Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Positives Than Negatives For Newcastle

Written by Colin Hill, a sports blogger

Sunday's defeat at home to Stoke City was understandably met with disappointment from the Toon Army as Newcastle slumped to their second successive home defeat after losing 1-0 to Blackpool earlier in the month. Most disappointing of all was the manner of the defeat as not only did Newcastle throw away the lead but Stoke managed to win 2-1 despite only managing one effort on target, as a result of James Perch's unfortunate own goal.

All things considered, it was three points dropped and a sore one to take for all those wearing Newcastle soccer jerseys, but the fact that had they held on for victory, they would be sitting 5th in the Barclays Premier League table after 7 games, ahead of the likes of Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool, suggests that it should be not all doom and gloom at St James Park.

Such are the expectation levels at Newcastle, where fans remember the times of Kevin Keegan and the stars such as Faustino Asprilla, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer, that the normal target for newly promoted clubs of "avoid relegation" is not applicable. In truth, staying in the fiercly competitive Premier League would be an achievement for a club whose financial constraints mean they have not significantly added to the squad over the past two seasons.

My feeling is that Newcastle should comfortably finish mid-table this season and will not be dragged into a relegation dogfight. Despite the inevitable setbacks which hamper even much more established Premiership clubs (take Spurs home defeat to Wigan for example), it has been a good start to the season for the Toon Army with far more positives than negatives.

From the resurgence of Joey Barton to the form of Andy Carroll to the six goal mauling of Aston Villa to the sweet strike from the left football boot of new-boy Hatem Ben Arfa, already Newcastle have served their fans up a rollercoaster of emotion and given us some memorable moments for the 2010-11 Premier League season.

There is of course a bit of trial and error to be done as manager Chris Hughton learns about his players as they come up against better quality teams than they did in their march towards the Championship title last seasons. Over the course of the season, systems will change, players will adapt to the increased pace and intensity of the Premiership and hopefully games such as Stoke will be closed out in a way that sends the fans home happy.

It's easy as a football fan to focus on the negatives - but there are definitely more positives at St James Park at the moment.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports blogger who write about kids football kits.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hammers Carling Cup Win Is Great Way To Prepare For Spurs Derby

West Ham had the best preparation ahead of their Saturday clash with Tottenham Hotspur winning their 3rd round Carling Cup match. The fact that it was against Premiership opponents (Sunderland) and that the Hammers finally registered their first away win of the year will give Scott Parker and his team mates a massive boost in confidence.

Piquionne and Obinna finally opened their account for West Ham. With Carlton Cole struggling for goals, the Frenchman and the Nigerian will be relied upon to get the goals. Coupled with that well-earned draw against Stoke City, it has been a happy week so far for West Ham and Avram Grant. Psychologically, this win will do wonders for the player's confidence. And the performance levels have been steadily rising as well.

It is by no coincidence that the introduction of Manuel Da Costa has presided over better defensive displays. His composed and awareness on the pitch makes a difference to players around him. With the Portuguese, James Tomkins becomes a better player. Around the ex-Fiorentina man, Matthew Upson had less to do against Stoke. Surely he has done enough to warrant a first team slot at the heart of the West Ham defence.

Left Side Of Defence Is Liverpool's Weak Link

The purchase of Paul Konchesky was meant to plug a glaring weakness at left back for Roy Hodgson's Liverpool side. The signing of free agent Fabio Aurelio was also designed to do so. Hoping Daniel Agger to be an adequate left back is plainly tomfoolery. Agger has a great left foot but he does not have the tools to play on the left.

Konchesky was replaced by Agger on the 82nd minute of the English "Superclassico" with the score at 2-2. Daniel Agger could not get into the game and his concentration affected by Nani's diving antics, he promptly conceded space for John O'Shea to provide the assist for Berbatov's hattrick. Paul Konchesky may yet prove himself worthy of the leftback position but for now, left back is a problem area for Liverpool.

Debates are rife about whether O'Shea should have been sent off and that decision turned out to be a pivotal moment for both clubs. Steven Gerrard scored from the ensuing freekick while O'Shea made amends when he provided that cross for Berbatov's winner. Jamie Carragher looked past his best and Berbatov's winning header is testament of how aged Carragher has been since last season. Danny Wilson's Liverpool  Premier League debut may be coming sooner than we think.

Manchester United have been leaking late goals lately and when Liverpool scored two quick goals to tie the match, it looked like it could be Everton all over again. In the end, it was a fair result and United deserved the three points. Dimitar Berbatov finally stamped his mark as a player at Old Trafford with a virtuoso performance, becoming the first Devils player in 64 years to score a hattrick against their fiercest rivals.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mauro Formica, West Ham's Rumoured January Signing And Team Jesus Revisited reports that West Ham will sign Mauro Formica from Newell’s Old Boys for an undisclosed fee (but likely about £3.2m) during the January transfer window. The 22-year-old is highly regarded in his homeland and has been tipped for a future in the national team.

The Argentine plays as an advanced playmaker, the classic Argentine no. 10. With a nickname like "El Gato" or "The Cat", his stealthy skills will be just what the Hammers fans enjoy watching, but will he help West Ham's relegation troubles though?

Mauro Formica represented Argentina at the U-17 level. The video suggests that El Gato is a cross between Kaka and Ronaldinho. If he can play like any of these Brazilian maestros, then Boleyn Park will be rocking with excitement. The video footage do portray the young Argentine as a Ronaldinho-type player, busy, skilled, influential and ever ready to try the spectacular. West Ham fans will lap it all up, for sure.

Avram Grant's absence from today's crunch match against Stoke have been well-documented in the newspapers and media. This is yet another example of how fortune continue to hide from West Ham, but perhaps there will be a divine intervention in the end.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Facing Stoke City Is A Welcome Change For The Hammers

West Ham played their first four matches against Villa, Bolton, Manchester United and Chelsea. All four can be considered as ball-playing teams. Matthew Upson and the frailties of the Hammers defence were exposed to dire effects by these clubs who attacked from all directions. Despite chopping and changing his defence, Avram Grant quite clearly still does not know his best defensive four. Come to think of it, Grant have not shown us that he knows what his first eleven should be.

Facing Stoke therefore, will be a welcome change for the struggling Irons. The Potters are a one-dimensional team albeit an extremely resolute one. Stoke have players who will fight but lacking the talent of the four clubs earlier. Stoke's game is built upon getting the ball early into the opposition's box. Even with West Ham's deteriorating confidence, the defensive quartet of Reid, Upson, Gabbidon and Ilunga will be happy to deal with high balls into the box all day.

It is great news that Thomas Hitzlsperger might be fit enough to start. The former Stuttgart captain will surely strengthen a midfield lacking in creativity and direction. For all the virtues that Scott Parker brings to the game, creativity is not what Great Scotts is about. Der Hammer if he plays, will bring a dimension of class to the West Ham midfield. The pace and close control of Barrera and Obinna will worry Stoke defenders immensely. West Ham must use these wide weapons to stretch and open up a well-drilled Stoke defence.

Players' Thoughts Ahead Of The Manchester United Liverpool Derby

Arguably the most awaited fixture of every Premier League season, Liverpool against Manchester United is the most intense football rivalry in English football. The fact that neither are currently top of the Premiership will not be lost to either team. This match comes at an opportune time not only to stamp one's superiority over the other but also to kickstart a bit of form in the Premier League.

Joe Cole and Raul Meireles (after an impressive substitute display against Birmingham) could both be set for a first team start against Liverpool's hated rivals. Confidence should be coursing through Cole's veins after the opening goal against Steau Bucharest. And he should be champing at the bit at the prospect of Premiership action after a harsh three-match ban.

Nani and Fletcher have been brilliant this season and they are the standout performers so far. The Red Devils are leaking goals and Ferdinand-Vidic strangely have suffered at the hands of Liverpool in the last two seasons. Torres have the hex sign over Ferdinand and Vidic but it has been a different start for Torres this season. Michael Owen cannot and must not haunt his old club, otherwise Roy could lost his job!

Gary Neville grudgingly acknowledged Liverpool's rich heritage by stating,
"I suppose it comes from jealousy through my childhood but I have more respect for them as a club in a sense of their tradition and their history than I do for some other clubs who've been coming on the scene in the last few years, throwing a load of money at it. Liverpool have got a good history, you have to hand it to them, and they've been successful."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pepe Reina Leaves St. Andrews Rapt In Admiration

When Pepe Reina signed a six-year deal to remain at Anfield until 2016 in April this year, he bucked a trend. He proved that loyalty and integrity have a place in today's increasingly mercenary football world.

I found this in the BBC Forums in reference to Reina signing that deal,
"It's refreshing in this day and age to see a player obviously very settled and happy, proud to wear the shirt and showing a lot of love for the club and the fans"
It aptly describes why Jose Manuel Reina in a Liverpool shirt, is well on his way to becoming the greatest Liverpool goalkeeping legend.

Martin Tierney of said that Liverpool have the Premier League's best goalkeeper, midfielder and striker, therefore Roy Hodgson should be relishing the chance to turn the ailing club into a dominant Premier League force once again. Unfortunately Birmingham in recent times are hard nuts to crack. Without a confident Torres, the task of beating Birmingham at St. Andrews just got tougher.

If not for three world-class saves by Pepe Reina, Liverpool could have whimpered out of Birmingham with no points. The resident Scouser, Reina dived low to his right to keep out Cameron Jerome's header off a Bowyer cross. Then he punched out a teasing cross from Larsson to stop Jerome again from getting on the end of it. Finally, he kept out the influential Craig Gardner from scoring with another one-handed save, diving to his right yet again. Birmingham never recovered from the brilliance of Reina in the first half and Liverpool got better in the second half.

Fortune Continues To Leave West Ham

When the second Chelsea goal flew in Salomon Kalou off a hasty clearance by Matthew Upson, the commentator uttered these words which ultimately defined West Ham's performance against Chelsea over the weekend just past.

Fortune continues to leave West Ham.....

These words rang so true in my mind. Chelsea scored an early 2nd minute goal through Michael Essien. The manner of Essien's goal has become the sort of sickening goals that Hammers fans are witnessing week in week out this season. No, sorry, these sort of goals have been conceded in regular fashion since last season. The West Ham central defence, though big and powerful, are getting beat in the air over and over again - it's baffling and I think it's all down to lack of confidence and concentration.

Rob Green is known as a shot stopper and never as a commanding presence in the penalty area. That job has always been Matty Upson and when he is also suffering from loss of confidence, the Hammers will continue to be a soft touch in defence. Quite where Manuel da Costa has been banished to, I don't know but Avram Grant had better find him and stick him back into the centre of defence before it's too late!

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