1. Player Power?
Last Saturday’s action at Goodison Park provided enough talking points to reasonably fill this article on it’s own – United once again falling asleep late on to hand over valuable points, the irony of Alex Ferguson watching an opposing manager lose the plot over a lack of time added on, Tim Cahill proving himself once more as an excellent forward option, the continued targeting of Jonny Evans as a weak link and Dimitar Berbatov’s renaissance to a top level striker are all worthy of discussion, however in the interest of equality some space has to be left for other matters. For this reason, it is the story that overshadowed each of these points that will (unsurprisingly) be dealt with.
For whatever reason you want to believe Wayne Rooney was omitted from United’s squad last Saturday, it’s doing spoke volumes as to the extent of damage media coverage can wreak on the game. That the abuse (partly in the form of the admittedly humorous ”no woman, no kai” song) he would likely have been subjected to from the home fans was given as an excuse is an aside to the fact that should a player have anything to hide, his career is effectively subject to those who seek to make a living off revealing it. The clear argument is that a player in Rooney’s position should never have left himself be involved in this alleged mess is an obvious and understandable one, but as long as humans are humans and twenty-something footballers are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, “mistakes” such as this will continue to be made. A read through the eye-opening blog of ex Premier League star Rohan Ricketts will tell you all you need to know about the levels of temptation open to the stars we follow every weekend.
The concept of media stings is not a new one but it is an increasingly common feature for sports stars to deal with. Furthermore, it is seemingly becoming more and more of a uniquely British culture, a point alluded to in various publications and podcasts over the past eight days. The simple fact is, that as long as people will continue to buy the papers that feature this “news”, Fleet Street editors will continue to seek similar stories. The real question is whether or not the players will say enough is enough and get themselves in check or else flee to foreign shores where there private lives may be treated just so. Shaping up or shipping out may well soon be their only options.
2. Hart-broken? What goes up……
After a fairlytale start to the season where it took four games (including internationals) until he was beaten from play, Joe hart could have been forgiven for thinking all his Christmases had come at once. Number one for both club and country and with the media fawning over him as if he had discovered a secret to end world poverty, Hart’s future seemed as bright as could be. Now, off the back of a nervy display in Basel last week and a comedy mix-up with Kolo Toure leading to a vital goal for Blackburn last Saturday, it seems like the shine has come off the young goalkeepers season just as quickly as it went on.
Not for a second am I suggesting that Hart is some sort of fraud, he is in my view, without doubt one of the top five goalkeepers in the Premier League but the extent to which players are hyped up almost overnight can have little positive effect on their careers. Its a scenario we’ve seen played out countless times before, a player builds up a steady reputation as a solid performer then puts in two/three excellent performances and suddenly he’s the bright hope and the answer to all that is wrong in the game. Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, Micah Richards…… the list goes on.
While Joe Hart very well may turn out to be these things, surely it’s better to at least reserve judgement until he has proven himself over the course of more than a handful of games at the very top level (no offense to Birmingham) rather than loading him with the pressure at this stage of his career?
3. What price a goal?
Before this weekend, an astonishing statistic emerged that not only had Blackpool scored more goals than Manchester City, they had also created more chances, taken more shots and had a higher percentage of successful crosses. I’m not sure where these stats lie after the weekend (except for the fact that Blackpool have pushed further ahead in the goals scoring charts) but for a club who have spent £150m since last December, largely on attacking talent may I add, to be suffering so poorly in their opponents half means that something just can’t be right.
Try as they might last Saturday, as the clock ticked down and the home crowd became increasingly restless , City and their elite team of expensively assembled football mercenaries just couldn’t force an all important winner against Blackburn as chance upon chance was squandered, smothered or blocked. Meanwhile, roughly three hours away in St. James Park, DJ Campbell, Blackpool’s latest recruit signed for the same money as whats down the back of Sheikh Mansour’s couch was sprung from the bench to put the final touches to the Tangerine’s victory over Newcastle. What’s that phrase about a funny old game?
4. Has anything changed at Liverpool?
If any of you were savvy enough to take heed of Paddy Power’s advice regarding the Red’s trip to St. Andrews on last week’s BPF podcast you’ll be most likley spending the early part of this week counting your riches. No offense to his highness Paddy but it didn’t exactly take a genius to predict all the same, of the last seven league games between these sides neither side has been able to better the other. These results are testament both to Birmingham’s incredible rise to a position where they are most certainly worthy of their position as mid-table perennials as well as the level of decline being witnessed in the red half of Merseyside.
Last season, in the same venue Rafael Benitez withdrew a seemingly fully fit Fernando Torres from the fray, much to the surprise of players and fans alike. It was to be (one of) the final nail(s) in Benitez’ Liverpool coffin and upon his exit many fans rejoiced at the prospect of a new era for the club. It is therefore most worrying for Pool fans that there seems to have been very little to have changed in the time that has passed since Rafa’s departure. Sunday’s game saw Liverpool play a wrong formation away from home (4-4-1-1), suffer a severe lack of midfield creativity (not a huge surprise given that it consisted of Jovanovic, Maxi, Poulsen and Lucas) and once more suffer through an abject performance from their striker….. okay maybe that’s not all that familiar an experience but the much discussed (it even prompted Jamie Redknapp to offer an opinion) lack of effort and quality from Torres is a growing concern amongst those who believe his best days on Merseyside may be behind him.
Have Liverpool found their new level alongside the Birminghams of the world?
5. Over to Hou, Gerard…..
With eleven minutes to go in last night’s encounter against Stoke, new Villa boss Gerard Houllier, watching from foreign shores as he irons out the last of the paperwork with the French Football Federation, must have been a happy man. Arriving over to a team third in the league with spirits no doubt high, he would surely have been relishing his first day in the job. Fast forward to the end of the game and things have taken a turn for the worse. His new side have now been beaten twice in four games, once to a scoreline of 6-0 from a newly promoted side and another to a heartbreaking last minute winner.
Opinions are split on Houllier’s appointment. Some see him as the mastermind behind the golden generation of France’s world cup winning side in 1998 as well as the “Plastic Treble” during his time at Liverpool while others associate him with an endless list of failed transfers and the pathetic joke that was the French set up over the last years of Raymond Domenech’s reign. Whatever your view on him, Houllier’s managerial credentials will be fully tested when he takes over the reign at Villa Park. One thing is for sure, Villa fans will be hoping the arrival of their manager will be equally as well received by their team as Tony Pulis’ was by Stoke after 45 minutes last night.