Benitez, Mancini and Wenger: victims of the English game or their own egos?

Originally published for The False Nine on February 28 2013.

As he held the League Cup aloft in victory, shares in Michael Laudrup rattled up the ranks of the managerial stock exchange. His worth had already soared far beyond and above the valuations placed upon him in the summer, and come the close of business in May, it looks likely that Laudrup will have all but confirmed his place as one of the most attractive managerial investments around.

Swansea’s first major trophy in their 100 year history; Europa League entry for next season; exquisite football; the likelihood of an entirely respectable final position in the Premier League; and named as the man fans most want to takeover the reins at Real Madrid – it’s an impressive end-of-season growth report to reflect on for the Dane who co-founded a free-market think tank in his homeland in 2004.

In almost every possible manner, Laudrup has made the perfect first impression on English football. Charming, charismatic and handsome, there is something almost Mourinho-esque about how the league has fallen under his spell. In tabloid speak however, he is the jovial Scandinavian to the Special One’s fiery Portuguese. No wild pronouncements or headline grabbing antagonism, just calm, cool composure and sincerity. Both present comfortable identities that play up to familiar English stereotypes and folk heroes – after all, Mourinho is the much anticipated belated successor to Brian Clough. Continue reading

City are yet to become true modern rivals to United

Originally published for Can They Score? on February 23 2013.

For the majority of its existance, the Premier League title race has followed in the principles of The Thunderdome of Mad Max fame: “two clubs enter’ one team leaves… victorious.”

Genuine three-way title fights appear to have become extinct in the Premier League era (hence our focus), with each season framed around a duopoly of contenders. Of all the gladiators who have entered the league’s gruelling grand arena – Leeds, Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, City – it is Manchester United who have remained the most persistent and dominant force throughout the past 11 years.

Riding high and heading into March 12 points clear, United are in excellent shape to go on and clinch a 13thPremiership title. However, the club’s detractors have denounced their position as false, claiming that the current United team and the league itself is bereft of quality. This season is said to be a low-point in the domestic game that flatters a side lacking in skill and substance – a drought lacking in good players, teams or contests. Continue reading

Hazard impresses as Wigan fail to convert chances

McArthur and Hazard duke it out on the second day of the season.

As two of the teams chosen to concentrate on, the first Sunday of the PL season is a direct comparison to pair Wigan and Chelsea on. While Wigan have lost Rodallega to Fulham and the underrated Diame to West Ham on free transfers, they have so far kept manager Roberto Martinez and Victor Moses whilst adding to their squad of players with more low profile signings in Arouna Koné from Sevilla, defender Ivan Ramis from Mallorca, and Ryo Miyachi on loan from Arsenal. Chelsea could not be more different – losing club hero Didier Drogba to Shanghai Shenhua, aswell as Alex and Saloman Kalou. They have replaced with high-profile quality: Eden Hazard from Lille, the Brazilian Oscar, and Marko Marin.

The two teams are still connected of course, as Moses may still move to Chelsea as replacement for Drogba. Chelsea have had the best of encounters between the two in recent years, including an 8-0 victory to secure the Premiership in 2010..

Most league previews have put Chelsea into a Champions’ League place, and Wigan towards relegation – however, my thoughts on the matter were that Wigan would be safe in mid-table should they keep Moses and Martinez. Continue reading

This Night Has Opened My Eyes – Chelsea reveal United’s short comings at Old Trafford

It was 3-0, and as the half time whistle blew up, Chelsea looked deflated and beaten. Whispers abounded infront of pub TV’s and social network chat windows across the land that Sir Alex was about to mastermind another famous victory against one of London’s giants only 21 days after 8-2 the demolition of Arsenal.

Torres almost looks back to his best. All he needs now is goals!

In truth, the score line at the mid-point somewhat flattered United as Chelsea created a number of opportunities for themselves. Finishing them off was another story however, thwarted time and again by United’s defensive kindergarten of Evans, Jones, Smalling, and the old man himself, Patrice Evera. Whilst the red’s back-line looked in good form and up to the task of closing down Villas-Boas men, their lack of positional awareness and organisation meant that United had to resort to last-ditch tackles at times to contain attacks. Continue reading