The overriding feeling after Stoke City’s victory over Queens Park Rangers was relief. Nobody can pretend we saw a scintillating performance from The Potters but the most important thing was to halt our slide towards the relegation zone. Stoke spent much of the first half vainly trying to get a foothold on the game. QPR made attempts to put us under sustained pressure, fortunately for us their passing was as poor as ours! For large spells watching the first half of the game was akin to watching two drunks arguing about control of a steering wheel. We started the second half in a much more assertive manner. We quickly got the perfect reward when Charlie Adam took advantage of hesitant QPR defending to give us the lead. It was a ruthless finish from Charlie… his first for Stoke… hopefully the first of many. The goal lifted our anxiety but the comfort was transient, to secure the precious win meant we had onto hold on to the lead for 38 long minutes. In those minutes were generally in control. Asmir Begovic was called into action to make two excellent saves but we were marginally on top and we held the lead with characteristic tenacity. The match itself wasn’t a classic but three points and a clean sheet were exactly what was required. Now we are re-gaining a foothold on the season it’d help if we can try to add more variation to the attacking play. In our squad we now have ball players capable of unlocking defences with craft as well as force. These qualities need to be applied. Too often we are too predictable. We need to evolve.
Arsenal have made their worst ever start under Arsene Wenger. At the moment The Gunners are in eighth place with Everton handily placed in fourth. Despite being trophyless since 2005, Arsenal have reached the Champions League every year and the club’s status and credibility hinges on a top four finish. Should they fail to do so this season it could mark the end of Wenger’s reign. Eighteen months ago it was Wenger who stated his belief that second was good enough. It’s hard to believe an American entrepreneur who spent millions acquiring a football club agreeing that second is good enough. If no trophy arrives and they fail to secure a top four position Stan Kroenke could make a ruthless statement of intent.
Brazil’s ongoing struggle to prepare for 2014 World Cup received a timely boost last week when FIFA confirmed the 2013 Confederations Cup would go ahead as planned. Organisers didn’t have any time to enjoy the announcement as concerns remain over stadium construction and infrastructure requirements. Another obstacle has arrived in the shape of a new tax law regarding oil revenue. A bill passed by Congress would share out oil income among Brazil’s 27 states, with Rio, which has been experiencing a boom stimulated largely by oil, standing to miss out on an estimated $2 billion. State governor Sergio Cabral has suggested both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics could be under threat if the bill is passed. Cabral’s words may be a form of emotional blackmail but stadium delays and inadequate public transport have cast doubts over Brazil’s suitability to host the tournament. To compound the organisational malaise, the cost of staging the tournament has been raised by a staggering $1.7billion. Brazil’s national Audit court recently announced that airport upgrades and stadium construction are proving much more costly than first anticipated. For all the worries and political wrangling, Brazil remain highly unlikely to be stripped of the hosting rights. It’s hard to imagine any authority in Brazil surviving a football related humiliation on that scale, and all the administrative bodies, political and sporting, will be fully aware of that. By hook or by crook, they all know that to retain their status Brazil must be ready.
Modern football can get weighed down with talk of balance sheets, manipulative agents and administrators steeped in self interest. Amid the skullduggery it’s important to remember the thing we are besotted with is that actual football itself! Our game can provide drama intensity rarely experienced elsewhere in life. Celtic’s victory over Barcelona was one such occasion. It was one of the season’s real shocks and a night that will live forever in the hearts and minds of Celtic supporters throughout the world. An endearing aspect of the game was the dignity with which Barcelona accepted the defeat. Xavi even took to Twitter to congratulate the victors and stated how fantastic the atmosphere at Parkhead had been. It was a huge relief to hear a club respond so graciously.
Fighting back from 0-2 down to dig out a draw against Ajax wasn’t enough for Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s charge across the pitch at the end combined with berating a cameraman left him with the air of a man not waving but drowning. All is not lost. They remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League and are still handily placed to have a tilt at retaining their title. For all that there is still a feeling that something in the camp isn’t quite right. Mancini’s credibility has hardly been helped by the appointment of Txiki Begiristain as director of football and Ferran Soriano as Chief Executive… both were instrumental in revolutionising Barcelona. While Pep Guardiola remains out of work Mancini could be forgiven for thinking his days are numbered.