Wednesday, 31 October 2012


The pomp and pageantry that heralded the 2012 / 2013 season would be fading even faster as we hit November. I am a believer that November - January constitutes the defining period of any team's fortunes. It's the frame work period.  Injuries to key players, weather conditions, form of players, events  and incidents intersect. Teams that can handle adversity better, or force the issue in this period, give themselves a fighting chance of meeting their objectives for the season.

SHAKHTAR DONETSK : Put in the best performance I have seen this season, so far,  against Chelsea, in their Champions' league group game in Ukraine, last week.  So much has been said of Chelsea's  4-2-3-1 formation, and the creative play of Oscar, Hazard, and Mata, but Shakhtar Donetsk blew apart that postulation, and served a reminder to soccer scholars who pontificate solely about Barcelona's "tiki taka" style of play,  that there remains other means of playing effective attacking soccer. They had a good bunch of players, and also crafted a game plan on speed, intensity, commitment, simple and brilliant decision making on / off the ball. Above all, they played with a strong desire to win the game, and did so 2-1. The Brazilian duo of Fernadinho and William were outstanding ; and so too their Croatian right back Darijo Srna.. Chelsea might have had the better team, and Roberto Di Matteo is doing a respectable job,

Read :  Why Chelsea Shall Fly into Strong Head Winds

and deserves all the credit for their fabulous start to the season. However, the crux of the matter is Soccer is not only about playing systems, or how many completed passes  made, or how many goals a striker scored. It's mainly about efficient application of the basic elements, coupled with a desire to win. Barcelona's brand is outstanding, but Shakhtar Donetsk have revived the dogma : simplicity is genius.

MANCHESTER CITY IN DECONSTRUCT : Forgive me if I sound sarcastic by insinuating  the manager of the premier league champions is mistaking himself for an engineer. If I am wrong, pray tell, why is he indulging himself in team selection and playing methods that seem superfluous ? City are in unforced retrogression due to the manager's itchy fingers. He is messing up the solid foundations of success from last season. I define his 3-5-2 exercise as an ego trip ; like the tactical vanity in playing Tevez as an out-and-out striker in games involving Real Madrid in the Champions League, and last weekend against Swansea. Did we not see the real Carlos Tevez when dropped behind Balotelli
Read : Man City Charred in Jose Mourinho's fire storm.

I  Understand Roberto Mancini had issues with the Club's hierarchy over their sluggish approach to get the new players he asked for, and he is right to be disappointed, but City's current decline is mostly the manager's making. Yes, they are undefeated this season, and third in the league, but carry on like this, and they are an accident waiting to happen. On the verge of elimination from the champions league owing to some deplorable displays against Dortmund and Ajax: I was at a loss as to the manager's failure to deal with Borussia Dortmund's  high pressing tactic at the Etihad. Dortmund nullified Man City that night, and strangely, Mancini's men kept walking into the trap, when it seemed easier to build attacks quicker out of their own half ; it was like Dortmund cast a spell them. 1-1 on the night flattered City, but Ajax inflicted real damage with that 3-1 defeat last week. The entire team is under performing in relation to last season, and the buck stops with the manager. He has been feeble, restive,  and outlandish. He ought to revert to the manual he read last season, and stop all this silly engineering.

MILAN IN MELT DOWN :  The Rossineri are in crisis. Forget their scrappy 1-0 victory at home to Genoa last saturday evening. Or the 2-2 draw with Palermo early this week.  From Franco Baresi to Ruud Gullit ;  Roberto Donadoni to Andrea Pirlo ;  George Weah to Alesandro Nesta,  AC Millan have provided us with consummate teams for over two decades. Eighteen league titles, and Seven time winners of the European Cup / Champions league titles, they look a shadow of their illustrious past with their current team. I have watched them in no less than seven matches this term, and their playing standard is simply woeful. They just do not have the star  performers anymore. The likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng,  Urby Emanuelson, Luca Antonini, Stephen  El Shaarawy, Phillipe Mexes, and Mario Yepes would never have made the starting XI of the Milan of yesteryear. Manager Massimiliano Allegri has been served a a curved ball by circumstances. With owner Silvio Berlusconi facing legal problems, the club have been shy at investing boldly in players ; Plus the loss of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Thiago Silver and Zlatan Ibrahimovic,

Read: Remember Carlo Ancelotti

Manager Massimiliano Allegri is on a hiding to nothing. The team is bereft of attacking quality, and overall, mired in mediocrity. It is shocking to see one of Europe's Illustrious Clubs, and standard bearers  at such a low ebb. At this point in their history, sacking the manager is not an easy option. I guess Milan Fans are going to have to suck it up. Three wins from their first ten league games, and no great players to call on is a sign of the times. Money is too tight to mention.

SUNDAY'S SHOCKER AT THE BRIDGE SHALL SPIKE TITLE RACE : Manchester United's Controversial win 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday is a watershed moment in this season's title race. It had been pedantic up until now. The story line of  a league season is usually marked by flash points and events as occurred in last weekend's top of the table clash. Referee Mark Clattenburg precipitated a storm by not sending off, then sending off Fernando Torres, and he was twice wrong. Then Chicharito's off-side winning goal for United made matters worse. I do not buy into the allegation the referee may have used "inappropriate language " at Chelsea players, and it's going to turn out a storm in a tea cup. However, I do extol the referee's courage in his convictions. I believe if match officials go out to hunt down divers, it's a plus for the game. If Fernando Torres was a scapegoat, so be it. Think of this stupid ill eradicated from soccer...... let's bite our tongue at the referee's wrong call, if it aides in decapitating this frankenstein ( diving ) I am all for the referee in the way he stood up to any sort of intimidation by the players. For once I actually saw them look scared of a confrontation.  I hope a few more match officials show similar guts at hostile venues.
The game was a cracker, and we saw two really good teams. Chelsea's nascent 4-2-3-1 formation against Man United's use of the traditional 4-4-2. It was a gun fight, and what mattered most was who could shoot down the other...... high skills, great endeavor,  sheer purity. The injustice Chelsea suffered in that defeat means sparks shall fly. Yes,  remember, the game is not for the prude or feint hearted. Let's get down to a proper championship  race. Who dares wins !!!! True Champions transcend adversity.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Santi Carzola : Even better than Fabregas....

I had a view to doing this blog subject a week, or so ago. Apart from the reason I was preoccupied, the subject matter SANTI CARZOLA  of Arsenal was not at his best in the defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates that weekend. Well, after the latest round of league games, with Arsenal's 3-1 win at West Ham, this subject appears at a more auspicious moment.

The premiership has witnessed some amazing attacking midfield talent - Gianfranco Zola; Paul Gascoigne; Gus Poyet; Paul Scholes; Frank Lampard; Steven Gerrard; Cesc Fabregas;  Luca Modric e.t.c but none has possessed the dimension of technical marvel I have seen from Arsenal's 27 year old acquisition, Santi Carzola. This lad is the real deal in the middle of the park - the best at the moment, one of the best i've seen, and mark my words - shall go on to be one of the best attacking midfield players we would have seen in the premier league. If you doubt me, tell me the best you have seen, then re-watch Arsenal's number 19 in action this season against Sunderland, Stoke, Liverpool, Southampton, Manchester City, Chelsea, and West Ham. I must confess I was one of those who scoffed when it was reported Arsenal's Manager Arsene Wenger was tracking the five feet six inch Spanish International. Even when the deal was done with His Spanish Club Malaga at £16.5 million, I still had my doubts. I thought if he were that good, he would be in Spain's starting XI. How silly !!

CESC FABRIGAS : Would always be in the folklore as one of Arsenal's best ever midfielders. I still call him the best 17 year old midfielder i've ever seen play. I will never forget how accomplished he looked alongside  Patrick Veira in Arsenal's midfield in the 2004/05 season, playing like he had been in the team all his life, and it was only his first full season. What he went on to achieve in terms of playing standards in midfield remains a reference point for many midfielders in the country today. When  Arsenal sold him to Barcelona for  £35 million two seasons ago, I for one never expected to see another player as good, replace him, let alone put in performances that have  arguably redefined the standards to that of the former Arsenal captain. Personally, it's confounding that Cesc Fabregas gets into the Spanish national team ahead of Santi Carzola. But that's another matter.

ABILITY : It was a harbinger of things to come when Santi Carzola picked up Man of the match award on his premiership debut against Sunderland in August. Arsene Wenger's theory has always been that it takes players from other countries six months to get used to the ambience of the premier league. Not if you are as good as Santi carzola is.... He has the A-Z of midfield tools, and more... The first thing i noticed is how nimble he is, and his incredible ability to use right and left foot in equal measure. His technical dexterity is awesome. He swivels majestically, his ambidexterity and nimbleness  offers him a huge advantage in the tight kitchen space of midfield;  Plus his ball skills are voluptuous and teasing. His abilities is not only a cornucopia of midfield artistry, he is a pretty good grafter too, and I am sure the statistics on his tracking back and tackling is impressive. When Arsenal took on Liverpool at Anfield a month ago, for over half an hour, they toiled in midfield till Carzola began to sprinkle magic dust, then Diaby and Arteta calcified to create the midfield platform that was the plank to victory.  At West Ham last weekend, he produced a master class performance, energizing his team, and pulverizing the opposition with his vision, appetite,  passing, skill, technique, work rate, and endless creation of multiple attack angles for his team. He got stronger the longer the game went.  My favourite was his move in front of  the West Ham box, when he made a sharp cut-in with his left foot, and almost instantly played a crisp, diagonal, penetrating right footed pass into the box for  his team mate Olivier Giroud, who made a bending run unto it.  Ex-England manager Kevin Keegan noted " only great players make passes like that"........ What I also observed from his display last weekend is that this player possess a sharp edge to his game, and is going to gut a lot of teams in the premiership this season. He may be a smiling face, but he carries a ruthless streak at executing his skills. His goals against Liverpool and West Ham attest to a player who knows when and how to pull the trigger. The build-up to his goal against Liverpool was disguised, the finish was devastating. Against West ham, he had been threatening to unleash a left foot hammer on more than a couple of occasions, but opted for a pass each time ; when he did decide to shoot - it was vicious, it was curling, and it was at velocity.

STANDARDS : There is a new sheriff in the Gunners engine room, and his name is Santi Carzola. This lad has upped the standards in Arsenal's midfield. He has been the inspiration for the rest. The game against Chelsea in which Arsenal lost because the opposition pressed and outflanked them was Carzola's poorest game so far. Then again, his team was nullified almost in it's entirety. He clearly struggled.  However, it is evident Arsenal are better than ever in Midfield, and the standards are at an increased level,  than even the season Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshire ruled. That is in no small part to Santi Carlola. It is early season yet, and players lose form, or get injured; more over the opposition are soon going to take note, and close him down. If he maintains these standards, he would go on to be something of the extra ordinary.  To me, he is the best midfielder I have seen this season so far ; when he teams up with Jack Wilshire, Arsenal will have one of the best midfields in European football. Name them : Iniesta, Xavi, Pirlo, Modric, Scholes.... this lad is as good if not better. He is numero uno  amongst midfielders of an attacking genre in the premier league right now. I doff my Hat.

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