Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Rooney shouldn't have been sent off, he should have been given a freekick...

Wayne Rooney, in my opinion, shouldn't have been sent off at Cardiff for his early kick out at the Bluebirds' Jordan Mutch. He was shown the correct action by the referee: a yellow card.

But the incident doesn't stop there for me, yes Rooney should be booked for petulant retaliation but he should have also been awarded a freekick. "You're crazy" I hear you saying, but hear me out...

Jordan Mutch showed no intention of going for the ball, he just "stood his ground" (basically put himself in Rooney's way) and obstructed the forward from having any cat in hell's chance of getting to the ball. What is he supposed to do to get the ball? There's nothing he can do without fouling Mutch.

It's one of the few ridiculous rules of football for me that what Mutch did wasn't a foul. There's shielding the ball in the football, and that's fine but the boundaries of what are legal in this department have just been stretched way out of proportion. You can get away with anything as a defending player. It's basically obstruction when it gets to the extent of what Mutch was doing on Sunday.

He's stopping Rooney from getting to the ball and is not going for the ball whatsoever himself, therefore it's a foul. If that was any other part of his body, ergo his foot- to perhaps trip Rooney up or block him off with his legs and Rooney falls over the flailing leg- a foul is given. And rightly so.

But when it comes to shielding the ball, things just get ridiculous and out of hand. Basically the attacking player is stopped from playing football unfairly; someone has got their body in the way and deliberately stopped the attacking player from getting to the ball without going for the ball himself. He's gone for the player. He's stopped the player moving forward and its a foul.

You get these shielding the ball to a ridiculous extent incidents in every game, but for me it has to be stamped out and finally seen for what it is: a foul. It's stopping a player from playing the game by stopping him from running forward to try to get the ball without the defending player even going for the ball himself.

Everton v Liverpool preview

I can’t wait for Everton v Liverpool. Even as an impartial spectator I absolutely love it. It’s my favourite fixture in the football calendar. The passion, intensity and entertainment that courses through it make it so special and unique.

I do have the utter pleasure of holding a season ticket at Goodison Park and I look forward to going to the game all week, even when it’s not a biggie. Next week Everton play Stoke at home, hardly glamorous but I’ll be excited about it all week. That excitement and child on Christmas morning feeling is magnified and multiplied by 10 when Everton play Liverpool at home (especially when it’s on a Saturday).

I still remember the FA Cup game in 2009 so fondly. It wasn’t actually the most entertaining of games in terms of goal scoring chances if memory serves me correctly, but it was such a great game in a different way. There was such tension, I think it was the most tense derby atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed (I am only 21) and both sets of fans were in great voice even before kick-off. When Steven Gerrard went off injured early on it was like Everton had scored, every Liverpool shot off target was greeted by a big relieved cheer of “waaaay”.

It was dramatic, what with the late extra-time winning goal and the atmosphere- so keen even walking to the ground. It was a cold late January night and it just had a great feel to it. I was excited all day about it at school, jotting down my predicted line-ups in my Geography book, period 3. Then when I listened to the build-up on the radio on the way there and got to the ground there was such a sense of “this is no ordinary derby”. Not that derbies are ordinary by any means, but it was such a dramatic, atmospheric night and it was frankly one of my favourite ever games I’ve been to.

Back to the present day this derby is, like last season’s at Goodison, set up very nicely. Liverpool are, you have to admit, looking improved this season and pose more threat than usual with Suarez AND Sturridge up front and Coutinho in and around there for company. But so are Everton, the blues have Romelu Lukaku up front who would give any defender a run for his money and has been in fantastic form for Everton overall so far. Everton also have the “like a new signing” talent of Ross Barkley who, again, can cause any defence problems and if he copes with the derby atmosphere and intensity, he will be a big threat on Saturday.

Everton need to get back to scoring ways though, I wrote an article earlier in the week about how their wide players need to up their performances. Mirallas has been disappointing and Pienaar has looked rusty since returning from injury (an instant winner against Hull aside!). Baines and Coleman have stuttered a bit and I just think, especially in these big games, Everton thrive on their high intensity style of play and getting the ball out wide and crossing the ball a fair few times. That doesn’t mean “being ugly and long-ball”; it just means having a mixed style, which suits Everton.

The game against Chelsea earlier in the season was a great example. Everton improved a lot in the second half when they went to a higher intensity style and drove at Chelsea more. That also gets the crowd going more and gets Everton’s tails up. So I think the wide players especially would thrive on this.

It’ll be interesting as well to see how Everton deal with Suarez and Sturridge, I think Suarez is the biggest threat but Sturridge and Coutinho are big dangers too. But likewise, how will Liverpool deal with Lukaku, Barkley, Baines and co.?

Everton and Liverpool both have more passing, intricate styles of play nowadays so it should be an interesting derby in terms of how the style of play pans out. Both sides are very close in terms of quality. Also, it has the added spice of Everton having finished above Liverpool for the last 2 seasons so there is a really intriguing battle for the title of kings of Merseyside ahead this season.

It’s tense, it’s loud, it’s passionate, it’s aesthetically pleasing and it should be entertaining. Bring it on!!!!!

My prediction: Everton 2-1 Liverpool

(with Everton going behind.)

Wingers’ return to form crucial for derby

There couldn’t really be a more timely return to form of Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar than this Saturday’s Merseyside derby. The Belgian attacker has been below par so far this season and hasn’t delivered the standards he did last season. Likewise, since returning from injury, Steven Pienaar has looked out of sorts and they need to get their acts together for Everton to have a good chance of beating Liverpool.

The Liverpool defence doesn’t let in too many goals at the moment and with Everton having failed to score in their last 2 games, something needs to change in Everton’s play. They need an added sparkle and an extra threat that they haven’t had during their games against Tottenham and Crystal Palace. Otherwise the Blues may be a bit too easy to predict and nullify.

Mirallas in particular needs to step up to the plate and deliver because so far this season he has failed to do so generally. Last season he tore Liverpool apart in the first half of the Goodison derby before being forced off injured. He played on the left and was fantastic. He needs to find that sort of drive and confidence in himself in time for the derby. Not only will it benefit him, but also the likes of Lukaku who would be on the end of what is hopefully much improved wing play.

Steven Pienaar has a little less pressure on him for me but he has surprised me over the last couple of games I’ve seen him in (Aston Villa and Tottenham). He was pushed off the ball surprisingly easily a fair few times and often wasteful in possession. He struggled to have an impact, particularly at Villa and I think he looks rusty and perhaps not quite ready. He doesn’t seem himself. To his credit, he always keeps going and keeps probing and trying to create but he just looks poor at the moment.

Those wide areas are key for Everton; so often Everton’s best attacks have come from using the ball well out wide and it has been one of their best assets in recent years that they create so much from out wide. I wonder if Roberto Martinez’s new style of play has taken that away a bit, perhaps his passing ethos doesn’t incorporate sticking to one of the team’s main strengths as much- crossing the ball.

I agree with the pass and move philosophy but not it coming at the expense of one of your main strengths. I believe you can have both. The wide players need more license than they seem to be getting to demonstrate good wing play; crossing the ball more regularly (especially when you have a striker like Lukaku in the box as a real aerial threat) and perhaps dribbling at defenders more, which is maybe why we are yet to see the high standards of last season from Mirallas and Coleman.

Whatever the case, Everton must improve out wide if they are to have a good chance of beating Liverpool, especially when you consider how shaky defensively the Liverpool full-backs are. Everton, of course, have the ability to win this game. There isn’t much between the two teams, but the wide play must improve for Everton. The form isn’t there currently but the ability certainly is.


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Arsenal v Liverpool post-match thoughts: Resilience and quality lead to crucial win

This game was of massive importance today. Arsenal could have lost 3 home games in a row to big teams in all competitions and psychologically that could have been a big blow. But we won it, which boosts belief within the players and the supporters and creates a healthy, positive environment for Arsenal. It adds more belief and confidence that we can win the Premier League title and shows everyone else we're genuine contenders who mean business.

Not only does the win have huge psychological positivity but it also puts us 5 points clear at the top of the table above Liverpool and Chelsea. Man City and Man Utd are even further adrift and everything looks very rosy in the league currently.

I thought Arsenal's performance was arguably their best of the season so far. Yes we were very good against Napoli but didn't have much to defend against. This time we were up against the Premier League's most in-form and extremely hyped strikers, Suarez and Sturridge. It was a big test of our defence and team overall, plus I think the team had more pressure on them to win than they did against Napoli.

The defensive aggression and organization was very good, the way Arteta (like he did last season at Anfield) controlled the midfield and protected the back four very well was fantastic; it was one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt in my view. Bacary Sagna also had one of his best games for Arsenal in a long while. The interplay and creativity of our midfield and how they played as such a team as if they'd all been playing with each other for years was outstanding. Olivier Giroud additionally played well, got in the right places for chances and held the ball up well playing against 3 centre backs. He also seemed to win everything in the air.

I loved the big game attitude, it was like it was in our very good performances against Tottenham and Napoli so far this season and just showed we mean business. It brought back that sight I've mentioned before this season: we looked like winners. A winning team with a winning mentality that means business. Not some team to just play pretty football and finish 4th, a team with determination and fight who have high ambition and belief to win trophies.

Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta were excellent in midfield and just showed their superiority over Gerrard, Lucas and Henderson. Cazorla was lovely, always involved and obviously scored. They played some terrific football (that move conducted mainly by Ozil shortly after the 1st goal comes especially to mind) but not at the expense of making sure they kept Liverpool out at the other end. We created a lot of chances, and against a very good team which makes it even more impressive and highlights our attacking qualities even without Walcott, Wilshere, Podolski and Chamberlain as options. Mertesacker and Koscielny were very hard to get past and were solid, and apart from one careless late blip, Szczesny was excellent again.

I think we still need to work on stopping counter-attacks though. I thought that was the only time when Liverpool looked dangerous in the first half, we don't yet seem to be able to stop counter-attacks well enough. We need to improve there because the big teams will often punish us for that.

But elsewhere everything was positive; a great performance, a great win, confidence and morale boosted and we're 5 points clear at the top of the table. Now to sit back, relax and enjoy going to Everton v The White Shite tomorrow.

(Image sources: http://i3.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article2203119.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/Fenerbache-v-Arsenal-2203119.jpg & http://i1.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article1501784.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/Mikel%20Arteta-1501784)

What we want to (and don't want to) see at the football

I don't want to see stewards harassing fans. I don't want to see stewards searching fans outside the ground and making them deposit their personal belongings in a tray before retrieving them inside the stadium. I don't want to be stared at by stewards trying to intimidate me and asserting pointless authority and sternness once in my seat. I don't want to see a steward tell a supporter to "keep the noise down" or stop them exchanging in banter with opposition fans as if it is being assumed that any exchange of banter between opposing fans is an declaration of hooliganism or violence.

I want to see stewards acting like they're equal people to us supporters, not high and mighty people frowning upon us and treating us like criminals before we've even set foot inside the stadium. I want to see a friendly greeting from them: "Alright lads, enjoy the game", not "put your arms out Sir, I need to search you". I want to see them stamping out any violent or threatening behavior at the match if there is any of course, but that's a rarity anyway. I want to see them treat us as if we're real, innocent people- not treating us with little respect and as if we're guilty of being mindless, violent hooligans until proven innocent.

I don't want to see fans being addressed as "customers" like is the case at Chelsea. I don't want to see clubs being referred to as "institutions" (Brendan Rodgers) or "organisations" or "businesses". I don't want to see posh boxes and executive areas all around the stadium as if we're at the theatre. I want every seat to be a normal seat that everyone has to pay for equally- not VIPs, special guests and people being told they must keep quiet when sat in corporate areas (I have been before, sickening. I was at the football for Christ sake). I just want fans alongside each other in regular seats or stood up and certainly not corporate areas ruining the atmosphere of the stadium and disenfranchising proper fans from going.

This= NO! (Is this a hotel or a football stadium?!)

I don't want to see ridiculously expensive food served in boxes and trays as if I'm at a Baseball game. I want to see horrible looking coffee and dirty pies. That gives the place that smell of football!

I don't want to see fans dressed as if they're going out for a posh meal. I don't want to see cringey banners around the stadium such as "We're not really here" (Man City), "Holte End, Twelth Man" (Aston Villa), "Shere Wilpower" (Arsenal), "Who needs Batman when we've got Robin" (Old Arsenal one) and there were plenty more at the Etihad Stadium that I can't quite remember. They've probably been wiped from my memory they're that bad. Some flags and banners are great, they should definitely play a part in the whole match day atmosphere. Just not cringey ones!

I don't want to hear goal music after a team scores. Yes, I'm looking at you Reading, and you Burnley, and all you others: Wolves, QPR, Wigan and so on. Stop it. It's cringeworthyness of the highest order. I want to hear loud, passionate cheering and applause which is generally the case; we don't need any music after a goal. That's just not football. As aren't cheesy mascots, or cheerleaders. Or having an eagle fly across the pitch before kick-off (Crystal Palace). That's just bizarre.

I want to see pyrotechnics (flares) being accepted as they add to the atmosphere and cause no-one any harm. Fans being banned for using them is beyond crazy; I heard one fan got a 3 year stadium ban for it. Mad. I don't want to hear drums at the game.

Speaking of crazy, I don't want to see players being booked for celebrating goals and wins with their own fans. What is that all about? Displaying positive, happy emotion and sharing and celebrating it with your own paying supporters, what's wrong with that? Players shouldn't be booked for taking their shirt off either, I don't really get why some players do it but they do and there's nothing wrong with it. Football's an emotional game for goodness sake. I pick this example because I happened to see it earlier today, but just look at the stewards in this video stopping supporters from celebrating with the players after Everton have just got a 92nd minute winning goal:

I'd like to see more player/crowd interaction, not having the two segregated at the football as if the stadium management think the fans are uncontrollable animals that are going to hurl themselves at the players. Let's have a bit of banter and interaction rather than feeling so cut off from them. It relates back to celebrating goals with fans, not being able to do so just adds to this vast separation feeling.

I don't want to hear chants like "your support is fucking shit" and "shall we sing a song for you?" being sung by the likes of Chelsea fans. On your bike lads, you play at the quietest library in the league. Focus on your own atmosphere before criticizing others'.

Overall I want to see fair, friendly treatment of supporters by stewards, stadium management and everyone for that matter. I want to see fans in all corners of the ground as equals, not separated or priced out of going by ridiculous corporate areas, which have no place in sport. What we want is for supporters to have a great day and a laugh at the game, just being treated well and watching the great game in peace, in a good and healthy atmosphere.

(Image sources: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2009/8/25/1251238724197/Stewards-stand-infront-of-014.jpg) & http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/02/04/article-0-0827DF6D000005DC-988_468x351.jpg)

(Video source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3euzocvhOA)