All posts by Sam Jewell

Carrow Road provides mixed fortunes for Premier League elite (Video)

Despite suffering two consecutive home defeats, Norwich City currently sit comfortably in mid-table of the Premier League.

Losing home games would normally be cause for concern, but given their opponents were the reigning European and Premier League champions respectively, Norwich fans may be slightly more understanding of the results.  However, having already defeated both Arsenal and Manchester United at Carrow Road, perhaps supporters would now expect better of the Norfolk club.

Although they have just lost two games in a row, the six points picked up against the giants of English football have gone a long way to ensuring Norwich are not embroiled in a relegation battle as they head into the new year.  The fact that they can afford to face consecutive defeats without slipping down the table illustrates the importance of their 10-game unbeaten run in the league, which included six impressive wins that have given them a foundation to build upon.

In 11th place, it could be said that the Canaries are at the summit of the bottom half.  What’s more is that there is little threat of them being overtaken, with Chris Hughton’s side continuing to look up rather than down.

It’s been a long journey from League One for Norwich to get back to the Premier League but since they returned to the promised land, they’ve never looked back.

Gareth Bale doesn’t need to dive (Video)

Having just received his fifth booking of the season, this time for diving, Gareth Bale will miss his side’s game against Reading on Tuesday.

The Tottenham winger received a yellow card for going down in the area after a challenge from Craig Gardner, but despite his contentious reputation, it is fair to say that there was contact between Bale and the Sunderland player.  Referee Martin Atkinson’s decision, however, was clearly based on the previous occasions the Wales international has gone to ground too easily.

A similar incident earlier in the match saw Jermain Defoe go down in the box, only for the striker’s fall to be ignored by the referee completely.  There was definitely no foul from a Sunderland player in this instance, yet no action was taken.  Would this have been the case had it been Bale?

Like many players, the most frustrating thing about seeing them dive is the knowledge that there is no reason for them to do it.  In other words, they are good enough to gain an advantage without having to deceive players and referees alike.

Gareth Bale is certainly in this category.  He may have earned himself the wariness of referees, but he has the quality to eventually regain their trust and eradicate such controversy from his game.

Everton have Chelsea’s number at Goodison

After an inspiring start to the season, Everton host Chelsea on Sunday with the hopes of leapfrogging their opponents and getting themselves into a Champions League spot.

As usual, optimistic talk of competing amongst Europe’s elite can be heard on both sides of Stanley Park, although this year it is the Toffees who look the more likely to challenge for a top four place.  Everton have lost only twice in the league so far this season, despite too many draws hampering their progress.  The club’s turnaround in fortunes began at the start of 2012, with their resilience no better exemplified by the fact that they have lost only five league games in total during the 364-day period preceding their match against Rafael Benitez’s Chelsea.

The January transfer window saw Everton acquire Nikica Jelavic from Rangers, who continued his prolific goal-scoring form in a royal blue shirt, whilst creative spark Steven Pienaar returned from Tottenham to once again link up with Leighton Baines on the Toffees’ left wing.  A less notable signing was Republic of Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson from Manchester United, who was bought for less than £1 million.  As well as becoming an integral part of the side (Everton are yet to lose a league game with him on the pitch), he is a great example of a player who illustrates David Moyes’ eye for a bargain.

Impressively, Everton have won their last three home league games against the Blues from West London.  The last two occasions have had dire consequences for the men at Roman Abramovich’s disposal, with a trip to Goodison Park shortly preceding Andre Villas Boas’ departure earlier this year and Carlo Ancelotti being relieved of his duties inside the ground on the final day of the 2010/11 season.  Having previously been at the helm of their neighbours for six years, Chelsea’s new boss is guaranteed a hot reception from the Goodison Park faithful. 

If Everton are to be serious contenders for a Champions League place, they will need to continue their winning run against the current holders of the European Cup on Sunday.

Officials should be untouchable, not managers

The war of words between Alan Pardew and Sir Alex Ferguson has quickly reached boiling point, but just who is in the right?

Quite frankly, the answer is neither of them.  Following a Boxing Day victory over Newcastle, the spotlight was placed on the Manchester United manager, whose remonstrating after Jonny Evans’ own goal drew criticism from various quarters.  Ferguson made sure that the linesman in particular knew his feelings on the controversial offside decision, but his passionate reaction surely overstepped the line.  Nobody wants to see managers punished for their behaviour but, without the threat of sanction, there is little to prevent them from losing their heads during matches.

The Red Devils ultimately won the game in injury time, something Ferguson’s sides have become famous for over the years.  Many will argue that this is partly down to the pressure the Scottish manager puts on officials, with a fear of the influential coach often lingering on their minds.

Last-minute defeats are never nice, but especially not when your team has taken the lead on three separate occasions.  This is what Alan Pardew had to contend with at the final whistle at Old Trafford, as Javier Hernandez’s late winner condemned his side to an eighth defeat in their last 11 games.  Ferguson’s actions during the Boxing Day fixture were called into question by the Newcastle manager, who stated his belief that the FA could review the situation.  This prompted an angry response from Ferguson, who seemed to alienate the whole of Newcastle United by calling them a “wee club in the north east”.

Perhaps Pardew should have considered his own behaviour before querying that of the Manchester United manager.  After all, Ferguson did not physically shove the linesman, something which Pardew was treated extremely leniently with towards the start of this season.

What this argument does highlight, though, is that, whichever way you look at it, the punishment for confronting officials is not strong enough.  It is not acting as a deterrent, as the actions of both Pardew and Ferguson illustrate.  The treatment of managers following such incidents needs to be harsher.  How on earth can pushing a linesman warrant only a two-game ban?  Surely that sort of sanction is more suited to Ferguson on Boxing Day?  Pardew, on the other hand, is lucky to still be in a job.

Referees are blamed for making decisions that cost teams’ results.  Sometimes that is in fact what they do.  But, no matter how bad the call, managers must learn to deal with such injustice in a more professional manner.

Can third time be a charm for Henry and Arsenal? (Video)

With 378 appearances and 228 goals for their famous team, Thierry Henry is an undoubted legend at Arsenal Football Club.  More than that, the French striker epitomises an entire era of the Gunners’ history.

Henry has been training with Arsene Wenger’s current side since the end of the MLS season, with rumours of a similar loan to that of last year surrounding the New York Red Bulls forward.  Now 35 years old, it is just over a decade since he won the double with Arsenal, two years before he led “The Invincibles” of 2003/04 to a 49-game unbeaten run in the Premier League.

After scoring the final goal at Highbury, a disappointing season marred by injuries preceded his move to Barcelona in 2007.  The iconic Frenchman would not play for the Gunners again until earlier this year, when he scored two match-winning goals in seven appearances for the club.

A footballing genius, but will Thierry Henry return for a third spell at the Emirates Stadium?

Michael Carrick…constantly underrated

Michael Carrick, is he one of the most underrated players in the Premier League?

In my opinion he has been one of Manchester United’s best players this season and has done what ever has been asked of him.

It seems that whenever he players well so do United. He has been playing consistently in recent months and so have United which is no coincidence. He has been crucial for them this season as they have had a shortage of central midfielders this season a problem which forced Paul Scholes out of retirement.

He has to be one of the first names on the team sheet for united as he hardly gives the ball away and is vastly experienced. He has also filled in at centre back for united this season against Wigan.

Here are a few stats if you remain unconvinced, in the last four seasons; he has averaged 66.5 passes per game at a completion rate of 87%. This season it is 90% .He makes a tackle and an interception every 19 minutes on average. His average tackle success rate over the last three seasons is over 70% and this season alone is 73.33%.

However despite this he has always struggled to hold down a place in the England first 11. Despite him having a whole host of medals including the Premier League (4), League cup (1), Community Shield (4) and the Champions League (1).

When Euro 2012 comes along, the new England boss need not look any further that the cultured middle man.

Matt Davies

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Future should be the focus for national team

Fabio Capello stepped down from the manager position last week and for some people that is a big negative going into Euro 2012, and some have even put a cloud over the future of the England side but is there any need to worry about the future?

Granted, the Euro’s maybe too soon for certain players but the future of the England team looks to be shaping up very well from what we see week in and week out in the Premiership this season.

The young players that have been linked with, or have already got a few caps with the national team are the likes of Micah Richards, Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jack Rodwell and Kyle Walker due to their outstanding performances so far for their clubs. We already know how good these players are on the pitch and what their strengths are, but what other young English talent is out that?

Some players have only played a few games for their clubs and haven’t had the chance to prove themselves and some have.

One player that has been giving the chance due to poor performances from Andrey Arshavin and Theo Walcott is Arsenal Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Over the past few weeks Oxlade-Chamberlain has brought excitement back into the lives of Arsenal fans, with brilliant performances against title challengers Manchester United and relegation battlers Blackburn.

The former Southampton player offers something that other wingers don’t have. He has the ability to beat defenders with his blistering pace down both flanks or trick a defender with his flair, something Patrice Evra found out in their last encounter. In the last two seasons wingers have become too predictable on the ball, even when they’ve cut inside, but we have haven’t yet seen this from young Oxlade-Chamberlain.

He does the unexpected on the ball with the occasionally drop of the shoulder and to round it off he has the passing ability of a central midfielder.

He showed his range of passing against United with a beautifully weighted reverse ball to striker Robin van Persie who hit the back of the net. The pass was placed with so much perfection that it caught the whole back four sleeping. Fortunately for him, other wingers don’t do that in the modern game anymore, which is allowing people to notice his talent. When van Persie returned the reserve ball favour against Blackburn, Oxlade-Chamberlain showed he had the composure to round the goal keeper and tap the ball into an empty net. A player with so much to offer is already challenging for a starting place in the Arsenal side and if he continues to play the way he is it’s only a matter a time before England come knocking.

The second rising star set to be a part of the England team in the near future is Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley. This season the midfielder has been hit with a few injuries but showed his qualities last season when he went on loan to Wigan Athletic, and in this campaign wearing a United shirt when he was fully fit. He made an impressive 25 appearances for the relegation battlers last season, showing his confidence and calmness when in possession. 

He’s a player who enjoys getting his team forward with quick and accurate passing but unlike other midfielders he’s not afraid to win the ball back for his team by sticking his foot into a tackle or harassing players who are on the ball. His awareness of what is going on around him is very good as well, similar to what his team mate Michael Carrick does. It seems like they both know where they will pass the ball before it’s even played to them. Sir Alex Ferguson will look to develop his talents by giving him a lot more games when he is fully fit.

Josh McEachran is another midfielder that is looks to be a hot prospect for the future. The Chelsea man is a playmaker that is very good on the ball dribbling wise, taking defenders on, making it hard to get the ball off of him with his close control and great balance. He also has great vision but he hasn’t broken into the Chelsea side yet but he has been given the opportunity to show his talent in a few games and has been very impressive.

The future of the national side seems to be overloaded with creative players and a few clinical finishers. It’s not just the big names that are listed above but the likes of Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing are showing what they can do with the ball at their feet.

To add to that pool of talented players we still haven’t had the chance to see the developed Connor Wickham at Sunderland the same way we have seen Danny Welbeck at Man United, but his time will come eventually. His teammate Jack Colback has been given the chance by manger Martin O’Neill and has also shown promise in the middle of the park. 

England’s chances of winning a European Championships or a World Cup in the future have improved and I think it’s down to the Premier Leagues rule in squad registration. Squads must include 8 home grown players and that has helped the youngsters develop by playing in arguably the best league in the world. Without that how could we measure the talent we have in this country? All I know is that there will be exciting times for England whoever the manager is and the fans will be hoping that they will see the national side bring back a trophy in the next 10-15years.

Jordan Brown @MediaJB  

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Champions League no longer an obsession for Ibra

Ahead of Arsenal’s visit to the San Siro on Wednesday night, AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has claimed that the biggest prize in European football no longer obsesses him.

Wenger’s men travel to Milan for the first leg of the round of 16 to face Serie A’s defending champions hoping for a repeat of 2008, when goals from Cesc Fabregas and Emanuel Adebayor saw the Gunners prevail 2-0, knocking the holders out in the process

It was a different Arsenal then, and a different Milan as well.

In four years the Rossoneri have changed, out have gone Kaka and Pirlo – while club legend Maldini hung up his boots – in have come Robinho, Ibrahimovic, Boateng and Maxi Lopez.

The Swedish striker played a pivotal in Milan’s successful quest for the Scudetto last year – their first in seven years – and he’s determined to transfer domestic glory onto the European stage.

“A few years ago it was my only target, that was the only reason I played for,” said Ibrahimovic, speaking of the Champions League.

“I think I’ve grown up now, and I don’t put as much pressure on it as I used to,” continued the temperamental Swede.

“I’m focused to win everything, not just the Champions League.”

To do so Milan must first overcome Arsenal and Ibrahimovic knows it won’t be easy, given that the Rossoneri have been knocked out at this stage for the last four seasons, in each occasion by an English team.

“You don’t win because you’re the best player around, you win because you’re in the best team,

“Football is not about individuals, it’s a team sport,” continued the 2010 Treble winner with Inter.

Maybe, he’s really grown up.

Daniele Cancian @MUFC_dan87

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