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Monthly Archives: June 2013

So far in this transfer window, we have witnessed Liverpool doing their business early to secure their targets. Mignolet, Aspas, Alberto and Kolo Toure have all arrived on Merseyside before the transfer window has officially opened. Another rumoured target is Shaktar Donetsk’s Armenian midfield man, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Obviously, like many others, I knew little on Mkhitaryan. I could recall his name from Shaktar’s Champions League campaign, but I could not recall the player himself or his performances. Research needed to be done. Once I had found out how Mkhitaryan plays, it seems a no brainer that Liverpool should bid for him.

Mkhitaryan is a versatile attacker which would satisfy Brendan Rodgers. Much to the manager’s delight, Rodgers would be able to experiment his forward options by deploying Mkhitaryan in the multiple positions he is capable of playing.

He needs to utilise the Armenian to the best of his ability; he thrives behind the striker, in the ‘Number 10’ role or in the hole, which ever saying you prefer. Mkhitaryan possesses the ability to create space for the wingers and strikers in his side, thus allowing the wide men to exploit the acres of space they have, or assisting the striker. Such a player would be integral to Liverpool and the aspirations for next season. His creativity in the final third contributed to seven assists.

However, his goal tally last season for a midfielder is majestic. Mkhitaryan racked up an astonishing 25 goals in the Ukrainian League last term. Such an amount would have been an accolade for a striker, so it highlights the devastating effect the Armenian had last term in Ukraine.

Doubters suggest the Ukrainian League is not the most challenging, which may be correct in contrast to their European counterparts, but 25 goals in any division from midfield is a feat. 23 of these goals came from open play, with Mkhitaryan scoring one header and one penalty to round off his total to 25.

He topped the goal-scoring charts, with the nearest tally of 17 from Ideye Brown of Kiev the only threat to his honour.

Yet there is more to Mkhitaryan than his creativity and goal-scoring talents. Mkhitaryan is a gifted player and the ideal candidate for the trequartista role in any side. The midfielder maestro is often lauded for his many attributes. His work rate and accurate passing make him a key figure for the Armenian national side and current employers and Ukraine Champions, Shakhtar.

Mkhitaryan can make things happen with the ball at his feet, but his movement off the ball can be just as effective for his side. Darting runs across the 18 yard box, drawing defenders away from their zones allowing space for his team to exploit and work to their advantage.

Plenty of attributes make this Armenian gem an ideal player for any club, but would do the required job at the ambitious Merseyside giants, Liverpool.

Mkhitaryan could help fill the void from want-away striker, Luis Suarez, if he gets his much coveted transfer to Real Madrid. Potentially one of the best attacking options the Reds could have next season, Mkhitaryan could certainly contribute with goals from midfield.

Especially as goal-scoring midfielders are hard to come by nowadays, Liverpool should take full advantage of this opportunity to sign the rising Armenian talent.

Team GB v Brazil - International Friendly

Kick-off: 1900 BRT, 2100 GMT, 0330 IST

Venue: Estadio de Maracana, Rio de Janeiro

Referee: Bjorn Kuipers

This is a final the footballing world wanted to see. Spain are the form team at the moment and are a team few have managed to beat in the last seven years. Their back-to-back European Championship triumphs in 2008 and 2012 on either side of their first ever World Cup triumph is South Africa bears testament to just how good they are.

And then there’s Brazil, the guys who play football for fun. A walk on the beach in any Brazilian town will deliver the usual sights of children and adults frolicking in the water while others lie spread eagled on the sand in an attempt to soak up the sun. There may not be much place for them to do that though, on account of the smattering of kids having a kickabout on whatever vacant bit of sand they find.

Football is so deeply enmeshed in Brazilian culture. Not for nothing does their iconic canary-yellow jersey have five very deserving stars. The world is waiting to see Brazil reoccupy their positions as titans of the beautiful game and today could be an excellent litmus test in regard to what we see a year on.

The journey so far

Brazil

The Selecao have thrived at home. They are the only team to not concede a goal first and have grabbed headlines with their brand of football that is as effective as it is entertaining.

That entertainment value was shown to the world when the hosts dissected Japan 3-0, with goals from Neymar, Paulinho and Jo. They then showcased patience when they were required to wait before Jo sealed all three points after Dante’s strike deep into the first half.

It’s been a while since Brazil played a competitive fixture against the big boys but despite being under siege against both Italy (4-2) and Uruguay (2-1), they were able to come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Spain

The Red Fury have developed from perennial chokers to world beaters. A look at their previous outing at the tournament in 2009 bears testament to that. Failing to get out of the group stages in South Africa, the Roja have showed just how much they have developed as a team by getting to the final this time around.

They kicked off their tournament with a somewhat fortunate win over Uruguay (2-1) and put ten past Tahiti to give the islanders their joint worst result. They showed their quality when they outclassed Nigeria 3-0, with the score line being so because although the Nigerians did create as many chances as the World Champions, they did not have the quality up front to take them.

Team News

Brazil

The South Americans have a full roster of players to choose from and given that they have performed very well with nearly the same team for every game so far, there will be little left to the imagination regarding the team Luis Felipe Scolari will pick for this showpiece game.

Despite Jo having scored in two games, he is unlikely to start this game. Fred has scored three so far and his predatory instincts mean he will most probably start up front.

Squad (from): Jefferson, Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva (c), David Luiz, Fernando, Marcelo, Lucas, Hernanes, Fred, Neymar, Oscar, Júlio César, Dante, Filipe Luís, Jean, Réver, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Hulk, Bernard, Jô, Diego Cavalieri, Jádson

Probable Starting XI: Cesar, Alves, Silva (c), Luiz, Marcelo, Gustavo, Oscar, Paulinho, Neymar, Hulk, Fred

Spain

Like Brazil, the current world champions also have a full complement of players and while Brazil’s team pretty much picks itself, Vicente del Bosque has a dilemma of whom to play up front. Roberto Soldado has performed well when asked to lead the line but Fernando Torres (goals aside) put in a good shift against the Italians.

And then there is David Villa, who hasn’t seen much action but is Spain’s top scorer. In addition, Jesus Navas has performed admirably when brought on from the bench and could be in contention for a starting berth.

Squad (from):Iker Casillas (c), Raúl Albiol, Gerard Piqué, Javi Martínez, César Azpilicueta, Andrés Iniesta, David Villa, Xavi Hernández, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fàbregas, Pedro Rodríguez, Víctor Valdés, Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Álvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla, David Silva, Jesús Navas, Pepe Reina

Probable Starting XI:Casillas, Azpilicueta, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Navas, Villa

Media Speak

“They (Spain) are the best side in the world and are favourites. We must play football and not fear them. We are playing the best team of the world nowadays, but we also have great players in the Brazilian national team.” – Neymar, forward, Brazil

“We are playing Spain by respecting their quality, but also trying to show our potential and talent. We have reached the final and we have enough quality to get past them.Spain are a totally integrated team but we’ll play with our own style, with the way we’ve been playing so far.” – Luis Felipe Scolari, Coach, Brazil

“Brazil are favourites because they are playing at home and I don’t know how many thousand people will be behind them. We must turn that into a form of motivation for us. There is no bigger challenge than beating Brazil at their home ground.Brazil are a great team and have played a spectacular championship so far. But we have a very good team too, and I have no hesitation in saying we are going for the title.” – Andres Iniesta, midfielder, Spain

Prediction

The most memorable meeting between the two sides was at the 1934 World Cup in Italy. Jose Iraragorri scored two at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to give Spain a 3-1 win and end the Selecao’s dreams of winning the championship despite Leonidas’ second half strike.

This time around, Spain are the more experienced but Brazil have a fanatical home support whose energy they have been feeding off throughout the tournament. The hosts however will continue to play the way they do irrespective of the support they receive and a win here will announce the return of Brazil to the world’s stage

Brazil 2-1 Spain

Essex v England - LV= Challenge

The eccentricities of Kevin Pietersen still hover around the English cricketing camp even as his comeback marks an important rejoinder for the team days before the Ashes. His prolificacy has never been in question though his attitude to buck the system when least expected has made former players wary about Pietersen’s comeback to the English squad.

Though the coaching staff members believe that Kevin Pietersen’s comeback would only boost England’s chances at the Ashes, fact remains that if the star-player causes any clashes in the players’ locker-room it could disturb the easy-going tandem of the English team. There may have been a marked absence in the team on account of Pietersen’s injury but given the solidity of the team after their recent performances in tests, the team won’t lose out in case Pietersen oversteps his boundaries.

Furthermore, as it emerged in the light of the David Warner-Joe Root incident, the English team has also been quite stringent about disciplinary requirements from each of its players. Newcomers and experienced players alike have been expected to be committed fully in their off-field actions and behaviour as much as their on-field comport. Any lapses thus on Pietersen’s part – however inadvertent – would then not only hurt the player in terms of his continuity to play for his adopted country but also the team itself. After the David Warner incident, all aspersions may have been cast on the Australians but there was no doubt about the English player being in the wrong anywhere. Going into a tournament with such a strong mindset, England would then only want to avoid all unnecessary publicity that could potentially reflect in its performance in the upcoming test series.

But for now Pietersen holds the benefit of doubt. His return to active cricket playing saw him notch 177-runs for Surrey against Yorkshire, just a few days ago. His international cricketing comeback was also quite eagerly awaited with England scheduled to play their last T20 against New Zealand though rain put paid to these anticipations. With Pietersen’s selection to play in the first Ashes test at Trent Bridge almost imminent, the crowd too will hope that this flamboyance of Pietersen’s bat will speak and echo for his credentials more than his verbal ripostes that could sabotage and ruin his professional standing forever.

All eyes will be on the recently crowned Champions Trophy winners as India take on West Indies in the second match of the tri-nation cricketing series at Sabina Park. But West Indies are no slackers as they proved in the tournament’s opening match against Sri Lanka, winning comfortably with over 12-overs to spare. This, thus, becomes an exciting contest to watch out for.

Team Strengths

West Indies: Chris Gayle is firing on all cylinders and West Indies will be expecting him to rise to the occasion yet again. Marlon Samuels, Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo are the other batsmen who will form the crux of the West Indian batting armour against India. As regards their bowling is concerned, the team will be placing their bets strongly on Narine, Rampaul, Roach and Bravo to get the job done thriftily.

India: Batting, check. Bowling, check. And fielding too, check. This Indian squad is a complete all-round unit and their performance can be expected to justify these claims. Dhawan and Sharma’s easy fit into the opening order has also allowed the rest of the batting order to perform freely without worrying about lack of runs at the top of the order. All-in-all, each team member is working in tandem with the others allowing for no lapses in performance by any player.

Team Weaknesses

West Indies: The last time that India played West Indies – in the Champions Trophy – the West Indian squad fell hugely short of their potential. Though the one match that the team has played is not enough to determine major weaknesses and fault-lines within the team, based on their last performance against India, West Indies would need to primarily address issues that caused their toppling in the Champions Trophy.

India: Against England in the Champions Trophy final, the Indian middle-order crumbled without offering any resistance to the English bowlers. India would need to avoid a repeat of the scenario against West Indies so as to continue their seven-match uninterrupted winning-run, starting from the Champions Trophy warm-up matches.

Opportunities and Threats

West Indies: West Indies have a chance to qualify for the finals thus aptly consolidating their last match victory. The Indian team will be hampered by exhaustion and tiredness and West Indies need to take advantage of these factors to the fullest.

India: This tripartite tournament gives a huge chance for India to position themselves even more strongly as an ODI team. India have won five of their previously played six matches at West Indies under Dhoni’s captaincy and they would be keen to extend this winning run as well. Lack of time gap between their last tourney and this tournament could give India some problems thus posing a threat to their well-balanced performances so far.

Other Variables

The pitch again is expected to behave in the same fashion as it did in the opening game between Sri Lanka and West Indies. Bowlers would find sway and both teams would be keen to win the toss and put the opponent to bat first.

Prediction

India defeat West Indies in yet another average-scoring match.

 

CRICKET-ENG-AUS-ARTHUR

Australia sacked their coach Mickey Arthur after crashing out in the group stages of the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy earlier this month. The former South African coach has been replaced by Deccan Chargers chief Darren Lehmann, who will take in charge of the team and his first challenge will be facing England in The Ashes in their own backyard.

Many would question decision by the Cricket Australia (CA) as they face the Three Lions before the Ashes in England next month. With team going through a torrid time recently, is the timing of Arthur’s sacking the right decision taken by Australia is what one needs to answer.

The only way out for Australian cricket and their fans was the sacking of Arthur, even if many believe the timing was not right. Let’s  take a look at why Arthur could have further damaged the situation if he had retained his position.

Arthur with South Africa

Arthur’s coaching record has been convincing while with South Africa as he guided them to the top of the ODI rankings in the later part of 2006 and early part of 2007. However,  failure to make it to the finals of the 2007 World Cup which took place in the Caribbean saw them lose the spot for a while.

However, one can argue that Graeme Smith, one of the most decorated captains in the history of the game, was leading his side from the front on the field. At the same time, the team also included the likes of Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and many more who are still the reason for South Africa’s success.

There is a saying that whatever goes up needs to come down, and Arthur’s position and reputation with the Proteas was not an exception. South Africa’s performance started to decline at the end of 2009, and that, coupled with a poor relationship with Cricket South Africa executive Gerald Majola, saw him end his term as the coach of South Africa in January 2010.

Arthur in Australia

After ending his reign with the Proteas, Arthur made a trip Down Under and took in charge of Australia’s domestic team – Western Warriors. He took in charge in 2010, and in November the following year, he replaced Tim Nielsen in the national side.

One would say that Arthur’s time with Australian national side was a roller coaster ride,. However, it was more like a time bomb, with the clock ticking all the time and was set to explode in early 2013 after their 4-0 embarrassing Test series defeat to India. But the technical fault in the time bomb saw it explode after the poor run in the 2013 Champions Trophy.

The Australian cricketing culture is one where teammates look out for one another and always back each other up. The three-time world champions had players in the squad who were friends when John Buchanan was in charge of the team. The bonding between the players saw them enjoy the game, which in turn converted into results on the field.

However, after the arrival of Arthur, the Australian cricketing culture took a different turn as the reports suggested that “mates” in the team were almost on the verge of becoming “foes.”

After Ricky Ponting stepped down, Michael Clarke was given the responsibility to lead the team. Arthur’s style of coaching, which includes giving homework to the players, coupled with off-field issues divided the squad. The situation deteriorated when Shane Watson was dropped from one of the Test matches against India.

The off-field issues started having an impact on their performance on the pitch, which led to Australia’s poor run. The sacking of Arthur was the right decision taken by Australian board. Lehmann was the part of Australia’s golden era and he is aware how to enjoy the game and, at the same time, deliver results.

Lehmann’s appointment is likely to make the squad much happier and bring a healthier atmosphere. This should help Australia to achieve success; however, should they fail to do so, one can be convinced that Lehmann will bring a positive vibe within the squad, which would be helpful for the future of Australian cricket.

Southampton v Everton - Premier League

It will be a litmus test for Mauricio Pochettino this year as he hopes his new recruits will save Southampton from the Second Season Syndrome

For any promoted club, survival is the only target. The Premier League is the holy grail in terms of financial reward, global exposure and competing against the very best.

Once a promoted club achieves survival in their first season, everyone associated with said club draws a collective sigh of relief. They could be forgiven for thinking the hard work is over. In the Premier League, you can never take your foot off the gas. Many teams have celebrated survival in May, to suffer the fate of relegation just twelve months later. This is known as the Second Season Syndrome. Queens Park Rangers and Hull City are two of the most recent examples of this.

This coming season Southampton and West Ham could be in danger of following this pattern.

The past couple of years have been incredible for Southampton. At the beginning of the 2009/10 season they were starting life in League 1 on minus 10 points after a spell in administration. Fast forward four years later and they are preparing for a second season in the top flight. It’s a first foray into the transfer market for manager Mauricio Pochettino, and a first pre-season under his regime. Already the Saints have shored up a leaky defence with the capture of Lyon defender Dejan Lovren. The highly-rated Croat comes with Champions League experience, and at 23 his best years are ahead of him. Young players like Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne will benefit from a year in the Premier League. A new goalkeeper would improve their defence even more so, and another striker to lift the burden off Rickie Lambert would make a big difference. With these few tweaks Southampton should stave off a relegation battle.

Things are looking up for West Ham United. In their first season back in the Premier League they achieved a top half finish. The Hammers also secured a move to the Olympic Stadium, which should be ready in time for the 2016/17 campaign. To top it off, striker Andy Carroll completed his £15 million move to the club this month. The signing of the strong centre forward is a real sign of intent. Carroll’s performances last season were impressive. His powerful ability in the air fits right into the Sam Allardyce playing style. With the creativity of Kevin Nolan, Joe Cole and Matt Jarvis behind him, goals shouldn’t be a problem. Keeping them out at the other end will determine how successful a season West Ham will have next year. The full-back positions look vulnerable, and goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen isn’t getting younger. A bit of strengthening in defence should see West Ham continuing where they left off last season.

Both Southampton and West Ham look strong enough to ensure survival. They seem to have solid financial backing, and their signings so far have been full of quality. However money doesn’t guarantee success, as Queens Park Rangers found out last season when they suffered relegation after two years in the Premier League. Hull City will be playing both Southampton and West Ham in their return to the top flight this year.

Their presence will serve as a reminder to the possibility of the Second Season Syndrome, having been relegated in 2010 after surviving the year before. If one of Southampton or West Ham were to go down this season it wouldn’t be the most extreme case of this syndrome. Ipswich Town surprised everyone by finishing in fifth place in 2001. They surprised everyone yet again when they fell through the relegation trap door twelve months later. If Southampton and West Ham learn from these past cases, they should avoid the fate of the Second Season Syndrome.

FBL-ENG-PR-EVERTON-WEST HAM

When Sir Alex Ferguson decided to call an end to his time as Manchester United boss, former Everton boss David Moyes emerged as the undisputed candidate to take over the biggest job in the world of football. Given the successor’s humble past (Everton and Preston North End), the anxiety among the Mancunian population isn’t entirely misplaced.

Although few remember Ferguson for his spell at Aberdeen, the Scotsman was widely regarded as one of the finest coaches around even before he took charge at Old Trafford, much unlike Moyes. It’s clear what motivated the people at United to choose Moyes ahead of other potential candidates; the loyalty he has shown during his time at Everton has gone down extremely well with Ferguson given the existent scepticism at the club with regard to managerial instability. With Fergie gone, most United fans have braced themselves for what could possibly be one of the most testing periods for the club in their recent history. Amidst this, the uncertainty at the club that Moyes leaves behind has gone largely unnoticed.

David Moyes took charge at Goodison Park back in March 2002, when the Merseyside club were seemingly going through one of the most trying phases in their history, having had to fight relegation in the previous few seasons. The 39-year-old was greeted by senior players Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola and Duncan Ferguson at the club’s Bellefield training grounds; while Gazza demanded a transfer away from the club, the other two pressed for more involvement in the team. Hardly the sort of welcome a coach would look for on his first day at the club, especially someone like Moyes whose only managerial experience had been at a second division club in England. However, despite all the doubts regarding his survival in the Premier League, Moyes did succeed to beat the odds.

The next season, 2002-03, was arguably the finest for the club in close to a decade as Everton finished seventh in the league table but narrowly missed out on a UEFA League spot. Indeed, the return to the upper half of the Premier League table for the first time since 1995-96 was engineered by a little-known manager from Glasgow. In the club’s annual report, the Chairman at the time, Sir Philip Carter, lauded the manager and his team:

After so many years of unfulfilled promise, it was refreshing to witness not just the name of Everton anchored in the upper echelons of the Premiership table but, perhaps more significantly, to see our team perform with style, flair and consistency.

Referring to Everton’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United on the final day of the season which resulted in Blackburn Rovers’ stealing the final UEFA Cup berth, he added:

Indeed, it is a measure of the progress we have made since the installation of David Moyes as manager less than two years ago that the over-riding emotion on the final day of last season was one of absolute disappointment.

The following season, 2003-04, the club was once again involved in the relegation battle and finished in a disappointing seventeenth position. This season was the worst Everton have had under Moyes during his time at the club; an aberration of sorts in Moyes’s CV. However, the Toffees staged a spectacular turnaround the following season, basking on new signing Tim Cahill’s heroics, to finish ahead of Liverpool in fourth position. Since then, Everton have finished in the top half of the table in every season but one (2005-06), having qualified for European competition thrice in three consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2009.

It would be safe to conclude that there aren’t many managers around in England who can function as highly as Moyes with such minimal funds. Under him, Everton found themselves consistently finishing in the upper reaches of the table for the first time since the inception of the Premier League. And given the funding, or lack of it, that Moyes had to work with at Everton, to restore them in to a side regularly contesting for a European competition berth reflects the great work he has done.

The Telegraph conducted a survey recently based on the annual financial reports of every Premier League club from 2010-11 and onwards. According to the survey, Everton have spent a net worth of £6.6m on transfers; approximately £20m lesser than Tottenham, and £34m lesser than Merseyside rivals Liverpool. The only club to have finished higher in the table than Everton last season despite having spent less on net transfers are Arsenal(no surprises there).

Everton have also spent a net worth of £58m on salaries towards players, which is £33m less than what Tottenham pay. No other Premier League team who have managed to finish above Everton last season in the league have spent less than what the Toffees have; Fulham are the only club to have finished in the top half (eighth), and have spent lesser than Everton.

In the age of chequebook-driven football, the only way to measure a club’s success is the amount of silverware they have won. And with Moyes not having succeeded to deliver any to the club, calling him a ‘success’ would evidently mean that Joe Royle wasn’t one. But you cannot call him a ‘failure’ either; after all, he successfully took the club in the top half of the league especially considering the tumultuous phase the club was going through when he first took charge.

Moyes’s contribution towards Everton has not been limited to improving the competitiveness of the squad; he planned the shifting of training grounds from Bellefield to the much-improved facilities at Farm Finch. The Scot’s pragmatic approach towards improving the scouting and training facilities have gone a long way in improving the overall performance of the club.

Moyes brought with him the highly experienced Jimmy Lumsden and later appointed Steve Round as first-team coach at Goodison; decisions that have gone a long way in improving the standards of the backroom staff at the club. And the fact that Everton FC are in a better state (purely in terms of football) as compared to what they were back in 2002 exemplifies the splendid work Moyes has done.

But now with Moyes gone and the club’s debts worse than ever before, Everton are now faced with the possibility of bankruptcy. However strange it may sound, a large section of Evertonians do not hold Moyes in the highest regard for failing to deliver any trophy, and for not choosing to revolt against Billy Kenwright’s suspicious running of the club.

The club’s group balance sheet in the annual report of 2002-03 stated the equity shareholders’ deficit to be at £7.699m. Despite having a strict transfer and wage budget, the deficit has spiralled upwards to £44.9m by the end of 2011-12. The Chairman and the fans alike realize the urgent need to find investors for the club or the new manager would be forced into selling their top players to balance the charts.

“We haven’t spent money  because we haven’t got it, we  haven’t traded. So I look at the  huge leaps forward this Football  Club has had. And the next  question, still I can’t sell it – that’s  where I have failed.”

‘The banks are tightening in  now. We just can’t borrow any  more money. A, to protect the  football club and B, to protect the  fans. I know the progress over the  past decade has been phenomenal  on and off the pitch.” – Kenwright back in 2011.

New Everton manager Roberto Martinez (R) and Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright

New Everton manager Roberto Martinez (R) and Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright

Roberto Martinez’s appointment has been received well by the fans given the Spaniard’s recent FA Cup triumph with Wigan. With Everton’s performance in the domestic cup tournaments being dismal, Martinez is being looked upon as an immediate answer to the club’s trophy drought. The 39-year-old has worked with a low budget at Wigan and has been doing pretty well to stave off relegation until this season. But the expectations at Goodison will be much higher, whereas the transfer budget wouldn’t be much of an improvement from what it was at Wigan.

Only time will tell if Martinez can guide Everton to the Promised Land or Moyes takes the stability away with him to Old Trafford.