TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh previews Middlesbrough ahead of their FA Cup clash against Arsenal and explains why there is much to admire about the North East club…
Last season, Middlesbrough made the rather brave managerial appointment of Aitor Karanka. While a refreshing change from the same old names on the British managerial merry-go-round, Karanka had never managed a league game before he arrived on Teesside. His credentials were based on his time coaching the Spain U-16s and three years spent as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid. His Real appointment was even something of a surprise for Karanka, who had never worked with Mourinho before. The recommendation had come from former Bernabeu teammates, Luis Figo and Clarence Seedorf – high praise indeed.
One year on and Karanka is doing an excellent job at Boro. His first season was one of stabilisation and ensuring the club didn’t slip further down the table. They were in the bottom half when he joined but he guided them to a 12th place finish. This season has been a different story, however, and Karanka is beginning to put his own stamp on the club. Middlesbrough are top of the Championship following their defeat of Blackpool on Tuesday night and are now 10 games unbeaten. Continue reading
Ally Moncrief returns to The False Nine with an appreciation of headed goals…
Growing up in a part of the country where people take genuine pleasure in fighting, in the spirit of self-preservation you learn to recognise a few things and one of the earliest lessons is to avoid at all costs the lad that likes to stick the nut in (that means headbutting in case you didn’t know). Where a punch can be evaded and swiftly recovered from, a well-timed headbutt is going to hurt and continue to hurt. Now whilst violence is clearly not to be encouraged there is something awe-inspiring about these dispensers of broken noses, there is something unnatural and wild about a headbutt, it is out of the ordinary and is impossible to defend against.
The same can be said of football’s version of the headbutt, the slightly less violent, header.
Headers can be both brutal and beautiful, used as a means of attack or defense and are the great leveller of football. They are also sadly unfashionable these days, unloved and unadmired. Often referred to as ‘aerial duels’ in these days of Americanised phrases, that moniker may seem degrading to such a majestic act but in fact merely serves to reassert it’s greatness. The key word is ‘duel’ for there is nothing in football apart from a penalty where the game is reduced, however fleetingly, to a straight fight between two participants. One will win and one will lose, the very essence of the sport. Continue reading
Simon Smith looks at the narrative surrounding title chasers and the aura of invincibility which made Real Madrid and Chelsea more vulnerable…
After yet another episode of self-congratulation in the endless carousel that is the Ronaldo-Messi show, Ballon d’or finalists Leo and Cristiano returned to business as usual this week with headline dominating performances and five goals between them. Real Madrid have had to contend with another reshuffle of their squad this season following some classic Perez-ing in the summer; he may be the only club president in European Football the British public recognise. The narrative has been much the same as last season too; Ancelotti’s masterclass in ego management, tactical ingenuity and flexibility of approach that has allowed for a near seamless inclusion of James and Kroos into an already star studded side.
And yet this expertise, the ability to field a front six as ridiculous as Isco-Kroos-Bale-Ronaldo-James-Benzema as Real had the audacity to start with in the World Club Cup final, has become in recent weeks almost a stick to beat Madrid with. Questions of fatigue in the squad have cast a spotlight on the lack of rotation. As impressive as Real have been since their early season struggles, as unreal as the all competitions win streak became, the League is not only not beyond Barcelona yet, but likewise local rivals Atleti.
The thorn in Ancelotti’s side is not that Barcelona have failed to implode during a period of off-pitch crisis; it isn’t the way Messi-Suarez-Neymar has shown flickering signs of becoming a real and viable strategy in recent matches; it’s that all this has happened almost by accident. Barcelona have hardly been devoid of strategy this season, but the starting XI has yet to remain unchanged in consecutive league fixtures. The record of having 25 different starting lineups this season is staggering to the point where one wonders if you would stumble upon that if you actually tried to. Continue reading
TFN’s Alex Stewart returns with a column on football’s dreaded “narrative”…
Football is confusing, isn’t it? I mean, take Arsenal. Arsenal are shit, aren’t they? We all know that. They’ve a porous defence, weak full-backs who can’t head the ball, injury problems galore, and Arsene Wenger is so confused about who to buy he’s actually taking suggestions by text. Sure, they’re probably top six this season, but only because everyone else is so woeful. And Manchester City are fantastic, right? They’ve qualified for the next round of the Champions League at long last, they’ve got the best striker in the Premier League and they’ve just bought another really, really good one. Vincent Kompany is more than a footballer, he’s a heroic saviour of all that is good and decent in this world, as well as being an elegant, handsome man to boot.
And then Arsenal go and beat City at home and suddenly, aren’t City shit? The Vincent Kompany rare error is becoming the Pepe Reina rare error, according to someone on Twitter. Forget the strikers: City are a one-man team who always lose when Yaya is away on duty with his national side. They have no plan B and no way of rousing themselves from their indolent, slightly apathetic superiority complex and when pushed, often fall over. And aren’t Arsenal amazing? I mean, Alexis Sanchez is the best player in the league, and Wenger was absolutely right to stick with Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud and bring in David Ospina; the man is a genius. And Santi’s Cazorla’s not lazy; he’s just been saving himself for the big occasions. Continue reading
James Dutton looks at why it has taken so long for Manchester City and Chelsea to dominate the Premier League, before drawing some links to the Dark Knight Trilogy…
I was asked a question on a recent uMAXit podcast episode by Raj Bains which momentarily threw me a little bit. Written down the question reads:
“Can you see other teams growing to become a larger part of the conversation next season? Or is our title now just a competition between Sheikh and oligarch?”
This threw me in the sense that the answer was, pretty obviously, an unequivocal yes to the latter part. Which led me to wonder why, in 2015, has this only just become the case, where it’s very difficult to argue a case for the next Premier League champions to not be owned by a sheikh or an oligarch?
Why has it taken the best part of seven years for it to be the case that the two richest clubs in the league are unequivocally significantly better-equipped and now destined to carve up the next five league titles between themselves? It says as much about the sheer force of will of Sir Alex Ferguson to sustain Manchester United up until his retirement, and the freak of nature that was Liverpool’s 2013-14 season, as it does the failure of the two super-clubs to stamp down their muscle. Continue reading
Hugo Greenhalgh believes Ravel Morrison should follow in Paul Gascoigne’s footsteps and join Lazio…
In November 2012, Paul Gascoigne made an emotional return to the Stadio Olympico to watch two of his former clubs, Lazio and Tottenham. Although he won nothing in three, injury-ridden seasons at Lazio, Gascoigne received a hero’s welcome. A banner made by their fans declared: “Lionhearted, headstrong, pure talent, real man. Still our hero”. They had completely fallen for the offbeat humour and swaggering technique of a player who had burst onto the European scene in the 1990 World Cup in their own backyard.
Ironically, the Englishman who may follow in his footsteps to Rome is once alleged to have uttered the words, “Who’s Gazza?”. Ravel Morrison has been strongly linked this week with a move to Lazio and given the stuttering nature of his career so far, there are certainly worse places he could go right now. Italian football could offer a fresh start for Morrison and allow him to come back a stronger player. He is too good for the Championship and other Premier League sides seem reluctant to take a punt on his precocious talent. Continue reading
Billy Macfarlane returns to TFN with his take on the use of statistics in football…
Football is a sport with no place for statistics. It is a sport which is organised chaos. Moments which decide results are so few and far between that there is little use in trying to predict them. The emotional legacy of results on fans is the most important aspect of football to understand. From this point we can begin to qualitatively argue about the best players and sides but no conclusive answer can ever be reached.
Football is a sport inherently based on statistics. Quantitative measures of the number of times each side makes the ball legally cross the goal line result in teams receiving either 0, 1 or 3 points or progressing in a cup competition. From this point we can begin to quantify, analyse and predict the impacts of players on the causation of goals and securing victory. These measurements can be produced objectively regardless of who compiles them.
This, of course, is a false dichotomy. Those favouring qualitative appreciation of football do not view goals and points as irrelevant to making judgements. Likewise few of those who argue in favour for the importance of statistics would actually argue that there is no room for subjectivity and that you can form your judgements based purely on graphs and numbers. Continue reading