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2010/11 Review of the Season: Blackburn

June 2, 2011

Blackburn Rovers fans were left with a rather horrible taste in their mouth after Venky’s Chicken arrived and brought a wave of chaos across their club. Sam Allardyce wasn’t setting the world alight with expansive or exciting football but he was doing a functional job at getting results and keeping Blackburn safe in the Premier League. He was booted out for not sharing the new owner’s apparent hopes for the future and replaced by Steve Kean, whose agent happened to be the man who orchestrated the Venky’s takeover.

Kean’s appointment upset a lot of football watchers but he did start his tenure with a quick run of good results. That seemed to appease a lot of those who didn’t Allardyce’s unceremonious departure. Quickly though, the good form disappeared and Blackburn started to stare a relegation dogfight in the face.

As you know, they got out of it. But only on the last day by the skin of their teeth. So close was their call that there were even suggestions Kean could have lost his job before the end of the season. His big challenge will be his first full season in charge, assuming he gets the chance.

Regular Starting Eleven

Game of the season Wolves 2-3 Blackburn Trapped in a crisis that could have ended with Blackburn Rovers dropping into the Championship, the Lancashire club produced their best forty-five minutes of football to make sure of safety. They were anything but nervous as they put three past their relegation rivals in the first half to make sure of their Premier League security.

So much so, they were able to switch off for the second half and allow Mick McCarthy’s side to secure their own safety as well.

Player of the season Christopher Samba The fact that Christopher Samba has ended the season with a string of top European clubs apparently tracking him sums up just how good his season has been, even though all around him there has been chaos. In the third to last game with Blackburn facing West Ham, Samba made a string of important blocks as the Hammers laid siege to the Rovers goal. His incredible one man performance was outstanding and potentially season defining.

Season in a tweet

Biggest disappointment Roque Santa Cruz It is fair to say that Roque Santa Cruz’s first stint with Blackburn Rovers went pretty well. So much so that it earned him a £17.5 million move to Manchester City. After his time at the City of Manchester Stadium went sour, his return could have been glorious. Instead he looked out of shape, off the pace and of no use to his new manager. Luckily it was only a loan deal and he won’t be hanging around.

Changes needed for next season? Since Steve Kean took over as Blackburn chief, he’s been able to say that the squad of players he’s been working with weren’t his. Even though he did have the January window to do some recruitment; the squad remains largely filled with players that were signed by Allardyce. He’ll be keen to bring his own players, convince Samba and Phil Jones to remain with the club in the face of big offers, implement his own style on the football team and really launch an assault on his full season in charge.

Then, if things go wrong, he’ll have to answer any questions placed on him without blaming the previous manager.

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2010/11 Review of the Season: Birmingham City

June 1, 2011

Much like Arsenal, who they defeated to win the Carling Cup; Birmingham City’s season fell to pieces after the first domestic trophy of the season had battled over. In the twelve league games that Alex McLeish’s side played since the Carling Cup final, they claimed just seven points and fell from 14th into the relegation zone.

However, it would be unfair to simply blame the last three months of the season for Birmingham being relegated. The club simply didn’t score enough goals across the 38 league games they played and that is the simple reason why they will play in the Championship next season.

They scored just 37 goals with midfielder Craig Gardner finishing as the top scorer with a poor return of eight. In a season that broke the records for the number of goals scored in a season, it was never going to be enough.

Regular Starting Eleven

Game of the season Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City In the face of relegation, it’s easy to forget that Birmingham did end the season in possession of a trophy. On the day, Birmingham performed admirably against the heavy favourites. Arsenal were pressured on the ball and not allowed sufficient time to impose their strategy on the game.

The game will be remembered for the mix-up that lead to Obafemi Martins’ winner but to say Birmingham City were lucky to win the game overall is harsh.

Player of the season Ben Foster Joe Hart left behind big gloves to fill. The England number one enjoyed a superb loan season with City so when he was replaced by the former Manchester United player, some were expecting Foster to struggle. On his debut in the league, Foster saved a penalty and didn’t look back. Behind the formidable central pairing of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson, Foster looked calm and assured when called into duty. He had a fine first term with the Blues.

Season in a tweet

Biggest disappointment Alexander Hleb While there are quite a few attacking players to pick from, Hleb has to rank as the biggest failure. He was supposed to be the midfield spark linking up with the forwards and creating chances. It just didn’t happen for the former Arsenal man and as the season progressed, he featured less and less.

Changes needed for next season? Alex McLeish’s biggest task will be hanging on to his better performing players. The defensive trio Roger Johnson, Scott Dann and Ben Foster are all expected to be playing in the Premier League next year. He’ll need to replace them with players that gel quickly so that Birmingham can return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

It’s more than likely that the senior players will stay around for a second-flight season but McLeish may lose some of his foreign signings such as Zigic and Martins. Cameron Jerome should be able to get goals in the Championship.

And don’t forget Birmingham have to navigate an European campaign as well as playing 46 league games. It promises to be a busy summer at St. Andrews followed by a hectic playing season.

2010/11 Review of the Season: Aston Villa

May 31, 2011

Martin O’Neill. Kevin MacDonald. Gerard Houiller. Gary McAllister.

No club would be able to go through four different managers in a season and still expect to be successful. O’Neill left on the eve of the season kicking off. With all of the pre-season and preparation completed, his relationship with his employers finally reached breaking point. That left the team in the hands of Kevin MacDonald but it was always made clear that he was simply taking care of duties until a permanent appointment was made. He tried to lay stake to the role full-time but was eventually beaten to the job by Gerard Houllier.

The constant changing at the top and the new ideas of the Frenchman didn’t help the fortunes of the team. They struggled for consistency and a string of injuries forced Houllier to utilise his younger players more than he would have liked. The youngsters showed immediate promised but they struggled where their more experienced club mates would have seen out crucial results.

Having just about reached the coveted forty point mark and avoided being sucked into a relegation battle, Houllier was struck by a heart problem that passed over control to his assistant Gary McAllister for the remaining games. He eventually guided the team to finish in ninth. From four managers, a top half finish has to be considered as at least decent.

Regular Starting Eleven

Game of the season Aston Villa 3-0 West Ham The fact that Villa’s best performance of the season was on the opening day is almost enough to sum up their term. Mere hours after O’Neill had walked out on the club, they looked slick in possession and stylish in attack as they brushed Avram Grant’s men aside. Things started so well.

Player of the season Stewart Downing Where the rest of his teammates performance levels seemed to go up and down on an almost weekly level, Downing remained largely consistent throughout the season. Comfortable on the ball and capable across the midfield, he provided a string of assists and scored seven vital goals throughout the year. The recently recalled England international stood out in the Villa team all season long.

Season in a tweet

Biggest disappointment Stephen Ireland He was supposed to replace James Milner in the centre of the Villa midfield. Forced out of City for good reason other than the fact that he wasn’t a foreign import, Ireland should have suited a club like Aston Villa and the style of football they played. Things didn’t work out for him and he was shipped off to Newcastle in the January transfer window.

Changes needed for next season? According to the Birmingham Mail, Gerard Houllier is set to leave the club later this week. That will make the task of any new manager just the more difficult as before they join Ashley Young as well as some others could have already signed with Villa’s rivals. The England winger is being chased by a long line of potential suitors and this summer is expected to see him moving on.

As well as trying to replace Young in the starting line-up, Villa also need to bolster their squad options as they looked practically light on a few occasions this season. Richard Dunne and James Collins need at least competition for their places, if replacements aren’t to be found and Darren Bent will need someone else to shoulder the responsibility of getting goals. Getting Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal would be a great start.

2010/11 Review of the Season: Arsenal

May 30, 2011

It all seemed to be going so well. On Sunday February 27th Arsenal faced off with Birmingham in the Carling Cup final at Wembley, still contenders in the other three main competitions of the season. In the build-up to the game, ‘quadruple’ was whispered; just ever so quietly. The possibility of emphatically ending their barren spell of no trophies in five years with all four pieces of silverware was being considered.

And then it happened. In the dying moments of normal time with the scores tied at 1-1, Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny left the ball for each other. What should have been a routine clearance for the Frenchman or any easy pick-up for the Pole was instead allowed to bounce towards Birmingham’s Obafemi Martins. The Nigerian striker swept the ball into the goal and in that moment, a meltdown began. Within six weeks, Arsenal’s challenge in all competitions ended and the incredible work that had been put in to build up to that moment was seemingly wasted.

Arsenal end the season without any silverware once again but there were moments of enjoyment along the way. Over two ties with Barcelona, Arsenal were more than competitive until Robin van Persie was sent-off. Things could have ended very different had the full complement of Arsenal players stayed on the pitch.

On its own, fourth place in the league, last sixteen of the Champions League, Carling Cup runners-up and FA Cup quarter finalists isn’t a bad return from a season. The problem for Arsenal fans is that it had promised so much more.

Regular Starting Eleven

Game of the season Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona An incredible game and an incredible night saw Arsenal matching and then outplaying the apparent best team on the planet. Arsene Wenger’s side saved their best performance for the crucial leg and walked away with a well-deserved lead. They were disciplined in defence; keeping Barcelona at arm’s length and clinical in possession. The move for Andrei Arshavin’s winning goal was amongst the best football you’ll have enjoyed all season long. Sadly, it all went wrong in the second leg.

Player of the season Jack Wilshere In the space of one season, Wilshere went from the ‘great English hope’ to the anchor of the England midfield for years to come. His natural comfort on the ball means he regularly finds space in a packed midfield. Even when he was expected to look out of his depth, in the clashes with Barcelona and the crunch games with the other teams of ‘The Big Four,’ Wilshere simply rose to the level of the game and flourished. He fronted up against Xavi and Andres Iniesta like he’d been doing it for years.

Season in a tweet

Biggest disappointment Sebastien Squillaci He should have been the experienced head with previous of playing at the top of European competition that helped Arsene Wenger to shore up his troubled defence. But in truth, the Arsenal back-line looked more liable for a mistake every time that he played.

Changes needed for next season? Depending on who you listen to and what you read, Arsenal’s summer could be vastly different. Szczesny has done enough to warrant a full season as the number one and in front of him, it could really depend on who Arsene loses in the close season. Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner have already expressed their desire to leave and if more follow, Wenger will need to replenish his numbers from further afield than his youth teams.  Fabregas could finally be on his way to Barcelona which would leave a massive gap in the pivotal role of Arsenal’s system.

A striker to shoulder some of Robin van Persie’s goalscoring duties, a central defender to play alongside Thomas Vermaelen and a creative spark in midfield would be a start but things could get very busy around the Emirates especially as Wenger has already indicated he is expecting to be more active than he has been for some time.

Arsenal Ladies 2 – 0 Bristol Academy: How the Women’s FA Cup was won

May 23, 2011

Arsenal Ladies arrived at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry eyeing their eleventh Women’s FA Cup title.

Bristol Academy were appearing in their first final, having fallen at the semi-final stage on six previous occasions and spurred on by the 2-2 draw they had earned against their opponents just eight days previous in the Women’s Super League.

Unfortunately for those supporting the underdogs, Arsenal strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory with goals from Scottish internationals Kim Little and Julie Fleeting. The London club were able to keep Bristol Academy at arm’s length in the second period thanks to taking the two goal lead in the first half lead.

Unlocking Bristol

Bristol Academy were quick to the employ tactics they had worked on to stop Arsenal Ladies. Captain Corinne Yorston and Katie Daley took command of the defence and midfield banks and squeezed the space the Arsenal midfield had to work within. Loren Dykes and Helen Bleazard tucked in to close down space rather than trying to pose attacking threats.

Katie Chapman and Kim Little were caught in possession in the early moments and Bristol’s game plan seemed to work. The midfield three were unable to turn on the ball and look for a defence splitting pass.

Instead they were forced sideways and back; but it was the pressure and hard-work exerted by Bristol players that actually helped their opponents break down their strategy. The full-backs were always an available outlet. Their time was of course limited but after one hopeful long ball by Stephanie Houghton put Ellen White into a foot race she was always likely to win; Arsenal had found the key to unlock Bristol’s defensive structure.

The ball was quickly worked to Houghton and left-back Niamh Fahey who were just as quick to play White and Rachel Yankey in over the top of their markers. On almost every occasion, Arsenal were rewarded by creating a chance or earning a dead ball situation; but more importantly it forced Yorston to pull her backline deeper. Daley didn’t follow with her midfield four and that opened space for Little to operate within.

She dropped into the hole created and from there, scored the first goal. A defensive header landed at her feet and with two touches, Little had danced into the area. No midfielder was available to cover and she soon steadied herself to open the scoring.

Following the goal, Dykes and Bleazard tried to cut loose and put more pressure on the Arsenal full-backs but the Gooners had built up their rhythm and weren’t to be denied a second goal. Siobhan Chamberlain made two important saves from a free-kick and a header before Julie Fleeting got in front of her marker to nod in the second. The cross was created by Kim Little roaming out of the left and linking up freely with Yankey.

Deeper Bristol

Two down at half-time, Bristol Academy dropped much deeper in the second half and allowed Arsenal to play their usual possession football. Jess Whitlock didn’t return to the pitch after the break because of a neck injury and without the Welsh star’s eagerness to link the play with Ann-Marie Heatherson up front, the former WPS striker was left isolated.

The Academy seemed keen not to concede a game ending third goal but in turn, they also ruined their own chances of scoring the goal that could have made Arsenal nervous. From the six corners that Arsenal won in the second half, the ball was cleared by a Bristol player into the Arsenal half and straight back into their possession. Having pulled everyone into the area to defend the set-piece, the Academy Women decided against trying to break from the back and instead cleared their lines constantly.

Jordan Nobbs and Chapman anchored the midfield for last year’s beaten finalists superbly, spraying the ball to wherever a player had become free. Rachel Yankey refused to stop running off the shoulder of the right-back and with more considered delivery, a third goal could have arrived.

In the end, Arsenal Ladies weren’t made to scorn rue their missed opportunities of the second half. Bleazard’s free-kick that struck Emma Byrne’s bar in the 65th minute was the closest Bristol got.

Even in the dying minutes the Academy players struggled for possession. Jennifer Beattie replaced Fleeting for the last ten minutes and her presence up front for Arsenal caused a new set of problems. The versatile player, who started the semi-final at right back, very nearly set-up Little with her first touch; only for Chamberlain to stop the volley with another fine save.

Bristol Academy will be consoled in defeat by the fact that their appearance in the final has booked them a place in the Champions League.

Alternative Premier League Table

May 22, 2011

80 – Man Utd
79
78
77
76
75
74
73
72
71 – Chelsea, Man City
70
69
68 – Arsenal
67
66
65
64
63
62 – Tottenham
61
60
59
58 – Liverpool
57
56
55
54 – Everton
53
52
51
50
49 – Fulham
48 – Aston Villa
47 – Sunderland, West Brom
46 – Newcastle, Stoke, Bolton
45
44
43 – Blackburn
42 – Wigan
41
40 – Wolves
39 – Birmingham, Blackpool
38
37
36
35
34
33 – West Ham Read more…

Five reasons why Spurs need the Europa League

May 20, 2011

In the build-up to Tottenham Hotspur’s clash with AC Milan in the last sixteen of the Champions League, Harry Redknapp made his feeling pretty clear on the Europa League, UEFA’s secondary competition, when he said: “I think everyone that gets in it [the Europa League] wants to be out of it. They put reserve teams out every game.”

He’d only have to look at the reaction of Manchester City and Liverpool when they were both eliminated at the hands of Ukraine’s Dynamo Kiev and Portugal’s eventual finalists Braga respectively. There was no inquisition following the two defeats. No more dissection of what went wrong than other game. No tears cried that their European campaigns had halted all too abruptly. No post-mortem was carried among English clubs to uncover why none had reached the last eight of the competition. The English press, for the most part, appeared relieved to have their Thursday evenings back to themselves. They moved on without notice.

The Europa League is constantly brandished a “distraction” and a “nuisance.” It’s not the sort of competition you apparently want to be involved in if you are going to remain competitive towards the business end of the season. It’s seemingly guaranteed to crush the Champions Leagues hopes of any teams involved; but I beg to differ. Harry finished his comment by stating: “We want Champions League football again next year – it has been enjoyable and we want it.”

For Spurs to get back into the Champions League in 2012, I feel Tottenham need to be in the Europa League next terms and put in a strong showing. Allow me to explain… Read more…

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