TFN’s Pre-Season Picks

Huddersfield Town pre-season training at Canalside.

It’s that time of year again. Players are returning to their clubs to start training and pre-season has begun. The False Nine have scoured the schedules of clubs up and down the country and picked out some of our favourite pre-season friendlies…

1. Whitehawk vs. Brighton and Hove Albion – 6th July, The Enclosed Ground

1052844_10151685089273139_1785542298_o

Brighton won many plaudits last season for the attractive football played under Gus Poyet and new manager Oscar Garcia has promised to maintain this style. As a former Barcelona player and youth manager, Garcia is no stranger to attacking, free-flowing play. In his first friendly at the helm, Brighton take on Whitehawk, a local non-league side who won promotion to the Conference South last season. Recently, a plan was floated to change their name to ‘Brighton City’ in order to put them on the map but for now they remain as Whitehawk. Does this represent something of a local ‘Brighton Derby’ then? Ties between the clubs are not uncommon and Whitehawk are managed by former Brighton winger Darren Freeman. Continue reading

Manchester City: Why is David Silva Immune from Criticism?

david-silva_epa_2315540b

In the autumn of 2011 David Silva was regarded as the best footballer in the Premier League. James Dutton asks why the stall in his career since has gone largely unnoticed…

Cast your minds back to October 2011 and Manchester City’s 6-1 drubbing of Manchester United; a result that looks less era-defining now, 20 months on, but which momentarily confirmed City’s unrivaled ascendance in English football.

The performance was as virtuoso as the result was seismic; central to it all was the dynamism of David Silva. It confirmed his status, in autumn 2011, as the best player in the Premier League.

The Spaniard was instrumental in the first two goals, scored by Mario Balotelli, combining with James Milner to devastating effect, and struck late on himself. He wove a tapestry across the Old Trafford pitch with every swish of his magical left boot, constantly twisting and turning, drifting into space and always with an innate awareness of those around him.

He provided City’s coup de grace for the final goal; an instinctive, 40-yard volleyed through-ball from inside his own half to set Edin Dzeko racing clear. It remains one of the greatest assists in Premier League history. Continue reading

Premier League 2012-13: A Season of Sorrow, Part 1 – Shades of Grey

179102_10152242644972814_1458914692_n

Finally the Premier League has put us out of our misery and decided to end the season. There’s been little excitement and little to remember, James Dutton wonders what the hell happened, and whether anyone can be happy about this…

The 2012-13 Premier League season has undoubtedly been a damp squib.

The exceptional events of a year ago seem to have hoarded all the drama and intrigue the Premier League can provide.

For the first time since 2006 there was nothing meaningful to decide at either end of the table – save another “epic” battle between Tottenham and Arsenal for fourth, with the wretched Reading and QPR the worst of a particularly sorry bunch of bottom-half sides this year.

It’s been a season defined by regression; the first time since 1996 there has been no English team in the quarter finals of the Champions League, an artificially dramatic “Fight for Fourth” and a title race that was, for all intents and purposes, sewn up before Christmas.

Misery reigns from top to bottom.

Are there any teams in the Premier League that can argue to have had a good season, be content with what they have achieved, or how far they have progressed, since August? Continue reading

Manchester City to be Refreshed by the Sparkling Taste of San Pellegrini

San Pellegrini Manchester City

TFN’s resident Manuel Pellegrini enthusiast Greg Johnson believes that the Chilean would be a major upgrade on Roberto Mancini. Here’s why Manchester City fans should drink in and savour the prospect of him taking charge at Eastlands…

Zest has been severely lacking from Manchester City this season. Just over 12 months on from Sergio Aguero’s larynx shredding title-winner and the taste of sky blue triumph has been replaced by sour disappointment. Their Premier League winning manager has been sacked, with a surprise FA Cup final defeat to Wigan Athletic and a 2-3 home loss to Norwich City adding a bitter finish to their year.

While Roberto Mancini laid the blame on the club’s failure to add Robin van Persie to their squad, the Dutchman’s absence felt more like a smokescreen than a valid excuse given the attacking talent already at his disposal. In reality, standards have slipped while the team’s enthusiasm has waned. Having accomplished their mission of winning the league, City have regressed.

The abilities of Mancini as a coach and tactician have been exposed as wanting, with his tactical plans unraveling into impotency without the title-winning form of individuals to smooth over the structural cracks. Continue reading

The Sacking of Roberto Mancini: Reactive or Proactive?

M_Id_385390_Roberto_Mancini

James Dutton dissects Roberto Mancini’s tenure at Manchester City. Is it a sign of short-term reactionism, or long-term planning?

“The Club has failed to achieve any of its stated targets this year, with the exception of qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League. This, combined with an identified need to develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the Club, has meant that the decision has been taken to find a new manager for the 2013/14 season and beyond.”

After three-and-a-half years, during which he ended Manchester City’s barren 35 years without a trophy and ended their 44-year league title drought, Roberto Mancini has been relieved of his duties for a season of complete underachievement.

Since weekend reports leaked that his position was under threat, there has been little sympathy for the Italian lothario. Many commentators have cited a spiky personality that has estranged playing and backroom staff.

In their statement, the club admit as much. The use of the term ‘holistic’ has provoked a bemused reaction, but is entirely revealing of the long-term strategy that will define City as they approach the five-year anniversary of the Sheikh Mansour takeover. Continue reading

Wigan win the FA Cup: a United fan’s report hidden within the City support

wembley fa cup final

Manchester United supporter Greg Johnson accompanied his City-supporting father to the FA Cup Final to watch Wigan Athletic triumph, tradition fade and football win the day…

Emerging from underground, the first thing that hits you about Wembley is its size, looming impossibly large in the middle-distance, with its craning white arch. Strangely, however, as you approach the stadium it almost begins to feel out of scale, like a dolly zoom warping its 90,000 capacity into a confusingly manageable frame.

Unmistakably large but hardly intimidating, the venue, shrinking in stature with every step, fits the occasion perfectly. Once grand enough to occupy a whole date on the national events calendar, FA Cup Final Day is now FA Cup Final Evening; shunted into the primetime TV slot with the early distraction of an afternoon Premier League fixture to contend with.

I was a Manchester United fan in stealth mode, attending my first fixture at the new Wembley alongside my City supporting father. Aged four he took me to see Denis Irwin, Paul Ince and Eric Cantona at Old Trafford a number of times thanks to spare tickets gained through work. One of those games happened to be the 9-0 dismantling of Ipswich Town – an experience that painted my impressionable, glory-hunting young mind the colour red.

Having accidentally fallen for Manchester City’s main rivals while he introduced me to my love of football, joining him for the game was the least I could do, and besides; father and son, the FA Cup final, Wembley: in many ways this was a dream I’d long wished to realise. Continue reading

The Manchester derby: United’s last chance to land a knock-out blow

RVP AliGreg Johnson looks at why Manchester United must go for the uppercut against Manchester City in tonight’s Premier League derby or risk damaging their own victory like the faded glory of modern heavyweight boxing.

The causes for heavyweight boxing’s failing fortunes have been blamed and cited far and wide. From the attritional tedium of slow, lumbering fighters to professionalism’s purge on personalities, the sport’s biggest hitters have lost their box office clout.

Yet while boxing worries itself over the quality of its sporting supply, could it be that demand has in fact shifted elsewhere to the realm of goalposts, crossbars and avant garde hair design? Has football become a surrogate home for the drama, structure, celebrity and stories that once elevated heavyweight showdowns to the level of world-stopping spectacle?

Across Europe’s top leagues, title races have become season-long duopolies: intense feuds and brutal duels between two genuine, opposing heavyweights. The appetite for pre-season gossip within each league has birthed functioning pre-fight hype machines while transfer deadline day is now ritualised institution; the new weigh-in. Continue reading