Lawro-esque 1-1 prediction. 12-7 Slavia… get your money down.
Sporting v Man Utd: Good game hopefully but United should win considering the contrasting performances of these sides in last year’s competition. Ronaldo’s habit of going missing during away games in Europe has to end at some stage and this could be the game.

Later folks

Friday, 14 September 2007

Holiday Time

Hi All,
I meant to write earlier in the week about the Irish internationals but with my holidays I didn't get the chance. To sum up what I was going to say -

Stan must go. He has no clue. He can't pick a team - right back at left back, left back at right back. He bemoans bad passing but leaves his best passer on the bench. He throws in unproven youngsters (and Douglas, a League One player) when he has better options.

Harsh? No, he makes half a million a year, added to the millions he earned as a player, so I've no sympathy for him.

I must be off, so to sum up the week - Ireland bad, England good, Ferguson getting kicked in a London tube station was funny, and I wouldn't have liked to be in the middle of the Northern Irish row on the plane.

I won't be around next week, but JJ should be here with a blog or 2. There'll be a podcast next weekend, enjoy the coming week.


Friday, 7 September 2007

ODF 07 Sept Online

Our latest podcast is online now.
We discuss:
Fixtures & Results - A quick run through of the Premiership and a preview of some important International matches

Pub Talk - Etherington, Carson, Ballack, QPR, God, Adriano, Schuster, the love of Ronaldinho's life, and more....

We Hate Lee Hendrie - the abuser of the disabled, the drink driving speeder, the Jade Goody (*shiver*) conquestor, the man who didn't sleep with Steve Bruce's daughter. Oh, and he broke up his marriage too.

We finish the show with a sum-up of the antics of Ronaldo, Nani & Anderson. Get in.

We hope you enjoy the show.

Download it:


P.s. Next week JJ will be on holidays, the week after, I will be on holidays, so we plan to have a show out on the 22nd/23rd September. We will be updating the blog occasionally, though not with the usual frequency.

P.p.s This is a good link to the charming Brazilian lineswoman (warning: not safe if you're in work!)

Thursday, 6 September 2007

International Break = Football Poverty

Ho hum,

Things have been a bit quiet on the blog this week, which was not intentional but reflects the poverty of happenings in the football world this week.

We had a great weekend in the Premiership but after the reflection of Monday, we crashed back down to earth. We've had days of tedious news on Steven Gerrard's injury and whether he will play or not on Saturday. Hargreaves is missing and Heskey may play upfront. Does it really matter who plays for England? They all underperform anyway.

In Ireland there are doubts over Steve Finnan and what fresh madness Steve Staunton will come with up with next.

In the general scheme of things, Ruud Gullit and Sir Trevor Brooking having been banging on about English youth development which is at least the tenth time this year that there have been debates about the number of foreigners in the English game.

And in a couple of weeks, there will only be 1 game kicking off at 3pm on Saturday, the traditional time, which, despite the fact that it has been like this for years, has occasioned even more hand-wringing about 'the state of the game'

Then after various inevitable humiliations on Saturday, we only have next Wednesday's further horror to look forward to. It's gonna be a tough week.

There is nothing else to say, let's just fast forward


Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Bamboozle Time

Well folks,
JJ here,

Well it’s that news vacuum called international week and but for Ronaldo and his mates there’s not much light relief out there. Okay there’s Jamie Redknapp with his classic “I think Peter Schmeichel will be a father figure for Kasper” but all in all we face into these weeks knowing that headlines generally arise from (a) players missing training and (b) players rabbiting on in press conferences about ‘no easy games’, ‘vital wins’, ‘massive matches’ and how they have ‘the best support in the world’.

But screw it, when in Rome, do as the hacks do, so here goes…

Taking a look at what Ireland have in front of them, there’s a daunting trip to Slovakia and then the Czech Republic; games that will shape Steve Staunton’s career with this team. Shorn of Bobby Robson, after yet another health scare, the Ireland manager needs six points, will keep his job with four or two but will be hounded out of the country if he gets none.

Ireland’s surprise 4-0 victory over Denmark hasn’t led to many people predicting easy wins over the next two games; the manager’s previous year in charge has, after all, been a bit too sobering to get carried away with things. Defeat to Cyprus still ranks as one of the worst moments in the last 20 years of Irish football so no one is going overboard.

Six points would leave Ireland in a very healthy position going into a home game against a German side that may have already qualified for the European Championships before they set foot on the Croke Park pitch in mid-October. Shay Given and Steve Finnan both look like they will be fit which is a huge bonus as the centre of our midfield is still very much open to question.

Lee Carsley may be assured of a place but beside him can Andy Reid, a man who’s barely played in six months, be counted on for a solid showing? Can Steven Ireland perform a job there when he continually runs to the wings? Can we stop Stan from picking Jonathan Feckin Douglas? It’s a big worry for Ireland fans – as is the form of Kevin Doyle whose missed penalty on Saturday was just what we didn’t want to see. It’d be far too early to think that Doyle is going through a crisis but still a goal at the weekend would have helped.

His probable strike partner – unless Stan decides to commit managerial suicide and play one up front, a system that never works with Ireland – is Robbie Keane who will be hungry (careful now) after being taken off by Martin Jol on Saturday in an effort to keep Jermaine Defoe and his oven obsessed girlfriend happy.

The Czech team have the formality (unless you’re Ireland) of a game against San Marino on Saturday and let’s face it all we can hope for is a rough journey or some injuries to upset them before next Wednesday, such is the miniscule chance they might actually lose points there.

I’d really like to predict a good week ahead for Ireland but I have a feeling they will come unstuck against a bruising Slovakia on Saturday and only get a draw. You would have to be very hopeful to think we could win away against the Czechs, who, by then, will be three points ahead with vastly superior goal difference should things pan out as I’m predicting.

Then again, I said Spurs would get fourth this year so hopefully this prediction goes tits up as well and Ireland head home with six points, some decent absinthe and the possibility of making it to next year’s finals. And if not, just get the absinthe lads, it soothes the pain.

Monday, 3 September 2007

We have a title race

I don't particularly want to be a Premiership cheerleader, there's enough people calling it "the best league in the world" with not much justification, but this weekend was top class. We have a real title race in the offing.

Arsenal continued their good start to the season, in Fabregas they have a player who can mask their deficiencies and was instrumental in their dismissal of Pompey. His goal threat from midfield makes him twice as effective as least season. Arsenal need their defenders to be fit (i.e. not to have Senderos on the pitch), Rosicky and Hleb to play decently (give the ball to Cesc) and Van Persie to become the player he has the talent to be.

Liverpool has started brilliantly, their only blemish was being robbed of a victory over Chelsea. A hammering of Derby cannot really tell much but they certainly weren't beating similar teams with such ruthless efficiency as on Saturday.

Chelsea have been dodgy at the back this season - it is no coincidence that Carvalho is injured. He holds the back line together and is a far superior player to Terry. A defeat to Aston Villa augurs well for those looking for excitement towards the end of the season.

Man United are still stuttering but crucially they've won their past 2 games despite not playing well. The return of Saha adds a much lacking goal threat, and Ronaldo has finished his suspension. They are only 2 points behind with a game more played.

The upcoming fixtures of the top four show more potential slip ups. United are away to Everton, who surely won't be as charitable as last season. Spurs will be even more eager to beat Arsenal at WHL, and have the firepower to trouble them. Liverpool are away to Portsmouth in another stern test. Chelsea meanwhile entertain the talented (and sometimes filthy) Blackburn in preparation for their trip to Old Trafford the following week.

And it all adds up to a cracking next few weeks. We have the potential for a 4 way title race. Fixture wise, Liverpool are best placed to open up a lead in the next 2 weeks, and that may guarantee some real super Sundays.

Can't wait,