Tag Archives: Hughes

Mancini Sets The Alarm Bells Ringing

I read the other day that Jose Mourinho was earning 11 million a year to not improve Moratti’s Inter. The man he replaced the now 2nd best paid coach in the world Mancini is also not exactly burning it up after replacing seemingly mere Supporter Manager Mark ‘Baby’ Hughes – a Supporter Manager is someone who stands on the sidelines and appears to have no more say or control over the team than the fans e.g. Souness is the ultimate supporter manager.

The point being that for 2 years Mourinho was worth any money but by the end of his Chelsea career he was reduced to Eriksson flattering the inner circle of a smaller and smaller squad he trusted and acting like Insp’ Dreyfuss about the rest of the squad and the owner. That Inter would replace Mancini after 3 titles with the partially recovered Mourinho on such a salary is amazing. Yet 3 months after replacing Hughes maybe we can see why Inter took a chance they got Mourinho of Porto and the first 2 years at Chelsea over Mancini.

The real question is Mancini what does he offer?

Tonight he started with Vieira a player who anyone who saw Juve’ against Arsenal 3 years ago would know can no longer compete with an English Premier League team. It’s one thing to make the mistake of buying him but that does not mean he needs to play him. Maybe he only has de Jong, Vieira and Barry and wanted to rotate in what should have been an easy fixture, maybe.

Despite a plethora of wide options Mancini opted for a 442 which maybe you can get away with against lower sides. Yet it looked awful first half with no mobility or pace in the team. Tevez was sterling but half time and Bellamy could not come quick enough. Again it’s not necessarily his fault that his 2 decent players are 2nd strikers or at best wide options in a 433 and Bellamy is not able to play 90 minutes game in game out. The point that we can make is that he made one obvious substitution and made it early (Bellamy for Wright Phillips at half time). The problem is that I am 90% sure that was almost planned with Bellamy’s knees. He then did nothing even when the game changed with Caldwell’s red card. Bare in mind Wigan were only breached after a execrable piece of keeping. I would like to think for 10 million a manager would not wait for 72 minutes (16 against 10 men) and let the game drift.

For people like me who learned from watching Mourinho’s Chelsea looking at City defend corners with everyone back in the box was pathetic. If he keeps one or two players up he can counter attack and indeed Mourinho would put 3 up forcing the opposition until they were behind late to leave at least 4 back and destroying their corner routines.

The point is City have 2 players worth their place in a title winning squad and Bellamy cannot play every game. Ideally you can only start them both with Tevez as a front player if City were actually a top team. I feel for Mancini who really has an expensive squad of parts that are mostly not good enough or do not fit together. However it’s a condemnation that he has not 1 of the youth products of Man City’s squad in his starting line up. Adam Johnson being recently bought and whilst technically Wright Phillips did start in their youth team he’s been bought back for a small fortune since.

I guess I do not see what Mancini is adding. It seems like another manager on an agenda to win now and not build a team. Apparently his contract means he gets 6 months or 3 years which is hardly the action of a club who believe in him or a club that values developing young players. I see little point in chasing 4th if you are going into Europe with Adebayor or Santa Cruz with Barry and de Jong in central midfield. So why not give games to Onuoha, Richards and Taylor?

Then again compared to Zola’s West Ham playing 2 terrible strikers and with an open door policy at the back Mancini is a tactical genius.Or Ancelotti finally ‘realising’ (forced by injury) Chelsea’s strength was not playing 2 strikers but having 4 midfielders running from deep at the opposition. Quite what English clubs are paying for is the interesting question. Zola has at least tried to help his younger players the other 2 seem to just select the team.

Not all Italians are tactical masters it seems. However the greater failing at Man City is one of intelligence in chasing things for their own sake like the 4th place. City will not be able to improve much more than squad depth with just buying players. After all who is available? Ribery! Upgrades on their best players? They need organic growth and without need of the Europa Cup or Champions League for revenue their current quest for 4th makes as much sense as Mourinho’s Chelsea wasting their small core on winning the two cups prior to his sacking.

It really is pathetic that no one in football wants to think about what they are doing. From fans handing over massive amounts of money to owners writing cheques for 100s of Millions it seems no one has a plan or even a clue.

Nani Proves It’s Easier At The Top?

When Sir Alex Ferguson goes you can bet his replacement will likely be the next top foreigner off the rank. The reason is that in other countries they change Coaches more frequently and the key word is of course Coach not Manager and a far greater range of managers get a chance to tick boxes. For every genuine up and coming talent like a Mancini there is a plethora of solid coaches like Ancelotti (10 years at Milan 1 title is ummh aggghhh) who gets in ahead of the likes of Moyes, O’Neill and let’s add Redknapp for fun.

The exception is Chelsea in taking Grant and Scolari they’ve not exactly looked at the next cab on the rank but rung a mini cab office and rolled the dice. Still no Brits is the point. Chelsea have tried to hire people on the cheap in that they have taken people out of contract or easily available but they lasted 18 months between them – it cost them a fortune.

We’ve recently got to see the great man Capello who is no doubt currently wrestling with finding out which farm yard animal Terry interfered with to justify the headlines. Cap’ seems to keep it simple. His 442 with tweaks is not hard to understand and without Rooney recently looked nearly as devoid of merit as Eriksson and McClaren’s paceless and heightless version. Indeed Cap’s big innovation from an England point of view is a large centre forward and some pace out wide, radical – will be interesting if he considers for 1 second putting the pace-less Joe Cole on either flank except as under study to Gerrard. The point is that replicating Capello does not require a genius just great personal qualities and common sense stuff.

So how does this all comes back to Nani? We all hope a really talented player is at 23 really doing his job and it is more than a 2 game mirage. How many other domestic managers could afford to wait 2 years for a £17 million player to show some form? He was bought alongside Hargreaves and Anderson. £50 million for a squad player, a prospect and a slacker even before his ‘injury’. Anderson cost more than Gareth Barry. More than Carrick. Ferguson and managers at the top can roll the dice and then roll them again.

I’ve pointed out how the seemingly unexceptional buying of 2 players for £13 million wiped out any good transfer business Portsmouth did by costing £40 million. For what Nani has produced in 2 games with wages that is what £75 million on Anderson, Nani and Hargreaves, some return eh? At least this year Ferguson got to lose his best player but it had been planned for at least a year. Most 2nd tier managers are always having to recruit. They cannot afford, although some try, to be buying expensive risks every year.

I cribbed O’Neill getting apparently upside free British based players but with Young, Downing, Heskey, Milner, Dunne and others but he has to stick to known quantities in a market bubble blown up on the never never by other clubs.

One thing to bear in mind the best team of the last few years Barcelona has gone with 2 rookie managers in Rijkaard and Guardiola. Now I think that shows that it’s the players stupid. Also neither has to pick their players. They also have a productive youth system. Both would be considered before a Martin O’Neill yet I’d argue O’Neill is clearly the better manager top to bottom of a club.

Where domestic managers could help themselves is by being more adult about defeats and decisions they perceive go against them. Their child like complaints do not encourage the likes of the Glazers, Abramovich, Hicks, Gilettes and Abu Dhabi boys you are a good choice never mind sane. Compare Hughes with Mancini I might actually want to listen to one of them after a game and he’s not Welsh!

Chelsea excepted people will say that is because these managers have high level experience of Champions League etc. That something special is required to do the top jobs. I am normally pretty elitist in that my threshold for greatness as a player say would not include an often very good player who aged well like Ryan Giggs who has never threatened to be a World or European Footballer of the Year. With managers I think the spread is not as vast as with players. After all when was the last innovator? True genuine innovator? Complete genius? Sacchi and before him Cruyff? Arguably Mourinho was close for 3 years only?

An interesting sub point here about great players not making managers. Consider the relatively small number of top jobs and top players and yet ‘Baby’ Hughes, Mancini, Guardiola and Rijkaard have had or have top jobs? Maybe on my scale none of them are great players but plenty would disagree with me on that. Ancelotti has 26 Italian Caps to boot.

Chelsea Freshen Up : City Go 10 Back

Who knows if Chelsea had to play well or whether Sunderland’s players rapidly accepted their fate when a couple of early strikes went in. However it would make sense that Chelsea benefited from playing no serious games (bar a 5-0 cup romp) in 19 days.

Chelsea’s first team is not particularly young and they did seem worn down only 3 weeks ago as they failed to put the title away after beating Arsenal 3-0. If he is looking more than one game ahead Ancelotti probably should be grateful to be out of the Carling with likely 2 physically hard games against Villa avoided and a final after that. They still have the FA Cup but their fans will hope the gaffer does not commit to that with a title and the Champions League not packed with strong opponents.

The mid season break may have been unintentional but Chelsea will surely want to wrap up the title early or their age could count against them again if they were to reach a Champions League final. I certainly am not giving up on my bets against them but the weather has at least meant they have re-charged.

Today did see Man City lose an outside chance as assuming Arsenal take points tomorrow they lost further ground. Mancini could try cold comfort farm of the two goals being a soft pen given away by a rock brained Richards and the other poor Goalkeeping Wall communications. I am sure whilst that kind of analysis would suit the one eyed Hughes Mancini will have seen his side lacks balance and the sooner Robinho leaves the better.

Megson Goes Under Fan Pressure

It seems the Bolton fans have forced out Megson. Now they are in the bottom 3 but their goal difference is only inferior to West Ham of the bottom 8. They are 3 points off 12th. They have 18 points in 18 games making them better placed than the two teams above them.

One can understand that the fans are not happy but their expectations are beyond Bolton’s means. Bolton have no money. The previous high league positions over stated their actual ability measured by goal difference. Indeed Megson took over when they were going down and kept them up.

It could be argued that Bolton might actually have been doing better had the fans not been on the team’s back. Most years their point a game would be out of the bottom 3 (Hull stayed up with 35 points last year).

Bolton’s fans have got what they wished for. Be careful.

Megson has probably enhanced his CV for me. Certainly he did a relatively far better job than the media’s darling the boorish Teflon clown Hughes.

Foreign Managers Here’s Why

For some reason the media and League Managers’ Assocation (LMA) are vexed at the sacking of the pantomime villain Mark Hughes. As a former TU rep I think you pick your ground and defending the infantile Hughes is probably not a good place to be. However there is a more general case to answer why our top jobs go to managers from a different football culture. 

Really I think I could sum up in one argument the reason for foreign managers being preferred over English ones. Broad Mindedness. Just a greater exposure to football and not the infantile mob mentality of a UK base that talks to itself and goes with machismo and instinct over rationality. Then sanctimoniously thinks it’s right all the time for some reason. Call it pragmatism in a word.

This manifests in many forms:-

  • Referee Delusion: UK managers generally speaking only see the game one way and are profoundly ungracious. Even when Arsene Wenger will not accept his team was 2nd best when they have lost a game or a championship is that any worse or not considerably better from his players’ point of view than blaming the referee every time? It certainly does not create the climate of intimidation and tedium that delusional attacks on the men in Black do. Is saying your team was better after a loss worse than blaming the referee? Obfuscation either way.
  • Perspective: Listen to the English pundits and press and attacking player’s chicanery (mainly those of darker skin palour) is supposedly the biggest problem facing football. David Moyes actually said that and many others may have. We’ve had no instances this year as even Eduardo was cleared and all the others have failed to win penalties. It’s hard with so many clubs bankrupt and broken to see how this is the biggest issue. Even in the context of the pitch it’s not as big as shirt pulling, deliberate and reckless fouling. Things which to varying degrees affect every weekend and shirt pulling etc affects seemingly almost every set piece. These things prevent more goals than chicanery nets in a year every weekend. 
  • Macho Culture: The inability to see fouling as worse than infrequent chicanery comes from a macho culture where the expression “it’s a man’s game” still predominates.
  • Corruption: Rightly or wrongly there was a time when managers would buy and sell countless players a year that left many clubs like Man City, Portsmouth, Crystal Palace, Everton, Sunderland, Leicester, Leeds and a host of others bankrupt. Whilst to a degree this culture pervades it’s more likely now to be board members benefitting. However many of the top UK managers are tainted by that past. Arguably concerns over probity led to Manchester United which should have been a financial behemoth reduced to a junk bond play thing of some not necessarily rich Americans.
  • Sideline and General Behaviour: City’s owners probably do not turn up or care so maybe Hughes ranting boor act did not grate on them. Nor Hughes vanity laden press conferences where he behaved like a Roman Emporer without the charm of a Zola, Capello or a Ranieri. Foreign managers by and large do not stand in the technical area ranting and raving. Sure we’ve seen Mourinho and the exception to all the above Rafa but compare Ancelotti and Zola to Moyes, Hughes and Bruce? Compare their post game interviews to the often delusional rantings of Hughes, Bruce, Moyes and Ferguson (this year at least). You’re the boss and your underling is ranting at shadows and raving every week might you not fire him? Be honest now. Some people are always making excuses and some are not, who do you prefer?

In the end for me most of the problems stem  from the macho xenophobia around English football. Even the corruption which is not endemically English taints managers here as they are much more  a single authoritarian figure rather than a mere coach they would be in Italy or Spain.

There are two obvious exceptions. Rafa as ungracious a pig as any UK manager and Roy Hodgson. It’s no doubt instructive that Hodgson has worked mainly abroad before his ludicrously good stint so far at Fulham – an English manager interviewing in Norwegian!

Change is possible and it does not mean a manager has to become totally open minded and fair. Martin O’Neill can still complain but look how he is now far more controlled and nuanced than the younger ranter he was at Leicester.

Till there is some change like most UK players UK managers will travel like Ale in barrels on open top trucks in summer. It’s instructive how few of our guys work abroad as much as how many Foreigners we have working here.

Hughes’ Seasonal Goodbye : He’s Behind You

This site regrets losing perennial clown of the week Mark ‘Baby’ Hughes. His delusional paranoia handing us the sanctimonious high ground week after week. As he implied that the the men wearing black had it in for him and he taunted losing managers like a teenager who’s slept with your girlfriend on the increasingly rare occasions his team won. Yet for all his loss  of touch with reality it was in true pantomime season the man behind him who had it in for him.

Mark Hughes showed at times at Blackburn he could be a top manager yet he prefers to be the sideline buffoon. Boorish and angry under the false impression everyone was against him.  Talking like his opinions were facts knowing the football media will discuss the foibles of a refereeing decision and take the kindest views of the greater failings of  players (good looking foreign players, excepted) and managers.

I am sure Hughes will be back again to reflate my superiority bubble.

Goodbye Hughes : Now For Mancini

Mark Hughes charmed managerial run ended suddenly today. It’s probably a premature sacking but Hughes grounding in management is limited and maybe this showed internally. His time as Welsh manager had 1 cluster of wins but his overall record was ordinary – 12 wins in 42. He then became a good, maybe very good, manager of Blackburn where he was able to use a good buy in Santa Cruz and get the best from Welsh players like Bellamy and Savage. He certainly was the up and coming choice when City were looking and not planning to spend a king’s ransom.

Hughes had not got the record of achievement you’d normally expect for a club with the new ambition following the Abu Dhabi take over. I am surprised on one level he got as long as he did and to bring in his players in Santa Cruz and Bellamy. Just as Ranieri was toast at Chelsea when Abramovich came along.

Mourinho showed even the most supremely gifted young manager with an unbelievable track record off a few years does not show everything. If over 3 years a guy will break or be unable to cope with the pressure cooker of year in year out 65 big games and especially those one off European games. Mourinho’s press conferences, behaviour and comments became increasingly erratic to the point of absurdity on occasion. It was merciful when he and Abramovich agreed to him going.

Mancini’s track record is more solid and longer than Mourinho’s when he went to Chelsea. Better than almost any candidate they could have got. He started at cash strapped Fiorentina and got a Coppa Italia out of them. He then went to Lazio and got a Coppa Italia for them in 2 years. In his 4 years at Inter he won 3 Scudettos and another 2 Coppa Italias. Mancini in 7 years management  has won 3 league titles and 4 cups.

It was the height of xenophobic ignorance for Mark Lawrenson to suggest Mancini was a lightweight without a track record – really, who is better? I think having looked up his track record it’s hard to think of a better appointment whilst Cap’ is running England. On his record this is a great appointment. There is a slight nagging doubt about anyone on the basis of 7 years work -  it’s hard to argue with the guy’s CV. Bizarrely he was replaced at Inter by Jose Mourinho. Mourinho was brought in to improve Inter in Europe something he has failed to do albeit they have kept on winning the Scudetto. I cannot think no better coaches on paper than Mancini not currently in a job even with the European red flag.

It will be interesting if he can get the same out of the flaky Bellamy who is in top form. Mancini’s say in team affairs will be tested as well by Robinho who does not warrant a spot in a top of table side. Adebayor is also a fitful performer. Today’s front 3 of Santa Cruz and the gutsy Tevez with the irritant Bellamy is arguably the choice.

Mancini’s first job is to get the team on side and to have tactics that win 1-0 and 2-1 not 4-3.

Throw Wolves Out

Wolves opted to go to Old Trafford and give up 3 points without a ball being kicked. They opted to give United a training game. They cheated 75,000 spectators out of a competitive game they paid full price for. Ten changes from Saturday which was their first team from a squad not packed with even poor players.

It’s surely one thing the ridiculous toleration of toys from pram throwers like Mark ‘baby’ Hughes and S’Alex with their referee baiting but Wolves don’t have the squad to make 10 changes and this be justified. Of course Richard Scudamore and co will do absolutely nothing about this. McCarthy will not even get banned.

I’ll be shocked if the charm less suit Scud’s [Richard 'The Lizard' Scudamore] does not defend McCarthy. Making some New Labouresque point about giving young players who have never played together before an opportunity to get totally outplayed.

Of course they have tolerated S’Alex doing this at the end of the season to keep West Ham up so Mick will have precedent on his side.

If United win the premiership by a few points then surely the competition is a fraud this year – it may be anyway. As someone who availed themselves of the 12/5 United at the weekend I still cannot make this in anyway a decision I agree with by McCarthy (you cannot help wondering if he liked 12/5 as a price as well).

Make no mistake United would probably have got 3 points but they would at least have had to potentially work for it rather be handed the points and champagne before the game. A night off at this stage of the season with Crimbo games coming up is nirvana especially when it means you play only 37 competitive games and get 3 points start.

It’s funny a striker goes down for a penalty (who is not white English) and they moan for a week or a month about undermining the game. McCarthy undermines the whole foundation of the Premier League as a competition and he can expect a couple of poor headlines and mostly support (McCarthy is white and English sorry Irish – Rafa or Wenger would get roasted even in the ‘Worthless’ Cup or the ‘Fuck All’ Cup).

Frankly Wolves should just be relegated now even if it is de facto by a 25 point penalty. Let them sue they have broken the rules – just like West Ham did before their non punishment.

Sadly there will be United fans who applaud this and they will be the kind of non football fans who voted for Ryan Giggs the other night. People who don’t watch football or even know how to spell football as they munch their prawn sandwiches. People who cheer a label, a name, a colour even… sad fuckers.

BTW in case you are wondering I am not Roy Keane.

Credit to Mick McCarthy for knowing what cyphers the FA, EPL and media are.

Chelsea’s Achilles Heels

In last season’s Champions League semi final first leg Chelsea under Guus Hiddink went to Barcelona and fouled their way to a 0-0 draw. The referee was slow to issue cards and Chelsea were able to keep their shape and cynicism. In the return fixture at the shorter Stamford Bridge pitch Chelsea dominated the game until their and the referee’s timidity hurt them. I wonder if this indicative of what is happening this year in the Premiership with a perfect 7 home wins and 3 away defeats?

At Eastlands on a long pitch Chelsea’s were outflanked and outplayed.  Chelsea had no pace or width to break with. Chelsea conceded from set pieces as they got lots of men back and block well. Thus it was from their 7th corner and a free kick that City scored. With ample possession Toure and Lescott could push up and handle The Drog where they wanted to – isolated and 40 yards from goal. Chelsea only really got counter play when City themselves went ahead and sat deeper. Then of course their width and pace got a chance at Chelsea and the entire back 5 were booked mostly for bad and cynical fouling- Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ivanovic and Belletti. Make no mistake whilst obfuscation is possible Chelsea were outplayed and shown as devoid of ideas when forced to counter attack.

Stephen Ireland’s injury helped City by pairing de Jong and Barry. After all Ireland would have had to go through the entire Diamond. Yet without Ireland against teams away from home they can look stodgy and slow to get forward. Upfront the problem for City is still: Adebayor is inconsistent: ditto Robinho: Wright Phillips aussi: good teams can always mark and man handle Tevez: Bellamy’s great but his work just does not result in enough goals.

Chelsea have now lost 3 league games and I think it fatuous to say that Ancellotti is doing a great job. Sure his congesting tactics are working better at home but defeats at Villa, City and Wigan hardly presage a title. Then again does Ancelotti have any options? Within his squad only the inconsistent Malouda and the non winger Joe Cole offer any width and a return to 4321 of Mourinho with Mikel and Essien covering with Lampard. Thus with away games at Old Trafford and Anfield to come don’t expect Chelsea to go undefeated from here on in.

Where Souness once brought the touch lines in for Rangers against a good Red Star Belgrade side maybe when teams face Chelsea they should break out the width and stretch the pitch.

The person who must look at this game and wonder is Arsene Wenger who could not hurt Chelsea on the big Emirates pitch.

Liverpool To Protest About What?

I apologise in advance that I am cracking people connected to the City of Liverpool for being naive and blinkered again. For looking for easy explanations, scapegoats and failing to face the truth about the people they hold dear but I am.

Liverpool fans are apparently going to stage some sort of protest  at Gillett and Hicks before the United game. The grounds for this would appear to be that the owners are not rich enough to keep running the club at a massive loss  to fund further transfer follies.

Benitez has bought over 80 players.  Hardly the action of someone stopped from spending. People might point out that some money has come back especially the ludicrous fee for Alonso. This is to ignore that buying and selling players costs a lot of money regardless of fees in and out.

Manchester United just lost over a 100 million of players and got Valencia and Mickey Owen in return – a placeholder and a substitute at best. It does not seem to have killed them or led to marches and protests. United fans can face reality.

Whilst it might seem at times other people are willing to burn money on football clubs the fact is that Liverpool does not generate the revenue of Chelsea. Abramovich and Man City’s owners are the only two in the world willing to burn money from what I can see.

The only conclusion is their sense of footballing entitlement would not be out of place in the Tory party.

Hughes and O’Neill : Refuse To Win?

The first sign Venables was out of date for me was not his usage of 442 in 1996 after all as with managers before and after him he was undone by the need to appease his centre forward. The 442 try and  score through 1 striker obsession of the Lineker, Shearer and Owen eras brought 2 golden boots and nothing more. The irony being in 1966 a 433 team built around size and movement won the world cup with its best goal scorer on the bench. I guess England decided that was too easy or something. Venables tried the Christmas tree 4231 but Shearer went over 10 games without a goal so it was jettisoned.

It was not even the clownery when with Gary Neville absent he went a to a back 3 rather than use a reserve.  A move he with Steven McClaren would repeat because Stewart Downing was low on confidence in the Croatian qualifier in 2006 – no idea how those two were linked but that is what El Tel  said.

No the first sign that Venables was past it was after the 120 minute and penalties loss to Germany in 1996 we learned that Venables did not believe in substitutes. He did not change for anything but injury. It’s a great way never to make an overt mistake I guess.

Last night Villa Man City, in a game that was there to be won at 1 all, the subs we got were 2 for injury and 2 probably to let expensive players have a run out rather than an attempt to win the game. O’Neill and Hughes indeed did not use their 3rd substitute. This was despite the Villa players tiring badly. Indeed Ireland coming on for the vile de Jong, injured fouling Young, nearly changed the game against the worn out midfield of Villa.

This fetishing of the first XI thinking comes from an era where you only had one or no subs. It’s still the dominant theme if you listen to the pundits. Yet with 3 subs and the pace of an English league game you wonder if, particularly with attacking players, it makes any sense at all?

It was clear to me Villa last year using only 14 starters to Christmas ran out of steam. It’s also obvious that tired forwards trying to run at pace risk injury and lose their ball control. Villa have enough forwards to rotate and do the old Mourinho trick when his teams dominated games by replacing a lone forward and winger(s) between 60 and 70 minutes.

Too often premiership managers use their substitutions merely in the hope a weak ref  will blow early and not add the extra time. Personally I see that as a waste and worse silly thinking. A striker or winger who knows he only has to last 70 minutes can do more damage and leave his marker ripe for destruction.

Ironically with Robinho due back and Tevez and Bellamy as undroppable as 2 players can be at present I  think Hughes will inadvertently do the right thing. The question is will he be brave and do it after 55 or 60 minutes not 70+ and 80+?

Owen, Bellamy and Giggs What Might Have Been For Wales

United’s game with City was fascinating for many reasons not least the alarming view that one has to wonder if encouraged by domestic ease that our top teams view 442 as a formation to take on the best in Europe.  However we’ll leave that for another time needless to say United, Arsenal and Liverpool have all looked incredibly brittle at times this year.

What struck me most was the what ifs about my countrymen on my mother’s side Bellamy, Giggs and Owen (who is far more Welsh than Giggs was English BTW contrary to urban myth).

What if Owen had accepted he was a sub and late game player when he was pretty successful at Madrid seemingly half a decade ago -  it was BTW.  He could have spared himself, us and the fans 4 wasted seasons at Newcastle which did neither party any good. Today against a tired nervous badly organised side sat deep he found space and finished superbly. Hopefully he is aware after his exile from top flight football it is and never should have been about him. That making everything about proving people wrong was child like and self indulgent.

Giggs played some wonderful incisive football culminating in that slide rule pass to Owen which exploited Micah Richards laughable defending and ended the game. If only he could have played such heads up football when he had pace. I used to wonder how he got so much attention with so few goals and assists not to mention such a questionable fitness record – probably one of the genuine unlucky players like Owen with cheesestrings for hamstrings.

Bellamy has been infuriating on and off the field. His finishing has not always been incisive. Yet today he was on the money and a constant threat. It seems he plays for Mark Hughes. At  his 8th club one hopes he can offer more consistent performances and not wear out his welcome. Really a man who invested 650 Large in a foundation to help children in Sierra Leone cannot be all bad. Indeed direct anecdotal evidence suggests that he is not a bad lad to meet either. Maybe now he is 30 he can look at Giggs and become a better all round player in his 30s even as he loses his still potent turn of foot. Personally I wonder if Ferguson would rather have faced Robinho than Bellamy today before the game never mind after timing?

Unfortunately for my mother land Wales the window has closed and it is a case of what might have been. Owen never played for Wales and sometimes it felt like Giggs did not either.

Chelsea : Still Relying Too Much On The Drog And Frank

I guess you have to be the highest paid manager in the country to select a Chelsea team without width, defensive solidity or cohesion. The diamond is a formation more bizarre than the Paddy Power advert where the guy’s wife turns into Carlton Palmer in his bath. You have to be even bolder not to have practised defending corners.

I’ve never seen a credible team line up where the full backs are expected to be the width in the team. It’s what did for Much Reduced Phil Scolari last year. Name full backs who consistently get 5 assists a year and 4 or 5 goals a year? Daniel Alves would cost based on Bosingwa 50 million and managed 5 for Barcelona last year in a team who managed nearly a 100 league goals – had never managed it before.

The diamond in midfield is not so much a tactical device but a way to fit too  many star players in – at least unlike Scolari he did not pick 4 central midfielders. However this one ended up with such inanities as Malouda left to pick up runners in central midfield and failing to do so as Terry quietly explained to him. You had Lampard dropping deep to get the ball off the centre halves so awful were the passing options and lanes. Worse all this was against Hull City. Such teams tend to be brittle and vulnerable to counter attack and yesterday again showed this will often show up at home, where they lost last year’s title, as away teams will sit to keep them out and not leave themselves as open as they might at home and love the open invite to counter attack.

Bizarrely this diamond is not needed as there is no Kaka to fit in and Chelsea have a genuine winger. Indeed 442 (4222 was nearer the truth here) is not necessary as Hiddink showed Anelka does not have to start and if he does he does not have to start at centre forward. I repeat this is a shape not a formation or tactical. It makes no sense to deploy a team this way.

If you are playing 2 goal scoring centre forwards and relying on your 2 full backs for outlet and width then on most teams your 4 worst all round footballers have too much of a role. If you then play 2 holding midfielders as Chelsea did then you have a only 2 other places for non defenders to be creative and distribute even with having a footballer like Terry at the back that is a recipe for stilted football relying on the power of The Drog and Super Frank (is that the naffest nickname in sports?).

Luckily all the other top English managers want to play ridiculous formations and mostly they will only be shown up in Europe so weak is depth in the league. However with Chelsea’s squad ageing and already looking short of pace without an injection of youth somewhere this is not a platform to build on and Ancelotti is probably ala cousin Sven not the man to build a team. Indeed if: Essien is as declined as he appears since his comeback:  keeps the diamond: Keeps playing Anelka as a centre forward: then I see the odds on Chelsea winning either big one as far longer than generally accepted.

Man City Heading to Critical Mass

Adebayor has joined Santa Cruz and Tevez at Manchester City. I wonder if the latter 2 were aware they would be reserves especially Santa Cruz. I guess City have improved with Gareth Barry to bolster the midfield. However unless they get the excellent Lescott or John Terry and hell maybe both of them it does seem an odd revolution. Only in January they bought Bellamy to play off a striker along with Benjani, Phillips, Elano, Ireland and Robinho having shipped Jo on loan for a bag of balls to Everton.

Mark Hughes will surely have to be a grown up this year. The players recently bought bear the hall marks of his choice unlike Robinho. Most being established Premier Leaguers albeit: Santa Cruz look otiose within a few weeks of signing: the high domestic tax rates: general preference of Southern European and South American players: maybe mean it’s still scatter gun – buying what is available but closer to home.

Adebayor at his best was a thrilling player who appeared to have a chance to be a slightly smaller but faster version of The Drog. However lately he has mostly been an injury prone player who seems more interested in money. I assume that he will play deputised by Santa Cruz with 2 players from Benjani, Elano, Robinho, Tevez, Phillips, Bellamy and anyone else I have forgotten off them.

Mercifully City had more injuries than anyone last year so with all the crocks and work shy they should be able to give everyone a handful of games. The problem is though at the start of the season they have a massive squad backed by the best youth system this side of the Emirates. They have lots of good 2nd tier attacking players and Wayne Bridge and Gareth Barry. Ireland can take a Lampard role. Given is well a given. That leaves 3 defensive positions to fill and arguably some sort of defensive midfielder (442 or 4321). At least Robinho’s unscheduled winter break will be seen as being a good team man this year.

What formation they will play and how many washers it would take to get Bellamy, Elano and Santa Cruz now is going to be interesting.  How good a team that rolls Micah Richards out anywhere in it’s 16 can be will be is interesting. I’d say they could finish anywhere from 5th to 10th – I hope I am wrong either way as it will be a lot of fun especially if they challenge one of the increasing Dour 4.

City Add Another Old Piece

With economic reality surely going to bite for many teams Blackburn off loaded a top priced player in Santa Cruz. Siddy got a  player with no scope to improve who will be 28 in August. Manchester City get what they need with their laughable alignment of seemingly 15 behind the strikers players, a front man.

A front man that is coming off a shocking season mind.  Personally do you judge Santa Cruz on a quick start or last season and his age? His price says the former reality is to consider the latter. Big Sam is no doubt looking for his next Kevin Davies for a fraction of the fee.

Even, and arguably especially if, money is no object why add another player who in 2 or 3 years might not be worth their wages and has no sell on value? Even if say City get up to 4th and qualify for the Champions League it will be a temporary advance and one cannot say that Bellamy, Bridge, Barry, Santa Cruz and Robinho say anything better than that if one of the big 4 has a shocker – arguably a full season from ‘Arry’s Spurs would make them more likely to benefit. As Chelsea showed with more money and better players you get do well for 2 years but then you end up with ageing players on lots of money and not being able to bring any youth through. You spend money to decline effectively.

The recent signings since the Kaka debacle smack much more of Mark Hughes. Hughes seems much like Big Sam at Newcastle when given a budget. Sam stuffed an already over paid over age squad with lousy players like: Alan Smith who was already exposed as a poor player even before the desperate and failed attempt to make him a midfielder: Worse was Joey Barton a jailbird with nowhere left to go, if you don’t count prison.

This maybe an example of moral hazard where a manager knows he is on a short leash and is trying to at least be solid next year. It is a wasted opportunity for City and Hughes if that is the case. With clubs getting next year’s season ticket returns I’d be looking at a younger cheaaper and more dynamic squad and to off load Robinho as quickly as tomorrow am.