Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ken's Final Farewell [picture]


With takeover talks dragging out across the Summer and into this season, Leeds United supporters may have began to question whether they would ever see the back of Ken Bates. However, the saga could be about to reach a conclusion with reports stating that Leeds are on the brink of a deal with Middle-Eastern investment bank Gulf Finance House.

The Santa Claus look-a-like has not always been a bringer of merriment and good cheer to fans of the Yorkshire club, but after months of speculation, uncertainty and unrest the announcement from Bates last Saturday that he was in talks with a group from the Middle-East would have been music to their ears.

Bates was seen entertaining four businessmen at the Nottingham Forest game last weekend and this morning a letter was released confirming that Gulf Finance House have signed an exclusive agreement to lead a takeover of Leeds United, thereby bringing an end to Ken's seven year ownership of the club.

The letter stated: 'Further to the news published in the Gulf Daily News on the 25th and 26th Sep 2012, referring to the proposed acquisition of Leeds United Football Club (LUFC), GFH would like to confirm that GFH Capital Limited, a 100% subsidiary of Gulf Finance House, has signed an exclusive agreement to lead and arrange the acquisition of Leeds City Holdings, the parent company of LUFC.'

Chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, Gary Cooper hopes that the takeover could bring about a return to the glory days. Speaking about today's developments, he said: 'The trust has been calling for the potential buyer and the club to say something and this is what we've all been waiting to hear. It's been a long, long summer for Leeds fans who have heard very little.'

'We knew these talks were going on and with neither side willing to say anything it's been frustrating. So we're really pleased GFH have finally come out and said something. It appears now that this deal is close to being completed. We always understood that this was going to be a takeover and we all hope now that the new owners share our ambitions for the club.'

'We're hoping for investment in the team and for Leeds United to be glorious again. These people are first and foremost businessmen, hopefully sharing our vision, but expecting a return on their investment and the Premier League offers vast riches if the club can get it right on and off the field.'

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Friday, 21 September 2012

Heskey: G'Owen's Good at Stoke

With his stables just a few miles away from the Britannia Stadium, Michael Owen will be able to indulge his love of horse racing as well as a bit of football following his move to Stoke this summer. However, manager Tony Pulis will be hoping the 32-year-old has his mind firmly set on bagging goals for the Potters rather than the nag’s this season.

If Owen were a horse he would likely have been sent to the knacker’s yard a long time ago due to his injury prone nature, but the former England favourite has stated he wishes to prove he can 'stand the rigours of a full season' throughout his 12 month pay-per-play contract with Stoke.

Whilst the odds of him picking up another Premier League winners medal are steep having left his bench warming role at United, the chances of him playing regular football are far more favourable at Stoke. That is if he manages to stay free of injury, of course.

Though many doubt that Owen will be able to recapture the kind of form that won him the Ballon d’Or in 2001, his former England and Liverpool strike partner Emile Heskey has spoken of his belief that there is still a future for him in the Premiership.

Speaking to talkSPORT, Heskey stated: 'I definitely think he’s got a lot still to give. You know everyone is going to look at your injuries and that kind of thing but Michael will get as many goals as anyone else and he’s proving that. The main thing is proving that he can stay fit. When you talk about goals and ability then he’s up there with the best of them. I don’t think Roy Hodgson should ignore him either.

'There is a new crop of lads coming up but they can learn from what Michael has done, being around people like Michael will always help. Everyone knew about Michael from the age of 16 and the ability that he had and he was able to deal with that pressure so he has got a lot to give back too.'

Owen will be hoping for his first Premier League start for his new club when Stoke face Chelsea on Saturday afternoon, although he may have to settle for a place on the bench until he is able to regain his match fitness.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Sack Race: AVB vs Brendan Rodgers

To kick this off, let me present you with some raw data on our prime contenders for this thrilling race. This is both managers' first season with their respective sides and neither has gotten off to a particularly bright start. In the red corner of this globally manager-feared contest, we have Brendan Rodgers, who has achieved a measly 2 points from 4 games, his new side scoring just 3 goals and conceding 8, leaving them in 17th place (just above the relegation zone) with -5 goal difference. In the white corner, we have Andre Villas-Boas, with a slightly better 5 points from 4 games, his side scoring 6 goals and conceding 5 and they sit at 10th place with +1 goal difference. Current Europa League Betting odds have both teams amongst the favourites to win outright, with Liverpool at 10/1 and Tottenham at 12/1.

Neither manager has really breezed through these first four games, although Tottenham's first win of the season over newly-promoted Reading last night gives their campaign start a slightly more respectable look. However, it must be said that Liverpool have had significantly tougher fixtures, including matches against the likes of reigning champions Manchester City and an in-form Arsenal. Spurs' toughest fixture by far was their opening game against Newcastle, a match they lost.

Now that we've had a brief look at the stats of the first 4 games, let's talk about a few positives and negatives each manager brings to the club.

For starters, neither manager is at all experienced, in age or in Premier League managing time. Rodgers has a slight edge here at age 39 and having been at the helm for the entirety of Swansea's excellent d├ębut in the English top flight. Villas-Boas is little more than a kid by managerial standards and at 34 he is the youngest current Premiership manager. His 9 month spell at Chelsea off the back of a sensational unbeaten run at Porto ended very badly, with him losing his job to current Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo. Against some of the more experienced top-level managers, they may struggle to cope with tricks the old dogs have picked up over the years (Ferguson's infamous mind games spring to mind rather quickly). AVB in particular here has not proven himself well when it comes to dealing with pressure, becoming used to having little at Porto and his first real high-pressure challenges during his time at Chelsea ended in absolute disaster.

Two words: Transfer dealings. This may well have been the most difficult aspect of each manager's new job at their respective clubs, seeing as they were both thrown in at the deep end with concrete blocks tied round their ankles. Metaphorically, of course. Rodgers had to deal with a distinct lack of transfer funds (Reds fans, you can go ahead and blame 'King Kenny' for that one, he certainly spent like a king... 20 million for Jordan Henderson... good grief) and thus was only able to bring in minor reinforcements, famously (and no doubt frustratingly) missing out on Clint Dempsey, who – funnily enough – went to our contender in the white corner. Dempsey was meant to be the replacement for surplus-to-requirements England man Andy Carroll. However, loaning him out without bringing in any actual replacement has left Liverpool with little or no options upfront and Rogers has admitted this bit of transfer business to be a mistake. January recall maybe? All this coupled with the lack of transfer deadline day action had Liverpool fans in uproar.

AVB had his own transfer problems, having his hands tied in losing Modric and then making the utterly mind-boggling move of opting to sell his best attacking midfielder in Van der Vaart. He has arguably done a decent job in replacing them, bringing in Dembele, Sigurdsson and Adebayor alongside the aforementioned Dempsey. But we can't end on a happy note – oh no. To top it all off the young Portuguese caused himself many months of consistent migraine with this Hugo Lloris/Brad Friedel business and despite the former being an unquestionably quality signing, Villas-Boas seems to have not the slightest idea how to deal with Friedel's top form and Lloris' top quality. His decision to keep the American between the sticks may have been the right one, but the hesitation with which he went about it can only breed doubt amongst fans and players alike.

Finally,there is the style of play and expectations of the respective teams. Liverpool was a side that played attractive passing football once upon a time, but since then they have become a team known for hoofing the ball forward unnecessarily. For three years running now, Liverpool have missed out on Champions League football by failing to make the top four. Yet, expectations have not significantly lowered and the task Rodgers has set out to do – bring good quality football back to the Reds and eventually get them back competing among Europe's elite – is one that has become very difficult, but in the long run, could hugely benefit the club and bring a sense of stability that the red half of Merseyside haven't had for a long time. Villas-Boas, on the other hand, has joined a club that has consistently made the top four in recent seasons and while you could argue that that constitutes more pressure, it is a pressure his team have become accustomed to. Also, AVB has more players suited to his high-line, constant pressure style of football than Rodgers has at Anfield that are suited to his tiki-taka style.

My personal opinion is that despite AVB's statistically better start to the campaign, Brendan Rodgers' clear sense of purpose and ability to blame unfortunate circumstances will keep him in his job longer than AVB, as I can only see him crumbling under the greater pressures sure to come later in the season.

An interesting set of stats to finish off with. Bookies odds for AVB and Brendan Rodgers to lose their jobs:

After the first game – AVB 20/1, Brendan Rodgers 10/1
Currently – AVB 6/1, Brendan Rodgers 5/1

It seems like I've backed Rodgers against all the odds here, but we'll see how it all plays out at the end of the season!

Article written by Sean Wilson
Illustration by Tasha Lockyer of www.85creative.co.uk

Thursday, 6 September 2012

4 Reasons Liverpool Lost to Arsenal at Anfield

The Liverpool - Arsenal fixture is one that always excites and has produced some of the greatest moments in Premier League history. Both clubs always come in to this match looking for a win and this one was no different. This time the two clubs came in to the match still seeking their first win of the season which further fuelled the fires that so often make for the fast-paced, entertaining matches that the English first division is so widely renowned for. One team won, one team lost. This is my opinion on why:

Key players failing to produce
For all the tactical know-how of both managers and the tactics they did indeed implement against each other during the game, one thing let Brendan Rodgers down that he had practically no control over: his stars failed to shine.

Upfront, Suarez and Borini made a real mess of the attack, showing little if any penetration and a complete lack of composure on the ball. 17-year-old Sterling was by far the most impressive of the front three and looks a promising talent. However, at his age, the responsibility for scoring and creating goals does not fall on his shoulders. Borini looked lost out on the right flank and Suarez's tactic of falling down whenever the wind blew probably cost him an all-important penalty decision.

At the other end of the pitch, Pepe Reina failed to inspire much confidence either, his poor attempt at stopping Cazorla's well-struck but straight forward strike going under his arm and into the net. It was hardly the performance Liverpool fans have come to expect from the usually consistent and reliable keeper, who has now made three slip-ups in as many matches. It would hardly surprise me if he started the next game on the bench.

Finally, the captain, Stevie G, who is undoubtedly one of, if not, THE most important player in this Liverpool side. Gerrard was quiet for most of the match and his mistake in midfield led to the first goal. Personally, I think his age has begun to take its toll and while he may be an immensely talented player, he can't keep playing back-to-back matches without suffering from the effects of fatigue. Rodgers may need to seriously consider the number of times in a row he puts Gerrard on the pitch if he wants his talisman in top form.

Full backs neglecting their defensive duties

Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique both had decent games going forward on the attack, with the latter especially making dangerous passes and feeding Sterling down the wing and Suarez down the middle. However, neither had a very good game defensively and Johnson was especially to blame since both goals came down his flank.

The tactic Liverpool seemed to be employing was to stretch play with width from the fullbacks, allowing the centre of the park to become more open and allow for the tiki-taka passing style Rodgers favours to be made a little easier. Unfortunately, neither got back to fulfil their duties as defenders, often leaving Agger and Skrtel in a two-on-two situation, and while the centre back pairing are good in the air, on the ground they simply lack the pace and agility to be comfortable in such a situation. A clear example of this was the first goal, which saw Podolski race past a nonchalant Johnson to receive a fantastic ball from Cazorla and a wonderful finish to boot. The second saw Glen Johnson so amazed at the sight of the 5'6" Spaniard running in front of him with the ball, that all he could do was stand and watch. The shot was good, but, as previously mentioned, Reina should have done better.

A disorganised midfield
Aside from Steven Gerrard's uncharacteristically quiet game, Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin (on his debut), while obviously individually talented (Joe Allen achieved 93% pass completion) did not play to each others' strengths, or to the benefit of the team.

The pair played alongside each other in the holding role, but it was clear that they were both performing the same function. Both were playing the deep-lying playmaker role and that left the defence rather threadbare as a result. If the fullbacks in your side are advancing up the pitch to aid the attacking play, then it is absolutely essential that you have a holding midfielder sit back and make that defensive tackle for them. As it turns out, neither player performed that role and 9 of 11 players were caught up the pitch pressuring the Arsenal defence and were unable to protect their goal.

You can blame Rodgers for not setting this out to his holding midfielders before the game, but only to a certain extent. I think it is more bad luck that their main enforcer has gone out injured in Lucas Leiva and that Rodgers now has to tell an attack minded midfield player to sit back a bit more and defend. But how on earth do you explain the importance of defending to several egotistical, over-ambitious, money-fuelled young men? Liverpool fans will just have to hope one of them listens, for the sake of the whole team.

Where’s Carroll?
Now, the sound of mind among you must surely be thinking: "this idiot doesn't really think that Andy Carroll could've won the match for Liverpool does he?", and, well, you'd be right, I don't. But it must be said that Carroll would have given a different dimension to a paper-thin Liverpool side with very few options on the bench (when you have to bring on a man who recorded a grand total of no goals and no assists in the EPL last season, you know you're in trouble).

This current crop of players is still learning the Rodgers system and until they fully settle into it they will, occasionally, revert back to they methods they used under Dalglish and when you're sending an aerial ball into the box, the 6ft 3in frame of Andy Carroll makes for a much easier target. In addition to that, tiki-taka won't work for you every time. Sometimes you need to mix it up a little to get results and as of now, Rodgers does not have the options required to do so.

Conclusion
Liverpool have a talented crop of players under a talented manager. But in the end they were beaten by a superior Arsenal side that controlled the midfield and were let down by many of their key players. The lack of solid transfer activity is going to mean Rodgers will have to come up with some magic during the two-week international break, or both he and his club are at risk.

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Illustration by Tasha Lockyer
Article by Sean Wilson