joeldurston

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

My England Squad for the Euros

In Sport on May 21, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Goalkeepers: Hart (capt.), Green, Foster (Robinson)

Defenders: Cole, Baines, Richards Cahill, Walker, Ferdinand, Lescott

Midfielders: Young, Lennon, Gerrard, Parker, Barry Lampard, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain

Strikers: Rooney, Welbeck, Defoe, Bent (Crouch), Sturridge

 

Starting from the back, Hart is a no-brainer, having cemented himself in a world class with the lowest goals against tally this season (and any sensible person’s fantasy team). He’s also got a great temperament; committed, commanding, ambitious (see his anger at himself at not saving even screamers), and just a down-to-earth bloke off-the-pitch. Couple this with fact that being a keeper gives you a great vantage point from which to view the game, and he’s a strong candidate for the captaincy. Of the other two, Green would be my number two because he has, save (…ahem) one horrendous error, always been a solid player when called upon (and with one liners such as this, he’ll be great around the camp: (on the gaffe against USA: “Had a random drug tests after the game…needless to say they didn’t find any performance-enhancing drugs in my system”). I’ve always considered Foster quite error prone, but he’s had a solid spell at West Brom so merits a place in the squad, if as much because of the lack of other suitable candidates. If Robinson was not in retirement – as I hear he may come out of – he would be my number two, as he has been quietly putting in impressive performances for Blackburn and was unfairly ousted following one unfortunate incident (the Croatia bobble). Remember when we were all debating whether he was/could be world class?
Anyway all no. 2 considerations are pretty academic, given Hart’s age, form and unlikeliness to sustain serious injury.

Cole, if perhaps not as world class as he once was, is still a very steady pair of feet. A measure of his quality is that he is almost universally praised for his ability – despite being, or at least having been, a fairly odious human being. Baines provides a solid cover if he gets injured. Lescott and Richards have both had good seasons at City – with the reserves their disposal, even being a consistent starter is impressive. If Terry were still performing as he were two years ago, he should go on ability – but given poor recent form (Liverpool ran him ragged), the possibility of him creating tension in the camp is too much – even if innocent until proven guilty.

Very tough in midfield. Lampard was underused by Chelsea, as attested by the resurgence largely brought about when he got more game time. Similarly, Gerrard is a little past his peak, but still capable of inspirational moments so warrants inclusion. Parker, if fit, is a solid, talismanic presence. The wingers all represent real pace and danger (if not always delivery), and have had at least moments of genius this season. Oxlade-Chamberlain is undoubtedly a risk, but has the youthful audacity to run at, try things – and usually succeed – against the best of the Premiership so there’s no logical reason why he should be able to against international teams. Barry’s not a world-beater, but you know what you’re getting with him and has been quietly influential for probable Champions, City, so is a good squad player.

Rooney is a given, despite his two-match ban – one of probably only three world-class players in the squad, with Hart and Cole. Welbeck has impressed this season, is a versatile striker and has the benefit of an understanding with Rooney already. Defoe is a consistent poacher, as is Bent, who seems will be fit. And has an added aerial presence to his game, so gets the nod over Crouch for me. Sturridge brings a bit of flair, and the possibility to be used in the now-popular 4-2-3-1 if we choose to play that way, as is possible with two natural holding men in Barry and Parker and attacking threat on the wings.

Joel Durston

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2011/12 Premiership Season Review

In Sport on May 20, 2012 at 3:34 AM

O……M…….F……..G. Here at TAY we’re not usually prone to such teenage internet-speak, but the most  apocalyptic end to the most apocalyptic season (in living memory at least) had the marvellous ability to bring out the gawping, incredulous child in all of us. Alright there were some killjoys, but more fool them if they are either too serious (or joyless) to spurn the emotional thrill of football for the FT,  or hypocritical enough to enough to decry football while engrossed in the Saturday night fortunes of others who have the temerity to passionately pursue their dream.

But for the most of us – engorged in fat, fatuous cake of football, however self-consciously – here’s TAY’s attempt to make a method of this season’s undoubted, exhilarating madness…

Best match

How to choose. United v Everton? Chelsea v Arsenal? United v Arsenal? City v QPR? All great games in their own right. The obvious answer is of course the latter; City’s breathtaking 3-2 win this weekend against QPR, but, being a pretentious pedant, this was only so exciting when viewed in the context of the other games that day and the narrative of the season as a whole. In isolation it was just a perfectly normal, albeit exciting, win against a much lesser team. My pick is City’s landmark 6-1 win against United earlier this season because of its significance; confirmation, if it hadn’t already arrived, that City were no longer just the ‘noisy neighbours’ playing their dubstep at a slightly inconvenient yet ignorable level, but neighbours persistently urging to come over and join the dinner party. They wrangled the invite. The results were thrillingly messy.

Best team

At the start of the season, many if not most were consigning Swansea to relegation – myself included, despite having a soft spot for them due it being my mum’s hometown. It seemed likely they would become this season’s Blackpool; likable, attractive to watch, but ultimately too brittle and under-resourced for the Darwinnian, Hunger Games-esque world of the Premiership. That they definitively proved the naysayers wrong, whilst still retaining their integrity and playing style, is a tremendous credit to Brendan Rodgers and his players.

Best goal

Another very tough choice. Cisse (that one) and Suarez (the chip against Norwich) both scored amazing goals, but these were spontaneous moments of brilliance. Hatem Ben Arfa’s, my choice, showed several moments of genius, which all combined to make one spectacular whole – the quick-thinking backheel and then blistering pace to beat the two Bolton central midfielders, the thread-through-a-needle incision of the centre-halves, and the composed finished past Bogdan. Sublime.

Best player

Could be any one of a dozen or so – (in rough ascending order) Walker for tireless running; Ba/Cisse (pre- and post-Christmas, respectively); Bale if he – and spurs – didn’t go off the boil slightly; Rooney for consistent strike rate (and unusual temperament); Aguero for impish energy and finishing; Silva for effortless, elegant excellence; Hart for presence and world-class shot-stopping; Parker, Kompany and Toure for towering performances and leadership. But, admittedly with possible bias, I’m plumping for Van Persie, for the way he almost single-handedly brought Arsenal (hell, cover’s blown – ‘us’) Champions League football with 30 league goals – an eclectic mix of wonder-goals and tap-ins. There were times this joke seemed very apt: “The Robin Van Persie Tea Tray….carries 10 mugs”. Considering, a third-placed finish is a great achievement, and largely his.

Best character

A two-horse race, surely, between messrs Balotelli and Barton. The former an exuberant, enigmatic court jester, a man with the talent of the 21-year-old he is but the attitude of a 7-year-old. The latter a strange tri-chotomy, if you will, of a man – part sensitive, art-loving Smiths fan; part people’s philosopher (or fool); and part Scouse thug. Public perception has lurched staunchly to the latter view after Sunday’s moment of madness (or, perhaps, normality for him). So for this reason, Balotelli gets my vote. Super Mario was similarly a class-A prat against Arsenal, where he got sent off for a reckless challenge after he should have been sent off for an even more reckless challenge – actions that arguably nearly cost City the title, and may yet lead to his exit from the club. But, although this was one piece of crazy too much for many, Balotelli can largely pull off japes like playing Angry Birds on the bench for his national team (i.e. funny but disrespectful) due to his youthful joie de vivre – personally what football is all about. Barton would be pilloried, and rightly so.

Best howler

The cliché my nan could have scored that! is oft-used in football, but probably actually true in this case. Torres had actually had a good game this match at Old Trafford – not always with end product, but lively, and he produced one sumptuous chip to beat De Gea. The miss, however, typified his form. He took a through ball and rounded De Gea well, but missed an open goal from 6 yards under absolutely no pressure. People pored over the replays to look for an incriminating bobble, but there was none; just absolutely shocking tekkers, hilarious to the majority of football fans who love a bit of schadenfreude.

Best Manager

Could have equally gone to Brendan Rodgers (as best team could have Newcastle), but I’ve elected to give this to Alan Pardew for the way he has turned a very average team into serious Champions League hopefuls. And he did it the right way too. Contemporaries Liverpool splashed the clash yet floundered (in the league at least), but Pardew brought in relative unknowns for bargain-bucket prices and moulded them into a unit at once solid and exhibitive of fantastic, flowing football. Demba Ba on a free has to be signing of the season. Remember we were all outraged at nice guy Hughton being given his marching orders?! That this seems a distant memory is testament to Pardew’s transformation.

Dark horse

Would be Newcastle or Ba specifically, but since I’ve covered both already, I’ll go for Papiss Cisse, with a notable mention to reborn Hatem Ben Arfa. Pretty much unknown by everyone before he was bought in January (for £10m from Freiburg) – I’ll hold my hands up, I didn’t know who he was – Cisse has gone on to become a fans’ favourite. And unsurprisingly, given his 13 goals in 14 appearances, including some absolutely redonkulous ones such as the looped chip against Swansea and outside-of-the-foot, 35-yard banana shot against Chelsea, which probably would have returned back to him were it not for the net. Nice guy, too, as shown by his surprise visit to the home of the (overjoyed) primary school kid who drew a picture of him at school when he was meant to make a present for his folks. Who needs Carroll, eh?!

Best Funny moment

There’s been a few – there always will be with Super Mario around – but it’s got to go the Anfield cat. The stray, known to wander around the premises, livened up an otherwise drab encounter between Liverpool and Spurs, insouciantly trotting around Brad Friedel’s goalmouth and sitting down – much to the amusement of the players and fans – before being escorted off by a steward, earning 25,000 Twitter fans in the process. And in doing so, ‘Kenny’, as he’s been dubbed, made more of an impact at Anfield than Stewart Downing did all season. Miaow.

Best punditry

OK, so they’re both technically in the Champions League (the Chelsea/Barca semi), but it’s got to be a joint win between Gary Neville’s much-parodied orgasmic exhortations at Torres’ last minute goal and Geoff Shreeves’ brutally frank questioning of Branislav Ivanovic. Without so much as a personal congratulation for a typically resolute performance, Shreeves saw fit to demand of Ivanovic whether he was booked and, upon the bewildered Ivanovic answering in the affirmative, tell him in no uncertain terms he would miss the final. Talk about party-pooper. Made for great TV, though, in a similarly bonkers, brilliant season. Please no one burst the bubble.

Joel Durston

King Kenny Leaves the Castle

In Sport on May 17, 2012 at 6:26 PM

So, King Kenny has been forced from the castle. Instead of taking a no doubt much needed holiday, he flew to America to review his contract with owners John Henry and Tom Werner, and was given his marching orders from the insular bubble of the castle, over the crocodile-infested moat of hacks, and into the land of managerial uncertainty.

The case for the prosecution against this once great player is contentious. On the one hand, he has brought Liverpool a Carling Cup, seemingly instilling the resolve to see them past a strong City team in the semis and beat a very spirited Cardiff team – on penalties, after a gruelling 120 minutes – in the final. This is one more serious title than Barcelona and Manchester United have got this season. He also got them to an FA Cup final, only losing narrowly to a good Chelsea team. And, despite all the controversy and the myriad stars (or supposed stars) who have had to content themselves with bench-warming for much of the season, it appears he’s created a positive team atmosphere around Anfield. No mean feat, especially when compared to the problems City, a similar if more successful case, have had in this respect. Even erstwhile renegade vagabond, Roy Carroll, seems to be acting like a sensible, if largely shit, professional nowadays.

No doubt he was helped in this by the aura of hero-worship which surrounds him on the red side of Liverpool – a respect seemingly echoed by the players, and one which lent him the benefit of the doubt on many contentious cases. For this you could call him ‘lucky’, but one’s stature is not divorced from the job, so this should be a point in his favour.

But – and it’s a big but – in finishing 8th Liverpool have simply failed to perform in the league, especially when considered, with the ‘messiah’ Kenny and several big signings on board, many fans were hailing this as the season as the one in which Liverpool finally fulfilled on their promise and returned to former glories. And it wasn’t even a particularly close 8th – closer to the drop zone than (normal) Champions League Qualification (16 and 17 points, respectively), and a galling four points off those pesky neighbours on the other side of Stanley Park. Undoubtedly they were unlucky in some games in which they dominated but thwarted by some combination of poor finishing, refereeing decisions, out-of-the-ordinary goalkeeping (Scott Dann), and the woodwork – which, with 22 strikes, they hit comfortably more than anyone else in the Premiership. However, that is only so if you agree all this so-near-yet-so-far constitutes ‘unlucky’ (I do to some extent). In many performances they were just plain poor; disorganised, anaemic, and seemingly clueless. A tell-tale sign is that the now-infamous Anfield Cat, which appeared in their drab 0-0 home with Spurs, spawned so many ironic jokes about the tabby doing more at Anfield than many players, particularly Downing, had done all season.

Yes, a lot of the culpability for this should lie with the players – a crux I feel most sacked managers are unfairly burdened with. However new the system or unfamiliar the players, surely a ‘good’ left winger should be able to beat the man and put in a decent cross… *cough* Downing *cough* (ok, so I’m singling poor Stewart out, but I’m angry about his selection for the England squad). In this case, though, a lot of the blame should fall on Dalglish’s shoulders. Newcastle, for one, will be laughing at Liverpool’s (figurative) fortunes right now. Flushed £41m from the sale of Carroll (£35m) and Jose Enrique (£6m) to Liverpool, they have bought – among others – Check Tiote, Davide Santon, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse and signed on a free Demba Ba. All unmitigated successes, and they still turned a £8m profit. Bravo, Pardew. By contrast, on top of the £35m for Carroll (though admittedly buoyed by an equally ridiculous £50m for Torres), Kenny spent more than Newcastle on Henderson and Downing alone (£16m and £20m, respectively). In the league, the former clocking in with a disappointing 2 goals and 4 assists and the latter a pathetic zilch. It’s very easy to point the finger at bad signings in hindsight, but even at the time the consensus – and my opinion – was that Liverpool were paying way over the odds for these two. Even Adam and Coates – at £7m each – seemed overpriced, in hindsight at least. Also, his selection has often seemed misguided. Despite lacklustre performances, Henderson and Downing have both found regularly found themselves in attacking midfield positions ahead of Maxi Rodriguez, who has scored four goals in just 11 league appearances.

Also, Dalglish’s handling of the whole Suarez-Evra affair was very divisive; unbridled in his support for the player vehemently accused – and later convicted of – racism. His indignant reaction to ban, too – acting as if it was an unfair attack on him/his club – won him few admirers. It’s certainly true that being honourable and nice to the press (and fans) is not a pre-requisite for the job – it certainly never hurt Fergie or Mourinho – but for a club that prides itself so much on its ethics (or being self-righteous and worthy), it was quite damaging. And arguably quite an unhelpful distraction from the football itself too.

So, I think the prosecution wins on the balance of probabilities, at least in today’s cutthroat, Darwinnian hell-hole that is the Premiership managerial merry-go-round. It may seem harsh and rash, but so did Chris Hughton’s sacking, remember?! And look what Pardew’s done. Another thing to be said for the decision is the timing; a new manager, if appointed quickly, will have plenty of time over the summer to rebuild and mould his squad. And a prestigious, if ‘pressure-cooker’, job like Liverpool should have no shortage of attractive potential suitors – already Martinez, even Benitez and Capello have been thrown into the ring. If messrs Henry and Warner appoint one of these and he takes Liverpool onto success, it will prove a good decision…in hindsight as well as at the moment.

Joel Durston