Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Premiership wishlist for Santa

So the season is nearly half over and Liverpool for the first time in an age on top at Christmas. So what do all the teams want in their Christmas stockings?

About 400 tons of cotton wool to wrap Luis Suarez in. The Uruguayan has been nothing short of sensational since returning from his ban. RVP dragged an otherwise mediocre ManU side to the title last season. Could Suarez return the favour this year?

About the same tonnage as above in steel and grit. Flamini has given the side some backbone but more is required for the big games they will surely need to win their first title in a decade. Superstar January signings are not required, just a couple of prudent ones, preferably with beards and tattoos and muscles.

Manchester City
Travel sickness pills. If City can sort out their away form (Fulham was a start) then the title looks theirs to lose. A wonderful squad with attacking options, pace and power to burn. Another central defender might not hurt either.

One of Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney, Radoman Falcao, Gonzalo Higuain and did anyone mention Romelu Lukaku? Chelsea need a first class centre forward who can do it week in week out. A top class holding midfielder wouldn't go amiss either.

A bigger squad. Roberto Martinez has confounded many critics (including myself) by doing an excellent job at Everton so far. Injuries and suspensions will bite and a couple more players could seriously help Everton's push for Europe.

Newcastle United
A period of serenity and calm. The Toon remain a comedy of errors perennially yet they have done superbly well after last season's and this Summer's travails. Pardew is talking of adding a couple of players to an already capable squad. Could be a good season for the Geordies.

A tactics for beginners manual. Under AVB, Spurs looked incapable of scoring goals. Under Sherwood it is simple 'up and at 'em'. That served with some adrenalin and Emmanuel Adebayor will work for a couple of games but will not seem them in the top four.

A left back, a central defender, two central midfielders and an attacking midfielder as well as a time machine to transport back Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand, RVP and probably Paul Scholes and hey let's throw in Gary Neville too. The Reds are in poor shape but all is not lost. Quality additions to the squad required however.

Massage beds and more fitness coaches. The Saints have excelled but their high tempo pressing game means that when the players fall off a fraction from 100% the results can go horribly wrong. They need to address the slide quickly before it becomes a problem.

Stoke City
Patience. Stoke should be the perfect job for Hughes. A limited transfer budget and a small club means he can do little harm in the transfer market like at QPR. A repeat of his work at Fulham and Blackburn would do nicely.

Swansea City
To be knocked out of the Europa League. Swansea's league form is suffering the seemingly obligatory drop off associated with being in this tournament. May need to start looking over their shoulders soon.

Hull City
More of the same pills. City have done very well when they were expected to be wholly out of their depth. A few more wins and they can start dreaming of a mid table finish. There are certainly worse teams than them.

Aston Villa
A new Cristian Benteke as their old one seems to have malfunctioned and is out of warranty. Villa are on the slide after a promising start. Benteke has gone to sleep, they need to wake him up and quickly.

Norwich City
Team bonding gel. The Canaries may well survive again this season. They bought several players this summer and there have been sporadic signs of life. They should get better although the pressure will start to increase.

Cardiff City
A life coach for Vincent Tan. Cardiff have one of the most talented up and coming managers yet the owner seems hell bent on destroying the club he owns from within. It is hard enough in the Premiership without sabotaging yourselves. Unbelievable.

Romelu Lukaku. Everton's gain has been WBA's loss. The Baggies need to get some points on the board quickly.

West Ham United
A fit Andy Carroll. Big Sam's football has never been about aesthetics and without his spearhead there is no end product to go with the rest of the play. The Hammers are in serious trouble right now.

Crystal Palace
A season that started two months ago. Tony Pulis is slowly pulling the Eagles around but they are deeply in the mire and they only have questionable quality to get out of it.

Defenders. Fulham have conceded more goals than anyone and whilst the work rate of their forwards may be contributing they badly need some quality at the back.

A miracle. Di Canio has gone but Poyet looks to be slowly morphing into him. Their squad looks entirely unlike one that is geared to battle relegation. The Sunderland board has to decide whether to stick or twist in the transfer market.

Have a No Nonsense Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

England fans left short changed and up the swanny

Ex players are closing ranks behind Graeme Swann and supporting his no doubt 'brave' decision to call time on his England career. For England's supporters however it is the thin end of the wedge yet again.

The Barmy Army no less have also tweeted their support for him this morning and they are right that he has in the past been a marvellous servant to English cricket and they support their team no matter what, hats off to them. It should be pointed out of course he has been rewarded handsomely for this service.

Last time out down under, Swann milked the adulation to the utmost at the MCG with his trademark 'water sprinkler' celebration, there was even a 'how to do the sprinkler' on the internet such was the level of his fame and celebrity. Three years on and not part of a winning team and it's a bit tougher it seems.

Bearing in mind everything that the England fans have given back to Swann and the riches of a central contract from the ECB, would it be too much to suggest that performing 12th man duties at Melbourne and Sydney at the least would go some way to repaying the people that have made him so celebrated?

Many people will of course have sympathy for Graeme Swann, such is the wonderful position of a sporting celebrity. Not a single thought does he have to give to the numerous England fans who have not yet even got on the plane to Australia, I'm alright Jack.

He will be called 'brave' as I said for facing his 'inner demons', his 'personal torment' I'm sure. No one will consider that he's just been on the end of a hammering from Australia and doesn't fancy playing two dead rubbers in Melbourne and Sydney. It's all a bit too difficult really.

Throughout this entire series, England have been outfought. Australia remains the toughest place for a touring team to go now that the West Indies have long since diminished. Swann and many of his colleagues have been found out during this series.

Winning and bullying teams when you are on top is one thing, digging in when it is tough is another matter entirely and they simply don't fancy it. It is weak.

Serious questions must also be asked about the ECB management. There are performance directors, sports psychologists all employed at a huge cost yet both Swann and Trott are back home before Santa Claus gets to town.

How on earth can a team that was supposedly the favourites to win the Ashes be in such disarray with their senior players so completely unprepared for the fight, not one of these highly paid 'experts' saw this coming?

I cannot recall for instance how many articles I have read waxing lyrical about Graeme Gooch's credentials as a batting coach yet England's batting has been nothing short of a disgrace and has been poor since they were cruelly exposed by South Africa at home eighteen months ago.

It is clear that Swann's head and heart are no longer in it and so yes he should go home but I can guarantee that had he been playing poorly but England had been 3-0 up, he would have been off to the MCG to do the sprinkler again.

Instead it will be home to write a book with a newspaper exclusive already secured and an upcoming slot on Strictly Come Dancing. It's all about 'me' after all.

It is of course easy to pick the bones out of this England team but this is now becoming rats deserting the sinking ship. The England fans will still come and yet Swann cannot even repay them with 12th man duties. He accepted a central contract and to tour Australia, he should fulfil his obligations.

I am sure many people will disagree with me and they are more than entitled to, it is clearly a matter with many shades of grey but the simple fact is that the England players would not be going home if they were winning.

Swann has been trumpeted to the maximum about his effect on team spirit, well here are his true colours coming through now it seems. The fans are staying and so should the players - No Nonsense.

Monday, December 16, 2013


I'm a little bit of a rare species. I'm a Chelsea fan and I like AVB. I'm not entirely sure why but I felt he was harshly treated at Chelsea.

Yes he tried to do too much too soon and managed to alienate a dressing room that was as powerful as those at Bayern and Real, it was folly.

The players felt that being paid six figures sums was not enough reason to give their all and duly downed tools before the most famous of stories with the caretaking of Roberto Di Matteo leading to an improbable Champions League win.

The British (London based) press got their teeth stuck into AVB again when Daniel Levy had the temerity to call out Harry Redknapp for the managerial charlatan that he was and is. Even after today's events I still believe it was a sound appointment.

Despite all of that, AVB has duly been relieved of his duties today and his resurrection last season seems to have been a short lived one. Again, stories of disgruntled players have risen to the surface.

Much has been made of the huge sums of money that Spurs spent during the Summer but what people are not necessarily appreciating is the effect of the 'net' transfer spend.

There is no doubt that several of AVB's purchases this Summer have been poor such as Lamela who has barely played. Soldado has done little other than score penalties also. The fact that Luis Suarez has given Spurs a six game head start and still scored more goals than them is an amusing statistic but it's also very telling.

Last year, Spurs had say 15 very good players and then they had a match winner in Gareth Bale. This season they have maybe 20 or so very good players but they have lost their match winner.

This was part of my reasoning for my calling their finishing 6th this season in an earlier article. You can only put 11 of those players on the pitch at once and therefore their first eleven was weaker than last season, in other words by losing Bale they went backwards and lost the capacity to win games they would not have otherwise.

It's not clear where AVB goes from here nor who will replace him. There are early calls for Glenn Hoddle to return to the game, that would either be inspired or a disaster.

I wish AVB well. He clearly is lacking (for the moment) something to allow him to operate at the highest level, maybe he just needs the right no 2. He also needs to learn that picking fights with the British media hounds is not the best idea. Even if he is right they are not, they simply wield to much unchecked power and answer to almost no one.

Good luck AVB, it might be a long(ish) road back to the top but I hope you get there - No Nonsense.

Scribblings from the WACA

Firstly, I'm back in Singapore today so this article will reference mainly events on the first two days. These however set the tone for what was to come regardless.

Now as I mentioned, I live in Singapore, this brings me to my first point, the heat.... Everyday here is 25-35C with about four thousand percent humidity, it's hot, but not like at the WACA.

Now ok, I'm from Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland and most of us don't run too well in the sun but that Western Australian Summer sun is like nothing else.

Even at nine in the morning you can feel the sun attempting to set fire to your skin. Playing any kind of sport in that and for six hours must be brutal, and more so for those less acclimatised, i.e. the Brits.

I was wearing factor 40 but I actually needed some kind of wetsuit and it's no coincidence that England got steadily worse as both days progressed. They were quite literally cooked.

Having watched the game solidly for two days, a couple of things occurred to me. The first is that man for man there's not a lot in it for me if everyone is playing to form.

Cook and Carberry stacks up against Rodgers and Warner. Root probably a bit behind Watson I guess, KP at his best can match Clarke, Bell a better batsman possibly than Smith. Bailey and Stokes I don't really think is a big deal. Many would argue Prior is better than Haddin and that Swann is better than Lyon. Then a three of Bresnan, Broad and Anderson should be a match for Siddle, Johnson and Harris.

However, Australia are playing a brand of cricket with an intensity and drive that England simply can't or don't want to try to match.

I watched six sessions and to be honest on that basis I had it even. I gave both (this is Fri and Sat) morning sessions to England, after lunch I had it even-ish and then Australia took the final session. But the way that Australia won the final sessions simply took the game away from England.

Much with England seems to revolve around Cook. He scored huge runs down here last time around and England thumped Australia. The one test he failed to get big runs last time - the WACA - they lost.

For a while on Saturday, England dared to dream. They'd bowled out the tail without two much further damage and whilst Cook was surviving on a combination of luck and wits and Carberry never quite convinces, it was a solid start. And then the house of cards came.

It's easy to be too critical of batsmen getting out and Root can feel very aggrieved even though it was the correct decision within the (flawed) world of DRS. I can never have too much sympathy however for a batsman shouldering arms to a straight one (used to drive me potty when Alec Stewart did it) Michael Carberry. Cook got out slashing hard at a ball with some extra bounce and then we come to KP.

What shall we do with Kevin Pietersen? The great enigma maybe not just of England but of the modern game. The problem he now has is that he has stopped converting his starts into big scores meaning his failures such as on Saturday are magnified even more greatly.

He should be in his absolute prime but the problem with a pure hitter such as Gilchrist, KP or a Sehwag say is that once the eye and the reflexes go even a fraction, the downhill trajectory can be quite severe.

It's far too early to say that KP is already in decline but the guy out there scrabbling around at the WACA on Saturday was not the KP I know.

Given that Matt Prior has abandoned his post and Swann and co have turned in to a group of number elevens, that left Ian Bell as England's last real hope, alas not to be.

I was criticised last week for being overly negative about England's prospects but the simple fact is that as I write this on day 4, they are being annihilated again. The sad thing is I don't think they're being outclassed, they're being out fought and that's the point that I was making last week as being the most galling for the fans.

Coming down here without your injured captain in 2006, having also lost Trescothick and Simon Jones and playing one the great test teams of all time, 5-0 was still embarrassing but had some mitigating circumstances. This hammering is however is more about desire and heart.

On a brighter note, I mentioned about catching up with my mate Paul and having a good day out and a great steak with great red in the evening and I'm pleased to say we showed plenty of heart and came up with the goods for the duration both days.

England will go to the MCG battered and bruised, shorn of the Ashes and wanting to be anywhere but Melbourne on Christmas Day. There is still a lot of touring to do and I don't see a single sign anywhere that they can salvage anything from this series - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chelsea's mid season report card

Jose Mourinho is not a happy man.

There was a point in time I think during the second season of Mourinho's first spell at Chelsea that I honestly started to believe that he was more than just a manager, that he actually had some formula that basically made his teams unbeatable.

Yes he had spent lots of money but his moulding of those players and the fluid nature of his tactical changes during the course of a match - and how it changed that match - left me utterly gobsmacked, he was indeed the oft mocked 'Special one' with a swagger and charisma to match his incredible coaching ability.

His teams won their matches 2-0 and that was the end of it. They certainly didn't win 4-3 and then follow it up by losing 3-2 in the next game. We cried bad luck against the likes of Liverpool and UEFA conspiracies as the reasons for the Champions League eluding us. Chelsea were indeed one of the elite European teams.

This team however is not at that level and it is not yet Mourinho's team. He has had almost no say in the players that are currently in his squad (other than ones he bought the first time around) and that is reflected in a balance of personnel that does not gel with how he likes to play.

Mourinho's previous Chelsea were unfairly maligned as dull - ask any Chelsea fan whether they thought they were dull and the answer would be a resounding no - but what they actually were were brutally tough. They had a level of physicality that other teams simply couldn't counter.

Power and/or pace or both abounded through the team, Drogba, Essien, Carvalho, Terry, Lampard, Ballack, Cech, Makelele, they simply battered teams into submission with a sprinkling of gold dust from the likes of Robben and Joe Cole.

Much has been made of the problems at striker for Chelsea and it is a real issue no doubt. The real problem however is the team has an abundance of attacking midfielders dictating the team plays 4-2-3-1. The problem for Mourinho is that he does not have the players for the '2'.

Mourinho played a similar system (not exact) at Real where he had Sami Khedira and Xavi Alonso. At Chelsea, he has only one genuine holding player in Jon Obi Mikel as Oriel Romeu is on loan at Valencia.

The problem with Mikel is that he isn't very good. His positional play isn't the best and he gives away too many fouls in dangerous positions, to the naked eye he also looks very slow.

With Marco Van Ginkel suffering a serious injury and Michael Essien sadly no longer able to play physically at the highest level, that leaves Mourinho with Ramires and Lampard as his best bets. The problem is both are dynamic box to box midfielders far better suited to a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Lampard is also getting on a bit and the fact that he has been Chelsea's best midfielder this season says a lot.

At the back, it is also a long way from the halcyon days of Terry in his pomp alongside the peerless Ricardo Carvalho. Terry is now 33, Gary Cahill is solid but not a world beater and Mourinho it is safe to assume does not trust David Luiz.

Mourinho also seems to have developed an issue with Ashley Cole and against Stoke at the weekend, the strong journeyman Jonathan Walters was able to bully Azpilicueta fairly easily which led to Stoke's second goal.

At right back, Branislav Ivanovic remains a fine player but his performances have brought on a touch of inconsistency versus his very best of a couple of seasons ago.

Whilst Peter Cech has regained some of his confidence prior to his awful head injury he appears to be slowly fading also. One of the biggest decisions Chelsea will have to make is whether to move on the legend to make way for the excellent young Thibaut Courtois. They risk staying with Cech in to decline and losing a player who looks capable of becoming the best goalkeeper in the world in the process.

Up front, Chelsea decided to stick with Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and bring in an ageing Sameul Eto'o rather than give Romelu Lukaku a crack. Everyone has an opinion on this decision (my own was that it was a mistake) but given that it has been made, Chelsea need to make the best of it.

Before his recent injury, Torres was showing renewed signs of life but against Stoke on Saturday it was like the bad all days where he looked like he could play all week and not get a shot on goal.

Ba remains a level below what is required to challenge for league titles and Eto'o whilst still a wonderful player is a fading force.

It is of course far from terrible for Chelsea, a win in Europe will see them top their CL group and they are second in the Premiership, hardly dreadful. One suspects however that it is the defincies of other teams that is allowing Chelsea to occupy such a lofty position right now.

Even in Europe, they have bizarrely lost home and away to FC Basel necessitating they win their last home game to qualify top of the group.

The question for Chelsea is whether this time around Abramovich is inclined to indulge Mourinho to buy the players he will want to play his brand of football. There is a different feel to Mourinho's regime this time and one senses he does not feel as all powerful as he did the last time.

The upcoming January window promises to be a fascinating one with so many teams desperate to strengthen for differing reasons. Chelsea's moves in that period will give us telling insight as to who is dictating transfer policy at the club.

2nd place in the Premiership and a likely winning of their CL group means Chelsea fans should be smiling but there are many cracks that are currently being papered over. Just a C+ for me at this stage - No Nonsense.

This Ashes series is over

I am flying to Perth on Thursday night from Singapore. I'm going to see an old friend, have a few (ok a lot of) beers and have dinner at a cracking restaurant on Friday night. He happens to be a member at the WACA and at some point on both Friday and Saturday (all day both days basically......) I'll be there. I'm looking forward to seeing me old mucker and having a good steak but absolutely nothing about the cricket I"ll be seeing. It is going to be torturous.

England have given up. I don't know why, maybe they just weren't that good in the first place, for me your greatness in sport is measured when there is competition and it's tough, not when you are bullying teams and winning easily. If it was on the basis of  the 'ticker' that they've shown as Warney puts it I simply wouldn't go. They don't deserve the support the Barmy Army is giving them right now.

I shall of course get on the plane and I'll have a great time regardless. I love the WACA, it's a wonderful ground and I've been through horrendous times watching England down under before. I was there when Brett Lee took Alex Tudor's head off, at the WACA again when Gilchrist smashed the second fastest test century. I was at the MCG when Warney got his 700th wicket (a genuine pleasure that last one I have to say). I've seen it all and I keep coming back.

It is of course easy to kick someone when they are down but what I think is irking people so much is the manner of the capitulation. Listening to Alastair Cook being interviewed afterwards, he was almost laissez faire about the whole thing.

When questioned about the amount of wickets falling to legside catches he almost just gave an apologetic shrug as if if to say 'it happens'. Ian Bell for instance has had innumerate plaudits in the past couple of years yet with England on the ropes he got out trying to haul a part time leg spinner's full toss to mid wicket, it's all a bit ridiculous for me.

I think there is an inherent problem with British sport, winning is not a habit and when success comes along, it usually comes with a massive drop off in performance shortly thereafter. The fact that Monty Panesar (a marginally better batsman than me) showed the most heart with a bat during the first innings says it all. England are right now, a disgrace.

There is of course a queue of pundits and ex players (all more qualified than me) lining up to slaughter this team, it's not difficult. I however am the voice of the paying fan and so in many ways I feel that voice has more resonance.

England haven't become a bad team overnight and Australia haven't suddenly become world beaters again and that is even more galling. By Australian standards, this is a pretty ordinary team yet they are playing as a team and competing far far harder than England are.

Mitchell Johnson is taking much of the plaudits right now and rightly so, he's been magnificent especially given how much he was maligned in the run up to this series by many within Australia.

The England batsman however are making it far easier for him by simply not doing the basics properly. He is bowling with almost no pressure on him and in those circumstances his suspect action and fragile psyche remain intact.

Johnson when he's on fire like this and Ryan Harris are world class. Siddle is a good solid seamer and Nathan Lyon is capable of holding down an end. It is however a long way from the halcyon days of McGrath and Warne. England should be doing far better than they are.

The England team certainly appears to have peaked with Cook, KP, Prior, Swann and Anderson all performing levels below their previous bests. Jonathan Trott is sat at home and they have yet to find a stable opening partner for Cook now that Strauss is gone.

For Australia it is time to make hay. As with any concentrated period of competition between two teams, much bad blood has emerged and there is little doubt now that Australia will turn the screw.

England were a far better team than Australia last time down under and even then they were blown away at the WACA, such are the demons that Perth holds for England. It seems unlikely that anything else than another heavy defeat lies in wait for the dishevelled tourists.

England at least need to start playing for pride. They have shown in small patches that they can actually bat if they put their minds to it. Whilst Australia have played far the better cricket, much of this is mental for England as the ridiculous statistic about the number of them getting out to leg side catches would indicate.

Test cricket has always been about preparation, hard work and concentration, nothing has changed in that respect. The discipline to play a long innings however seems to have entirely deserted the England players, the first innings totals they have been posting have been poor for some time now and I have written several times, things during the English Summer could have been very different very easily.

I truly hope that England 'buck up' and compete at the WACA but I seriously doubt their ability or desire to do so, there is nothing in their body language to suggest they are anything else than already beaten.

I'm taking my entire family for two days in Sydney also, by that stage we will simply be enjoying the beer and the pleasures of watching a nice relaxed dead rubber, it is already all over.

Incidentally, I wrote a piece about the 20/1 I got for 5-0 after the Gabba, that has now shortened to 5/1 - No Nonsense.