Back in the days when football was played in black and white, and then later in fuzzy, non-HD colour, the common consensus was that a league championship could be won by faithfully applying the formula of winning your home fixtures and getting draws on the road. It would appear that Man United have been paying a little too much attention to this old adage, given their league record at the half way point of this riveting season. Only two points have been surrendered at Old Trafford but profligacy has been the name of the game away, where the spoils have been shared on seven of United’s nine excursions.
Man United’s travel sickness is overstated
Unsurprisingly, fans and media have jumped on the bandwagon in stating that United’s away form has been poor and that, more importantly, it could eventually cost them. These are fair points when United’s away record is taken in isolation, but such an analysis is lacking in any concept of relativity. It is worth noting that the much lauded Tottenham Hotspur have collected just one away point more than United this season, whilst the stuttering Chelsea have actually garnered one point less on their travels. Furthermore, it would be interesting to hear what critics of United’s away form have to say about Arsenal’s home performances, where Arsene Wenger’s side have already been defeated on three occasions. Meanwhile, United’s noisy neighbours have contrived to drop twelve points from eleven home league games. Where are all the debates about their ropey home form?
Edin Dzeko: What are Man City up to?
It’s no great shock that Man City have been the first club to truly flex their financial muscles in the transfer market. It was announced last week that Roberto Mancini has all but tied up a deal for the Bosnian powerhouse, Edin Dzeko. Anyone in possession of a brutish 6 ft 4 frame and a one-in-two career goal scoring record looks to be ideally suited to the rigours of the Premier League, but is the signing of the prolific Wolfsburg striker a case of squad overkill?
Assuming that City unload Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz in January, they will be left with a striking quartet of Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Jo and Dzeko. Common wisdom tells us that having a strong contingent of strikers is key in the modern game and so, on face value, it would appear that City’s squad is shaping up nicely. But there are a few of key points to consider.
1) Man City don’t tend to deviate from their tried and trusted method of one up front, even against the league’s lesser lights. So is Mancini ready to change his formation to ensure that all of his forwards are given ample playing time? Possibly.
2) However, it is more likely that Mancini will stick to his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation. To accommodate Dzeko then, it would surely mean taking their captain and fulcrum, Tevez, and playing him deeper and/or wider. How will this evidently combustible personality react to being removed from centre stage in both a literal and figurative sense?
3) The likes of James, Milner, David Silva and Adam Johnson may also be looking on in states of agitation given that if Mancini opts to use the likes of Tevez and Balotelli in the inside-left and -right positions, their opportunities could well become far more.
If Mancini can construct a framework with the correct balance, City could win the title. If not, the club could face a player mutiny and a place outside the Top 4.
It’s a reffing disgrace!
The issue of refereeing standards has reared its ugly head once more in the past week (when does it actually go away?). Last Tuesday, Birmingham hosted Man United and snatched a controversial point following a goal that comprised of a foul, handball and offside. The following evening, Arsenal were left fuming after Charles N’Zogbia went down like a working girl outside of the area but was awarded a dubious penalty for his troubles. The Gunners’ fury was compounded as the officials failed to award them a spot kick following a mindless handball incident committed by Tom Cleverley, which was likened to Cesc Fabregas’ similarly imbecilic infringement against Tottenham earlier in the season.
On Saturday, Man United were embroiled in controversy once more, as the ever-creaking Gary Neville was fortuitous in the extreme to escape punishment after hauling down West Brom’s Graham Dorrans in the penalty box. In the same game, the officials also missed a cast iron handball by Jerome Thomas from a Fabio da Silva cross. Perhaps most infuriating though was the performance of Lee Mason in the pulsating Chelsea vs Aston Villa fixture on Sunday. The overly officious Mason made a rod for his own back by brandishing his first yellow card far too early (and unnecessarily) in the game. By the end of the match, Villa were right to feel hard done by, with the statistics showing that they had somehow contrived to amass seven bookings (and subsequently a Premier League fine) from a paltry eleven fouls. Villa also took umbrage with the perceived imbalance in treatment, with Michael Essien escaping a booking in the first half for a couple of cynical fouls and John Terry escaping censure for remonstrating with the referee after he had awarded Villa a penalty.
So what’s the solution? When we’re talking about downright incompetence, as is the case with Mason, then the only solution is the relegation of referees to the lower reaches of the football ladder. Meanwhile, it seems abundantly clear that on controversial flashpoints during a match, where perhaps the incident has occurred at such a speed that the officials are unable to make an informed decision, their efforts should be supplemented by video technology. That said, look at the frequency with which television pundits are unable to pick the bones from controversial incidents even with the aid of multiple replays. In a game played by humans, should we just accept that human error is part and parcel, or are the stakes now too high for that?
David Beckham to Spurs? Brilliant business by Harry
If, as reported, David Beckham ends up making his way to White Hart Lane, in a similar deal to the one which saw Landon Donovan successfully swap LA Galaxy for the Premier League whilst the MLS shut down, then Harry Redknapp will have enhanced his glowing transfer track record even further. Since Redknapp admitted that he was interested in bringing the former England skipper back to these shores on a short term deal, a number of newspaper journalists have questioned the wisdom of such a move.
Many of these critics are missing the point though. Beckham wouldn’t be coming in as a starter, but rather a player capable of taking the load off during a hectic period of the season in which Spurs will conceivably be fighting it out in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. More important than his actual on field performances would be the winning mentality that he’ll inevitably bring to the table. As refreshing as Spurs’ gung-ho attitude has been thus far this season, a seasoned and serial trophy winner like Beckham could be the perfect addition to a Spurs squad that is relatively light on experience and nous.
The fact of the matter is that there is nothing to lose through such a punt. Even if his legs cannot carry him as effectively as they once could, having a character like Beckham around the place could act as a vital galvanising influence for Redknapp’s side. If LA Galaxy do decide they are happy to see the globe-trotting Beckham play through the US close season, don’t be surprised to see a queue of suitors longer than this writer’s arm (and it’s a reasonably long arm).
And finally, the fourth official…
This is something that’s been bugging me for quite a while and I really need to get it off my chest. Fourth officials are so irritating aren’t they? If ever there was an individual in the world with an over inflated sense of self-worth, it’s the fourth official. In terms of ‘wage to actual work done’ ratio, the fourth official is up there with the worst value for money employees in the world. Let’s recap what they do. They hold the time added on board up at the end of both halves. They step forward from their background of irrelevancy to sternly usher managers back for having the temerity to step outside their technical area by a centimetre. And, erm, that’s pretty much it.
Actually, there’s one more thing. You know when a substitute is getting ready to enter the field of play, has anyone ever noticed how the busy body fourth official puts his arm across the player, as if to construct some sort of flimsy blockade to prevent them entering the pitch. And they literally don’t let the substitute step onto the pitch until the player trudging off is across the line. Why do fourth officials feel the need to be pernickety jobsworths (a bit like old codgers in libraries that tell you to be quiet) on things like this? It’s like when a nightclub institutes a ‘one in, one out’ system. Thing is, there are only 22 players on the field, it’s not as though someone is going to be able to secretly remain on the pitch unbeknown to the referee, unless Graham Poll is officiating that is.
Written by Bobby Hare at ‘This is Futbol’