Friday, 26 September 2008

What the... Joe Kinnear and Weekend Predictions

Today’s blog was due to start with a damning indictment of David O’Leary possibly being offered the Newcastle job but now with the shear shock of Joe Kinnear’s appointment I don’t think I can talk any more about the mess at Newcastle. At this stage I hope they’re relegated, though hopefully Alan Shearer will be in charge by then.

With the pack of jokers from Sid James’ Park in mind we’ll start the weekend predictions with…

Newcastle v Blackburn: “I’m sick of talking about them, but maybe, just maybe, they’ve reached their nadir and will put up a decent fight against Paul Ince’s men. I’ll go for a hard fought, ultimately wretched to watch 1-1.” That was my original sentiment about an hour ago… now I’ll go for 1-3 Blackburn.
Arsenal v Hull: Super fun happy time for Arsenal. Hull actually try and play football which will be their downfall so let’s just hope they enjoy the day out. 4-1. The one for Hull coming late on to ruin Bacary Sagna’s clean sheet and dent my Fantasy League hopes. Born pessimist folks.
Aston Villa v Sunderland: Interesting, very interesting. Last year Sunderland got their first away win of the season at Villa Park, and both teams claim at least to have improved since then. Coming off defeat to QPR at home I think Villa might struggle as they didn’t play particularly well for large parts of last week’s game against West Brom either. I fancy Sunderland, with Keane’s strong words during the week still ringing in their ears to get a result. 1-2.
Everton v Liverpool: I always wonder if this is a decent game for neutrals? I can’t think so as even I get bored most times by the often woeful showings these sides produce. I think it’s a game Liverpool need after the dire, dire, dire, dire performance against Stoke and one they’ll win nervously 0-1.
Fulham v West Ham: Should be a decent one this, both sides have been really hard to call this season so far. There should be some decent football, cockney rhyming slag galore and hopefully goals involved. Think the home side will nick it though 3-2.
Man Utd v Bolton: Dreary win for the home side. 2-0.
Middlesbrough v West Brom: Could be a good match, Boro need some luck at some stage this year and with West Brom giving away stupid goals I’ll go for 2-0 with Stewart Downing missing four penalties.
Stoke v Chelsea: This is why Liverpool won’t win the league. 0-2.
Portsmouth v Tottenham: How many crisis clubs are there in this league? At least both these teams here are properly in the shit, as opposed to various talks of crisis at Liverpool, Everton, Man City and even Man United this year. There should be stricter criteria when it comes to the phrase ‘crisis club’ I feel. Anyway, I have NO IDEA what will happen here. In short, and for no real reason… 2-3
Wigan v Man City: Robinho, Jo, Wright Philips, Elano and Petrov in the side and Man City’s best player is Stephen Ireland. Why oh why did he have to go get a dodgy weave, figuratively kill his grannies and leave his country in the lurch? On a more relevant note, Wigan have been pretty sturdy thus far and I’d say they’ll get at least a draw here… but then I do hate Steve Bruce… so 0-3 Citeh.

Later folks, JJ

Thursday, 25 September 2008

You’re ‘Avin a Larf Intcha!

I’m sure most of you thought it was more than a little odd to read that Newcastle are actually considering hiring Terry ‘Generic Spanish Nickname’ Venables on a temporary basis to bail them out of trouble in the Premier League. However, what seems more shocking to me is that the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

Let’s face it, from the club’s point of view he’s one of the few guys with experience in management still willing to go there. Putting it in perspective, there’s David O’Leary and Glenn Hoddle to choose from otherwise, and the players at least might still have a hint of respect for Venables… well the English guys at least (Oba Martins admitted he had no idea who Keegan was when he walked through the door so I can’t see many of the Geordies’ foreign legion knowing who the podgy Londoner is when he arrives for training).

With the choices they have in front of them the guy is most likely the best of a bad bunch and what’s more, should they gain any hint of stability in the next few months (stop sniggering) he will be more amenable to stepping aside than ego-monkeys such as Hoddle and O’Leary.

To many though he will remain the cockney geezer supreme; un-likeable, untrustworthy and at times indecipherable when speaking about defensive systems as a pundit. Perhaps a dip into the Eamonn Dunphy vault can sum up Newcastle’s plight best. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this superb rant on the merits, or lack thereof, of hiring the former Spurs coach. Yes Toon Army – meet you new saviour.... ye poor, poor replica-shirted fools.

Later, JJ

The Usain Bolt of ODF podcasts

Heya folks,

The new pod is online - short and sweet and possibly familiar. Mark is away, and with our hoped-for supersub gone MIA I flew solo before realising that (a) my laptop's soundcard is horrendous and (b) a solo pod just ain't my thing. So, like any great man of the people I found a compromise and have given ye a short, sharp dose of hate we recorded a while back on Lee Bowyer...

We will, at last, have a normal pod again next week - thanks for the patience but circumstances have been a backstard.

Anyway, you can download it here, or subscribe.

PS: The pic above was sent to me under the heading: 'Argentinian Special Olympics Trial'... Cruel? You decide.

Til next time folks, JJ

Friday, 19 September 2008

Apologies, predictions, Brazilian pikeys and a kick in the Scolaris

Heya folks,

Quick apology but there won’t be a podcast this week as the supersub has unfortunately had to cancel his debut appearance. I was tempted to fly solo but to be honest I think I’d be as entertaining as this soul crunching commercial.

So anyway, with no pod for the moment (the plan is to do one next Tuesday – unless I drunkenly record something over the weekend) I thought I’d give a ramble in text format rather than the usual Polish-beer induced insight myself and Mark specialise in most weeks.

I write while watching Spurs in a horrifically boring UEFA Cup game against Wislaw Krakow (though the return match should be interesting considering Wislaw fans’ fairly interesting views on World War 2) and really the north London team are a bastard to figure out. For the third time in four years they have lost three of their opening four games; they also have a side bursting with creativity but one which also lacks experience in the Premier League.

I know that most managers wish to mould their squad but Ramos has taken that to new heights with the signings of Modric; Dos Santos; Bentley and Pavlychenko. It’s as if he wanted to rip apart anything that Martin Jol had done whether good or bad and create something completely new. A noble idea but he must be confident that Daniel Levy will leave him at it (and indeed Levy’s fairly obvious jibes in director of football Damien Comolli this week indicated that there will at least be one fella leaving White Hart Lane before Ramos anyway).

I hope Spurs click because if they do there is the potential to play better football than Arsenal.

With absolutely no segway – and because I started writing about Newcastle but lost the will to carry on – here’s predictions for this weekend. Can I beat Lawro? If not, I feel I should really think about never doing predictions again and leaving it up to some mystical spider or a magic eight ball to take on the mantle.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough: Derby time and after two defeats at home Sunderland are under a bit of pressure. I think Keane has brought some absolute fools to the club this year to be honest – Cisse and Diouf being the primary examples – and I fancy a well organised Boro (who have been very unlucky on two occasions away this season losing to undeservedly to both Pool and Pompey) to take at least a point. I’ll bank on entertainment and shoddy defending to say 2-2.
Blackburn v Fulham: Paul Ince’s place in ODF history is well established. But while we don’t necessarily like the guy we certainly don’t think he’s a terrible manager. After some horrific defending in the last two games I think he’ll sort Blackburn out and they’ll beat a decent Fulham side 2-1.
Liverpool v Stoke City: Many moons ago Liverpool always followed up an important win with a terrible defeat to a lower side but I think on this occasion (unlike the many, many occasions I’ve said this before) this time it’s different. Roll on 2-2 draw with a last minute Torres equaliser then. No actually, I’ll keep the faith and go 4-1 to the Pool.
West Ham v Newcastle: Could little Franco Zola have picked a better team for a home debut? Alan Smith is out for three months so obviously that will be a big blow to Newcas… oh wait; he’s been a disaster there, just like most of their signings. 2-0.
Bolton v Arsenal: Whoopee, commentators up and down the country can talk about Arsenal being soft ‘up north’ when the stats actually saw they have a great record at Bolton and Blackburn. Gotta love ill-informed pundits. We can only hope Jeff Stelling stops Phil Thompson or whichever other gimp they have in for this before they start blabbing on about the whole sorry myth. Away win 1-3.
West Brom v Aston Villa: Meh, 1-1
Chelsea v Man Utd: Big matches are sometimes great; and sometimes pants. But this one at least allows us the opportunity to watch this again (though attempts by United to mend bridges have been admirable). In a way I hope karma kicks Chelsea in the Scolaris and Terry makes the mistake that costs Chelsea the game; but that’s a little bit small considering the talent on display. Tevez; Deco; Rooney; possibly Ronaldo and more – come on lads at least give us a decent first half before we switch over to the bog ball on RTE. At a guess, it’s got to be Chelsea due to their excellent start… in fact, I think United may get a hiding if they go down to an early goal. Screw it, 3-1.
Hull City v Everton: Probably the same story as last week, when Everton did a number on Stoke (they should have won by a lot more than one goal). Away win city – 0-2.
Man City v Portsmouth: ‘Arry versus the Sheikh; it’s like a Guy Ritchie movie with some Brazilian pikeys thrown in for good measure. City looked very, very disjointed in the UEFA Cup last night and I think they’ll do well to get a draw here against a Pompey side that seem to be many people’s second team. So what if it’s only due to the fact they have a player with the nickname The Herminator, everybody loves Portsmouth. 2-2.
Tottenham v Wigan: Back where we started… good old Spurs. The revolution starts here – 3-0.

Later, JJ

Friday, 12 September 2008

We need to talk about Dirk…

If the snippets we’ve seen thus far of Jamie Carragher’s brilliantly frank autobiography are just the start of what his book has to offer, I’d be very interested to see how the straight talking scouser would, in all honesty, feel about Dirk Kuyt. Like most of us, I’m sure he appreciates the Netherlander’s work rate; I bet he likes the tracking back to help the defence as well. But, if he was really honest, he’ll probably ask the same question as the rest of us.

Why is he still in the first team?

Bought as a striker for the not too shabby price of £9 million, Kuyt was a goal scoring animal in the Eredivisie. Okay, we’ve all heard that Mateja Kezman was too in his day, and we all know how that turned out, but still this was the man who Marco van Basten trusted ahead of Ruud van Nistelrooy at the 2006 World Cup. That decision to put him in against Portugal proved fruitless of course but still we thought there must be something about him if managers across Europe wanted to take him on anyway.

Ever since the get go he has proved to be a workaholic, though unfortunately one who quite often hasn’t a clue what his job is. As Johnny Giles once said about him; if he stayed still for a minute or two a decent pass might come his way. As things stand he’s often too knackered by the time he’s in a good position to take advantage of it – one example came at the end of last season in a game at Man City who were at the time Pool’s main competition for fourth spot in the table.

For the first 85 minutes – despite supposedly playing in a 4-4-2 alongside Torres (this is prior to Rafa Benitez hitting on the 4-3-3 formation which worked to a decent degree towards the end of last season) he spent the entire game covering in at left back, in central midfield, on the wings and resisting the urge to catch the frickin ball at corners in case Pepe Reina didn’t reach it. Essentially he was everywhere except where he should be. Then when he finally got a chance to win the match – a header from all of three yards – he offered a limp effort that was easily stopped by Richard Dunne. Torres, Berbatov, Yakubu, Owen… all these guys and more would have scored in that position.

Now of course he is bizarrely un-droppable in his new position as a right winger, a morphed version of where he played towards the end of the 07/08 season when he formed a front three with Torres and either Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel or Yossi Benayoun. Instead of being allowed to cut in to support Torres, he is now asked to make chances for the front two of Liverpool’s number 9 and Robbie Keane.

Though it seems no one has told Kuyt this, as he continues to head infield with the ball leaving no one on the right as he meanders across the pitch before generally losing possession.

Even if Kuyt were to score a hat trick on Saturday against Man U it still wouldn’t change the fact that he would be better suited to being an energetic sub than a first teamer.

Benitez of course lauds his work-rate after each match and that of course can’t be faulted, but the way Kuyt is playing is inhibiting Keane and even Torres to a certain extent. He is uncomfortable on the wing and I can’t blame him, the guy has played through the middle for his entire career. The last 20 years is littered with players of a far higher calibre than Kuyt who struggled when moved on to the right away from their favoured position up front.

Think of Gary Lineker looking lost whilst trying to put in crosses at Barcelona. What about Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero who both suffered as they battled for the same spot, the famed ‘in the hole’ role alongside the main striker, during their time at Juve. Del Piero would outlast Baggio and claim the number 10 position from his fellow Italian legend but months of the 93/94 season (which Juve lost to Milan) saw confusion over who should take the central role and who should play out the wing.

Thierry Henry too suffered last season as he was, like Lineker, forced to play on the right wing for Barca. Even Wayne Rooney has been wasted on many occasions by Manchester United when utilising his versatility to put him out on the right (something which Ferguson admitted in pre season).

If all these guys couldn’t do it, what chance has a plodder like oul’ Dirky got?

All these moves were of course ‘for the good of the team’ yet none of these teams proved particularly successful when such positional confusion reigned (except Man U last season obviously, who used positional confusion as a tactic). Lineker won only a Copa Del Rey with Barca during three years there; Henry won nothing last season and Juve only regained the Serie A title when Baggio was relegated to the bench.

You can’t just turn a player into something he’s not overnight – as Steve Finnan at left back under Stan Staunton and Damien Duff as a second striker under Mick McCarthy proved for Ireland as well.

If Liverpool persist with a 4-4-2, with Albert Riera now likely to take on the left midfield role, the problem is obviously that with the exception of Jermaine Pennant there is no defined right sided midfielder, a situation that the central midfield-obsessed Benitez must take the blame for.

But instead of Kuyt, I think nearly every Liverpool fan would implore the Spaniard to put Babel, or even Gerrard there. Players who can actually cross and produce something unexpected, which for all the work in the world will never come from Kuyt.

Personally, and by now most of you should know I’m a Pool fan, my first team would be the 4-3-3 from last year only with Keane to Torres’ right, and Babel (or Riera) to his left, leaving Mascherano anchoring the middle with Gerrard and Alonso in front of him. As mentioned before, Liverpool have virtually no width so why play a system that requires it? At the moment, Kuyt spends his time running this way and that, often bumping into Keane in the middle, while the equally central-minded Benayoun does virtually the same from the left. At the very least jettison Kuyt for Babel.

Essentially, Dirk and his dodgy first touch must be banished from the Pool first eleven if they are achieve anything this season. At the moment this seems unlikely though, and I have a sneaky suspicion that in ten years time when somebody shows up ProZone for the hunk of junk it quite possibly is you’ll read an article with a sentence along the lines of…

‘… the system, which lead to managers being blinded by stats over sense when judging limited players like Jermaine Jenas, Dirk Kuyt and Ji Sung Park has since been banished to hell…’

Maybe not the hell part but at the moment ProZone is the only reason I can see for Kuyt continuing in the side. Anyway, as it seems he is set to stay in that first team for the time being, and in Torres’ absence he’ll most likely be asked to play as a striker on Saturday come high noon… so expect him making some goal line clearances by the seventh minute.

Dear god Rafa, make it stop.

Later, JJ

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

ODF 03 Sept Podcast Online

Hi Folks,

ODF's latest podcast is online now:

JJ has abandoned me for the week, so I flew solo this time, and boy, was it a thrill.
JJ will be back next week, and we have a special co-presenter lined up while I'm away.

On the show:
Results & Fixtures - including England and Ireland international previews
Pub Talk - Transfers, Keegan and Billionaires

Download it or Subscribe


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Transfer Day

So, what a transfer day, eh? The first interesting since, I dunno, 1963.

Manchester City are such a complete entertainment package that you wonder how Sky haven't started selling subscriptions to their soap opera. Barely 2 weeks ago, their owner ran out of money, was rumoured to be extradited to Thailand, and was searching around the world for investment. Bought by UAE billionaires Adug yesterday, they immediately, and funnily, set about hijacking arch-enemy United's Berbatov bid. Berbatov did however join United after being whisked along in Fergie's car hiding under a blanket on the back seat.

So, City snapped Robinho from under Chelsea's noses instead, and I am enjoying the fact that the Great Satan, Peter Kenyon, will be asked to justify himself today to Roman.

City were also rumoured to have bid for David Villa and Mario Gomez. The Brazilian Ronaldo and Barca flop Henry are also targets of the new regime.

What Mark Hughes makes of this is unknown so far, but even with trophy hunting, ruthless billionaires behind the club, this represents a fabulous chance for Hughes to crack the top 4, a stated ambition of the new owners. He won't be given time, and will likely have some difficult work with helping Robinho & Jo adapt to the Premier League but a quick glance at their squad list shows their potential. Let us not forget that City were well placed for half of last season, and with deep pockets, it looks like only a matter of time before they make it.

All of this of course represents a set back for the other top 4 chasers. Spurs have sold heavily, spent heavily, and still don't look the finished article. Aston Villa have spent in the region of £50m this summer, yet look no closer than last season. Everton seemed to have slipped back a bit, while Newcastle need a season of stability, especially from their pint-swilling owner.

And I wonder will Arsenal and Liverpool be worried by Man City? Wenger's team will win nearly all their home matches, but a squad that was lacking in numbers last year has even less this time round, and a long season will again challenge them. While over at Anfield, Liverpool look no closer to doing anything since Benitez arrived, while he seems intent on arguments, power struggles, buying the wrong players and selling or trying to sell the wrong players. Whatever the permutations, it looks like we're in for an exciting season, which, while it may not match last season's 3-way title battle, will have enough sub-plots to keep the most avid soap watcher intrigued.