Category Archives: The Mazy Run

Could Van Wolfswinkel be the man to wake Norwich from their slumber?

Sporting Lisbon striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel appears to be the latest in a long line of strikers linked with a move to Carrow Road this January. However, with reported targets Gary Hooper likely to stay in Glasgow to see out Celtic’s Champions League campaign and Danny Graham being prepared to fight for his place in Swansea’s League Cup Final line-up, Norwich manager Chris Hughton may now focus his full attention on acquiring the services of Van Wolfswinkel.

Norwich have endured a turgid run of form since mid-December having picked up only 1 point from their last possible 18, leaving them in 13th place, just 6 points above the relegation zone. This recent slump can largely be attributed to their misfiring strike force as the Carrow Road club have only scored 5 goals in their last 6 games and still await their first league win of 2013. Alarmingly – with only 4 goals – midfielder Robert Snodgrass is the club’s top goalscorer this year as strikers Grant Holt and Steve Morison have been unable to replicate the form they both produced last year during their inaugural Premiership season.

Hughton will be hoping to remedy this statistic before the transfer window slams shut by bringing in a player he believes to be a proven goalscorer and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel could be his man. The 23 year old Dutch striker – who has been the rumoured pursuit of Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester United in recent seasons – joined Sporting Lisbon in June 2011, after successful spells in his homeland with Vitesse Arnhem and more notably Utrecht, for whom he netted 26 goals in 2 Eredivisie seasons. Highlights during his time with Utrecht included a Europa League hat-trick against Celtic and a first and only cap for the Dutch national side which sparked the interest of many clubs around Europe including Portuguese giants Sporting.

On the surface it may appear strange for the Lisbon-based side to be willing to part with their 5.4million Euro signing and top goalscorer who has netted them 26 goals in 52 games since his arrival – a ratio of 1 goal in every other game. However, Sporting have endured financial difficulties in recent months, exemplified by UEFA’s decision to freeze the club’s prize money as a result of their inability to meet payments due to other clubs and employees. Subsequently, club captain Daniel Carrico was sold to Reading earlier this month for just 750,000 Euros and Van Wolfwinkel could be the next player to follow him out of the exit door at the Jose Alvalade Stadium in a cut-price deal.

Whether Sporting Lisbon are likely to sell their main marksman to Norwich for a figure as low as the £5million reported in the papers last week remains unclear, but what is certain is that Chris Hughton needs to sign a goalscorer before the transfer window closes to prevent the Canaries from sliding further into the relegation mire.

Is Ashley Cole worth the money Chelsea are paying him?

Last week it was confirmed that Ashley Cole has signed a one year extension to his current contract with Chelsea, ending months of speculation that he would be following team-mate Frank Lampard out of the exit door at Stamford Bridge this summer.

Rumoured to have been offered £200,000 a week, were the Chelsea hierarchy right to pay this amount to keep their 32 year old left back?

Rarely out of the media spotlight, Ashley Cole’s off-field antics certainly divide opinion, but on the pitch there are seldom few doubters of his ability. Such is the admiration of the left back – in this country at least – there was a near public outcry recently when Real Madrid’s Marcelo was voted ahead of Cole as the world’s best left-back of 2012 in the Fifa Team of the Year, especially given Cole’s massive contribution to Chelsea’s Champions League success last season.

In November of 2012, strong rumours circulated that Cole’s former coach at Chelsea – Carlo Ancelotti – was keen to bring the England international to Paris Saint-Germain, a rumour that was strongly exacerbated by Cole’s mother after she wrote on Facebook “Well looks like his going somewhere better hear than the talk of man u. Not too far on the Euro star x”. Given the Parisian club’s seemingly limitless wealth at present – as they embark on a golden era backed by Qatari investment – talk of a move for Cole to the Parc de Princes certainly had credibility.

Roman Abramovic and his team may therefore have been provoked into offering Cole the lavish salary which he accepted last week, knowing that PSG had the financial clout to trump any offer to the player below the £200,000 agreed upon. PSG’s interest – whether concrete or not – put Cole in a no-lose situation and there can be little doubt that the player and his agent used this supposed interest from the French side as a bargaining tool during contract talks with the West London club.

Why were Chelsea afraid to entertain the prospect of a potential replacement for Cole? Fellow England international Leighton Baines would have been the obvious candidate, given that his performances for Everton in the past two seasons have lead many pundits to suggest that he should be chosen ahead of Cole in the England set-up. Baines’ services would have likely cost Chelsea an outlay of at least £15millon however, as is his importance to the Goodison Park side. It is doubtful that the likes of renowned left-backs Phillip Lahm, Marcelo and Jordi Alba could have been enticed to Stamford Bridge and given Chelsea’s poor record of developing youth players, it appears as if there were no viable alternatives to Cole for the London side.

Therefore it could be argued that Abramovic and his cohorts are justified in paying over the odds to fend off interest in their left back from the likes of PSG. Cole not only has exceptional technical ability and great knowledge of his position, but adds stability and experience to a team that constantly seems to be undergoing a facelift. Why Cole’s team-mate Frank Lampard has not been made a similar offer remains a mystery.

Liverpool’s Sebastian Coates would be a great signing for Wigan

Last week’s gossip columns were awash with rumours that Brendan Rodgers would be prepared to loan out Uruguayan centre-half Sebastian Coates. Wigan are one of many interested parties including West Brom and Championship side Bolton Wanderers. With Coates having failed to break into the first team at Anfield, a loan deal to the DW Stadium could be a great move for all parties.

Coates was brought to Merseyside in August 2011 from Uruguayan side Nacional at a reported cost of £7million and was one of many signings made under the club’s former Director of Football Damian Commoli. Coates arrived at Anfield with great credentials, the then 20 year old having recently won the prestigious award for Best Young Player at the Copa America as his country lifted the 2011 title.

However, his opportunities at Liverpool have been limited to just 21 first team appearances, largely owing to the successful centre-half pairing of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel which has recently seen fellow centre back and veteran Jamie Carragher question his future at the club. It does not appear to be the case that Rodgers has lost faith in the Uruguayan, more so that Agger and Skrtel appear to be immovable objects in the heart of the Liverpool defence, although the clubs’ attempt to land Norwegian Vegard Forren last week may dispute this.

Now at the age of 22, Coates will be craving more game time and the opportunity to prove to Rodgers that he has what it takes to succeed in the Premier League.

The DW Stadium could be the perfect arena for Coates’ to showcase his talent. Wigan boss Roberto Martinez has an enviable record of developing talented youngsters such as James McCarthy, Antonio Valencia and the best example being Tom Cleverley.

Cleverley enjoyed a loan spell with the Latics during the 2010/11 season and has since gone on to be a first-team regular with parent club and champions elect Manchester United.  He has also received international recognition this season and a lot of his progress can be attributed to his tuition under Martinez at Wigan two seasons ago. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that with game time at the DW Stadium, Martinez will be able to have a similar effect on Coates.

Wigan have this season shipped 43 goals – the second worst defensive record in the league which has largely contributed to their recent demise into the relegation zone. Martinez will be looking to rectify this issue before the January transfer slams shut and Coates – an imposing figure at 6 feet 5 inches – could add the required steel to the heart of the Wigan defence, which has struggled badly under the languid Emerson Boyce and cumbersome Gary Caldwell.

If Wigan are able to secure the Uruguayan centre-half’s services until the end of the season, the ensuing relegation battle would give Sebastian Coates a real test of his ability in the Premiership as well as the opportunity to display his real worth to both Wigan and perhaps more importantly Brendan Rodgers.

The Bundesliga: Everybody’s second favourite league in 2013/14 (Video)

This week’s announcement that Pep Guardiola will be re-starting his already illustrious managerial career in the Bundesliga as opposed to the Premier League next season appears to have shocked many football journalists and supporters on our shores, who fully expected Guardiola to take a seat in the dugout vacated by either Rafa Benitez or Roberto Mancini. However, should we be so surprised that Pep has elected to test himself in Germany?

It can be argued that the Bundesliga is the most competitive of all the major European leagues, having had 5 different champions in the past 10 years, more than the Premiership, La Liga and Serie A, albeit this season Guardiola’s future employers are currently 9 points clear in first position and look certain to finish top of the table come May under the stewardship of current incumbent Jupp Heynckes.

It could also be argued that the Bundesliga is the most watchable league in Europe, with each match averaging 2.86 goals per game, the highest figure of all the major European leagues this season.

Bayern’s main rivals Borussia Dortmund have undergone somewhat of a renaissance since the appointment of highly regarded young manager Jurgen Klopp in May 2008. Although they are currently 12 points adrift of Heynckes’ Bayern, Klopp led Dortmund to successive Bundesliga titles in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons and are many people’s dark horses for the Champions League this year, given their performances and results against Real Madrid and Manchester City in the group stage.

Both Dortmund and Bayern can point to their youth academies as one of the main reasons for their recent successes, in what is a very exciting era for youth development in Germany – to the benefit of both the Bundesliga and the Nationalmannschaft.

The German Football Association elected to re-vamp youth development in the country after the National Team’s famous 5 – 1 defeat at home to England, coupled with failures in both France 98 and Euro 2000. The  German F.A.‘s decision appears to have been vindicated as in recent seasons the country has produced the likes of Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze. Given Pep Guardiola’s fine record of developing products of La Masia academy with Barcelona, there will be great appeal for him to replicate this with emerging German talent in what looks set to be a golden age for German football.

Will Guardiola be able to replicate Barcelona’s ‘tiki-taka‘ style at Bayern Munich however? This is destined to be the question on the lips of every football supporter around the world in the coming months. One thing is for sure, given Pep’s appointment at Bayern, their ongoing duel with rivals Borussia Dortmund, the extraordinary pool of gifted young footballers in Germany at present and guaranteed goals every week, spectators of the Bundesliga in 2013/14 are in for a treat!

Strachan’s greatest challenges as Scotland boss (Video)

The news of Gordon Strachan’s appointment as Scotland manager last week was greeted by a swell of positivity from both the national press and the Tartan Army – they believe that he is the right man for the job.

Strachan may not be the best Scottish manager in the game at the moment, but given that the likes of David Moyes, Paul Lambert and Steve Clarke feel that the job as Scotland boss would be a step down from the job as manager of an English Premier League side, Strachan was undoubtedly the best available candidate for the position.

Strachan – Scotland’s sixth managerial appointment since the sacking of Craig Brown in 2001 – replaces Craig Levein who has left the national team bottom of their World Cup qualification group, having only collected 2 points from their opening 4 games and lying in 69th place in the Fifa World Rankings below the likes of Libya, Sierra Leone and Uzbekistan.

With a seat on the plane to Rio for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil seemingly out of the question, Strachan’s mandate is to finish in as high a position as possible in the qualification group, or risk being seeded in pot 5 for the European Championship qualifiers for France 2016. Given Scotland’s upcoming opponents in their current qualification group, this will be no easy task.

Leading group A with 10 points from their opening 4 games are a Luka Modric inspired Croatia – who the Scots still have to face at home and away – and a Belgian side in the midst of a golden generation, with players the likes of Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini gracing the starting elevens of some of the continent’s finest club sides. Strachan’s team must also travel to intimidating venues in Serbia and Macedonia, the latter of whom Scotland tasted defeat against under Craig Burley in 2008. Wales are the group’s remaining opponents who will face Scotland at Hampden in March in Strachan’s first competitive match in charge.

Arguably Strachan’s greatest opponent during his tenure as Scotland boss will be an overly expectant media and Scottish support, who although satisfied with Gordon Strachan’s appointment last week, will be all too keen to hark back to the glory days of Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law and Archie Gemmill if results do not go Scotland’s way.

Strachan’s predecessor Craig Levein claimed ahead of the current qualification campaign, that this was the best group of Scottish players for years and he may have had a point. Scotland are blessed with a plethora of midfield and attacking talent, with the likes of Steven Fletcher, James Morrison and Jamie Mackie plying their trade successfully in the English Premiership. However, Scotland’s defensive options leave a lot to be desired – first choice centre half Gary Caldwell has a reputation amongst the Scottish support of being error prone and his regular partner – Christophe Berra – looked out his depth in the Premiership prior to relegation with Wolves.

The sad news that Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher will miss the rest of the season as he battles his on-going condition with ulcerative colitis further adds to what could be deemed as a very bleak outlook for Scotland and their new head coach. However, the big advantage that Gordon Strachan has over previous national managers of the last decade is the expansion of the European Championships from 16 teams to 24. The Tartan Army will be hoping that Strachan will be the man to guide their country to its first major tournament in 18 years.

Brittle Arsenal can’t rely on Jack the Lad (Video)

Tony Adams. Patrick Vieira. Thierry Henry. Robin Van Persie – All experienced, driven Arsenal leaders during Arsene Wenger’s reign who took command when the Gunners needed to be dug out of a hole.

Jack Wilshere dug Wenger’s current Arsenal side out of a hole on Wednesday night with an inspiring man of the match performance and clinical late finish to dispatch Swansea out of the FA Cup, but he was unable to repeat his heroics yesterday afternoon at Stamford Bridge where his team lost 2 – 1 to London rivals Chelsea, in spite of a second half fight back.

In an interview given to Sky Sports prior to yesterday’s match, Wilshere admitted that he sees himself as a leader on the pitch at the Emirates. At the age of only 21 and having just recovered from a serious and lengthy injury, Wilshere should not be carrying the pressure of being the catalyst for Arsenal’s performances on his shoulders at such a crucial development stage in his young career.

Since Arsenal last won a trophy – in 2005 – the constant narrative surrounding the club is Wenger’s over-reliance on youngsters and his failure to add more experienced personnel to the squad to support them. This oversight needs to be corrected during the current transfer window more than ever before – Arsenal have collected their lowest points tally for this stage of the season under Wenger’s tutelage and look increasingly unlikely to finish in the Champions League spots for the first time since his appointment in 1996.

Sky Sports co-commentator Niall Quinn yesterday afternoon described Arsenal as “brittle” while pundit Gary Neville claimed that in recent seasons, Manchester United have been well aware of the Gunners’ “soft centre” which he and his team-mates attempted to exploit during matches against them. Arsene Wenger himself even confessed in an interview prior to the Stamford Bridge match-up that his team need to be “more physical and aggressive”. Yet, based upon Arsenal’s performance so far this season, many of their supporters will be unconvinced that their current crop of players are capable of demonstrating a ruthless streak which could be argued Arsenal have been missing since the 2003/04 season of “The Invincibles”.

Arsenal have yet to dip their hands into their seemingly deep pockets this January, although were strongly linked with a move for Napoli Striker Edison Cavani last week as Arsene Wenger admitted his interest in the player during a press conference. Uruguayan Cavani has scored 65 goals in two and a half seasons for the Serie A club and was recently voted as the 20th best player in the world by FourFourTwo magazine.

With summer signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud largely misfiring, having only amassed 12 league goals between them since their arrival, Edison Cavani could be the ideal candidate to ease the burden on young Jack Wilshere as Arsenal mount a challenge for a top 4 spot.

Liverpool show real promise despite Old Trafford defeat

 

Liverpool fans will never accept a defeat at Old Trafford. However, based on their team’s performance against Manchester United yesterday, they might be beginning to accept that their team are showing real signs of progress under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers.

As Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini claimed recently, Robin Van Persie could be the difference in the title race this season. It could easily be argued that Van Persie was the difference at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon. The Dutch striker was a virtual bystander throughout the 90 minutes aside for two decisive moments. The first, his instinctive movement to meet Patrice Evra’s low driven cross which gave Manchester United an early lead. The second, a beautiful curled delivery from a free-kick which set up United’s second.

Had Liverpool been as clinical in the final third of the pitch as their opponents, they could have easily returned to Merseyside with at least a point.

In the first half, Liverpool maintained possession in the middle of the pitch but were unable to penetrate United’s experienced backline as Luis Suarez cut an isolated figure up front. However, Brendan Rodgers’ decision to introduce new signing Daniel Sturridge at half time, giving Suarez more support and allowing the Uruguayan to drop deeper and link up play, saw Liverpool’s control of possession rewarded with some real opportunities in front of goal in the second half.

Sturridge took one of these opportunities, pouncing on a rebound after great endeavour on the edge of the United area and a shot from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. However, Sturridge could not double his tally when he snatched at a great chance to score Liverpool’s equaliser in the last 10 minutes, ballooning over from 10 yards when it looked easier to hit the target.

A few pundits have questioned the signing of Sturridge – wondering in particular if it’s possible for him and Suarez to play alongside each other in Liverpool’s attack. Their partnership and link up play in the second half at Old Trafford certainly looked promising – one of many encouraging signs of progress for Brendan Rodgers’ and Liverpool supporters.

Rodgers’ has only been in charge of Liverpool for 22 Premier League games, but it is clear to see that his short passing, controlling philosophy – so revered during his time at Swansea – has been well grasped by his Liverpool players, as they dominated large swathes of possession and territory against United, particularly in the second half.

Another promising sign for the Reds yesterday, was the performance of 19 year old right back Andre Wisdom, who – making only his 16th first team start – looked both solid in defence and positive in attack throughout. Rodgers’ has placed faith in the clubs’ youth academy since his arrival by selecting youngsters Raheem Sterling, Suso and Wisdom for the first team and each of them have rarely looked out of their depth.

There are obviously still areas for great improvement at Anfield. United exposed Liverpool’s fragility from set pieces and their sloppiness when defending balls into the box yesterday afternoon. Of more concern to Rodgers’ will be his team’s lack of brutality in front of goal – a hangover from the Reds campaign under Kenny Dalglish last season which has seen them find the net on just 35 occasions this term – 19 goals fewer than yesterday’s opponents United.

Liverpool started the season slowly under Rodgers’ but have shown more consistency of late having recorded 15 points from a possible 21 since December 1st prior to their meeting with United. The Reds’ recent form appears to have given them a real air of confidence which was in evidence against United as they refused to panic and abandon their patient passing style even when they found themselves two goals down.

In spite of defeat yesterday, Rodgers’ and his squad should return to Merseyside with a real degree of satisfaction. Their great Manchester rivals and Champions elect may be 24 points ahead of them in the Premier League table at present, but this gulf in points was far from evident on the pitch at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon as Liverpool took the game to their opponents in the second half and left United to sigh with relief when the final whistle was blown. 

Gary Armstrong