Premier League Review & The Managerial Merry-Go-Round

Host @HarrySymeou is joined by regular panelists @DDL_SSN and @Alavi_SSN to discuss the latest action from the English Premier League, the managerial merry-go-round and the latest stories from beautiful game!

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Sander Westerveld Interview

Host @HarrySymeou had the pleasure of talking to former Liverpool, Real Sociedad and Netherlands goalkeeper Sander Westerveld. We spoke about Sander’s fantastic playing career, his League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League victories. Sander also shared his thoughts on the current crop at Anfield and where things may have gone wrong for the Dutch national side of late.
A huge thanks to Sander Westerveld, a true gentleman and we are thrilled to have had him on the show. Enjoy 🙂

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Sander Westerveld Interview

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… he edges it for me.


Carabao fix the draw but not the glitch

The draw for the Carabao Cup quarter final descended into farce and chaos yesterday as the organizers bungled the most simple task in football – pulling 8 numbered balls out of a hat.

Well at least that’s how we used to do it. Not Carabao. Having already had draws in Thailand, China at 4am, experienced issues including drawing the same team twice and confusing the home and away teams 4 separate times with the help of John Salako, Carabao and the EFL decided that this draw would take place live on twitter.


Well, we can come back to that.

What I was envisaging was at 4pm logging on to twitter and being presented with a link that some one had pre-shared to a video of people (hopefully not John Salako) undertaking a draw live for all to see. Novel, if unnecessary.

What happened? 4pm nothing. 4:10 nothing 4:15, 4:30, 4:40 and so on… What did happen though were some announcements. 4 to be exact. My favourite – ‘…..a twitter engineer continues to work on the problem’ A twitter engineer!! What is one of those?

The draw took place at 5:45 pm? Or did it….? Fans and neutral onlookers were provided with a pre-recorded video of the draw, and the torment was over. What time did the pre-recording take place? Nobody knows. Phil Tufnell and Matt Dawson charged with the important part – football affiliation zero. A draw for the next series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ amateur/professional pairings I’d suggest would be a better place for them to be.

Back to the question of why?

For why, you need to look back at the whole pie and ask yourself how? How can drawing numbers be so difficult?

Here is how I would do it?

But How have the EFL and Carabao managed to mess up so many things in just a few draws?

After the fiasco had ended Carabao issued this tweeted statement “……apologies for technical difficulties…..blah blah blah”

I divert your attention to the previous photograph, nothing needs to be technical, unless…

Here is the result of that draw that no one saw happen:

Chelsea vs Bournemouth

Arsenal vs West Ham

Leicester vs Manchester City

Bristol City vs Manchester United.

The biggest 4 teams in the draw avoided each other, which for the number cruncher’s had just a 23% chance of happening. What has a great chance of happening now is the virtual certainty that there will be 2 big sides in the Final.

That technical glitch has proved to be very convenient in that bad press is better than no press, and Carabao were dominating the trends on social media yesterday afternoon. The good press will be covered at a packed Wembley with two huge teams and Carabao billboards all around the parameters. At least there won’t have to be a draw for the Final, but I wouldn’t rule out both teams being assigned the same dressing room with rival fans sitting on each others laps!

So why? Marketing, coverage, exposure and ….fix? You decide. But the only thing we’re certain wasn’t fixed are the ‘technical’ problems that plague these draws.

How? The over complication of a process to get a desired result?

Maybe next year we can go back to basics. Yellow balls of paper and a glass. If so, I’d certainly drink to that.


SSN Legends: Pavel Nedved

There’s been a lot of  heated debate across our social media platforms in recent weeks- who is world class? What defines world class? How entertaining is Serie A as a competition?

Discussing these topics prompted me to recall one of my favorite ever players. Pavel Nedved. Someone I’d rate in the same class as the great Argentinian Juan Roman Riquelme. Someone I had the pleasure of watching live at the 2006 World Cup when the Czech Republic took on Italy.

I was amazed a footballer could be that good. The former Juve player says he was blown away by the passion shown by Celtic and Lubo Moravcik on the night the Hoops humbled Juventus 4-3 in the Champions League back in 2001. I guess I felt the same way, with the only difference being I was a spectator watching Nedved, whilst the Czech legend was playing against Lubo

A FIFA Ballon d’Or winner (2003), the most successful Czech footballer of all time and a legend of European football, Pavel Nedved remains beloved by fans of the game the world over. Nicknamed Furia Ceca (“The Czech Fury”), Nedved won Serie A four times across his 19-year career but was arguably at his best in Europe where he inspired brilliant UEFA Super Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup triumphs with Lazio before dazzling in the Champions League with Juventus, driving them to a 2003 final full of drama and spectacle.

On the international circuit he was no less impressive, playing with flair and penache at the heart of the newly formed Czech Republic team at the 1996 Euros, where they ended runners-up. He now continues to be a guiding force for Juventus, albeit off the pitch – as a board member, he oversees many of the club’s transfer deals and has been a key figure in engineering the team’s resurgence in recent years. Nedved was appointed vice president of his former club in October 2015

Last month he came out of retirement at the age of 45 in his homeland. Signing for amateur side FK Skalna is undoubtedly interrelated to his son (Pavel Jr) being on the books of Skalna and the chance of lining up together at some point this season. Czech Republic legend Pavel Nedved revealed the biggest regret he had during his career was not playing for Manchester United. European footballer of the year in 2003, instead enjoying highly successful spells with Lazio and Juventus.  The midfielder was once a target for Chelsea, a move which he turned down and when asked by a Czech news outlet what he rues the most from his playing days he said: ‘That I never played for Manchester United, I’d have liked that.”

If I were Nedved I wouldn’t have any regrets.  Seria A WAS great back in those days. Nedved was truly WORLD CLASS.

Serie A Preview: Week 11

Whilst those in England had to make do with an underwhelming round of Carabao Cup action, Italian football fans were treated to a midweek installment of Serie A.

Mauro Icardi and Inter continued their fine form on Tuesday night with a 3-2 victory over Sampdoria at the San Siro which saw them temporarily climb to the summit.  Napoli saw to it that Inter’s reign at the top lasted less than 24 hours when they leapfrogged the Nerrazzuri having won 2-3 at Genoa. Juventus, Roma and Lazio also registered victories midweek and the battle for the Scudetto and the Champions League positions continues to heat up.

Looking ahead to match day 11 the standout fixture comes from Milan.  Juventus travel to Italy’s second city in a bid to chase down league leaders Napoli and simultaneously inflict further pain on under fire Milan boss Vincenzo Montella.  The former Fiorentina manager must feel as though the walls are closing in on him.  Having spent a vast amount of money during the summer the minimum expectation was for Milan to secure a Champions League place.  Given the way Napoli, Lazio, Roma, Inter and Juventus have started the campaign that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Juventus go into this one in a far richer vein of form, despite their recent defeat at the hands of Lazio they were able to bounce back instantly with convincing victories in Udine and then at home against SPAL.  Hardly the kind of opponent Montella would have wanted to face given his precarious situation.  Dybala, Higuain and co will be confident of leaving the San Siro with maximum points and you wouldn’t be surprised if this was to be Montella’s final game in charge.

With Carlo Ancelotti hovering in the background, unemployed and in search of pastures new could we see the Milan hierarchy turn to their former boss for inspiration?  Some food for thought.

Elsewhere Napoli entertain Sassuolo, Lazio travel to relegation threatened Benevento, Roma welcome Bologna to the Olimpico, Inter head to Verona and SPAL take on Genoa in an early season six pointer.

Remaining fixtures:

Crotone vs Fiorentina, Sampdoria vs Chievo, Torino vs Cagliari and Udinese vs Atalanta.

Another action packed weekend of Serie A football coming your way!



Arsenal 2-1 Norwich – Nketiah steals the show

Edward Nketiah was the name on everyone’s lips last night when he came off of the bench to rescue Arsenal in the Carabao cup against Norwich.

Arsenal had made 11 changes to their win over Everton on Sunday and the bench, with the exception of Chuba Akpom, had players known only to the staunchest Arsenal fans.

Norwich had led through Josh Murphy’s fine finish and had every right to feel aggrieved when Eleneny only saw yellow for pulling down Oliviera early in the 2nd Half.

Arsenal began to push late on though and Wenger’s faith in his young guns proved its worth when young Nketiah equalised with 5 minutes left. He did so just 15 seconds after coming on the field as a substitute, and became the first player born after Wenger’s appointment to score for the Gunners.

Arsenal’s foothold was not to be given up as they dominated extra time, and that man Edward Nketiah rose highest from a corner to head the gunners into the quarter final draw. A night to remember for him and a player to watch out for in the future.

Dan De Luca


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


Atleti are back!

Well back with a win at least. Atletico had travelled to Galicia without a win in in almost a month but Kevin Gameiro pounced on a loose ball to put Atletico ahead against the run of play in the first half, and although Celta Vigo had more than their fair share of the ball, the match ended in a 1-0 victory for Atleti.

Gameiro’s first goal of the season came in a second successive start, which is welcome news before Wednesday’s trip to third-tier Elche for a Copa del Rey last-32 first leg. Listeners of our SSN pod would have heard me praise Koke, Niguez and Carrasco regularly as three of La liga’s less known talents. Only Saul Niguez made the trip due to a hamstring and knee injury for Koke and Carraso respectively, so you have to give the Argentinian credit for adjusting his tactics accordingly.

Simeone, now in his sixth full season in charge of Atletico having signed a deal over the summer that commits him to the club until 2020, cut a relieved figure in the post-match press conference- “It is an important win, it was needed. Between the international break, the games against Leganes, Barcelona and Qarabag [in the Champions League], it was a long wait for a win.”

The bigger picture is that the club’s chances of making it to the knockout stages of the Champions League are currently hanging by a thread. Vitolo and Diego Costa arrive in January, which can’t come quick enough for Simeone. In the meantime there have been calls for a youngster Keidi Bare who impressed in preseason to be given his chance. Luciano Vietto is another omission in recent match day squads that have left the Atletico faithful puzzled.

However, Simeone remains unruffled “It would really be worrying if we had stopped being ourselves. The year we won La Liga, we lost in Almeria, who were relegated. I did not get carried away when we won in Bilbao, and I did not get too down when we drew in Baku. We must find some stability. We will find the right path.”

The right path is anything but an embarrassment this Wednesday.

Simon Alavi


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.

Derbies, Dives & Double Decker Buses

The @sofasportsnews_ panel discuss week 8 of the English Premier League, Match Day 3 in the UEFA Champions League and the sacking of Craig Shakespeare. Harry & co also discuss the World Cup Qualification draw as well as a round up of the action from Europe’s big leagues.

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Derbies, Dives & Double Decker Buses

Spain’s Surprise Package

Each season, from the top leagues around Europe there tends to be at least one surprise package. This can be as extreme as Leicester City winning the league or Juventus failing to wrap up another Scudetto before February. So far in La Liga we have Valencia.

Now 2nd in LaLiga following the weekend round of games, Valencia are cruising having netted 17 goals in their last 4 matches. A Real Betis comeback did loom for a period of time before ‘Los Verdiblancos’ succumbed to a 6-3 defeat. They play 4-4-2, tight, compact, extremely quick on the break and aren’t worried about dominating possession.

This summer Valencia found the right manager (Marcelino García Toral) and made the necessary changes higher up in the club (Mateu Alemany, once at Mallorca, is a football man and widely respected).  Every transfer is agreed with Toral, as it should be, but such is football nowadays it no longer goes without saying.

The summer targets of Goncalo Guedes and Andreas Pereira were bought in on loan with Diego Alves, Enzo Pérez and Álvaro Negredo all heading in the opposite direction. Worth keeping your eye on Geoffrey Kondogbia too. Valencia will always be a selling club, a club that once had my 2 favourite players in Europe on their books; Silva and Isco. However, it’s nice to see a different top 2, even if for a fleeting moment.



Serie A Review: Week 8

I’ve argued it for weeks, Serie A is on the up and whilst it’s yet to reach the heights of the 1990’s there is no doubt it’s been the standout league competition in Europe so far.

Champions Juventus suffered their first home defeat in more than 2 years at the hands of Lazio despite being awarded a controversial penalty in stoppage time.

Paulo Dybala was denied by Lazio stopper Thomas Strakosha to condemn the Vecchia Signora (the old lady) to a 2-1 defeat.

Cirro Immobile who began his career in Turin proved to be the difference netting twice at the Allianz Stadium. With Juve beaten the onus was on Maurizio Sari’s Napoli who faced a difficult trip to Roma and the league leaders didn’t disappoint. Lorenzo Insigne bagged his 100th career goal to ensure Sari’s men maintained their 100% record in the league so far.

Head almost 600km North-West to Italy’s second city and you’d have stumbled across the weekend’s standout fixture. The Derby Della Madonnina or otherwise known as the Milan Derby had Italian football fans drooling. Both Inter and AC Milan are currently under Chinese ownership and that adds an extra spice to what is already one of the games fiercest rivalries.

Mauro Icardi’s hat-trick was enough to secure the points and inflict more pressure on under fire Milan boss Vincenzo Montella. Despite Milan coming from behind twice they left empty handed after referee Paolo Tagliavento pointed to the spot on the 90th minute. The resulting spot-kick completed Icardi’s treble and his celebration of removing his shirt and holding it aloft to the crowd will live long in the memory of Inter supporters.

The current top four are separated by just five points and the title race is hotting up, if its entertainment you’re after this is certainly one to keep your eye on. As Napoli hunt their first scudetto since the days of Maradona it remains to be seen whether they can hold off the challenge posed by the current Champions Juventus, Inter and Lazio. A long way to go but things are shaping up nicely.


International’s aren’t that bad are they?

This weeks panel includes Kristan Heneage – football writer @FourFourTwo, ITVFootball and the @Guardian & Sports Journalist/Broadcaster Andy Wilson. The guys discuss the big stories from the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers & assess England’s chances in Russia next summer!