Hypothetical XI #26: The Avengers Age Of Ultron Clasico

TFN debutant and La Liga expert, Muhammad aka MochineGun, goes all Nick Fury on us as he tries to put together a super-powered team to take down Cristiano Ronaldo this weekend…

Yesterday, the internet awoke to something pretty special. After a nefarious leak, Marvel decided to bless us with an early release of the full HD teaser trailer for next summer’s blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The trailer itself was pretty great, but there was something striking about the opening line from Ultron: “I’m gonna show you something beautiful. Everyone screaming, for mercy.” Musa Okwonga was the first to make the link.

Yes! Those scenes of mass destruction at the hands of a super being: that was Anfield on Wednesday night. It was Cristiano Ronaldo who led the way in Real Madrid’s 3-0 decimation of Liverpool with a beautiful goal that, well, had the Kop screaming for mercy before they applauded him from the field.

Cristiano is ruthless right now, destroying opponent after opponent. In fact in many ways he is just like Ultron; angry at the world for not appreciating him enough, thus he’s out to remind them all how brutally brilliant he is. In the film, The Avengers will try and stop Ultron, but who can stop Cristiano Ronaldo here in real-life? What’s that, El Clasico is on Saturday? A star-studded showdown where Cristiano’s Real Madrid take on Barcelona; a team of superheroes that just a few years ago delighted and thrilled us much like The Avengers? Well there’s only one thing for this then: a Hypothetical Age Of Ultron XI! Continue reading

Arsenal: The Podolski paradox and the curse of the substitute

Hugo Greenhalgh returns to examine Lukas Podolski’s impact as a substitute and the subsequent fear of typecasting…

He miscontrolled it. He lost possession. He clattered into his opponent, in what should have definitely have been a foul. Ten seconds later Lukas Podolski had scored the crucial last minute goal to give Arsenal victory in Brussels on Wednesday night.

This cameo (he was only on the pitch for 6 minutes) did a lot to reinforce what we already know about Podolski: give him the ball at his feet and there a few more clinical finishers in world football. However, this skill is offset by a number disadvantages that make a place in Arsenal’s starting XI ever more unlikely. He is clumsy, prone to error and lacklustre defensively in a side that is often left worryingly exposed on the counter.

Cast your mind back to Arsenal’s last 16 second leg against Bayern last season. Podolski was on the scoresheet but again the goal illustrated his flaws as much as his attributes. He barged Philipp Lahm off the ball, in what should have quite obviously been a foul, before bursting into the box and scoring. This lethal ability has been part of his game since he was a teenager, one of the young stars of the 2006 World Cup but he has done very little since to improve as a player. Continue reading

The Vagaries of Managerial Fashion

Alastair Naysmith assesses the virtues of managerial attire…

Sat behind the dug out at Deep Dale recently my eye was constantly drawn, despite the entertaining football, to the sight of Paul Cook the Chesterfield Manager prowling the touchline. He was as animated and vocal as you’d expect from a former player-turned-manager, but what stood out most of all was his attire. Here was a 47-year old man whose job it is to inspire and direct his players, dressed in the kind of ridiculously baggy shorts more commonly seen on boxers, basketball players and hanging up on Nora Batty’s washing line.

As the teams went in at half time I wondered what kind of team talk he’d have to come up with not only to inspire his team to turn around the 3-1 scoreline but also to distract them from the fact that he looked like an over-competitive Dad on Sports Day. This is the bit where I eat my words; Chesterfield came out after half time and got a commendable 3-3 draw. While it is conceivable that the comeback had as much to do with Preston’s defence showing all the resistance of a FIFA delegate being offered a bribe, as it did with their inspirational management/fashion guru, their form this season does suggests that Cook is having a good effect on his team. Continue reading

No Love Lost for Jack Wilshere

TFN’s Simon Smith returns with an in-depth look at where Jack Wilshere is right now…

In September 2013, Jack Wilshere gave an interview looking forward to the season ahead, what he hoped to achieve, what Arsenal might accomplish and in particular how he might go about amending his “joke” of a goalscoring record.  Somewhere along the line, everything went terribly wrong: he became “terrible”, he couldn’t match the performances of the now meteorically rising Aaron Ramsey and he was a worse player than his rose tinted breakthrough season.  The criticism that Jack needed to improve was everywhere, least of all from the man himself, and yet a year later the very season he looked forward to was being used as a stick to beat him with.

In the shadow of club teammates, incapable of stepping up for the retiring Gerard and Lampard for Country, humiliated in the now infamous Paul Scholes interview and seemingly more interested in his off field smoking habits: it was hard to envisage a way back for Jack Wilshere.  Somehow Autumn has set in with a perceived upturn in Jack’s fortunes.  Four Four Two recently ran an article asking titled “Is Jack Back”, his England performances have been much praised despite the unfamiliar role at the base of the diamond, and at times he has looked more dependable for Arsenal than recent years.  In a year of extremes for the player, are we seeing a reinvigorated Jack Wilshere? Continue reading

False Memories and Football Opinions

Making his TFN debut, Billy Macfarlane writes about the unreliable nature of football opinions and their mental footprint on the old memory…

Ginola, look at this run by Ginola, oh that is a fantastic goal, another outstanding strike by Ginola, he’s taken on the entire Barnsley defence and left them all standing.

The greatest goal that I have ever seen live. I remember the jinking run, the neat finish, the celebration, the White Hart Lane crowd going berserk and all of the emotions that come with a truly great goal.

Except this memory is false. I wasn’t in attendance when David Ginola scored after that mazy run, one of the finest in Tottenham and FA Cup history. Ginola’s goal wasn’t even scored at White Hart Lane it was scored away at Oakwell, a ground I have never even been to. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Is Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero the best in the Premier League?

The False Nine’s editor column returns as James Dutton assesses the true value of Sergio Aguero, and looks back at a fascinating international break…

The Premier League has undoubtedly lost a little of its stardust over the last two seasons. The departures of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez to La Liga have shorn the country’s greatest export of its two most globally acclaimed star players.

The summer arrivals of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez were welcome steps in the right direction for a league which prides itself on being The Best In The World™. But perhaps the league’s shining light was already staring us in the face?

Is it time to recognise that Sergio Aguero is the best footballer in the Premier League? This is not just in response to the four goal burst on Saturday that blew away Tottenham Hotspur away from home yet again. The regularity of injuries that curse the Argentine striker mean it is very easy to overlook his outstanding ability. Continue reading

This Blessed Plot (or: Meanwhile, in England)

TFN’s resident academic John Guillem dissects Roy Hodgson’s England. Set your brows to high! 

The accelerated qualities of the contemporary mediascape make international football something of an oddity. The cliché runs that international football, in spite of the best efforts of FIFA to reduce it to the same robotic fare as club football, remains something of a bastion for the core values of the game: passion, unpredictability, honour; a certain sense of pride connecting to the sport’s working class roots.

FIFA are obviously reprehensible types of the most reptilian of bents, but in spite of the unsavoury commerciality of the World Cup and other tournaments1 some of the above rings true, if only incidentally. The relative lack of cohesion and preparation compared to club football lends the scrappier proceedings a romantic aura, whilst the lower quantity of games (particularly when you factor in the fact that there are many fans who only show an interest in tournament, playoff and crunch qualifying games) means that upsets appear to possess greater magnitude and resonance than a domestic cup upset. Continue reading