Monday, 8 August 2011


Finally, football season is back. We can all stop pretending we really love other sports, as we’ve been doing the past 3 months. Yesterday’s Community Shield match was the best season curtain raiser I ever saw in my life. If it’s an indication of anything, it’s that this season is going to be simply brilliant.

Much as everyone including Sir Alex Ferguson tries to downplay the significance of the Shield, I tend to think it is a harbinger of things to come. Last year’s edition had Man U beating Chelsea comfortably, with Chicharito showing off his predatory instincts with a goal that came off his face! Chelsea looked old and bereft of ideas in that game, often resorting to punting the ball to Drogba and hoping for him to turn back the clock. If you think about it, the season followed pretty much the tone of that match. From Sir Alex’s celebration of United’s second goal, one can safely assume he knows the importance of these games, and him saying otherwise is Sir Alex being Sir Alex. He also claims they won’t make another signing this summer! Don’t be surprised to see Mr. Sneijder in Manchester soon.

New boys pushing the old guard.

I am convinced this season’s premiership title will be a straight shoot out between United and Chelsea as it has been for all but one year of the Russian oligarch’s era. I will elaborate.

 Man City will get closer to the throne this season but I reckon they still will not have enough to get a top two finish. I am of the belief that for teams to be successful long term, they need a spine, a group of players who the team is built around, a group of players who hold themselves personally accountable for their team’s success but mostly for their team’s failure. City doesn’t have this as yet. Maybe in two or three years when Vincent Kompany has been captain long enough, and Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure have gotten the club in their DNA. It goes without saying that the constant chopping and changing the squad and trying buy all the goods in the market, like toddlers, has to stop!

That, unfortunately for the Citizens, is not the biggest hindrance to their title credentials. The biggest obstacle is Roberto Mancini.  First of all, we need to remember that Mancini is not a proven winner. He was handed one Scudetto by a court and won a couple of other Scudetti while Milan and Juventus were mired in all sorts of problems stemming from the Calciopoli scandal that rocked Italian football at the time.

Secondly, Mancini is notoriously tactically rigid even in the face of obvious failure. Take yesterday’s game for example; he insisted on playing two defensive midfielders, de Jong and Milner/Barry to ‘stifle’ United in midfield even when it was clear they had lost that battle in the first 10 minutes of the game. This is a coach who insists on playing counter-attacking football regardless of the opponent or the situation, which explains why they draw so much. Which big team tries to play on the counter against mid-table opponents? Why would any coach boasting such an embarrassment of attacking talents try and play like Stoke?

Despite all this, I reckon City will overwhelm most teams with the sheer amount and depth of talent they possess, with or without Carlitos. David Silva is, to me, has the wisest feet in the league. Kompany will be a rock at the back as always and Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko are bound to knock in a couple. Of course we can’t forget about Balotelli. When he’s not dreaming up ways to make Mancini lose his hair, he can be devastating. He turns 21 this week. If he’s allowed to drink in America, it should be assumed he has matured. Then again, what do Americans know about maturity?

Liverpool has also made some impressive signings over the past half a year. Suarez has real quality though he also occasionally visited by the Balotelli disease (He got a 10 game ban in the Dutch league for biting an opponent!)  I think they’ve improved enough to get back in the top four. I have my reservations about Andy Carroll though. He strikes me as a typical run of the mill English striker; he can get 15 goals a season, a few England caps, not a big team striker, very overpriced and ever so slightly overrated. Darren Bent 2.0. This means Suarez is going to have to carry the slack most of time and the team’s fortunes will probably be tied to his.

Top two clash.

From United’s overrunning of City, I think it’s safe to say, they are going to be the team to beat this term. It also seems like they won’t have a slow start as was the case last season. Ashley Young looks like he was made for Old Trafford and the other new signings seem to have settled. That Cleverly kid may render the Sneijder transfer a waste. I personally think United don’t even need Sneijder in the first place. They have traditionally been a wing-play team and I have never known them to have the ball hogging playmaker that Sneijder is. They tried that with Juan Veron and we all saw how that worked out. The way I see it, that team is fine as it is. Chelsea have their work cut out this season just trying to live with the Red Devils.

He has it all to do.

If any team can do it, Chelsea can. Three words: young Portuguese tactician. Another three: Andre Villas-Boas. The one type of manager that Sir Alex hasn’t had to compete with, over his long tenure at OT, is the 'tactician'. Most of the managers Fergie routinely has for breakfast are more of man managers like himself. One can make a case for Mancini and Ancellotti but we have already discussed the former’s rigidity and the latter just never had the authority, or backing to make the required changes. AVB seems to have been given the license to mould his own team and implement his ideas in a way that his predecessor only dreamed about.

The only time Fergie has been up against a real tactician in the last 25 years, was when another young Portuguese tactician arrived to manage CFC. In truth, that was the only time Fergie’s hegemony over the EPL looked like it was in real jeopardy. Since the dawn of the Premiership era, United had never gone more than two years without a title. If they didn’t win one year, they’d win the next. It was a sure deal; you couldn’t bet on Utd two years in a row and lose twice! That was until Mourinho came onto the scene and won two consecutive titles, with record points totals and goal hauls. I dare say Abramovich’s trigger happiness preserved United’s hegemony. If AVB is anything like the advertised, Fergie has another thing coming. That all depends on which side of his gold-plated bed the Russian oligarch wakes up, of course. The right one, and we have a dynasty. The wrong one and we are back to grim faced Israeli undertakers stalking the touchline, or worse...Micheal Emenalo.

Final thoughts.

Predicting results of events with so many variables is always a difficult task and almost always involves some form of luck but I’ll give it a try, based on current squads and with all factors remaining constant.

One of Man United or Chelsea will win the league. As a CFC fan, I would pick my team, but if I had to stake my house on it, I would go with the Red devils, and hate myself for it. City will take third, a slight distance off the pace. I strongly believe Liverpool will have enough quality to dislodge Arsenal from the top tier. If Spurs hold on to Modric and buy a striker who actually knows where the net is, they could beat Arsenal to fifth, or even challenge for fourth with Liverpool. Spurs have the added advantage of being out the Champions League which makes them a wildcard. I will not go into Arsenal’s problems because I wrote a whole article about that at the end of last season and I haven’t see any changes, in fact, things seem to be getting worse. Players are being held hostage, in hope that they develop Stockholm_syndrome.

At the end of the day, football is entertainment. I am sure this season will be as entertaining as any. I also found that playing fantasy football helps relieve negative tension built over the soccer season. If your team loses over the weekend, you can always have Chicharito as a striker in you fantasy team and collect you a turn of points. It gives you some bragging rights with your mates. Arsenal fans, you can’t afford not to play fantasy football!

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