No to VAR & a look ahead to the FA Cup Semi Final weekend – feat Keith Hackett

Host @HarrySymeou and panelist Dan De Luca are joined by former top level referee & former manager of the PGMOL Keith Hackett to discuss at length the Premier League clubs’ vote against the introduction of VAR next season.  We also look ahead to this weekends FA Cup Semi Finals: Manchester United vs Spurs & Chelsea vs Southampton.  As always Keith provided plenty of insight, shared his honest views and doesn’t hold back in his opinions.

Check out youaretheref.com for more of Keith’s excellent analysis.

Twitter: @sofasportspod

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The Battle for Survival

On our most recent podcast the panel, hosted by Harry Symeou, discussed the relegation battle in the EPL. Let’s take it as given that West Brom are down, the bookies (as it currently stands) believe that the table will stay as it is, which advocates that both Southampton and Stoke will join West Brom in the Championship next season.

In my opinion, Stoke will be relegated. Paul Lambert’s men haven’t won since his opening game in charge at home to Huddersfield on January 20th , and still have to go away to an in-form Liverpool at the end of this month. The Staffordshire based outfit became the first team to concede fifty goals in Europe’s top five leagues this campaign; stressing a defensive frailty in the side to say the least. Lambert has failed to instil any more defensive nuance and instead seems to be relying on Shaqiri, who for what it’s worth is the second best player outside the top six (after Mahrez) for me.

Southampton have enough combat and quality in their squad to stay up. We saw that on Sunday against Arsenal where they were unlucky to come away empty handed from the Emirates. I’m impressed at how they bounced back against West Ham and they seem to have got that fight in them. They’ve got to go to Manchester City on the last day of the season so they need to acquire as many points on the board as possible before then! With Chelsea focusing on the FA Cup, Southampton could get something this weekend in the early kick off, but they’ll be relying on someone to slip up…..

From the day the season started I’ve maintained Huddersfield will go down and nothing has made me more confident than the fact that Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson yesterday backed the Terriers to stay up. I’ve got a feeling they are going to miss the chance of taking all 3 points against Watford on Saturday. As well as having the second-worst goal difference in the league (-28), they haven’t won since beating West Brom back in late February. However, Paul Merson jokes aside, the foremost reason for tipping them for the drop is the unnerving away trips that lie ahead in their final three games.

Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal with two of those coming away from home. A squad consisting largely of Football League stalwarts and German imports, I just feel their lack of experience at this level will cost them. They simply don’t score enough and the fact that only two Huddersfield players scored more than four league goals last season should have been a sign of what was to come.

Words: @Alavi_SSN

Buffon See’s Red, Pep’s City Crash Out, A Greek God in Rome? What’s That All About?

Host @HarrySymeou is joined by regular panelists Simon Alavi & Dan De Luca. This week’s special guest is the host and brains behind the fabulous @shootthedefence – Stel Stylianou. The panel look back on a whole load of Champions League drama, a disappointing week for City, we try make sense of the relegation battle and take a brief look at the current situation in Serie A as Juve and Napoli continue to fight for the Scudetto.

Don’t forget to register your vote for this years Football Blogging Awards – You can vote via Twitter by simply Tweeting the following…

I am voting in @theFBAs for @sofasportspod in the category #FBAPodcast #FBAs

Twitter: @sofasportspod

www.sofasportsnews.com

Salah leads the way

At the start of the season myself and DDL promised the very dubious Harry Symeou that Mohamed Salah would have a fine season in a Liverpool shirt. However, my money was was on Sergio Aguero to finish as the Premier League’s top goal scorer, as it is every season which is compounded by the belief that I’m betting on the best striker in the league. Possibly the best player, which I firmly still have confidence in.

Nonetheless the race for the race for the 2017-18 Premier League Golden Boot is well and truly on, with Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah leading the way, closely followed by Sergio Aguero. Last season we saw Harry Kane score 29 goals in 30 appearances for Tottenham, whilst Romelu Lukaku a close (ish) second ended up with 25 in 37 games for Everton.

It looked as though history was going to repeat itself after the England striker scored consecutive hat-tricks against Burnley and Southampton, but an ankle injury to Harry Kane  meant Salah  had the chance to strike 4 times in a 5-0 rout of Watford therefore moving 4 goals clear of Harry Kane in the golden boot standings.  This week his vital goal led to another Liverpool victory, his 29th Premier League goal of the campaign and his 37th in all competitions. What impresses me most about Mohamed Salah is that he’s always first to react every time his team win the ball and break away.

The Egyptian is alert enough to pop in pockets of space whether starting from a central area or having cut inside from his natural wide position. He’s selfless too, as are Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero to be fair. He’s also quick to note the impact of “Bobby” Firmino, quoted recently as saying “He is doing everything. Running, fighting for every ball, giving the ball back, trying to get the ball in any position. He’s very good for us, and very important. He’s very, very smart

In some ways I hope the Egyptian wins the Golden Boot because he deserves it for having re-joined the EPL despite things not going his way the first time around but also for the quality of many of his goals.  As short as 1/8 with some bookies you wouldn’t bet against Mohamed Salah. Just for reference he was between 60/1 and 70/1 before a ball was kicked.  Well I at least won’t be making the same mistake twice in one season!

Who do you guys think will end up as this season’s Golden Boot winner?

Words: @Alavi_SSN

Follow us on Twitter: @sofasportspod

 

United left feeling black and blue

Let’s face the facts, Manchester United have simply fallen short in meeting the standards set by the league leaders in this campaigns title race. Striving for a top three finish seems a more realistic target, and I am of the opinion that not a single competitor behind us is any closer to demonstrating the standard of football we’re witnessing from Manchester City so far this season. Having just watched my team being dominated for 90 minutes at Old Trafford, I have to say I’m at a loss in trying to piece together the reasons behind our failure. Having to surrender the championship midway through a season is a big ask for any Manchester United fan, but if I can be honest with myself, that is where I’m at. This article will touch on my take on why we’re so far behind our city rivals, and my theory behind how the evolution of the number 10 role is the main cause.

Pep Guardiola has guided his team to a remarkable 11 point gap, but is their squad that much better than ours I ask? They have a goalkeeper, once upon a time deployed as a left back, ticking that ‘ball playing ability’ box Guardiola craved so much so that he saw it necessary to push out a fans favourite and England’s number one goalkeeper, Joe Hart. A defence that again regularly focus on playing their way out of trouble. Attacking threats in Sterling, Sane, Jesus, and not to mention arguably the best striker in the game for the past few years Aguero – can’t complain there. With all this at their disposal I would still claim that above all else, their performances this season are elevated due to an excelling midfield. In them a group of world class players reaching the heights once displayed by a Barcelona of old.

I don’t have to remind you that this Barcelona team, led by Pep, entered an era of unfathomable superiority, during a period Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and of course Messi pulled all the strings. Pep evidently has a unique style of playing, and with it a habit of leaving his competitors behind. Could we be witnessing the beginning of a similar era of dominance with Manchester City now?

If we shift our attention to the United squad, we possess a keeper in De Gea of whom I consider the best in the world (if not the best then not many could argue at the very least in the top three). A defence that features promise in the shape of Bailly and Lindelof, and an erratic Rojo to always call upon should you want to concede a last minute penalty. Correct me if I’m wrong but we statistically enjoy the best defence record in the league so far this season, and with it boasting an unbeaten run of 40 games at Old Trafford, which until the heart breaking derby result, denied us of a record breaking milestone of 41.

Attacking force in the shape of Rashford, Martial, Lukaku and Ibrahimovic, we’re not doing too badly ourselves at this end of the pitch either. Call me bias, but when compared to City’s front line I would personally only favour their number 9 for ours – albeit an absolute world of difference between Lukaku and Aguero. Touching on the Lukaku signing, the Belgian striker finds himself under constant scrutiny of late, and if you ask me, rightfully so. Lukaku has so far this season been a shadow of his expectation. I want to see fearless hunger, regularly displayed by the likes of Rashford and Martial (and even Lingard!). A desire to charge at defenders with intent on beating a man. His struggles are no doubt a consequence of the pressure formed around his price tag, and we can only hope he turns it around soon.

At present our ‘in favour’ midfield selection features Pogba, Matic and somehow, Lingard. This compared with City’s chosen three, Fernandinho, David Silva and De Bruyne. I would certainly agree that we have strength in Matic, and a world class rising star in Pogba. Considering the absence of Pogba, we used Herrera with Lingard – is it any wonder that we fell short on Sunday.

Label me deluded, or overly optimistic if you will, but I believe we’re much closer to matching our rivals than what the league table would suggest. Mata and Mkhitaryan, considered by many as highly effective number 10 players, find themselves out of favour with Mourinho and I believe I’ve figured out why. My theory is that the number 10 role has become extinct and the position has now evolved into something bigger. I remind you that Mourinho once sold the likes of Mata, labelling the playmaker as a ‘luxury player’.

When deploying a Coutinho sort of player, often neglectful of his tracking back responsibilities, you loose something in the teams balance. This perhaps influenced Klopp’s decision when choosing to leave the talented Brazilian star on the bench for the Merseyside derby. Our balance was lost the moment we tasked a frightened Herrera to the job of man-marking De Bruyne, and unwilling to join in any attack. I watched City’s two midfield stars run the show, cleverly alternating in their roles between the number 10 and the tireless central midfielder. Herrera was left confused and uselessly dragged all over the pitch, leaving holes at every end of the field. This imbalance left an incapable Lingard with too much to do, and an out of confidence Lukaku, alone, isolated and as ineffective as ever. We were doomed.

Manchester City are demonstrating this alternating of positioning in midfield regularly, and the results of it are clear. Every time Silva bursts forward in his intimidating fashion, I notice De Bruyne drop that little bit more to offer stability. They are chopping and changing their roles, and between them claim 21 assists, and 8 goals already this season. Statistically, with Pogba featuring in our starting 11 we create and score a lot more goals and ultimately have a better win ratio. It is also noted that we concede far more goals with his involvement too.

As Pogba pushes forward driving our team, eager to create chances for the front three, he naturally neglects his role as a central midfielder for that attacking phase. It is during this phase that you must envision a player tasked to alternate, such as De Bruyne doing so for Silva in the example above. By dropping in behind, he takes on the role of controlling the middle and thus the balance is restored. This necessary alteration of roles provides a stability to a team that I believe we lack at present and City posses in abundance. I call this role a number 8 and a half, and there aren’t many out there. Probably because I just made it up.

There is it, my verdict on the derby and the miles between the two Manchester clubs could quite possibly be the difference of just a single player in an evolved, more advanced position. Now let’s go out and find one in January! In the meantime, Manchester United are left black and blue, and how very blue it feels right now.

Andy Andreas

sofasportsnews.com

Twitter: @sofasportspod

Facebook: Sofa Sports News – The Football Fan Network

Jose Bourinho?

I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live on the way back from Anfield at the weekend. If ever proof was needed to support the phrase; “a game of two halves” then Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Huddersfield was it. A real Jekyll and Hyde performance from the reds and the less said about the first half, the better.

On the show, there was an in-depth debate regarding Manchester Utd and the way they have been playing this season with Jose Mourinho in particular coming under scrutiny.

They had just beaten Tottenham at home and some callers were phoning in stating their displeasure at the style of football being played and the boring nature of the games involving their beloved Red Devils this season. This all seemed very odd to me. Bar the Huddersfield result, Manchester Utd have been unbeaten and sit second in the league. I found it really surprising that some Utd fans were actually complaining.

One caller stated that Manchester United must play in a particular way purely because they are Manchester United and made reference to the great teams managed by Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson. Whilst these teams were obviously very formidable and did produce some dominant scorelines (Fergie’s teams beating Roma 7-0 and Arsenal 8-2 being stand out examples). I’ve lost count of the number of times under Ferguson, that Utd scored a goal in the last 10 minutes to win a game 1-0.

What’s the difference between those 1-0’s and the 1-0’s under Jose?

As a Liverpool fan, I would 100% take consistent 1-0 wins over the odd 4-0 rout subsequently followed by draws and defeats any day of the week. A prime example is earlier in the season when Liverpool thrashed Arsenal 4-0 and then lost 5-0 to Man City, drew at home to Sevilla and Burnley and then lost again, this time, away to Leicester. During the same period, Manchester Utd won 3 and drew once scoring 11 goals.

Mourinho is no idiot. He knows what he is doing. He’s won things everywhere he’s been because he knows how to get results when it really matters. He knows that United, at the moment, would not have been able to outplay Liverpool at Anfield so he set up the team to get a point and that’s exactly what he got. It was the same against Spurs at Old Trafford. Even without star striker Harry Kane, Tottenham are more of an attacking threat than Utd and so Jose again set up his team defensively. The only difference being that on this occasion, Utd won the game 1-0.

Mourinho masterminding results is nothing new. He’s been doing it for years.  Another point made on 5 Live was regarding the Liverpool v Chelsea game back in 2014. Liverpool needed only a draw to keep themselves in the title race but ended up losing the game. The caller was placing the blame on the then Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers saying he should have changed his tactics for that game to be more defensive in their approach.

Whilst I can certainly see where he was coming from, I for one am inclined to disagree. Why risk changing a winning formula that had won the previous 11 games?  During those 11 games, Liverpool had beaten Arsenal 5-1, Everton 4-0, Manchester Utd 3-0, Tottenham 4-0, and Man City 3-2 playing this way. So why shouldn’t they have believed that they could have done the same against a weakened Chelsea team (Chelsea had a Champions League Semi Final against Atletico in their next game).

The reason for the loss in that game was the unfortunate slip by Steven Gerrard. Not Liverpool’s tactics. I still believe that had that slip not happened, Chelsea would never have scored in that game. This, added to the antics both on the touchline by Mourinho, and his players on the pitch, ultimately made it an impossible task.

Winning a game ugly is still winning  and I don’t think any other manager in the league would have been able to set a team up to get a result, away at Anfield during that run of results, other than Jose Mourinho.

A big reason why this topic has become so dominant in football discussions this season may well be due to the fact that there is another club in Manchester that have also been winning games whilst at the same time, scoring for fun and this has been used, in my opinion, as an unfair comparison.

Manchester City have some of the best attacking players in the league as well as strength in numbers in these attacking areas. So much so that £43.6m summer signing Bernardo Silva, who was so instrumental in Monaco’s title winning team of last season, has made only a handful of appearances this season and even fewer starts.

Manchester City have Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bryune  to name but a few of their attacking options. Compare that to Man Utd who, bar Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford can only really call upon Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

However, that being said, football fans have short memories. Manchester United have not been playing this so called “boring football” every game this season. More so only in the games in which Mourinho knows Utd won’t be able to run away with. It’s called game management.

At the start of the season Manchester United beat West Ham, Swansea, Everton and Crystal Palace 4-0 and currently find themselves second in both the league table and the table of most goals scored this season sitting behind Manchester City in both.

Hardly boring is it?

At the end of the day, Manchester United have played Liverpool at Anfield and Tottenham at home in recent weeks, arguably their two toughest league fixtures so far, and have come away with four points. Who cares that it wasn’t edge of your seat football? Football by its very nature is a results business and the score line at the end of the game is more important than number of shots or how much possession you had.

Those four points could be huge come the end of the campaign. Results win you trophies (United won 3 in Mourinho’s first season at the club) and that’s what football is all about.

Manchester United’s next Premier League fixture is away at Chelsea and I wonder what United fans would prefer to happen. Another uninspiring game where they hold on to a draw (maybe even nick a win like the Spurs game) or that United open up and play the expansive football their fans seem to crave which would likely play into Chelsea’s hands and end in a defeat?

I know which scenario I’d pick.

Dan James

Comparing Pep

When you think of a manager, you automatically think of someone who can manage people. I see the technical side of the game, formation and tactics etc as the coaches responsibility. Ferguson, Ancellotti, Sacchi, Mourinho and Clough have all built teams full of charisma. They wouldn’t always be considered fantastic coaches, although Mourinho being the first notable exception. The Portuguese manager has built his reputation by displaying his ability to assemble a winning mentality into every team he manages,

Which leads me onto another debate….Jose vs Pep.

People rightfully argue that Mourinho is purely a results oriented manager, organising his teams to get the desired result.  I am not doubting that Pep is definitely a good coach. A fantastic coach in fact. But he’s also always had a great team to work with.  The Barcelona team was the best club team I’ve ever seen so the distinction between “coach” and “manager” remains as interesting as it does blurred.

Pep owes a great deal of his accomplishments to the supremacy of the players available but should be hugely credited with the way he instills his artistic philosophy of playing the game into his teams, which for me counts heaps. Pep sets out his team to play with a certain philosophy and with results being a consequence of that style,  however, he hasn’t built a team. He hasn’t won the champions league with Porto, or indeed Inter Milan. He hasn’t taken on the task of managing a small club like Benfica or Uniao de Leiria.  I’m not saying he couldn’t, but I believe that to be held in the regard of some of the other men aforementioned in this article, he has to take on a team that doesn’t automatically have the best squad in the league.

Each manager is sometimes a victim of being painted with or tarred with the same brush as their history would suggest. There is no doubt that the Barcelona team were immeasurably talented, but a lot of them would never have become top class players without Pep, though undeniably Barcelona have been and always will be one of the big dogs in Europe regardless of which man is at the helm.

Despite the pressure to win trophies, Pep trusts youth and does not alter his philosophy. It’s a tough task to think of a group of youth players that Mourinho has moulded but let’s also not forget that Real Madrid averaged 2.5 goals under him. Not too much bus parking there…..

Pep innovation secures him the reputation as one of the world’s finest coaches but let’s see him relocate that vision to another context and test his managerial ability. A context that doesn’t come with a squad of world class players and hundreds of millions to spend on full backs alone. I believe if you gave everyone the same team in the world then Jose would come out victorious. In essence that makes him the best manager. Conversely, Pep plays the best football in the world, which is a unparalleled and consummate skill in itself…..so he edges it for me.

@Alavi_SSN

No Defence for Koeman

Ronald Koeman was dismissed from his post as Everton manager after his disastrous start to the campaign saw the Toffees slip in to the relegation zone after a 5-2 home routing by Arsenal. Everton are also rooted to the bottom of their Europa League group.

Whilst there are couple of factors you could point at as elements of misfortune, overall Koeman can have no complaints that his up to now successful spell in English football has been brought to at least a temporary halt.

The fixture computer was not kind to Everton when it pitted them against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, United and Arsenal as 5 of the first 9 fixtures.

The performances though in those games were not what you’d expect from an Everton side historically notorious for giving the big sides a tough game, 15 goals against is an unacceptable return from those 5 fixtures and highlights a lack of quality, but more concerning a lack of character and organisation. Surprising maybe too after Everton stole a march on most rivals for the signature of Jordan Pickford

Losing Lukaku from the side last summer was always going to be tough, and the mismanagement by the club of Ross Barkley, even though he is currently injured, means Everton are without their two best players. That said the recruitment has to be a lot better than what has come into the club, the mistakes of other clubs in recent years to play a numbers game has bitten.

The club find themselves with no top players at their peak with mainly a collection of youngsters who are not quite ready and a collection of older players who are past their best. Williams Baines and Jagielka all over 32. Rooney still effective but released from Manchester United for a reason, Calvert-Lewin, Davies and Vlasic yet to celebrate their 21st birthdays. Mixing youth and experience is a great cocktail, but only Rooney has the quality required to make those two traits a success. The players Koeman has started the season with aren’t good enough. He can blame no-one or nothing but himself.

A huge managerial decision is needed now to haul Everton away from a precarious season, the quality is not there, character and motivation is going to be key.

Dan De Luca

@DDL_SSN

Spurs vs Liverpool Preview

There are some big selection headaches for Mr Pochettino at Wembley today, after a great tactical display in Madrid. Alli and Davies back in the fold, Reckless but at times impressive Aurier or more reliable Trippier? Winksy or powerhouse Sissoko? Reward for Llorente or return for underperforming Alli? Too soon for Rose or throw him back in to the firing line to deal with Mo Salah’s pace. Rose was Spurs’s best player at White Hart Lane last season in the 1-1 draw Liverpool dominated.

Liverpool have caused Spurs the most problems consistently of any team over the last 3 seasons due to their speed and frequency of attacks. A lot of joy may be on the break where we can pick them off, but we need to be as solid Defensively as we were in the Bernabau.

Team I’d start with today:

 

Would give us the opportunity to break fast as I expect Liverpool to try and dictate the pace of the game in the early stages, with some steady hands on the bench should they be needed and still different attacking options like Llorente and Son to try and change the game if needed later on.
Still a bit early for Rose, but some players that didn’t feature or start on Wednesday to hopefully keep the side fresh where a tough night at the Bernabau may have taken its toll.

Prediction: 2-1 Spurs.

Man City vs Liverpool Preview

The international break has been and gone.  Premier League football returns this weekend and the early kick off is a mouth watering clash between two of the most exciting teams the division has to offer.  Manchester City entertain Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at Eastland’s.

Both of these clubs currently occupy the top four having both collected seven points thus far and you can be sure neither side will attempt to ‘park the bus’ in this one.

The home side have an array of attacking talent in their ranks but one area of the pitch would concern me from a City standpoint.  The heart of the midfield.

Liverpool’s trio of Can, Henderson and Wijnaldum is far more combative and if the likes of Silva and De Bruyne fail to put in a shift you could see the Red’s dominate in that key area of the park.

The City midfield certainly has the talent when in possession and if they click will be difficult to contain but I’m sure Jurgen Klopp will be aware of that.  I expect the Liverpool midfield to go out there, press and impose themselves physically on the game.

If they get that right there’s no doubt the likes of KDB and Silva will be out of their comfort zone and we’ll need to see them dig deep (something that doesn’t come naturally to them).

It can go either way but its clear to me the midfield battle will decide this one.

Team News:

Man City will be without Raheem Sterling, the England internationals red card at Bournemouth last time out means he will have to miss the visit of his former club through suspension.

Vincent Kompany didn’t feature for Belgium during the international break and there are still question marks over his fitness.  Pep Guardiola will have to make a late call and it remains to be seen whether his captain will be available for selection.

Ilkay Gundogan continues to work his way back to fitness after a long term injury but is unlikely to feature this weekend.

Liverpool welcome Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into their squad but I’d be very surprised if he walked straight into the starting XI.

Philippe Coutinho made his first appearance of the season for Brazil during the international break and is now available for selection, it will be interesting to see how Klopp deals with this one.

The German boss has a number of decisions to make going into this one. Mignolet or Karius? Alexander-Arnold or Gomez? Robertson or Moreno?

Prediction: 

I expect to see an entertaining fixture, all the evidence suggests both sides will feel they can win this.  Neither manager is known for their defensive competency and that can only mean goals.

Liverpool’s away form versus the rest of the top 6 under Jurgen Klopp has been nothing short of remarkable but equally on their day Man City are capable of decimating anyone.

Score draw for me!

@HarrySymeou

@sofasportsnews_

“We are no Ajax” – CPFC Blog

Well this summer’s been eventful. I was gutted to lose ‘big Sam’ if I’m honest after what he’d achieved with us. It was more than just survival. He turned us into a powerful side who could compete with the top sides as was proven when we dismantled Arsenal at Selhurst Park.

We were unfairly labeled as a direct side under Allardyce. I’m not having that. We played with flair from Zaha and Townsend, had a powerful centre forward in Benteke and got the ball into him so he could bully both Arsenal and Chelsea. Cabaye is no long ball merchant and neither was Sakho so all this talk of FDB changing to a passing game from a long ball one is nonsense.

As I write this there is an article in the Guardian this morning intimating that FDB could be sacked. Surely not. I would be embarrassed as a football club if that were the case after just three games. Arsene Wenger gets longer and his side gave up yesterday.

Anyway back to FDB’s appointment. I was delighted to be honest. Dutch international, won the Dutch title 4 times as a manager and has the type of reputation that will attract players.

I also accept it’s a risk. I don’t want us getting delusions of grandeur. Let’s accept who we are. We’re Palace not Chelsea, Arsenal or Tottenham. We’re not a top four side, as much as I might dream. We have to accept that a good season would be to finish top of the West Brom’s and Stoke’s and an outstanding one would be top 8. I do wonder based on that theory whether someone like Sean Dyche would have been a better fit, but they went for FDB and I’m not disappointed.

Three games in, no points, no goals scored and all of a bit of a shambles really. Nevertheless to even consider removing the manager at this stage would be a bloody joke!

I’ve got nothing against us playing 3-4-3 and I’m not one who says we should change already, but we need the players at the back and in midfield to make it work effectively.

Against Huddersfield I was concerned before the game that we were playing a newly promoted side who basically had nothing to lose and would have taken a draw. Two defensive errors by Riedawald cost us and Huddersfield’s brutal approach to dealing with Zaha has left us without him for 4 weeks.

The huge positives were our two loan signings Loftus-Cheek and Fosu-Mensah. Both are absolutely outstanding. Seriously top drawer.

The disappointments were Puncheon, Luka Milivojevic and Benteke. Luka has been a bitter disappointment in all games so far and cost us the game at Liverpool and was taken off at half time against Huddersfield. He was substituted again on Saturday and Cabaye made a massive difference when he came on.

I thought we played well at Anfield. Tomkins came in for Riedewald and gave us a solid look at the back. FDB went for 5 in midfield and two up top and it worked well. Loftus-Cheek and Fosu-Mensah again the two stand out performers. Benteke should have scored a relatively simple chance which would have put us one up and we would not have lost from that position, but Luka’s mistake cost us around the 75th minute and there was no coming back from that.

This Saturday was the biggest shambles. We should beat Swansea, they’re not particularly good but we were really, really poor, especially in the first half.

We have a real issue at the moment because FDB wants to play football from the back but we have a goalkeeper who doesn’t really know whether to pass it out or kick it long. We have a centre back in Scott Dann who doesn’t really want to play football from the back and we’ve got midfield players who don’t really show for the ball.

Add to this that the crowd are getting nervous every time the ball is played to the centre backs, which then panics them into doing something stupid. It’s not a good feeling at Selhurst at the moment.

We have no width either without Zaha and no real flair to open teams up. Townsend was excellent on Saturday and Fosu-Mensah again absolutely outstanding, but you can’t win games in the Prem with two players.

Cabaye and Loftus-Cheek have to form the central midfield two. I’d play Townsend as the right wing back and Jeffrey Schlupp as the left as he’s far better than Patrick Van Aanholt.

Wilf plays on the wing (obviously) and I’d rival Bournemouth for the signing of Demarai Gray to play on the other, with Benteke down the middle.

We have to sign two centre forwards as Benteke has no competition. If Dwight Gayle is seriously for sale at Newcastle I’d buy him back and add one more.

Finally, if we seriously want to play football from the back we have to sign Sakho. No mucking about if Liverpool want 30 million pay the money!!! He’s a revelation. I said it last season but he’s the best Centre Back I’ve ever seen play for Palace. If you play Fosu-Mensah and either Riedawld or Tomkins on the other side we’ve got a good back three.

I’d sign a new keeper and then give FDB until Christmas to sort us out. When you consider it took Allardyce ten games to get his message across and he knows the Prem, you can’t judge Frank after just 3!

Give the bloke time, the fans have to be patient with the system and let’s see how we go. He could be everything I’m hoping he will be. But at the moment “we’re no Ajax”.

Mark Storey

@sofasportsnews_

Four Reasons Arsenal are in this Mess

The transfer window has closed and Gunners fans all over the world have been left frustrated by the clubs failure to add to their underperforming squad.  Sound familiar?  This has been an ongoing issue since the club left Highbury for the Emirates Stadium but I find it astonishing that so many of the clubs faithful believed this summer would be any different.

The club has stagnated, the managers best days are behind him and the board are a cancer on this once great club.  The supporters feel cheated and rightly so but what can we do about it?  The answer is not very much.  Protests, banners and chants will all be in vein because Arsenal football club are a money making machine and that is the sole reason Stan Kroenke decided to descend upon our shores in the first place.  As long as the club continues to record profits the American owner certainly won’t be going anywhere.

Some choose to blame Wenger, others point the finger at the board but I believe it’s a combination of factors and therefore a far more complex issue to resolve.

Stan Kroenke & the Board

Arsenal’s majority shareholder currently owns the Los Angeles Rams and the Colorado Rapids; you only need to look at how those sports teams are performing to understand he’s only in it for the paper.  He’s a ruthless businessman who spotted an opportunity to grow his fortune and whilst it makes financial sense there is no hope of him walking.

The club has taken their loyal fan base for a ride and the early acquisition of Alexandre Lacazette was a smoke screen for what was always going to be a frustrating summer.  When will the fans understand that whilst Stan Kroenke sits at the helm with Wenger as his right hand man things will never change.  Like it or not, Arsenal FC are now a selling club with the number one aim of turning a profit.

The board consists of businessmen loyal only to the bank.  A panel of dinosaurs who don’t understand the game, value financial success above that of the team and disregard the fans who ultimately make this club what it is.  Not a football man in sight and nobody with the ‘cohones’ to challenge the majority shareholder.  A closed community united only by their greed.

Finances

During the last few days we’ve heard conflicting reports regarding the financial situation at the club.  On Wednesday night we were led to believe that the club were all out of cash and on Thursday we reportedly made a £92m bid for Monaco star Thomas Lemar.  Who do you believe?

During the 2016/17 season Arsenal spent a total of £96.3m on transfers, whether Arsene spent it well enough is a totally different discussion.

The board and ownership (rightly or wrongly) clearly feel the club cannot afford to outlay that kind of money for a second summer in a row.  Here is my theory as to why…

The club recognized that their two biggest assets (Sanchez and Ozil) were unwilling to sign contract extensions and therefore they stand to lose a substantial amount of money.  Arsene may have made a plea to the board and requested the permission to keep those two players at all costs even if it meant losing them on a free transfer come May.

The board accepted this but on the conditions Wenger would need to trim down the wage bill and recuperate some of the money spent over the past two seasons to compensate their sell on value depreciating.  Arsene opted to keep Sanchez and Ozil rather than trying to replace them with the likes of Thomas Lemar and all the other stars we were linked with.

I know what you are thinking, but Arsenal made a late bid for Lemar!  Perhaps Arsene, in his panic thought the club would sell Alexis anyway and had to act on some form of contingency plan.  When the Lemar deal became impossible Arsene pulled the plug on the Sanchez deal and the panic was over.

Yes, the reported bid for Lemar was huge but when you look at what the club were going to receive from the sale of Sanchez plus the profit we’d already made over the summer, in particular on the Oxlade-Chamberlain deal it still would have balanced the books.

As fans it will remain a mystery but that’s just some food for thought, like I said just a theory.

Arsene Wenger

The boss has come under fire more than ever in the past couple of seasons and the lack of progress on the field is clear for all to see.  You could argue he’s failed to sign the right players with the funds that were at his disposal.  His weak leadership and tactical incompetence have played a big part in Arsenal’s omission from the top four and things will only get worse.

He appears to have lost the dressing room and during the recent defeat at Anfield looked a broken man.  You could argue that the aforementioned contract situations mean we are unable to offer the kind of pay packets some of our competitors can.  But you’d be foolish to underestimate the impact Wenger is having on those stars.  It’s clear there is a lack of faith in the manager’s ability to restore Arsenal to the pinnacle of English football and the air of invincibility and power the board award Wenger with is counter productive in so many ways.

For this club to move forward, regain its competitive edge and be able to attract the calibre of players we once did he simply has to go.

The move to the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal moved to the state of the art Emirates Stadium back in 2006.  The idea behind the move was to increase revenue and put us on a level playing field financially with some of Europe’s elite clubs.  At the time the building of the stadium was sanctioned this in theory made perfect sense.

The Arsenal leadership could not have foreseen the rise in the Premier League’s TV revenue or the impact of the billionaire owner.  At the time the move was proposed you could forgive the board for thinking an increase in gate receipt revenue would propel them above most of the divisions other clubs and give them greater spending power.

The Premier Leagues TV revenue growth has meant that the clubs are now on something of a more level playing field.  Of course you still have your super spenders but this increased income means the likes of West Brom, Watford and Huddersfield have all been able to spend substantial amounts of money on players.

The consequence being that the league becomes more competitive and the advantage of having a bigger stadium becomes less significant in the modern era.

I’m not making excuses for the way the club is being run but its fair to say the landscape of the Premier League has changed and that would have been difficult to forecast.

@HarrySymeou

@sofasportsnews_

A Troubling Time To Be A Gooner

Premier League: Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal 4:00pm – Firmino ’17, Mane ’40, Salah ’57, Sturridge ’78.

I’m not usually the type to delve into the darkest depths of my vocabulary after my team has suffered defeat but on this occasion I am well within my rights.  What the f*ck was that?!  Arsenal looked like nothing more than relegation candidates and that’s being kind.  I started this project prior to the season and up until now I feel I have been fair on the manager and the team.  In the past I’ve criticized those who sensationalize our failures and call for the manager’s head each and every time we are beaten.  I thought about writing this particular segment later on in the week when perhaps I’d have cooled off a little.

Well this time, I’m not going to wait, I’m not going to hold back and I’m going to record the troubling thoughts that have been going around in my head since Sunday afternoon.

Arsene Wenger simply has to go.  Have I said this before? Yes.  Have I gone back on myself in the past? Yes.  Will I make a u-turn if we’re able to string together a run of positive results? Absolutely not!  Sadly, this time there is no going back!  Like a blue bottle fly circling a pile of dog sh*t on the side of the road he just won’t leave us alone and refuses to accept the current team is something the rest of us see as exactly that, a pile of sh*t that stinks of failure!

When talking about Arsene Wenger it’s so easy to refer to past failures and use them as proof of my points but I want to stick to the here and now so I’m focusing solely on this embarrassing defeat and our season so far, yes the whole three weeks of it!

Team selection

For the second week in a row I found myself scratching my head when the lineup was announced.  If I was to look at a scripture in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics it would have made more sense to me than this particular Arsenal team sheet.

Laurent Koscielny returned from his suspension, Shkodran Mustafi had come through 90 minutes at Stoke and club captain Per Mertesacker was available for selection.  Any logical human being would think “great, that means we can play the so far impressive Sead Kolasinac in his actual position of left wing back, get some natural central defenders out there and put our defensive woes behind us.”  Not Arsene Wenger.

Does he sit there pre-match and think to himself “What can I do to really p*ss off the fans today?” because it certainly feels like that most of the time.  His decision to leave Mustafi on the bench tells me the German international is set on a move to Internazionale as reported.  The inclusion of Rob Holding was nothing short of a catastrophe and Hector Bellerin was once again played out of position to accommodate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  The same Oxlade-Chamberlain that turned down £180k per week in wages because he feels he’s worth more than that!?  I need not repeat my thoughts on the clubs most overrated player.

He looks to be on his way to Chelsea after its been reported the clubs have an agreement in place, so it’s no wonder he looked so disinterested at Anfield.

I mentioned in my analysis of the Stoke game last week that Aaron Ramsey resembles a headless chicken, he continues to ignore his defensive duties and was once again nowhere to be found when Liverpool opened the scoring.  He appeared to be communicating with the bench at the time and was completely unaware of where the ball was, let alone the danger.

Daniel De Luca, a regular on the Sofa Sports News podcast told me that he feels Rambo is a number 10 to which I replied “he’s a donkey.”  Dan then proceeded to agree with me “he is a donkey, but if I were to race him in the donkey derby he would wear the number 10 on his back”.

That there, pretty much sums up my thoughts on the player.  A man who clearly craves the license to join attacks without worrying about what’s behind him, a player who believes he is far better than he really is.  He may have been a standout player for Wales at Euro 2016 but let’s face it, the rest of that team is pretty sh*t isn’t it.

The current midfield lacks balance with Ramsey’s meaningless expeditions being one of the main issues.  Our best performance this season came at Wembley versus Chelsea in the Community Shield and it’s no coincidence that Mohamed El Neny was included that day.  Not necessarily the most talented player at the club but one who certainly knows his responsibilities and who’s priorities are to fulfill his defensive obligations.

Mesut Ozil proved nothing on the day, other than the fact he’s getting better and better at impersonating ‘Casper the friendly Ghost’.  I’ve spoken about balance and I made this point after the defeat at Stoke.  Ozil and Ramsey simply do not belong in the same starting XI, Granit Xhaka is being made the scapegoat.  Just like Mikel Arteta before him, the Swiss international will find it impossible to impress in a midfield that lacks any discipline.

I can see it, I’m sure you can see it but why doesn’t Arsene Wenger see it? That my friends is the million dollar question.

Alexandre Lacazette joined the club over the summer in a record breaking transfer, the club splashed out in excess of £50m on the French international only to leave him on the bench against one of our biggest rivals.  Instead the honest but let’s face it, useless Danny Welbeck got the nod leaving me and many other Arsenal fans astounded.

Not only has a man who’s scored just 11 league goals since his arrival 3 years ago been picked ahead of our record signing but he’s also been preferred to Olivier Giroud, a striker who has a far superior goal record and would have offered the kind of threat Liverpool have been tormented by in recent seasons.

“We want Wenger Out” was the chant coming from the Anfield Road end of the stadium after the final whistle.  Whilst the media rain cloud gathers above the Emirates, the future of Alexis Sanchez is now even more of a concern.  The window closes in just a matter of days and City have reportedly offered Raheem Sterling and a sum of cash to try and persuade the Arsenal to sell.  Worrying times ahead as the Arsenal exodus seems to be gaining momentum.

@HarrySymeou

@sofasportsnews_

Premier League Review: Match Week 2

The panel discuss the second round of English Premier League fixtures – Spurs’ wembley jinx continues, Arsenal suffer defeat at the hands of Stoke, Pep snatches a late draw and Utd march on. We discuss all the big talking points and tear each other to pieces!

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We won, get over it! – Manchester United

Don’t be fooled by our fluke performance against West Ham! Is what no United fan should be thinking right now, and here’s why.

4 goals, a clean sheet, and a more than convincing win. Are we back to greatness or was it merely a fluke against a poor opposition? It is maybe not so simple. The reality of it is, on occasions last season we would demonstrate a similar dominance, and would either scrape a 1-0 win or end up conceding late and dropping 2 points. If I recall in the league last season we managed to put 3 or more past a team without conceding on only two occasions, and drew 15 times. So what’s changed?

Well firstly we have a rapidly fast developing centre back in Bailly, who’s presence at the back is influencing the stability of our defence more and more as each game goes on. Secondly, we took our chances when they came. Lukaku, who has undoubtedly silenced a number of critics with his clinical performance today, does so much more than just score. He instills fear into defences. Possessing his pace and power is enough to scare any back four, but knowing he can lay off to a number of attacking midfielders equally capable of finding the net (to which we have many), is terrifying.

A key factor, as I keep banging on about, is balance. Could it be that our new signing Matic is the final piece to the puzzle – I’m convinced. Each and every time we lost the ball in the final third, he was there to pick up the pieces and re-distribute effectively. I hadn’t noticed in the past just how comfortable he is on the ball under pressure, and his composed performance rightly earns him the man of the match. His contribution and ‘replacement’ of Carrick has been talked down due his lack of passing ability – well when your job is to filter the ball back to a creative player, it surely nullifies this apparent weakness. I’ll go one step further in Matic’s impact. It plays a huge part in another game changing aspect – confidence. His positioning alone allows our creative players to express in the final third. They are offered the chance to play with freedom in knowing that they’re covered. Notably this cover allows the likes of Pogba to move into the channels and influence the game like we know he can.

A criticism I have was to deploy Fellaini in a deep role during the closing stages of the game. In this instance I want to see Carrick coming on and forming a wall in front of the defence with Matic rather than the Belgium international. Fellaini ought to be brought on as a nuisance in the final third when we’re trailing, rather than being relied upon to break up the play and create.

An additional positive – Martial. As a fan I want to see this kid succeed as I strongly believe in his ability to change games if given the chance. Despite only being offered 10 minutes to fight for his place, he remarkably managed to both score and assist – well done son, I hope you’re rewarded next game with a start.

I’ll end on a low, so not to give the impression of over confidence seeing as we’re only one game in – Lingard came on.

We played creatively, we scored goals and we defended well. I ask that we keep up the momentum and take our growing confidence into our next game away to Swansea.

Let’s stay top of the league!

Common United!

Andy Andreas

www.sofasportsnews.com