James Dutton looks at two lessons from Liverpool’s recent past for Mario Balotelli…
Mario Balotelli is at a crossroads. In fact, Mario Balotelli is always at a crossroads.
Every decision he makes, however crucial or anodyne, is analysed for its far-reaching consequences and wider meaning by somebody somewhere. Every pass, every run, every shot, every turn is scrutinised and pored over in minute detail like every dismissal suffered by Kevin Pietersen. The record-breaking batsman once famously said, “It’s tough being me in this dressing room”, and you imagine the Italian knows where he’s coming from.
This scrutiny reached new peaks at the weekend when he was patronised by commentators for working the channels and tracking back; like a schoolchild receiving a gold star for a sympathetically deficient piece of homework.
In reality it was a seven out of 10 performance for a footballer fully capable of nine and tens, but who has mostly hovered around the fours and fives since his £16m to Liverpool from AC Milan.
For Liverpool to be stuck in this position with a misfiring multi-million pound striker is nothing new. Andy Carroll will always pop into mind when the term “expensive flop” is bandied around Anfield, but for now Balotelli is neither of those things; £16m is not a lot of money in football anymore, and there is still time for him to rectify his career on Merseyside.
The two strikers of recent Anfield past whose difficult starts run most in parallel with Balotelli’s own are in fact Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane. Continue reading →
Paddy Spicer Ward looks at Valencia’s promising start in La Liga and whether they can relive past glories…
Valencia’s start to their La Liga campaign this year is not dissimilar to that made by Liverpool and Roma last season. Unfancied former giants in their respective leagues, Valencia will hope their season pans out more like that of their fellow countrymen Atlético, rather than falling at the end of marathon seasons as Roma and Liverpool did.
The youthful Los Che side have come flying out of the blocks, sitting just two points behind Barcelona, with an unexpected 3-0 loss away to Deportivo at La Riazor pencilled in alongside six wins and two draws. The lack of European football is no doubt helping the men from Spain’s third largest city, allowing more time working on tactics to nullify the opposition and gel together their new look squad.
This summer saw no less than 20 players depart from the newly revamped Mestalla, and it was not simply a case of trimming the squad, as there were 14 incomers as well. Most remarkably is that most of the 20 who departed were the mainstay of Valencia’s starting XI last season, with Juan Bernat and Jeremy Mathieu being the most high profile exits.;Victor Ruiz, Jonas, Andres Guardado, Eduardo Vargas and Phillipe Senderos a number of other notable changes. The change saw players with an average age of around 27 leave, with the incomers much younger at 23.
Elko Born considers the apparent need for more passion from certain football managers…
As someone who grew up outside of Britain, some of the convictions and norms of a lot of Premier League spectators simultaneously amuse and confuse me.
Take your average British fan’s tendency to automatically question the qualities of any footballer who has ever played in the Dutch Eredivisie. Because Afonso Alves was bad when he played for Middlesbrough, the reasoning seems to go, every former Eredivisie footballer ever will always fail in the Premier League.
Recently, some Manchester United fans have started taking offence to manager Louis van Gaal’s touchline antics, or lack thereof. If Twitter is to be believed, anyway.
Van Gaal needs to get off his arse, these critics make known. How can he expect to be a good manager when he’s sitting in the dugout all the time? He needs to go and stand near the touchline so he can effectively shout at the footballers. Continue reading →
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.
“I’m going to show you something beautiful”, said Ronaldo, before last night’s game. “Everyone -screaming, for mercy.” #AgeofUltron
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 →
Hugo Greenhalghreturns 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 →
Alastair Naysmithassesses 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 →
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 →