Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Football blog

Super subs to the rescue 

There were non IMF assisted bail outs for both Manchester clubs at the weekend.

Javier Hernandez's fine recent form continued with a hat trick (although the second will probably be ruled an OG) from the bench as United came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 away to Aston Villa.

Hernandez has been hailed as heir to Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in the role as United' scorer from the bench but remarkably the Mexican already has 6 more goals from the bench than the Norwegian managed in his Old Trafford career (16 V 10).

Aston Villa can take much from their showing in the first 50 minutes and deserved their lead thanks to a Weimann brace but there was a feeling that United would still be able to get something at 0-2 (did any of you take the in play odds of 9-1?). Comebacks have become the United trademark, and their continual ability to fightback must play on the minds of their opponents.

Serbian striker Edin Dzeko was the hero at the Etihad, hitting the winner in City's 2-1 comeback win over Spurs on Sunday lunchtime

Being a sub doesn't sit well with Dzeko "I will never be a super-sub, I want to play", but he's been extremely effective from the bench this season. Five of his six league goals have been from the bench and three were match winners (against Fulham, West Brom and Spurs). With Aguero and Tevez not finding their best form so far this season is there a case for Dzeko to start or is he more effective as a game changer late on?

City's fourth striker Mario Balotelli continues to frustrate City fans but he's had time to give his car a makeover. The Italian has given his £160k a camouflage look.

While the champions seem to have also developed a knack for getting results in sticky situations but Man City keeper Joe Hart doesn't like being compared to United: "That's what they do. We're our own team now. We're developing a real identity and this is what we do.

"We don't turn up to tick boxes or make people happy, we turn up to win.

"I think we've got that belief anyway. With the quality and the spirit, we're not here for anything else other than to win."

"Yes, it did, and hopefully we'll be champions again," said the City goalkeeper. "Someone said before that the quality we've got, on top of our character, means we're going to do well.

Great week for Celtic but Hibernian top the SPL  

It's all going rather well for Pat Fenlon's Hibs this season and at this stage they look the most likely to benefit from Rangers "re-birth" in Division Three.

Leigh Griffiths and Eoin Doyle were on target as they beat Dundee United 2-1 at Easter Road (their first win in seven against The Arabs). Hibs have 24 points from their opening 13 games and are one point ahead of Celtic, while 5 other teams are within 6 points of the leaders. Things aren't looking as bright for Edinburgh's other big club as Hearts face a winding up order for a £450k tax bill and the Jambos supporters have been asked to invest their own cash and continue to attend games in order for the club to survive.

And a statement on the club's website last night stressed how serious the situation has become,“This isn’t a bluff, this isn’t scaremongering, this is reality.”

Eccentric chief shareholder Vladimir Romanov valued Hearts at £50 million just twelve months ago, and has a history of producing PR gaffes. In 2011 he claimed 'Every year Hearts fights to be in the top three, but even last season in the last 12 games of the season it was almost like someone replaced the team with a different one. Whose fault is that? Players? Manager’s? Or it is mafia.

'Stealing players, bad games, problems with the law - all of that on top of record SFA (Scottish Football Association) fines. Problems are just shifted to another level.'
The statement continued: 'Each year we are forced to fight against these maniacs harder and harder.

'We are standing in their way, not letting them manipulate the game of football in the way they want.

'As such they undermine us in every possible way they can. The task of the club is to tear these kids out of hands of criminals.'

The real crime is how Hearts have fallen under Romanov's stewardship. With transfer embargoes and unpaid wages issues happening regularly in recent times it's little wonder that Hearts are on the brink.

Celtic were held to a one all draw by St Johnstone on Sunday afternoon, it's understandable that The Hoops were below par given their exertions at Parkhead midweek. 

A 125th Anniversary 2-1 win over Barcelona gives Neil Lennon's side and an excellent chance of qualifying for the Champions League knock-out stages and reduced Rod Stewart to tears in the stands. As at the Nou Camp Celtic remained compact and surrendered territory and possession and for the best part stifled Barcelona's attacks. Granted the Celtic Park woodwork and Fraser Forester played their part in the win (so much so the Spanish media christened the English goalkeeper 'La Gran Muralla' or the 'The Great Wall') but it was Victor Wanyama's performances that stood out across the two games. The Kenya midfielder is already being linked with top sides in the Premier League (though Lennon says a huge bid would be needed for Celtic to even consider selling) following his imposing displays. 

Lisbon Lion Bobby Lennox hailed Celtic's display “It’s a long time since I wanted a match to end as much as I did on Wednesday night."

“I could see fatigue etched on the faces of the players as they came off the park and that was because they’d given their all against an exceptional team.
“The whole night brought memories flooding back for me. It was an example of how Celtic would always rise to the occasion. There was always only going to be one British club who’d win the European Cup for the first time and that was Celtic. Now we’ve built a launchpad for the future by beating Barcelona.”

All-Ireland winning manager Jim McGuinness will be among those trying to bring through the next generation of home grown stars at Celtic. McGuinness is not a stranger to soccer having worked with both Finn Harps and Derry City in the past but his new position as performance consultant is a new departure. The role is part time so he'll only miss one session with Donegal a week but one wonders how Kevin Cassidy feels about McGuinness working 'part time'...

Messi surpasses Pele's scoring record, will he surpass his legacy?

Leo Messi set yet another record at the weekend. His brace in Barcelona's win away to Mallorca on Sunday evening brought his total for club and country in 2012 to a pretty staggering 76. That's now one better than Pele's best scoring year when he netted 75 times in 1958 for Santos and Brazil. Gerd Muller's 85 goals for Germany and Bayern Munich in 1972 is the all time record, should Messi stay fit he's likely to come close to breaking that total by year's end. Messi's club coach Tito Vilanova was quick to point out that his goals are more than just sheer numbers ""Few players reach these numbers in seven or eight seasons, yet he does it in one. And most of his goals are great goals."

Messi is the strong favourite to be receive the FIFA Balon D'Or in January, which would be an unprecedented 4th win in-a-row. His consistency in the past 5 seasons has been incredible, Since the 2008/09 season he's scored 231 goals for Barcelona with a further 86 laid on for teammates. At 25 he's the Catalan club's top scorer of all time and has already won 19 trophies. For many he already deserves a place among the top players of all time.

Messi's detractors tend to make two arguments against him (i) the quality of defending in La Liga and (ii) not replicating his Barcelona form with Argentina

On the first point there's little doubt that La Liga has become far less competitive in the past 5 seasons as the footballing arms race between Barcelona and Real Madrid extends the gap in a league where the spoils are distributed unevenly (Barcelona and Madrid received €140m in tv revenue last season compared to €13m for Racing) but Messi has also dominated the scoring charts in the Champions League. He's been top scorer in Europe's premier competition for the past 4 seasons. Only Liverpool, Inter, Liverpool and Chelsea have been able to frustrate him in front of goal, Messi scored in both of Barcelona's Champions League wins over Manchester United and he found the net 4 times against Arsenal in 2010. At just 25 he's the third top scorer in European Cup record and likely to surpass Raul's record of 71 before the end of his career. Does Messi need to achieve success at another club than Barcelona? Cristiano Ronaldo deserves credit for his stellar performances in both Spain and England (and if Messi wasn't around I believe Ronaldo would be considered the best player in the world) but if Barcelona continue on their current path is their any reason for Messi to leave them?

While Argentine fans could understandably have been frustrated with Messi's displays in blue and white he's been in excellent form for the national team since the departure of Maradona as coach after the 2010 World Cup. In the just over 2 years since Messi has scored 13 goals (including a hat trick against Brazil and goals against Spain and Germany). The Argentine captain is currently the joint top scorer in South American qualifying with 7 goals. Rightly or wrongly when players are being assessed World Cup performances tended to be weighted very heavily and perhaps Messi will need to show his best performances at the 2014 finals in Brazil to remove any doubts about his legacy. In previous generations the World Cup tended to be the only opportunity that many football fans were able to watch greats such as Maradona, Cruyff and Pele, but is a World Cup the only measure of whether a player is among the best ever? Should Alfredo di Stefano and George Best be disregarded because they didn't appear at a finals? Maybe it's unfair to compare across generations at all, one can be too quick to dismiss players from the past as much as one can also be uneasy at bestowing plaudits on a player still in the middle of his career.

Messi's 76 goals so far this year

Lionel Messi - Los 76 goles en el 2012 (Supera a... by Emenderk

Will O'Callaghan


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