Monday, 21 September 2009

Can Chelsea make it a perfect 10 victories to start their Premier League season?

Chelsea have secured a maximum 18 points from their first six games in the Premier League this season, but can they record another four before the end of October to make it a perfect 10?

W 2-1 vs Hull
(h), Aug 15,
After an unbeaten pre-season which included four wins in America and lifting the Community Shield, Hull gave Chelsea a stern opening test at Stamford Bridge before Didier Drogba earned Carlo Ancelotti's side three points in injury time.

W 1-3 v Sunderland (a), Aug 18
Three days later and Chelsea are in cruise control despite Darren Bent giving the hosts an 18th minute lead. Three second-half strikes in 15 minutes handed the Londoners their second win.

W 0-2 vs Fulham (a), Aug 23
Drogba and Nicolas Anelka wrap up another dominant display as Fulham fail to garner a single strike on target, giving Chelsea their first clean sheet of the campaign.

W 3-0 v Burnley (h), Aug 29
Not even Brian 'The Beast' Jensen could stop Chelsea recording their fourth win, as Anelka continues his early season form by scoring the opener before Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole settle proceedings.

W 1-2 v Stoke City (a), Sept 12
A raucous atmosphere gave the hosts an invaluable 12th man but Chelsea still came from behind to win with another injury-time winner from Florent Malouda.

W 3-0 v Tottenham (h), Sept 20
Chelsea cruised to a club record 11th straight Premier League win in an entertaining London derby. Cole scored his second home goal in succession, Drogba finishing it off with his first goal against Spurs at home.

... and what's in store for the next four

v Wigan (a), Sept 26
Another midweek derby against QPR in the Carling Cup on Wednesday should see fit-again Joe Cole, Paulo Ferreira and Yury Zhirkov bolster Chelsea's squad for their visit to the north three days later.

v Liverpool (h), Oct 4
Chelsea's first away trip in the Champions League against Apoel Nicosia shouldn't pose too many problems for Ancelotti's first big test of the season against Rafael Benitez's side four days later.

v Aston Villa (a), Oct 17
Martin O'Neill's side are showing signs of prospering this season and will give Chelsea a thorough test at home, leaving Ancelotti with his first dropped points of the campaign.

v Blackburn (h), Oct 24
Saturday evening kick-off should see Chelsea fans celebrate on the King's Road with another three points in the bag.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Five reasons why Manchester United's season is clicking into place

Manchester United have proved their defeat to Burnley was merely a blip with victories over Arsenal and Tottenham. How has their season moved into top gear?


Despite the predictions that Rooney would have to fill the Cristiano Ronaldo role at United this season, the England forward has always been much more than merely the next best thing to Ronaldo.

The 23-year-old is his own man and his early season performances have underlined his determination to make that point emphatically.

Rooney has been peerless so far this campaign and his goal at Spurs on Sunday took his league tally to five in five games.


When Fletcher was singled out as one of the main victims of Roy Keane's alleged rant about his under-performing team-mates on MUTV four years ago, the Scot's Old Trafford future appeared bleak.

The United supporters had already started to give him stick from the terraces and his captain had seemingly joined in.

But Fletcher has emerged as United's number one midfielder in recent months. Missing out on the Champions League final last season highlighted his value to the team.

Against Arsenal recently, Fletcher was immense and he is almost now doing what Keane used to in the engine room.


Scholes is 35 in November and he has already suggested that this will be his last season as a player.

But the form he has displayed so far this season has been his best for years. Anderson's arrival two years ago was supposed to signal the end for Scholes, but he continues to retain his place in the team.

His experience, wonderful passing ability and winning mentality have been key factors in United's resurgence following the defeat at Turf Moor.


United have a habit of steeling themselves in adversity following an unexpected defeat.

If nothing else, it gives Sir Alex Ferguson the opportunity to wield the big stick and dust off the hairdryer.

But losing at Turf Moor was a real low-point. Nothing went right on the night for United as Owen Coyle's promoted team out-fought, out-ran and ultimately defeated the champions.

Ferguson has admitted to questioning the commitment of his players after that defeat, but results since suggest that there are no problems in that department.


United always keep an eye on the results of Chelsea and Liverpool, but the emergence of Manchester City on their doorstep is providing added motivation.

In Ferguson's 23 years at Old Trafford, City have never held the whip-hand on United and the Scot has no intention of that changing.

Key figures such as Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have spoken of the extra motivation brought about by City's attempt to crack the Big Four and, ironically, City's big ambitions are helping fuel United's own desire.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Diego Maradona still confident as Argentina fight World Cup humiliation

Diego Maradona's troubled spell in charge of Argentina may end on Wednesday if his side fail to beat Paraguay – a defeat which could mean Argentina dropping out of the World Cup qualification places.

Depending on other results, a loss against Paraguay could leave Argentina in sixth place in the 10-team South American qualifying group. Going into the final two matches next month, they would then be faced with missing out on not just one of the top four spots that advance automatically, but even fifth place, which gets a play-off spot. Failure would make them the first Argentina team to miss a World Cup since 1970.

But Maradona, who predicted victory before Saturday's 3-1 defeat to Brazil, says he remains confident of success: "We'll go to Paraguay with the same confidence as always".

While Argentina possess some of the world's best talent in the strikers Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero, the sports newspaper Olé said disjointedness was the problem: "The national team doesn't play like a team, and Diego has not been able to turn this around."

Brazil lead the South American standings with 30 points, followed by Chile and Paraguay with 27 each, Argentina with 22, Colombia and Ecuador with 20, and Uruguay and Venezuela with 18. Bolivia and Peru have both been eliminated.

The Paraguay coach, Gerardo Martino, said he was not expecting an easy game. "Argentina – despite how they are playing in the qualifiers – everything about them worries me. This is a world power with a top group of players."

Paraguay drew 1-1 with Argentina in their first qualifying match in June 2008.

Brazil will be without four starters who are banned for Wednesday's match against Chile after picking up yellow cards against Argentina – Kaká, Luis Fabiano, Ramires and Lucio. The Brazil coach, Dunga, is also expected to rest Robinho, who has a thigh injury. Elano is also doubtful with an injury.

The Brazil winger Andre Silva said: "Dunga congratulated us for qualifying, but he kept all our feet on the ground because Chile is a tough game and we have to stay focused."

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Premier League's big four accused of plundering Europe's finest teenagers

The Premier League's big four - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - stand accused of plundering Europe's finest teenagers from foreign youth academies.

And one Italian club has directly accused Sir Alex Ferguson's club of 'robbing' them of their talented players.

With Chelsea banned from signing players until 2011 after being found guilty of inducing 15-year-old Gael Kakuta to break his contract with French side Lens, clubs in Holland as well as Italy have joined the chorus of condemnation at the tactics used by Premier League clubs to recruit youngsters.

UEFA president Michel Platini is in talks with the European Commission, hoping to introduce a ban on the transfer of players under the age of 18 by 2011. But it will be too late for Empoli director Giuseppe Vitale, whose teenage stars Alberto Massacci, 16, and Manuel Pucciarelli, 18, joined United last month. Vitale said:

'We are not happy. Manchester United do this kind of thing a lot because they know our regulations in Italy, whereby we cannot put our youth players on lucrative contracts. They didn't speak to us about our players. It is not right and they know it is not right.

'Platini must change the law so that when a big club come in and try to rob - and that is the right word, rob - us of our players, they must pay us a decent amount of money.'

Roma director Bruno Conti, whose club lost 16-year-old David Petrucci to United last year, said:

'United are still behaving in this way. It is not sport and it is no way for Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the game's great leaders, to conduct himself.

'We invest a lot in these young players in both time, education and money. The law still allows them to do that but Michel Platini is already in talks with the Italian FA to look at ways to eliminate this.'

AZ Alkmaar president Dirk Scheringa, whose club have lost 17-year-old Vincent Weijl to Liverpool and Oguzhan Ozyakup, 15, to Arsenal, said:

'Morally, it is a terrible thing that the biggest talents were taken from us like that.'

Scheringa has called for the rules to be changed after admitting that Liverpool and Arsenal haven't broken the current ones.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Man Utd haven't spent the Ronaldo money on players, so where has it gone?

Sir Alex Ferguson has not replaced Ronaldo, so perhaps United fans should expect the Old Trafford toilets to get a makeover.

Manchester United fans not wholly convinced by their team's performances, balance and strength in depth so far this season can take comfort from the explanations provided throughout the summer, that Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to spend little of the £80m received for Cristiano Ronaldo has nothing to do with the massive debts loaded on the club.

As the transfer window closed, Sir Alex Ferguson stayed true to his resolution, that he is happy with his squad, the market is overpriced and, perhaps most oddly, that in the whole of world football, the players are simply not there with the skill and psychological equipment worthy of a Manchester United squad number. In a summer of perpetual rumour, the only player United confirmed Ferguson genuinely did want was Karim Benzema, and after the French striker was swept up in Real Madrid's trolley dash round the Pannini sticker album, Ferguson did not look for another.

So United head for the heart of the season having replaced Ronaldo, who scored 25 goals last year in all competitions, and Carlos Tevez, who scored 15 while regularly being held in reserve, with Michael Owen, signed on a free after stumbling through 10 goals in a wretched flail against Newcastle's impending relegation. Ferguson is clearly confident that £17m spent on Luis Antonio Valencia (three goals for Wigan last year) will prove a prudent investment while Gabriel Obertan, the 20 year old French striker who played just eight league matches for champions Bordeaux and went on loan to mid-table Lorient, has been tracked as one for the future.

Throughout the summer, while Ferguson was emphasising his disdain for a market in which Real, with borrowed euros, and Manchester City, with Abu Dhabi oil riches, were the most substantial spenders, United's owners wanted it to be known that they had not banked the Ronaldo money to help deal with the debt.

The accounts for the thicket of Manchester United companies, which begin with a football club based in Stretford and ultimately lodge the Glazer family's ownership in the low tax, Las Vegas, roulette wheel US State of Nevada, were most recently filed for the year to June 2008. They showed the club £699m in debt to banks and hedge funds, three years after the Glazers borrowed £525m to finance their 2005 takeover. The interest payable in just three years after that, by a club always previously debt-free, has been a barely believable £263m.

That is money from fans, TV and other commercial income which could have been put to all manner of better uses. Yet even with the massive interest paid out, the debt the Glazers originally loaded on to United has continued to climb, because the most expensive borrowing, from hedge funds at 14.25% interest a year, has not actually been paid, but "rolls up" and is added to the total amount owed.

In Seoul on the United's pre-season tour, the Glazer family's spokesman stressed to the accompanying media that United, Ferguson included, did, despite all that, have £60m to spend. Even though United lost £44.8m last year, because of the £69m interest payable, the spokesman pointed to the club's booming turnover, and operating profit, to say the money was there if Ferguson chose to spend it.

"The manager has a significant amount of money to invest if he wants to," the spokesman, Tehsin Nayani, said. "The delay [in signing anybody] is because the manager has not been able to locate the players that he believes fit the Manchester United mindset.

"We are talking about a net amount of about £60m, and that is cash that can be reinvested in the squad, doing up the toilets or new carpets."

The transfer market may, as Ferguson complains, be inflated, although City have seen it as a buyer's summer, with some players available at fair enough prices because many clubs are in a financial squeeze. At Old Trafford, though, the argument has held: Ferguson has simply not wanted any more players for his squad even though all that money was available to him, and the Glazers have not insisted on banking it to fend off the vast debts with which they loaded the club.

Protesting United fans have been told from the beginning that they are being financially naïve and illiterate to think that hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, to pay for a takeover none of them wanted, will have any actual effect on their club. The Glazers have been able to point to three Premier League titles won since they arrived, and the 2008 European Champions League trophy, as strong evidence for the argument that nobody should worry about the debt.

Now, with Ronaldo and Tevez departed, and the blessed Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs scampering towards their sunsets, we can only keep taking the owners at their word, because there is no way of seeing where the £80m Ronaldo money has actually gone. As the transfer window has closed without much of the spare £60m reinvested in the squad, United fans know what to look excitedly out for: a wondrous new experience in the Old Trafford toilets, or some of the plushest carpets in world football.

Source: Guardian