‘The Samba Skill Master’ – In the build up to Brazil vs Argentina this week Alavi takes a look back at one of his all time favourites!

First off I’ll caveat this article by making one point clear- this article isn’t to promote the Brazilian sensation as the greatest player of all time, in fact if I had two spaces left in my team Ronadinho would be the one to miss out, I don’t believe he is as efficient as Messi or has the attributes of Ronaldo. However, I preferred the way he played football. I loved the way Ronaldinho played the game, constantly smiling like a kid having fun. Never have I seen anyone manipulate a football like Ronaldinho. The man was an artist. If you missed his career, just be grateful people have made you-tube tribute videos.

Ronaldinho wore the No10, that magic number graced by so many of the very greatest players, all answering to a certain description yet each providing a variation on the art of playmaking. No one would say the style of Barcelona’s former genius resembles those of Puskas, Pele, Maradona or Zidane; only the end product is the same.
So far as one can tell, there has never been a player like Ronaldinho. His dominant characteristic is the suddenness of his movement and the unpredictability of his decision-making. No one has ever stopped and started while in possession of the ball with such an instant control of his own limbs. Opponents are bewitched and bewildered, trying to predict which way he will spring. But even when they guess right, he can change his option in an instant. And what he shares with Pele and Maradona is the ability to retain possession of the ball even as it rebounds off an opponent while he is hurdling or jinking round a tackle. Who can forget that goal against Chelsea? On that occasion he was standing still on the edge of a crowded penalty area, with the ball immobile at his feet, when he shifted his weight first one way and then the other before abruptly prodding a shot that turned Cech into a horrified spectator. The sort of goal that made Deco recently remark “Ronaldinho did things I’ve never seen anyone do”

Not since Paul Gascoigne had a player so clearly enjoyed playing football at the highest level, with Ronaldinho providing child-like enthusiasm and audacity in tandem with some of the greatest natural dribbling skills that football is likely to ever see. However, even though Ronaldinho certainly lived up to his early potential by the somewhat premature age of twenty-six, and won every single honour available to him, there is an undying feeling of regret when one looks upon his career. Conversely, maybe the fact that he burnt the candles at both ends makes him even more likeable and even more “human”. The memories of the skills and that first touch pin-point control……..well they remain inhuman.

To end, I’ll always have one lasting thought when Ronalindho comes to mind. Forget the ridiculous control and invention of crazy stills even into his mid 30s, one particular moment stands out for me. Santiago Bernabéu on 21 November, 2005. Ronaldinho put in one of the greatest individual performances of the decade, following a somewhat quiet first-half for the Brazilian. As always, though, in big club matches, Ronaldinho soon left his mark and this occurred on 58’ and 77’. The first goal saw Ronaldinho pick up the ball at the byline fifty yards from goal, race past Sergio Ramos (who had just signed for Madrid for £18 million) to leave him sprawled on the ground after a failed slide tackle, majesticly cut inside Ivan Helguera without breaking stride and then side-foot a cool finish – from six yards out – past a flat-footed Iker Casillas. The second goal was remarkably similar, but Ronaldinho, instead, started his run from ten yards inside Madrid’s half and byline, and hurdled (his often underrated strength in flight) a desperate Ramos check before outpacing him and slipping the ball into the right-hand corner of Casillas’ goal. The then newly-crowned 2005 World Player of the Year, and soon to be the 2005/2006 Ballon d’Or winer, received a standing ovation from the whole of the Bernabéu. All of this happened a few years after winning the world cup, of course. A standing ovation at your El Classico rival’s stadium and a world cup winners medal. Time is running out for Ronaldo or Messi to achieve either.

 

NLD didn’t go to plan for the Arsenal – Kyri Christodoulou

This weekends North London Derby didn’t quite go to plan for Arsenal, far from it actually.

Before going into the game watching City somehow fail to win at Villa park, an opportunity was there for Arsenal to go top of the pile going into the international break. Beating Spurs to go top would have topped it off, sadly that wasn’t the case.

I thought City dropping points earlier in the day would give Arsenal the extra motivation especially in a Derby game at home to go on and make an early statement to Manchester City.

Unfortunately not, it was the visitors from up the seven sisters road who wanted it a lot more than Arsenal did.

They fought hard off the ball, not letting Arsenal settle, forcing them to make mistakes and they were very good with the ball as well playing some good football and creating some good chances in both half’s.

Tottenham wanted it a lot more than Arsenal did. Tottenham won every 2nd ball, worked hard with and without the ball, looked motivated and determined & Arsenal looked liked they just couldn’t be asked.

Some people might argue Arsenal were tired playing 4 games in 10 days with 3 of them being away from home with 10 players out injured! Maybe the case but Spurs played 3 games in 6 days with very little rotation so it works both ways.

It was a shocking performance and up there with the worst I’ve seen.

I know you can’t play well every week but you can’t play that badly and expect to win games, let alone the championship.

For me when teams press in numbers off the ball and don’t let Arsenal settle we really struggle and that was the case in both league matches last season against Tottenham and the same yesterday.

With Arsenal missing players such as Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott & Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal had no real pace going forward, it was the same problem in Munich as well.

Pace makes such a difference in football it showed when Arsenal brought on Keiran Gibbs for Joel Campbell what a difference somebody with a bit off pace can make.

With no pace in the Arsenal team It allowed the Spurs back line to push much higher up the pitch and make life more difficult for Arsenal.

But let’s give credit were credit is due Tottenham bossed the game and ran the midfield for most of the game and probably had the best chances.

Harry Kane’s goal you could argue comes from a defensive error with a ball played over the top, Mertesacker pushing up and Koscienly sitting deeper and playing Kane onside (which seems to happen to often) Kane was through on goal with only Cech to beat and it was a calm and very good finish.

It was a little better in the 2nd half from Arsenal (couldn’t get much worse) at least they were creating chances Giroud missed two headers from set pieces that he really should be scoring, Joel Campbell cut inside to shoot which produced a very good save from Lloris.

Spurs also created chances in the 2nd half Eriksen, Kane and Alderweireld with good chances to double Spurs lead but they failed to score before Mesut Ozil’s cross was poked in by substitute Keiron Gibbs to save a point for Arsenal.

Spurs fans before the game would have taken a draw all day long but the way the game went they should be disappointed they didn’t get all three. Judging by the way the fans reacted in the clock end after the game they were still happy with the draw.

Talking about Tottenham I think they have a very strong chance at finishing in the top 4 this season their only realistic rivals for a 4th place finish is Liverpool and Chelsea.

Liverpool will take time to get better under new manager Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea show no signs of improving and travel to the lane in 3 weeks and are already 10 points behind Spurs, if Spurs beat Chelsea which is very possible, 13 points at any stage of the season is a big big gap.

Spurs have 2-3 very good players they obviously have a top top goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld looks like a good Centre half, Deli Alli looks like a very promising youngster and Harry Kane is a very good striker to off the top off my head.

Somebody like Christian Eriksen is technically a very good player who is very good at set pieces and can look good on the ball but for me there is something missing in his game and I don’t know what it is, people may disagree but that’s what I believe.

I do believe Spurs have a very good manager in Pochettino he’s made them into a very well organised team and he’s tactically very good.

Proof off that is their season so far, ok they’ve drawn too many games but they haven’t lost since the opening day of the season so they’re clearly a well organised side who love to press teams high up the pitch and don’t let teams settle. They have turned into a very hard side to beat.

I’m a man who really really dislikes Spurs to put it kindly, so I’m hoping for the usual Spurs to come back in the second half of the season and bottle it. They may not, only time will tell Liverpool may not be good enough yet and Chelsea who are capable off going on a winning run currently sit 10 points behind Spurs but they still have to play each other twice which could be two very big games.

For Arsenal the international break has come at a very good time (for once) & there’s still a few positives to take. We didn’t play well at all and still didn’t lose, were still joint top with Man City, we have a good run of fixtures coming up (on paper) and hopefully we should have the likes off Ramsey, Walcott, Bellerin and the Ox back for the trip to West Brom in a couple of weeks.

Very frustrating and painful to watch on Sunday but no disaster, next 4 games West Brom (A) Norwich (A) Sunderland (H) Aston Villa (A) looking at that were more than capable of getting the maximum 12 points before we welcome Manchester City to the Emirates. Going forward there’s a lot to be positive about in the next few weeks.

@kyrigooner #UTA

Eagle’s silence the Klopp – Mark Storey

Why did I ever doubt us…
If you had asked me about a month ago what were our chances of pulling off yet another victory over Liverpool I’d say I was pretty optimistic. We’d just demolished (and I do mean demolished) West Brom and I fancied us to turn over both West Ham and Leicester.
One month on however and everyone knows how those two games turned out. Add to that the arrival of Klopp and my optimism had waned a little. I must say it had risen a bit after the performance against United last week.
On seeing the Palace line up, it was pretty much as expected (knowing that Gayle may be injured). The only surprise was seeing Kelly keep Ward on the bench. Sako’s selection concerned me given his really poor 45 minutes against the Hammers and another pretty ineffectual display at Leicester.
What did surprise me as the game came to life was ‘Super Al’s’ decision to pretty much go 4-4-2, which after 21 minutes looked to have paid off when Yannick smashed a left footed strike past Mignolet to give us the lead, after some great work from Wilf.
Although we’d taken the lead our left hand side concerned me as Souare lacked cover and support from Puncheon and both Ibe and Lallana found time and space to provide a constant threat.
What also didn’t help our cause was the ability for both Cabaye and Macarthur to influence our play through the middle and we were left to hit too many long balls from the back for Yala to chase over the top.
That Liverpool threat came to fruition when another attack down the Liverpool right saw the ball run to Coutinho who finished sweetly with his right foot on 41 minutes.
To be fair if Hennessey hadn’t made a top save (seeing it so late) in the 28th minute we could have gone in a goal down at half time.
After reverting to our tried and tested formation at the start of the 2nd half – Puncheon in the middle and Yannick wide we began to assert ourselves, pass the ball better and allowed Wilf And Yannick to push the Liverpool fullbacks backwards.
In the 61st minute Wilf (“he’s just too good for you”) set up Sako for a glorious opportunity to take the lead and to not even make Mignolet make a save was bloody criminal!! To be fair 30 seconds later we could’ve been a goal down as Benteke headed over after a decent cross from Moreno.
In the 81st minute the Best English Centre Back NOT even in the England Squad (Roy Hodgson what are you looking at!!) scored Palace’s winner with a header into the top corner. His name is Scott Dann for those outside of South London!
This left the outstanding Palace fans singing “You must be sick of us” to the tune of the Chelsea song “Jose Mourinho”… Oh how they wished for a result like ours!
Personally, I’ve always thought we’re a better side when we play the three in the centre of midfield with Wilf and Yala out wide. Wickham also gave us a focal point when he came on late in the 2nd half.
I’m a bit biased because I love Wilf and although he may lose possession occasionally in areas that send me into panic, we’re a better side when he’s in it and his second half display was outstanding.
Equally, Dann, Delaney and Hennessey give us such a solid foundation to play from. Kelly had a solid game at right back and Cabaye and Macarthur’s work-rate was astounding. I’m going to say it again and I make no apologies…but when is Scott Dann going to get the recognition he deserves outside of those at Selhurst Park.
Not a bad week for a Palace fan, 4 points from 6 against Man United and Liverpool shows just how far this club have come and I’m disappointed not to have 6 from 6…we deserved to!
After a couple of minor (albeit slightly unlucky) blips, we’re back! Why did I ever doubt us?

Apostolos on Man Utd’s win over WBA.

Man Utd's win

Manchester United 2-0 WBA | Three thoughts

1. Rooney and Jesse – while one continues to falter, the other continues to flourish
Yet another poor display from Rooney, United’s captain and most important player. A lot of has been made about van Gaal’s tactics and the way the team lines-up working against Rooney and his style, but for me, given that we’re nearly a third of the way into the season now and we’re still talking about him and his lack of influence in games, while Martial continues to impress (this time playing up-front with Rooney in the withdrawn role), he clearly cannot impact games like he used to.

On a positive note, Saturday’s 2-0 win against a Stoke was largely a result of the brilliant display from local boy Jesse Lingard. Since he was given his debut by van Gaal on the first day of last season (the manager’s first competitive game in charge of United) he exited his plans almost as quickly as he entered them – coming off injured after only 24 minutes of that game and going out on loan in February, making zero appearances in between. This season has been a very different story, and as the manager looks to new attacking options, with Memphis failing to settle into life at United so far, Jesse has been called up and has instantly breathed some much needed life and ambition into the side. He took his much-deserved goal at the weekend like a seasoned pro and was by far our most dangerous attacking threat. Wazza…take note.
2. Attack! Attack! Attack!
As we struggled to penetrate the West Brom defence, with the bizarre decision to play two holding midfielders against Tony “play for the 0-0” Pulis’ WBA inevitably backfiring, it looked as though it could be yet another frustrating afternoon until Jesse popped up with the goal. The fact our first shot on target came on 44 minutes, while we mustered up only two more attempts in the match (…i.e. the two goals) highlights the fact that it was hardly an overtly attacking display, albeit a winning one.

The LVG philosophy seems to revolve around sleep-walking through the game, content on playing controlled possession football that makes it almost impossible for the opposition to score. Fine if, like Saturday, we take the few decent chances we create, however as the previous three games proved where the focus on “the art of passing” outweighed the importance of attacking football, it doesn’t always work.

It feels as though, given the strict nature in which the manager has set us up to defend and keep the ball, we are no longer able to play at a high tempo and so can’t open up teams like we used to. This is however no excuse for the lack of speed and creativity in our midfield, something van Gaal’s has spoken about and is looking to address. Yet, given the relatively low standard of football currently being witnessed every weekend in the league (and even more so when the PL’s top teams face European opposition during the week), we could quite easily find ourselves in a promising position later in the season – even if the performances fail to improve. And that leads me onto my final point…
3. Perspective, people. Perspective.
We are well in the title race, sitting in fourth spot (three points clear of Spurs) and only two points off the top, while we boast the best defencive record in the league with Saturday’s game signalling our eighth clean-sheet of the season. Yet due to the laboured nature of our performances and the public outcry that has ensued you would be forgiven in thinking we were a team in crisis.

Of course we’d all like to see a swift return to the attacking, high-tempo football that was so prevalent during Sir Alex’s reign. But we need to understand that it will take time for this almost entirely new squad of players to adhere to van Gaal’s vision of playing balanced, possession-based, attacking (yes…attacking!) football. We are not the team we were and have to adjust our expectations accordingly. As supporters we need to avoid turning into the modern-day Arsenal fan (spearheaded by the ever moronic and fickle Piers Morgan) who were spoilt during Wenger’s early years and now hold unwarranted levels of entitlement whenever things don’t (in their minds) go according to plan. We just need to be patient, have faith and accept the current change in situation, regardless of how hard it may be.
Final thought…
Something almost completely neglected by the critics is van Gaal’s policy on giving United’s youth a go.

He has admitted himself that the size of the squad is surprisingly small for a team trying to compete for the title, however since he joined the club last summer he’s made his desire to give youth a chance very clear. On Saturday Borthwick-Jackson became the eighth graduate of the United academy to be given a debut under Van Gaal; a pretty incredible achievement and something he should be praised for, especially if the faith he’s showing in Lingard pulls off.

Sofa Sports News Premier League Predictor Result!!!

This was a really tight competition, last week there was no separating 5 of our entrants.  However this week there was a runaway winner.  A massive congratulations on behalf of the Sofa Sports News team to Cosmas Georgallis who got an amazing 7/10 correct!

Your prize is on its way to you!

Result:

  1. Cosmas 7/10
  2. Harry & Kyri 4/10
  3. Holly 3/10
  4. Lee – sorry mate your entries weren’t in on time!

Thanks for for your participation!

A Gooner’s view on Rob Palmer’s ‘They just don’t get it’

Rob Palmer – the typical Spurs fan!

As many of our sofasportsnews.com followers know there was an article posted by one Rob Palmer. This was supposed to be a build up to the NLD from a Spurs perspective in response to that of Andy Paps and attracted much attention to our site (so thanks for that at least). I think Rob has been offered a writers job at Comedy Central this week because some of the things he came out with where hilarious & genuinely had me in stitches. Good one rob!

So in response to the article ‘They don’t get it… By Rob Palmer’ I would like to say a few words on behalf of the Gooner population.

For those of you that haven’t read it I recommend you get bag of popcorn, put your feet up and have a good laugh! Here’s the link… http://wp.me/p6EijE-5m

I would like to start by drawing your attention to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of ‘Delude’
– To Delude:
Make (someone) believe something that is not true.

This is exactly what Rob has done, fortunately only one half of north London are uneducated enough in football to believe it.

It was evident by some of the comments left under the article that this is a widespread disease that is effecting a huge proportion of Tottenham fans up and down the country. Not all of you, but seems like the majority of you belong in that category.

Now let me set the scene… Two premier league football clubs are currently located in north London. One is Arsenal FC and the other go by the name of Tottenham Hotspur. One of these two old clubs is extremely bitter about some events that occurred in 1913 & to this day they haven’t gotten over it. Arsenal’s move to Highbury sparked a rivalry that has lasted over a century!

Arsenal have won 13 league titles & Tottenham have won 2. I’m not gonna sit and bore you with all the clubs honours because there are a lot between the two of us. But that one in particular tells the story of the two clubs. I think for me growing up I always enjoyed the rivalry on derby days but during the 90’s & early to mid 2000’s our biggest rivals were Man Utd. Rob can accuse us of not understanding the rivalry but with all due respect at that time when I was growing up Arsenal had bigger fish to fry.

There’s no argument about who has been the more successful of the two, all you have to do is look at both clubs list of honours. Another tell tale sign of that is when Spurs fans like Rob refer to things like they were there first English club to win a European trophy and the first side to win the double.

Yes mate, you were the first English club to win a European trophy in 1963. Preston North End were actually the first team to win the double though back in 1888/1889 seeing as we’re going back to the days of the dinosaurs to gloat.

Since your double in 60/61 we have achieved it 3 times & won the league as many times at your ground as you’ve won it in your history, I think that means we’ve overtaken you. ‘Oh but we did it first’ seems a pathetic thing to say when your rivals have left you behind. But then again that’s your typical Spurs fans.

The sad thing is that as a football man I do appreciate the size and tradition of a club like Tottenham but it’s spoilt by uneducated neanderthal fans like some of you lot.

The fact of the matter of this, the gap on the pitch has gotten smaller over the last few years. Spurs have improved over recent seasons and are normally just outside of the top 4 (which isn’t an easy thing to break into). This weekends NLD was evidence of that, you showed up and put in a performance and we didn’t. Maybe your best performance of the season vs our worst and we still took a point.

In July 2006 having had all that success under Arsene Wenger the club was growing, our own brand of football, to use your word Arsenal’s ‘franchise’ was becoming more and more popular and Arsenal moved into the 60,000 seater Emirates stadium.

More than ten years later Spurs are planning on doing the same thing. In my book that means your ten years behind us in the evolution of your club. You all choose to mock the fact we haven’t been as successful as we would have liked over the past decade and nobody is more disappointed in that then us Gooner’s ourselves.

But let me ask you this… What have Tottenham achieved of note in that period? A champions league qualification? Once? Is that all?

Your club now are going through a cycle that we went through almost ten years ago now. Changing stadiums in the long run is of huge benefit to clubs with the support Arsenal or Spurs have but it’s by no means a painless process. You’ll be restricted in what you can spend, sometimes have to sell your best players against the managers will & you will end up having those ‘modern football fans’ that you all talk about all over the place.

I hope for the ‘real’ Tottenham fans sakes you give Poch a chance to build because you’ll need a manager who can build from youth to get you through the transitional period.

As for the Rob Palmers of this world you really are a mile behind us and I can’t wait until you go to the lane and sit next to Rupert and his buddies eating their half time prawn sandwiches. It’s the way FOOTBALL has become NOT Arsenal and you’ll realise this in time when you get your head out of the clouds.

My favourite part of your article was when you described the atmosphere at WHL during that carling cup game, found it amazing you could hear it so well from your sofa in the USA!

North London is Red.

Harry (AFC fan)

Daniel De Luca’s Review of the NLD.

Now I’ve got my breath my back from what was a pulsating North London Derby, I can start to put into context what this performance by Tottenham means.

I’m not going to celebrate a draw at Arsenal because that would be embarrassing, we’re better than that now and it felt a lot like two points dropped at the final whistle.

But I am going to celebrate that performance, and if they make a DVD I’ll buy it, and if there is an open top bus parade later this week where Deli Alli, Moussa Dembele and Eric Dier and hoisted into the North London air, I’ll be there with my Spurs Jester hat and retro scarf because this is exactly what I want when I hand over my season ticket subscription money every year, it was an exceptional performance by Tottenham that deserved nothing less than 3 Derby points.

You don’t always get what you deserve in football matches, there were at least 4 occasions last season when Spurs scored late winners in games we had no right to still be in, yesterday we paid that age old price of being in “one goal is never enough” territory.

If you read my pre match review  I outlined the big difference between Spurs and Arsenal as ruthlessness and cutting edge. Evident again yesterday.

Tottenham have had 3 good teams in the past decade, all better than the team that actually qualified for the champions league in 2010. 2011/12 under Redknapp, 2012/13 under AVB and now this current crop for Pochettino 15/16. The two former teams had a distinct style that they played to (both very different) and the players executed that style to the managers strategy, and that’s what we have seen this season with this side. High pressing, high intensity, fast moving of the ball and suffocating opponents. Implementing the style is the first challenge for a new manager, once that is done life gets easier. It’s what Klopp is faced with now at Liverpool. Man Utd had a clear style in the 90s, Arsenal have had a clear style for a while, Chelsea have a style, Man City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Swansea, Stoke. It’s right to include a couple of smaller sides in that list, it highlights what having a distinct style means to a football team, Swansea and Stoke in very different ways established themselves as Premiership clubs, both even made it to a cup final, Swansea managed to win the trophy.
When you have that style established it becomes a lot easier to try and find players that fit into it or a manager that can deliver if you wish to maintain it. Swansea select managers that prefer to play in the same way, Stoke decided they wanted to change their style and so appointed a different type of manager to try and push the club on after years of being happy with where they were finishing. That’s where Spurs are at now, trying hard to push forward not just settle where they are.

Pochettino’s style is set and the players buy in, more importantly it fits in with the clubs current situation regarding player recruitment strategy. It’s the best imitation in this country I’ve seen of the modern European style of playing and whilst to win major trophies you often need a genuine world superstar it’s essential to have a means of attracting one. For that you usually need Champions League football or a massive wage structure.
Superstars have joined teams in the past that they have believed to be going places, albeit for a hefty salary.
This game was a great advert for what this latest Tottenham era is all about and capable of. A new stadium around the corner, a state of the art training ground in place are all extra carrots that the club can dangle to sign the player that would have won this game. Any neutral watching Tottenham yesterday would have been excited by what they saw.

Ok so we didn’t win, that’s clearly disappointing, but no testament to Arsenal really who had essentially given up mid way through the second half, this is Tottenham’s 6th draw this season as we still look for the final piece of the jigsaw the ruthless streak of killing teams off. It will come. Especially as the depth of the squad strengthens over the coming two transfer windows.

This performance was something to be proud of, to go away from home to a title contender and dominate in this way is something normally only other title contenders can produce.
Tottenham are not that, and having been reminded again how inferior they are to Arsenal in the build up makes the way we outplayed them on their own patch feel like something of a victory.

There will no doubt still be some Arsenal fans and pundits who are looking for some justification that Arsenal should have won. Stats can show you whatever you want, but this wasn’t about attempts on goal or possession or pass counting, this was territory, aggression and continued waves of forward movements that left the opponent hoping for a way back in rather than expecting it.
Could have won? Absolutely. If you take your chances and the other team don’t you could win any game of football. Should have won? Absolutely not. Deserved to win? Never in a million years. They need to accept that, address a couple of areas of weakness that were exposed and get back on with their title challenge. Failure to do that has fatal consequences down the road. I’m sure a manager as smart as Wenger will be well aware of where they were short and who was responsible, he’ll be fixing that behind closed doors I’m sure.

Ok so they had a few chances in the second half that can be pointed to, but teams at home generally get chances, especially good teams. These were almost all from set pieces, this wasn’t The Hawthorns, or The Britannia, this was Arsenal at the Emirates restricted to set plays and high crosses in to the box. When the goal did come for Arsenal it was a blow that left us wondering how we allowed them back in, and fearing the Arsenal momentum the goal brought would somehow cost us everything. To lose would have been a morale defeat as it is, it is a morale victory. These can sometimes have equal importance.
We can match teams like Arsenal on the pitch now and have done for a few years. We’ve dismantled City and Chelsea in the last few months. It’s that age old step of doing it over the course of the season that needs to be addressed and sneaking into the Champions League places is the first tiptoe on that long path. This year everyone now will believe we can do it, and rightly so, Tottenham are anything but a walkover now and have nothing to fear from the other contenders.
Pochettino my man, you might just be the one that finally rebuilds a football club.

The ‘Vanishing Gap’ and how Spurs can win the North London Derby – Daniel De Luca

The North London Derby, the only game that matters to me this week.

I always fear the away leg less as a Spurs fan. It’s like a free shot to be a hero. Always expected to lose, Always happy to draw, and almost always failing to win. At White Hart Lane in recent years Spurs have more than caught up.

Since Redknapp took over in mid 2008 there have been 7 North London Derbies in the League, Spurs have won 4 and drawn 2 of those encounters.
In the same period at the Emirates in the League there have been 7 meetings, Arsenal have won 4 and drawn 2 of those encounters.

So what’s my point? Identical League records over 7 years that might surprise some people, but explains Arsenals clear dominance in the fixture is over. A thing of what is now the past. But the bigger point of note is one that should be expected, when there’s not an awful lot between 2 sides home advantage is a huge factor. That is something Tottenham will need to overcome tactically and not just a reliance on passion and endeavour.

Amongst Arsenals 4 home wins are 3 by 3 goal margins, all other winning margins in the fixture over this period are by a solitary goal. This is a stat that highlights the biggest difference between the two sides for me. Arsenal have a ruthless streak and an ability when on top to put teams to the sword, kill teams off. Last week at Swansea they killed their opponents off in a ten minute spell of an otherwise even game. This is what Tottenham will need to be wary of on Sunday during long spells of Arsenal possession. Indeed in each of Arsenal’s victories over Tottenham by 3 goal margins just mentioned, Spurs conceded two goals within 3 minutes of each other or less. Game on to game over just like that. If Spurs ever are to “bridge the gap” between themselves and their rivals over the course of a season, and the best chance to do so may have passed for the next few years, it is this area that needs to be addressed. Ruthlessness and mental toughness.

But for now, it’s all about Sunday, so how can Spurs win this?
No one can deny Arsenal have an exceptional team. On an individual basis they are all marginally overrated, with the obvious exception of Sanchez and I’d include Laurent Koscielny, but as a team on their day they all contribute to being very difficult to contain. This is far more important than being good individuals.
If Ozil ever puts in a 10 out of 10 display Arsenal will award him 12 if you catch my drift, but he is finally starting to play better this season and Spurs’s young central midfield will have to work hard to restrict his space. Walcott being absent is a massive benefit to Spurs this week, not because he is Diego Maradona, but because the pace he is blessed
with leaves defending teams a dilemma. The speed he possesses means it is doubtful we would have the courage to defend with a high line, dropping back concedes possession and territory which is something you don’t want to be doing at the Emirates unless you are solely intending to counter attack, I think Spurs need to do more than just sit back and try to hit on the break and hopefully will take advantage of Walcott missing and try to keep Arsenal 20 yards further from goal.

Whilst not the same as Ozil in terms of name and glamour on the pitch Eriksen has influenced far more big games than his counterpart and keeping him to the free role is key to Spurs competing in the final 3rd. If Spurs opt to play higher up the pitch expect him to see a lot more of the ball, also dragging the arsenal midfield wide similarly to how he did with Nemanja Matic on New Years Day, leaving Alli and Dembele in particular space to drive forward into to support the attack.
If Koscielny doesn’t make it then that will be a boost, teams always struggle without their best centre half and I’d expect Kane to have some extra joy against the Arsenal back line without him.

The big problem then is Sanchez, he is the one who can drive Tottenham back and stop the full back joining in Spurs attacks making it more difficult to retain possession in effective areas. Dier, Alli, and Dembele are going to have to put in big shifts to support Walker and Davies, (Rose likely to miss out is a big blow) when Sanchez and Cazorla lead the attacks if they are going to get a result on Sunday.

Sanchez is the difference between these two teams right now make no mistake about that, Spurs can just about match Arsenal player for player all over the park and even better them in one or two cases, except for the little Chilean. He is THAT player, the one that Tottenham just don’t have right now.

The Sanchez factor and home advantage combined mean I still have to predict an Arsenal win if my life depended on it, also consider Spurs’s only away wins this season have come at Sunderland and Bournemouth, hardly fortresses. But if Spurs get their tactics right all over the park and can find away to keep the Arsenal superstar quiet they CAN win this game. Arsenal would be naive to think otherwise and so would the Tottenham team, and as I write this I start to believe more and more. By kick off on Sunday I’ll 100% convinced we can win there. That’s what away derbies are about for Tottenham, realism overtaken by hope that builds and builds to a point where why shouldn’t a win be possible? This is exactly what the players need to feel when wearing the shirt on Sunday.

Spurs have to believe it, and they have to want to win, not draw and hope for a bonus. They can use the advantage of defending higher up the pitch to dictate the pace more than usual in this fixture and it could still be an unlikely Derby day to remember at the toughest of hunting grounds. Maybe less unlikely than before though, Spurs’s progress in this fixture is there for all to see.

This is not the Spurs of yesteryear, it certainly isn’t the Arsenal either.

COME ON SPURS. TO DARE IS TO DO

Apostolos’ preview of Man Utd vs West Brom & Predicted XI

Man Utd vs West Brom

Predicted XI | MUFC vs. West Brom (7/11/2015)

GOAL | David de Gea

DEFENCE | Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo
After picking up his fifth booking of the season against Crystal Palace Matteo Darmian will sit this one out due to suspension, while Valencia and Phil Jones look to be injured. As per the CSKA game on Tuesday evening I think van Gaal will opt for Young at right-back again with Blind in the centre, partnering “Mike” Smalling. Rojo is doing a fine job replacing the long-term injured Luke Shaw at left back.

MIDFIELD | Jesse Lingard, Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay
Jesse Lingard’s recent (and surprising) inclusion has been a breath of fresh air during what has been a strangely unadventurous, dull spell for United – with the manager favouring a defensive, pedestrian style over attacking football in recent games. Just look at the below table (via 90min.com) highlighting our low number of shots vs. Premier League opponents, while we average one of the highest possession per game in the league!

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Mata, who has been a regular on the right, was subbed off for Memphis during Tuesday’s Champions League win vs. CSKA with the Dutchman playing a central role and Lingard moving out on the wing. 10 minutes later Jesse volleys in a peach of a ball to Wayne Rooney who headed in the only goal of the game. Yes, it was one moment of magic out of 404 minutes of lethargic, negative football, but it certainly lifted the team and atmosphere at Old Trafford – one that has been described as frustrating and surreal. Let’s hope he can continue to spark life into this tedious United side.

In my line-up I have also reinstated the services of Herrera, playing behind the forward, and Depay on the left wing, mainly because Young will be forced to play in defence again.

ATTACK | Anthony Martial
Readers of my blog will now exactly where I stand on this one. As much as van Gaal’s tactics need to change in order to enable us to compete seriously for the title and veer away from the “boring” tag that is currently haunting us, he needs to start by playing the best players at his disposal in their best positions. A simple statement perhaps…so why does he insist on playing the out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney up front every week while the sharper, better option in Martial is being wasted on the wing?

Prediction | 1-0
West Brom are currently 12th in the league however on current form I don’t think anyone expects us to give them a hammering. Tony Pulis usually sets his teams up to be difficult to break down, so given the lack of innovation we’re currently displaying I can’t see us scoring more than one – while for a team who have scored only three goals out of six away games will struggle against Big Mike and co.

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The SSN premier league predictor continues…

Last week’s predictor competition was so tight, there was no clear winner!

5 people remain who all got 5/10 games correct.  This week the game continues!

Lee, Harry, Cosmas, Kyri & the lovely Holly be sure to fill in your predictions here so we can crown the ‘SSN Predictor King/Queen’.

Here are this week’s fixtures! Best of luck to you all! image

 

They don’t get it… By Rob Palmer

Don’t say this too loudly…..I enjoyed Andy’s article. I respected what he had to say. It resonated with me as it’s familiar to my own experiences. Like me, Andy is from London. NORTH London to be exact. The support he has for his team was not a choice. The club is in his blood.

On Sunday, if Woolwich take the lead, the slightest bit of atmosphere will inevitably be conjured up between 55,000 home fans as they make just enough noise for Andy to hear them sing “1-0 in your cup final”. He will then realise how little reality there is in his comments stating that “for the Arsenal fans this is not just another game”. The truth is they don’t get it, the rivalry, it means nothing to them.

Andy does not represent most Woolwich fans. They are opposites. Their support has not been passed down from within the family. It’s been selected at random because they were first Premier League team on FIFA 2003 that had good stats. Picked by some tourist visiting London for the first time because his lucky colour is red. He/she still enjoys going every few years, but ensures an early exit to avoid the crammed trains. Chosen by a family because it’s a convenient commute and the seats in the new stadium have more leg room than other clubs. Adopted by some public school toff that moved to London from whatever generic English country village he grew up in, hoping to buy some credibility with the football lads.

It’s no wonder they attract this type of support. Look at their history. They are the original MK Dons, who after a failed bid to merge with Fulham, ditched their roots in Woolwich, South London due to lack of revenue. They came north of the river, trying to attract the wealthy newcomers to that part of the City.

Failure to secure a spot in the top flight via promotion was not an issue either. In 1919 after finishing 5th in the Second Division, they were elected into the top tier of English football, taking the spot that belonged to their new neighbours, Tottenham Hotspur. Their chairman Henry Norris was later prosecuted for his role in their rise up the football ranks. They play at the top level not due skill, ability or achievement, but through money and corruption.

When it comes to the North London Derby they don’t get it. They think Chelsea & Manchester United are the bigger games because that’s what their Sky box told them. They haven’t made that daunting walk to school the morning after a defeat like Andy and I used to. The sense of fear you had, knowing the taunts that would come from the kids in your class who supported the rival team. I have been hearing it all week from their fans, jokes on Facebook about how it is the biggest game of our season but not theirs. I pity them.

No matter how many times they win the derby, no matter how many times they finish above us in the league, they will never be us. Tottenham Hotspur will always be only true North London Football Club. The team that’s support is true, passed down from generation to generation. For many of us, one of the few links back to our working class roots. The team that’s played with style for centuries not decades. First non-league side to win the FA Cup. First English team to win the double, First English team to win a European trophy.

Woolwich are not a football club. They are a franchise. The symbol of modern football. Playing chants through the speakers to generate a bit of atmosphere in their shiny new stadium. Exactly what Thatcher & Murdoch dreamed the game would become when they stuck their oar in. They were always this way, so they happily tagged along to the gentrification of the game.

Football is what it is though, and football support is about rivalry. If you don’t hate the rival, you don’t really support your club. It’s men being territorial and proud, like Neanderthals shouting from their caves. It’s what you see at Rangers v Celtic, Lazio v Roma, River v Boca. It’s that atmosphere that simmers on the edge, teasing at the prospect of genuine conflict, like how Stringfellows teases before the full bedroom enjoyment.

At White Hart Lane in September the atmosphere was volatile. Tottenham were losing the game but the fans still sang proudly. They made it uncomfortable, singing about how they hated them, letting the away fans know they were in our territory.

Woolwich will never have that again. They never really had it. Their fans, largely bunch of sheep, who walk around Finsbury Park with their red & white scarves desperate to be a part of something.

Prediction: 1-0 Spurs

Bayern give the Gunners a Muller-ing at the Allianz Arena

Where do I start? There was so many bad things about that Arsenal performance that I don’t even know where to begin. Obviously you have to take into account that we were playing one of Europe’s elite & of course our injury problems didn’t help at all. Am I making excuses? No way, because regardless of the circumstances a club of our size and with our quality should not be conceding 5 goals against anybody.

The frustrating thing is that on the odd occasions we managed to string some passes together, the likes of Alexis & Ozil were able to carry the ball up the pitch & we did look as though we could create & make things happen. We were barely able to last ten minutes without conceding though as Lewandowski beat the offside trap and headed the ball into the far corner with great accuracy.

I was absolutely fuming! We had set out to defend and play on the break, our whole game plan was based around staying switched on at the back and within ten minutes it had all gone to pot. Bayern were now in front and had us exactly where they wanted us.

In fairness to the players the response straight after the first goal was fantastic. Ozil and Sanchez combined and Monreal overlapped well to deliver a dangerous ball across the 6 yard box. ‘OZIL! GOAL! ARSENAL ARE LEVEL.’ We all leapt out of our seats in celebration! It was short lived though, the camera panned over to Neuer who was protesting towards the extra officials next to the goal. Rightly so & in the end the goal was ruled out for a handball.

The next 17 mins of the game were pretty decent. I mean Bayern were still dominating possession & Petr Cech had to make a few saves as you would expect but I genuinely thought ‘we are definitely in this’. But then just before the half hour mark another piece of slack defending allowed Muller to fire a shot in off Mertesacker and put the ball beyond Cech’s reach. Then the onslaught began, constant pressure from the Germans and pure dominance. They controlled the game and went on to put 5 past us and make it a night to forget.

It was as if their players had a shield around them, we just weren’t getting close enough. We all know you can’t afford to leave players of that calibre in so much room and you certainly can’t give them that sort of time unchallenged. This was most evident in the build up to Bayern’s 5th goal where Douglas Costa was allowed to run right through the heart of our team before teeing up Muller for his second of the night.

The defending was attrocious last night, simply not good enough for a team aspiring to be champions of England. Particularly the performances of Mertesacker & Debuchy for me were among some of the worst on the pitch. To be fair to the French international though he was a bit, just a bit better in the second half where he made a few important challenges. Most notably the one where Cech was rounded by Arjen Robben and he got back just in the nick of time. De ja vu of the Gomis chance at Swansea?

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The only positive from last night was Olivier Giroud’s sensational goal at 4-0 down. We conceded a mixture last night of sloppy goals and some classy ones (Alaba’s one springs to mind) but overall as a team the defensive display was poor and as Monsieur Wenger said himself ‘we were not at the races’. A ‘Muller-ing’ at the hands of the Germans and we now head into the NLD this weekend without a load of key players, with Kos & Bellerin likely to miss out as well the pressures really on.

Spurs are a side in form and haven’t been beaten since the opening day of the season. They come to the Emirates full of confidence and although I still expect us to take all 3 points it may not be as straight forward as we would like.

The injuries continue & the door to the last 16 of the champions league slowly closing on us…

But I have faith we will just sneak through and all will be forgiven.

Onto the small matter of the derby!

COYG!

Harry Symeou (AFC)

Apostolos’ ‘How to deal with a problem like Wayne Rooney’

How to deal with a problem like Wayne Rooney | A three point plan
1. Drop him from the team. Immediately.

The fact that Wayne Rooney, one of United’s consistently poorest performing players, is still securing a spot in the side – week in, week out – is simply ludicrous. Rooney is a player judged on two very clear metrics – his goal scoring ability (as a striker) and his leadership qualities (as the captain) – and it’s fair to say on current form he is dramatically failing to deliver on both fronts.

If there is one thing Sir Alex was famous for during his successful tenure at the helm of United it was that he was a man who was not afraid to make controversial decisions if he felt it was for the greater good of the team. And that meant dropping big players: players he felt, regardless of reputation, were either a negative influence on the side, ill of discipline or simply in need of some time out of the spotlight due to a loss in form. At the moment, Rooney ticks at least two of these boxes – potentially all three if you attribute his “discipline” not to his temperament but to his inability to stick to his role on the pitch and follow instructions. Just look at this heat-map from last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park…not really the sort of movement you’d expect from a striker!

There is no doubt that Louis van Gaal was brought on as a more natural successor to Sir Alex Ferguson than the apparently weak, timid David Moyes. Here is a man, we thought, that would bring a level of order and discipline to the side, something so dramatically absent since Sir Alex left in 2013. Yet by continuously insisting on keeping faith with Wayne Rooney and mishandling him he is damaging both the player’s reputation and his own, while suffocating the team in the process.

Van Gaal is renowned across the footballing world as a stubborn, no nonsense manager, however in this instance he is going against the same values that have made him a great. He needs to stick to his principles and treat the whole squad in the same way. In the same way Ferguson didn’t overthink or worry about dropping Beckham or Keane, or selling Hughes, Ince and Kanchelskis when all three were key players, van Gaal needs to do the right thing and give Rooney a rest.

2. Restore Martial as no.9 and Herrera to the withdrawn striker role.

Ok, this one is not really a suggestion to directly improve Rooney, but more to help a team that is struggling to create chances.

Prior to Rooney’s goal against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League United had failed to score in 404 minutes. Not entirely the striker’s fault, however if something is not quit working in United’s attack why would the manager not start doing the logical thing and make changes to the system and personnel? Martial is clearly United’s best option in attack, however in order to accommodate (yes, you guessed it) Wayne Rooney, the 19-year old has been forced to play out wide. And where does that leave the ambitious, dynamic Ander Herrera, United’s best attacking midfielder? Out of the side. As for the left wing, I would play Ashley Young as long Memphis continues to underperform, giving Martial improved service.

3. Emulate Paul Scholes.

Back to Rooney, then: following Paul Scholes’ development at United is, for me, an obvious one.

The career trajectory of Paul Scholes, one again determined by Sir Alex and his impeccable man-management skills, is quite fascinating. Starting life at United as a striker, competing for a place in the side with Cantona, Cole and Hughes, Scholes eventually found his home in midfield once Cole and Yorke became United’s regular attacking pair; and after the introduction of van Nistelrooy and Veron in 2001, Scholes found himself in the no.10 role in order to accommodate Veron in CM, where in 2003 he experienced his highest scoring season at United. Fast forward a few years later to 2006/07, van Nistelrooy leaves United, Ronaldo stars in a more attacking role, and Scholes (at the age of 33) plays arguably his best season in a United shirt. Recognising his strengths as an incredible passer and midfield general with outstanding vision, as well as his weaknesses as a player with diminishing pace heading towards the end of his career, Sir Alex began playing Scholes as a holding midfielder. It was during this period – not where he was banging in 20 goals a season – that he was recognised as the greatest midfielder of his generation.

I’m not saying it is something that will instantly work, but given that there are a number of obvious similarities between the two players – from their vision and excellent reading of the game, to their passing range – van Gaal needs to consider repositioning Rooney alongside Schneiderlin/Schweinsteiger/Carrick ASAP in order to help get the best out of the misfiring and once-great striker. This potential genius move will not only help prolong his career it will, more importantly, work to his strengths in order to get the best out of him and resurrect his reputation during the remaining few years he has left in professional football.